Postmodernist theory

Postmodernist theory
Postmodernist theory Lyotard, Baudrillard and others Thomas Docherty INTRODUCTION Philosophy has been touched by postmodernism. Philosophy, in the modern academy, is supposed to be the discipline of disciplines: it is philosophy which will be able to gather together, in one over-arching discourse, all the various micro-disciplinary problems and procedures dealt with in the differing and ostensibly unrelated fields of literature, medicine, law, politics and so on; and it is philosophy which will also set itself the task of explaining their necessary separations. Postmodernism has not ‘challenged’ philosophy; rather it has simply enabled an earthquake under its foundations; for postmodernism is most aptly situated precisely in the moment of the eradication of all foundational thinking. This, of course, makes it a fundamentally paradoxical exercise to ‘define’ postmodernism, for any definition would at once inherently seek the foundationalist status lexically integral to any description, while it would simultaneously discount in the semantic content of the definition the very possibility of such foundationalism. In what follows, therefore, I shall not so much ‘define’ postmodernism in philosophy as indicate what is at stake in the debates that have constituted the postmodern moment in our cultures.1 The term ‘postmodern’ was probably first consistently used by Arnold Toynbee in 1939; and it was prefigured in his writings in 1934 (that is, at around the date of the first recorded instance of the term’s usage in Spanish, by Federico de Onis).2 In A Study of History, Toynbee suggested that the ‘modern’ historical period had ended, at a date determined in his studies roughly between 1850 and 1918. Toynbee’s historiography was a product of the late nineteenth-century desire to found a synoptic and universal history; and this desire was most easily accommodated in Toynbee’s own individual work by the fact that his history approximates to the condition of a Christian theodicy. His task was to redeem humanity by discovering the trajectory of history to be a movement of separation from God and the eternal returns towards a theocentric and universalizing centre of meaning for the world. Secularity—history itself—becomes nothing more or less than a humble interruption in a fundamentally circular narrative structure, whose end is always already somehow contained in its beginning. This, of course, is reflected in much of the artistic literary production of the first decades of the present century in western Europe, where writers such as Eliot, Joyce, Mann, Proust and many others all experimented with the cyclical structures of history. For Toynbee and his kind, the facts of history would make sense in relation to a governing narrative structure which would be given and legitimated in advance, since it is narrated fundamentally from the point of view of a monotheistic God. Such a notion of history is indebted to conflicts which had their root in Enlightenment. As Hayden White points out, the Enlightenment broadly agreed with Leibniz’s monadology in the sense that the philosophers of the Enlightenment subscribed to the view that there was an underlying unity or direction to human history. But the big difference between Leibniz and Enlightenment is that Leibniz thinks that this essential unity of humanity is simply immanent, whereas the philosophers of the Enlightenment view it as an ideal whose realization lies in the future, an ideal which is therefore, at best, imminent, or one which is yet to be realized in historical time. They could not take it as a presupposition of their historical writing, not merely because the data did not bear it out, but because it did not accord with their own experience of their own social worlds. For them the unity of humanity was an ideal which they could project into the future.3 Toynbee’s invocation of a postmodern moment can thus be seen to accord with the idealist drive of Leibniz; yet it also acknowledges the necessarily future orientation of history. Toynbee can plainly see that the ‘modern’ moment is not yet a moment of a universal accord or harmony. In this, he is rather like the literary critic Erich Auerbach, who wrote his great study, Mimesis, while living in Turkey in flight from the Nazis. In that study, Auerbach poignantly and desperately attempts to discern, and to validate in the literary history of the western world, the idea of a shared humanity in which, ‘below the surface conflicts’ which ostensibly wedge us apart, ‘the elementary things which our lives have in common come to light’.4 Both these writers were writing under the sign of the Second World War, in which the ideology of a specific racial difference and disharmony momentarily, but triumphantly, was in the ascendant. Auerbach’s answer to his predicament was to find solace in aesthetic harmony; Toynbee rather hypothesized a moment in the future, a ‘post-modern’ political moment, when history and humanity can be properly redeemed. The word ‘postmodern’ is thus characterized, from its very inception, by an ambiguity. On the one hand, it is seen to describe a historical period; on the other, it simply describes a desire, a mood which looks to the future to redeem the present. This ambiguity is at the core of a tension between postmodernism