Alterity, religion, and the metaphysics of postmodernism
Postmodernism privileges figures of negativity, figures defined under such terms as alterity, absence, aporia and the Other. The ostensible function of these tropes is the disruption of logocentrism through the introduction of the indeterminate. However, by arguing that the 'metaphysics of presence' is all that exists in social communication, alterity can be reinterpreted as a metanarrative trope whose language and function repeat attributes previously defined by theology. Much postmodern fiction, with its indeterminate style, acts like a negative theology by systematically negating other thematic presences in the text in order to present alterity itself as a dominant with final jurisdiction over all areas of language and being. Because of its dominance, this alterity comes to exercise conceptual powers akin to the metaphysical expressions of the divine: ineffability, infinity, omnipotence, atemporality, ethical force. The religious and mystical references that often crowd postmodern fiction, therefore, support alterity's shift from the aporetic to the transcendent. By examining metaphysical alterity in postmodern treatments of character, death, allegory and history, I argue that postmodern literature is a limited theological discourse that questions postmodern pluralism and populism. The reified negative has such a privilege in postmodernism that it creates an aporetic politics that is only capable of representing otherness rather than others. I suggest that this is a 'natural' philosophy for late-capitalism in that it refuses broad social praxis in favour of a value-free market and anti-foundational argument. I set aside Salman Rushdie as someone whose fiction manages to use metaphysics and fragmentation in a non-transcendental manner. Rushdie locates meaning in the dialogue between the metaphysical and the material, rather than an abstracted absence and presence, and thus he is able to portray metanarratives without transcendence or dogmatism. As such, Rushdie shows that postmodernism's insistence on alterity fafls to engage meaningfully with social conditions.