File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0108, message 18

Date: Sat, 04 Aug 2001 08:42:36 -0500
Subject: Politics and Ethics as Paralogy


Negri and Hardt position Postmodernism as a kind of halfway house
between Modernism and Empire.  They see its eradication of essence and
identity; its bordercrossings; its polyglot conception of otherness and
multiculturalism as paving the way for the seamless spaces of Empire.

Certainly, Lyotard's "The Postmodern Condition" can be interpreted in
this way.  Some have called it, ironically, the metanarrative of the end
of metanarratives.  Certainly, if the metanarrative thesis is viewed as
a simple empirical one, it is surely false.  The last twenty years have
seen no end to the proliferation of grand narratives, parading back and
forth around the globe, as if "The Night of the Living Dead" had gone
into syndication.

Perhaps I need to steal a concept or two from Negri and Hardt to propose
another reading of "The Postmodern Condition."  In "Empire" they set up
a historical dialectics between Immanence and Transcendence.  The
breakthrough to Immanence inaugurates the epoch of modernity.  However,
Transcendence is never far behind, reacting with its own
counterreformations, its philosophy and its politics.  There is the
movement of liberation followed by repression, escape and then
recapture, deterritorialization and reterritorialization that have
interacted together over time (like Romulus and Remus wrestling for WWF)
to bring us to this present moment, where we dangle over the precipice.

I propose that when Lyotard spoke of incredulity regarding
metanarratives, he did not intend this ontologically, as though these
stories were soon to disappear forever from the earth.  Instead, he
meant their transcendental aura was in the process of fading away.  

The primary metanarratives Lyotard refers to are either narratives of
emancipation or of speculation, the game of the Absolute.  They all
share the theme of eschatology; Modernity is seen as a midwife, giving
birth to a new era in which the contradictions of the present time will
be resolved. The wounds of  Geist (spirit) shall be healed, leaving no
scars. Alienation will be ended.  The Golden Age of which Virgil speaks.

With the decline of these transcendental theologies of history, Lyotard
see two new trends emerging - what he calls legitimation by performance
and legitimation by paralogy.  Legitimation by performance is simply
capitalism in its sublime mode. Legitimation by paralogy is the
alternative presented by the multitude with the concurrent demand that
information wants to be free.  

This paralogy tends toward the experimental, making new moves in the
language game, relinking the phrases in different and unexpected ways. 
Just as it holds true for science and art, the implication is that
ethics and politics share the same potential for creating new
associations and introducing different modes of the social bond,
striking its own blows against the Empire.

I would also argue that this same dynamic continues to sway in Lyotard's
later writings, although legitimation by performance tends to be
superceded by a complexity argument (Can thought exist without a body?)
although it still clearly remains sublime capitalism (and one that is
analogous to what Negri and Hardt call Empire and not merely a momentary
halfway house for itinerant dissidents on their way to the Machavellian

Lyotard also calls for resistance to this, by way of a passive politics.
I would argue that this should be considered as a analogue to Hardt and
Negri's calls for more direct actions. Lyotard tends in his later works
to speak less in terms of paralogy and more often of a concept he calls
"in-fans", infancy.  This is simply the body before its flesh has been
inscribed by the Law in the manner of the Penal Colony; the childhood
moment before we become "humanized"; and which is never outgrown; and
never completely eradicated.  The immemorial which remains to be
remembered and worked through as we rewrite Modernity itself.

As Lyotard himself says in an interview:  "Listen, I will not tell you
that "we" suffered a political defeat.  It is politics as an important
stake that was defeated.  But something will never be defeated, at least
as long as humans will be born infants, infantes.  Infantia is the
guaranty that there remains an enigma in us, a not easily communicable
opacity - that something is left that remains, and that we must bear
witness to it.  This testimony is called writing, in its strong and
broadest sense."

I thus refuse the Jameson move on the part of Negri and Hardt to
re-inscribe Lyotard into a simple politics of difference.  I think this
is simply making a straw man argument (where man is under erasure, of
course!)  This posting should be considered as an attempt to complexify
the reading of "Empire."



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