Notes for Jean-François Lyotard The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge
Key concepts: advanced liberal capitalism, communicational transparency, cybernetics, finite meta-arguments, islands of determinism, knowledge, language games, Marxism, modern, multinational corporations, narrative knowledge, open system, paralogy, performativity, postmodern, practical subject, scientific knowledge, terrorism, wildcat activities.
Related theorists: Benjamin, Brillouin, Castells, Foucault, Gee, Habermas, Hayles, Heidegger, Horkheimer, Jameson, Kant, Kittler, Latour, Luhmann, Marx, Parsons, Saussure, Thom, Wittgenstein.
Jameson: does this hesitation noted by Jameson discount the sensibility of Lyotard recommendation to free information?
(xii) This seeming contradiction can be resolved, I believe, by taking a further step that Lyotard seems unwilling to do in the present text, namely to posit, not the disappearance of the great master-narratives, but their passage underground as it were, their continuing but now unconscious effectivity as a way of “thinking about” and acting in our current situation.
Jameson: do analytical categories of capitalism retain validity; see Misa on third-stage technologies.
(xiii) The question may therefore be rephrased as a question about
Marxism: do the categories developed there for the analysis of
classical capitalism still retain their validity and their
explanatory power when we turn to the multinational and media
societies of today with their “third-stage” technologies?
(xv) no satisfactory model of a given mode of production can exist without a theory of the historically and dialectically specific and unique role of “culture” within it.
(xvi) Lyotard is in reality quite unwilling to posit a postmodernist stage radically different from the period of high modernism and involving a fundamental historical and cultural break with this last.
(xvii) This is the sense in which high modernism can be definitively certified as dead and as a thing of the past: its Utopian ambitions were unrealizable and its formal innovations exhausted.
(xx) How he does this is to transfer the older ideologies of aesthetic high modernism, the celebration of its revolutionary power, to science and scientific research proper. Now it is the latter's infinite capacity for innovation, change, break, renewal, which will infuse the otherwise repressive system with the disalienating excitement of the new and the “unknown” (the last word of Lyotard's text), as well as of adventure, the refusal of conformity, and the heterogeneities of desire.
Postmodern defined as condition of knowledge in the most highly developed societies following transformations since end of nineteenth century as context for crisis of narratives.
(xxiii) The object of this study is the condition of knowledge in the most highly developed societies. I have decided to use the word postmodern to describe that condition. The word is in current use on the American continent among sociologists and critics; it designates the state of our culture following the transformations which, since the end of the nineteenth century, have altered the game rules for science, literature, and the arts. The present study will place these transformations in the context of the crisis of narratives.
Modern defined as any science legitimating itself with reference to metadiscourse appealing to some grand narrative.
(xxiii) I will use the term modern to designate any science that legitimates itself with reference to a metadiscourse of this kind making an explicit appeal to some grand narrative, such as the dialectics of Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth.
The Postmodern Condition
1. The Field: Knowledge in Computerized Societies
General situation of temporal disjunction.
Our working hypothesis is that the status of knowledge is altered as
societies enter what is known as the postindustrial age and cultures
enter what is known as the postmodern age. . . . the general
situation is one of temporal disjunction which
makes sketching an overview difficult.
(3) Scientific knowledge is a kind of discourse. And it is fair to say that for the last forty years the “leading” sciences and technologies have had to do with language.
He gives a number of examples of impacts of technological transformations on research and learning: texts and technology connection is language and cybernetics, as knowledge must now be computable, dissociated from training objectives, and the goal is exchange, not knowledge as an end itself.
(4) These technological transformations can be expected to have a considerable impact on knowledge. Its two principal functions – research and the transmission of acquired learning – are already feeling the effect, or will in the future. With respect to the first function, genetics provides an example that is accessible to the layman: it owes its theoretical paradigm to cybernetics. Many other examples could be cited. As for the second function, it is common knowledge that the miniaturization and commercialization of machines is already changing the way in which learning is acquired, classified, made available, and exploited. It is reasonable to suppose that the proliferation of information-processing machines is having, and will continue to have, as much of an effect on the circulation of learning as did advancements in human circulation (transportation systems) and later, in the circulation of sounds and visual images (the media).
Premonition that all research dictated by subsumption of results as computable information; knowledge loses use value.
(4) the direction of new research will
be dictated by the possibility of its eventual results being
translatable into computer language.
