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  • 7/29/2019 Octavia Butler


    We Need the Stars: Change, Community, and the Absent

    Father in Octavia Butlers Parable of the Sower and Parable

    of the Talents

    Mathias Nilges

    Callaloo, Volume 32, Number 4, Fall 2009, pp. 1332-1352 (Article)

    Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press

    DOI: 10.1353/cal.0.0553

    For additional information about this article

    Access Provided by Georgia State University at 02/03/13 4:27AM GMT


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    1332 Callaloo 32.4 (2009) 13321352

    WE NEED THE STARSChange, Community, and the Absent Father in Octavia Butlers

    Parable of the Sowerand Parable of the Talents

    by Mathias Nilges

    All that you touchYou Change.

    All that you ChangeChanges you.

    The only lasting truthIs Change.

    GodIs Change.

    Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower

    Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of greatimportance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot toadd: the rst time as a tragedy, the second time as a farce.

    Karl Marx

    It is in her treatment of the concept of change that many critics locate the most acces-sible basis for an examination of the politics of Butlers Parable of the Sower and Parable ofthe Talentsand rightly so. The Parable novels, spanning a time frame of over sixty-ve

    years (from 2024 to 2090), revolve around the attempts of Lauren Oya Olamina, a youngAfrican American woman, to overcome the loss of her family in the destruction of herformer home Robledo, a small Californian walled-community. Central in Laurens effortis the attempt to form a new community, based upon a new understanding of individualand collective existence, which is designed to accept the fact that the post-apocalypticworld surrounding them lacks any form of permanence or stability. The expression Godis Change becomes the central credo of this new community and forms the philosophicalcornerstone of a quasi-religious system Lauren creates. All that you touch/You Change./All that you Change/Changes you./The only lasting truth/Is Change./God/Is Change(Sower 3). This excerpt from the Book of the Living, the collection of truths Laurenwrites down and advertises as the basis for her vision of a progressive community, iscommonly considered evidence that supports readings of Butlers novels as arguments

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    for the necessity to leave behind outdated conceptions of community and society, trading

    them in for the progressive ideal of change. Such readings of the Parable novelsfrequentlyrefer to classic postmodern arguments regarding the liberatory potential contained inconcepts such as diversity, pluralism, the incredulity toward repressive meta-narratives,or the embrace of difference.1 From this perspective, the Parable novelscan seemingly beconstrued as postmodern visions of a progressive politics of community and identity.Yet, such a reading of Butlers novels, especially of Butlers treatment of the concept ofchange in the context of a destabilized and deregulated world, quickly reveals itself as one-dimensional, undervaluing the true scope of Butlers critical intervention. Furthermore,labeling Butlers novels postmodern misses a crucial shift in literary history. As we shallsee, Butlers Parable novels are not postmodern but post-Fordist novels.2

    Despite the fact that the terms Fordism and post-Fordism are becoming moreprevalent in critical discourse, it appears prudent to begin this analysis by establishingthe ways in which these terms will methodologically and analytically operate in whatfollows. By post-Fordism I do not merely designate a shift in the dominant mechanismsof production of Western capitalism over the course of the last few decades. Instead, Iassign the term a more expansive descriptive force, rooted in its conceptual antecedent:Fordism. Fordism is not just dened by the assembly line. More importantly, the termFordism describes a mode of production that for the rst time in history invades, standard-izes, and regulates virtually every aspect of the lives of its subjectstheir social, political,cultural, geographical, and even medical lives. By extension, the term post-Fordism, as Iuse it in this essay, does not just describe the shift in production from national, regulated,

    industrial economies to globalized, deregulated service and immaterial economies, butalso a vast shift in the entirety of social and political life, including politics of the state,nations, and, notably for the purposes of this essay, cultural and intellectual production.Methodologically, I base the following inquiry on the writings of the French RegulationSchool, whose insistence on the importance of analyzing the ways in which capitalismprogresses and changes depending on its social regulation provide an invaluable toolfor contemporary cultural critics. Regulation theory insists that we can arrive at a fullerunderstanding of the material dynamics behind the progress of history by studying theperpetual dialectical struggle between capital and its social dimension, which understandshistory a heterogeneous process of perpetual change with only moments of relative stabil-ity that correspond to moments of structural dominance (such as full post-Fordism).3 In

    what follows, I extend this analytical model and focus on the central role culture takeson in capitalisms social regulation, which in turn becomes an invaluable tool for under-standing recent literary history.

    Culture, therefore, can be understood as the battleeld upon which the social regulationof contemporary capitalism is carried out, where new sociopolitical and socioeconomicarrangements, attitudes, and beliefs are born and buried, contested and disseminated.It is also here that we can locate the intervention of Butlers novels: a nely nuancedmediation of the psychological and political pressures arising out of the transition intopost-Fordism. Furthermore, we will see that Butlers treatment of the concept of changeindicates a necessary periodizing distinction between postmodernism and post-Fordistculture. Postmodernism, usually simply dened as the cultural expression of postmo-

    dernity, is from this perspective more accurately understood as the culture of emergent

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    postmodernity or as the culture of Fordism in crisis and must be clearly differentiated

    from post-Fordist culture, the culture of full postmodernity or of the completed transitioninto post-Fordism. Unlike postmodernism, which is centrally marked by the celebrationof change, progress, and supersession of traditional sociopolitical structures, post-Fordistculture, as Butlers novels forcefully illustrate, is marked by a much more complicatedrelationship to full postmodernity or post-Fordism. Butlers treatment of the concept ofchange in post-Fordism focuses on the social and political consequences arising fromrejections of post-Fordism that produce nostalgic desires for the resurrection of lost meta-narratives. Through her presentation of the changed signicance of the concept of changein a post-Fordist context, Butler is able to capture the complexity surrounding the presentsocioeconomic signicance of this concept, consequently producing a narrative about thetragic consequences of rejecting change by means of restoring paternalistic structures.As Butlers novels illustrate, within the desire to restore the idealized protective father,a desire that appears to be an inevitable byproduct of the transition into post-Fordism,lurks the potential to revive his shadowy double, the punitive father. In other words, thevalue of closely examining the concept of change in Butlers novels is twofold: we get aninsight into elements of the periodizing distinction between postmodernism and post-Fordist culture and into Butlers contribution to contemporary political art that locateswithin the struggle with post-Fordism the potential for the resurrection of Fordist andeven totalitarian structures.

