- 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). 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). 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
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
In the second part of this essay, I look at the effective adoption of the
Jamesonian triangle of fragmentation, total system, unification as total
systemic transformation--in its formal outline rather than its particular
contents--in three major works on postmodernism: David Harvey's The
Condition of Postmodernity: An Inquiry into the Origins of Cultural
Change (1989), Steven Connor's Postmodernist Culture: An
Introduction to Theories of the Contemporary (1989), and Linda
Hutcheon's The Politics of Postmodernism (1989), the latter
of which simultaneously adopts and rejects this triangle. I follow the
mutations of the Jamesonian triangle in these works, in relation to
minoritarian movements. I also look at the effective rejection of the
Jamesonian triangle in Ernesto Laclau's "Politics and the Limits of
Modernity" (1987), again in relation to minoritarian
In the third and final part of the essay, I turn to Deleuze and
Guattari's Anti-Oedipus for an alternative conception of
minoritarian movements and their interaction, in order to escape what I
see as the double bind between fragmentation and unification. Deleuze and
Guattari developed a distinction between two types of relation:
that of schizophrenia or "deterritorialization" and that of paranoia
or "territorialization." I try to show that the Jamesonian triangle
initiated a powerful and persistent "territorializing" tendency in the
postmodernism debate. Finally, I argue that the Jamesonian triangle leads
perhaps for the first time to the fragmentation it purports to
"Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism"
- In this section I will examine the movement from Jameson's
"Postmodernism and Consumer Society" (1982), "Cognitive Mapping" (1983),
"Periodizing the 60s" (1984), and his Foreword to Jean-François
Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition (1984), to the definitive
"Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" (1984). The
section is divided into three parts named for the Jamesonian triangle of
late capitalism, the Left, and minoritarian movements.
- In the first paragraph of his Foreword to The Postmodern
Condition, Jameson introduces his main thesis on postmodernism:
postmodernism "involves [...] a new social and economic moment" (vii).
"Postmodernism and Consumer Society" already has recourse to a "new
moment of late, consumer or multinational capitalism" but
understands its link to postmodernism as only partially determining (125). Yes,
postmodernism is "closely related" to consumer capitalism, and
its "formal features in many ways [not in every way] express the
deeper logic" of consumer capitalism; yet it remains distinct from
consumer capitalism, so that Jameson can conclude: "there is a way in
which postmodernism replicates [...] the logic of consumer
capitalism; the more significant question is whether there is also a way
in which it resists that logic" (125, emphasis added). In
"Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism," with
expressions such as "postmodern period" (62, emphasis added), no
distance remains between postmodernism and the new economic moment;
Jameson assimilates postmodernism to its logic.
But what is this new "social and economic moment"? In "Postmodernism and
Consumer Society" Jameson looks at two features of
postmodernism--pastiche and schizophrenia--in order to deduce the nature
of consumer capitalism. Through both pastiche and schizophrenia, as I
will now explain, he detects social fragmentation. (Jameson seems to
assume that social fragmentation expresses rather than resists consumer
In "Postmodernism and Consumer Society," postmodernism is still a
phenomenon in the arts--later, poststructuralist theory will be included.
Jameson briefly relates pastiche to "each group coming to speak a curious
private language of its own," at the expense and to the detriment of
"normal language [...] of the linguistic norm," as well as at the
expense of "a unique personality and individuality, which can be expected
[unlike groups] to generate its own unique vision of the world" (114).
This is the first instance--a mere suggestion--of a link between the
proliferation of new micropolitical groups and consumer capitalism.
Jameson's discussion of schizophrenic art continues the problematic of,
and the lack of enthusiasm for, new micropolitical groups--initiated in
the last quotation--in that schizophrenic art involves "isolated,
disconnected, discontinuous material signifiers which fail to link up
into a coherent whole" (119).
A quick comparison with Baudrillard's La société de
consommation (1970), to which Jameson's "consumer society" refers,
will show Jameson's originality. Baudrillard's "consumer society" has no
dispersive or fragmentary effects. On the contrary, it is an expanded
system of social reproduction, regulation, and control: "consumption is a
system which assures the regulation of signs and the integration of the
group [...] a system of meaning" ("Consumer" 46). Further, consumer society is but a
reaction to "the rise of new productive forces" (49). Baudrillard's
example of new productive forces, that of Puerto Rican workers in the
U.S., might be seen to refer to all minoritarian groups. "Postmodernism
and Consumer Society" seems to reverse this order, so that the
proliferation of such new productive forces expresses consumer society.
After "Postmodernism and Consumer Society," the term "late capitalism"
quickly becomes dominant. This is part of a broader shift. Here
poststructuralism is still considered both to be "radical"
("Postmodernism and Consumer Society" 115) and to have cognitive value
comparable to that of Mandel's Late Capitalism (1975). By
the time of "Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,"
Jameson has placed them on opposite sides of a distinction between the
symptomatic and the cognitive. Poststructuralism is relegated to the
symptomatic, while Mandel's "late capitalism" represents the cognitive.
"Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" quickly slips
from the initial statement that postructuralism is "a very significant
symptom of [...] postmodernist culture" to the equation,
"poststructural or postmodern period" (61, 62); on the other hand "Marxian
'science' provides [...] a way of knowing and conceptualizing the world
abstractly, in the sense in which, e.g., Mandel's great book offers a
rich and elaborated knowledge of that global world system" (91).
Jameson first develops his use of Mandel's "late capitalism" in
"Periodizing the 60s." He adopts two main ideas. The first is that late
capitalism is the purest and most extended form of capitalism so far. As
Baudrillard and others wouldn't disagree with this (see "Consumer
Society" 50), the second idea is the crucial one: late capitalism is a
spent force after the worldwide economic crisis of 1973-74. "Periodizing the 60s" quickly turns this
"hypothesis" into a quasi-scientific prediction of the political
fate of minoritarian movements (206): they were "produced" by late
capitalism's energy--now that this energy is exhausted, so are they (208).
"Periodizing the 60s" continues to diagnose contemporary reality as
fragmented--as "a now absolutely fragmented and anarchic social reality"
(201)--but this reality is the work of a new subject of history, late
"Periodizing the 60s" opens with the proposition that "history is necessity"
(178). It concludes accordingly: now that late capitalism has lost its
dynamism, the "prodigious release of untheorized new forces" is over and
is "(from the hindsight of the 80s) a historical illusion,"
"inflationary," a matter of "devalued signifiers" caused by an unwise "universal
abandonment of the referential gold standard" (208). (The U.S. and then the IMF
abandoned the actual gold standard in 1970s. Jameson's argument seems to
be that micropolitics abandoned "the referential gold standard" of the
category of class.) Jameson predicts:
the 80s will be characterized by an effort, on a world scale, to
proletarianize all those unbound social forces[;] [...] by an extension
of class struggle, in other words, into the farthest reaches of the globe
[...] The unifying force here is the new vocation of a henceforth global
capitalism, which may also be expected to unify the unequal, fragmented,
or local resistances [...]. (208-09)
This is how Marxism "must necessarily become true again" (209). "And this
is finally also the solution to the so-called 'crisis' of Marxism" (209).
