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53 Editorial

EDITORIAL

Not the least striking feature of the term ‘postmodernism’ is
the manner in which – enacting one of its own central theoretical claims – it has bridged the gap between the pretensions of
the academy and the wider social and cultural world. There is
the postmodernism of Beckett, but also of Ballard, of Kruger
and Kiefer, but also of Madonna and MTV. The cross-overs of
street-chic and the reflexive repatternings of high modernism
have produced some curious juxtapositions, not to say confusions (in my local classical record shop, Phillip Glass is filed
under ‘avant-garde’).

This remarkable diffusion of the term has inevitably produced an almost equally wide dispersion of its political meaning. We can choose between postmodernisms of the Left and
of the Right, Fredric Jameson or Peter Fuller, and indeed
between left and right interpretations of the same contemporary phenomena. For Daniel Bell, in his book The Cultural
Contradictions of Capitalism, post-modernism is the mass
diffusion – as lifestyle – of the antinomian, but once safely
elite, aesthetics of high modernism, a diffusion which is currently undermining the ethical and motivational bases of the
capitalist organization of work. For Raymond Williams, on
the other hand, in Towards 2000, the advent of postmodernism means that ‘debased forms of an anguished sense of
human debasement, which had once shocked and challenged
fixed and stable forms that were actually destroying people,
have become a widely distributed “popular” culture that is
meant to confirm both its own and the world’s destructive
inevitabilities’ .

Across this diversity of postmodernisms, however, perhaps the one reliably persistent theme is diversity itself: a
recurrent emphasis on epistemological and social fragmentation and pluralism, and a suspicion of any universal horizon of
emancipation. A potential for liberation is now only apparent
– for those not entirely seduced by Baudrillard’ s deadpan
provocations – in the local, the perspectival, and the selfconsciously anti-universal.

Two of the articles in this issue of Radical Philosophy are
concerned in different ways with the problems which this
attitude and this mood generates; they explore the difficult
consequences of positions which cannot help but transgress
the boundaries of their own marginality, in the very process of
attempting to make the oppositional stance which that marginality implies secure. In ‘Feminist Epistemology – An
Impossible Project?’, Margareta Halberg outlines the dilemma which is generated when feminists identify socially
ratified forms of knowledge, such as contemporary natural
science, as characterized by masculine bias. The following
question inevitably arises from such an identification: is this
Radical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989

bias definitive of science as such, is it true that ‘objectivity is
male subjectivity’, as the slogan goes, or is masculine bias a
distortion of the fundamental aims of science. If the former,
then the problem of the standpoint of the critique itself is
posed; if the latter, the sequel is that the alternative standpoint
is no longer specifically feminine, but rather simply universal. Halberg also makes the further valuable point, with reference to the significance of the differences between women in
different social locations, that any absolute challenge to the
‘logic of identity’ will find itself involved in unstoppable
fragmentation. Certain contemporary feminists and semiological post-marxists seem to find themselves repeatedly confronted with a social version of Kant’s second antinomy.

Peter Middleton, in his ‘Socialism, Feminism and Men’,
identifies some similar difficulties in two specific areas of
contemporary debates on sexual politics. Firstly, he enquires
whether the concept of oppression refers to the intentional
violation of universally recognized norms, and ‘is therefore
not definitive of men as a group, or whether it identifies men
as – inherently – oppressors of women. Secondly, he asks
what are we to make of certain uses of Lacan by feminists,
where the symbolic order is seen as upheld by the ‘Name-ofthe-Father’. Could there be another Symbolic, or are women
condemned to a position which is indeed subversive, but only
by virtue of its inevitable exclusion by the phallocentric
principle of order? Part of Middleton’s solution to this dilemma is a version of ‘immanent critique’ reminiscent in
some respects of Adorno: the universal can only be adumbrated negatively by the subversive turning of the concepts of
psychoanalysis and discourse theory against themselves. In
this way the logical fractures can be revealed which indicate
the occluded place of women.

Issues relevant to postmodernism are also raised by Paul
Browne in his essay on the young Lukacs’ Soul and Form.

Written between 1907 and 1910, this set of meditations raises,
from many angles, questions of the relation between ethics,
aesthetics and everyday life which are still at the centre of
contemporary concerns. Lukacs’ scepticism about the capacity of ‘form’ – whether aesthetic or theoretical- to capture the
multifariousness of life has echoes in many present-day philosophical positions. Yet, unlike some more recent thinkers, he
realizes that deadness – isolation, semptiness and lack of
meaning – is the ultimate result of a surrender to the flow of
immediate sensation. However, although ‘form is the highest
judge of life’ for Lukacs, form brings with it the ineliminable
danger of abstraction. Since the decline of the ascetic world of
classical Buergerlichkeit, evoked in the writings of Theodor
Storm, where – in contrast to the ideology of l’ art pour l’ art1

even the artist could understand himself as a ‘craftsman’,
working within a communal division of labour, the disorder
of life and the process of its reflexive comprehension have
been condemned to remain incommensurable. Lukacs does
not propose any definitive solution to these problems. But in
a period when the prospect of renewed community often
seems no less remote than it did to him in this early phase,
Lukacs’ refusal to accept facile conflations of art, philosophy,
and an increasingly reified Lebenswelt offers a lesson in
intellectual honesty and rigour.

Finally, we are pleased to be able to publish an extended
interview with Noam Chomsky, which traverses the full range

of his theoretical and political concerns. Chomsky’s stress on,
and defence of, the emancipatory heritage of the Enlightenment comes as a timely corrective when absurdly one-sided
disparagements of the ‘project of modernity’, often naively
couched in the very categories which the Enlightenment has
bequeathed us, are so much the rage.

This is the first in a series of interviews we will be
publishing in future issues. An interview with Gayatri Spivak
on deconstruction and politics will be appearing in RP 54.

Peter Dews

CRITICAL PHILOSOPHY TODAY
Saturday 11 November 1989
Speakers include:

Sessions on:

Jay Bernstein, Andrew Benjamin,
Howard Caygill, Peter Dews,Joanna Hodge,
Fiona Hughes, Peter Osborne

Philosophy: Past and Future
Ethics and Politics
Knowledge and Intersubjectivity

I CA The Mall London SW1 Y 5AH Offices 01 930 0493

Box office 01930 3647

FUNDAMENTALISM
AND FEMINISM:

AUTONOMY AND” ITS
DISCONTENTS:

PHILOSOPHICAL
PROBLEMS

THE FATE OF
AUTONOMY IN
MODERNITY

A two-day conference on the philosophical questions
raised by religious fundamentalism, focussing on
the philosophical basis of the conflict between
feminism and some fundamentalist
conceptions of woman’s place.

A one-day conference at the
University of Essex

18 November:

24 February 1990

Papers on liberal toleration and its limits, and on the problems
of relativism and the possibility of cross-cultural moral critique.

Speakers include Susan Mendus, University of York, and
Martin, Hollis, University of East Anglia.

19 November:

Informal workshop sessions, including presentations from both
feminist and non-feminist perspectives by Muslim women
speakers.

Further detailsfrom: Deborah Fitzmaurice.

Department of Philosophy, University of Essex.

Wivenhoe Park. Colchester C04 3SQ

2

Speakers include:

Cornelius Castoriadis
Jean Grimshaw
Russell Keat
Further details from: Peter Dews
(Autonomy Conference)
Department of Philosophy. University of Essex.

Wivenhoe Park. Colchester C04 3SQ

Radical Philosophy 53, Autumn 1989

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