File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0108, message 28

Date: Sun, 05 Aug 2001 18:34:39 +0100
Subject: Re: An Idea whose time will never come

Eric and all

Let’s begin by touching on the meta-narratives my own reading of Lyotards
definition, understanding is very different from your proposal. In essence
there are two strands of metanarrative which he is at pains to identify and
unpack. 1) There is the one that aims to legitimise science by arguing that
it contributes to the emancipation of the people. With this variety of grand
narrative information and knowledge are a right of the populace, and its
ongoing development is part of the social rights which accrue as part of
emancipation. It is a (his)story with heroic figures and villains, priests
and fascists are the villains whilst the people are the heroes. In essence
the enlightenment is seen as the modernising moment which causes the break
from pre-modernity and absolutist tyrants. 2) The other form of
metanarrative begins in the early 19th C, here the narrative legitimises a
range of fields of knowledge by constituting a commonality of knowledge and
education for the creation of an all enclosing subject. The subject is
conceived as the telologically central point of knowledge and of reality,
from which all science is legitimised.  Both these meta-narratives are
refused . (See PMC p32-37). It follows that Lyotard’s rejection of Marxism
derives from a combination of the types of metanarrative  mentioned above.
Without going into this in detail, Lyotard believes incorrectly that the
socialist, Marxist meta-narrative of human liberation collapses in the face
of capitalism’s resurgence in the second half of the 20th C. Lyotard appears
to believe that the  ‘blossoming of techniques and technologies since the
2nd world war…’ have separated us from the conditions for emancipation
because it has ‘eliminated the communist alternative and valorised the
individual enjoyment of goods and services…’  The seeming relentlessly
successful of capital in the commodification of all activities is seen as
eradicating the necessity, the myth, of proletarian revolution. However this
understanding of the immediate present (late 70s and early 80s) is reduced
to incoherence as new forms of resistance continue to emerge and the refusal
of the new forms of social legitimation which Lyotard proposes grows.  His
argument, which was probably correct in 1980 (but is wrong in 2001) was that
we ‘no longer have recourse to the grand narratives…’ in place of which the
argument is legitimation by paralogy, language games, moves in the endless
game of the pragmatics of knowledge. Beyond the obituary for the grand
narratives that produce the link between the social, science and ideals of
human liberation there exists a multiplicity of discourses which in
Lyotard’s version of the postmodern is founded on the babel of differences,
a recognition that ‘consensus can never be achieved…’ (It is worth reading
his discussion of science on p61 – no engineer or scientist would accept
this as an adequate definition of scientific practice. Kuhn’s paradigms are
liked by some philosophers (not by me) but not by scientists – science in
its own terms is a realism but one that recognisies the meaning of
probability). It is in Lyotards rejection of the very idea of consensus
which cements the challenge to the ideal of emancipation, (how is
emancipation possible without consensus? ) The idea is that the assumption
begins from the assumption that humans can ‘see things in the same way’,
Lyotard refuses the very idea of unity as an ideal, the impossibility of
consensus is valued because it works with the incommensurability which is
fundamental to his version of social practice.  In such a version
information may want to be free but of course never can be, because no
information does anything but achieves intensified differences, from which
and without the ability to argue from the grand narrative of human
liberation - the Taliban and their fascistic treatment of women emerge. (Let
us never forget there are worse things than the G8)… For Lyotard postmodern
invention and respect for difference are the same as his sense of reality as
being not acquiescent to unitary methods of rational explanation.

We judge the state of the world from the bedrock of the grand narratives
which Lyotard presumed to have died, the power of Negri and Hardt’s work
resides from its commitment to the sustained Marxist version of the human
liberation. A socialist or communist is someone who by nature believes to
some degree in the sustained power of the desire for human liberation… “the
ideals of western civilisation… issuing from the modern traditions are
bankrupt…” Lyotard states in Postmodern Fables (1997). Lyotards work is
radical and forceful but extremely problematic in that it does not define a
place from which a critique of contemporary society can start...

Finally in this note Lyotard's versions of Marx and Hegel are closed
schemas, more absolutist than emancipatory, these representations do not
read well against the work of contemporary marxists such as Negri & Hardt,
Hirst and so on, in other words it does not allow for the diverse ways in
which such theories have been used - predominantly of course the varieties
which start from a perspective of cirticism rather than 'the end of
history'. The latter of course is much closer to Lyotard's own late
counselling against an historical consideration of modernity and
postmodernity... My own view for what it's worth is in agreement with Negri
and Hardt, if postmodernity means anything it is that it results from the
change from an industrial economy into an information economy.

Lyotard's entire late writing derives from a relationship to political
defeat - the pessimism of his late writing implies this most clearly. Look
at the 'postmodern fables' - by default they argue that politics had turned
into a form of 'system management', a pessimistic fable indeed.



