You’ve heard it before. The phrase is so commonplace that you don’t really even need to be an expert to have a sense as to what people are talking about when they utter it. It’s been talked about in books, news articles, the media, and even films. Occasionally, it’s a conversation discussed around the dinner table that can leads to major controversies in the family. And no, I’m not talking about “fake news” yet, or what constitutes “fake news” or the phrase “post-truth,” though they have become a frequent phrase in contemporary discourse. What I’m talking about is Nietzsche’s notorious injunction that, “God is Dead.”
Most people familiar or unfamiliar with the work of Nietzsche have heard this phrase before, and it usually is articulated as means to invite shock. If God is dead, then what does that mean for those of us who believe in God, who rely on God, who need God to navigate through time and space? Usually, this injunction is made into a metaphor for what Nietzsche’s entire philosophical project tends to lean towards, namely the rejection of Truth. For God to be dead is for our metanarratives of Truth to be dead. Truth is no longer thought to be transcendental and eternal, the objective subject position is met with harsh skepticism, and the entire Truth-telling apparatus is met with incredulity. Nietzsche is then thought of as the “Father of Postmodernism” and in his philosophical novel Thus Spake Zarathustra, he often makes references, that he “has come to early.” And perhaps, he had. However, the apostles of his work, the Postmodern philosophers like Jean Francois Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard, who revisited his work as a framework through which to describe the condition of postmodernity reveal that if he had come to early, it was still important for him to come. And, if their postmodern enunciations are seen as a sociological descriptions of the (White) World post-WW2, then what is frequently being called the epoch of Fake News, or the Post-Truth era should be better known as the zenith of the Post-Modern condition.
Critics of Post-Modernism often attack it for what is thought to be its aversion to Truth. The idea is that Post-Modern philosophers are philosophers who are against Truth. However, I want to read against this reading even as I seem to equate their philosophical framework with the “Post-Truth era.” I want to suggest that reading Post-Modern philosophers as against Truth obfuscates the sociological trend in their major exponent’s work; it also disavows the white dread that situates the invocation that “God is Dead.” Baudrillard, whose doctorate is in sociology not philosophy, should be read this way. The important distinction between a sociological reading of the World versus a philosophical reading is that the former is attempting describe the World as it is, the latter is attempting to both describe the World as it is and also how it should be. In other words, philosophy itself tends to imply an advocacy for a World, a Truth; whereas social theory tends to advocate only that that which they see in the World is how the World is. The (White) World is Post-Modern, not because Baudrillard and Lyotard want it to be, or because they advocate for this World, as it would seem to imply if one was to say that they (Baudrillard and Lyotard) are against Truth, but because that’s how the World is now. They are not against anything; they are just describing a World that is against metanarratives of Truth. So in a sense, I would say that they believe that “The Truth is that the World is Against Truth.” This matters, and an analysis as to how we got here matters if we are going to really understand what it means to be in the “Epoch of Fake News.”
Jean Francois Lyotard writes in The Postmodern Condition that, “Simplying to the extreme, I define postmodem as incredulity toward metanarratives. This incredulity is undoubtedly a product of progress in the sciences…” Metanarratives used to proliferate everywhere, and they especially proliferated everywhere prior to what Lyotard and Baudrillard saw as WW2. And whereas the breakdown of these metanarratives to Lyotard and Baudrillard is because of WW2, and scientific and technological progress, Sylvia Wynter reminds us, referencing Wlad Godzich, that “the great sociopolitical upheavals of the late 1950s and ’60s, especially those grouped under the names of decolonization and liberation movements, would have had a major impact on our ways of knowledge.” It is undeniable that something happened in the 1950s and 1960s that challenged Truth, and challenged metanarratives. The (White) World’s disorientation towards this challenge is what fosters the condition of postmodernity. However, injecting the importance of decolonization and liberation movements into how Post-modern philosophers have describe the (White) World allows us to return the notion of the Post-modern, of the “epoch of fake news” with a different view. Baudrillard wrote in Simulation and Simulacra that, “We live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning.” This can hardly be seen as an emphatic celebration of the death of Truth. Nevertheless, this proliferation of information does in fact exist, and this proliferation of information does in fact challenge metanarratives.
For example, there used to be a time where there was a historical metanarrative that concluded that there was one reading of the historical encounter of Christopher Columbus on the Coast of the Americas. Christopher Columbus “founded” America. However, incredulity to this metanarrative is what fostered the delegitimation of this metanarrative. It’s almost commonplace, even among white conservatives, to at least acknowledge that Christopher Columbus didn’t actually “find” America. Another example, the news and the newspaper used to be the only site at which one learned about what was going on around the (White) World. Any and every media source with the money and funds to dictate to the public how events transpired had control of the metanarratives of contemporary events. However, the internet now provides space for everyone to challenge the media. From think-pieces (thoughtful and unthoughtful) to tweets to Facebook post to the creation and construction of alternative online news tablets to satirical news stations to the creation of Fake News tabloids, the internet is the site of an information explosion that is so crucial to the Post-modern description of the World. Lyotard writes, “The “crisis” of scientific knowledge, signs of which have been accumulating since the end of the nineteenth century, is not born of a chance proliferation of sciences, itself an effect of progress in technology and the expansion of capitalism. It represents, rather, an internal erosion of the legitimacy principle of knowledge. There is an internal erosion at work inside the speculative game, and by loosening the weave of the encyclopedic net in which each science was to find its place, it eventually sets them free.”
