- “Myriad Little Connections”: Minoritarian Movements in the Postmodernism Debate
The canonical phase of the postmodernism debate, in the work of Fredric Jameson and others, bequeathed to us a model of interaction between minoritarian movements which it is our challenge now to leave behind: minoritarian movements as non-communicating fragments in need of unification by a hegemonic force. In our post-hegemonic world, I return to Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus for a “new” model of interaction: escaping the false dilemma of fragmentation versus unification, minoritarian movements are distinct, having nothing in common, as well as unceasingly interacting in myriad little encounters. —pg
The vast postmodernism debate, whose expansive and canonical phase spanned from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s but which has yet to reach a point of settlement or closure, engages with a multiplicity of questions, among which “what is postmodernism?” is not necessarily the most important. A more urgent question in the debate is that of minoritarian movements. In many of the most influential interrogations of postmodernism, one can discern the promise of unprecedented participation for everyone on a global terrain without frontiers. It is a promise, however, on which the canonical texts of the debate ultimately fail to deliver. An analysis of these texts shows them following a binary scheme of political analysis that is still with us today and which it is our challenge now to leave behind: fragmentation versus unification. Minoritarian movements are seen as non-communicating fragments in need of unification by an avant-garde hegemonic force. In our post-hegemonic world, this model locks minoritarian movements into a false dilemma and fails to acknowledge their fertile interaction. In search of a “new” model that acknowledges both the distinctness and unceasing interaction of minoritarian movements, I propose a return to Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus. Here unfolds a world of “myriad connections, disjunctions, and conjunctions” (315) across fields (such as Marxism, feminism, postcolonial theory, and queer theory): small collectivities, here, which neither have “anything in common, nor do they cease communicating.”
Central to my account of the postmodernism debate will be Fredric Jameson’s canonical essay, “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” (1984).1 In The Success and Failure of Fredric Jameson (2001), based on a series of articles published in this journal between 1995 and 2000, Steven Helmling describes “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” as Jameson’s most accomplished attempt to date at success-as-failure: a dialectical model of writing full of contradictions, full of movement and agitation and vertiginous slippage of meaning (14–16, 110–11). Further, Helmling argues that between 1982 and 1984—between Jameson’s earliest piece on postmodernism, “Postmodernism and Consumer Society” and his definitive “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism”—Jameson “augment[s] polysemy” (16, 169–70).2 In fact, however, when one reads these successive writings in relation to the question of minoritarian movements, one finds a reverse movement toward monosemy, accompanied by an increasingly insistent rejection of minoritarian movements.3
In the first part of this essay, and in order to show this double movement, I will briefly review Jameson’s work on postmodernism between 1982 and 1984. In particular, I want to show how this work slowly crystallized a truth-claim about postmodernism as part of a triangle. First, postmodernism = minoritarian movements = sheer heterogeneity, radical difference, dispersal of non-communicating fragments. Second, late capitalism is a spectre of dissolution in that it is a total or global system paradoxically generating sheer heterogeneity, that is, generating minoritarian movements that are nothing but non-communicating islands of late capitalism. Third, the Left will overcome this spectre of dissolution and bring about a total systemic transformation by hegemonizing and thus unifying minoritarian movements. This hegemony is necessary rather than a matter of contingent, political articulation. The main theoretical element here is Lacan’s structuralist reading of schizophrenia as a breakdown of the signifying chain. Its main political element is that minoritarian movements are those disconnected signifiers and that the Left is the Lacanian “despotic signifier” or hegemonic force that will reunite them.
In the second part of this essay, I look at the...