Jazz Thoughts

Is postmodernism racist?

This is a rather blunt question, and so one task of this article will be to explore the nuance behind the question. Some readers might be critical of my decision to frame the title question in this manner, and some criticism might be warranted, but I decided to raise this question in this manner for a fairly simple reason: This was a question I specifically posed to myself, consciously around the beginning of 2012, but probably in a more vague sense, over a much longer period. My attempt to answer this question naturally raised more questions, particularly the closely related questions "What is postmodernism?" & "What is racism?" This article will attempt to answer those questions, although not in a comprehensive way. A comprehensive answer to either of those questions could fill a long volume by itself. The focus here will be on the nexus of the two, by which I mean that concepts of racism will be used to clarify postmodernism, and concepts of postmodernism will be used to clarify racism. Such an approach will necessarily be limited when it comes to seeing either of these phenomena by itself, so to speak, although it would also be impossible to discuss either subject in a vacuum, since neither can exist outside of a context. Formally then, this article will intertwine answers to those two subsidiary questions, step-wise reflecting on each other, and forming a shared context. Balancing such a form, moving between one question and the other, will be one challenge for the reader & writer. That balancing act will be complicated by the intense emotional associations of "racism" — rather out of balance with the generally abstract associations of "postmodernism." Perhaps some of the hidden emotional content of the postmodern can be illuminated by such a comparison, and perhaps the cultural-systemic suppression of race conversations can as well. The astute reader will no doubt recognize that, were I not to have at least some kind of "yes" answer for this question, I would not be writing this. The bluntness of the yes-no form will hopefully serve to focus the forthcoming discussion.

Given the necessity of a context for both postmodernism & racism [1], I need to be specific about my own context. I am writing from the USA [2], where racism has a very specific history, as well as some rather specific forms. In this, I will follow Patricia Hill Collins and the model of an originary racial triangle. Simply put, at the origin of the USA, there were three racially based groups: the natives, the white European colonists, and the black African slaves. This triangle has created the basic structure of race relations since then, with more recent immigrant groups wedged more or less awkwardly into a position within that triangle.[7] Stepping back immediately, such a summary already subsumes the creation of "race" itself as a construct. This idea was formed together with the roles themselves: natives (to be removed or exterminated), slaves (to be used as labor), and colonists (the imperial power). The construct of race came together with the establishment of this social structure.[8] In other words, were it not for this rather peculiar three-part relationship, our ideas on race might not be what they are. Although it's possible to find this model used elsewhere, if less spectacularly, the innovation of the North American colonizing model was in the use of imported slaves as a workforce, rather than enslaving the native population, as happened e.g. in Central & South America.[9] The triangle introduced a third group into an interaction that was more commonly bipartite elsewhere: One group of foreign immigrants, set against natives, either as despised visitors (xenophobia) or conquerors. This simpler sort of us-them dynamic does not require the logic of "race" — it's simply foreign & domestic, regardless of which group is oppressing the other. The USA race terminology was subsequently reflected onto other imperial interactions, even when no "third group" was involved.[11] In other words, the imperialists believed some sort of consistency was demanded in their logic of exploitation, particularly of black Africans [12], and so the "race" concept was used widely.[13] In any case, my point here is that this triangular relationship was not the norm, not elsewhere in the world during the age of European imperialism, and certainly not in previous historical periods. Put another way, xenophobia has a broader historical basis as a concept than does racism.[14]

My encounter & engagement with postmodernism was & is via the realm of art, and especially music. So that is my orientation for this sometimes vague term.[15] Postmodernism can, however, mean different things in different contexts, and it has different histories.[16] It is generally true in the arts & in aesthetics that periods or labels do not exactly coincide in different media, or with other historical forces, and maybe do not even overlap substantially. This is as true of ideas like "Renaissance" [17] as it is terms like postmodern. These terms indicate a particular kind of stylistic logic that can be applied to different media, perhaps starting at very different times, and even different times in different places.[18] Musical postmodernism is a relatively late phenomenon, since the immediate post-WWII trend of serial music, and before it dodecaphony and some other early 20th century developments (such as primitivism), is considered "modern" — a reaction to romanticism.[19] The term "modern" therefore also establishes itself in music aesthetics at a very late date, relatively speaking.[20] That said, in my opinion it is an error to imagine these terms as indicating a strict periodization: If these terms represent different kinds of logics (or philosophies), then those logics can be in force at any time. So what is the logic of postmodern? Some might call it an illogic, and that seems like a reasonable place to begin a description. As "illogic" is constructed in opposition to logic (rather than a term like prelogical), postmodern is constructed in opposition to modern. We need, therefore, to ask "What is modern?" This question has been considered very widely, both by those writing within the framework of modernism [21], and those taking a postmodern (or some other) perspective. A discussion of modernism by itself could easily dwarf this article, and so, although the question is important here, it will largely be treated implicitly. Perhaps the simplest definition of the modern period I can suggest (although as noted, the term has a much narrower meaning in music) is that it is the historical period coinciding with European imperialism.[23] Moving back to aesthetics, in visual art, already there had been Dada and other movements. In music, in the USA, postmodernism was associated with composers such as John Cage & Philip Glass and others, especially minimalists in the USA, who challenged traditional musical forms, not only in tonality, but by including randomness, modifying the setting for music, etc. So for instance, whereas Boulez continues to write "modern music," Stockhausen moved from the modern to the postmodern.[24] As can be seen, even jumping into the topic of my own orientation toward postmodernism raises a wide number of issues, which is indicative of the general slipperiness of the term.

Defining the modern period as the historical period of European imperialism already provides a specific nexus between modernity & racism. It's not a pretty picture, and many or most white Americans would disagree, so what are the relevant details? Although discussions of modernity & postmodernity can lead in a variety of directions, the "What is racism?" question is much easier to answer: To have racism, one must have a concept of race, and a power structure that enforces differences according to race. Race & racism form together.[25] There is really no point to having a concept of "race" without a sociopolitical meaning attached, and the notions that it was ever a neutral concept are pure fantasy. Concepts of governmentality & biopolitics (or necropolitics) are relevant here.[26] In particular, the ways that people are taught to internalize social messages & discipline themselves means that power necessary for racism can & does remain intact without explicit racist policies at the institutional level.[27] The removal of explicit racist policies is relatively recent, however: In the broader sweep of history, and certainly within the context of five hundred or so years of modernity, Martin Luther King & the USA civil rights movement only just happened.[29,30] Already we have the New Racism [31]: The relative poverty, or other differences, of racial groups is taken as evidence of their inferiority, set against an official claim that there is no discrimination.[32] If they are worse off, it's said to be because of their own defects.[34] If various kinds of racial differences, and hierarchies associated with them, are widely believed, they reproduce themselves at least as effectively as if they were legislated.[35] The result is the new racism, at least partially decoupled from public policy [37], and so not addressable within the current parameters of neoliberal politics.[38]