    Nostalgia for the Future

    Critics frequently read Butlers description of Laurens politico-philosophical project asthe basis for a utopian society, which rejects, as Peter G. Stillman claims, sociopoliticallyproblematic ideas such as individualism, private property, and discrimination based uponrace or gender. Instead, he argues, the ideal upon which Lauren founds a new, progressivecommunity is the the conscious interdependence and agreement of its members, whomust know, trust, and be able to work with each other for shared purposes (Stillman2223). Similarly, Butler is often lauded for her extraordinary ability to grasp the socialcomplexities of the present and envision necessary political and social solutions in her

    narratives of the future. Jerry Phillips praises Butler for her afrmation of the centrality ofchange that reveals a crucial awareness of the dialectical progress of history and envisionsfuture potentiality without resorting to simple determinisms, producing a new ethicsof Being (302). However, while critics locate the force of the Parable novelscorrectly inButlers extraordinary ability to grasp the complex interrelation between the forces thathave throughout the last few decades radically transformed the constitution of the UnitedStates socioeconomic system and the need to reformulate ideas of community and selfhood,analyses of the Parable novelshave thus far failed to capture the complexity of Butlersexamination of the signicance of the concept of change itself. By truly situating Butlerscritique within the present, analyzing the ways in which the concept of change functionswithin contemporary American society and the ways in which this function is representedin Butlers Parable novels, it is possible to appreciate Butlers novels as a signicant me-

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    diation of what is not an embrace of the ideal of change but indeed its widespread rejec-

    tion. Butler does not consider the concept of change purely in its potential for the future.Rather, the Parable novelsexplore the concept of change as centrally connected to the logicof post-Fordist capitalisms sociocultural regulation in the present.

    In their analyses of the concept of change as it functions within the novels as a basis forideologically structuring a community, critics tend to treat change as a progressive alter-native to repressive and segregating social structures that need to be overcome. PatriciaMelzer, for example, argues that,

    One of Butlers contributions to this discourse [utilizing the conceptof difference in an attempt to formulate progressive utopian narra-tives] is her concept of change that lies at the basis of every political

    interaction. Instead of freezing the manifestations of differencewithin the theoretical conceptualizations (i.e. gender, race,class), she emphasizes the uid and transforming aspect behindthe term. At the same time, she makes these manifestations concreteand rams them into a moment of agency by claiming that they canbe shaped. Change and its implications inject a transformativeelement into the conceptualizations of difference that enables notonly a new perception of difference, such as Audre Lorde calls forin Sister Outsider, but that demands a constant redenition of itscategories. It is especially in this respect that Butlers utopian desirecontributes to the feminist discourse on difference. (36)

    Melzers article is indicative of what I consider to be a lack of historical specicity regard-ing Butlers project of locating Laurens struggle and her engagement with the concept ofchange in direct relation to the present, a lack of specicity that has direct consequencesfor our ability to grasp the full complexity of Butlers critical analysis of contemporaryAmerican society. What I would like to suggest is that change does not function as a uto-pian impulse or as grounds for utopian imagination in the novels. While there is greatvalue in insisting on a denition of utopia as change, this is not the way in which changefunctions for Lauren and her community. Change is not an alternative opposed to a gener-ally strictly and repressively regulated society, or a progressive solution to the problemsposed by a repressive social dominant. It is clear that the critics mentioned above treatthe novels as examples of literary postmodernism, interpreting change as functioning in

    a way comparable to the ways in which difference operates as a category of liberation inpostmodernism. However, as becomes clear in the novel, change is in fact the dominantsocioeconomic logic of the United States as Lauren nds it. Change is the functional normof the world Butler describes. In other words, it is signicant to understand that Butlerdoes not represent change as a solution in the novel but rst and foremost as societyscentral problem. Butlers Parable novels, as indicated above,are not postmodern but post-Fordist artifacts.

    The assertion that change does not function as a solution but as a problem in the novelsmay initially appear counterintuitive, or even simply wrong. After all, Laurens commu-nity that is founded upon change is presented to us as fundamentally progressive in itscollective practices based upon change, in its celebration of diversity, and its acceptance

    of different sexual orientations. However, if we consider the intricacies of the concept of

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    change as represented by Butler it becomes clear that the true force of Butlers critique

    of the present is located in a more complex understanding of the concept of change thanmerely representing it as a quasi-utopian, postmodern critique advocating the blurringof the boundaries of traditional social norms. The post-apocalyptic setting of the novelsleaves little doubt that such a departure from repressive structures is not the most direlyneeded project. Instead, Butlers novels raise a more rewarding question: what happensto change and to the progressive politics based on the ideal of change (in other words tothe postmodern project) in a time in which change is not a utopian ideal but the logic of apresent that is precisely because of its instability perceived as scary and chaotic?

    Change no longer functions as the ideal that promises liberation from repressive tra-ditional structures. Instead, change has become the very logic of the post-Fordist present,the period in which the liberatory demands of postmodern culture and theory have beenfullled, yet with a different outcome than previously imagined. The liberatory potentialpostmodern culture imagined in its representation of the future and a changing presenthave revealed itself in contemporary or post-Fordist culture as nothing more than thecentral logic of post-Fordist capitalism. In other words, post-Fordist culture begins at themoment at which postmodernism starts to reveal itself not as a liberatory movement butas the cultural and socio-philosophical project that made way for a new structure of socialregulation, as the very impulse, thus, that made the transition into a post-Fordism, into aform of capitalism based upon change and productive chaos possible. This transition, asButlers novels suggest, is widely perceived as an apocalyptic one.

    From the beginning ofParable of the Sower there is little doubt that the post-apocalyptic

    setting of the novels is an allegorical representation of the dominant socioeconomic devel-opments of our time. Traditional forms of stability such as the nation state begin to losesignicance (we can read Robledo as a miniaturized example of this), the governmentas a regulating force is virtually nonexistent, and the country is run by corporations andrampant free-market capitalism within which even the police force has been privatized.Furthermore, Parable of the Talents contains a passage in which Franklin Taylor Bankole,Laurens husband, provides the reader with a few clues regarding the historical eventsthat climaxed in the apocalyptic events that have come to be referred to as the Pox:

    I have also read that the Pox was caused by accidentally coincidingclimatic, economic, and sociological crises . . . . I have heard people

    deny this, but I was born in 1970. I have seen enough to know thatit is true. I have watched education become more a privilege of therich than the basic necessity that it must be if civilized society is tosurvive. I have watched as convenience, prot, and inertia excusedgreater and more dangerous environmental degradation. I havewatched poverty, hunger, and disease become inevitable for moreand more people. (Butler 8)

    This description of the apocalyptic transformation is an instance where the parallels tothe socioeconomic and political problems of our present are particularly thinly veiled.In the Parable novels, change (or difference, pluralism, deregulation, decentral-ization, etc.) does notfunction as something new. It is no longer an alternative to the

    socioeconomic dominant whose full implementation can be the basis for imagining future

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    potential. Change is neither associated with utopian imagination, nor is it associated with

    the future. Instead, change is an aspect of pragmatic realism and a central characteristicof the present.

    Laurens belief system (Earthseed), by extension, is Butler s representation of a subjectsstruggle with the need to catch up with socioeconomic developments by attempting toformulate an idea of selfhood and of community that accounts for the changed structuralcontext. The novels are less about the value of embracing change than about the strugglewith the necessity ofhaving to do so. Lauren never claims that embracing change willprovide for a utopian alternative that stands opposed to present problems. Instead, sherealizes that the present problem is that embracing change is necessary in order to formulatean individual and collective existence that corresponds to the world surrounding them.It is thus impossible to read Laurens relation to the idea of change in a one-dimensionalmanner that describes it as a positive alternative to the exterior world. Rather, the valueof Butlers novels may lie primarily in her striking ability to represent the psychologicalstruggle that arises out of the confrontation with change. Lauren and her group struggleto catch up with a world that has already left behind the forms of stability and commu-nity they are just beginning to realize as no longer functional. The purpose of Laurensreligion/philosophy is to provide a basis for the articulation of forms of subjectivity thatcorrespond to the radically changed environment. Butlers novels are thus primarilyinterested in the psychological mechanisms that create the negative perception of changein the context of a post-Fordist situation, as well as in the troubling social and politicalconsequences of this rejection of change. As we shall see, the motto God is change does

    not constitute an embrace of change but indeed its categorical rejection. The novels maincritical intervention consists in the examination of the regressive sociopolitical consequencesof this rejection. However, Butler does not merely point toward the causal relationshipbetween change and the desire for stability within post-Fordism. In the Parable novelsshe attempts to represent the complexity of the experience of post-Fordism as a situationwhich simultaneously harbors the potential for both hope and tragedy, arising from thefundamentally ambivalent relationship of the subject to change: God is Change. I hateGod! (Sower 131).

