Nothing is fundamental. That is what is so interesting about the analysis of society. That is why nothing irritates me as much as these inquiries – which are by definition meptaphysical – on the foundations of power in a society or the self-institution of a society, etc. These are not fundamental phenomena. There are only reciprocal relations, and the perpetual gaps between intentions in relation to one another.’
Michel Foucault. (1991). ‘Space, Knowledge and Power’. In Paul Rabinow, (ed.), The Foucault Reader. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, p. 247.
‘So you’re a Modernist, then?’ he asks. Though it sounds more like a statement. She nods.
It is kind of a relief to admit it. You don’t go round saying things like that in polite ‘post-modern’ company. She doesn’t think many people know what modernism is. Or was. It certainly makes her a throw-back, to identify with such old-fashioned ideas.
She smiles inwardly, picturing him picturing her in some cold, white modernist appartment somewhere, a single Mondrian on the living room wall, reading To The Lighthouse. If only life mirrored art so aesthetically.
When she speaks she sounds as post-modern as you can get. She is her father’s daughter after all. She finds it difficult to open her mouth without a qualification. She’d start all her sentences with ‘But…’ if she didn’t think it was bad grammar. ‘Nothing is fundamental’ . Meaning is as nebulous as the ocean, crashing against the shores of our consciousness with complete abandon, and certainly no respect for order. There are no straight lines.
In matters of identity her post-structural mind goes into overdrive. She will sit and tell you over and over how the self is a site of conflict, creating and moulding multiple identities every day, every moment. She is not the same person now as she was five minutes ago. ‘Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same’. Whoever said that one was born just once? Certainly not Derrida.
The postmodern view of the self is perfect for people who want to enjoy multiple identities and experiences. They don’t have to make one aspect of their existence match up with another; all they need to do is create another identity, another mode of being. The internet makes this as easy as logging in.
We can be whoever we want to be. She knows this in theory. We can invent and re-invent ourselves, weaving webs of intrigue like wires at the backs of our computers. We can have a job and a wife by day, and then launch ourselves into a parallel virtual universe by night, where our hyper-real libido roams free. We can act out that splitting of the self in ‘real life’ aswell. (Yes, it needs inverted commas these days). It can’t be so hard, as everyone is acting all the time anyway. And how can you lie when there is no longer such a thing as ‘truth’?
But when she walks into the room to meet him. When he sits down beside her on the sofa. When their arms brush against each other, they can only ever be one person each.
So she watches and listens, amused, as he tries to maintain the split personality he presented to her online. This man is married, and also a casanova. An academic, and also an ‘anonymous sex blogger’. He talks about his ‘lives’ as if they are two separate existences. But sat here beside her, sipping his pint, a little nervous, he is just a man. Yet another man who heard her surname and wanted to meet her, to split the daughter up from her father, to take the ‘Foucault’ out of her identity, to rip her famous heart from its moorings and touch it, see it, know it, casting the rest of her identity aside. But sat there beside him, sipping her pint, all he sees is a woman. Not Foucault’s emissary on earth, just a slightly awkward, serious but admittedly beautiful woman. He can barely hide his disappointment.
For it is only one heart that beats inside her rib cage, and one set of lungs that drags the air in and pushes it back out of her body. If somebody killed her there would only be one corpse. Even her father, the daddy of multiplicity, could only produce one pathetic corpse.
She tries to live in such a way that honours the limitations of the body that carries her. This means she attempts some kind of moral and narrative consistency, going through her like the words through a stick of English rock. She may not succeed. But she tries. She thinks about explaining this to him, but decides against it. He seems so attached to his double-life, the illusion that he can split himself in two, half of him disappearing before her eyes. If she speaks her mind, he might disappear altogether, and she isn’t ready to be left alone in a bar in a strange city. Not tonight.
So instead she just nods. Yes, she is a modernist. It’s dreadfully quaint, she knows. It takes the fun out of meeting and fucking these international postmodern men of mystery for a start (though of course she doesn’t say that). And it makes her look at this world like an outsider would, as if from a previous age, peering into the LCD screen, reeling in wonder and in horror at what she sees.