File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0111, message 95

Date: Mon, 19 Nov 2001 22:32:34 -0600
Subject: Re: Question of the Postmodern


I'm afraid I can only give you my own personal interpretation on this
topic.  I'll try to keep it short and not too bitter.

The metanarratives of the Enlightenment are basically of two types,
according to Lyotard.  On the one hand, there is the speculative
narrative with its dream of totalizing knowledge (Hegel's Geist).  On
the other hand, there is myth of emancipation which follows the secular
track of a path first laid down by Christian eschatology. (Joachim of
Fiore's Age of Geist) 

>From an epoch view, it can be argued that both these narratives have
been exploded.  The crisis of the foundations and the growing awareness
of the social construction of knowledge have undermined the first. 
Hiroshima and the Holocaust destroyed the linear concept of history as
progress that underwrote the second.

There is another reason, however, that is closer to Lyotard's point.  As
the speed and velocity of cultural transformation and the accumulation
of knowledge accelerates, these narratives no longer legitimize as
effectively as others; such as the performative and the paralogical. The
rate of change and the continued impact of innovation are too great to
keep these myths of the Enlightenment plausible any longer.  As
narratives, they have become outmoded because they do not adequately
explain where it is we appear to be going. They undergo a crisis of

There is also another point of view from which the postmodern can be
considered as well.  Here it is not merely an epoch of history. It also
denotes an attitude or sensibility - a mode of awareness.  Lyotard
argues that certain aspects of modernity are prefigured in Augustine,
while certain aspects of the postmodern are discovered in artists like
Montaigne and Joyce.

Lyotard argues that the postmodern as mode is signified by an
incredulity towards metanarratives. This is not really epistemological
skepticism as much as a feeling.  There is a sense that things have
become too complex for the old narratives to be able to explain to us
what is happening.  There is an agitation between what the stories tell
us and what the world presents and what the world fails to present.  At
the heart of the postmodern there is a sublime which is both a
historical epoch and a mode of feeling.  

All of which reminds me of the movie Muholland Drive by David Lynch. 

Even though the events of the first two-thirds of the movie are very
bizarre, everything that happens can be interpreted in a rational manner
according to the grid of one's  expectations.  Then a key is placed into
the lock of a blue box and, in the shock of an instant, everything turns

It is only a metaphor, but that image describes rather well for me the
feeling of the postmodern sublime. It is waking up to the reality that
we simultaneously inhabit parallel universes much closer to pulp sci-fi
than to the scientific Enlightenment.  We are living in Neuromancer and
not la nouvelle Heloise. 

One day you simply look in the mirror and discover you're a cyborg on a
planet being run by reptiles.



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