It seems to me that capitalism plays the role of a deus ex
What makes "Periodizing the 60s" fascinating is the fleeting presence, in
this piece alone, of a second theoretical position--history as
contingency--and a second affective position--an openness to minoritarian
movements. The result is pure, unresolved contradiction. For example,
Jameson's genealogy of the 1960s incorporates political events: "a
fundamental 'condition of possibility'" for the unleashing of the new
forces was McCarthyism and the merger of the AFL and the CIO in 1955, in
that it led to "the expulsion of the Communists from the American labor
movement" (181); or Jameson considers that "such newly released forces do
not only not seem to compute in the dichotomous class model of
traditional Marxism; they also seem to offer a realm of freedom and
voluntarist possibility beyond the classical constraints of the
economic infrastructure" (208).
Similarly, as examples of a different affective tone toward minoritarian
movements, Jameson speaks of feminism as "stunning and unforeseeable
[...] a Yenan of a new and unpredictable kind which is still impregnable"
(189), and he salutes "the challenge of the women's movement whose unique
new strategies and concerns cut across (or in some cases undermine and
discredit altogether) many classical inherited forms of [...] political
"Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" leaves
contingency and openness behind: minoritarian movements are but
"symptoms" of late capitalism. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri make the
reverse and, in my view, more convincing argument in Empire:
capital is parasitic
and reactive and simply borrows the inventions of the struggles of the
proletariat to survive. They reject all "objective" theories of the
dynamics of capital and all theories of cycles, in that such theories
devalue the proletariat. The crux of their analysis lies in identifying
the 1960s movements--in their indexes of "mobility, flexibility,
knowledge, communication, cooperation, the affective"--as the new figure
of the proletariat or the "multitude" (275).
While "Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" is
central to the postmodernism debate, while we still return to it, Jameson
himself has moved on and has since said: "I have mainly singled out
intellectual and social phenomena like 'poststructuralism' and the 'new
social movements,' thus giving the impression, against my own deepest
political convictions, that all the 'enemies' were on the left"
The New New Left
- "Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" upholds
a modern model of genuine political expression, of a "great collective
project," comprising three interrelated elements: the individual,
the norm and, crucially, the avant-garde (always in the singular) (65). Here Jameson postulates, first, that
the "collective ideals of [...] political [...] avant-garde [...]
stand or fall along with [...] the so-called centred subject" or that
political "expression requires the category of the individual monad"
(63); second, that the "fragmentation of social life [...] to the point
where the norm itself is eclipsed" goes hand in hand with "the absence of
any great collective project" (65); third, that minoritarian movements
are part of this new fragmentation brought about by late capitalism. Minoritarian movements are, therefore,
an impediment to collective projects, rather than their embodiment. Now
that capitalism works by "heterogeneity without a norm," minoritarian
movements play into the hands of "faceless masters [who] continue to
inflect the economic strategies which constrain our existence"--minoritarian movements are, in effect, the enemy (65). What is
implicitly at work here is a distinction within collective projects,
parallel to the distinction between cognitive and symptomatic theory
discussed above. This is a distinction between authentic and inauthentic
collective projects on grounds that are purely formal and a
priori: an authentic collective project is necessarily
"avant-garde," in the sense of confronting a total system or norm. In
other words, an authentic collective project aims at the total
transformation of a total system.
What is at stake here is much more than the validity of a modern triangle
(the individual, the norm, the avant-garde). The important point, as I
will now try to show, is that Jameson renews this triangle as part of the
attempt to draw a clear line between minoritarian movements and what can
be called the new New Left. This project is initiated in
"Cognitive Mapping" and reaches its definitive formulation in the final
pages of "Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism."
In "Cognitive Mapping," Jameson defines cognitive mapping as that which
"span[s] or coordinate[s] [...] a gap between phenomenological
perception and a reality that transcends all individual thinking
or experience" (353, emphasis added). Here we have Jameson's first
attempt to revamp this modern triangle: cognitive mapping is defined in
relation to the individual, on the one hand, and a global reality, a new
norm, on the other, so that it occupies the position of the avant-garde.
This new norm, to which the new avant-garde will respond, is minoritarian
movements as fragmentation and as the new face of a now-global
capitalism; this new norm is "a multidimensional set of discontinuous
realities," the "post-Marxian Nietzschean world of micropolitics," "the random and undecidable world of microgroups" (351, 355, 356). Where
there is global fragmentation and dissolution, cognitive mapping aspires
to bring its opposite. As Jameson specifies, cognitive mapping attempts
to map "the totality of class relations on a global [...] scale" and is
"an integral part of any socialist political project," because
"without a conception of the social totality (and the possibility of
transforming a whole social system), no properly socialist politics is
possible" (353, 355).
In a moment augmenting polysemy, Jameson comments that cognitive mapping
is "a kind of blind"--"little more than a pretext" for debating the issue
of the relation of the American Left to minoritarian movements (347).
"Our essential function for the moment [...] involves the conquest of
legitimacy in this country for socialist discourse" (358). This "conquest
of legitimacy" seems to require for the Left to reap the surplus value of
the cultural, artistic, and political output of minoritarian movements:
"the question is how to think those local struggles, involving specific
and often quite different groups, within some common project that is
called, for want of a better word, socialism" (360). The task is
international rather than national: the new New Left is to articulate
local struggles everywhere, thereby transforming them from an
epiphenomena of global capitalism to elements in the reconstructed
chain, in the avant-garde project, of international socialism.
Here, a couple of loose ends remain, which Jameson will attempt to
tie up in "Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism."
First, if, as Jameson writes in "Cognitive Mapping," socialism stands for "transforming a
whole social system," what about the claims of those minoritarian movements which also have recourse to a whole
social system and its transformation (certain strains of "difference" feminism, for example,
with their radical address to patriarchy and its transformation) (347)?
In a passage already quoted above, "Postmodernism, or The Cultural
Logic of Late Capitalism"
strengthens the link between Marxism and the cognitive: Mandel's "hypothesis" (in
"Periodizing the 60s") now becomes "a rich and elaborated
knowledge of that global world system" (91).
Second, if the individual stood for the centered subject in the modern
triangle, what exactly does it stand for here--what are we to understand
by "phenomenological perception" and "individual thinking or experience"
(above)? In the final pages of "Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of
Late Capitalism," Jameson revises his account of cognitive mapping and now
speaks of "individual and collective subjects" unable to grasp
the totality and in need of cognitive mapping (92, emphasis added). It
seems then that the individual is now another name for what Jameson sees
as the isolated and fragmented perspective of minoritarian movements. So
the three elements of Jameson's new triangle are first, in the position
of the individual, any minoritarian movement, understood as an isolated,
spatialized, inert element; second, in the position of the norm, late
capitalism as a field of minoritarian movements as isolated islands; and
third, in the position of the avant-garde, international socialism as
unification of minoritarian movements by the new New Left.
