Discussion of Postmodern Blackness (hooks)

We were all intrigued by the hooks’ essay. After a little more research, we realized the significance of this work in the history of postmodernism and is an attempt to encourage the reader to view the many issues associated with the postmodern movement in terms of otherness and diversity by understanding how they can be positioned as a reaction to malfunction of modernism. The central conceit is that most definitions of postmodernism are far too nebulous and lacking in context. hooks’ solution is to ground the philosophical issues of postmodernism within the political framework of race and gender.

The first thing we all noticed was the intentional de-capitalization of the author’s name.  This caused some initial debate among our group discussion. But the general consensus we arrived at was that hooks refuses to capitalize her name because it signifies that what is most important in her works is the “substance of books, not who I am.” We didn’t have an issue with this mission and in fact found it very altruistic. But something else seemed awry…This concept sounds like support for the “dead author” idea. If bell hooks thinks it’s unimportant who writes a book, then why is she so determined that black authors are quoted in discourse on postmodernism? If what matters are ideas, and all postmodern ideas are a convoluted mess of pretentiousness, why is it so important to have black authors quoted? Our group is inclined to believe that through her own name doesn’t it convey a sense of the dead author? Yet doesn’t she communicate that the writer doesn’t matter? In her essay, she defends the black female author’s right to be included in postmodern discourse, but then erases her own importance as a black female author.

Are we wrong here? We were certainly open to being told otherwise.

But in summary of our discussion:

The lack of specificity is attended to by bell hooks through observation of how the postmodern spotlight on Otherness and differentiation that are so very often the primary focus of postmodernism typically tend to offer little in the way of genuine social impact or quantified analysis, or even just a concrete perspective that actually serves to underline the nature and track of postmodernist theory. The thrust of hook’s careful analysis brings up one of the common complaints about postmodernism, which is that it has been constructed in such a way that many people perceive it as little more than cafeteria philosophy where writers have the opportunity to pick and choose their own personal conceptions of otherness and difference for no better reason than that they can claim what they have written is postmodern.

The essay is a reaction to this feeling that at heart there is something hollow and empty about postmodernism. What bell hooks is attempting is to injected a big iron ball into the center of postmodern theory by asserting that postmodernism requires an act of radicalization that is very specific in outlining the terms that will result in an alteration that leads to an authentic critical break with any conception of authority as a master. In other words, bell hooks posits the startling notion that postmodernism must reflect a true sense of otherness and difference by being written from the perspective of factions of people who know more about Otherness and differentiation than the bulk of authors who are the most famous for contributing to postmodern thought: elitist white males. By extending to oppressed minorities such as women, blacks and other ethnic groups a voice that articulates unadulterated struggles with identity and disenfranchisement, postmodernism can be saved from vague appropriation or gestures toward radical chic that deceptively engage in discourse with the critique of identity.

I chose to parallel this piece with another personal favorite philosopher and theorist, who recently visited the North Country last semester: Dr. Cornel West. In his essay “Postmodernism and Black America,” Cornel West suggests that black intellectuals “are marginal – usually languishing at the interface of Black and white cultures or thoroughly ensconced in Euro- American settings” and he cannot see this group as potential producers of radical postmodernist thought. While I generally agree with this assessment, black intellectuals must proceed with the understanding that they are not condemned to the margins. The way they work and what they do can determine whether or not what they produce will be meaningful to a wider audience, one that includes all classes of black people. West suggests that black intellectuals lack “any organic link with most of Black life” and that this “diminishes their value to Black resistance.” This statement bears traces of essentialism. Perhaps we need to focus more on those black intellectuals who do not feel this lack and whose work is primarily directed towards the enhancement of black critical consciousness and the strengthening of our collective capacity to engage in meaningful resistance struggle. Theoretical ideas and critical thinking need not be transmitted solely in the academy. In a discussion with my own roommates, what seemed to be the centerpiece of the exchange was that while we all work in a predominantly white institution, certain members of the black intellectuals remain intimately and passionately engaged with black communities. It’s not like they’re going to talk about writing and thinking about postmodernism with other academics and/or intellectuals and not discuss these ideas with underclass non-academic black folks who are family, friends, and comrades. Since my roommates have not broken the ties that “bind them to underclass poor black community, they have seen that knowledge, especially that which enhances daily life and strengthens our capacity to survive, can be shared. It means that critics, writers, academics have to give the same critical attention to nurturing and cultivating our ties to black communities that we give to writing articles, teaching, and lecturing.” This personal discussion seemed to stress that cultivating habits of being that reinforce awareness that knowledge can be disseminated and shared on a number of fronts, and the extent to which it is made available and accessible depends on the nature of one’s political commitments.


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