Politics of Difference
In order to appreciate fully the critical powers of postmodernist discourses, one must first focus on the modern forms of sovereignty. As we saw in the previous sections, the world of modern sovereignty is a Manichaean world, divided by a series ofbinary oppositions that define Self and Other, white and black, inside and outside, ruler and ruled. Postmodernist thought challenges precisely this binary logic ofmodernity and in this respect provides important resources for those who are struggling to challenge modern discourses of patriarchy, colonialism, and racism. In the context of postmodernist theories, the hybridity and ambivalences of our cultures and our senses ofbelonging seem to challenge the binary logic of Self and Other that stands behind modern colonialist, sexist, and racist constructions. Similarly, the postmodernist insistence on difference and specificity defies the totalitarianism of universalizing discourses and structures ofpower; the affirmation off ragmented social identities appears as a means ofcontesting the sovereignty of both the modern subject and the modern nation-state, along with all the hierarchies they imply. This postmodernist critical sensibility is extremely important in this regard because it constitutes the proposition (or the symptom) ofa break with respect to the entire development ofmodern sovereignty.
When postmodernists propose their opposition to a modernity and an Enlightenment that exalt the universality ofreason only to sustain white male European supremacy, it should be clear that they are really attacking the second tradition ofour schema (and unfortunately ignoring or eclipsing the first). It would be more accurate, in other words, to pose postmodernist theory as a challenge neither to the Enlightenment nor to modernity in toto but specifically to the tradition ofmodern sovereignty. More precisely still, these various theoretical contestations are brought together most coherently in a challenge to the dialectic as the central logic of modern domination, exclusion, and command—for both its relegating the multiplicity of difference to binary oppositions and its subsequent subsumption of these differences in a unitary order. If modern power itselfis dialectical, the logic goes, then the postmodernist project must be nondialectical.
Although many ofthe various postmodernist theorists are lucid in their refusal ofthe logics of modern sovereignty, they are in general extremely confused about the nature of our potential liberation from it—perhaps precisely because they cannot recognize clearly the forms of power that have today come to supplant it. When they present their theories as part ofa project of political liberation, in other words, postmodernists are still waging battle
against the shadows of old enemies: the Enlightenment, or really modern forms of sovereignty and its binary reductions of difference and multiplicity to a single alternative between Same and Other. The affirmation of hybridities and the free play of differences across boundaries, however, is liberatory only in a context where power poses hierarchy exclusively though essential identities, binary divisions, and stable oppositions. The structures and logics of power in the contemporary world are entirely immune to the ‘‘liberatory’’ weapons of the postmodernist politics of difference. In fact, global structures of political and economic power too, is bent on doing away with those modern forms of sovereignty and on setting differences to play across boundaries.
Despite the best intentions, then, the postmodernist politics of difference not only is ineffective against but can even coincide with and support the functions and practices of imperial rule. The danger is that
postmodernist theories focus their attention so resolutely on the old forms of power they are running from, with their heads turned backwards, that they tumble unwittingly into the welcoming arms of the new power.