as an aesthetic style and postmodernity as a political and cultural reality. This is an instance of one of the dominant philosophical concerns responsible for shaping the question of the postmodern: what is the proper relation in our time between the aesthetic and the political? The particular intimacy of the relation between aesthetics and politics in postmodernism is apparent even from the earliest considerations of the question. Leslie Fiedler characterized the emergence of new aesthetic priorities in the novel during the 1960s as a ‘critical point’ in which new attitudes to time were developed; and such attitudes, he claimed, ‘constitute…a politics as well as an esthetics’.5 In the light of this, it is interesting to note that two of the foremost thinkers in the field of postmodernism, Fredric Jameson and Jean-François Lyotard, both write equally fluently and influentially on aesthetic culture and on political practices; and, more importantly, they have consistently pondered the relation between these hymeneallylinked activities. A deep formative influence lying behind much of the contemporary debate, as is now perhaps obvious, is the legacy of the Frankfurt school, perhaps most especially the work of Adorno, to which I shall return. For present purposes, the single salient fact is that aesthetic postmodernism is always intimately imbricated with the issues of a political postmodernity, even if postmodernism and postmodernity may not always themselves coincide. As a result of the legacy inherited from Frankfurt, the question of the postmodern is also, tangentially at least, an issue of Marxism. Marxism, in placing the labouring body at the interface between consciousness and material history, is the necessary explanatory and critical correlative of a modern culture whose technology (in the form of an industrial revolution) divides human knowledge or consciousness from human power or material history. But the continuing revolutionary shifts within capitalism itself have necessitated in recent years a marked and vigorous self-reflection on the part of Marxism. In Habermas, for instance, Marxism has taken ‘the linguistic turn’, in arguments for a continuation of the emancipatory goals of Marxist theory and practice under a revised rubric of ‘communicative action’. Habermas’s faith in the continuing viability of a vigorously self-revising Marxism is shared by Jameson, who models his own version of ‘late Marxism’ to correspond with Mandel’s descriptions of ‘late capitalism’.6 A key date here, of course, is 1968. This is not only a moment which could be described as the high point of ‘grand theory’ and of the emergence of a poststructuralist challenge to what had become by then the grand structuralist orthodoxies; it is also the moment of a critical political failure. The seeming availability of a revolution which brought workers and intellectuals together all across Europe represented a high point for a specific kind of Marxist theoretical practice. But when these revolutions failed, many began, at precisely that moment, to rethink their commitments to the fundamental premises of Marxist theory. Simultaneously, most other erstwhile dominant philosophical trajectories (the phenomenological tradition; the insistence on the centrality of Hegel via Kojève; the entire ‘history of western thought’) came under suspicion and revision. Rudolph Bahro and André Gorz began, from an economistic perspective, to rethink issues of growth and sustainable development. Their emergent ecologism coincided neatly with the ‘imaginative’ aspects of 1968, and Cohn-Bendit began his own movement from red to green. Kant began to assume the same kind of position of centrality once occupied by Hegel. Feminism and deconstruction both criticized the monolithic aspects of the institutions of western thinking. These all coincided neatly with the aftermath of the Algerian and other colonial crises, and with the growing awareness of the issues relating to post-colonialist cultures. The developed countries began to question not only the desire of the underdeveloped countries for the same levels of consumerist technology as those enjoyed by the First World, but also the reliance of that First World upon exhaustible planetary resources. For many European thinkers who were now coming to question the fundamental grounds of their intellectual activities and philosophies, Marxism now began to appear to be part of the problem, especially in its assumption of the desirability of human mastery over nature. The emerging Green movement of this period moved closely to a post- Marxism which was sceptical of Enlightenment: sharing the emancipatory ideals and the desire for the fullest possible enjoyment of human capacities, but tempering that with the idea of a necessary cohabitation between humanity and the rest of nature. A postmodern world needed a post-Marxist politics. Gramsci began to assume a prominent position in this thinking, and the notion of hegemony replaced that of class as a fundamental political category. A new political pluralism became possible precisely at the moment when technology, as Lyotard indicates, had made it possible for the multinational companies to homogenize and unify their forms of control. Yet underneath the increasingly homogenized capitalist world, the play of local forces