(4-5) The old principle that the acquisition of knowledge is indissociable from the training (Bildung) of minds or even of individuals, is becoming obsolete and will become ever more so. . . . Knowledge is as will be produced in order to be sold, it is and will be consumed in order to be valorized in a new production: in both cases, the goal is exchange. Knowledge ceases to be an end in itself, it loses its “use value.”
Ideology of communicational transparency, and suggestion that government powers are the primary hindrance to it.
(5) 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.
See Castells on multinationals; Maner on whether new ethical questions be raised.
(5-6) Already in the last few decades, economic powers have reached the point of imperiling the stability of the State through new forms of the circulation of capital that go by the generic name of multinational corporations. These new forms of circulation imply that investment decisions have, at least in part, passed beyond the control of the nation-states. . . . New legal issues will be raised, and with them the question; “who will know”?
Argument that communicational transparency would be similar to liberalism when visualizing learning circulating like money.
(6) It is not hard to visualize learning circulating along the same
lines as money, instead of for its “educational” value or
political (administrative, diplomatic, military) importance; the
pertinent distinction would no longer be between knowledge and
ignorance, but rather, as in the case with money, between “payment
knowledge” and “investment knowledge”--in other words, between
units of knowledge exchanged in a daily maintenance framework (the
reconstitution of the work force, “survival”) versus funds of
knowledge dedicated to optimizing the performance of a project.
(6) If there were the case, communicational transparency would be similar to liberalism.
The Problem: Legitimation
(7) Our hypothesis, therefore, should not be accorded predictive value in relation to reality, but strategic value in relation to the question raised.
Barring catastrophic energy crisis, computerization of society inevitable, but is late capitalism as predominant economic form also inevitable?
(7) Finally, barring economic stagnation or a general recession (resulting, for example, from a continued failure to solve the world's energy problems), there is a good chance that this scenario will come to pass: it is hard to see what other direction contemporary technology could take as an alternative to the computerization of society.
Question of knowledge a question of government because legitimacy of science linked to right to decide what is just; science never neutral.
(8) The question of the legitimacy of science has been indissociably
linked to that of the legitimation of the legislator since the time
of Plato. From this point of view, the right to decide what is true
is not independent of the right to decide that is just, even if the
statements consigned to these two authorities differ in nature. . . .
the choice called the Occident.
(9) In the computer age, the question of knowledge is now more than ever a question of government.
3. The Method: Language Games
Wittgenstein versus Saussure on starting for language analysis, favoring functionalist logical structures of language games and computer programs for method.
Wittgenstein, taking up the study of language again from scratch,
focuses his attention on the effects of different modes of discourse;
he calls the various types of utterances he identifies along the way
(a few of which I have listed) language
What he means by this term is that each of the various categories of
utterance can be defined in terms of rules specifying their
properties and the uses to which they can be put – in exactly the
same way as the game of chess is defined by a set of rules
determining the properties of each of the pieces, in other words, the
proper way to move them.
(10) to speak is to fight, in the sense of playing and speech acts fall within the domain of general agonistics.
Agonistics: social bond composed of language game moves.
(11) the observable social bond is composed of language “moves.”
4. The Nature of the Social Bond:
The Modern Alternative
(11) in principle there have been, at least over the last half-century, two basic representational models for society: either society forms a functional whole, or it is divided into two.
Functionalist, Parson self-regulating society, and cybernetic models optimizing performativity replace living organism as theoretical basis; entropic decline is the alternative to continuous improvement (Hayles, Heidegger connections).
Added detail was supplied by functionalism;
it took yet another turn in the 1950s with Parsons's
conception of society as a self-regulating system. The theoretical
and even material model is no longer the living organism; it is
provided by cybernetics,
which, during and after the Second War War, expanded the model's
(11-12) The true goal of the system, the reason it programs itself like a computer, is the optimization of the global relationship between input and output – in other words, performativity. . . . The only alternative to this kind of performance improvement is entropy, or decline.
Horkheimer paranoia of reason caught in feedback loop with belief that society is a giant machine, technocrat unicity.
(12) society is a unified totality, a “unicity.”. . . The “technocrats” also subscribe to this idea [evaluating everything in terms of its contribution to optimization or decline]. . . . This is what Horkheimer called the “paranoia” of reason.
