A Beginner’s Guide To Postmodern Polemics

by GAUTAMA P

The following text may be read as (among many other things) a ready reckoner that any Postmodern (PoMo) subject may use to subvert the totalitarian, homogenizing discourse of a Liberal Humanist (LiHu) interlocutor. Seven polemic devices are provided – but these are by no means to be regarded as canonical.

1. “but that’s so reductive!”: The LiHu’s most glaring shortcoming is his weakness for grammatically simple sentences. These are of course, sentences that do not contain in themselves a list of reservations, qualifications, extenuating assumptions, disavowed corollaries, and the mandatory reference to power. Such statements, you may be sure, are reductive and deserve to be condemned as such. In the face of such a statement, it will suffice for the PoMo to assume a tone of intellectual astonishment (or ethical panic, as the case may be) and simply say:

but that’s so reductive!”

The magic of this line lies in its own irreducibility. While nullifying anything that precedes it, it precludes its own nullification. Say it anywhere and it will appear self-evident. It is the logo-theologian’s holy grail: a semantic terminus. You are cautioned against using this line of attack with fellow PoMos because they will instantly counter your “but that’s so reductive!” with an equally effective “but that’s so reductive!”. This has been known to end in an infinite loop not unlike a forced draw by perpetual check in chess.

2. “it’s not binary”: LiHus love to enumerate possibilities. Their way of foisting truth-value upon their enumerations is through an ancient rhetorical ploy known as the digital fallacy. That is, by simply holding up as many fingers as there are possibilities the LiHu will make his enumeration visible, tangible, and therefore, undeniable. Do not be awed by this tactic. If you see only two fingers, waste no time in deploying the Brahmastra of Postmodern polemics: “it’s not binary”. This is guaranteed to throw the LiHu off for the remainder of the argument. Involuntary muscular contractions and foaming at the mouth may also be observed. Get this straight: If LiHu is digital, PoMo is analog. For a PoMo, possibilities may or may not exist, but it is heresy to articulate them as such. For example, a man may be dead or alive. But to call him dead denies the life that thrives in his decay; to call him alive denies the inanimate multitudes that circulate in his person. Naïve LiHus quickly shoot themselves in the foot by saying things like: “there are 3 types of precipitation”, or, “there are 2 kinds of gender”, or, “there are 13 ways of looking at a blackbird”. This is where you seize the initiative. Remember that LiHus are like dinosaurs. They possess primitive, procedural minds. They can only draw conclusions sequentially and consecutively. They lack the intuitive panache of the PoMo mind which is subtler by several orders of magnitude. While the LiHu is content to see things in black and white, a PoMo will hesitate to even begin to describe the rich continuum between magenta and mauve. For this reason, PoMos are advised against taking Objective-type multiple-choice tests designed by LiHus. The ideological commitment of the PoMo to mark every answer as “(e) none of the above” has historically resulted in some very low scores.

3. “it’s a construct”: LiHus will mechanically assert free-will. They genuinely believe it is possible for them to have thoughts of their own. Explain to them that they are who they are only because of where they came from. Add sympathetically, that you therefore understand exactly why they hold all the naïve, simplistic, woolly-headed views that they normally do. And don’t expect them to be grateful for your insights. You’ll soon realize that being a PoMo is a thankless job!

4. “Logic is Patriarchy”: This is the eject button of the PoMo discourse. If ever you get into a situation where you inadvertently revealed the tools of your trade to a LiHu, and the LiHu (however amateurishly) wages war on you with your own logic, you may bring the whole matter to a speedy conclusion by announcing your refusal to comply with so Patriarchal and Contingent an institution as Logic. This ensures for you an exit that is quick, graceful, and at times even grand. Remember that while a LiHu is a prisoner of his own petty rules, you as a PoMo are entitled to choose the rules that suit your cause and jettison them whenever things get sticky.

5. Science is bunkum: Any argument supported by “scientific research” is automatically suspect because science is grounded on western rationality, and western rationality is spurious.

6. History is bunkum (but not Historicism): As a PoMo, you may reject all histories except the ones produced by you.

7. Swadeshi Jargon Manch: It is becoming more and more unfashionable to use diasporic words dished out by desi academics waiting for tenure at Columbia University (diasporic words are words that emigrate from the dictionary and become something unrecognizable). Use desi words to make your arguments more authentic and reflect your lived experience. Instead of “MTV interpellated me as a deracinated consumer”, practice saying “MTV ne mujhe bakra banaya”. Just mix and match. For example, borrow a simple slogan like “Roti, Kapda Aur Makaan” and write a scholarly piece entitled “Rorty, Capra Aur Lacan”. And finally, remember that there is really no difference between the ancient and the postmodern, provided of course… you’ve got your Gayatri Mantra right.

(2004)

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