I have no evidence to support this claim. And it might already have been made. By several others in a range of forums. But one “returns” to blogging in dribs and drabs, a word here and there, a stray thought caught as it heads to “delete permanently.” And might be rescued. And “theorized” (humanists, someone writes, misuse the term “theory,” and should not use it; I value the humanities for valuing misuse).
One way to characterize the post-ness of post-feminism, post-race, post-postcolonial, post-x might be to look at the return of the joke. You know the one, the one that proves one’s post-ness. One dare not be upset or insulted, because it “is a joke,” and the refusal or unwillingness to accept the “joke-ness” of the joke marks one as anti-post, or not-yet-post, as belated, somehow not-yet-with-it. As, to use a persistent term, anti-modern.
There is a trick here, a temporal trick.
The anti-modern is the one who registers offense, who dares to use the “old” language of hurt, of insult, who dares to cause a stink–the woman who dares to claim “date rape” in an age of liberation, the queer who dares not to enjoy “friendly” homophobic jokes, the poc who is still pc.
In this schema (I freely admit to misusing the term “modern” and “anti-modern,” which might be better rendered as “post” and “not-yet-post,” yet the persistent use of the term “modern” in a range of contexts suggests it might, in fact, be the most apt, capacious framework for this kind of thinking) the “modern” is closely aligned with the “transcendent,” which is often, but not always, an alibi for the a-historical.
Thus, to be more concrete, the “modern” can mine the entire repertoire of “jokes” about niggers and fags and bitches while insisting on occupying the space-time of post-ness. And the overly anxious target, desiring to assert modernity, dare not respond. Or, more realistically (though this is speculative) understands that much is at stake when the response is not a weak grin. To share in a joke, after all, is to assert a shared spatio-temporal framework, to prove that one is “present” and “here.”
And the anxiety of modernness is a profound anxiety over “hereness”–one dwells at the edge of the cut, one desires to be acclaimed an innovator, or to be stylish dissonance. Yet, this anxiety can never be ennui, never disinterestedness, never boredom. To be post requires the practice of laughing, just not for everyone.
Yet the persistence, the long life of “the joke” that transcends time, raises even more interesting questions about how such jokes bend around time. And it’s worth thinking about the persistence of misogyny, racism, homophobia and so on in their upgraded fashion, their new configurations. Their targets remain the same, their modes of manifestation not-so-much, except, I would hazard, in the long-lived joke.
How do resurrected jokes, or vampiric jokes, to be more precise, talk to us about the necessary now that still must be brought into being?
I remain obsessed with the joke, in part because I am not much given to laughter, avoid it when I can, and mark my allegiances and affiliations through the occasional, very occasional laugh.