Under modernism, critical theory and Maxism putative alternative to positivist use of knowledge to regulate society, but still used to program the system, and assumes society is a giant machine.
based on a principle of dualism and wary of syntheses and
reconciliations, should be in a position to avoid this fate. What
guides Marxism, then,
is a different model of society, and a different conception of the
function of the knowledge that can be produced by society and
acquired from it. . . . Everywhere, the Critique of political economy
(the subtitle of Marx's Capital)
and its correlate, the critique of alienated society, are used in one
way or another as aids in programming the system.
(13) One can decide that the principal role of knowledge is as an indispensable element in the functioning of society, and act in accordance with that decision, only if one has already decided that society is a giant machine.
Tempting to distinguish positivist and critical types of knowledge.
(14) It is tempting to avoid the decision altogether by distinguishing two kinds of knowledge. One, the positivist kind, would be directly applicable to technological bearing on men and materials, and would lend itself to operating as an indispensable productive force within the system. The other – the critical, reflexive, or hermeneutic kind – by reflecting directly or indirectly on values or aims, would resist any such “recuperation.”
5. The Nature of the Social Bond: The Postmodern Perspective
Machine control of society includes control built into institutions (Foucault).
the image of society this syndrome suggests necessitates a serious
revision of the alternate approaches considered. For brevity's sake,
suffice it to say that functions of regulation, and therefore of
reproduction, are being and will be further withdrawn from
administrators and entrusted to machines.
(15) Each individual is referred to himself. And each of us knows that our self does not amount to much.
Diminishment of autonomous, liberal subject; self located a nodal points in communication circuits.
not amount to much, but no self is an island; each exists in a fabric
of relations that is now more complex and mobile then ever before.
Young or old, man or woman, rich or poor, a person is always located
at “nodal points” or specific communication circuits, however
tiny these may be. Or better: one is always located at a post through
which various kinds of messages pass.
(15) But there is no need to resort to some fiction of social origins to establish that language games are the minimum relation required for society to exist.
Cybernetic information theory neglects the agonistic aspect of society, although its own history rife with contestation, as Hayles shows with Macy Conferences narratives: is this the lack of embodied objects to really understand their concerns in order to play games?
(16) Second, the trivial cybernetic version of information theory misses something of decisive importance, to which I have already called attention: the agonistic aspect of society.
6. The Pragmatics of Narrative Knowledge
Knowledge includes embodied and situated competencies; narrative form appropriate to multitude of language games (Gee).
But what is meant by the term knowledge is
not only a set of denotative statements, far from it. It also
includes notions of “know-how,” “knowing how to live,” “how
to listen” [savoir-faire,
etc. . . . From this derives one of the principal features of
knowledge: it coincides with an extensive array of
competence-building measures and is the only form embodied in a
subject constituted by the various areas of competence composing
(19-20) First, the popular stories themselves recount what could be called positive or negative apprenticeships (Bildungen): in other words, the successes or failures greeting the hero's undertakings.
(20) Second, the narrative form, unlike the developed forms of the discourse of knowledge, lends itself to a great variety of language games.
(20) A quick analysis of this double pragmatic instruction reveals the following: the narrator's only claim to competence for telling the story is the fact that he has heard it himself.
(21) Our example clearly illustrates that a narrative tradition is also the tradition of the criteria defining a threefold competence – “know-how,” “knowing how to speak,” and “knowing how to hear” [savoir-faire, savoir-dire, savoir-entendre] – through which the community's relationship to itself and its environment is played out. What is transmitted through these narratives is the set of pragmatic rules that constitutes the social bond.
(21) A fourth aspect of narrative knowledge meriting careful examination is its effect on time.
(22) Finally, a culture that gives precedence to the narrative form doubtless has no more of a need for special procedures to authorize its narratives than it has to remember its past.
The Pragmatics of Scientific Knowledge
(25) If we compare the pragmatics of science to that of narrative knowledge, we note the following properties:
(25) 1. Scientific knowledge requires that one language game, denotation, be retained and all others excluded.
(25) 2. Scientific knowledge is in this way set apart from the language games that combine to form the social bond.
(25) 3. Within the bounds of the game of research, the competence required concerns the post of sender alone.
(26) 4. A statement of science gains no validity from the fact of being reported.
(26) 5. The game of science thus implies a diachronic temporality, that is, a memory and a project.
Postmodern mourning loss of meaning reflects spread of scientific knowledge at expense of narrative knowledge.
