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A postmodern paradox by Fabio Akcelrud Duro (Ph.D.

Candidate at the Literature Program, Duke University) (Note: The following remarks are far from closed or complete. They are merely intended to delimit a problematic and furnish the roughest signposts to guide further discussion.)

Postmodernisms situation is paradoxical. On the one hand, critical discourse on it seems necessarily to fall short of its own desire. Celebratory or cautious, ecstatic or analytical, it cannot fail to somehow posit a rupture with modernism, which itself gave birth to the tradition of ruptures, breaks, and new beginnings. The same holds true to the fate of binary thought: postmodernism wants to propose thinking beyond dualities, a leaving behind of dichotomies for the multiple, a polyphony of voices instead of the black and white of the opposition between good and bad. This democratic impulse favors a host of figures, both of thought and writing, such as collage, montage, citation or parody, which stand in drastic contrast to the kind of total rational control that characterized modernist practices, from Schnbergs dodecaphonic compositions to the construction of Brasilia. In this movement, however, postmodernist discourse not only reproduces duality, but eventually assigns a positive place to itself. The problem, thus, appears to be that whenever postmodernism is regarded as an object to be approached, described and judged, whenever it is announced, it reverts to its opposite: not novelty, but repetition; not the absolute wow!, but the ever-the-same. On the other hand, in those cases when theoretical discourse manages to produce the unexpected, most of the time

2 unconcerned about postmodern issues, the concept of postmodernity asserts itself unequivocally, thus showing us the emergence of as yet unimagined possibilities. Rupture with the modern is not posited anymore, but becomes the result of the interpretative process itself, the outcome of its own logic. This does not mean, of course, that all works explicitly dealing with postmodern themes are fated from the start, but rather that successful ones must incorporate in themselves countercurrents to their overt purposes. Thus, to give a well-known example, Fredric Jamesons own Postmodernism would miscarry in its defense of the idea of a new period in capitalisms history, were it not for its opulence in concrete analyses, including painting, film, video, architecture, theory, linguistics and economics. They do not summon the concept but produce it, which renders the process of naming it relative. This puzzling paradox is not an autonomous cultural phenomenon, but is grounded on the peculiar situation of todays hermeneutical technologies and their places of enunciation. Never before was there so much meaning available, so much potential for the creation of sense. For not only do we have now at our disposal a plethora of interpretative codes (from traditional phenomenology and hermeneutics, through Freud and Lacan, to Foucault, Cultural Studies and Queer Theory), which are not necessarily mutually exclusive; the objects also have lost any a priori existence. Anything can be interpreted, from the history of obesity to the writing of the railroad systems, from the semiotics of reptiles to the sexuality of ties. And yet, this narrative richness is negated by an unheard-of level of homogenization and standardization brought about by global capitalism. Never before was the totality of things to be bought so huge; never before was it so easy to travel and avoid otherness. Following the general trend in business, which

3 leads to ever-greater concentration of capitals, to mergers and to the foundation of mega transnational corporations, the culture industry has annihilated whatever was left of competition and now manages to impose its own pasteurized version of sameness everywhere in the globe. In view of this cohabitation of hermeneutical wealth and experiential misery, it is hard not to think of the classic, surely already hackneyed Marxist contradiction between forces and relations of production. The former wants to explode; its main proof is perhaps the never-before so stringent connection and interdependence between art and critical discourse as the examples of Barthes and Borges attest, a critic/writer and a writer/critic. Art cannot be so without theory to say it, while strong theory becomes so compelling and carefully elaborated that it draws close to art (as so dissimilar theorists such as Adorno and Derrida make clear). As for the relations of production of meaning, they not only fetter the new, but also try to combat it through the incorporation of the newest techniques in the repetition of the oldest narrative patterns. In other words: for the film, no matter how advanced the methods of image manipulation, the millions spent in special effects are negated by linear, perfectly canned Aristotelian plots and typified characters. Postmodernism both feeds on, and is limited by this state of affairs. When it forgets the boundaries that frame its loci of enunciation, the university, the academic journal, circles of intellectuals, and purports to describe reality as such, it enters in contradiction with it, generating the results mentioned above. When it plunges in reality, forgetting itself and taking from it the potentials that lie dormant there, it then becomes worthy of its own name by not mentioning it.

4 The dilemma is then what to do with this overall paradox: a Zeitgeist that can only be true to itself by its own self-obliteration, a reality that desperately begs to become what it was promised to be. That this is no aporia, no purely epistemological problematic, but a political state of things is a conclusion that does not let itself be forgotten.