Thread Rating:
  • 0 Vote(s) - 0 Average
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
John Zerzan: The Catastrophe of Postmodernism

Finished reading this yesterday. I think it's very interesting. He gives a good overview of the major pm writers and their primary insights. His criticism is harsh, but largely fair if you share his premises. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't, but either way I find them worth engaging.

One thing: JZ really understates how valuable "the good things" about pm is. «If the postmodern at least does us the favor, unwittingly, of registering the decomposition and even depravity of a cultural world that accompanies and abets the current frightening impoverishment of life, that may be its only `contribution'.» This is a huge understatement. Pm does this in a very comprehensive and insightful way, and JZ gives it far too little credit here. Of course, this is a very critical essay, so his emphasis isn't on the positive things about pm (which I'm sure he sees, given that the essay demonstrates that he's read the various pm writers in some detail).

But anyway, I thought this was an insightful essay, so I hope you all find it insightful too. If you want to correct anything in it, please do! I'm not very well-read when it comes to pm, so I can't find anything directly wrong about this essay per se. (I sometimes don't share his premises, but I don't find his *argumentation* wrong, given his honestly laid out premises.)
(Sat, 11 Nov 2017 17:34:48 +0000, 05:34 PM)Zhachev Wrote: He claims that pm "implies that everything is determined within language, leading to the scrapping of such quaint notions as alienation, ideology, repression, etc. and concluding that language and consciousness are virtually the same." But I certainly don't view it this way. Pm is not really asserting this.
I am not in-depth familiar with either, but from my shallow understanding it seems that Lacan and Derrida very specifically imply just exactly this. When it comes to the other writers he mention, this seems exaggerated by JZ in the essay, near as I can tell.

(Sat, 11 Nov 2017 17:34:48 +0000, 05:34 PM)Zhachev Wrote: Postmodernism is not "the end of human culture" as Zerzan asserts, but rather sort of an attempt to step back; an attempt at inducing an out-of-body experience. Postmodernism begs the question, "Can we understand our life-world and self-consciousness enough to make sense of the present?"-- of what's happening to us now?

Postmodernism sees no reason for fixed centers and favors that which is decentralized. It wants to have more questions than answers.
I'm not sure how that's begging the question, but I agree that pm is far more valuable than JZ lets on—as I stated in my opening post, for the precise reason you outline.

(Sat, 11 Nov 2017 17:34:48 +0000, 05:34 PM)Zhachev Wrote: I have to call out what I percieve as the reactionary conservatism of Zerzan, which I feel is on full display here. It's chalk-filled with nostalgic anecdotes, beckoning back to "the simpler days", before the "globalized" Internet world.
I see no problem with yearning for "the simpler days"—I do that too—and if you want to label that reactionary, then fine. I've been called worse. ;)

(Sat, 11 Nov 2017 17:34:48 +0000, 05:34 PM)Zhachev Wrote: Zerzan seems really bent up about language, "reality" and consciousness and I don't like his general approach to these questions. Do ya'll think this represents a wider rift within the anti-civ milieu? Those who accept pm as useful, and those, like Zerzan, who reject much of it?
This is definitely a primitivist thing that most post-anarchists disagree with vehemently. Personally, I see valuable contributions in it, but am far less reluctant to label all of pm useless and disastrous, as I find large portions of it insightful.

(Sat, 11 Nov 2017 17:34:48 +0000, 05:34 PM)Zhachev Wrote: Is it safe to call him a positivist?
I don't know if he goes that far, but he seems to certainly be an essentialist and moralist.
(Sun, 12 Nov 2017 04:48:30 +0000, 04:48 AM)Zhachev Wrote: This thread so far, for me, presents one of the biggest problems with seriously engaging Zerzan's output.
I don't really see how this is relevant to most of JZ's other essays, several of which I find very illuminating.

(Sun, 12 Nov 2017 04:48:30 +0000, 04:48 AM)Zhachev Wrote: I'm not arguing pm denies "everything is determined within language", I just don't see how "scrapping of such quaint notions as alienation, ideology, repression, etc." comes from this? I've also never read anywhere in pm that "language and consciousness are virtually the same".
I too find that a big leap that I'd like someone more pm-savvy to elucidate (or eloquently repudiate).

(Sun, 12 Nov 2017 04:48:30 +0000, 04:48 AM)Zhachev Wrote: Derrida and some other pm thinkers tend to glamorize the the conditions of confusion and misunderstanding. I think this deeply pains Zerzan on a level I can't understand. Zerzan seems to assert the role of pro-revolutionaries is to provide answers, not questions.
My understanding of modernism (both in philosophy and in art) is that it is largely about demonstrating the limits of the game *through the game*. Pm instead questions the game as a concept. Modernism is playing the perfect game of chess every time, pm is refusing to play the game, stepping outside it, saying "that's just an idea, and, as such, has no innate value or essence."

Pm shows that you can take the bishop and jam it in the opposing player's eye, if you are so inclined, because the rules of chess are just an invention that we choose to adhere to. This bothers a lot of modernists. Where I see this revelation as liberation, they see it as defeatism, or, worse, "surrenderism," as JZ is wont to talk about. Viz., if we are not inherently meant to be kind to each other, why would we be kind to each other? what's the point? why not just kill ourselves? I feel that this is a deep schism between people who are onboard with pm (like myself) and those who aren't (like JZ).

This also creeps up in anarcho-primitivism, where the prevailing argument is "we lived like this for 200kyrs, therefore we are meant to live like this" -- an argument I find preposterous on so many levels, not in the least because it's unnecessary.
I'm actually working on an article right now that critiques "The Catastrophe of Postmodernism" at length that I'm hoping to get published in the next issue of Black Seed. Rather than rehash my argument here, I'll just say that many of the theorists that Zerzan lumps under the category of "postmodernism" wouldn't have accepted this moniker to describe themselves. Also, his insistence that the discourses he refers to as "postmodern" all entail "the death of the subject" is a gross oversimplification.
Hi Matt, just curious, did you consider submitting this to Black & Green Review?
(Mon, 20 Nov 2017 21:23:43 +0000, 09:23 PM)Odin Wrote: Hi Matt, just curious, did you consider submitting this to Black & Green Review?

Briefly, yeah. If things with Black Seed don't pan out for whatever reason, I may revisit the idea but, for now, I'm sticking with the current plan.
(Sun, 12 Nov 2017 04:48:30 +0000, 04:48 AM)Zhachev Wrote: The whole issue of a return to simpler times deserves a discussion of its own, but my main thrust is that would be more or less impossible at this point -- our only option as a species is to become something new altogether.

"We must become members of a new race, overcoming petty prejudice, owing our ultimate allegiance not to nations but to our fellow men within the human community."

Haile Selassie I
(Wed, 22 Nov 2017 12:06:01 +0000, 12:06 PM)Zhachev Wrote: Isn't B&GR Zerzan's thing? That's a weird place to put a critique of him, it seems to me.

JZ is an editor at BAGR, but it's really Kevin Tucker's project.  I don't think they would mind a critique.

I hope Matt does a better job than JZ of explaining what postmodernism actually is, and hoping he might touch on the current frackas and criticism around PoMo and how some people (like Jordan Peterson) think it's just a cover for 'neo-Marxism'.

Forum Jump:

Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)