Heading Toward a Counter-Discourse
Not too long ago, at the end of a somewhat rambling presentation on the rolling retrenchment in U.S. social welfare policy in the era of globalization, a member of my academic audience asked me the proverbial academic question: “What is your method?’’I paused, having reluctantly to switch gears from policy analyst to methodologist, and then replied,” … Aphasia!”
A couple of thoughts inspired this response. I remembered reading Frederic Jameson’s argument that postmodern political thought was a noncritical manifestation of the confusion of our postmodern times and the resulting indeterminacy.1 Jameson in good part meant this as a criticism of how postmodernist thinking encourages emphasizing the undecidability of truth questions. I subsequently commented on Jameson’s criticism in an article, saying that starting with the uncertainty wrought by the postmodern condition enabled us to appreciate the lack of objective foundations for all truth claims.2 I also remembered reading Slavoj Žižek’s suggestion that there is merit in the idea that we should enjoy our symptom, which I chose to interpret as allowing our uncertainty to be the beginning of insight into the impossibility of knowing the absolute truth of things.3 For Žižek, enjoying our symptom applied most particularly in the paradigmatic case of the interpellated human subject. Žižek saw the self as an aftereffect that retroactively sutures the gap at the center of human existence, covering our indeterminacy with the illusion that there was a true self that was always there before we acted. The self was a symptom that did not point back to a preexisting reality but instead was a necessary illusion operating post hoc as a retroactive unifying structuring principle. It implied that all of these symptoms were not so much
1. Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism: Or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (New York: Verso Press, 1991).
2. See Sanford F. Schram, “The Postmodern Presidency and the Grammar of Electronic Electioneering,” Critical Studies in Mass Communication (June 1991): 210–16.
3. Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (New York: Verso Press, 1989).