    What, apart from this brief outburst on Laurens part (I hate God!) that voices dis-content regarding the necessity of having to accept change, suggests that Lauren and hercommunity might in fact reject change? After all, the central credo of the group seems to

    claim the opposite. The reader follows Lauren from the destruction of her walled com-munity through various attempts to rebuild new communities to the nal developmentof an internationally powerful and afuent religious organization about to colonize newplanets. The main conicts in the novels, as they seem to present themselves at rst glance,are those between Earthseed/Acorn and the various forms of adversity Lauren has toovercome in her attempt to build a community and a belief system that structures thiscommunity in a world that is dominated by chaos and disorder, in other words by change.The function of Laurens new belief system, Earthseed, is to nd a way to cope with thepost-apocalyptic world by providing the community with a set of beliefs that will allowthem to accept the chaos that surrounds them: God is Change. Members of Earthseedmust, according to Lauren, recognize that chaos, disorder, and change are central concepts

    for life as they nd it and cannot be fought but must be embraced. It is this belief, then,

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    that seemingly becomes central to all of Laurens attempts to reconstitute a feeling of the

    social in a post-social world, of replacing her lost community and family.Butlers complication of the psychological reaction to the centrality of change is con-

    tained within this very credo. Through its paradoxical logical constitution, Earthseedscredo God is Change expresses the fundamental trauma of the post-Fordist situation.While Lauren recognizes the centrality of change, she is, upon closer scrutiny, tragicallyunable to think a form of subjectivity that truly responds to this situation. Rather than autopian imagination or solution directed at the future, the credo carries within itself whatButler represents as the most frequent and most problematic reaction to change, namelythe desire to escape a world in which change dominates and return to a social situationthat is marked by stability and order. By turning change into God, Lauren regressivelytransforms change into a religion, which, of course, makes change into as permanent astructure as one can imagine: a religion as a strong set of rules that have ultimate truth-value for the believer, a system of explaining and mapping ones environment with theability to radically simplify and explain all complexities of an increasingly unmappableworld.4 Earthseeds assertion that God is Change is thus less a way to embrace changebut to reduce complexity by transforming change into the basis for a universal system ofdetermination, effectively replacing complexity and difference with simplicity and cen-tralized, stable rule/dogma. While recognizing that change is the dominant logic of theworld surrounding her, Lauren refuses to formulate a sense of self out of this situation,remaining nostalgically attached to traditional teleological narratives that promise stabil-ity. Earthseeds transformation of change into a religion is the basis from which Butler

    launches her exploration into the psychological struggle with post-Fordism, which containsthe potential for creating politically and socially regressive desires. Asserting that Godis Change is thus a radically different claim than identifying change with difference andliberatory potential for the future. Earthseed restores a paternalistic social structure byshaping change and difference into a new set of laws of the father.

    Butler sets the stage for her representation of the struggle with post-Fordism in the rstpages of the novel, describing a recurring dream that seems to haunt Lauren. In this dreamLauren has a conversation with her stepmother about the stars, learning that in her step-mothers youth it was impossible to see the stars due to the mass of city lights illuminatingthe skies. Lights, progress, growth, her stepmother tells her, are now all things they aretoo poor to bother with any more, hinting at the disappearance of Fordist industrialization

    in Butlers post-apocalyptic scenario. Laurens stepmother counters Laurens remark thatshe would rather have the stars with a notably pragmatic counterargument: the starsare free. Id rather have the city lights back, the sooner the better. But we can afford thestars (Sower 56). The stars, a traditional symbol of freedom, have in the Parable novelsbeen reduced to their purely material properties and consequently been absorbed into asobering account of freedom in the post-Fordist age that differs greatly from postmodernnotions of freedom and progress. The real object of desire for the society surrounding Lau-ren, as it appears from the beginning of the novel, is not a distant idea of freedom but thepragmatic wish to return to a Fordist, repressive, yet ordered, stable, and paternalisticallyprotected social arrangement that stands opposed to the chaos surrounding the walledcommunity. Likewise, Earthseeds project of forming a community that, as Lauren tends

    to put it, will take root among the stars in the future, is a project that must be primarily

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    understood as aimed at lling the gap left by the disappearance of centralized paternalistic

    power and rule. We need the stars, Bankole, Lauren explains, We need purpose (Talents179).Earthseeds teleological narrative of settling the stars, however, is not a narrative ofultimate freedom. It is not a narrative that is directed at the stars, or at the future. Instead,it is a narrative that locates the future in a return to the past, specically in the return topaternalistic structures and centered forms of subjectivity.5

    It is thus not solely chaos, disorder, or other forms of adversity that present the mainobstacles to the development of a functional form of subjectivity that responds adequatelyto the new historical conjuncture described in the novel. Rather, it is the reaction to com-plexity and change, represented by Butler in the form of the fundamentally regressive,historically escapist longing for a structure such as Earthseed itself that constitutes thecentral problem for Lauren and the people of Earthseed. As already anticipated in Parableof the Sower, what spells disaster for Lauren and Earthseed in Parable of the Talents (hencetragically repeating the isolationism and escapism that marked the community of Rob-ledo) is the general refusal of the group to nd viable ways of dealing with the vast globalchanges, which are in the narrative reduced to a mere backdrop (wars, major changes inglobal power structures, an economy built upon indentured slavery, etc.). A clear indica-tion of this is the circular structure ofParable of the Sower, which begins in Robledo andends in the founding of the Acorn, the new settlement of the people of Earthseed, whichin both architecture and ideology is entirely congruent with Robledo.

    As the Parable novelsindicate, in an era in which we have indeed departed from rigidstructures and transitioned into a society based upon change, we seem prone to developing

    a regressive attachment to the structures of stability we feel we lost. Ironically, this tendsto result in the idealization of the very structures we used to oppose. The same repressivestructures postmodernisms celebration of difference hoped to be able to unearth appear inpost-Fordist culture as antidotes to the anxiety induced by the dominance of change anddifference. The true tragedy Butler cautions us about is hence the lack of utopian narrativesand the inability to envision potentiality in the future. Hence we must understand Butlersdescription of Earthseeds engagement with change in relation to this rejection of changetied to a crisis of futurity. On the surface being directed toward the future (the stars),Earthseed in fact seeks its answers in the past, transforms change into God and therebyinto a traditional, universalizing, teleological narrative that revives with it all repressivestructures that characterized such narratives in the past. It appears thus that the regres-

    sive return to an idealized past is motivated by the nostalgic longing for stable narrativesof the future, for teleological narratives that offer an escape from a present dominated bychange that is unable to offer a sense of purpose or stable forms of subjectivity.

