Wrecked out of our wounds: Identity politics and the metaphysics of presence

Identity politics is primeval — rooted in the pre-Oedipal*. It always evokes a “metaphysics of presence” (term from Derrida); the “good breast versus the bad breast” (terms from Melanie Klein).

Those who say that they are postmodern, and yet invoke identity politics at every turn are engaging in primeval sorcery, because they believe that they see more at hand than is actually capable of presenting itself to them.

A “metaphysics of presence” is fundamentally an wrong or “magical” way of seeing. It is erroneous because it oversimplifies what is actually there to be seen and understood. It is “magical” because this mode of seeing is creative and inventive, actively constructing what it claims to perceive, and not detachedly observing it.

The “metaphysics of presence” is unavoidably postmodern despite assertions that precisely the opposite is true, since the postmodernist must make initial reference to presences that “seem” real to him or her, before deconstructing these appearances through clashing them against other “appearances”. The postmodernist, then, is involved in masking as well as unmasking, and plays the role of a magician. This is not a good thing, for what is lost — psychologically and ontologically — though the mutual clashing and splintering of opposed identities is not the firmness of reality as such, but the firmness of the boundaries of identity. It is these that shatter and fragment, leaving only the core of a vulnerable human essence (Note: not as an “absence” but fundamentally as a “presence” of core humanity, stripped of its identity postulates. This is the nakedness of the human soul that we encounter at the end of Black Sunlight.)

Shamanism resolves the crisis of identity, through a strategic restructuring of one’s knowledge, whereas postmodernist thinking leaves it fragmented. Both approaches understand something of the illusory as well as fabricated nature of identity. In Marechera’s shamanistic writing, the pure essence of human experience is on display, with the other signifiers of presence (such as race and gender) shattered and gone.

We are thus “wrecked out of our wounds”, according to Marechera.  In this particular case, which is far from being postmodern, what wrecks us is also what redeems us. We rediscover our true humanity in the most solid form only after first experiencing the overwhelming imposition of the metaphysics of presence through a visceral meeting with our most potent image of ourselves. It is this encounter  that wrecks us “out of our wounds”.

The postmodernist, who retreats periodically to his or her island of skepticism, cannot lay claim to the same sort of shamanistic experience of reading.

*NOTE: Jungians see the early childhood level of consciousness  as being  a realm of transformation and mystical consciousness.  Even as adults, we all have tendencies toward this, including the ability to see ourselves as part of life’s  great oneness.



One thought on “Wrecked out of our wounds: Identity politics and the metaphysics of presence

  1. Pity the post-modernist, remaining more or less unfulfilled in some one-sided abstraction of a self-imposed, ideological, positive identity.I am a woman.I am a black.I am an American.I am gay.Instead of I am the totality of what makes a human being in the animal kingdom.

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