Postmodernism and the Politics of 'Culture'

Postmodernism and the Politics of 'Culture'

Postmodernism and the Politics of 'Culture'

Postmodernism and the Politics of 'Culture'

Synopsis

Adam Katz is an adjunct English instructor at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, New York.

Excerpt

Cultural studies has been a sustained effort to transform the object of studies in the humanities. For example, in English departments, cultural studies has challenged the predominance of the governing categories of literary studies (the canon, the homogeneous period, the formal properties of genre, the literary object as autonomous and self-contained) in the interest of producing readings of all texts of culture and inquiring into the reproduction of subjectivities. To this end, pressure has been placed on disciplinary boundaries and the methods that police these boundaries, and modes of interpretation and critique have been developed that bring, for example, economics and politics to bear on the formal properties of texts. In addition, the lines between "high culture" and "mass culture" have been relativized, making it possible to address texts in terms of their social effectivity rather than their "inherent" literary, philosophical, or other values.

The two most significant categories supporting these institutional changes have been ideology and theory. Althusserian and post-Althusserian understandings of ideology, which defined ideology not in terms of a system of ideas or worldview but in terms of the production of subjects who recognize the existing social world as the only possible and reasonable one, made possible the reading of texts in light of the ways in which the workings of ideology determined their structure and uses. Marxist and poststructuralist theories, meanwhile, focused critical attention on the conditions of possibility of discourses and upon the exclusions and inclusions that enable their articulation. In both cases, critique becomes possible insofar as reading is directed at uncovering the "invisible" possibilities of understanding that are suppressed as a condition of the text's intelligibility.

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