Returning to postmodernism & coincident periodization, the musical example of postmodern style is especially apt historically, because its development in the 1960s & beyond (and arguably, already in the 1950s) coincides with the Civil Rights Movement in the USA and the European Student Movement. If racially based hierarchy & imperialism are inherent to modernity, then with these movements, we have the potential for leaving modernity behind.[39] The coincidence runs deeper, in fact: Perhaps the more significant academic term of the time is poststructuralism, rather than postmodernism [40], and poststructuralism was only inaugurated with the last third of the twentieth century.[42] Prior to this point, and still after by some people, fundamental structures of human activity were sought, whether in the domains of language, anthropology, economics, politics, psychoanalysis, etc.[43] Overturning the idea of fundamental structures has proven very challenging for many people [44], and despite the huge influence of poststructuralism in the academy, the ideas have not penetrated the mass media much. Many fairly educated people consider deconstruction, a technique that arrived as part of poststructuralism, to be basically the butt of a joke.[46] What is the fundamental structure of human society, or at least as it is mediated or described in language? Since moving outside Christian theology, that question has inspired a range of answers, most inspiring their own academic discipline in turn. Poststructuralism is inherently interdisciplinary in this sense, because refusing to grant primacy to some social phenomenon in turn questions the reification of disciplines.[47] I would argue further that establishing priority in the superstructure has been exactly the project of modernity [48], and that relinquishing this project has been the basic message of poststructuralist questioning: There's a sort of meta-message that people receive: Nothing that you believe is true (reinforced by transgressive postmodern art). This meta-message has its form & power because modernity had already told people their everyday experiences were meaningless [51], and asked them to invest emotionally in superstructure [52] — so questioning "fundamental structure" has not returned them to their everyday experiences, but rather seems to lead into nihilism. This is the basic "illogic" of postmodernism: If you've based yourself on fundamental structure, withdrawing fundamental structure takes you away from yourself. As I've framed it, I obviously place the "illogic" squarely with the first step, "slippery" as that may be.[53]

Further on coincident periodization, if one establishes a correspondence between postmodernism & globalization [54], one has a clear affirmative answer to the title question. There is more to say, however. First of all, as already noted, modern & postmodern logics can be carried out simultaneously, whether by different people or even the same people.[55] Second, globalization projects a temporal organization onto space [56], and modern & postmodern are temporal logics.[57] One of the critical insights of postcolonial theory [58] is that different ideas or observations under colonial conditions are not two sides of one coin [59], do not add up to a unity.[60] Despite its systemization, global racism does not present a coherent whole either, but something of a pastiche.[61] Under colonial conditions, it need not involve a triangle, as it did in USA, but racial constructs formed in the USA or elsewhere were, in turn, reflected back onto other European colonies. This kind of reflection can be considered spatially based on an enforced core in Europe, and the concentric rings of the periphery.[62] In other words, racial dynamics from elsewhere were brought back to Europe and then imposed on other places, not necessarily consciously, but opportunistically. Racism on a global scale is inseparable from European-USA imperialism.[63] Moreover, I would argue that "racism on a global scale" [64] is not well understood. Although the USA version would appear to have special historical significance, most of the world's population has not had an opportunity to mutually discuss their experience of racism. Postcolonial theory remains fairly embryonic, particularly outside of Indian authors.[65] The frequently shifting perspectives of the postcolonial literature, responsible for its notorious difficulty [66], point toward a critique of critiques of postmodernism: Namely, the idea that postmodern art consists of pastiche without normative reference neglects not just the multiple references colliding under colonial conditions, but the spectral quality of the various imperfect reflections.[60] In some sense, a colony is a critique. If postmodernism is the aesthetic philosophy of globalization, then hopefully it's the postcolonial aesthetic philosophy arising from globalization too.

I have, to an extent, framed postmodernism-poststructuralism as a non-racist aspect of contemporary thought [67], in contrast with modernism & the "structure" of the world-imperial epoch. So do we seek to end modernism, and begin (to invoke another post-) postracism? To reframe the title question here, how does or could this postracism coincide with postmodernism? The thorniest question is at the beginning, how would we end the modern age or modernist logic? Francis Fukuyama has already proclaimed The End of History, and not for the better, I don't think: It's basically an end to possibility, the proclamation of the best of all possible worlds. Taken from the (post)colonial perspective, this is clearly absurd.[68] Lyotard talks of the "incredulity toward meta-narratives," which appears to me to be a bit of quicksand: Whether it makes ethics impossible or not, there always seems to be another meta-narrative or meta-meta-narrative ready to go.[69] If history itself is a religion, declaring its end may be merciful, but there are still lives to be lived.[70,71] This is my most direct answer yet to the title question: If history has ended, if there are no more significant decisions to be made, then many people have never had a say. Moreover, if time is spatialized under globalization, then history does not & cannot end in the same way everywhere. The answer is not to seek an end to all narratives, but an end to some narratives. If we in the West have really asked all the questions there are for us, then maybe it's time to get out of the way.[72] Or maybe it's time to actually listen.[73] Can the modernist project really be ended?[74] Perhaps by sheer numbers in opposition; perhaps by catastrophe.[75] If nothing else, the phenomenon of postmodernism — by which I mean its public contour more than its own logic — projects a new fatalism [76], postmodernism & all the other proliferating post-s: People seem to believe that something is or must be ending.[77,78] What that is exactly still seems open to negotiation.