A brief contrast with Raymond Williams's The Country and the
City (1973) would be instructive. In speaking of (and for) the
rural laborer, Williams bumps against the fixation of the Left on the
male metropolitan proletarian, at the expense of other kinds of work and
exploitation, which become invisible. Williams links the Left's fixation on
this figure with three additional tendencies--tendencies which, I believe,
may be discerned in "Postmodernism, or The Cultural
Logic of Late Capitalism." These tendencies are the famous
"simultaneous damnation and idealisation of capitalism"; the Left's
identification with "mastery–power"; and, finally, a specific dream of
socialism as the first-born son of capitalism that will inherit all upon
What they say is damn this, praise this; and the intellectual formula for
this emotional confusion is, hopefully, the dialectic. All that needs to
be added, as the climax to the muddle, is [...] the saving qualification,
that at a certain stage [...] capitalism begins to lose this progressive
character and [...] must be replaced, superseded, by socialism. (Williams 37)
- Throughout The Country and the
City, Williams opens up, to the point of reversal, the distinction
between the rural and the metropolitan. On the side of the rural he
includes vagrant laborers (83-86), families without fathers--since even
"in the villages what was most wanted was the abstract producer, the
single able-bodied man" (85)--and Third-World laborers (279-88). On the
side of the metropolitan he includes land enclosures, the laws
restricting mobility, and, as we have seen, even a certain version of
In an analysis resonant with that of Deleuze and Guattari's in
Anti-Oedipus, Williams discusses the sedentary ethic
inextricably linked with the rise of capitalism, whose target and enemy
is migrant and "unproductive" labor: poor labor. As a result, he recasts
and expands the definition of labor--we can say that he recognizes the
labor of many others besides that of the male metropolitan proletariat.
We have seen Jameson, on the other hand, putting his faith in capitalism
to "proletarianize" those others. We will now see him "dissolving [...]
the lives and work of others into an image" (Williams 77).
- A good metaphor for Jameson's perspective on minoritarian
movements in "Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" is
that they are "scattered television screens positioned at intervals"
(like the exemplary artwork by Nam June Paik he describes here); they force us
to choose between two distinct ways of viewing them: either we "decide to
a single screen"--as for him, presumably, minorities do--or we attempt "to see all
the screens at once, in their radical and random difference" (76).
Needless to say, it is only the second, panoptic position that will "hold
to the truth of postmodernism" and "do it justice" (92).
Clearly, given Jameson's choice of metaphor, the panoptic spectator he invokes
is faced with a formidable challenge; indeed, that figure is "called upon to do
the impossible" (76). But we are still a little taken aback when Jameson
announces that our success in this undertaking involves "an imperative to grow new
organs, to expand our sensorium
and our body to some new, as yet unimaginable, perhaps ultimately impossible,
dimensions" (80). Expanding our bodies to impossible dimensions? Is this a radical
political enterprise, a
cognitive enterprise, or some kind of a monstrous assimilation? How
are we even to begin such a project of bodily transformation?
As we have seen, from his earliest work on postmodernism, Jameson
consistently understands minoritarian movements as isolated and
non-communicating. At the same time, something like a common ground gradually
emerges--the new economic system--to the point where, in "Postmodernism, or the
Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism," minoritarian movements are "symptoms" on the
body of late capitalism. Like TV screens, symptoms manifest a latent reality that
is outside and beyond them--treating minoritarian movements as symptoms
derealizes them, transfers their reality, vitality, and life onto
something else. And yet, it seems to me that when the new economic system is
described--as a world of micropolitics, micromultiplicities, and discontinuous
realities--it is itself a figure for a world where the cultural,
artistic, and political initiative has passed to minoritarian movements. In this
state of affairs, Deleuze and Guattari, among others, look at lateral
connections between movements. Jameson, on the other hand, adopts a
conceptual framework that denies a priori the ability of minoritarian
movements to enter into lateral connections or to confront and change oppressive
doxas directly and without intermediaries.
- Key to
Jameson's ghettoization of minorities is his particular scheme or
mode of spatialization, and his understanding of space and historical time in the works examined. In
"Postmodernism and Consumer Society," Jameson argues that postmodernism is marked
by a "historical amnesia" that expresses the new economic system (125). To
demonstrate this, he briefly analyzes an extract from Marguerite
Séchehaye's Autobiography of a Schizophrenic Girl (120). The extract is a first-person narration of
a past "schizophrenic" incident. It opens with the words "I remember very well"
and closes with the "schizophrenic" girl going back "home to our garden and
beg[inning] to play," as a return to reality. What is the incident? A girl is
walking in the countryside when, "suddenly," as she is passing a school, she
hears a German song sung by the schoolchildren and she stops to listen. A double
transformation then occurs. The school and the children become barracks with
prisoners compelled to sing, a vision imbued with a "sense of unreality." At the
same time and "bound up with" this disorienting double vision, a field of wheat
becomes "dazzling" and seemingly infinite, with
"limits I could not see," and this further intensification of the
hallucinatory moment brings with it a profound "anxiety" (120).
My understanding of this incident, indebted to Walter Benjamin's
"Theses on the Philosophy of History," is that, instead of being immersed
in a pleasant walk in the countryside or enjoying nature as an idyllic
spectacle as is customary, and instead of playing in the garden, this
girl has a genuine historical experience. As Benjamin tells us, "to
articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it 'the way it
really was' [...]. The true picture of the past flits by [...] flashes up
at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again"
The girl's stroll is "suddenly" interrupted by the unexpected
sound of a German song sung by children inside
the school--perhaps this is holiday time, hence the surprise. This slight
event sends her back into a time of war and concentration camps,
"barracks" and "prisoners" (Autobiography of a Schizophrenic
Girl was originally published in French in 1950). As a result, the
familiar and timeless scenery of country fields is transfigured; "bound
up with" barracks and prisoners, it is traversed by an added dimension,
that of history, and becomes unlimited and dazzling.
The historical time recalled here is not that of public history.
This, Benjamin tells us, is the form (continuous and present) of the
history of the victors. The "tradition of the oppressed," on the
other hand, a genuine experience, comes to us from the corner of the eye,
the ear, as involuntary and irrepressible as "a tiger's leap" (248, 253).
"Tiger's leap" because for Benjamin, far from being passive or idle, the
genuine historical experience--in this instance, the "schizophrenic"
arrest that is pregnant with the girl's own unknown predicament--is
vitally connected to a revolutionary moment, a moment of praxis. If this
is not the case here, this might be because the girl returned to reality
too quickly; because the girl is not "schizophrenic" enough, so to speak.
As I have already indicated, the narrative where the incident belongs is
exemplary in the incident's overcoming--the narrative itself is anything
but "schizophrenic." The incident is firmly lodged in a sequence
initiated by "I remember very well" and completed by "I ran home to our
garden and began to play 'to make things seem as they usually were,' that
is to return to reality."
Jameson, in his own interpretation, omits--I feel tempted to say
symptomatically--the song, the children/prisoners, the school/barracks,
and has eyes only for the unlimited wheat field now unbound from its
connections and standing in sublime isolation. He therefore sees the
incident as demonstrating that "the schizophrenic is thus given over to
an undifferentiated vision of the world in the present"; "an experience
of isolated, disconnected, discontinuous material signifiers which fail
to link up into a coherent sequence" ("Postmodernism and Consumer
Society" 120, 119). If, for Jameson, this is the definition of historical
amnesia, a radical historical project would, by contrast, involve the
unification of the disconnected.
This becomes clear in "Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late
Capitalism." Discussing E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime (which Jameson argues is symptomatically ahistorical), Jameson claims
that a radical historical
project requires an intentional and active monadic subject grasping firmly the
"historical referent" (71), that it requires a clear distinction between subject
and object. He then argues that the postmodern version of
this project would entail the active grasping of spatial fragments. He therefore repeats
his analysis of the schizophrenic girl from "Postmodernism and Consumer
Society" and adds the analysis of the exemplary TV screens discussed
earlier and the two alternatives, contemporary and relevant, they offer.