    Rather than presenting itself as hostile to individual and individual needs, contemporarycapitalism champions the explosion of various identities and needs. Post-Fordist surplusproduction rests on the deregulation and diversication of identities and ideological struc-tures. Yet, it is precisely the increasing negative perception of change and the associationof post-Fordist deregulation not with freedom but with repressive desublimation thatunderlies the various forms of discontent characteristic of contemporary cultural produc-tion. In The Seeds of Time,Fredric Jameson anticipates precisely this paralyzing effect ofabsolute change on theoretical discourse. It is not surprising, Jameson argues, that a

    society resting upon the standardization of difference in which seemingly nothing can

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    change any longer would create fatalist proclamations such as the end of ideology or

    the end of history (Seeds 18). This is precisely the context within which we witness theexhaustion of the postmodern project. Out of this point of exhaustion, as Butlers novelsillustrate, emerges post-Fordist culture, part literature of exhaustion and part literature ofreplenishment. Change in the novels is not interesting because it is utopian, but preciselybecause it no longer primarily functions as the basis for utopian impulses. It is from thegrip of the standardization of change and progress that Butler s critique of post-Fordismtries to wrest the idea of replenishment, clearly differentiating between good and badutopia. Within this project the desire for the restoration of paternalistic structures Laurenand Earthseed are invested in reveals itself as the bad utopian desire obscuring a trulyprogressive, dialectical formulation of future possibility.

    Out of the post-Fordist situation emerges what Butler represents as a distinct nostalgiafor the future. This form of nostalgia for a time in which it was still possible to formulatestable individual and collective life narratives typies contemporary cultural production.However, Butler leaves little doubt that this logical operation is not only awed but alsothat it must lead to tragedy. Locating the future in a reactionary return to an idealizedform of the past cannot provide a truly progressive narrative of the future. Butlers novelshence can be read as cautionary tales, warning us of the regressive nature of nostalgia forthe future frequently produced out of the confrontation with post-Fordism. The regressivedesire to restore lost paternalistic structures nds expression in contemporary narrativesof weak or absent fathers, which stand in for the nostalgically idealized lost structures of(Fordist) paternalism. Butlers representation of Laurens development as a religious leader

    and of Laurens attempts to respond to change by the reactionary desire to avoid it andreturn to a stable, centralized social situation hence foregrounds nostalgia for the futureas one of the most signicant escapist desires produced by the post-Fordist condition.Notably, however, Butler understands that the regressive desiring mechanisms createdout of post-Fordism are fundamentally connected to totalitarian tendencies. In fact, thetrue tragedy represented in the novels, as will be illustrated, is that the new totalitarian-ism of a decentralized society in fact creates a form of nostalgia for the restoration ofpast paternalistic structures that are romanticized to the degree that they possess the forceto convince large parts of the population that paternalistic totalitarianism is not only thelesser evil compared to the chaotic totalitarianism of post-Fordism, but comparably evendesirable. Following Laurens struggle with the absence of a centralized struggle, told

    through the narrative of the absent father, will help explore this point in detail. After all, asJameson notes in Archaeologies of the Future, especially in the present historical conjuncturethe increasingly difcult search for utopia raises an old question: what if one misguidedgroup embraces patriarchy, or something even worse? (219).

    Are You There God? Its Me, the Post-Fordist Subject

    Butler quickly establishes the gure of the father as one of the guiding metaphorsthat structure the novels. From the beginning ofParable of the Sower it is clear that threeterms form the motor of the novels plot: (Laurens) subjectivity, change, and the father/

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    paternalism. The novel opens with a scene set the day before Laurens birthday, which

    coincidentally is also her fathers birthday, establishing immediately the parallel betweenLauren and her father we will follow for the rest of the narrative. Lauren is plagued by arecurring nightmare. It comes to me, she explains, when I am my fathers daughter(Sower 3). In this dream she sees the wall that protects her city burning, foreshadowingthe tragic fall of her city that is to come. Following the fathers rule, being her fathersdaughter, is hence immediately associated with tragedy, with an existence that is doomedto fail. Furthermore, Lauren herself discusses father gures in the tripartite form that willinform her future struggle:

    A lot of people seem to believe in a big-daddy-God or a big-cop-God or a big-king-God. They believe in a kind of superperson. A

    few believe God is another word for nature. And nature turns outto mean just about anything they happen not to understand or feelin control of . . . . So what is God? Just another name for whatevermakes you feel special and protected. (15)

    The father is associated with three main structures: the father of the family, the religiousfather, and the state. In all three variations, as Lauren understands, the father representscontrol and a protective structure people long for, especially in times of insecurity andinstability. However, Lauren also realizes clearly that this longing for the father presents aform of escapism, of avoiding confrontation with the actual complexity of her situation.

    From the beginning, thus, the Parable novelsare concerned with the interrelation be-

    tween the subjects reaction to change and the role of those structures that contain change,that erase difference and instability or protect people from it. What also becomes clearis that this way of avoiding change is clearly a regressive desire, which not only lacks anyconcrete future potential but in fact leads to tragedy. Consequently, as Lauren anticipatesthroughout the entirety of the narrative, the fall of Robledo cannot be avoided, since itis a structure that clings to the logic of paternalism and centralized protectionism. Theactual fall of the city is foreshadowed by the disappearance of Laurens father, notablyalso the citys priest. Within a short period of time Lauren loses the father structure inall three manifestations: she loses her actual father, she loses her priest as father who en-dowed the community within the city with a stable framework of social and moral rules,and she loses the city as protective father itself, standing in for the disappearance of the

    protective nation state as a whole. As we learn throughout the novel, the fall of Robledois by no means an isolated incident. Rather, it is the norm, marking the desire to avoidthe chaos of the surrounding world as a futile attachment to outdated logic, as a socialarrangement that cannot but fall in the face of the dominance of instability and change.In fact, in the novels the United States nation state as a whole is subject to the same forcesthat erode traditional structures of stability, lacking a social support system overseen bya strong president.

    Channeling an examination of the nation state, religion, and collectivity through thegure of the father, Butler also introduces another plot line that will run through the nar-rative, namely that following the events leading up to the election of President Jarret. In

    the beginning ofParable of the Sower the United States is run by President Donner. Laurenaccurately attributes the widespread attachment to a president who does not wield a lot

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    of power to peoples need for what she calls a human banister, a symbol of the past

    for us to hold on to as we are pushed into the future (56). The persistent attachment tothe gure of the president appears to Lauren to be motivated by the same reason thatpeople remained invested in Robledo or in the idea of a protective God: the confrontationwith change creates anxiety, which again creates a nostalgic desire for clearly outdatedstructures of stability. It is this form of a banister that the populace misses after thedisappearance of the father representing stable and protective law and it is precisely thisidealization of the past that marks one of the main psychological reactions to a futurethat is not a future of choice but a future of insecurity forced upon a populace that stillidealizes stable life narratives.