If colonial time is outside of history, then the idea of ending history ends nothing about colonial time. We're told it is or was "behind." So in a postmodern conception, does it now catch up [79], or become a different time? How? In the realm of philosophy or theory, this can be a strange question, yet it's one that much of Western postmodern discussion seems to ask only by assumption. For example, Deleuze can embark on a serious discussion of what was special about the Greeks such that they invented philosophy.[80] (Beyond the word itself, of course they did not.[81]) So if people elsewhere in the world are interested in philosophy or theory, does that mean Western intellectual production? Reset their clocks, and take up a time stream beginning with Western postcolonial thought, and so postmodernism? If the postmodern is post-system, what of other cultures having their turn at system building? This is where the post- logic of postmodern is most racist [83]: The implication that earlier ideas from the colonized (broadly speaking) have also run their course.[84] The idea that everyone must start over is a reinscription of imperialism. If colonial time is a different time, much hasn't happened there (yet?), but also, much else has already happened.[85] What then of other world philosophies or theories? For postmodernism to deny them would be racist indeed, and indeed current theory remains highly Western. But not quite: Other ideas do appear, often unattributed, or presented in some kind of reductionist way.[88] I am baffled by some of the things I read: Gayatri Spivak presenting ideas from the Sanskrit Grammarians [91], without mentioning Sanskrit or the Grammarians; Homi Bhabha referring to dualism via Mani [93]; even Brian Massumi and his series out of MIT advancing a Buddhist phenomenology without mentioning Buddhism.[94] What does this mean? Is it possible the authors aren't aware of these histories? In at least some cases, that seems utterly impossible to me. Is it a matter of communicating to the Western reader? But then, what is being communicated?[95] Possible insights are being left behind in not communicating the contexts of these ideas. Even more strangely, prior to the postcolonial age, these ideas had begun to appear already: There is Nietzsche & Zarathustra (albeit highly refracted in that case), Hermann Hesse & Siddhartha, for instance. That I'm citing German scholarship cannot be coincidence, between having only limited colonies & then the shattering effects of WWII sending it into disrepute.[96] This is still the more available material, though! What about China?[97] What about Indonesia?[98] This discussion only touches on one level of racism or prejudice [99]; there is also the prejudice for textual production or particular forms of argument, etc. Other world traditions are no less "philosophical" for not having been written, but postmodernism has focused on the text.[100] Perhaps that can change.

The postmodern is always after: The word presents a doubled temporality.[101] Although the post- can be taken oppositionally, it often falls back onto time & periodization. Poststructuralism is literally after structuralism, postcolonialism after colonies, etc. The postmodern can simply become another modern age, if it's not oppositional, but why is this opposition articulated as a temporal doubling? Colonial time not only provides a framework for that question, its multi-temporality shatters any essentialist post-. The oppositional post- of postmodern questions (and even raises) the notion of time (or progress, see [41]) as coincident with merit, and also asks what is beyond now.[102] To return to the reframing in Paragraph 7, relating postmodernism to postracism, that relationship can be mediated not only by postcolonialism, but by posthumanism.[103] Just as modernism seeks to augment the project of modernity, by incorporating more and more, and in the intent of some critics, make it more just, humanism seeks to augment the (white male, etc.) liberal subject to make it more just. Augmentation retains a center, and these augmentations have retained their centers: Inclusion means beginning from the way things have been.[104] By this logic, racial hierarchy, based on temporal priority, can never end; hence the posthuman, and sweeping aside the liberal subject. Then, perhaps, there is no race, and racism becomes impossible.[105] If the postmodern is always after, though, a natural skepticism presents itself: Does not relinquishing the modern project ask to stop fighting racism? This is the basic illogic of postmodernism.[53] Even as these correspondences present possibilities, that illogic cannot be swept aside.[106] Sometimes postmodernism defines itself as having no after [107], in an incredible display of vanity: It's the Eurocentric vanity that displays its racist shadow. Likely modernist & postmodernist logics will be found in ever more diverse combinations [108], reflecting the huge diversity of experience of the modernist project itself. This continues to imply differing times.[109] What (where) thens?

I've asked whether postmodernism is racist, but which is prior?[110] Sara Ahmed asks this question around feminism & postmodernism [111], asking also "What is primary philosophy?" (The easy poststructural answer to that question is that there's no such thing as primary philosophy — or they all are.) I hope I've written this article without granting priority, at least not to postmodernism; it (or poststructuralism) would become (more?) absurd if it became some kind of bedrock.[112] I've also given postcolonial thought some emphasis for articulating a broader experience of racism than that found in the USA, but USA racism is not canonically experienced as global.[113] Moreover, apropos the placement of this article, racism has an important relationship to jazz as an African-American originated art form. Beyond that, I've asked elsewhere about the possible role of Native Americans in jazz, bringing us back to the racial triangle.[114] If "jazz" already included more than European & African music, what of its avant garde — or postmodern — turn? Where does race enter? What are the politics of borrowing? Without close attention to these questions, the postmodern is always already white.[115] Music might be feeling the "finality" of the postmodern more than most disciplines: What does one do after e.g. Cage? We've already told musicians, by way of composition, to make any sound they want, wherever they want. More modernist logic has been involved lately, in specifically constructing new sounds.[117] The modernist focus on text over performance does seem to be fading, however, and maybe that's the main trend.[118] Maybe I should be inquiring about a post-textual society.[120,121] Many people are offended by postmodern art; to what extent is that a proxy for being offended by challenges to whiteness?[124] Surely postmodern art & music have the potential to engage more with race, to reframe & reinvigorate that discussion.[125] In the era of the new racism, it needs reframing.

  1. This necessity will emerge more clearly in the forthcoming paragraphs, although it can already be put in simple terms: Postmodernism requires a concept of the modern, among other things. Racism requires a concept of race, as well as mechanisms of exercising power (that might be rather diffuse).

  2. I have lived in California for twenty years now. Prior to that, I lived in New York. I was born in Indiana, where I spent my first seventeen years. Each of these states, and undoubtedly different places within them, has a rather different racial dynamic. There's also a sort of pan-USA sense of race & racism, for instance in the national media, which is my intended touchstone here. However, my more specific experiences are likely to condition my perspective. Here in California, political discussions of race increasingly revolve around the Spanish-speaking immigrant population, although relations between African-American & white Californians sometimes make explosive headlines.[3] Additionally, and especially in the Bay Area, there are many other immigrant populations, including many native languages other than English.[4] Chinese & Japanese immigration in particular have a long history.[5] At least in my youth, race relations in Indiana revolved almost exclusively around black & white. I experienced forced integration of the public elementary schools, after the city school district lost its Federal lawsuit. My memory of race relations is that they were horrific; students were murdered in high school, etc.[6] I have no concrete information about recent developments there. Although I know only a few details about my own fairly mixed background, such as that my paternal family has been in the USA for at least two hundred years, as well as that my mother was a post-WWII (at age two) adoption of unknown origin, and I have been interpellated as Latino at times in both Indiana & California, I have always been able to pass for white. So I observed these events from a position of privilege, although perhaps with a bit more tension than some.

  3. Rodney King, the OJ Simpson case, more recently in the Bay Area, young men killed by transit police....

  4. Although the Filipino population seems to be invisible on the level of media & public policy, the fourth most commonly spoken home language in my children's elementary school district (I know because I conducted the first communication survey in 2001), after English & Spanish & Chinese (mostly Mandarin), was Tagalog or Pilipino, well ahead of any other reported language at the time.

  5. This history includes oppressive conditions for Chinese immigrants, particularly around the building of the railroads, and Japanese internment during WWII.

  6. Friends & I have subsequently come to refer to Indiana as "the unreconstructed South." According to the historical account, the majority of Indiana residents wanted to join the South in the US Civil War, but the state was prevented by a minority Republican legislative filibuster.

