Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Postanarchism and Its Critics: A Conversation with Saul Newman

Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Postanarchism and Its Critics: A Conversation with Saul Newman

Article excerpt


Slavoj Zizek discovered a certain logical movement in the acceptance of a new theory:

[Fjirst, [the new theory] is dismissed as nonsense; then, someone claims that the new theory, although not without its merits, ultimately just puts into new words things already said elsewhere; finally, the new theory is recognized in its novelty.2

Is this not the path that critics of postanarchism have adopted over the years? First, postanarchism was dismissed as obscurantism, nonsensical, academicism, jargon- laden, and so on; next, Jesse Cohn and Shawn Wilbur, among others, claimed that postanarchism was not without its merits but ultimately just put into new words what was already said by the classical anarchists themselves;3 finally, postanarchism was tolerated and both sides have accepted their losses. The final stage has not been a divorce of postanarchism from classical anarchism in order to usher in a new edifice but precisely the reverse: there has been a consolidation or marriage of the two theories. In other words, it is now obvious that postanarchism has passed through two of these major phases in the development of its theory over the last three decades. First, postanarchism was criticised as an attack on the representative ontologies of classical anarchism. Second, postanarchism was defined as a re-reading of the traditional anarchists to reveal their quintessential post-structuralist nuances - always avant la lettre. It seems to me that (a) anarchism was always already postan- archism, and (b) postanarchism has itself always been a form of anarchism.

Viewed in this way, we may say that postanarchism functioned as a Vanishing mediator' between an old and a new version of anarchism. Vanishing mediators occur between two periods of stasis. But postanarchism does continue to be used as a descriptor for a particular type of anarchist project insofar as that project cannot be satisfied by recourse to tradition. In this case, I am more inclined to describe postanarchism as a 'displaced mediator' that can be revived at a moment's notice to reconfigure the normal anarchist discourse. After postanarchism we latch back onto the displaced mediator and explore its potential in the emerging stasis of postanarchist scholarship. The new terrain is defined by a reconciliation with what currently counts as postanarchism, particularly in the anglophone academic scene. After postanarchism, the marriage, and along with it both sides of the debate, are displaced, to make room for something new.

The coming displacement can be summed up in the joke about the philosophy professor who recently got married. The professor was confronted by one of his graduate students: 'Professor! I need to tell you something immediately!' The professor paused, looked at his wife for a moment, and then responded: 'Wait a moment, before we go any further I want to make sure that what you are going to tell me is worth my time'. He continued, 'Will your message refer to a moment of truth?' The student replied without waiting a moment: 'No, not exactly'. The professor posed another question: 'Will your message refer to something good?' The student replied: 'Not at all'. The professor asked a final question: 'Can your message be put to productive use?' The student answered without waiting a moment, 'Not immediately; perhaps it will even be destructive'. The professor stopped a moment to think. Dissatisfied by the student's responses and by his own inability to frame what the student might then want to say to him, he grabbed his wife by the arm and marched off into the university to prepare his next peer reviewed article. As the professor walked off he yelled out to the student, 'I do not want to hear any of it!' This explains why professors rarely understand the potential of a revolutionary philosophy. It also explains why the professor did not know that his student was secretly having sex with his wife. …

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