(26) Lamenting the “loss of meaning” in postmodernity boils down to mourning the fact that knowledge is no longer principally narrative.
8. The Narrative Function and the Legitimation of Knowledge
Space program good example of state spending to pass science off as epic.
(28) The state spends large amounts of money to enable science to
pass itself off as an epic: the State's own credibility is based on
that epic, which it uses to obtain the public consent its decision
(28) The new language game of science posed the problem of its own legitimation at the very beginning – in Plato. . . . The game of dialogue, with its specific requirements, encapsulates that pragmatics, enveloping within itself its two functions of research and teaching.
(30) The explicit appeal to narrative in the problematic of knowledge is concomitant with the liberation of the bourgeois classes from the traditional authorities.
(30) It is clear that what is meant here by “the people” is entirely different from what is implied by traditional narrative knowledge.
Narrative appeal for science targeted at abstract, male subject, implying that scientific knowledge generates a new subjectivity; similar to institutional generation of docile bodies in Foucault.
(30-31) We can see too that the real existence of this necessarily abstract subject . . . depends on the institutions within which that subject is supposed to deliberate and decide, and which comprise all or part of the State.
Narratives of the Legitimation of Knowledge
(31) We shall examine two major versions of the narrative of legitimation. One is more political, the other more philosophical; both are of great importance in modern history, in particular in the history of knowledge and its institutions.
(32) With the second narrative of legitimation, the relation between science, the nation, and the State develops quite differently. It first appears with the founding, between 1807 and 1810, of the University of Berlin, whose influence on the organization of higher education in the young countries of the world was to be considerable in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Many theorists including Kittler discuss place of Humboldt and University of Berlin in Western intellectual history.
Wilhelm von Humboldt
to decide the matter and came down on the side of Schleiermacher's
more “liberal” option.
(34) It has been necessary to elucidate the philosophy that legitimated the foundation of the University of Berlin and was meant to be the motor both of its development and the development of contemporary knowledge. As I have said, many countries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries adopted this university organization as a model for the foundations or reform of their own system of higher education, beginning with the United States. But above all, this philosophy – which is far from dead, especially in university circles – offers a particularly vivid representation of one solution to the problem of the legitimacy of knowledge.
(35) According to this version, knowledge finds its validity not within itself, not in a subject that develops by actualizing its learning possibilities, but in a practical subject – humanity. The principle of the movement animating the people is not the self-legitimation of knowledge, but the self-grounding of freedom or, if preferred, its self-management.
Practical subject, or autonomous collectivity, determines goals that science serves, giving scientific knowledge no final legitimacy; compare practical subject to Jenkins collective intelligence.
But the fact remains that knowledge has no final legitimacy outside
of serving the goals envisioned by the practical subject,
the autonomous collectivity.
(36) This distribution of roles in the enterprise of legitimation is interesting from our point of view because it assumes, as against the system-subject theory, that there is no possibility that language games can be unified or totalized in any metadiscourse. Quite to the contrary, here the priority according prescriptive statements – uttered by the practical subject – renders them independent in principle from the statements of science, whose only remaining function is to supply this subject with information.
Marxist position of Frankfurt school that critical knowledge develops by constituting autonomous subject via socialism and justifying sciences by giving proletariat means to emancipate itself.
(37) Marxism can, in conformity to the second version, develop into a form of critical knowledge by declaring that socialism is nothing other than the constitution of the autonomous subject and that the only justification for the sciences is if they give the empirical subject (the proletariat) the means to emancipate itself from alienation and repression: this was, briefly, the position of the Frankfurt School.
Criticism of Heidegger speech as episode in history of legitimation of race and work.
(37) The speech Heidegger gave on May 27, 1933, on becoming rector of the university of Freiburg-in-Breisgau, can be read as an unfortunate episode in the history of legitimation. . . . This insertion of the narrative of race and work into that of the spirit as a way of legitimating knowledge and its institutions is doubly unfortunate: theoretically inconsistent, it was compelling enough to find disastrous echoes in the realm of politics.
Advanced liberal capitalism eliminates communist perspective and valorizes indivdual enjoyment of goods and services; late capitalism adds implications of Castells informational society.
