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Farewell to Postmodernism

Social Theories of the Late Left


Bartosz Kuzniarz

In the late 1960s, a whole pantheon of thinkers regarding themselves as radicals stole a part of the anarchic praxis of late capitalism, turned it into philosophy, and with the resulting set of views turned against the foundations of the system in a purportedly radical gesture. Postmodernism was the name for the superficially revolutionary culture which then came into existence. The thought of the late left appears as the subsequent response to the cunning of the system.
The main figures of Farewell to Postmodernism are Perry Anderson, David Harvey, Fredric Jameson, Terry Eagleton and Slavoj Žižek. The book provides an encyclopaedic introduction to their work, while at the same time seeking to grasp the current trajectory of radical thought.
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The term “postmodernism” has long functioned as a concept known in German as the Kampfbegriff (or “tendentious term”). To call somebody a “postmodernist” – much like calling him or her a feminist or a new-ager – has not simply been to establish the person’s place on the map of the contemporary humanities. Instead, the word has made it possible to denigrate and stigmatize the person, or at least to imply the ridiculous and even impertinent nature of his or her views. Therefore, the concept has not merely served a descriptive purpose, but also constituted a weapon for discursive combat. In an opinion piece published in a Polish weekly magazine, the poet Jacek Podsiadło coined the satirical corruption “pstrodemonizm” (roughly translatable as “motley demonism”), which offers a good reflection of the general attitude that has dominated for years towards authors associated for one reason or another with postmodernism. The message is clear. A postmodernist is somebody with a motley and eclectic hodgepodge of ideas in his or her head. This irrational chaos fosters nitpicking criticism and demonization of a reality otherwise on the upward swing. Fortunately, there is nothing much to worry about in the long run. At worst, postmodernism represents a kind of French intellectual disease. The condition is contagious, but it will suffice to change our diet for one richer in rational argument for the pathological process to enter a rapid remission. According to this reassuring diagnosis, the foundations of postmodernism lie in the exigencies of academic fashion,...

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