    Furthermore, Lauren recognizes clearly that this desire cannot present the basis for thefuture: things are changing now, too. Our adults havent been wiped out by the plague sotheyre still anchored in the past, waiting for the good old days to come back. But thingshave changed a lot, and theyll change more. Things are always changing (Sower 57).David Harvey presents a similar argument about contemporary tendencies to resort totraditional structures of stability as a response to the confrontation with change:

    It is also at such times of fragmentation and economic insecurity thatthe desire for stable values leads to a heightened emphasis upon theauthority of basic institutionsthe family, religion, the state. Andthere is abundant evidence of a revival of support for such institu-tions and the values they represent throughout the Western worldsince about 1970. (Harvey 171)6

    Metaphorically connected to the centralized law of the father, the desire to respond to asituation of socioeconomic instability by idealizing the return to the three areas Harveyidenties has become a common concern in contemporary American literary and culturalproduction. Rather than merely considering change to be a solution to social problems,Butler displays an extraordinary sensitivity to the ways in which change itself can producequite the opposite of liberation from repressive structures. Paradoxically, as she seems tocaution us, at the precise point at which change has become the functional logic of post-Fordism it begins to contain within itself the potential for its own undoing.

    As she displays such great insight into this politically regressive potential that arisesout of a situation of social instability, we expect Lauren to avoid the pitfalls of this desire

    and be able to think selfhood and collectivity in ways that do not replicate this nostalgicform of escapism. Yet, Butlers account of the complex social existence of change and theproblems it creates would not be as nely nuanced if she readily granted us an easy solu-tion to the problem. Rather, Laurens Bildung indicates to us that even the ability to spotthe nature of the social problem may not guarantee the ability to nd adequate answersto it and so, despite Laurens best intentions, Earthseed ultimately evolves merely intoanother facet of the all-pervasive nostalgia for the future. Doubtlessly, Laurens intentions,as we will see, are far more progressive than those of President Jarret, who utilizes thewidespread social instability to seize power by providing the nation with the rigorousand repressive form of centralized paternalistic order it appears to long for. Yet, if we truly

    examine the (ideo)logical constitution of both communities, that of Earthseed and that ofJarrets Christian America movement, we cannot help but conclude that they are structur-

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    ally and logically closely related and that both exploit the same psychological condition

    in order to advance their agendas.As the lack of fathering becomes the central extended metaphor of Laurens expe-

    rience, the recreation of fathering becomes the central logic of Earthseed and Laurenssolution to the problem of chaos and change. Melzer reads the structure of Earthseed asfundamentally characterized by mothering, noting, however, that Butler seems to rejectthe white stereotypical ideal of the nurturing, self-sacricing mother within patriarchalsociety (Melzer 43). Rather than reading Earthseed as a progressive version of a matriarchalarrangement that stands opposed to a patriarchal structure, analyzing Earthseeds structureand function in relation to change, that is, in relation to a situation of fatherlessness,reveals that it contains all the characteristics of a traditional paternalistic arrangement.Earthseeds project of forming a community that, as Lauren tends to put it, will take rootamong the stars in the future, is a project that aims to ll the gap left by the disappearanceof centralized paternalistic power and rule. Earthseeds teleological narrative of settlingthe stars, hence, is not a narrative of ultimate freedom. It is not a narrative that is directedat the stars as a promise of freedom, or at a future built upon the acceptance of change.Instead it is a narrative that channels change into a quite traditional teleological narrativethat locates the future in a regressive return to paternalistic structures, most importantly ina return to organized religion. Identifying Jarret as a totalitarian, paternalistic leader whoseChristian America movement attempts to restore lost order and control is relatively easy.Butler, however, once again does not allow us to take pleasure in seemingly easy answersand an analysis of the novel that clearly distinguishes between good and bad, regressive

    and progressive characters and sociopolitical projects. As we see in her novels, regressivepatriarchal structures can seemingly paradoxically be justied and re-created out of ananti-paternalistic sentiment. Lauren is not exempt from the psychological inuence ofpost-Fordism and while she may not recreate a paternalistic structure in relation to genderpolitics, the gure of the father, as indicated already in the beginning pages ofParable of theSower, can be recreated in many forms and functions. After all, as we all know, possessionof a penis is not a requirement for the re-creation of paternalistic structures.7

    Nevertheless, Laurens quest to found a new community poignantly begins with an actof cross-dressing, which initially serves the purpose of utilizing Laurens rather masculinephysical proportions as a deterrent for potential attackers. However, whereas Laureneventually sheds the disguise and with it the masculine role physically, she remains the

    leader of the group, lling the role of the absent father herself. As the leader of the group,Lauren makes decisions, assigns roles, and provides the group with structure and order.Even after meeting Bankole, a medical doctor Lauren falls in love with (who, being al-most forty years older than Lauren, hence the age of her father, clearly presents anotherexample of her desire to ll the lacking father role), Lauren maintains her position as thegroups religious guide. Soon after Lauren establishes herself as the father of the groupand her belief system as the father s law that provides the group with rules and order,she begins to display the signs of a deep investment in traditional paternalistic logic.Gradually, the belief system Earthseed becomes to Lauren the most important aspect of herexistence and the rationale for her decisions regarding the future of the groupthe groupmust fulll Earthseeds Destiny and take root among the stars (Sower 222). Quickly,

    Laurens construction of Earthseed begins to replicate not only the positive function of a

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    traditional belief systemoffering hope through stability and a teleological narrative

    but also its evils, such as the need for expansion and conversion. During their northwardmigration, Lauren begins to transform the group into a stable identity based upon herteachings and begins to refer to it collectively as Earthseed. Wandering on Highway 101Lauren notices that the highway has become a river of the poor that ows north (223).Laurens realization that she should be shing the river as she follows its currentdisplays a decidedly new attitude toward change and instability (229). Whereas it waspreviously clear to her that change creates within people a form of existential anxiety thatproduces the regressive desire to return to lost paternalistic structures (human banisters),Lauren now sees in the ow of people subject to instability and change the potential forexpanding her community by means of conversion. Hence, her previous insight into thesocial and political effects of change that made Lauren criticize the desire to return to thepast has given way to the positive perception of widespread existential anxiety as an op-portunity to spread Earthseed.

