chapter  4
32 Pages

HISTORY AND POSTSTRUCTURALISM

As a lapsed Christian of the generation of 1968, I have always found the narratives of historical materialism seductively attractive and reassuring: what better recuperation of one’s childhood beliefs than to translate the fall from grace into a fall into class division and competitiveness and to view ourselves as struggling, under our own steam, towards a millennium of community, cooperation, and reconciliation with ourselves and with nature, all without the help of a perversely punitive deity? But I don’t think I ever (or more than briefly, decades ago) tumbled into vulgar Marxist scientificity and entertained the belief that Marxist discourses were capable of representing the indisputable bedrock reality of the past (or the present). For me, as for most others, part of Marxism’s appeal lay not in any putative claims to absolute verities but rather in the rigours of its heuristic methods for analysing social and cultural structures and histories. The long-term ‘master’-narrative of historical materialism remained (and remains for me) as plausible as the Christian one, and seemed to beat its other competitors by daring to make an epistemological leap into an ethics which maintains that community and reconciliation are better for people than are competitiveness, oppression, and violence. Whilst acknowledging the force of our contemporary critiques of the underlying cultural and epistemological assumptions of Marxist humanism, I have resisted the blandishments of the deconstructive ‘turn’, always insisting that the dissolution of all perceived realities into sheer discursivity would leave us with no reason or motivation whatsoever to raise objections to suffering and oppression (the ‘reality’ of which would be similarly dissolved). Finally, I have to admit that I long ago discovered, to my chagrin, that I was a dyed-in-the-wool Anglo-Saxon empiricist, frightened by the excitements of poststructuralism, afraid of not being intellectually up to its theoretical rigours, and always in danger of recidivism. I have remained more or less a passive consumer of theory, eschewing all attempts to invent, on my own, the rhetorical gestures of the innovating theorist.