Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Thursday, October 13, 2005

"Decentering the postmodern political subject since 1972"

I've been trying to imagine what this phrase could mean. (I added "since 1972" to enhance the sloganistic flavor of the phrase; the rest of the phrase comes from a sympathetic description of the poetics of the Language Poets, or LangPos, which I've been writing about the last couple nights.)

In political vocabulary, a subject is a member of a monarchic state, what we in America would call a citizen, but who, in a monarchy, is presumably subject to the arbitrary dictates of the monarch. This LangPo slogan specifically addresses the political subject; so evidently they are talking about a monarchy.

I'm not sure what centering indicates in political discourse. In therapeutic discourse, it's a word I can apprehend only fuzzily; something to do with feeling centered, which points to: feeling calm, or focused, or in touch with one's deepest self.

So, if these conjectures are correct, "decentering the political subject" would mean, upsetting the person who is ruled by a monarch, so that the subject no longer feels centered, calm, focused, or in touch with his or her deepest self.

I don't know what this has to do with my world, or why anyone would consider it a positive or pleasant thing to do.

Postmodern refers to a specific aesthetic fashion and belief about a loss of faith in "modernist" progress. So the sloganeers of "decentering the postmodern political subject" evidently have no wish to upset the people who are ruled by a monarch and who also retain a modernistic faith in progress; in other words, they do not "decenter the modern political subject," but only those subjects whose aesthetic and philosophical beliefs lead them to build pastiches out of past and current styles.

Well, that certainly clears things up!

OK, I'm kidding. "Subject," in the discourse of the LangPos, is a figure from grammar: the subject of the sentence. "Political subject" is a person or agency who acts politically. "Postmodern" simply means contemporary in this slogan, with many assumptions about how contemporary society is organized, having mainly to do, I'm guessing, with the so-called post-industrial economy (really, the exported industrialized economy, just as Marx predicted). (Note: I haven't read much contemporary Marxist theory, which, Christopher Nealon indicates in his essay on contemporary poetry where I got the quote [sans "since 1972"], the LangPos would be referencing here.)

I'm still hung up on "decentering." I'm guessing that it has to do with undermining the myth of the unitary self as it relates to political praxis. If I've guessed right, it's a clumsy metaphor -- centering? decentering? Maybe it refers to a belief that a person has power to act politically efficaciously in contemporary society; maybe the LangPos believe that we citizens have an inflated sense of personal power, a "subject-centrism," if you will, which, in this reading, they want to undermine, to rid us of our illusions. This would make more sense, reading the words in their conventional meanings, but I'm putting my bets on a critique of the unitary self. Not that I'm much of a betting man. I'd bet, say, a quarter, or a pop.

Language is fun! When the stakes are low!
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