- Memories of Che:Forging a Postmodern Radicalism in Cultural Studies?
This essay is inspired by a tension that has taken root in recent years around the current state of cultural studies. From its emergence in post-war Britain to surviving the "culture wars" of the 1990s, cultural studies in its many instantiations has reached a precarious moment in its history, as increasingly scholars in the humanities have called into question the usefulness of continuing the cultural studies canon in academic criticism.1 Many have found it disheartening to learn that the once cutting-edge program of social critique has lost some of its zeal in higher education. In a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Bérubé has issued doubts concerning the viability of the cultural studies tradition, as the teachings of Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, and other theorists of the Birmingham school become increasingly distant and even passé in the humanities and social sciences. Bérubé raises questions over the fraught relation between political economy and cultural approaches in understanding today's neoliberal landscape of globalization (Bérubé). Others have echoed these assertions, with another scholar remarking that the state of cultural studies is "depressing," because "the field is often written about almost in the past tense, as something that has run its course" (Gibson vii).
The eulogy for cultural studies occurs concomitantly with another: that of 1960s dissent movements. Along with postmortem cultural studies is a widespread concern about the zeitgeist of today's Left. Many now argue that the post–Cold War political climate has left the Jacobin style of revolutionary movements in shambles. The generation of 1968 is retired, the argument goes, the legacies of 1789-style of revolution have been forgotten. Many now wonder, is Left ideology bankrupt? Yet like the many salvos of cultural studies, there have been a plethora of works that bury the 1960s while attempting to resuscitate it at the same time. The decade continues to be historicized in academic polemics, films, exhibitions, and other cultural expressions that have become part of popular memory, shifting the location of the 1960s from what could have been to what we must not forget.2
I do not think that these two phenomena are unrelated, and this moment has profound implications for thinking about the current relationship between Latin American–themed popular culture and resistance politics in hemispheric form.3 Contributing to the comparative and transnational [End Page 24] cultural work are apologists who remain in favor of building on and expanding classic cultural studies rubrics as well as those who fight to keep the lessons of 1960s radicalism alive and well. The present discussion attempts to explain this curious intersection by investigating what has become a contemporary need to culturally reproduce dissent history within modern frameworks of postmodernity and globalization. As many seek a generational replacement for the aging 1960s Left, it is a timely moment to usher forth new interpretive methods for social and cultural critique in the academy. In order to supplement the creative work going on in local and global organizations that seek out social justice, human rights, and a more equitable distribution of wealth, there is a call to build new cultural studies methodologies that produce meaningful discussions about popular and transgressive constructions of resistance in print, image, and song.
I propose to view these new trends and intersections within a paradigm of "postmodern radicalism." My use of the term incorporates a broad swath of opinions about the style and substance of today's postmodern, global Left. In its widest sense, the phrase attempts to describe a vein of radical history that is continually being rewritten, which is influencing and influenced by a growing body of global cultural workers that seeks a cohesive replacement for the aging cohort of baby-boomer radicals, but yet to cohere into a 1968-like moment. Tracing an order to these cultural phenomena is still a heuristic enterprise at best, so that what I call postmodern radicalism comprises a tapestry of interwoven arguments and thinkers from whence an apparent design has yet to emerge. In the present discussion, I use the term as a method of interpretation...