The term ‘postcolonial,’ although well established in reference to the history of the Americas since the nineteenth century, proliferated in frequency through the 1960s with the acceleration of processes of decolonization. Down through the 1970s and 1980s, ‘postcolonial’ remained for the most part a relatively straightforward periodizer of political order. In the wake of both deepening disillusionment with the regimes that had followed colonial rule and the movement into Western universities of intellectuals who had emerged out of the postcolonial milieu, dissatisfactions with existing national and developmental narratives intersected with a whole set of intellectual repudiations that travelled under the loose banners of ‘postmodernism’ and ‘poststructuralism.’ In the process, ‘postcolonial’ began a slow transformation from a periodizer of political order to a periodizer of intellectual and cultural dispositions implicated in the history of colonialism. As the term ‘postcolonial’ assumed significance in primary reference to forms of artistic and scholarly practice, the object of postcolonial scholarship increasingly shifted from a problematic of historical periodization to one of conceptual approach, so that since the turn of the millennium one has been able to speak of a thriving field of ‘postcolonial medieval studies.’
The introduction guides the reader through the goals of this volume and the methodological approach adopted in its chapters. Rather than offering an all-encompassing history of post-concepts, the volume aims to shed light on the meanings, nature and functions of the post-prefix in a broad array of post-constructions. The approach is threefold. First, the volume historicizes the use of the ‘post’ in the humanities and the social sciences. Second, the volume argues that post-concepts are always critical interventions in complex and often politicized societal and academic debates. As such, they do not typically describe distance or change from a root concept. Rather, they create such distance and change by allowing their users to re-periodize, reject or retool a root concept. Third, the volume facilitates a rapprochement between the social sciences and the humanities, including philosophy and theology. By systematically tracing post-concepts through the social sciences and humanities, the volume excavates a shared history replete with unexpected (biographical) connections, transfers and parallels between disciplines too often studied in isolation from one other. Underpinning the ambitions of this volume is a solid methodological framework comprising five interpretive principles upon which all chapters are based: positioning, performativity, transfer, interconnectedness and conceptual web.
(Post-)structuralism between France and the United States
Despite what the words ‘structuralism’ and ‘post-structuralism’ would seem to imply, the relationship between them is not simply chronological; it also has a geographical component. The term ‘post-structuralism’ emerged when American academics came to read the internal fault lines of French structuralism as debates over the validity of structuralism itself. By focusing on the American reception of Jacques Derrida, I show how his immanent critique of Claude Lévi-Strauss, in both the ‘Of Grammatology’ articles of 1965–66 and the ‘Structure, Sign, and Play’ paper presented at the famous structuralism conference in Baltimore the following October, came to be understood as a critical breakthrough. This supersessionary reading was facilitated by the way structuralism was related to a homegrown movement. American scholars read into the work of French thinkers such as Derrida and Foucault their own dissatisfactions with the ‘New Critics’. By showing how ‘post-structuralism’ was forged in these local American debates, I shed light on its fraught reception and the political and methodological questions that have dogged it since its birth.
‘“Post-Christian Era”? Nonsense!’ declared one of Europe’s foremost theologians, Karl Barth, in August 1948 at the first assembly of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam. Barth’s criticism notwithstanding, ‘post-Christian’ was a term that rose to prominence in mid-twentieth-century diagnoses of modernity. From the 1930s onwards, growing numbers of Protestant and Catholic thinkers perceived Europe, or more broadly the Western world, as entering a ‘post-Christian’ phase. The post-prefix was deeply ambiguous, however. For some, it conveyed that Europe had broken with its Christian past – a break that could alternatively be interpreted as liberation or estrangement. Others, by contrast, used the post-prefix to argue that various emerging forms of ‘secularism’ were historically indebted to Europe’s Christian past. Thus, Arnold J. Toynbee told an Oxford audience in 1940 that liberalism, communism and fascism were all leaves ‘taken from the book of Christianity’. Surveying the career of ‘post-Christian’ in mid-twentieth-century Germany, France, England and the Netherlands (with a brief excursion to the United States), this chapter argues that the term was able to achieve prominence because the ‘post’ allowed for different kinds of self-positioning vis-à-vis ‘Christianity’ and ‘modern culture’. Interestingly, however, in almost all cases, these positioning strategies drew on historicist resources in portraying the modern ‘age’ or ‘era’ as a new epoch in the development of Western culture.
What does it mean to live in an era of ‘posts’? At a time when ‘post-truth’ is on everyone’s lips, this volume seeks to uncover the logic of post-constructions – postmodernism, post-secularism, postfeminism, post-colonialism, post-capitalism, post-structuralism, post-humanism, post-tradition, post-Christian, post-Keynesian and post-ideology – across a wide array of contexts. It shows that ‘post’ does not simply mean ‘after.’ Although post-prefixes sometimes denote a particular periodization, especially in the case of mid-twentieth-century post-concepts, they more often convey critical dissociation from their root concept. In some cases, they even indicate a continuation of the root concept in an altered form. By surveying the range of meanings that post-prefixes convey, as well as how these meanings have changed over time and across multiple and shifting contexts, this volume sheds new light on how post-constructions work and on what purposes they serve. Moreover, by tracing them across the humanities and social sciences, the volume uncovers sometimes unexpected parallels and transfers between fields usually studied in isolation from each other.