The decline of narrative can be seen as an effect of the blossoming
of techniques and technologies since the Second World War, which has
shifted emphasis from the ends of action to its means; it can also be
seen as an effect of the redeployment of advanced
liberal capitalism after
its retreat under the protection of Keynesianism during the period
1930-60, a renewal that has eliminated the communist alternative and
valorized the individual enjoyment of goods and services.
(38) The Hegelian speculative narrative thus harbors a certain skepticism toward positive learning, as Hegel himself admits.
(39) It represents, rather, an internal erosion of the legitimacy principle of knowledge. There is 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.
(39-40) The potential for erosion intrinsic to the other legitimation procedure, the emancipation apparatus flowing from the Aufklarung, is no less extensive than the one at work within speculative discourse. . . . There is nothing to prove that if a statement describing a real situation is true, it follows that a prescriptive statement based upon it (the effect of which will necessarily be a modification of that reality) will be just.
Science cannot legitimate prescriptive language games, or itself.
(40) If this “delegitimation” is pursued in the slightest and if its scope is widened (as Wittgenstein does in his own way, and thinkers such as Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas in theirs) the road is then open for an important current of postmodernity: science plays its own game; it is incapable of legitimating the other language games. The game of prescription, for example, escapes it. But above all, it is incapable of legitimating itself, as speculation assumed it could.
People intrinsically realize their knowledge is legitimated only by linguistic practices and communicational interaction.
(41) That is what the postmodern world is all about. Most people have lost the nostalgia for the lost narrative. It in no way follows that they are reduced to barbarity. What saves them from it is their knowledge that legitimation can only spring from their own linguistic practice and communicational interaction. Science “smiling into its beard” at every other belief has taught them the harsh austerity of realism.
11. Research and Its Legitimation through Performativity
Kuhnian progress of scientific knowledge through games of legitimation.
(43) The argumentation required for a
scientific statement to be accepted is thus subordinated to a “first”
acceptance (which is in fact constantly renewed by virtue of the
principle of recursion) of the rules defining the allowable means of
argumentation. Two noteworthy properties of scientific knowledge
result from this: the flexibility of its means, that is, the
plurality of its languages; and its character as a pragmatic game –
the acceptability of the “moves” (new propositions) made in it
depends on a contract drawn between the partners. Another result is
that there are two different kinds of “progress” in knowledge:
one corresponds to a new move (a new argument) within the established
rules; the other, to the invention of new rules, in other words, a
change to a new game.
(43) The principle of a universal metalanguage is replaced by the principle of a plurality of formal and axiomatic systems capable of arguing the truth of denotative statements; these systems are described by a metalanguage that is universal but not consistent.
Bricolage, wildcat technical activities on the fringe now, along with the lone genius; redeemed during initiation of disruptive technologies like personal computer, Internet, smart phones.
(44) And it can be maintained that even today “wildcat” activities of technical invention, sometimes related to bricolage, still go outside the imperatives of scientific argumentation.
With electronic computers and FOSS virtual worlds permit technical invention to individuals again: this is a tactic that becomes a strategy of the community of such practitioners (Feenberg).
(44-45) Nonetheless, the need for proof becomes increasingly strong as the pragmatics of scientific knowledge replaces traditional knowledge or knowledge based on revelation. By the end of the Discourse on Method, Descartes is already asking for laboratory funds. . . . The games of scientific language become the games of the rich, in which whoever is wealthiest has the best chance of being right. An equation between wealth, efficiency, and truth is thus established.
And likewise as they mature, free, open source development communities adopt useful behaviors of corporate norms.
(45-46) The prevailing corporate norms of work management spread to
the applied science laboratories: hierarchy, centralized decision
making, teamwork, calculation of individual and collective returns,
the development of saleable programs, market research, and so
(47) By reinforcing technology, one “reinforces” reality, and one's chances of being just and right increase accordingly. Reciprocally, technology is reinforced all the more effectively if one has access to scientific knowledge and decision-making authority.
12. Education and Its Legitimation through Performativity
Goal of education is optimizing performativity of practical subject: consider in light of Foucault argument that prisons grew illegalities and institutionalized delinquency its possible unintended consequences.
(48) The desired goal becomes the optimal contribution of higher
education to the best performativity of the social system.
Accordingly, it will have to create the skills that are indispensable
to that system.
(50) In any case, even if the performativity principle does not always help pinpoint the policy to follow, its general effect is to subordinate the institutions of higher learning to the existing powers. The moment knowledge ceases to be an end in itself – the realization of the Idea or the emancipation of men – its transmission is no longer the exclusive responsibility of scholars and students.
