Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Textuality and the Postmodernist Neglect of the Politics of Representation

Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Textuality and the Postmodernist Neglect of the Politics of Representation

Article excerpt

Textuality and the Postmodernist Neglect of the Politics of Representation[1]


Those in the vanguard of postmodernist theorising, who have collectively been labelled "skeptical postmodemists," have produced a discourse that has said much about the issues of textuality and the `linguistic turn'. In the rush to dismiss modernity and view the world through an optic of textuality, we are left with a view of the individual as a mere textual creation, with an identity that is disembodied and fragmented, making its appearance in scattered traces. The attempted textual exegesis of the subject simultaneously does away with the tools of modem inquiry, namely causality and agency.

Whilst this rendering of identity is itself contested terrain, what has been repressed or neglected is the text as a product and site of political struggle. The issues of agency and the politics of representation seem to vanish with the disposal of the subject and the author. We, however, find these issues have an unacknowledged presence in skeptical postmodernist theorising. Having outlined the argument in this manner, we use the optic of dialectics to reframe the question and revisit the issues of identity and agency afresh. The central argument that we pose is that text is both a product and site of political struggle, and only by understanding text in such a way does the multi-authorship of identity itself become understandable along with the limitations and possibilities for self-authorship of identity.


The social-philosophical discourse has, in recent times, carried much that refers to the issue of text A new vocabulary has emerged that includes the variant terms pretexts; subtexts; contexts; intertextual; extratextual, pantextual, and heterotextual. The intellectual trajectory of this discourse owes much to the theorising of poststructuralists and postmodernists. Seen in its most general application, postmodernist thinking represents a ludic development of the poststructuralist `linguistic turn' - the notion that there are no 'facts' other than those that gain an appearance in language. Alternatively expressed, there are no external claims to authority that validate a text, as texts must be taken on their own terms and 'reality' is merely that which gets presented in linguistic form. Although postmodernists use the term text in a broad sense, referring to all phenomena and all events, it is language that commands centre stage for much of their theorising and analysis.

The optic used by postmodernists frames the relationship between author, text, and reader in a manner that overturns the familiar view. Conventionally, language is conceived in terms of a sign-representational model in which there is some kind of fixed relationship and understanding of what words and other signifiers are meant to represent. Language is referential in that it seeks to connect with something other than itself, and, in so doing, becomes an object to be interpreted. In modernist formulations, it is the author who, as the creator of the text, holds the privileged position of being the ultimate authority of his/her creation. In the postmodernist formulations, however, the reader and the text are privileged over the author in that the reader is given freedom to create textual meaning, regardless of the intentions of the author or pretensions to objective content. Crudely put, one could say, "the author should die once he (sic) has finished writing, so as not to trouble the path of the text" (Eco 1983:7). This "death of the author" (Barthes 1977: 148), however, doesn't mean that a specific reader becomes the new authority for a text, as no reader has the authority to claim particular insight above any other readers. Meaning arises from the interaction of the reader with a text, and this meaning will vary depending upon matters such as the past experiences of the reader. Furthermore, as time passes, the meaning of a text may change for that same reader. …

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