  7. Much could be said, and has been said by people such as Hill Collins, about these negotiations. Even Europeans were not always immediately given "white" status in this country, if they came from places the English colonists considered inferior, or arrived as indentured servants. This racial solidarity was shored up over time. It could have conceivably worked out differently, in some alternate reality.

  8. Attempts to place "race" on a scientific biological footing have subsequently failed, and the idea is generally accepted as being a social construct at this point. That does not diminish its affective power, of course.

  9. The Caribbean is an exception here, and the tip of the iceberg so to speak: The native population was eradicated, probably not intentionally (that this was possible had apparently not occurred to the Europeans), so outside labor became necessary.[10] The model could inspire North American colonists.

  10. Calling this situation "necessary" is, of course, ridiculous. These plantation owners could have tried working for themselves, or any number of other alternatives to enslaving people. And implicitly agreeing that they are "owners" puts me in more quicksand... I do not agree that these people have or had any legitimate ownership of anything. Please consider the idea of "ownership" to be pejorative for the remainder of this discussion.

  11. I am calling the African slaves the "third group" here, since the two-part imperialist-native model is simpler. Although I certainly don't mean to imply any kind of ranking with that numbering, I do also want to point out that it probably seems unintuitive to most USA citizens who are accustomed to thinking of the natives as invisible or nonexistent.

  12. This is not the place to discuss the imperialist preference for black African labor in any detail. However, it should be noted both that natives are better at escaping, particularly in a large & wild continent they already know, and that many of the powerful in Africa were happy to engage in the slave trade. The other side of this preference is that North American natives could be exterminated without a concern for losing their labor. It's a tidy, and absolutely horrific, picture in a number of ways. Note in particular that the mass extermination of natives leaves few to make land claims, whereas the imported slaves have no more claim than do the imperialist masters, and are already alienated from the start. The horrific tidiness of this scenario has meant no change to white USA hegemony into the 21st century, well after many or most colonies have passed power to other coalitions.

  13. This spawned the various racist theories of inferiority, etc. These theories formed the intellectual heritage for the eugenics movement.

  14. And as reflected in its Greek name, xenophobia was found in the ancient world. (And the Greeks, like many people in the world today, basically defined Greekness as whether one could speak Greek.) Racism per se would not have made sense there.

  15. A natural question embedded in the previous paragraph is whether I am the right person to write this article, considering that I'm mostly white. It's a valid question. My response is that, as I described in the opening paragraph, this is a question I myself have asked, and that investigation prompted some thoughts that I think are worth sharing. In the case of postmodernism, this same question, whether I am the right person, can also be asked. Although there is no "subject" of postmodernism — and that statement puts the question of who should be discussing race today in, perhaps, a slightly different frame; respect can slide over into objectification very easily — and I certainly did not originate the term or the main ideas associated with it, I have been speaking & writing on the subject for more than twenty years now, originally reluctantly. In other words, I've long felt both a draw & an ambivalence toward postmodern art & music, and the ideas associated with it. I've given my own associated ideas a number of different forms over the years. In some sense, I've felt that I have to discuss postmodernism, that there really isn't any choice on my part. Make of that what you will.

  16. As a term related to history specifically, it is generally credited to Toynbee, who applies it to the period after WWI. That periodization seems curious now (although Toynbee was writing prior to WWII), and does not fit very well with how the term has been applied in music, although it had already seen some application in visual arts at that time.

  17. Renaissance as "rebirth" is an extremely loaded term, particularly as it coincides with e.g. the conquest of the Americas. It's not a term I like, not only because of the imperial activity that accompanied it, including worse treatment of people in Europe itself, but because many of the revivals of ancient ideas were based on misunderstandings. I strongly dislike the term, but am using it here for illustration.

  18. This variation over both time & space, and how they interrelate, is very important in considering the colonial & postcolonial experience. As the topic of space-time unfolds in this article, I am basically following Homi Bhabha.

  19. Perhaps I'm being unfair to non-musician readers by not giving examples here. I'm perhaps too accustomed to a particular shared horizon on 20th century music. That said, this is very basic material within that horizon: Modern music explores explicitly different styles of tonality or atonality, perhaps in more severe forms, as opposed to the tonic-dominant sonata form standard of the classical & romantic periods, becoming stretched in the latter. Postmodern music embarks on a radical approach to form.

  20. To place the term "modern" more into its usual historical context, it would need to be applied to Renaissance (depending on how this is viewed) & Baroque music. Baroque music reflects the consolidations of imperialism.

  21. Many writers write from the viewpoint of modernism, and do not consider the idea of postmodernism to be coherent — or simply consider "the modern" more important, even if they aren't being critical of the postmodern. Bruno Latour suggests that We Have Never Been Modern, meaning that the modern is still in the becoming, which is probably the most direct denial of postmodernism. Lawrence Grossberg writes extensively on the characteristics of modernity in Cultural Studies in the Future Tense (and I am generally supportive of Grossberg's goals & approach, even if "the modern" is not my orientation). Peter Sloterdijk also gives an account of (what he calls there the "human" side of) modernity in You must change your life, a rather interesting account of modern humanity, including both some real insight & some points of serious disagreement.[22] Beyond these & other authors in the general field of social theory, there are a vast number of books discussing the contemporary world as modern; that's the norm of television commentary, etc.

  22. Sloterdijk favors spatial analogies, as I often do, so there is a common way of thinking. I also find his idea on a general ascetology (inspired by Nietzsche) quite interesting, although I believe he almost immediately slides into an implicit normativity, which is in turn what leads him to call for a re-emphasis on the modern. His discussion of what constitutes (the psychology of) modernity is perhaps the most compelling I've seen. Where we substantially differ — or so I believe, but perhaps I'm oversimplifying — is on its merit. It's intriguing to read an insightful discussion of modernity, that I believe highlights many of its problems, but which nonetheless calls for staying the course, so to speak. This is, to an extent, true of Latour as well.

  23. When did European imperialism begin? One could make any number of suggestions, beginning with the ancients and Alexander the Great. However, I mean it more specifically here, as tied to the development of capitalism, and for that history, I will follow Fernand Braudel. So in that sense, capitalism is a specifically "modern" phenomenon. When did these things start? Braudel identifies various precedents, and one can push back dates, but one thing is for certain: It was very well established by the sixteenth century.

  24. We can take some examples from farther afield. One reason that Scelsi is often described as "minimalist," despite that his music has little in common with the American Minimalists, is his adoption of a postmodern aesthetic in challenging what makes a musical note. Composers like Partch or Riley, incorporating world music, are also often grouped with the postmodern. If taken as a periodization, "postmodern" can be taken as something of a catch-all for everything happening after serial music that also challenges norms of Western tonality & form. This periodization approach fits, in terms of historical coincidence, which is not meaningless, but one should also consider the logics involved.

