A new book scheduled to make its entry into the market later this week has gotten the Western world up in arms against the Postmodernist paradigm and its key contention that there are no such things as facts in and of themselves. All facts are interpretations, meaning that truth is specific and contingent to the truth claimant. Its best illustration of that strand of analysis might be how the Palestinian struggle is a fact but how so differently it is seen by the Israelis and her allies on the one hand and by the Palestinians and her allies on the other hand. While it is a struggle for homeland as far as Palestinians are concerned, it is terrorism as far as Israelis are concerned. Postmodernists would ask which of the two is the truth if not for specificity of meaning.
In other words, Postmodernists do not say that there is nothing like facts, reality or truth but that facts make no sense in themselves. Rather, they are a question of how one sees it. For them, truth is what you and I agree to be so, hence the importance peace practitioners of Postmodernist orientation, broadly speaking, attach to the principle of dialogue in conflict management because it is only through discourse that truth is accessible. Still, critics of Postmodernism maintain that this kind of analysis means the death of truth.
The book, The Death of Truth by Michiko Kakutani carries a sub-title: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump. The inference is that Trump’s theory and practice of power derives from the logic of the relativism championed by Postmodernism. And it is, therefore, to be blamed for what the Western media loves to call Trump’s ease with telling lies.
Kakutani, the author of the book has been the book review editor at the New York Times and is, therefore, a strategic personality in the Western intellectual space. Her intervention in public intellectualism is thus bound to attract attention. That is exactly what is happening, what with the rave reviews and comments inspired by the impending book.
In the event of the substantial take-over of a discipline such as International Relations by Postmodernism/poststructuralism and given the role of theory in the constitution of reality, this verbal insurgency building up against Postmodernism will soon not be a sole Western affair but a debate in international politics and security. In other words, the rest of the world would get involved sooner than later. It is bound to be a bitter debate in the light of how Western views have always determined global security or insecurity, perceived as they are to be discursive framing of the global space in terms of allies and enemies, safe and unsafe spots, governed and ungoverned spaces, etc, each frame entailing specific practices. Thus the discourse of a space an ungoverned space such as in the US security discourse of Africa is seen as another way of suggesting the imperative of occupying such a space.
Should this then blow over into a debate, what might likely be the world’s least developed continent’s position? Take Western angst against Postmodernism as a Western problem or something Africa should take a position that enhances her own survival reasons?
A continent brought up in the staples of rationality, progress, truth and such modernist cants is bound to be troubled and incensed in the same proportion by the idea of any attack on facts as the definer of truth. But that would be tragic. Africans are primitive people whom we have a duty to go over there to civilise. This was the interpretative building block or the imaginative geography that fuelled colonialism. But what does primitivity mean? Has it got any objective criteria by which it can be determined and by who? These are impossible questions to answer. Yet, late colonialism which explains much of the African crisis today was a product of specific, subjective and contingent interpretation of Africa by colonialist. The implication is that colonialism was a product of power over interpretation of facts rather than facts in themselves. So, what would be Africa’s basis for being angry with Postmodernism?
It is strange to find Pan-Africanists who do not accept almost everything Edward Said wrote or Francis Fanon wrote. Both are theorists of postcolonialism which rests a lot on Postmodernism and its post-structuralist variant, especially the theory of discourse. So, again, how might Africa find anything worth protesting about Postmodernism?
Of course, the problem with Postmodernism is the question of what is Africa. How might we determine Africa when some of the most radical voices in support of the African cause have no African blood in them? Or where do we put those with African blood but have been lost to the powerful force called multiculturalism? These are the sort of puzzles that make Postmodernism and post-structuralism so fascinating and inviting even as it infuriates many. Even the Marxists who are least enamored of Postmodernism’s methodological and theoretical line would find it difficult not to admire some of the canons of Postmodernism such as decentering and logocentrism. Such is the complexity which is just beginning to unfold, especially when Marxists move in! The earliest Marxists who have done that as the Post-Marxists have already provided a canonical text on reconciling the clash between traditional Marxism and Postmodernist/post structuralist insurgency as in Ernest Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s 2005 book, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. There have been more of that but it remains an unfinished assignment.