The first alternative, comparable to Jameson's reading of the
schizophrenic girl, is exemplary of minoritarian movements: impotent and
symptomatic absorption in a TV screen. The second alternative, actively
grasping all screens at once--that is, continuing the clear distinction
between subject and object by new means--is exemplary of the Left as
Jameson envisages it: it rises above ahistorical postmodernism toward a new historicity in the form of a "new mode of relationship"
Since the emergence of the New Left in the 1960s civil rights
movement, the simultaneous
explosion in the reinvention of group traditions, histories, and agendas
for the future appears to Jameson as ahistorical.
Linda Hutcheon, in
The Politics of Postmodernism, contradicts Jameson directly on this
point. Not only is postmodernism (understood as contemporary culture, including
theory) historical, but it derives "its historical consciousness (and
conscience) from the inscription into history of women and ethnic/racial
minorities" during the 1960s (10). If postmodernism is "typically
denounced as dehistoricized" by Marxist and right-wing critics alike,
this is because "the problematized histories of postmodernism have little
to do with the single totalizing History" in which both parties take
The Adoption of Jameson's Triangle
- I have tried to show that Jameson's "Postmodernism, or the
Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" crystallizes the following triangle:
late capitalism as system generating fragmentation, minoritarian
movements as fragments symptomatic of late capitalism, international
socialism as unification promising total systemic transformation. In this
section, I look at two of the first major adoptions of the
Jamesonian triangle, David Harvey's The Condition of
Postmodernity and Steven Connor's Postmodernist Culture: An
Introduction to Theories of the Contemporary; Linda Hutcheon's
simultaneous rejection and adoption of the triangle in The Politics
of Postmodernism; and Ernesto Laclau's rejection of the triangle
in "Politics and the Limits of Modernity." My argument will be that
Jameson's triangle initiated--provided the toolkit for--a
"territorializing" tendency in the postmodernism debate. Then, in a final
section, I will elucidate the Deleuzo-Guattarian
distinction between "territorialization" and "deterritorialization."
The Condition of Postmodernity
- David Harvey's The Condition of Postmodernity is a
post-Jamesonian work in many ways. What is tentative in Jameson is
asserted in Harvey. For example, even in the hardest version of
"Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism," Jameson is
able to undermine the reality effect he is creating--of minoritarian
movements as fragments symptomatic of late capitalism--when he says that
we need to "project some conception of a new systemic cultural norm [...]
in order to reflect [...] on the most effective forms of any radical
cultural politics today" (57). For Harvey, on the other hand, the links between
minoritarian movements, fragmentation, and late capitalism are self-evident. For
example: "the reproduction of the social and symbolic
order through the exploration of difference and 'otherness' is all too
evident in the climate of postmodernism"; and "racial minorities,
colonized peoples, women, etc. [...] become a part of the very
fragmentation which a mobile capitalism and flexible accumulation can
feed upon" (345, 303).
Most notably, The Condition of Postmodernity is a
post-Jamesonian work in that "Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of
Late Capitalism" is here codified into a set of terms of participation in
the postmodernism debate:
One cannot participate except as a representative and on behalf of a
particular territoriality with avant-garde pretensions and promising
total systemic transformation (in Jameson's case, international
socialism; in Harvey's case the Anglo-American New Left).
- Participants should invoke a global spectre of dissolution that their
territoriality will confront and overcome (in both Jameson's and Harvey's
case, capitalism; in, for example, Hutcheon's case, patriarchy).
- Participants project this global spectre of dissolution onto
their territoriality (in Jameson's case, both minoritarian
movements and those Marxists or post-Marxists who do not subscribe to his
versions of proper Marxism and proper socialism; in Harvey's case, both
minoritarian movements and those Marxists or post-Marxists who do not
subscribe to historical materialism). On their own those others are at
one with the spectre of dissolution, once within the territoriality in
question they contribute to the spectre's defeat.
Harvey participates in the postmodernism debate explicitly as a
representative of the New Left, on behalf of the New Left. He argues that
a return to historical materialism will reverse the centrifugal
tendencies within the New Left, as well as helping the New Left to expand
its territoriality by incorporating gender, race, and the like.
In relation to his title, Harvey asserts that "postmodernism does
not reflect any fundamental change of social condition," and
he outlines two interpretative options (111). Postmodernism can be
understood either as "a departure [...] in ways of thinking about what
could or should be done," or as "a shift in the way capitalism
is working these days" (111, 112, emphasis added). Harvey opts for the
latter. In relation to his subtitle
(An Inquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change), Harvey
first argues that while "embrac[ing] the new social movements," the New
Left "tended to abandon [...] historical materialism as a mode of
analysis" and was left bereft of its traditional claim to understand the
"social processes of transformation that underlay" such epiphenomena.
Secondly, Harvey argues that the New Left tended to treat the "new social
movements" as "something that should be omni-present from the very
beginning in any attempt to grasp the dialectics of social change"
(emphasis added). As a result, the New Left reduced itself to
"compet[ing] on the same terrain," politically and theoretically unarmed,
with the "new social movements" and the poststructuralists. Harvey
proposes that this dip into the phenomenal world, this misadventure, be
viewed as necessary, in the sense of mediating the New Left's
rise from the "shackles of old left politics" toward "recuperating such
aspects of social organization as race, gender, religion, within the overall
frame of historical materialist inquiry" (353-55).
- With Postmodernist Culture, Steven Connor
participates in the postmodernism debate on behalf of the Anglo-American
theoretical humanities. He presents the Anglo-American humanities as "the
most significant and central determinant" of contemporary global culture
(201). Their world-historical political mission is to bring about "an
important, indeed, probably epochal stage in the development of ethical
awareness" (244). Their political task is the "creation of a common frame
of assent which alone can guarantee the continuation of a global
diversity of voices"; the creation of a "horizon of universal
value" (244, 243).
Together with postcolonial studies, Connor views feminism not as part of
the Anglo-American humanities but as a threat to it. Feminism leads to a
"disastrous decompression" and "dissipat[ion]" of politics (226). Having
devoted one and a half pages to this, by now, vast and illustrious
critical field, he reproaches feminism for its "stance" of marginality,
for "this strange tendency of authoritative marginality to flip over into
its own dark side" and for the "irrationalist embrace of the
agonistics of opposition" (231, 243).
While elevating Anglo-American criticism to a new avant-garde defined by
the recognition of diversity, Connor withdraws any actual
recognition from the forces of diversity themselves.The
world seems to be diverse for the sole purpose of giving the ethical
consciousness occasion to show itself by recognizing diversity.
Otherwise, for Connor the world in itself, diversity in itself, is
unethical--as, for Jameson, the world of micromultiplicities is a fallen
world redeemed only when it comes under the wing of international
The Politics of Postmodernism
- Whereas Connor participates in the postmodernism debate on behalf
of Anglo-American criticism, Hutcheon, in The Politics of
participates on behalf of feminism.
We have already seen her arguing against Jameson's monolithic view of
history and in favor of a pluralized view of history: "we now get the
histories (in the plural) of the losers as well as the winners, of the
regional (and colonial) as well as the centrist, of the unsung many as
well as of the sung few, and I might add, of women as well as men" (66).
