What Does One Equalize Power Relationships With, Anyway? A Bulldozer?

11 Mar

Originally posted at Iqra’i.

You know you’re a token when…you leave school and the Internet for a few days and discover that your friends have taken the opportunity to straw-man you in absentia.

Actually, I’m thrilled that thanks to the (post)modern age I can leave the room without leaving the conversation. But I do feel that, as the only self-identified representative of the “pomo Left” I know, I should provide a correction to Helen on McCarthy on Russello on Kirk:

I feel like power is one of the biggest differences between the pomo Left and the pomo Right: they think power relationships have to be neutralized, we think they only have to be sanctified (i.e. love is a power relationship, but that’s fine because introducing love into a power relationship makes it okay, etc.)

Only an idiot would earnestly believe that “power relationships have to be neutralized,” because only an idiot could believe that they can be neutralized. There are so many types of power bound up in any given relationship, and they don’t always flow the same way or to the same degree. The postmodern Left, more so than the postmodern Right, recognizes this, and we encourage (and, when possible, pursue) the expression of less-obvious forms of power by those who lack power by standard metrics. To call an action “purely symbolic” isn’t to make a statement about its effectiveness — its power — but to describe the form that power could take.

This is the difference between “transgressive” and “subversive”: do you look at the rulebender as a brilliant and visible outlier expressing herself without troublesome ramifications, ultimately reinforcing the norm/ative outside which she stands? Or do you recognize that she herself is exercising power, of a type qualitatively different that which seeks to bind her — moving sideways so as to avoid getting pushed down?

I’m perfectly willing to admit the latter attitude may not encompass anyone who considers himself both a postmodernist and a liberal/leftist. (I don’t think a postmodernist could use the word “progressive” with a straight face, but what do I know?) My strain of pomo leftism comes not from Foucault so much as Michel de Certeau, who doesn’t get his due inside academia, let alone outside it.

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