  25. As I discussed in Hierarchy as rupture, hierarchy is generally implicit in any division, and often causal. And once the rupture is reified, it cannot simply be undone. (See also [105].)

  26. These terms are from Foucault & Mbembe, but they have also been discussed extensively by various postcolonial and antiracist authors. The ideas are part of the fabric of current social theory, with a concept such as governmentality functioning as a seminal poststructural concept.

  27. One can visualize forming a crystal under pressure and then lessening the pressure; the structure of the crystal remains. A consideration of time & space is significant here too. The world does not immediately change everywhere based on one high-level policy change. Nor do standardized worldwide policies serve to penetrate the various forms of hybrid governmentality produced in the world. In a word, they lag — can they ever catch up?[28]

  28. Using the pronoun to shift from policies to people is very intentional. In fact, this is the kernel of the racial critique of postmodernism that I am advancing, in its barest form.

  29. Even if one believes that explicitly racist policies have been eliminated from the USA, the world has a more recent catalog of events that attest to their continuation in many places, or even more recent elimination, such as South African Apartheid. A survey of current racism — even if we attempt to stay within the fairly vague confines of "explicit" or direct — would not be short.

  30. And these policies easily mutate into other forms that are explicit, but attempt to name categories other than race as their object, whether that is immigrants, the uneducated, the homeless, etc.

  31. See, for instance, From Black Power to Hip Hop by Hill Collins.

  32. And this is not only in the USA: The Australian government's "Intervention" in aboriginal affairs is from the 21st century. For one discussion of just how horrible this has been, see Economies of Abandonment by Elizabeth Povinelli. Of course, Australia provides an example of the alignment between racial oppression & native oppression, without need for a triangle, and by the time of extensive white settlement there, the black-white racial rhetoric of imperialism was already highly developed. Povinelli offers a critique of liberalism, an -ism that overlaps strongly with modernism.[33]

  33. I don't want to dwell on the topic of liberalism here, but I do think it's fair to say that it's meaningless outside of a modernist frame. Within the framework of modernism, although liberalism has generally been opposed to things like direct killing, it never really questions hierarchy. So in the colonial world, one finds terms such as "the white man's burden," etc.

  34. And the idea of "explicit" discrimination comes to appear rather meaningless, too, when inherited wealth is a primary basis for social standing & opportunity.

  35. One thing that makes current biopolitics or necropolitics so effective is that there's no ready target against which to struggle: There's no explicit law to have repealed, and maybe not even enacted, because the oppression is implicit & internalized.[36]

  36. An individual can see through this, but the racially based governmentality is still reproduced via most general social interactions. It's constant. Even arguing against it reproduces it. Discussing race in 21st century USA is, therefore, at best of mixed merit. It's also impossible to do anything about the situation without discussing it, making discussion necessary — this basic contradiction is a consequence of colonization-induced reification of rupture, as discussed in Hierarchy as rupture.

  37. In other words, although the law allows people such as Obama & Oprah to exist, their existence is also taken as proof that African-Americans do not have a problem with equity or justice. (I feel that this discussion is actually tedious & obvious to most people who are likely to read this article, so it's unclear to me exactly who I'm addressing with this part of the discussion, but the details of what I say will allow me to link those details to the parallel discussion of postmodernism.)

  38. Which I might define here as the politics of ever increasing insistence that policy is based on merit, the less merit is actually detectable or explicable. (More tangibly, it's letting the rich do whatever they want in the economy — this is justified via the merit nonsense.) It always starts with the current status quo, asserting its inherent fairness implicitly (or simply refusing fairness as a point of discussion), removing any consideration of past abuse from political consideration. The "neo" is not only about marking the next label; it emphasizes the new while taking the now as "given," and turning the past into a sound bite.

  39. If "leaving modernity behind" is something we want, that is. Many people benefit from the current situation, and many others want the benefits of modernity for themselves, more so than wanting a way to move past modernity.

  40. I've been oriented more toward "the postmodern" because of art & music, as noted. However, it also seems that there is more sense of what postmodern is among the public, than there is of poststructural. Ideas on the postmodern often seem dismissive, corresponding to a basic glorification of the modern & progress.[41] So in that sense, a greater familiarity with the term postmodern is not a benefit for communication, but it does underscore that people have an opinion of what "the modern" is, whereas "the structure" in poststructuralism is seen as even murkier (or more "given"). Returning to art, this is at least in part because postmodern art gives an intuitive entrance into its concepts. At a minimum, it's enough to offend.

  41. I have written on progress in the past, but I will summarize: I view it as simply a term of control & manipulation. Anything that happens is termed "progress" as long as the same set of people remains on top of the economic hierarchy — or at least mostly the same set. It has become the basic intonation of the status quo of modernity, all the more effective because it's suggestive of something different. (As per [38], the less progress comes to reflect any kind of merit, the more it can be said to stand for merit itself. Time becomes meritorious via its directionality, in other words, translating the terms of spatial asymmetry in colonialism into a temporal difference. So in the language of modernity, some people are "backward" or behind in time.)

  42. Artistic movements such as Dada can be seen as prefiguring poststructuralism, but unlike postmodernism, which has had a varied history, poststructuralism was only conceived as such later in the 20th century, to my knowledge. Talking about anticipation brings us back to pondering which of these terms is primary, but in this case, I can give an easy poststructural answer: None of them is primary.

  43. Kurt Gödel had ended the project of creating (or uncovering) an all-encompassing (transcendent) mathematico-logical structure in 1931. It's intriguing to me that linguistics subsequently stuck with this project as long as it did. (Noam Chomsky still avers structural linguistics, as far as I know.)

  44. Most people still believe in the monotheist god in the USA, according to polls. God is very comforting as a fundamental structure, and even if it is an idea that might be ridiculed in some circles, if one listens closely to self-identified atheists, they usually have some notion of a fundamental structure that they will not question.[45] Often, it's a matter of simply shuffling labels within the same logical structure.

  45. The "opposite" of referring or deferring to a fundamental structure is agonistic or oppositional politics. Referring someone to a fundamental structure is a way of convincing them to comply without advocating their own interests. Structuralism can be seen as a kind of essentialism: For instance, one can legitimately value family, but if one has situated one's entire self-conception within it, it becomes a tool of control. There are competing interests, even for the self.