A pluralized view of history--a view that, instead of separating time and
space, posits the existence of a multiplicity of time-spaces--enables the
positive appraisal of minoritarian movements, and allows Hutcheon to
undermine Jameson's (and Harvey's) calls for a new alliance under the
wing of the Left.
However, Hutcheon wants to go further: she wants to assign feminism an
avant-garde role in the new postmodern world and, within feminism, she
wants to assign an avant-garde role to "difference" feminism. Her
argument is as follows: postmodernism and feminism share a common
"problematizing of the body and its sexuality" (142). If "feminism is a
politics [...] [while] postmodernism is not," if postmodernism is
"complicit[ous] with power and domination" while feminism is "the single
most powerful force in changing the direction in which (male)
postmodernism was heading," this is because feminism "radicalized the
postmodern sense of difference" (4, 142). Feminism "made
postmodernism think, not just about the body, but about the female body;
not just about the female body, but about its desires" (143). So Hutcheon
argues that there is a global status quo, patriarchy, which can be
radically transformed only by "sexual difference" feminism; only within
the context of "sexual difference" feminism can other minoritarian
movements and other feminisms hope to end their complicity with a global
system of oppression and work to overcome it. Hutcheon now finds herself using a conceptual
schema formally indistinguishable from that of Jameson. The result is a
pure contradiction at the heart of The Politics of
Postmodernism. On the one hand, she rejects Jameson's Big History
and embraces "the lessons taught [...] of the importance of context, of
discursive situation"; at the same time she advocates a return to
Big History, to a single global context and its single global
"Politics and the Limits of Modernity"
- The immediate context for Ernesto Laclau's "Politics and the Limits of
was the hostile reception of his and Chantal Mouffe's new theory of hegemony
among some Anglo-American Marxists. In Hegemony and Socialist Strategy
(1985), Laclau and Mouffe outline a theory of hegemony as the
articulation of signifiers by means of a "hegemonic force" comparable to
the Lacanian "despotic signifier." The crucial and controversial aspect
of their theory is that no element in a political alliance--no political
group--can claim to be necessarily and a priori hegemonic.
Alliances have to be articulated in practice, the identity of the
hegemonic force in a particular articulation is purely contingent (and
always transient) and cannot be determined a priori by recourse
to a foundation (be it capitalism, patriarchy, etc.). This, on the one
hand, requires a weakening of the aspirations of radical collective
actors, but, on the other hand, enables a huge amplification of
possibilities for their interaction.
In "Politics and the Limits of Modernity," Laclau draws from his theory of
hegemony a new position for the Left--a position, in some respects,
diametrically opposed to Jameson's and Harvey's. As we have seen, Harvey
presents us with two pairs of interpretative options. First, postmodernism
can be understood either as "a shift in the way capitalism is
working these days" or as "a departure in ways of thinking about
what could or should be done." Second, the task of the New Left is
either to "recuperat[e] [...] race, gender," etc. within a
Marxist territoriality based on historical materialism and class politics
or to assume that they "should be omnipresent from the very
beginning in any attempt to grasp the dialectics of social change."
Harvey chose the first options, Laclau chooses the second.
First, Laclau argues that "there has been a radical change in the
thought and culture of the past few decades" ("Politics" 329). This
radical change in emancipatory political thought is an ongoing
reconstruction of the radical moments in the various traditions of
modernity, conducted from within these traditions. In the case of the
Marxist tradition, its genealogical reconstruction--"a living dialogue
with that tradition, to endow it with a certain contemporaneity against
the timelessness that its orthodox defenders attribute to
it"--involves a recognition of its multiple fissures (from Lenin, to
Luxemburg, to Sorel, to Gramsci), against "its myth of origins" and "the
myth of its coherence and unity" (339).
Second, the anti-foundationalist reconstruction of radical tradition
requires the recognition not just of Marxism's plurality, but of the plurality of
the radical tradition itself.
If we are to
reconstruct radical tradition (because this is precisely what this is
about), not as a necessary departure from a point of origin, but as a genealogy
of the present, it is clear that Marxism cannot be its only point of reference.
The plurality of current social struggles [...] entails the necessity of breaking
with the provincial myth of the "universal class." If one can talk about
universality, it is only in the sense of the relative centralities constructed
hegemonically and pragmatically. The struggles of the working class, of women,
gays, marginal populations, Third World masses, must result in the construction
of their own reappropriations of tradition through their specific genealogical
efforts. This means, of course, that there is no a priori centrality
determined at the level of structure, simply because there is no rational
foundation of History. The only "rationality" that History might possess is the
relative rationality given to it by the struggles and the concrete
pragmatic-hegemonic constructions. (340)
In other words, as Laclau put it in "Building a New Left," Marxism has to
be reinscribed "as a historical, partial and limited moment within a
wider historical line, that of the radical tradition of the West" (179).
Laclau closes "Politics and the Limits of Modernity" with a
proposition with far-reaching consequences: that the combination of
anti-foundationalism and "metaphysical contingency," contingency as a
transcendental a priori, can in itself serve as the emancipatory
metanarrative of our time (343).
By contrast, Jameson's "Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late
Capitalism" provides the tools for what Laclau calls a "homeland"
Marxism as well as for a "homeland" feminism, etc.
It provides the tools, as I will
now go on to argue, for the construction of "artificial territorialities"
which in their mutually exclusive avant-garde aspirations now lead to
the feared fragmentation and dissolution.
- Schematizing and simplifying greatly, whereas Jameson and Laclau
propose two different models of hegemony--with Jameson the identity of
the hegemonic force can be determined a priori, with Laclau the
identity of the hegemonic force is contingent--Deleuze and Guattari
propose a posthegemonic world. Laclau shares Jameson's distinction between unification and fragmentation or dispersion, as well as his rejection
of dispersive politics. In Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, Laclau and Mouffe write that "the role of theory is not to elaborate
intellectually the observable tendencies of fragmentation and dispersion,
but to ensure that such tendencies have a transitory character" (14). On
the other hand, in Anti-Oedipus Deleuze and Guattari propose
"couplings and connections" and "transverse communications,"
by virtue of dispersion (1, 319).
They describe "schizorevolutionary"
processes constituting collectivities as pure multiplicities,
and distinguish them from "paranoiac fascisizing" processes constituting
collectivities caught in a double bind between fragmentation and
A pure multiplicity is "irreducible to any sort of unity" (42). Deleuze and Guattari borrow Melanie
Klein's concept of "partial objects" to describe the elements of a pure
multiplicity. Partial objects are not "parts of even a fragmented whole";
they "are recognized by their mutual independence" and are "different or
really-distinct [...] disparate" (323). This dispersion goes hand in hand
with "myriad" connections:
"partial objects [...] all have their positive determinations, and enter
into aberrant communication following a transversal"; "neither is
there anything in common [between them], nor do they cease communicating"
(69, 60). This connection of the disparate, where each partial object can be
connected to a number of other partial objects, Deleuze and Guattari
call the "first synthesis" or "connective synthesis" or "production of
Then, in a moment of stasis, partial objects and their myriad
connections--partial object coupled to partial object--turn into "a third
term [...] an enormous undifferentiated object" (7). Deleuze and
Guattari, borrowing from Antonin Artaud, call this new part the "body
without organs": "The body without organs is produced as a whole [...]
alongside the [other] parts that it neither unifies nor totalizes. And
[...] it brings about [new] transverse communications" between them (43).
