Thursday, April 19, 2007

Notes on the Postmodern Condition

Ideas from Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition.

  • "The ideology of communicational 'transparency,' which goes hand in hand with the commercialization of knowledge, will begin to perceive the State as a factor of opacity and 'noise.'" It is from this point of view that the problem of the relationship between economic and State powers threatens to arise with a new urgency (5).
  • Lyotard uses pragmatics of Wittgenstein, Austin, and Searle to aid his discussion: denotative utterances, performative utterances, prescriptions, questions, promises, literary descriptions, and, most relevant to this book, narratives" (9-10).
  • Lyotard describes a Marxian notion of system performativity: "Even when its rules are in the process of changing and innovations are occurring, even when its dysfunctions (such as strikes, crises, unemployment, or political revolutions) inspire hope and lead to belief in an alternative, even then what is actualy taking place is only an internal readjustment, and its result can be no more than an increase in the system's "viability." The only alternative to this kind of performance improvement is entropy, or decline" (11-12). Speaking specifically of Marxism, ironically "in countries with liberal or advanced liberal management, the struggles and their instruments have been transformed into regulators of the system; in communist countries, the totalizing model and its totalitarian effect have made a comeback in the name of Marxism itself, and the struggles in question have simply been deprived of the right to exist" (13).
  • "There is, then, an incommensurability between popular narrative pragmatics, which provides immediate legitimation, and the language game known to the West as the question of legitimacy—or rather, legitimacy as a referent in the game of inquiry" (23).
  • Lyotard claims that scientific knowledge is exclusive, while narrative knowledge sees itself as one version among equals. "This unequal relationship [between scientific and narrative knowledge] is an intrinsic effect of the rules specific to each game. We all know its symptoms. It is the entire history of cultural imperialism from the dawn of Western civilization. It is important to recognize its special tenor, which sets it apart from all other forms of imperialism: it is governed by the demand for legitimation" (27).
  • Scientific knowledge cannot know and make known that it is the true knowledge without resorting to the other, narrative, kind of knowledge, which from its point of view is no knowledge at all. Without such recourse it woudl be in the position of presupposing its own validity and would be stooping to what it condemns: begging the question, proceeding on prejudice. But does it not fall into the same trap by using narrative as its authority" (29)?
  • Scientific knowledge legitimates itself through a consensus of experts, and other subjects in society has followed suit. "The people debate among themselves about what is just or unjust in the same way that the scientific community debates about what is true or false; they accumulate civil laws just as scientists accumulate scientific laws; they perfect their rules of consensus just as the scientists produce new 'paradigms' to revise their rules in light of what they have learned" (30). Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. would surely have agreed.
  • "[A]ll formal systems have internal limitations. This applies to logic: the metalanguage it uses to describe an artificial (axiomatic) language is "natural" or "everyday" language; that language is universal, since all other languages can be translated into it, but it is not consistent with respect to negation—it allows the formulation of paradoxes" (43). But is logic limited because its representation has limitations, or does this speak only to the representations?
  • Lyotard claims that the grand narratives of legimation formerly used to legitimate knowledge (e.g. "life of the spirit" or "emancipation of humanity" has been replaced with a narration of efficiency. "The question (overt or implied) now asked by the professional student, the State, or institutions of higher education is no longer 'Is it true?' but 'What use is it' (51)?
  • "Modernity, in whatever age it appears, cannot exist without a shattering of belief and without discovery of the 'lack of reality' of reality, together with the invention of other realities" (77). "A work can become modern only if it is first postmodern. Postmodernism thus understood is not modernism at its end but in the nascent state, and this state is constant" (79).

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