  46. Much like Marxism, where people are simultaneously dismissive and readily accept the priority Marx gave to material processes, educated people seem very willing to question the concept of intrinsic meaning, or to query what might be going on behind an author's words, yet remain reflexively dismissive of deconstruction as a method. In both cases, we can observe that these ideas can be colonized in order to affirm hierarchy: In short, deconstruction offends the despot! [100]

  47. See also the discussion in Part VII of Hierarchy as rupture.

  48. Although I do not find Habermas's criticism of postmodernism to be convincing, I do like his conception of modernity as a project: A basic social goal with a system established for working toward the goal.[49] Habermas and others find plenty to criticize in modernity, but more in the area of how goals are pursued, or refining goals. Questioning the idea of "the project" itself is more challenging.[50]

  49. Part of modernity's project is constantly seeking to define itself, and this generally means temporally. (See Grossberg on this.)

  50. This is another place where people are emotionally invested. "Giving up" on a goal, especially where it's been a life orientation, is not something done lightly. Especially given that poststructuralism seeks to leave nothing unquestioned, such a shift can shatter the integrity of the self at the individual level, depending on how one sees oneself. How people see themselves is critical to any social change.

  51. The notion that people should withdraw from the everyday world greatly predates the modern era, but the modern era systematized thematic world building to a new degree. In other words, it wasn't only that religion pointed to something more, but one should sacrifice for various others: Nation, employer, family, "freedom," capitalism, vengeance, various aspects of the social order. (The idea that one should sacrifice for freedom is especially ridiculous if one stops to think about it, but it's repeated unironically in mainstream media.)

  52. I don't mean "superstructure" in the strictly (or, one might say, original) Marxist sense as derived from the economic base, but as it takes on a life of its own. It continues to be a worthwhile term in this way, and I'm not at all the first to use it thusly around "culture." (See Adorno, for instance.)

  53. I hope I've managed to succinctly state the kernel of why people consider postmodernism so unapproachable. In fact, I would agree that it really cannot be "approached" in a literal sense.

  54. Fredric Jameson, in Postmodernism: The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, makes a similar claim. Jameson can be read as viewing poststructuralism's inherent interdisciplinarity as a negative, obscuring important & hard won categories, and moving toward total relativism. I would argue in response that category separation irresistibly yields to hierarchy. Further, I would argue that the idea that modernity can solve its own problems immanently is inseparable from the claim that capitalism can solve its own problems.

  55. If modern logic is the logic of system building, and postmodern logic is the logic of questioning fundamental structure, then this simple juxtaposition leaves the question unanswered. Although Western system building in the form of imperialism & capitalism has institutionalized racism, simply seeking to unground the system does not equate to undoing racism, even though with no system at all, racism per se would be impossible. Postmodern logic is still exercised within the current world.[27]

  56. One can argue whether such a situation was created or intensified by imperialists hitting the finite limit of the planet. When/where there are areas to expand, the relationship between time & space does not appear to be/have been exactly the same. However, as the when/where construct illustrates, expansion does come with its own relationship.

  57. It is critical to realize that temporal logics can unfold simultaneously. Perhaps think of it as being on different calendars.

  58. Obviously this is another "post-" for our list, and again presents a coincident periodization. It seems completely reasonable to me, in fact, that someday we might see postcolonial as driving the whole "post-" spectacle. As I've defined modernity as the age of Western imperialism, to the extent that postcolonialism signifies the real end of imperialism (if that ever happens), it becomes the carrier of the postmodern. (And again, postmodern art can be seen as anticipatory, perhaps, in its world inspiration.)

  59. Although I greatly appreciate his genealogies & his insights, in The Signature of All Things, Giorgio Agamben quips that there is no reason to study oppressed thought, because it's just the "other" side of the dominant imperialist thought. This remark is not elaborated, and possibly I misunderstand, but I think this idea is extremely wrong, and I don't mean simply ethically.

  60. Bhabha's refrain to describe the situation is "less than one and double," by which he means that colonist ideas do not fully capture everything happening, and then are reflected back again by the colonized.

  61. One can view the immanent negotiations fitting new groups into the USA racial triangle as reflecting outside world incoherencies.

  62. The terms core & periphery are borrowed via Wallerstein, whereas the idea of forced concentric resonance is from Deleuze & Guattari; the resonance plays a role in stratification.

  63. To return to the theme of the previous paragraph, there is not a fundamental human structure of race. Even scientific rationalism currently sees it as constructed. However, in its current form, we do know its origin. (As for the assertion that racism is — or has been — inseparable from imperialism, I'm not going to argue about it. It's self-evident.)

  64. The concept is artificial in some sense, because people's everyday experience of racism is often very well understood, all over the globe. A more global viewpoint is not a substitute for everyday experience, although it might prove illuminating in its own way.

  65. This emphasis on Indian authors may, in part, be an artifact of the use of the English language. India is a big country, however, with a long history, so this emphasis may turn out to be more than an artifact.

  66. Gayatri Spivak's An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization is a good example. The fairly lengthy book consists of a variety of essays from various times in her life, some of which have been revised, often by adding sections. They also represent different locations for Spivak, whether places in the world, or places in her career. Sections in the essays are typically only marked with a blank line, and then begin from a different perspective, with this combination of temporal & spatial difference in the author's perspective. The point is that these are real differences, and illustrative of even larger interpersonal differences.

  67. I've tried to use "contemporary" in a neutral way here & elsewhere, but this term could be examined as well. A problem with discussing temporal logics is that any of these time-related terms adds its own meaning, perhaps implicitly, and can take on a life of its own if unexamined. I don't want to diminish this, because it's a serious issue with this article; it would need to be written rather differently to account for this problem. (This is also why writers such as Spivak & Bhabha end up with such torturous prose sometimes. Simply dismissing or glossing over issues of temporality — in turn, grammar — misses significant aspects of the postcolonial critique. In other words, there isn't really a "neutral," and my opening clause for this note is nonsense.)

  68. I don't want to spend time arguing about what "liberal democracy" has or hasn't done for people around the world, whether material conditions or otherwise. Some racist paternalism is not the point here.

  69. I'm glossing over the idea that postmodernism presents some sort of finality to the way narratives can be constructed, because I don't think much of the idea of finality. It sounds like death to me (if I dare to be a little Freudian here). Lyotard sees a shift from truth to instrumentality, but it's difficult for me to accept the modern era as somehow less about instrumentality.

  70. The relation between everyday life & history has seen only the beginning of its negotiation on a global scale. There are some issues with it here (USA) & now (as pointed out by Jameson & others), but these issues surely only scratch the surface of an eventual postcolonial conception.

  71. Does post-history proclaim post-fashion? Although postmodernism is sometimes seen as confluence or conformism, differences in style are sought in compensation, at an ever-faster pace. See Crusading fashion for some other thoughts.

  72. And the idea that the West has solved all of its own problems is absurd, and growing more absurd by the day. Globalization has brought marginalization & oppression, whether racially based or otherwise, closer to the centers of power than ever. The poor are being redistributed around the globe, increasingly to be found everywhere.