That is, instead of the parts (the partial objects) being parts of the
whole, the whole (the body without organs) is itself one of the parts of
a pure multiplicity. The body
without organs is "antiproduction" in the midst of production, but only
in order to multiply the connections: "the body without organs [...]
reinjects producing into the product, extends the connections"; it
is "perpetually reinserted into production" (72, 8). How? The body without organs is followed by a
"distribution in relation to" itself; the coupled partial
objects now appear as separate, as "co-ordinates" or as "points
of disjunction [on the body without organs,] between which an entire
network of new syntheses is now woven" (12).
The second synthesis or disjunctive synthesis or "production of recording"
works through "inclusive disjunction"--"either [...] or [...] or
[...]"--on the immanent field of the body without organs. The "paranoiac
fascisizing" use of the second synthesis has two aspects. Firstly, it
turns this immanent, produced field into a transcendent, producing,
common field that (like capital and workers in Marx) appropriates the
work--the connections--of partial objects while appearing as
their mysterious "quasi cause" (10-11, 72-74). Deleuze and Guattari call this
pseudo-transcendent, pseudo-producing, pseudo-common field an "artificial
territoriality." Secondly, the "paranoiac fascisizing" use of the second
synthesis introduces differentiation by means of binary opposition--what
Deleuze and Guattari call "exclusive disjunction" and
"either/or"--including the binary opposition between binary opposition
and a fearful chaos of undifferentiation, where "disjunctions are
subjected to the alternative of the undifferentiated or exclusion" (120).
While inclusive disjunctions on an immanent field multiply connections,
exclusive disjunctions on a transcendent field halt connections, disallowing them in advance: what possible connection can there be between the two
sides of an exclusive disjunction? Similarly, whereas, as we have seen,
partial objects are both distinct and connected, a chaos of
undifferentiation is comprised of elements as indistinct as they are
incapable of connection to each other--once again connection is
Corresponding to inclusive disjunctions are "intense feeling[s] of
transition" (18), "experience[s] of death" that are also "passage[s] or
becoming[s]" (330). The third synthesis or conjunctive synthesis or
"production of consumption/consummation" passes through the becomings
toward a kind of subject: not a transcending subject, nor an agent, but
something that follows events within the immanent field of the body
without organs. This is a "faceless and transpositional subject," "an
apparent residual and nomadic subject," "a transpositional subject [...]
collecting everywhere the fraudulent premium of its avatars" (77, 330,
88). After the partial objects and the body without organs, this is the
third and last part of the pure multiplicity that Deleuze and Guattari
call the "desiring-machine": the "adjacent part" (330, 338). Deleuze and Guattari call this
connective, inclusively disjunctive, nomadic, polyvocal, transversal,
nonhierarchical, mortal, collective subject in transition a
"subject-group" and distinguish it from the "subjugated group": "[Our]
[...] final thesis [...] is therefore the distinction between [...] the
paranoiac, reactionary, and fascisizing pole, and the schizoid
revolutionary pole [...] the one is defined by subjugated
groups, the other by subject-groups" (348-49,
Subjugated groups could very well have revolutionary aims. What
distinguish them are not their aims but their processes of constitution.
Emerging from exclusive disjunction in relation to a transcendent field,
they have two aspects. First, they are segregated and segregative:
incapable of connection, they are constituted as isolated islands of a
superior people surrounded by inferior enemies (103, 269). Second, in
the meeting of a segregative group and a transcendent field, the
polyvocality of subject-groups gives way to what Deleuze and Guattari
call "biunivocalization." The subjugated group expresses a meaning
residing in a transcendent field: biunivocalization is "the flattening of
the polyvocal real in favor of a symbolic relationship between two
articulations: so that is what this meant" (101).
Subject-groups, on the other hand, are always "at grips with, and
directly coupled to, the [other] elements of the political and historical
situation" which "they express all the less" (97, 100). In spite of their
names--Deleuze and Guattari also call them "active groups" (94)--they
bypass distinctions between subject and object, active and passive; they
neither express nor are expressed, they neither cause nor are causing. Subject-groups are not those groups
striving for self-realization, but those capable of being affected by
others, those capable of interaction, impurity, and inauthenticity.
Instead of constituting itself as an island whose superior self-identity
(a=a) is threatened by enemies, a subject group is constituted as a, b,
To summarize so far, Deleuze and Guattari outline three
syntheses--connection, disjunction, conjunction--and three parts--partial
objects, the body without organs, and the adjacent part--of a pure
multiplicity, the desiring machine. They distinguish between two uses of
these syntheses and parts: a schizorevolutionary and a paranoiac use. The
schizorevolutionary use, associated with subject groups, involves partial
and non-specific connections: connections are partial in that they do not
refer to a global entity, but by the same token they are each complete and lacking in nothing; there can be several connections between
two partial objects. The schizorevolutionary use, as we have seen, also
involves inclusive and non-restrictive disjunctions, as well as polyvocal
and nomadic conjunctions. The paranoiac use, associated with subjugated
groups, involves global and specific connections: partial objects are now
seen as parts of a pre-existing global entity to which they refer, in
relation to which they are lacking, and which alone completes them;
connections are seen as taking place between these pre-existing parts, so
that a connection is always secondary and incomplete. The paranoiac use,
as we have seen, also involves exclusive and restrictive disjunctions, as
well as biunivocal and segregative conjunctions. Why? Deleuze and Guattari's distinction between
the paranoiac and the schizorevolutionary is indissociable from their
analysis of capitalism.
In brief, Deleuze and Guattari distinguish between three
societies--primitive territorial, despotic, and capitalist--in their
"history of contingencies, and not the history of necessity" (140).
Starting from the postulate that "society is not first of all a milieu
for exchange [...] but rather a socius of inscription", they name
the three socii as the body of the earth, the body of the despot, and the
body of capital (142). Whereas the immanent body of the earth codes population
and other flows (into, for example, tribes) and whereas the transcendent
body of the despot recodes them (into, for example, castes), capital
decodes: as Marx and Engels said, all that is solid melts into air.
Whereas precapitalist socii code flows, capitalism is based on a
conjunction of decoded flows--for example, conjunction of decoded flows
of population and decoded flows of money--that Deleuze and Guattari call
an "axiomatic" (139). In order to survive, capitalism needs to regulate
the axiomatic with a resurrection of the transcendent despotic state
"under other guises" and "in unexpected forms" (220, 223). These
instances of fake transcendence immanent to capitalism are
"artificial territorialities" and
the processes of their constitution are "(artificial) reterritorializations."
Capitalism oscillates between two
poles--reterritorialization, which preserves it, and
deterritorialization, an unfettered decoding threatening it with
extinction. "Capitalism is
inseparable from the movement of deterritorialization, but this movement
is exorcised through factitious and artificial reterritorializations";
"capitalism is continually reterritorializing with one hand what it was
deterritorializing with the other" (303, 259). What exactly do deterritorialization and
artificial reterritorialization consist of and how exactly do they work?
