Not So Much

Micah (Micah Jackson, the homiletician, not Micah Wright Kaufmann, the chorister whom I mentioned the other day) calls my attention to this article in The Economist, which argues that recent tactics in marketing correspond to the philosophies of postmodern theorists such as Lyotard, Foucault, and Derrida.


To the extent that the article implies that late capitalism has adapted to the characteristics of culture that these theorists were describing, it should be no news. Indeed, the quotation from Lyotard with which the article tries to drive its first rhetorical stake comes from a passage in which Lyotard was describing the effects of global capitalism. So if the article wants to suggest that there’s something ironic or self-defeating about Lyotard’s position, I’d riposte is that the only irony lies in the journalist’s misconstruing Lyotard’s essay.

The article glibly asserts that its subjects “wanted to destroy capitalism and bourgeois society” (what did they do in their spare time?). Yes, in varying degrees at varying times, they devoted their energies to exposing the brutal effects of global capitalism. At the same time, I doubt they’d have signed on to the destruction of capitalism as the goal of their work; they were a good deal more subtle than that.

In the hands of a careful reader, the essay might have explored the ways that marketers used postmodern diagnoses (which, to be true, did usually involve a principled resistance to the hegemony of liberal capitalism) as an occasion for furthering the goals of market capitalism. The author might then have considered the role that diversity and polymorphous pleasure played in specific intellectuals’ thought, concluding with estimates of what those thinkers might have made of the ways that these styles of sales and advertising tactics made use of their ideas. That would have been a different essay, more provocative and illuminating.

This essay, however, falls into the “oh, these pomos (‘as they are affectionately known to adherents’ — really? which adherents are those?), look at their silliness!” bin of oversimplification and obfuscation. C- or D, I’d say.

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