Postmodernsim on postmodernism

How much of postmodernist theory concerns writing about other postmodernist theory? Each author we've read, except Althusser, spends a sizable portion of their article jockeying for position among other theorists. I am beginning to wonder where this constant validation originates. Is it merely an inevitable facet of a movement based on questioning structures/movements/history? Can
postmodernist theorists overcome this (annoying) tendency?

I think you're highlighting to curious point at which theory starts to explore little more than its own self-reflexivity and thereby becomes a simulacrum of itself. In any case, maybe I'm overly cynical, but discursive genuflection before theorists of old seems requisite for institutional success in the academic landcape of postmodernity. Often, this emphasis on past theory ends up re-inscribing dialectical history - there's no space for the radically other, the legitimate break. This is fine if one subscribes to such historical meta-narratives; it is more than slightly ironic if one does not. I like to think that Haraway's cyborg evades this tendency.

3NT, it seems willfully naive to pretend that not situating yourself within any kind of conversation, and not addressing explicitly the authors you've read and out of disagreements with whom your own ideas are emerging, is in any way constitutive of a 'break' from dialectical history. For one thing, dialectical history still 'exists' (e.g. I've still read Foucault, whether or not I reference him) and it can still be superadded to projects that don't acknowledge it (e.g. even if I dismiss or modify the concept of power structures w/o emphasizing Foucault explicitly, or even if I advance - via only partly Foucauldian methodologies and w/o mentioning Foucault at all - a wholly other concept, any dimestore intellectual historian can still draw the line between the two of us [which is only to say that dialectical history can be a Borgishly ruthless assimilator]). For another thing, though I agree with you that articles feting, say, Adorno seem like the crassest kind of academic industry, this seems different from what Derrida, Heidegger, Kant, Aristotle, et al. (and you and I might argue about how 'radically other' or tradition-breaking each of them in fact was) are doing when they gain momentum by responding, positively or negatively, to their predecessors.

I don't know. I worry that I may have strawmanned you. What do you think of all this?

--Guattari Hero

1) Formal principles cannot be divorced from their instantiations, which is to say, instantiation transforms the principle. Since each historical moment - and certainly each positioning of subjective experience - is irreducibly singular, I submit that even if two people come up with ostensibly identical formal principles (e.g. if I conclude that ethics should work according to what I designate as a "categorical imperative") they're not actually the same (b/c Kant and I are tackling different problematics, in different locales, amidst a different set of conditions, etc.). In this sense, there's something to be said for tossing aside (to put it pleasantly) the old to make room for the new. As Nietzsche said, sometimes philosophy needs to bring out the hammer.

2) I'm interested in the canonization of the particular authors you mention at the end. We certainly like to read them as "doing something else" than simply conceptual regurgitation with annotative connective tissue. However, I don't think it's an epiphany that we tend to regard European male theorists as more unique, original, fractious - whatever - than their female and subaltern counterparts. In fact, regardless of one's position, these days it seems like a tacit requirement to situate oneself within the discursive coordinates prescribed by an amalgam of European male theorists (such as Foucault). I'm interested in exploring whether such appropriation might undermine emancipatory (i.e. emancipatory from the social and economic hierarchies that benefit someone like Foucault at the expense of others) projects. What do you think?

1) Your (sophistic) account of the numerical non-identity of the two presumably verbatim categorical imperatives fails to address their qualitative identity. Are they distinct documents? Historically distinct, and even addressing distinct problem sets? Yes. Is one 'radically other' than the other, to such a degree that anyone with a wikipedia knowledge of the second Critique wouldn't think to connect the two and put them into conversation, and argue for the Kantian influence on the second (NB even were you to write your CI //before Kant was born,// someone like Borges [whose Pierre Menard your hypothetical example seems to rely on] might still argue for the backwards influence of Kant on you, as he does in the case of Kafka and James)? No. And your preconditions for otherness (one of which seems to be refraining from quotation) really do seem to be driving at //qualitative// otherness. Presumably if a woman of color from some 'subaltern' country wrote a bibliography-less Foucauldian treatise on the Panopticon, it would still fail to meet your standards of 'otherness,' its numerical non-identity notwithstanding.

2) 'You //would// use white European males as examples!' If you'd prefer, I could use Judith Butler or Julia Kristeva, themselves quoters and themselves catalysts of change in feminist theory (whether it's 'radically other' change, I couldn't say), and in fact themselves objects of quotation by this week's batch of female, feminist theorists. We would do well to remember that this began as a discussion of the (in)compatibility between discursive breaks and discursive reflexivity, not a discussion of who has the right to discursive breaks (white European males!) or whom 'subaltern,' would-be breakers feel compelled to refer back to (white European males!). Such a conversation is legitimate, but it also presupposes the very compatibility between fracture and reflexivity that you initially rejected - and which was the only object I ever had in mind. (NB It's not enough, at this point, to say that if feminist theory wanted to be //truly// feminist, or emancipatory, or whatever, it would refrain from quoting Foucault [a claim that I won't take up here] - even if it did refrain from quoting white European males and quoted instead the numerically non-identical 'Discipline and Punish' of 1)'s woman of color, or quoted instead Kristeva or Butler or other female theorists, it would still fail, on your original view, to break from the discursive tradition that it was presently quoting.)

--Guattari Hero

In response to Guattari Hero, it seems that blankman's original question encourages us to wonder how necessary it is, in the face of seeking productive applicable changes to the political space, to continuously be re-situating new work within any self-contained branch of theory. Where I feel that these texts (that is, postmodern theory) diverges from other social theory (of more reflective, esoteric motivations) is that it is ultimately speaking to the day-to-day experience of the postmodern subject. To repeatedly throwing one's theory deeper and deeper into the intertextuality of academic discourse further stretches the gap between the necessary theory and the necessary change. Couldn't we assume that these authors have read Foucault? And now shifting to 3NT's question, why must they necessarily have read Foucault for us to respect and make sense of their arguments?

I've often wondered the same question, 3NT, as to whether referring back to the historically centralized ideas of the Famous White Men in attempt to break with those very ideas does not, as you say, 'undermine emancipatory projects'. I sense that this is very much Haraway's very critique; that reshifting the point at which we start our conversation radically alter the space of power and agency in the work to come. It is a frustrating bind - as Guattari Hero points out, we've still all read Foucault, so does not starting with his oft-acclaimed concepts really make the political move for which we are striving?

From my very limited experience out in the 'real world,' this makes up some of the practical work currently in practice in the progressive radical social justice movement. Small organizations in various capacities are trying to refocus the center not on the 'anti' but on the 'pro' - they name the beast, but seek to spotlight the historically marginalized. This becomes the launching pad - from these peoples' ideas the work begins.