    Similarly, one cannot help but note the degree to which Lauren is suddenly willing tojustify repression as a necessary component of the project of establishing Earthseed as a pa-ternalistic structure. However, it is also clear that Lauren never identies it as a paternalisticstructure, which suggests that she does not intentionally bring about this transformation.According to her perspective, she judges Earthseeds structure to be free and progressive.Regarding the future plans of Earthseed, Lauren writes in a journal entry:

    And then what? Find a place to squat and take over? Act as a kindof gang? Not quite a gang. We arent gang types. I dont want gangtypes with their need to dominate, rob, and terrorize. And yet wemight have to dominate. We might have to rob to survive, and eventerrorize to scare off or kill enemies. Well have to be very carefulhow we allow our needs to shape us. But we must have arable land,a dependable water supply, and enough freedom from attack to let usestablish ourselves and grow . . . . We might be able to do itgrowour own food, grow ourselves and our neighbors into somethingbrand new. Into Earthseed. (22324)

    In this remarkable scene Butler movingly captures Laurens interior struggle as she ex-plores the limits of being able to justify her logic and her desires. She clearly does not

    want to recreate repressive paternalistic structures. She clearly does not want to becomeanother group of gang types, and yet she seems unable to completely convince evenherself that Earthseed is not fundamentally and inevitably connected to repressive logic.Moreover, Lauren realizes that in order for Earthseed to ourish she must be able to justifyactions that are clearly reminiscent of the logic of religiously motivated colonialism, whichhistorically also was often motivated by what appeared to the colonizers to be the best ofintentions. Part of Earthseed will inevitably be the ght for property and land, as well asits expansion through conversion. By the end of the rst novel, Lauren and the membersof Earthseed have settled in the northwest of the United States and founded a communitythat (apart from the absence of proper walls that have been replaced by geographicalisolation) is structurally and in its logical constitution virtually indistinguishable from

    Robledo, foreshadowing another inevitable downfall.

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    Nostalgia for the Meta-Narrative: Re-Filiation and Totalitarianism

    Whereas Parable of the Sower primarily functions as a means of introducing the psycho-logical struggle resulting out of a chaotic social arrangement, Parable of the Talents mustbe read as an exploration of the potential outcome of this situation. It is in Parable of theTalents, thus, that Butlers critique of the nostalgic reaction to the concept of change appearsthe most urgent and timely. The second novel illustrates to us the potentially terrifyingconsequences of acting upon the politically regressive desires identied in the rst novel.Parable of the Talents is a novel about the potential for totalitarianism that lurks withinthe post-Fordist situation. Butler continues her analysis of the social and political effectof change by channeling it through the narrative of the absent father, whose restorationguides the plot of the second novel. The novel continues to be marked by the refusal to

    seek answers to chaos in the future, displaying a widespread, nostalgic turn to the past.Butler, however, does not merely point out that this form of nostalgia obscures prior

    moments in history. Instead, Butler stresses the degree to which post-Fordist nostalgia isconnected to the re-creation of outdated structures that are envisioned to provide stabilityand protection. It is in this idealization of the past that Butler locates a tragic misrecognition.As famously argued by Freud in his The Uncanny, the father never singularly appearsas the good father. Since all aspects of the good father are connected to the logic of acentrally regulating law of the father, the father must at times also be bad.8 Put differ-ently, in order to uphold his centralized rule that can provide protection, a certain degreeof repression is logically and structurally unavoidable. It is this dialogic relation betweenthe protective and the punitive father that produces the structures of paternalism withwhich Lauren struggles. What Lauren begins to sense and what the people surroundingher tragically leave unaccounted for is the fact that the restoration of the protective fatherwill inevitably carry with it the restoration of the punitive father.

    Lauren herself is quite aware that the return of the father cannot be associated with areturn to a golden-age, as her analysis of Jarrets political project illustrates:

    Jarret insists on being a throwback to some earlier, simpler time.Now does not suit him. Religious tolerance does not suit him. Thecurrent state of the country does not suit him. He wants to take usall back to some magical time when everyone believed in the sameGod, worshipped him in the same way, and understood that their

    safety in the universe depended on completing the same religiousrituals and stomping anyone who was different. There was neversuch a time in this country. (Talents 19)

    The force of Jarrets political project is that he is aware of the ways in which he can takeadvantage of the widespread existential anxiety that is created out of chaos. To Laurenhis project clearly appears to be founded upon repression and exclusion, resurrecting acentralized father-God whose law everyone is subjected to. She understands that thisproject stands in polar opposition to the celebration of difference, of change, insteadcelebrating safety based on structure, order, and sameness. The restored father-God oncemore returns to the center of a binary mechanism of identication that is based upon

    negative opposition. Yet, whereas Lauren clearly sees the danger within this desire, the

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    people portrayed in the novel appear to be strongly invested in the idea of forming a

    stable sense of self and returning to a protected existence. Consequently, Jarret is electedpresident and soon establishes what logically must follow the restoration of the father: anauthoritarian state, a theocratic dictatorship that seeks to restore order through frequentlyviolent repression, resurrecting the greatest of all evils of the twentieth century: fascismand the prison camp.

    As indicated before, Laurens insight into the problems associated with the return to apaternalistic social order seems to suggest that she should be able to avoid making the samemistakes. Once again, however, Butler does not grant us the ability to easily distinguishbetween the bad political project of Jarret and what we want to be the good politicalproject of Earthseed. Instead, Butler seems to suggest, distinctions may not always be thisclear. The ability to see the problems of one political project may not directly translateinto the ability to avoid replicating them in a different form. A few years after the grouphas settled into their new community of Acorn, Lauren is surprised by the return of herbrother Marc whom she had up to this point believed to be dead. While she is initiallyoverjoyed by this reunication, the relationship between Lauren and Marc quickly becomesstrained. Marc, who now wants to be referred to as Marcos, has during the time of theirseparation become a Christian preacher and takes offense to Laurens newly inventedreligion. Laurens reaction to Marcs skepticism and his desire to preach his own beliefsat the gatherings of the community is telling. Following her previously expressed belief inthe need to tolerate other beliefs, a conviction she nds lacking in Jarrets politics, Laurenallows Marc to speak to her community. Lauren intentionally sets Marc up for failure,

    knowing that the people of Acorn will challenge his Christian rhetoric by referring to thelogic that underlies Earthseed. In these gatherings Lauren does not speak to Marc herselfand leaves the questioning to the rest of the community, illustrating once more the waysin which Earthseed has become a dogmatic structure, its laws internalized by its follow-ers, operating independently from the father and, as Freud and Lacan famously suggest,ever more strongly in the absence of the father.

    As a result of this repeated humiliation and frustration, Marc leaves the communitywithout saying good-bye to Lauren, an act that completely severs the ties between Lau-ren and Marc. Laurens analysis of the situation clearly illustrates her function not as themother but as the father of Acorn:

    But now, instead of feeling important and proud, he feels angryand embarrassed. I had to let him inict those feelings on himself. Icouldnt let him begin to divide Acorn. More importantI couldntlet him divide Earthseed. (152)

    While Lauren is clearly distraught by the repeated loss of her brother, she also leaves nodoubt where her priorities lie. In fact, Lauren displays the classic psychological struggle ofa paternalistic leader who is forced to choose between sympathy for a justiable action ofa person close to him that might destabilize his rule and the stability of his society and hiscommitment to the structure. Much like King Creon is forced to sentence Antigone to deathin order to uphold the law in one of literatures most famous explorations of this struggle,

    an action which, despite the fact that it will lead to personal tragedy, he must prioritize

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    as the paternalistic leader, Lauren realizes that she cannot choose mothering (prioritizing

    Marc) over fathering (prioritizing paternal law and Earthseed) without undermining thevery structure that provides Acorn with stability and coherence.