Great insight of data banks as the nature for postmodern man: we are already becoming cyborg.
(51) Data banks are the Encyclopedia of tomorrow. They transcend the capacity of each of their users. They are “nature” for postmodern man.
Already describing likely changes in human intelligence.
(51) It should be noted, however, that didactics does not simply
consist in the transmission of information; and competence, even when
defined as a performance skill, does not simply reduce to having a
good memory for data or having easy access to a computer. It is a
commonplace that what is of utmost importance is the capacity to
actualize the relevant data for solving a problem “here and now,”
and to organize that data into an efficient strategy.
(52) Given equal competence (no longer in the acquisition of knowledge, but in its production), what extra performativity depends on in the final analysis is “imagination,” which allows one either to make a new move or change the rules of the game.
The postmodern professor.
(53) But one thing that seems certain is that in both cases the process of delegitimation and the predominance of the performance criterion are sounding the knell of the age of the Professor: a professor is no more competent than memory bank networks in transmitting established knowledge, no more competent than interdisciplinary teams in imagining new moves or new games.
13. Postmodern Science as the Search
(54) What is outdated is not asking what is true and what is just, but viewing science as positivistic, relegating it to the status of unlegitimated learning, half-knowledge, as did the German idealists.
(54) I made the point that the striking feature of postmodern scientific knowledge is that the discourse on the rules that validate it is (explicitly) immanent to it.
Failure of perfect control oriented to continuous improvement as argued by Brillouin.
leads to the conclusion that the idea (or ideology) of perfect
control over a system, which is supposed to improve its performance,
is inconsistent with respect to the law of contradiction: it in fact
lowers the performance level it claims to raise. This inconsistency
explains the weakness of state and socio-economic bureaucracies: they
stifle the system or subsystems they control and asphyxiate
themselves in the process (negative feedback).
(56) Quantum theory and microphysics require a far more radical revision of the idea of a continuous and predictable path. The quest for precision is not limited by its cost, but by the very nature of matter.
(57) It is generally accepted that nature is an indifferent, not deceptive, opponent, and it is upon this basis that the distinction is made between the natural and the human sciences.
(58) There is, however, a current in contemporary mathematics that questions the very possibility of precise measurements and thus the prediction of the behavior of objects even on the human scale.
(58) The work of Rene Thom moves in a similar direction. He directly questions the validity of the notion of a stable system, which is a presupposition in Laplace's determinism and even in probability theory.
Thom islands of determinism replace stable systems.
(59) All that exist are “islands of determinism.” Catastrophic antagonism is literally the rule: there are rules for the general agonistics of series, determined by the number of variables in play.
Not that basic math is abandoned: the controlled world relies upon it; postmodern science adds more variations (fracta, catastrophes, paradoxes).
(60) The conclusion we can draw from the research (and much more not mentioned here) is that the continuous differentiable function is losing its preeminence as a paradigm of knowledge and prediction. Postmodern science – by concerning itself with such things as undecidables, the limits of precise control, conflicts characterized by incomplete information, “fracta,” catastrophes, and pragmatic paradoxes – is theorizing its own evolution as discontinuous, catastrophic, nonrectifiable, and paradoxical.
14. Legitimation by Paralogy
Little narrative remains quintessential form of imaginative invention, though object of administrative procedures (Luhman, Latour).
(60-61) We no longer have recourse to the grand narratives – we can resort neither to the dialectic of Spirit nor even to the emancipation of humanity as a validation for postmodern scientific discourse. But as we have just seen, the little narrative [petit recit] remains the quintessential form of imaginative invention, most particularly in science. . . . It is the object of administrative procedures, in Luhmann's sense.
Postmodern legitimation is by paralogy, according to Wikipedia the movement against an established way of reasoning; weak tie to Derrida word play.
The problem is therefore to determine whether it is possible to have
a form of legitimation based solely on paralogy.
Paralogy must be distinguished from innovation: the latter is under
the command of the system, or at least used by it to improve its
efficiency; the former is a move (the importance of which is often
not recognized until later) played in the pragmatics of
(61) In this context, let us examine two important points in Luhmann's argument. On the one hand, the system can only function by reducing complexity, and on the other, it must induce the adaptation of individual aspirations to its own ends.