  73. It's certainly possible to form an immanent critique of modernism, and various have been cited here already. However, for those excluded or marginalized in the modernist project, the nature of an immanent critique is inherently distorted. It's simply more practical to form an oppositional critique (I won't say transcendent here) when & where one's access is limited or impossible. Being in a position to offer an immanent critique of modernism is interesting from a postcolonial perspective and e.g. Spivak discusses the hazards involved extensively. The rest of the world can offer an immanent critique of their own circumstances, however, whatever those might be, but there is no guarantee that will even be intelligible to those within "the world interior of capital" (quoting a Sloterdijk title, where I might replace the latter word with modernism).

  74. It seems that people around the globe, maybe most people around the globe, want to be in a position high in the hierarchy of the modernist project. Do people actually want to end it and take their chances with something else? This is the real question of global self-reproduction for European modernity. Moreover, can the modernist project mutate internally, if people from other places occupy more of its privileged positions? Within a nexus of goal & system, reproducing hierarchy seems unavoidable, but I am not really so pessimistic as that. I have barely touched on feminist & queer theory here, not to mention disability theory, and I believe they can work in concert with, and amplify, the postracist project (act as levers, say). That's the basic promise of intersectionality, or so I hope, not that it cannot be co-opted.

  75. The catastrophe, in Walter Benjamin's sense, has not succeeded in doing so, or really even slowing it down. But there are conceivably environmental, astrophysical, or epidemiological events that could end the project. Those do not seem very appealing, however. The "numbers game" is also problematic in its own way, as explored by Spivak and others.

  76. The previous fatalism was religious. Maybe the current one is not so different. Apocalyptic imagery proliferates, with much of it obviously designed to control & manipulate. The principle of the "affective future threat" is, if anything, more powerful than ever.

  77. Braudel had already posited a new secular trend beginning circa 1970, with very limited information at the time. The "small world" of globalization does seem like a difference.

  78. Although it's not as if everywhere in the world is coining all these post- terms. Is this just marketing? Everything is OK now? Economic imperialism doesn't really exist anymore? Mission accomplished? There's a significant asymmetry here, hence the title question.

  79. This temporal question slides easily into the narrative of progress, where we demand that former colonies become more like the USA or Europe — that they "catch up" to doing the same things. However, I want to ask about time itself, and not slide immediately into what people are doing.

  80. This is in What is Philosophy? explicitly, but is implicit elsewhere. Despite this criticism (or maybe what provoked the choice of example), I consider Deleuze to be one of the most important poststructuralist theorists. There are plenty of other examples: Agamben usually starts his genealogies with the Greeks, for instance. Originally (by which I mean when I decided to "catch up" on academic reading after a twenty year hiatus), I was surprised that these authors didn't discuss developments in other (writing based) cultures, but I guess I've stopped being surprised.

  81. That we're still using the word does mean something, but granting it too much weight is all too easy. I should also mention that the association with the Greeks & philosophy via the idea of "freedom" and similar strikes me as rather absurd: The history of ancient Greek philosophy is practically the history of becoming imperial under Aristotle & Alexander. In that sense, it's a very interesting history, using as it does a bunch of sophistry (which is still a good word) to justify empire as somehow in line with freedom. (This was done via rupture & reification cycle, in the creation of concepts & rhetoric, according to my terms elsewhere.) The same sophistry remains in current use today: Among many other things, it's what asks what was so special about the Greeks that they invented philosophy![82]

  82. This is basically the logic of European Universalism, to borrow from Wallerstein. It's amazing how similar the rhetoric justifying conquest & oppression has remained for centuries.

  83. Or sexist or heteronormative or ableist, etc.

  84. This is not so dissimilar from the modernist economic logic that says capitalism must be reproduced elsewhere, because it's "proven to work." Why would people elsewhere want to reinvent the wheel, as the saying goes?

  85. In other words, it's not simply a matter of being "behind." Perhaps more to the point, maybe there are & have been & will be many different modernities.[86] If an aspect of postmodernism is declaring a single post [87], then it forecloses possibilities, and reinscribes the white male (etc.) subject.

  86. Inquiring after multiple modernities is Grossberg's main path in Cultural Studies in the Future Tense.

  87. This is where ideas that postmodernism demands conformity arise. Although the objection is based on a reasonable reading, as described, I do not entirely agree with the conclusion. There is much "multi" or many in postmodernism, and this line of thought highlights the negotiation between many & one world. A variety of transversals (pace Guattari) are possible on this question.

  88. And my examples will merit that same criticism. One thing I'm calling for here is both better & more available translations of classic texts from other cultures [89], and more scholarship around making connections and/or noting different ideas. My experience of old & dusty translations buried deep in academic libraries was invaluable, but that time has long passed, and so I'm unable to provide the detailed correspondences I want. Others will need to do that. But it's also very relevant to ask why these texts were more available decades ago than they are now.

  89. I'm focusing on texts here, but they do not tell the full story. There are a wide range of performance & repertory possibilities.[90]

  90. In fact, music from many parts of the world is more available than philosophical texts. Even more than that, styles of cooking have traveled the globe. This is cultural production not to be dismissed.

  91. Classical Indian debates on epistemology are quite interesting. This is one area I am certain would be informative for current Western scholarship. Although it might not make sense to some readers (although it obviously did to Wittgenstein), the grammarians were a school of epistemic philosophy. The classical debates involved dvaita, advaita (non-dualism), Buddhist, and grammarian epistemologies (and, to a degree, Jain). Even the critique around advaita by itself seems highly relevant to moving beyond Western dualism. I fully expected much of this debate to be foregrounded by now. Why isn't it? Is it the language steeped in religious imagery? I don't personally find that to be a problem; although Western philosophy likes to think of itself as non-religious, the terms are steeped in historical imagery in much the way Hindu discussions are. At some level, they're simply the technical terms [92] (or jargon, if we want to put it that way).

  92. Grammar as a form of knowledge extends to Carnatic music, where e.g. the Kamalamba Navavarana kritis of Muthuswami Dikshitar systematically change tense & case to create the different perspectives of tantric adoration.

  93. I guess Mani instead of Zoroaster, as closer to the West? But Manicheism isn't prior, and isn't currently active....

  94. Buddhist phenomenology seems to have become highly relevant in the worlds of artificial intelligence and computer networks. So why no specific critique of Buddhist phenomenology or epistemology? How about a discussion of the Buddhist view of memory, for instance? It seems impossible that I can be the only person asking these questions, but at least here they are in writing....

  95. If there's a desire to avoid orientalism (to mention Said), that's fine, but isn't this also an opportunity to dispel some of the mystical nonsense associated with so-called Eastern philosophy? Surely this discussion needs to occur somewhere. (Or maybe I'm being presumptuous to equate the lack of visibility, from my perspective, with nonexistence.)