But what these juxtaposed examples reminds us of, is the fact that post-modern and post-truth, are not exactly synonymous and that post-truth might not exactly be the best way to describe the current state of the (White) World. Post-Truth implies that there was a moment that the Truth was known, and that we now live in a moment after that. However, a metanarrative is not the Truth; it’s just a narrative that sets itself up as Truth. The Christopher Columbus example proves. It’s not true that Christopher Columbus “founded” America; it’s just the metanarrative we were forced to accept. Post-modernism is about the information bomb of our current moment, and the ways that this information bomb leads not to the lack of Truth per se, but the lack of belief in the metanarratives given to us. Fake News is just a minor part of that information bomb. So when CNN says that “Trump relies on Fake News” and Trump responds that CNN is Fake News, we are presented not with the problem of Truth, but the problem of information. Both Trump and CNN present the World with information as a means to challenge a metanarrative, the metanarrative that both at one point would have been able to represent. For Trump supporters, they see Trump as exhibiting an incredulity towards CNN’s metanarrative; whereas CNN supporters see CNN as exhibiting incredulity towards Trump’s attempt to construct a metanarrative. All this just becomes information for people to choose from. And if it feels like the end of the World, then this is why Baudrillard writes, “INFORMATION = ENTROPY.”
We are at the zenith of Post-modernism. The (White) World is falling apart under the proliferation of information. Look at the Russian Conflict, people are incredulous to the FBI’s own reports, people are trusting unverified reports from Buzzfeed, people are skeptical to their own government’s counterintelligence. This is not Post-Truth. This is Post-Modern. This is Post-Modern at its highest point. William Lane Craig critiqued Post-Modernism and said, “The idea that we live in a postmodern culture is a myth. In fact, a postmodern culture is an impossibility; it would be utterly unliveable.” The question is: Does the World feel unlivable yet?
I end by speaking to the dread that subtends the Post-Modern description of the (White) World. This unliveable World, where information exudes everywhere, where there is, as Lyotard put it, a “crisis in metaphysical philosophy” is a blackening of the World. Frantz Fanon writes, “The black man has no ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man. Overnight the Negro has been given two frames of reference within which he has had to place himself. His metaphysics, or, less pretentiously, his customs and the sources on which they were based, were wiped out because they were in conﬂict with a civilization that he did not know and that imposed itself on him.” The metaphysics of the White World is brought to the point of entropy via this information boom, this forced contact with the rest of the World, with the thoughts, opinions, and theories of the rest of the World. This is an entropy that Black bodies had experience long ago under the excess of gratuitous anti-Black violence and white Enlightenment discourse. Whereas Black Study takes up the discursive field as a means to challenge the white metanarrative, or what Sylvia Wynter calls, “Man’s over-representation of himself;” it also works towards making the White World unliveable. Baurdrillard speaks to the dread of this prospect himself when he writes:
It is thus very naive to look for ethnology in the Savages or in some Third World – it is here, everywhere, in the metropolises, in the White community, in a world completely cataloged and analyzed, then artificially resurrected under the auspices of the real, in a world of simulation, of the hallucination of truth, of the blackmail of the real, of the murder of every symbolic form and of its hysterical, historical retrospection – a murder of which the Savages, noblesse oblige, were the first victims, but that for a long time has extended to all Western societies.
It’s for this reason, we should understand the moment as Post-Modern and not Post-Truth, and understand Black Study as a study that to the White World is always already Post-Modern in its always already incredulity to the metanarrative of Whiteness. Lewis Gordon says of Black Study:
Theory in black…is…a phobogenic designation. It occasions anxiety of thought; it is theory in jeopardy. […] There is a form of illicit seeing…at the very beginnings of seeing black, which makes a designation of seeing in black, theorizing, that is, in black, more than oxymoronic. It has the mythopoetics of sin. […] Blackness, in all its metaphors and historical submergence, reaches out to theory, then, as theory split from itself. It is the dark side of theory, which, in the end, is none other than theory itself, understood as self-reflective, outside itself
Blackness as a phobogenic designation. Blackness as an anxiety to thought. Blackness as theory in jeopardy. Blackness as a mythopoetics of sin. Blackness as that which reaches out to theory as theory split from itself. Blackness as the dark side of theory, which becomes theory itself. This reading of the moment allows for the negative of Post-Truth to be transformed into the nadir of the Post-Modern condition. Black Twitter, for example, is a major part of this information boom that has challenged the hegemony of white metanarratives from Trump to CNN to FOX to Hillary and more. This challenge presents Whiteness with the fear of disappearance, or in Frank Wilderson words, “the end of Humanity.” Baudrillard, once again speaks to this fear of disappearance when he states:
Transpolitics is the elective sphere of the mode of disappearance (of the real, of meaning, of the stage, of history, of the social, of the individual). To tell the truth, it is no longer so much a question of nihilism: in disappearance, in the desertlike, aleatory, and indifferent form, there is no longer even pathos, the pathetic of nihilism – that mythical energy that is still the force of nihilism, of radicality, mythic denial, dramatic anticipation. It is no longer even disenchantment, with the seductive and nostalgic, itself enchanted, tonality of disenchantment. It is simply disappearance.
Blackness is the transpolitical par excellence (due to its transatlantic positional formation) that provides the lens through the White Real, the White Meaning, the White Stage, the White History, the White Social, and the White Individual, will disappear. It is the fear of disappearance that elected Trump in the first place. To “Make America Great Again” is simply white bodies wishing for the metanarratives of Whiteness to return to hegemony. For this reason, militant Black studies and Black struggle is more important now than ever. This moment, this unliveable moment, is the moment we’ve been waiting for.