(62) It cannot be denied that there is persuasive force in the idea that context control and domination are inherently better than their absence. The performativity criterion has its “advantages.”
(62) At risk of scandalizing the reader, I would also say that the system can count severity among its advantages.
(63) The stronger the “move,” the more likely it is to be denied the minimum consensus, precisely because it changes the rules of the game upon which consensus had been based.
Luhmann system includes terrorist behavior: recall CAP presentation on organizational deception loops.
(63-64) Such behavior is terrorist, as is the behavior of the system described by Luhmann. By terror I mean the efficiency gained by eliminating, or threatening to eliminate, a player from the language game one shares with him. . . . The decision makers' arrogance, which in principle has no equivalent in the sciences, consists in the exercise of terror. It says: “Adapt your aspirations to our ends – or else.”
Open systems generate ideas.
(64) To the extent that science is differential, its pragmatics
provides the antimodel of a stable system. A statement is deemed
worth retaining the moment it marks a different from what is already
known, and after an argument and proof in support of it has been
found. Science is a model of an “open system,” in which a
statement becomes relevant if it “generates ideas,” that is, if
it generates other statements and other game rules.
(64) The general question of legitimation becomes: What is the relationship between the antimodel of the pragmatics of science and society?
Not prudent to follow Habermas seeking universal consensus through dialog of argumentation (Diskurs).
For this reason, it seems neither possible, nor even prudent, to
orienting our treatment of the problem of legitimation in the
direction of a search for universal consensus through what he calls
in other words, a dialog of argumentation.
(65) This would be to make two assumptions. The first is that it is possible for all speakers to come to agreement on which rules or metaprescriptions are universally valid for language games, when it is clear that language games are heteromorphous, subject to heterogeneous sets of pragmatic rules.
(65-66) The second assumption is that the goal of dialog is consensus. But as I have shown in the analysis of the pragmatics of science, consensus is only a particular state of discussion, nor its end. Its end, on the contrary, is paralogy.
Recognize through paralogy heteromorphous language games, renouncing terror, insisting on local game rules, favoring finite meta-arguments.
A recognition of the heteromorphous nature of language games is a
first step in that direction. This obviously implies a renunciation
of terror, which assumes that they are isomorphic and tries to make
them so. The second step is the principle that any consensus on the
rules defining a game and the “moves” playable within it must
local, in other words, agreed on by its present players and subject
to eventual cancellation. The orientation then favors a multiplicity
by which I mean argumentation that concerns metaprescriptives and its
limited in space and time.
(66) This bears witness to the existence of another goal within the system: knowledge of language games as such and the decision to assume responsibility for their rules and effects. Their most significant effect is precisely what validates the adoption of rules – the quest for paralogy.
Radical response to technological determinism of power, leading to use of terror, concentrated in institutions is suggestion of democratization by freeing data; politics that respect desire for justice and the unknown. Ends with a somewhat silly statement, just like Zizek identifies in other deconstructive discourses?
(67) We are finally in a position to understand how the computerization of society affects this problematic. It could become the “dream” instrument for controlling and regulating the market system, extended to include knowledge itself and governed exclusively by the performativity principle. In that case, it would inevitably involve the use of terror. But it could also aid groups discussing metaprescriptives by supplying them with the information they usually lack for making knowledgeable decisions. The line to follow for computerization to take the second of these two paths is, in principle, quite simple: give the public free access to the memory and data banks. Language games would then be games of perfect information at any given moment. But they would also be non-zero-sum games, and by virtue of that fact discussion would never risk fixating in a position of minimax equilibrium because it had exhausted its stakes. For the stakes would be knowledge (or information, if you will), and the reserve of knowledge – language's reserve of possible utterances – is inexhaustible. This sketches the outline of a politics that would respect both the desire for justice and the desire for the unknown.
Answering the Question: What Is Postmodernism?
Translated by Regis Durand
(71) This is a period of slackening – I refer to the color of the times. From every direction we are being urged to put an end to experimentation, in the arts and elsewhere.
Determining unity Habermas intended to bridge gap between cognitive, ethical, and political discourses.
from the arts and the experiences they provide us, in short, to
bridge the gap between cognitive, ethical, and political discourses,
thus opening the way to a unity of experience.
(72) My question is to determine what sort of unity Habermas has in mind.