We have now gone full circle. Deterritorialization involves the
schizorevolutionary connections, disjunctions, and conjunctions, while
artificial reterritorialization involves paranoiac-fascisizing
connections, disjunctions, and conjunctions, as outlined above. In some
sense, the schizorevolutionary--desiring-machines and their
desiring-production--"functions at the end," "under the conditions
determined by an apparently victorious capitalism" (130, 139). For
Anti-Oedipus the fight against capitalism is defined as
careful and patient invention of deterritorialization in relation to a
singular situation opening onto an immanent cosmopolitan
field (319-20, 380). (As we have seen, Anti-Oedipus bypasses the
opposition of part versus whole with the alliance of singularity and
If we use this quick sketch of the conceptual apparatus of
Anti-Oedipus to look back on Jameson's diagnosis of late
capitalism and his prescription of a way out through international socialism,
what strikes us is this: our enslavement (fragmentation) and our
liberation (unification) are indistinguishable, in that they are both
reterritorializing. In spite of their apparent opposition, they stand
together in their common exclusion of deterritorialization--of the
schizorevolutionary processes outlined in
Anti-Oedipus. As we have seen, Jameson diagnoses minoritarian
movements in their enslaved (so to speak) state as disconnected and, in their
disconnectedness, as symptoms of late capitalism, while he announces
minoritarian movements in their liberated state to come as parts of
international socialism. The former (fragmentation) and the latter
(unification) are in a relation of exclusive disjunction. This analysis
is reterritorializing in different respects. The exclusive disjunction
between late capitalism (fragmentation) versus international socialism
(unification) is itself reterritorializing. Also, in spite of their
apparent opposition, both late capitalism and international socialism are
transcendent fields: Jameson "biunivocalizes" minoritarian movements in
that he sees them as expressing a transcendent field that is late
capitalism; he sees international socialism not as a pure multiplicity
but as a whole unifying the parts. From the point of view of
Anti-Oedipus, all instances of transcendence are now fake,
so that both late capitalism and international socialism extract a
surplus value from minoritarian movements while keeping them unconnected
to each other--in the latter case, minoritarian movements are unified by
their common participation in international socialism but remain
laterally unconnected. As between them late capitalism and international
socialism appear to exhaust the realm of the possible, the lateral,
unmediated connections between minoritarian movements become a
With Jameson's international socialism, as with Harvey's American New
Left, as with Connor's Anglo-American humanities, as with Hutcheon's
sexual difference feminism, one of the elements of an unimaginably
multidimensional and interconnected political situation aspires to play
an avant-garde role by lifting itself above the immanent field. But in
doing so, it behaves as a segregative and segregated territoriality (we
are a superior people surrounded by an inferior world), now creating the
fragmentation it purports to overcome. (It seems that avant-gardism and
segregative territorialities are not in exclusive disjunction, either.) As
participants representing minoritarian movements imported Jameson's
triangle, and as they matched his avant-garde aspirations with their own,
the postmodernism debate, promising unprecedented participation for
everyone, risked generating unprecedented reterritorialization.
Deterritorialization and schizorevolutionary processes, on the other
hand, could bring to the postmodernism debate the other, double life of
minoritarian movements: a vibrant life of partial, inclusive, polyvocal,
and nomadic political encounters, an already emerging post-hegemonic
Anti-Oedipus moves through a dizzying array of concepts,
conceptual distinctions, and registers. In this brief account I have
concentrated on the concepts, distinctions, and registers I deemed pertinent in
understanding the situation of minoritarian movements within the
postmodernism debate, thereby perhaps giving the misleading impression
that Anti-Oedipus offers a closed system. What it does do,
though, is explicitly leave behind established oppositions, exclusive
disjunctions, such as unification/fragmentation and
undifferentiation/exclusive differentiation (a full list would be very
long), replacing them with a proliferating array of new inclusive
From register to register and from distinction to distinction,
Anti-Oedipus stresses the "simultaneity," "coexistence" (117, 278,
375), and inseparability (318) of the two terms of its distinctions; between the two terms, there
are oscillations (260, 278, 315, 376), perpetual, subtle and uncertain
shiftings, "border or frontier phenomena ready to cross over to one side or the other" (126),
"underground passages" (278), the possibility of "going from one side
[...] to this other side" (380); the two terms "interpenetrate" (378),
are "contained in [...] one another" (324), "continually deriving from"
each other (349). In short, " it is clear how everything can coexist and
Anti-Oedipus declares that "we live today in the age of
partial objects," it brings into focus not a world of fragmentation
in need of unification, but a "world of transverse communications,"
with its "myriad little connections, disjunctions, and conjunctions,"
threatening late capitalism with extinction (42, 319, 315).
This world finally enters the postmodernism debate in 2000, with Hardt
and Negri's Empire. Profoundly influenced by Deleuze and
Guattari, Empire continues, updates, and renews their work.
It announces the end of a postmodernism debate dominated by the
"alternatives" of unification versus fragmentation; instead it views both
"alternatives" as part of "corruption," the Empire's ontological
nullification of Deleuzo-Guattarian "pure multiplicity," or what
Empire calls "multitude" (both names for the creativity
interaction of minoritarian movements). Corruption is the "substance and
totality of Empire"--of the new societies of control (391). "At the base of all these forms of corruption there is an operation
of ontological nullification": "the multitude must be unified or
segmented into different unities: this is how the multitude has to be
corrupted" (391, emphasis added).
To elaborate further the possibilities and challenges of this "deterritorializing"
and "schizorevolutionary" turn in the postmodernism debate would require us to
consider Deleuze and Guattari's notion of "becoming
minoritarian" as it is developed in Kafka, their sequel to
in A Thousand Plateaus, (especially in reference to Deleuze's quick
sketch there of the new "societies of control"); and, finally, in
Hardt and Negri's Empire. We can only say here that such a turn offers our best
hope of an escape from both fragmentation and unification toward "myriad little" minoritarian
interconnections. While the contribution of minoritarian movements to academic
scholarship in the humanities is now undeniable,
their very institutional success is presenting us with a new challenge: as we
jettison the canonical treatises on postmodernism which would relegate these
movements to the status of troubling symptoms, will the movements
themselves prove better able to tolerate the seeming loss or chaos of
intermixing, better able to produce a new kind of thinking that takes place
across, between, and together?
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A version of this essay was delivered at the "Effects of Reading" seminar
at Merton College, Oxford University, on 9 November 2001. I would like
to thank the organizers, Clare Connors, Lydia Rainford, and Sarah
Wood, and the participants for their helpful comments. Thank you to
Gerard Greenway for his many criticisms. I would also like to thank
Postmodern Culture's reader and editors for their helpful
suggestions for revision--I am especially grateful to Jim English for
his generous help.
1. The case for the centrality, in
the postmodernism debate, of "Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of
Late Capitalism" and its earlier version, "Postmodernism and Consumer
Society" (1982), is strongly made by Anderson. I agree with the
general point but understand this centrality differently.
2. A note informs us that "this
essay was originally a talk, portions of which were presented as a
Whitney Museum Lecture in fall, 1982; it is published here essentially
3. I am indebted to Kellner.
4. "What is decisive in the present
context is his [Mandel's] notion that, with the worldwide recession
of 1973-74, the dynamics of this latest 'long wave' are spent"
5. In the texts by Jameson I examine, there is only one other such instance, one moment of "juncture"
between Marxism and feminism: see "Cognitive Mapping" 355.
6. See, for example, Hardt and Negri
234-39, 268-69, 272-76, 402-03. What they call the "multitude" is a
Deleuzo-Guattarian "pure multiplicity" (see final part of this essay).
