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From James Joyce to Howdy Doody: Deconstruction and deindustrialization after 1968

Those years, 1971-1972-1973, were eerie. It seemed that all the revolts of the previous three decades had faded away with remarkable speed, leaving behind only the “new social movements” of women, blacks, Latinos, gays, and ecologists, mainly battling their way into the mainstream. Decompression: all the dark underside, all the “repressed,” all the “illicit” of the previously-cloistered milieus of cultural opposition of the earlier period had surfaced violently to become licit and explicit. “Underground” was the belabored, much-overused word of the day, but these were finding their place in the dominant order. Long before Francis Fukuyama made him into a fad, we were delving into Kojève’s Introduction to the Reading of the Philosophy of Hegel, which seemed to echo our sense of being at the end of something, if not exactly the “end of history.”

In this atmosphere, some turned to Foucault, whose idea of épistème in The Order of Things seemed lifted from Heidegger’s notion of Geschick, the “destiny” or “sense of reality” beneath all consciousness or action of a culture that occasionally disappeared as mysteriously as it came. (That Geschick for the West was the metaphysics of “presence,” or Being reduced to “representation.”) It was a widespread feeling at the time, popularized above all in Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolutions, that indeed historical epochs were underpinned by deep, unspoken, shared assumptions. Kuhn called them paradigms. The succession from one to the other could not be called “progress” toward any kind of “truth” outside such paradigms, however, and certainly could not be linked to anything like capitalist accumulation. The post-1960s funk was giving way, willy-nilly, to the “postmodern” belief that one could know only “signifiers,” and perhaps to the belief that there were only signifiers; few recognized then (as few recognize today) that such ideas were the night thoughts of capital in the same years, as it accelerated its mutation into its increasingly fictive form, seemingly detached from any relationship to production or reproduction.


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