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<nettime> re wark's crit of CAE
McKenzie Wark on Wed, 11 Dec 2002 10:33:30 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> re wark's crit of CAE


Dear Coco,
    There is a difference between calling into question the necessity for a
postcolonial politics, and calling for a critique of the current theories
within which that politics is conceived. I can't speak for CAE, but for my
part, my critique is of *certain kinds* of postcolonial theory. I don't
doubt for a minute that "race is a social fact" and the basis of
oppressions of many kinds.

You write of the "consistent refusal to acknowledge white hegemony
in alt.net culture". I agree. It's a problem. And perhaps its one we can
do something about. But i wonder if that's what you really want, given
the rhetorical frame of your post. I think we have to get out of the
rhetorical frame that you offer in order to advance to constructive
dialogue, but as I will show, this rhetorical frame is itself connected
to some theoretical inadequacies in the version of postcolonial
*theory* that you advance. Inadequacies that may stand in the way,
what is more, of a more effective politics.

"alt.net culture", you write, is "trashing the tactics, politics and 
expressions
of artists and theorists working on issues of identity politics."  This
"suppresses the history of anti-globalisation struggles".  The alt.net
types "must systematically search and destroy postcolonial thought
and practice to expand their hegemonic control of discourse."

Do you notice a certain paranoid style in these phrases? So much of
what you say stands or falls on positioning yourself in relation to this
big bad other. If one were talking about eurocentric racism, this
rhetoric might be persuasive, but when hurled at a few comrades on
the margins of net culture, it starts to look a bit absurd, don't you think?
Yes, there are unacknowledged racisms at work in nettime. But a
systematic search and destroy mission? This is nonsense, and in a
more reflective moment i'm sure you know it.

I don't mean to diminish the question of racism in netttime. I think there
are many racisms at work here. Can we agree that there's a big
*quantity* of racism? Where i disagree is in your construction of it as
a coherent subject with designs. There you buy into the kind of
paranoid discourse that Anti-Oedipus warned us against.

The question is why a certain kind of postcolonial discourse is so
dependent on a paranoid construction of the other. This takes us
back to the limits in attempting to turn 'hybridity' into a critical
concept. It was precisely Homi Bhabha's version of it that i had in
mind, incidentally. I am more aware of the strengths of his writing
that you are of its limitations.

As one learns from Young's excellent book, one of the intellectual
threads to a certain kind of postcolonial thinking leads back from
Fanon and Lacan to Kojeve, and his dialectical concept of the
subject, coming into its own in its clash with another. This is
precisely the problem, this purely negative concept of the subject.
On this approach, the postcolonial subject only comes into its
own in its struggle against the other. And hence needs to construct
the other as such. It reduces the world to the intersubjective.

One arrives at a more sophisiticated version of the dialectic by the
time one gets from Kojeve to Fanon to Bhabha, but it has the same
problem. In using hybridity as a negative concept, this discourse
doesn't arrive at an affirmative concept of multiplicity. All it can do
is rehearse an endlessly proliferating discourse of negation, in
which one iteration after another of the negation of identity carves
out the empty space in which an affirmation of multiplicity needs
to go. (On this see Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual, p69)

One can approach this from another direction, as you suggest,
through Stuart Hall. I've been writing and thinking about Hall for
20 years now, and again I think I appreciate his strengths more
than you appreciate his limitations.

There is a certain moment in British Marxism, where Gramsci's
'revolution against Kapital' and Althusser's 'relative autonomy
of the superstructures' find a neat fit with the disciplinary
apparatus of higher education, producing a discourse on
the cultural superstructures much more sophisiticated than
the old economic determinist dogmas -- and far less race and
gender blind.

But there was a price to pay for this accomodation to the
university, on the one hand, and opening to the social
movements, on the other. The critique of commdofication
got frozen in a time warp -- and one not solved by adding
slogans about 'globalisation' to the old cultural-discourse
theories.

What i find useful in CAE's new book is that they very
explicity acknowledge postcolonial *struggles*, but they
manage to think together the (neo)colonial discourse
of the phenotype and the emergent discourse of the
commodificaton of the genotype. The 19th century
model of racism at the heart of some postcolonial
critique has not gone away. It is an enduring 'social
fact', but there is a whole new dimension that is added
to it by the commodification of information as property.

The life chances of workers and peasants in the
'underdeveloped world' (I use the term as a critical
correlate of Paul Gilroy's 'overdeveloped world') are
caught up in a new struggle. The very seeds stocks
farmers once called their own are becoming patents.
Likewise traditonal medicines. The underdeveloped
world has to pay exorbitant prices for patented
drugs.

Meanwhile, the world is becoming a sweatshop for
products that would have little value without the
brands and logos afixed to them. Their production
is managed via a vectoral logistics whose centre
is always elsewhere. (See The Yes Men's hilarious
Finland intervention on that one).

I'm sure we are agreed on some of these issues at
the level of a politics. Certainly in essays such as
"Souther Oscillation Index" in the Nettime reader,
I have been concerned with core and periphery
issues in global communication networks. You
may not agree with the 'spatial' approach to power
adopted there, but that's a matter for conceptual
debate. But clearly both 'sides' need to look to
what in their own rhetorical strategies inhibit
such a productive discourse. Or perhaps we need
an ethics of discourse that frees itself from the
dialectic -- that method that has been such a poor
friend to power and counter-power alike.

McKenzie Wark


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