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On White Mythologies : Detotalising the Legacy of Modernity

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Abstract:

This article argues that modern discourse cannot be reduced to a totalising logic, but rather one of diremption between the universal and the particular. The postmodern emphasis on fragmentation camouflages the ambivalence within modernity, reducing the latter to totalisation based on an appropriation of the other within the same. By accusing modernity of perpetuating the binaries attributed to Hegelianism, Robert Young's White Mythologies attenuates the fissures within the Hegelian description of the consolidation of self‐consciousness. These fissures are visible in Fichte's and Schelling's negotiations of Kantian dualisms. Hegelian idealism hovers between the Fichtean desire to affirm a transcendental, self‐positing ego that assimilates the other within itself, and Schelling's aspiration to break with the Kantian dichotomy of sensible/intelligible realms, in the mode of a becoming that unites Spirit and Nature. Such fissures are patent in the contemporary postcolonial focus on a permanent mismatch between signifier and signified. By reproducing Hegelian ambivalence, Said, Bhabha and Spivak are heirs to the modern tradition. While Said transcends dichotomies by defending a dialectic of dependence and recognition where both sides participate as active agents in the prevalent state of affairs, Bhabha explores the concept of ‘time‐lag' so as to interrupt modern linear temporality. Spivak, in turn, posits a catachrestic deconstructive politics of reading that seeks to reinscribe existing narrative values in a novel context. The legacy of Enlightenment thought is to be found in postcolonial deconstruction, which implies an agency capable of resisting Western humanism's totalising impulse. As age of critique, Enlightenment represents the capacity of the individual to transcend contextual specificities by exercising independent judgement. Young's allegation that the critic is unable to abstract himself from a dominant cultural totality is ultimately insensitive to the fact that any critique relies on the subject's capacity to situate himself externally to his object of knowledge.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1473578042000283835

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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