(73) The first hypothesis, of a Hegelian inspiration, does not challenge the notion of a dialectically totalizing experience; the second is closer to the spirit of Kant's Critique of Judgment, but must be submitted, like the Critique, to that severe reexamination which postmodernity imposes on the thought of the Enlightenment, on the idea of a unitary end of history and of a subject. It is this critique which not only Wittgenstein and Adorno have initiated, but also a few other thinkers (French or other) who do not have the honor to be read by Professor Habermas – which at least saves them from getting a poor grade for their neoconservatism.
(73-74) By putting the avant-gardes through a mixing process, the artist and critic feel more confident that they can suppress them than by launching a frontal attack. . . . Classicism seems to be ruled out in a world in which reality is so destabilized that it offers no occasion for experience but one for ratings and experimentation.
(74) This theme is familiar to all readers of Walter Benjamin. But it is necessary to assess its exact reach.
(75) Those who refuse to reexamine the rules of art pursue successful careers in mass conformism by communicating, by means of the “correct rules,” the endemic desire for reality with objects and situations capable of gratifying it. Pornography is the use of photography and film to such an end. It is becoming a general model for the visual or narrative arts which have not met the challenge of the mass media.
(76) It is easy to find a public for eclectic works. By becoming kitsch, art panders to the confusion which reigns in the “taste” of the patrons.
(76) Artistic and literary research is doubly threatened, once by the “cultural policy” and once by the art and book market.
Humanistic notion of mephistophelian functionalism of sciences and technologies if not subject to suspicion as much as art and writing.
(76) Stepping over Benjamin's and Adorno's reticences, it must be recalled that science and industry are no more free of the suspicion which concerns reality than are art and writing. To believe otherwise would be to entertain an excessively humanistic notion of the mephistophelian functionalism of sciences and technologies.
Modulation of Nietzschean perspectivism in Kantian sublime.
(77) But I see a much earlier modulation of Nietzschean perspectivism in the Kantian theme of the sublime. I think in particular that it is in the aesthetic of the sublime that modern art (including literature) finds its impetus and the logic of avant gardes finds its axioms.
Presenting the fact of the unpresentable.
I shall call modern the art which devotes its “little technical
as Diderot used to say, to present that fact that the unpresentable
(79) It is not my intention to analyze here in detail the manner in which the various avant-gardes have, so to speak, humbled and disqualified reality by examining the pictorial techniques what are so many devices to make us believe in it.
(79) It is undoubtedly a part of the modern. All that has been received, if only yesterday (modo, modo, Petronius used to say), must be suspected. . . . In an amazing acceleration, the generations precipitate themselves. 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.
Duck/rabbit of postmodernism sensed in powerlessness and dispersion of subject, desire to seize reality and return to terror, whose reverse face is waging war on totality, witnessing the unpresentable, saving the name.
(79-80) The emphasis can be placed on the powerlessness of the
faculty of presentation, on the nostalgia for presence felt by the
human subject, on the obscure and futile will which inhabits him in
spite of everything. . . . The emphasis can also be placed on the
increase of being and the jubilation which result from the invention
of new rules of the game, be it pictorial, artistic, or any
(80) The work of Proust and that of Joyce both allude to something which dos not allow itself to be made present.
(80) Joyce allows the unpresentable to become perceptible in his writing itself, in the signifier. The whole range of available narrative and even stylistic operators is put into play without concern for the unity of the whole, and new operators are tried.
(81) Here, then, lies the difference: modern aesthetics is an aesthetic of the sublime, through a nostalgic one.
Postmodern works without rules until the work is complete enough that they appear after the fact.
Postmodern works without rules until the work is complete enough that they appear after the fact: easier to illustrate in writing bricolage style programming.
The postmodern would be that which, in the modern, puts forward the
unpresentable in presentation itself. . . . The artist and the
writer, then, are working without rules in order to formulate the
rules of what will
have been done.
. . . Post
have to be understood according to the paradox of the future (post)
(81) It seems to me that the essay (Montaigne) is postmodern, while the fragment (The Atheaneum) is modern.
(82) Under the general demand for slackening and for appeasement, we can hear the mutterings of the desire for a return of terror, for the realization of the fantasy to seize reality. The answer is: Let us wage a war on totality; let us be witnesses to the unpresentable; let us activate the differences and save the honor of the name.
Lyotard, Jean-François. (1984). The postmodern condition: A report on knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984. Print.