Friday, October 17, 2008

Theorizing After Postmodern: Storytelling Organizations Perspective

Theorizing After Postmodern: A Storytelling Organization Approach

Dear Storytellers,

I am sorting out my thoughts on what it means to theorize after postmodern. For me storytelling is an interplay of 'retrospective linear narratives of the past' (since Aristotle), living story networks of the present (since Indigenous, Poststructuralism, Third Wave Feminism, & Dialogism/Answerability of Bakhtin), and the antenarrative (bets on the future, before-narrative).  

Postmodern theorizing is an antenarrative, but then so is modern theorizing. Both claimed to theorize a future that was after something they detested.  Postmodern declared a divide with modern, but kept borrowing modern social theory across the divide from Nietzsche, Marx, Adorno, Horkheimer, Mead, and even Dewey. 

The aim for the future, as a break with the past. Modern theorizing detested Premodern, especially indigenous knowledge, indigenous science, and indigenous spirituality. Modernity's Enlightenment Project is ante-Premodern.  Fragmentation began with modern social theory, as it split apart into anti-modern, pro-modern, and ante-modern.  The ante-modern is the subterranean roots of postmodern theorizing. The rejection of Enlightenment rationality, scientism, and positivism did not start with postmodern theorizing. It is part of Nietzsche's anti-Enlightenment, and quite a long list of modernists, including Horkheimer and Adorno's 'Critical Theory' (particularly the critique of utilitarianism, culture industry).  For pro-modern, see Habermas, who took 'critical theory' along the path of engineering unfinished Enlightenment.  There there is Bruno Latour who says, 'We have never been modern!'  Fragmentation everywhere in modernity, to the point that Kantian search for universalism (categorical imperative) keeps breaking down. 

Is Postmodern Theorizing Dead?  Am I the last postmodernist? With few exceptions, the gurus of postmodern theory have died (Baudrillard, Debord, Foucault, & Deleuze). Still living: Zygmunt Bauman, Frederick Jameson. I don't count poststructuralists as postmodern; there is a difference, but postmodern theory certainly borrows from Derrida, Kristiva, and Foucault.  There are plenty alive writing against postmodern theory (Best, Kellner, and most every Third World or Indigenous Feminist).  There are certainly a long list of New Age Postmodern Theorists (Wilber), and Post-Industrialists masquerading at Postmods (Bergquist). 

Am I the last postmodernist still standing? And here I am ready to declare the death of postmodern.  Every postmodern theory has been dethroned. I thought I was safe in 'McPostmodern theory' until I discovered that it was a colonizing tool of Empire's knowledge management wave. I thought I was safe in Debord's Spectacle critique of industrial capitalism, which Baudrillard appropriate into a theory of hyperreality, simulacra everywhere, and in Lyotard's expulsion of all grand narrative in favor of a thousand little stories. But it turns out that some grand narratives are needed. I don't want to be absorbed by hyperreal or Spectacle. I was safe in my 'Critical Postmodern theory' until I discovered it was a neocolonialist tool of Empire's culture, where the aesthetic of pastiche rules. I read "U.S. Third World Feminism" as a dethronement of Frederick Jameson's postmodern theory.  How? By declaring that indigenous and (non 1st World) feminist positions were going to create a critique of postmodern theory as a 1st World Neocolonialist Project.  In simple terms, Enlightenment is to Modern, as Neocolonialism is to Postmodern.  If 'postmodern is dead', then what is next? Some form of Post-Postmodern, or Post-Post-Postmodern?  Now I hang onto Deleuze & Guattari) with a death grip, lest I fall into the abyss and there is no more postmod. Out of rhizomatics, comes the possibility of an ante-postmodern (something that is a bet on the future, and a before, perhaps way before even premodern).

Ante-Postmodern Ante is a bet on the future, and a before.  Ante-Postmodern is a bet that the future of theorizing after postmodern.  

So for me, ante-postmodern is just one more antenarrative.  First, the most dominant form of antenarrative is linear (goals and plans of the future). For example, a recurring postmodern theory, declares a periodization, a chronology, in which postmodern follows modern.  

Second, is the cyclic antenarrative, the eternal return (Nietzsche) of another attempt to go beyond the current malaise of social theory. Given a constellation of forces, there is a reemergence of tyranny, colonialism, and in the postmodern, the neocolonial, with no sights at all of any post-colonial.  The Imperialism of modernity has reinvented itself in the Empire of postmodern. One has only to witness the postmodern wars that followed Vietnam, where the Spectacle and the Hyperreal Virtual of CNN/Fox displaced blood and guts reporting.  If Imperialism become the pet of European capitalism, then Empire is the monster of U.S. capitalism, and its result: Globalization of U.S. Empire. 

Finally, there are rhizomatic antenarratives.  This is a kind of storytelling organization made of a very special interplay of order and disorder, one that has lines that are non-linear, and both an above and a below ground networking.  In biology there are rhizome plants, with runners above ground (like strawberries) that form new plants (called tubers), and plants with roots forming tubers (like potatoes, crab grass), and a mix like irises, trumpet vines, etc.   In social rhizomatics there is the first bank crisis of the 1800s, then the stock market crisis in 1920s, the gas crisis of 1970s, the Enron contagion that pulled Arthur Anderson under in 1990s, and now in 2008, yet another rhizome.  You cannot catch a rhizome fraud (whose roots are subterranean) with a linear approach. Rhizomes just go around, below, and above lines.  You cannot break a rhizome by declaring it a cycle. Rhizomes encounter a cycle, imitate it like a chameleon, and move right through it. Rhizomes are ever-moving, extending in all directions, until an obstacle.  Then it either strangles it, breaks it, or moves around it. 

To me linear ante-postmodern theory is dead, cyclical ante-postmodern theory is dead, and we are left with rhizome postmodern. Storytelling organizations are a dialogic storytelling, an intermingle of linear retrospective narrative, living story networks unfolding now, and the antenarrative bets on the future (be they linear, cyclic, or rhizome).

In storytelling organizations, the line and the cycle are not dead, but what is ante-postmodern is the rhizomatics. 

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