File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0111, message 60

Date: Sun, 11 Nov 2001 16:44:30 +0000
Subject: Re: Postmodernism as Terrorism

Eric and Shawn

a couple of points:  (I am differentiating between state terrorism and 
terrorism/terroists - the former is always worse than the latter...)

You seem to assume that terroism has in some sense changed in form in 
the passage from modernity to post-modernity,  this is not the case. 
Terrorism as we understand it came into existence in the 19th C and 
remains substantially the same social response to the ills of our 
societies. The change is actually in the  post-modern responses to the 
society i.e. Akbhar's claim that fundamentalism (Islamic or Christian) 
is a post-modern response, the post-modern turn towards the irrational 
however may account for the misunderstanding of this. Prior to this the 
revolutionary act of terror would have justified its actions though the 
French Revolution (Toussaint) or perhaps Socialism/Marxism...

I unfortunately read your discussion of ethics as reductive - for what 
stands as an ethical act - in Kant's time the narrow identification of 
the 'human' was an acceptable scope for ethics - for Levinas and Derrida 
the scope is slightly larger but still it enables the industrialisation 
of  animal life... Ultimately the political extends beyond the realm of 
the ethical... For the ethics of Kant and Levinas do not function in the 
Darwinian universe whereas we inhabit a post-Gian world.

Obviously I believe in the possibility of social change to a greater 
extent than you... still



Mary Murphy&Salstrand wrote:

>But wait.  Isn't this exactly the kind of analysis Lyotard made in his
>book "The Postmodern Condition?" There he described how the current
>trends towards continuing innovation in the dynamic system of both
>capitalism and knowledge acquisition have made performativity the new
>imperative, replacing the older, more universal norms.
>Furthermore, he went on to describe the various ways this system was
>capable of fostering a kind of terror in its social relations long
>before the concept of terrorism had its current vogue.  
>So, far from being a form of terrorism, perhaps the postmodern is
>exactly where we need to begin if we truly want to understand the role
>of terrorism today.  Perhaps, it can even shed light on the role ethics
>should play in this, beyond abstract ideology.
>In his book "The Inhuman" Lyotard points to the fact that complexity and
>development have become the driving forces in the world today and that
>their ends are no longer the human, but the needs of the system itself. 
>He writes: "what else remains as politics except resistance to this
>inhuman?  And what else is left to resist with but the debt which each
>soul has contracted with the miserable and admirable indetermination
>from which it was born and does not cease to be born? - which is to say,
>with the other inhuman?"
>"This debt to childhood is one which we never pay off. But it is enough
>not to forget it in order to resist it and perhaps, not to be unjust. 
>It is the task of writing, thinking, literature, arts, to venture to
>bear witness to it."
>Today, in the face of terrorism, whether it is the terror of Bin Laden
>and the Taliban or the economic and financial terrorism of the WTO and
>IMF, politics is necessary, but politics is also insufficient.  For I
>suspect no political movement will arise to counteract the accumulation
>of terror that has taken place until a prior change emerges at the level
>of the social bond.  
>Ethics is not merely an abstract system that rationality formulates the
>universal rights of this paradoxical animal named humanity.  Ultimately,
>ethics is the judgement each one of us is capable of making, with or
>without concepts, that says: "This is wrong", "I will no longer tolerate
>this",  "I will not be an accomplice to this any longer".
>For these judgements to occur, it is not moral certitude that is
>necessary, but a kind of emptiness.  Lyotard writes: "If you think
>you're describing thought when you describe a selecting and tabulating
>of data, you're silencing truth. Because data aren't given, but givable
>and selection isn't choice.  Thinking, like writing or painting, is
>almost no more than letting a givable come towards you.  In the
>discussion we had last year at Siegen, in this regard, emphasis was put
>on the sort of emptiness that has to be obtained from mind and body by a
>Japanese warrior-artist doing calligraphy, by an actor when acting: the
>kind of suspension of ordinary intentions of the mind associated with
>habitus, or arrangements of the body.  It's at this cost...that a brush
>encounters the 'right' shapes, that a voice and a theatrical gesture are
>endowed with the 'right' tone and look.  This soliciting of emptiness,
>this evacuation - very much the opposite of overweening, selective,
>identificatory activity, doesn't take place without suffering.  I won't
>claim that the grace Kleist talked about (a grace of stroke, tone or
>volume) has to be merited; that would be presumptuous of me.  But it has
>to be called forth, evoked.  The body and the mind have to be free of
>burdens for grace to touch us.  That doesn't happen without suffering."
>In other words, what we call ethics today must be linked to our bodily
>feeling and bodily awareness in face to face encounters with the other,
>whether this other happens to be a person, a canvas, a musical
>instrument or an empty computer screen.  I am also struck by how closely
>this formulation resembles the concept of the void to which Badiou often
>Badiou writes as if his fourfold classification scheme of science, art,
>politics and love exhausted the scope of philosophy.  But the ethics I
>am arguing for must take place somewhere in the no man's land between
>politics and love; and it must incorporate both art and science.  It
>takes place in the body, in feelings of pleasure and pain in relation to
>all the others who surround us; the others who are like the air we
>Today perhaps the best defense against terrorism of all kinds lies in
>this very ethical response that, suspicious of the battery of cultural
>inscriptions that attempt to define who we are, bears witness to
>something else instead. Call it the body, childhood, suffering, pain,
>the other.  It is the lost wilderness inside ourselves that still must
>be reclaimed.  
>This ethics of the body attempts to remake the body of the world by
>jettisoning all those "big words for which so many have perished" and,
>in their place, to re-inscribe new words, colors, tones, scents, tastes
>and touches upon our tattooed flesh, to make indelible neon marks upon
>our mortal soul.  


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