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 consumption. 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 affectations. This form of the postmodernism remains persistently reactionary and counterproductive. It is, as Habermas pointed out, a form of neo-conservatism. 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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