7. We have already seen above an
early version of this argument in "Postmodernism and Consumer
Society," including two of the three elements of genuine political
expression, the individual and the norm: Jameson argues that "each
group com[es] to speak a curious private language of its own," at the
expense and to the detriment of "normal language [...] of the
linguistic norm," as well as at the expense of "a unique personality
and individuality, which can be expected [unlike groups] to generate
its own unique vision of the world" (114).
8. This fragmentation is "also a
political phenomenon, [as] the problem of micropolitics sufficiently
demonstrates" ("Postmodernism, or the Cultural" 65).
9. Throughout the pieces I examine,
the only content Jameson ever gives socialism is in a sentence in
"Cognitive Mapping": socialism is "a society without hierarchy, a
society of free people" (355); at the same time, the road to socialism
seems to require a rigid hierarchical distinction between the unifier
(the Left) and those in need of unification (minoritarian movements).
10. The "disappearance of the American radical past" involves the loss of the
"activities and the intentionalities" that focus the present and
anchor the past so that it neither drifts away nor suddenly and
unintentionally invades the present (as in the schizophrenic incident
discussed above which Jameson considers ahistorical); it also involves
"some degraded collective 'objective spirit'" rather than "the old
monadic subject" ("Postmodernism, or the Cultural" 70, 73, 71).
The voice that speaks is that of a degraded collective spirit rather
than that of an individual; grasping the "historical referent" with a
firm hand is replaced by sudden invasions of the past into the
present--Toni Morrison's Beloved seems a good example of
what Jameson would call ahistorical.
12. See, for example, Arendt.
13. In this context, Hutcheon
reverses Jameson's argument in relation to Doctorow's
Ragtime (see n11): "it could be argued that a relatively
unproblematized view of historical continuity and the context of
representation offers a stable plot structure to Dos Passos's
USA trilogy. But this very stability is called into
question in Doctorow's [...] Ragtime" (95).
14. See also The Condition of
15. Hutcheon had already published
A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction
(London: Routledge, 1988).
16. Intriguingly, Hutcheon doesn't
even mention the name of Luce Irigaray, the feminist philosopher most
closely associated with "sexual difference."
17.The hostile reception to
Hegemony and Socialist Strategy crystallized in Geras.
18. See "Building a New Left": "I
have never been a 'total' Marxist, someone who sought in Marxism a
'homeland'[...] The 'language games' I played with Marxism were always
more complicated, and they always tried to articulate Marxism to
something else" (178).
19. This is "a pure dispersed and
anarchic multiplicity, without unity or totality, and whose elements
are welded, pasted together by the real distinction or the very
absence of a link" (324).
20. "Myriad break-flows [...]
determine the positive dispersion in a molecular multiplicity" (342).
21. The body without organs and the
partial objects can be described in terms of Spinoza's substance and
attributes, in that the body without organs is immanent while the
partial objects are "distinct and cannot [...] exclude or oppose one
another" (327, see also 309).
22. That the body without organs
allows a permanent revolution--breaking and remaking--of connections
which might otherwise become fixed is an important point stressed by.
Holland, throughout his articles and books on Deleuze and Guattari.
See, for example, Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus 28,
35-36, 96-97. However, as we will see, the body without organs also
lends itself to a "paranoiac fascisizing" use, hence what Holland
calls its "constitutive ambivalence" (38).
23. In the so-called "sixth
chapter" of Capital, Marx shows how capital comes to
appear as "a quite mysterious being" (516).
24. The body without organs and the
partial objects are "two kinds of desiring-machine parts, in the
dispersion of the machine itself" (329); the desiring-machine "brings
together--without unifying or uniting them--the body without organs
and the partial objects" (327); then comes "the last part of the
desiring-machine, the adjacent part" (330). "Here are the
desiring-machines, with their three parts: the working parts, the
immobile motor, the adjacent part" (338).
25. The segregative use of the
conjunctive synthesis "brings about the feeling of 'indeed being one
of us,' of being part of a superior race threatened by enemies from
outside" (103). When God is dead, and when modernity has destroyed all
that is solid, the segregative use involves "an enormous archaism," a
spiritual, transcendent, eternal entity (104). The "segregative use
[...] does not coincide with divisions between classes, although it is
an incomparable weapon in the service of a dominating class" (103).
While there are obvious examples which turn this argument into a
truism--such as the Jewish conspiracy against the spirit of the German
people in the eyes of the Nazi--the edge of this argument becomes more
clear with less obvious examples. To give one, in relation to the
agonizing debate in feminism as to whether or not feminism needs a
strategic essentialism, that is, recourse to an essence of women as a
common ground, the answer here would be: no, strategic essentialism is
neither necessary nor helpful.
26. For example, see: "objective or
subjective [...] That is not the distinction: the distinction to be
made" is between paranoiac and schizorevolutionary investments (345);
or "desire and its object are one and the same thing [...] Desire is a
machine, and the object of desire is another machine connected to it"
(26). "Subject-groups [...] have as their sole cause a rupture with
27. See Anti-Oedipus
28. Artificial territorialities--as
pseudo-transcendent objects "borrowed" from the despotic state and as
"feeble archaisms bearing the greatest burden of current
functions"--are immanent to capitalism yet "more and more
spiritualised" (236, 268, 177). They are diffuse, so that "no one
escapes"--not even groups with revolutionary aims (236).
29. Deterritorialization, the
axiomatic and reterritorialization are the three "surface elements" of
30. Jameson calls this latter
passage "remarkable" (see "Marxism and Dualism in Deleuze" 19, 35 n.6)
and describes Anti-Oedipus's analysis of capitalism as
"surely one of the most interesting and promising lines of
investigation opened up by the 'Marxism' of
L'Anti-Oedipe" (20). See also Anti-Oedipus
31. I agree with Paul Patton's
conclusion that "the concept of deterritorialisation [understood as
connection of deterritorialisations] lies at the heart of Deleuzian
ethics and politics, to the extent that Deleuze and Guattari's mature
political philosophy might be regarded as a politics of
32. See the "simultaneity of
the two movements of deterritorialization and reterritorialization" (260).
33. Subject-groups and subjugated
groups "are perpetually shifting"; between the
"paranoiac-segregative and schizonomadic [...] [there are] ever so
many subtle, uncertain shiftings" (64, 105).
34. In a subtle and nuanced account
of Anti-Oedipus and its sequel, A Thousand
Plateaus, Jameson's starting point is that Deleuze and Guattari
use "great mythic dualisms such as the Schizophrenic and the molar or
Paranoid" ("Marxism" 15) but he moves to the position that
Anti-Oedipus "complexifies" some oppositions, though it
retains "the great opposition between the molecular and the moral"
(29). He concludes with the suggestion that such great mythic
oppositions be grasped as reterritorializations carrying "the call of
utopian transfiguration" (34). Anti-Oedipus makes clear
on two occasions that reterritorializations are "ambiguous"--they can
have a positive role when they are part of a movement of
deterritorialization (258, 260). It also states that "everywhere there
exist the molecular and the molar: their disjunction is a
relation of included disjunction" (340).
35. See Deleuze, "Control and
Becoming" and "Postscript on the Societies of Control."
36. Corruption is the "substance
and totality of Empire"--of the new societies of control (Hardt and
Negri 391). "At the base of all these forms of corruption there is an
operation of ontological nullification": "The multitude has to be
unified or segmented into different unities: this is how the multitude
has to be corrupted" (391).
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