The ‘post’ in literary postmodernism is far from unequivocally clear. When the term came into circulation in the 1950s, it mostly referred to a new literary mode that came after modernism and was different enough to warrant a new label. Most, but not all, early commentators deplored literary postmodernism. However, in the 1960s and early 1970s, interpreters increasingly portrayed literary postmodernism as a continuation of the literary avant-gardes of the modernist period – especially Dada and Surrealism – and connected it to a radically anti-bourgeois mode that Ihab Hassan traces back to the Marquis de Sade. This postmodernism easily predates modernism, just as the postmodernism of the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard saw a postmodern moment that confronted radical contingency and was fundamentally rule-free before the rise of modernism. For Lyotard, postmodern moments have occurred before and will occur again. By contrast, for critics such as Brian McHale, postmodernism developed and radicalized formal elements already present in modernist texts. Their postmodernism was unthinkable without an earlier modernism, which it used as a stepping stone, and so was both ‘post’ and ‘modern’. Finally, for other critics, postmodern literature not only succeeded, but also superseded modernist literature. Here, ‘post’ not only signified ‘after’ but also implied superiority, not in a formal sense, but because of postmodern literature’s recognition of the limitations of modernism’s Weltanschauung.
The term ‘post-Keynesian’ emerged in the 1940s, to describe work that built on John Maynard Keynes’s The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936). It had a purely temporal connotation, denoting any theories that took off from what Keynes argued in his book. Use of the term ‘Keynesian’ itself, whether post- or not, was controversial, for the name of Keynes was associated with ‘unsound’ policies, such as running permanent government deficits in peacetime. Keynesian ideas were strongly attacked by businessmen hostile to the interventionism associated with Roosevelt’s New Deal. Some went so far as to equate Keynesianism with communism. Economists hesitated to identify as Keynesian because they saw themselves as scientists, as not committed to specific doctrines, and also because it was politically dangerous to do so. All the same, Keynesian ideas became the orthodoxy in academic macroeconomics, and the terms ‘Keynesian’ and ‘post-Keynesian’ continued to be used in the same way. However, in the 1970s, some economists began to question whether Keynesian economics had remained true to Keynes’ own ideas, and the label ‘post-Keynesian’ came to be applied to the ideas of self-consciously heterodox economists who were critical of the Keynesianism or to the ‘new’ or ‘neo-’ Keynesianism of the mainstream.
Like other post-constructions, the term ‘post-secular’ has expressed a number of different concepts that reinforce and interrogate one another to varying degrees. Foremost among these have been (1) the idea that a distinct era of secularity has come to an end, (2) the claim that secularity was always a fiction and observers now see through it, and (3) the theory that the religious and the secular are deeply intertwined. One can find early iterations of these views in the American context during the late 1950s and 1960s, especially among neo-orthodox and existentialist thinkers who charged that theological liberalism had capitulated to the forces of science and modern culture and within a younger generation of religious scholars – Protestants, Catholics, and Jews alike – who deplored the loss of community in a liberal age. Only recently has the term been widely used by commentators on religion’s public roles. The rise of a sharp normative critique of secularity over the past twenty years has led thinkers as varied as Peter Berger, Jürgen Habermas and Charles Taylor to argue that modern societies have passed beyond a phase in which public institutions steadily marginalized religion and scholars declared it dead or dying. Yet the term ‘post-secular’ also retains its other meanings, signalling divergent visions of the present and the future that emerge from competing understandings of secularism as either a boon or a disaster.
Yolande Jansen, Jasmijn Leeuwenkamp, and Leire Urricelqui
This chapter argues that the ‘posterizing impulse’ has been part of the posthumanist discourse from the 1970s onwards, but stemmed from the debate about ‘transhumanism’ that came up in the optimistic 1950s already. The actual notion of ‘posthumanism’, when it was introduced in the 1970s, formed part of the postmodern, reflexive and ironic discourses of the time, which did not so much claim a historical shift or rupture, and did not imply a ‘space-clearing gesture’ towards a different future, but rather announced a position towards the present, a cultural critique, an explanation of ‘how we became posthuman’. It remains a question, however, how much ‘post’ was needed here, or whether, perhaps, the gesture towards a ‘post’ was rather a ‘problem’ than a helpful impulse. This chapter suggests that contemporary philosophical discourse on ‘posthumanism’ is very much aware of how it can remain trapped in the boldness of the posterizing gesture. It therefore seeks an earthly, ‘staying with the trouble’ kind of ‘post’, or rather a ‘com-post’, while being less academic, ironic and literary than the early postmodern posthuman.
The idea of a break with tradition and its wholesale replacement with something else – most often some Enlightenment-inspired notion of the rational – is so pervasive in Western thought that it arguably constitutes a tradition in its own right. Yet recent uses of the term ‘post-traditional’ promise something novel: they radicalize the term’s meaning. Thus, ‘post-traditional’ increasingly implies not simply a break with a particular tradition, but rather a break with tradition as such. These new, more totalizing uses of ‘post-traditional’ tend to concentrate on the subjective aspects of experience and the self, rather than the demise of objective formal structures or of doctrines. Thus, in earlier iterations, tradition and traditional societies suppressed the self in a prison of duties, ascriptive demands, and restrictions, typically with religious justifications, something never fully effaced by modernization. But in its subsequent incarnations, the term ‘post-traditionalism’ denotes the end of traditional social roles and the possibility – or burden – of self-invention, a change whose full force has only recently been felt. This chapter discusses representative figures in this new account of tradition, including Robert Bellah, Alasdair MacIntyre and Anthony Giddens, and considers the relation of this new version of the break with tradition in relation to the problematic of multiculturalism, which, contrary to the Enlightenment view, acknowledges the continuing power of tradition.