    Ultimately, Parable of the Talents cannot be read as separable into three clearly distin-guishable sets of ideological positionsthat of Lauren Olamina and Earthseed, that ofher counterpart Jarret and his Christian America, and that of Laurens daughter Larkin.Instead, Larkins frame-tale sections function as another mechanism designed to force thereader to shift perspectives. Larkins point of view reveals that the logical structures ofEarthseed and Christian America, albeit different in their practical implementation, areultimately not distinguishable. Larkin identies her mother s sociopolitical project as wellas that of Jarret and her uncle Marc as the dangerous work of would-be world-xers(110). Presenting a nely nuanced account of the regressive desiring structures arising outof the post-Fordist situation, Butlers Parable novelsremind us of Marxs description of theprogress of history. All important personages in history, writes Marx, appear twice: therst time as a tragedy and the second time as a farce. Post-Fordism, as Butler illustrates,contains the potential for a farcical revival of the gure of the father as the nostalgicallyidealized antidote to the chaotic present. The changed perception of categories such aschange and difference hence indicates one of the internal contradictions of the post-Fordistcondition. Rather than leading us toward the future as postmodern theorists imagined,difference and change under post-Fordism tend to create the desire to turn toward the pastand toward the same meta-narratives postmodernism sought to leave behind. However,as Marx points out, this kind of repetition constitutes a historically farcical development.

    Fordism, under which paternalistic structures were the dominant socioeconomic logic,spawned tragic historical events such as new forms of alienation, domination, economicexploitation, and social segregation. The desire to revive the superseded structures ofFordism constitutes a historical absurdity, as paternalistic rule becomes nostalgically dis-sociated from its historical effects.

    After having talked a lot about nostalgia, it seems possible to formulate a somewhatstable denition of the concept in times of post-Fordism. To be sure, it is not my argumentthat nostalgia interferes with the project of arriving at an accurate or true understandingof history. Rather, nostalgia conicts with the project of articulating a dialectical accountof history, as well as using it in a dialectical manner. Walter Benjamins famous descrip-tion of the project of historical materialism hence gains a special signicance in times of


    To articulate the past does not mean to recognize it the way it was(Ranke). It means to seize hold of a memory as it ashes up at a mo-ment of danger. Historical materialism wishes to retain that image ofthe past which unexpectedly appears to man singled out by historyat a moment of danger. The danger affects both the content of thetradition and its receivers. (255)

    Butlers work can thus be located in the context of such a moment of danger that bothauthors acutely recognize, necessitating a self-conscious attitude regarding cultures central

    function in the regulation of capitalism.

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    Without a doubt the most inuential examination of the signicance of nostalgia within

    the context of postmodernism is contained in Fredric Jamesons Postmodernism, or theCultural Logic of Late Capitalism. For Jameson, one of the most important characteristicsof postmodernity is its tendency to not only bracket, but in fact completely efface . . .the past as referent, which manifests itself in postmodern architecture that randomlyand without principle but with gusto cannibalizes all the architectural styles of the past(19). This tendency to empty out the past of its historical content, as further described byJameson in his by now famous reading ofAmerican Grafti, which for him is the primeexample of what he calls nostalgia lms, indicates the desperate attempt to appropriatea missing past (Postmodernism 19). What characterizes postmodern culture for Jamesonis that it accesses the past exclusively through its own cultural images, transforminghistory into a de-historicized assortment of simulacra.9 Yet, according to Jameson, weseem to feel as though we have lost touch with our past, with history; in a present thatseems conned to its innate presentness, we simulate what Jameson calls pastness,represented through postmodern pastiche, resulting in the insensible colonization of thepresent by the nostalgia mode (Postmodernism 1920).

    While Jameson mainly discusses nostalgia in relation to what he considers to be a formof depthlessness characteristic of postmodernism, we must extend Jamesons analysis andexamine the political implications of this form of nostalgia, which is less an aspect of post-modernism than of post-Fordist culture, since it is a direct consequence of the completed,not the emergent transition into post-Fordism. Jameson likens the re-creation of the pastwithin contemporary culture to the phenomenon of dja vu, or to the Freudian descrip-

    tion of the return of the repressed (Postmodernism 24). However, as Butler illustrates inher novels, the politically far more troubling function of nostalgia within post-Fordism isthat it results in what could be more accurately described as a return to repression itself.The farcical nature of post-Fordist nostalgia is not only the historical doubling, but theprocess of emptying historical structures and personages of their historical content in away that allows them to be perceived positively in contradistinction to the present situ-ation. The danger of the nostalgia mode is not merely its failure to capture the historicalreal, but more importantly, its reactionary political potential. Nostalgic simulations ofthe past are consequently inherently anti-dialectical, farcical, and politically problematiconce they become the widespread imaginative means of resolving the problems posed bypost-Fordism. In its most troubling form, and this is one of the most forceful arguments

    advanced by Butlers novels, post-Fordist nostalgia ironically creates the renewed threatof totalitarianism out of a situation that seeks to structurally supersede the repressivestructures of Fordism.

    Returning once more to the gure of the father can help clarify this point. Regardinghistorical progress Marx writes:

    men make their own history, but they do not make it just as theyplease; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by them-selves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given, andtransmitted from the past. (15)

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    Marxs assertion here is that historical progress is a dialectical development that moves

    forward precisely due to the operations of what Hegel calls supersession (Aufhebung).This means that history moves forward by superseding but at the same time preservingthat which has been negated in the process of supersession. Consequently, when Marxwrites that we do not make history as we please but under circumstances transmittedfrom the past, he reminds us that each historical moment must be considered in relationto its own complex history. In order to understand a single historical moment we mustanalyze it as a product of supersession and preservation, not an isolated entity. Lookingat Freuds analysis of the gure of the father we can see that the father at the same timerepresents precisely this description of historical progress as well as the progress of asingle individuals dialectical development toward selfhood. In Oedipus Politicus, JosBrunner indicates the afnity between the Hegelian dialectic and the Freudian theory ofsubjection. To be sure, this does not mean that both processes are dialectical, but ratherthat they complement each other in ways that allow us to illuminate different facets of ahistorical development. Comparable to Hegels dialectic, the gure of the father in Freudoperates within a politically dialogic situation Brunner describes as a situation of obedienceand emancipation, where dependence leads to autonomy (8788). Both logical systemsestablish a basic conception of freedom as contingent upon dependence, hence describinga process that denotes a transition whereby something is simultaneously abolished andmaintained (Brunner 87).

    What, however, does this precisely mean for the problem at hand? Out of this descriptionof the Oedipus complex and the gure of the father, which allows us to simultaneously

    talk about historical process and the psychological development of the individual, arisesthe possibility of identifying a major area of political contestation within post-Fordism:the nostalgic desire for the lost structures represented by the father while simultaneouslyemptying the father gure of its historical content. As Brunner argues, Freuds discussionof the father has from its early stages been an attempt to account for the complexity ofinterpersonal relations that stabilize a social arrangement, stressing that societies haveoften been formed based on the collective submission to one centralized, dominatingstructure. As Brunner argues, it is because they [human beings] share a love for thesame father gure that they feel close to one another (81). The social bond, according tothis argument, is contained in and made coherent by the centralized gure of the father.It is not love for each other that bonds human beings together, but the common love for

    the father. However, as Brunner himself admits, this Freudian tradition has been heavilycriticized since it turns masculine behavior into the norm, is strongly phallocentric andauthoritarian, and slides into mythical universalization (93). This stigma of Freudiantheory constitutes in post-Fordism the precise object of regressive desires that seek an al-ternative to the dominant anti-Oedipal structures. It is important to assert here once againthat in post-Fordist times the important question is not whether or not Freuds descriptionof human relationships and individual psychological development is correct. Instead, weshould feel obliged to follow the example of Butler and examine the effects of a form ofde-historicizing nostalgia that leads to the conviction that Freud was in fact right, that thefather is indeed the only structure that has the power to provide human existence withstability and save it from chaos.