Mary Murphy&Salstrand wrote:

> steve:
> >
> >
> > Comments in various places;
> >
>  my own take on this is that the considerable work that has been
> done by intellectuals as diverse as Foucault, Negri, Hardt, Habermas,
> Deleuze, Lyotard, Moufe and Kristeva required marxist thought as a
> starting point.... "Resistences are no longer marginal but active in the
> center of a society that opens up in networks..."
> I like this conception as well and agree with you wholeheartedly.  This
> is my great hope as well.
> The end of the nightmare of the failed revolution of
> 1917 will I hope be followed by the end of the failed American
> revolution...
> A consumation devoutly to be wished.
> One of the many growing pains for me as an American has been the final
> recognition that things in this country are getting far worse, not
> better.  Call me naive, but at one time I truly believed the inherent
> justice of the civil rights movement, the women's movement, the ecology
> movement and the demands for economic parity would be eventually
> recognised - that American society was moving in the right direction,
> albeit slowly.  In the past twenty years, however, I have witnessed the
> world turned upsidedown. The triumph of corporate fascism has been
> realized in America.
> Where is the America of the Abolitionists, the Wobblies, Eugene Debs,
> Frederick Douglas, Jane Addams, Haymarket Square, Mother Jones, Emma
> Goldman, Abraham Lincoln? Here is another America that is now in the
> process of being forgotten, paved over by Disney to create a new
> historical theme park for the spectacle. (here we are now, entertain
> us.)
> I want that America to go away forever - I gag on its sanctimonious
> racism, sexism and simple hatred of the poor. America's idea of heaven
> today is a gated community, ruled over by Jesus (who hates gays and
> uppity women), and well stocked with obedient and silent servants,
> preferably from the temp pool and sweat shop. (As nike says - Just screw
> it!) God is the C.E.O. of this alien corporate universe and is in the
> process of raiding our historical pensions for increased ROI before the
> final divestiture.)
> Where this Lyotardian model is problematic is in the failure to
> recognise that 'judgement without criteria' is precisely condemming one
> to the liberal politics which he and we rejects.
> I don't see why ethical paralogy necessarily limits one to a politics of
> liberalism. What criteria do you propose as necessary?  Do you see it as
> determinative?
>  What Lyotard is attempting to achieve is
>  to establish a mode of thinking which creates a role model for
> subversive, non and anti-universalising  ways of thinking that argues
> for difference rather than the contruction of essentialised thinking. In
> understanding of theories of difference there is a common misassumption
> that each point on the plane of difference is morally and socially
> equivilant. This is not however the case for theories of difference
> return to essentialising positions from behind, in that no theorist of
> difference can accept that a supremicist position has equivilant value
> to one arguing for equality and equivilance. Lyotard's clearest
> discussion of this is related in his piece  'one of the things at stake
> in women's struggles' where he discusses the essentialising problem that
> exists in feminist movements. Lyotard's liking for the pagan, for
> refusing political theories that are related to philosophies (or grand
> narratives) runs aground on the rocks of sexual difference because it is
> by nature philosophical, essentialist and deeply political - it is one
> of the points from which any and all societies can be fairly judged -
> 'sexual difference would constitute the horizon of worlds more fecund
> than any known to date...' This is not to refuse or deny the
> attractiveness of the anti-humanist refusal of Lyotard's criticism of
> forms of thought that over-inflate their abilities, theoretical
> abilities to subourn difference to the over-specifics of a theoretical
> perspective. (The anti-humanist focusing on the locality of thought and
> action that is the hallmark of the generation of intellectuals that
> Lyotard and Foucault were a part of is one of their most interesting
> features - they all lived the situationist phrase 'act local think
> global...') But it does raise the difficulty, near-impossibility of an
> ethics founded on difference that is indeterminate... because the
> examples used to justify the argument fail to convince.
> Wow, there is a lot to unpack here.  First of all, I agree with most of
> the critique you are making about ethics of difference. I think its
> political limitation have become all too apparent. N&H do a good job I
> think in Empire of demolishing its pretensions.
> However, part of the problem is I don't think Lyotard is subsumed by
> this and my other post is an attempt to explain partly why I think so.
> The woman's struggle essay might be a fruitful one for a later
> discussion, as I would position this slightly differently as well.
> My question to you to this. Given the limitations of identity/difference
> ethics/politics, what is the new move you see N&H as making?  Do you
> consider this a more valid and fruitful approach?
> Nobody told the Arabs anyway... (see Thesinger and the recent Minority
> reports)
> I not familiar with these reports.  Would you be able to expand on this
> a little?  Your reply was in reference to my comments about the
> Abolitionists.
> thanks
> eric


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