File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0103, message 108

Date: Mon, 26 Mar 2001 23:19:58 -0600
Subject: What Would Lyotard Do?

The concept of postmodernism, as usually conceived, is reactionary.  It
celebrates in its own way, the end of history and a capitalism
triumphant. The themes of diversity and multiculturalism echo the
product differentiation that has already occurred on the plane of

Being ethnic becomes a new form of commodification. One tastefully
decorates one's home with global artifacts.  It speaks of one's taste
and sophistication as an educated consumer.  The ordinary pedestrian
products, made in America, and sold at Walmart, are simply lacking in
the necessary panache.

In terms of labor, postmodernism gives voice to a deterritorialized,
intellectual class, suffering from anomie and nostalgic for home,
feeling a sense of rootlessness in the contemporary world.  The pursuit
of postmodern elan is a pleasant form of distraction which siphons off 
a more dysfunctional discontent.  

Identity politics are a form of managed identity that keeps groups
separate and therefore malleable by the local state.  It also prompts
right wing backlash in the form of a critique of political correctness
that keeps the politics on a merely symbolic level. One that does not
question the quotidian relations mediated in and through a job economy
under the sign of capital.  When push comes to shove, the fear of ethnic
cleansing will keep most citizens in line, despite their quaint

This form of the postmodernism remains persistently reactionary and
counterproductive.  It is, as Habermas pointed out, a form of

In "The Differend"  Lyotard makes the claim that he is arguing for a
political philosophy.  To reduce Lyotard to the popular notion of the
postmodern is to betray this philosophy.  However, the reality is such
that this is precisely how Lyotard has usually been received.

Issues and interests and discussions are difficult.  This is not a forum
that can hope to change the world directly.  Its scope is limited.  The
focus is on Lyotard. Not that this means no other topics can be
discussed here, but the reality is that any discussion is sporadic and
the participants few.  

For me Lyotard means a certain attempt at a political understanding or
it is worthless.  The question of articulating what this political
philosophy might mean in the light of contemporary events need not be a
fruitless one.  As some have argued, praxis does not consist in action
alone. Thinking itself must be conceived as a form of action and
therefore a necessary component of praxis.  

No matter how hopeless the situation currently seems, a cynical or
pessimistic response remains inappropriate.  

The first step is to create awareness.  The second is to resist.  

To be postmodern in Lyotard's sense means to bear witness to what might
otherwise remain unsaid - to feel what the words betray and then to act
otherwise, always otherwise.  

Perhaps before each one of us rushes out into the street to wave a
banner in the name of a particular program to save the world, there is
the need to understand why we fight and what the stakes might be.
Lyotard is a name that points to a politics beyond a program.  

I say let's have a thousand points of differends.


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