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    The danger of post-Fordist nostalgia is thus not its tendency to obscure that past as

    a referent, but to anti-dialectically simulate the past as referent and regard it as a viablebasis for political programs and social movements, transforming those elements of pater-nalistic structures that have been aufgehoben into the regressive turn toward a hyperrealand idealized past. Brunner quotes a famous passage from FreudsMoses and Monotheismthat reveals itself as especially relevant in times of post-Fordism:

    [w]e know that in the mass of mankind there is a powerful need foran authority who can be admired, before whom one bows down, bywhom one is ruled and perhaps even ill-treated. . . . It is a longing forthe father felt by everyone from his childhood onwards. (9091)

    Butlers novels caution us that, regardless of whether or not this assertion has any historicaltruth, it is certainly rendered true by the regressive desires sparked by post-Fordism. Thelonging for the father is one of the dominant psychological conditions of post-Fordism thatat best contains the desire to return to a simpler time, at worst the willingness to restoreorder by accepting the repression of a totalitarian leader-God-father.

    In Saint Paul: The Foundations of Universalism, Alain Badiou attempts to produce aninsight into the connected politics of universalism and egalitarianism via the religioustradition of liation within which universalism is born. By means of conclusion, it is worthquoting a signicant passage in Badious work at some length:

    Philosophy only knows disciples. But a son-subject is the opposite

    of a disciple-subject, because he is one whose life is beginning. Thepossibility of such a beginning requires that God the Father hasliated himself, that he has assumed the form of the son. It is byconsenting to the gure of the son, as expressed by the enigmaticterm sending, that the Father causes us ourselves to come forthuniversally as sons. The son is he for whom nothing is lacking, forhe is nothing but beginning. So through God you are no longera slave but a son, and if a son then an heir (Gal. 4.7). The father,always particular, withdraws behind his sons universal evidence. Itis quite true that all postevental universality equalizes sons throughthe dissipation of the particularity of the fathers. Whence the wayin which every truth is marked by an indestructibleyouthfulness . .. . The resurrected Son liates all of humanity. This constitutes theuselessness of the gure of knowledge and its transmission. For Paul,the gure of knowledge is itself a gure of slavery, like that of thelaw. The gure of mastery is in reality a fraud. One must depose themaster and found the equality of sons . . . . This is what the metaphorof the son designates: a son is he whom an event relieves of the lawand everything related to it for the benet of a shared egalitarianendeavor. (5960)

    Following Badious description of the connection between religious liation and egalitar-ian universalism, we can nally see what leads to the reversal of egalitarianism and itsregression into the totalitarian structure Butlers novels thematize: a crucial misrecognition,

    mistaking the restoration of the father for automatically leading to liation, mistaking a

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    structure that, if left unchecked by truly deposing the master, will inevitably lead to

    paternalistic domination instead of universal egalitarianism. At the heart of this misrec-ognition is the perceived need to rst restore the father as an antidote to post-Fordismsdecentralization of previous paternalistic structures, which seems to be the preconditionfor liation. However, this logic of restoring the father in order to preserve the possibilityof becoming sons again possesses the potential to stop precisely at this development,leading Laurens egalitarian ideals back toward the horrors of paternalistic authoritarian-ism that under post-Fordism become the tragic consequence of the desire for re-liation.Egalitarian universalism carries with it under post-Fordism a dark counterpart, namelythe restored, totalitarian meta-narrative that can appear liberatory in its potential to reducecomplexity by reviving outdated but simpler forms of cognitive mapping.

    The value of contemporary cultural production is its ability to represent post-Fordistdesiring structures that contain a potentially catastrophic longing for universalism ideo-logically connected to the gure of the father in all of its various historical manifestations.Works such as Butler s Parable novels allow us to trace the roots of politically and sociallyreactionary developments (expressed in the current renaissance of religious fundamentalismor militarism) that idealize re-liation as a response to the dominance of the decenteredsubject in post-Fordism. Exposing these desires and self-consciously evaluating the functionof culture in the creation of post-Fordism, thereby locating political potential within thecontradictions contained in this process of formation, may be the mark of truly progres-sive political art within post-Fordism.


    1. The standard example of such a theoretical argument can be found in Lyotard 2749, specically inhis discussion of difference and meta-narratives.

    2. For an extended discussion of the sociocultural regulation of capital and of the distinction betweenpostmodern and post-Fordist literature see Nilges.

    3. For a detailed introduction to the French Regulation School and its central concepts, including thedistinction between Fordism and post-Fordism and the theory of social regulation, see Aglietta.

    4. I rhetorically invoke here Fredric Jamesons famous account of cognitive mapping. For a denitionof the concept see Jameson, Postmodernism 5154.

    5. It should be noted that this crisis of futurity also manifests itself distinctly on the level of liter-ary and cultural form, since the inability to truly produce representations of the future that do notmerely constitute returns to past social arrangements and forms of subjectivity carries with it a situ-

    ation of formal regression. Notable examples here include returns to realism and naturalism (eventhough certainly not all contemporary realist form can be called regressive), the sublation of thescience-ction genre by authors such as William Gibson and Kim Stanley Robinson, or the return topost-apocalyptic and dystopian literary forms.

    6. See Arrighi.7. To be sure, throughout the Parable novelsthere is plenty of evidence to suggest that Lauren under-

    stands the problematic history of the absent black father and her initial attempts to think a new socialarrangement are centrally informed by her awareness of the problem of (contemporary) racism.However, Butler once more cautions us that awareness of the history of a problem is not a guaran-tee for being able to avoid replicating the problem in the future. Laurens different perspective andknowledge of the history of United States slavery is ultimately not a safeguard against arriving atPresident Jarrets version of retro-paternalism. Yet, Butler certainly illustrates the need to distinguish

    between the ways in which the politics of the absent father function for white and black subjects,simultaneously stressing that the restored black father is not automatically a progressive opposi-

    tion to the history of anti-paternalism in the context of white racist domination and fragmentation

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    of the black family. A detailed examination of this problem in Butlers novels, however, warrants a

    separate, future essay.8. For his famous long footnote on the doubling of the father see Freud 93839.9. We can see how Jamesons analysis of the effect of what he calls late-capitalism on history is

    congruent with Baudrillards assertion of the hegemony of the hyperreal, which saturates our pos-sibilities of accessing the past, conning us to a simulated present, forever erasing the potential toaccess the past as an aspect of the Lacanian Real (see Baudrillard 127). The value of Baudrillardsdescription, however, is that it avoids replicating the nostalgic attachment to a time when this wasnot the case, a form of nostalgia from which Jameson himself seems not entirely free.


    Aglietta, Michel. A Theory of Capitalist Regulation: The U.S. Experience. Trans. David Fernbach. New York:

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