Dollimore has some thoughtful things to say about postmodernism, especially in relation to Lacan: “what I find in Lacan is an overtheorized expression of something more significantly and relevantly expressed elsewhere (in Freud and before).” (He cites specifically Schopenhauer and Montaigne.) “In this respect I believe he is symptomatic of a much wider tendency in (post-)modern theory. But in terms of his influence alone Lacan remains significant for this study. By crossing Freud’s death drive with the philosophy of lack and nothingness derived from Kojeve’s version of Hegel (itself influenced by Heidegger), he continues to drive death ever further into being; now, perhaps more inexorably than ever before, death is the lack whch drives desire. In doing that he also exemplifies another significant tendency in modern thought which I have already remarked, namely the anti-humanist wish to decentre ‘man’ in the name of a philosophy which is truly adequate to the complexity of being, yet which seeks to retain a residual human mastery in the very effort of articulating this complexity . . . . modern theory, having lost faith in older philosophical notions of truth, now half-settles for the mastery of a new kind of complexity which it partly produces in order to enable this performance of mastery. Phoenix-like, the omniscient, masterful and above all complex analytic of the modern theorist rises above his sacrifice of ‘man’ to death.”

Several things worth noting here: First, that postmodernism is in strong continuity with modern and even ancient themes, especially with regard to the dominance of death. What is new is the systematic way this is worked out. Postmodernism is a theoretization of the dominion of death. And, this is perfectly suitable as a NON-Christian analysis of a post-resurrection world. The dominion of death outside Christ is infinitely sharpened by the power of resurrection within. Second, Dollimore is discerning here the continuing Cartesianism of postmodern theory, that is, the continuing dominance of the “masterful” man, floating in midair above the fray. Or, to put it theologically, he is discerning that postmodern post-humanity is still carrying on the modern (Satanic) delusion that it shall be as God. Third, this puts in question the claim that postmodernism is defined by its refusal of metanarratives. Perhaps the particular metanarratives of Marx, Freud, and Hegel have been jettisoned (perhaps not, though), but it seems that they have been rejected in favor of another metanarrative. For some pomo theorists, the story of Western philosophy culminates in THEM, and the narrative thus legitimates the pomo project.

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Articles by Peter J. Leithart