  96. Besides this German dynamic, what about colonial translations of important Indian texts? They remain much more numerous than current translations, unless I've missed something. Does the Indian government have policies around this, whether explicit or implicit? Is it really possible that Indian scholars writing in English don't cite classic Indian texts because they don't know them? What would that say about postmodernism? This whole series of questions eventually leaves me speechless. (And leads me back to basic uncertainty about whether I'm the right person to write on this topic. This is one reason I don't feel a clear "No.")

  97. Unlike those of India, Chinese sources were not so widely translated during the colonial era, and then with the Cultural Revolution under Mao, much indigenous scholarship was repressed in the name of modernizing, including some archeological & other destruction. However, written Chinese sources remain extensive, going back many centuries, and are slowly being explored. (I know something of this from the music side.) Regarding classical Chinese philosophy, Angus Graham's Disputers of the Tao is a book I found valuable. It is rather preliminary in some ways, although certainly more interesting than the orientalist alternatives, but I am not aware of a better treatment having appeared.

  98. I mention Indonesia for a few reasons: The population, the relative popularity of the musical style in the West going back over a century, the long intellectual tradition including the syncretic approach to Islam, the puppet theater, etc. Clifford Geertz's work on Java was tantalizing, but it's only a beginning. Where are the native Indonesian scholars?

  99. Although it's the topic of this article, I do want to interject here that "racism" is such a specifically historically constructed form of oppression that continuing to apply it in this generic sense is a stretch. It's more relevant some times & places, such as current USA, than others. (That said, imperialism has spread it most everywhere today, if only in a hybrid form.) It might be appropriate here to be talking about hierarchy, where race is & has been an important mechanism for marginalizing people, or justifying that marginalization.

  100. Text being a creation of the despotic formation, of course, per Deleuze & Guattari.

  101. Evocative of Bhabha's refrain.

  102. I mean to reintroduce spatiality with the beyond.

  103. Yet another post-! See Rosi Braidotti, for instance.

  104. Sara Ahmed makes this point very clearly in e.g. the migrant chapter of The Promise of Happiness.

  105. This does not mean one can simply stop talking about race in order to eliminate racism! That would only mean racism is no longer being talked about....

  106. Rather, individual situations must be constantly examined. There is certainly no -ism out there to save us!

  107. There is already discussion of post-postmodernism, as well as anti-modernism, and probably many other things. A term like anti-modernism has the advantage of displaying opposition, but the disadvantage of forming within the same temporal logic. Or is it the advantage of forming within the same temporal logic? That depends on the who, the what, the why, and especially the where.

  108. I had previously suggested a modern-postmodern dialectic, for instance, although I don't currently consider that to be a worthwhile course.

  109. It's fashionable to talk of time disappearing with space under globalization and the new communication networks, but this overstates the fact that they are (merely) changing.

  110. It would be strange to ask if racism is postmodern, so the question cannot be directly inverted. (Each question evokes a different temporality.)

  111. I was not aware of Ahmed's Differences that Matter, where she undertakes a similar interrogation of postmodern ideas from a feminist standpoint, when I began this project. So it's not really reflected in my conception here, but the (at least) vague correspondence should be obvious. Ahmed is very right to question any priority postmodernism has over feminism. (See also [45].)

  112. This would leave a vacuum for the oppositional nature of postmodernism, and create a structure out of poststructuralism, among other problems. Although I'm sure there are people doing both.

  113. People in this country are told they cannot be compared to anyone anywhere else, for one (i.e. American exceptionalism). The glaring difference between much African-American & postcolonial scholarship, though, is one of class. Some colonized peoples, particularly in India, had the experience of their own (hereditary) social hierarchy prior to European imperialism, providing other mirrors on the situation, and complicating critique. African-Americans were all uprooted as part of their oppression.

  114. This "third side" of the racial triangle seems relatively little explored. (This is in spite of more connection there, established via genetic testing, than previously acknowledged.) The extent to which native ideas survive in current USA cultural production is also relatively little explored, generally.

  115. And this raises, again, the question of whether I should be writing this. The question of artistic borrowing is charged with politics, and refusing to consider it explicitly leaves everything implicit — as it "already" was. It's fine for musicians to say they are motivated by "only music," except that there is no "only music." There are a variety of contexts, and there are things that do & will happen, whether the musician wants to consider them or not.[116]

  116. So know everything about the world before playing a single note? Of course not, but don't engage in the reduction evoked by the previous sentence. I'm tempted to say that everything warrants thought & consideration, but that isn't true either: Some things are distractions.

  117. Perhaps this can be framed as non-modernist, whether results are placed into a different context, or in conception, but it's difficult for me not to view these intentional constructions & technological explorations as modernist: Hence a new modern-postmodern tension. Is it anticipatory of more? (In any case, constructing new sounds, including challenging what a musical note is, seems promising to me, at least after it's not about the novelty anymore. But now I'm falling into the future anterior.)

  118. And perhaps the postmodern is more of a performance culture generally, starting with the poststructural stripping of fundamental truth.[119] First though, postmodernism deepened the examination of text, leading to seeing it as completely textual. Perhaps that was only preliminary. In any case, my statement about a modernist focus on text can certainly be disputed, relative to postmodernism, but not relative to the pre-modern.

  119. This dovetails in interesting ways with the corporatization of the university, but now is not the time to get into that. (The remark closely follows Ahmed in On Being Included, from Lyotard.)

  120. With internet videos, maybe this isn't so far off. Is this new cultural production a kind of text, a kind of performance, something else? What is it racially? (We know the internet is already white, but surely that can be addressed? [122,123])

  121. I've been stringing thoughts together on this post-textual idea for a long time, in fact: It began to be more specific with End of writing, 1 in 2001.

  122. It's also interesting, because anyone (probably) can appear white on the internet if they want to do that. This is not to dispute that the internet is already white, however, since to appear white, one must act white.

  123. I don't want to project too much optimism here, because tensions like repertory-archive are already being foreclosed, and that tension is strongly racialized. (See e.g. Diana Taylor on the latter point.) The internet very much needs, already, to rethink centralization & its emerging routine: So what is internet art in the broadest context?

  124. Or maybe this is less specifically about race, and more about challenging other attributes of social hierarchy: male, straight, able. And if "offensive" postmodern art is mostly offensive for reasons other than challenging whiteness, what does this say about the race conversation?

  125. Whether it can ever really discard its whiteness, though, I'm not so sure. The temporal logics of post seem too different, at least for now (the latter word being the final irony here — an equally uncertain place).

Todd M. McComb
15 October 2013