continues to pose the threat of a disruptive pluralism which capitalism must now police if it is to sustain itself. For those forces to be activated, all we require is the release of something inimical to capital, the release of something which cannot be inserted into or accommodated within a capitalist economy. The radical, central philosophers at this moment made their revolutionary investment in the body and in libidinal desire. Perhaps the most extreme re-thinking of Marx began with the socalled ‘philosophy of desire’ in texts such as Lyotard’s Economie libidinale (1974; complete translation not available) or in the work of Deleuze and Guattari in their Capitalisme et schizophrénie (1972, 1980; translated 1984, 1987). This work led Lyotard and Deleuze to the position where they favour the supervention of a micropolitics which will attend to the local and the specific without recourse to some grand programme or macropolitical theory such as Marxism, psychoanalysis or evolutionary progress to legitimize actions taken at the local level. Practice is now valid—that is to say, it becomes an ‘event’—only when it is unanswerable to, or when it is actually disruptive of, a totalizing ‘grand theory’. The most explicit attack on fundamental Marxist theory, and specifically on its underlying category of ‘production’ is fully developed in Baudrillard’s Le Miroir de la production (1973; translated as The Mirror of Production 1975), a work which set Baudrillard firmly on a trajectory away from any form of classical Marxism. His work since has increasingly sustained a problematization of the oppositionalist impetus inscribed in Marxist theory. For Baudrillard, opposition to a dominant force is always already inscribed in the structure which holds that dominant force in power. The oppositional energy is diverted and recharged to the account of the dominant force: opposition works like inoculation. Marxism inoculates capital, the better to sustain it: ‘critical’ or ‘oppositional’ thinking is, as it were, the last refuge of the bourgeois, who is condemned to go through the motions of theoretical opposition while simultaneously sustaining the historical status quo. Theory, by which I here mean any critical practice which makes a philosophically foundational claim, enters into crisis itself in the wake of 1968. Not only has knowledge become uncertain, but more importantly the whole question of how to legitimize certain forms of knowledge and certain contents of knowledge is firmly on the agenda. No single satisfactory mode of epistemological legitimation is available. Even if one were, the very Subject of consciousness has, as a result of deconstruction and psychoanalysis, also been thrown into doubt. Postmodernism is shaped and informed by these crises in epistemology, in ontology, in legitimation and in the Subject. In what follows, I shall firstly outline briefly the intellectual trajectory of two thinkers whose work has shaped much of the debate over postmodernism: Jean-François Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard. I shall then substantively address the issue of the Enlightenment and its contested legacies. This leads into a necessary reconsideration of the question of politics, specifically under the rubric of a theory of justice. In conclusion, I shall draw together the characteristics of postmodern philosophy under the sign of what might be called, in contradistinction to Leibnizian Optimism, a ‘new pessimism’ distinguished not by sadness but by stoicism. TWO PARADIGMATIC THINKERS Jean-François Lyotard Lyotard moved to the centre of debates around postmodernism in the late 1970s when he defined The Postmodern Condition in terms of an ‘incredulity toward metanarratives’.7 By this, he meant that, in the contemporary world, it had become difficult to subscribe to the great narratives which had previously conditioned existence, be they narratives of salvation as in the various religions, or of emancipation as in Marx, or of therapy as in Freud, and so on. Postmodernism was defined in terms of an anti-foundationalism; it was a mood and not a period; and it was characterized by a pragmatic and experimentalist attitude. Like the artist, the postmodern philosopher was to ‘work without rules in order to formulate the rules of what will have been done’ after the event:8 that is to say, thinking was to be radically experimental and ostensibly undirected in order to allow for the unpreprogrammed, for the unforeseen, to take place. This led Lyotard to ponder two key theoretical principles: that of the ‘event’; and that of ‘justice’.9 An ‘event’ occurs when ‘it happens’ without the ‘it’ having any specific identity. Such an identification of ‘what’ happened can only happen when the event is inserted into a determining structure which will assign a meaning to the happening and a substance to it. An ‘event’ is, as it were, a happening laid bare, devoid of a Subject, devoid of—or, better, prior to—an assigned significance. For Lyotard, the honour of thinking can itself only occur when thinking is ‘eventful’, when thinking is of the status of an event. Thought thus has little to do with the accumulation of ‘knowledges’ whose significance can be arrayed and arranged in hierarchical orders and sequences, initially placed in repositories of knowledge such as libraries and museums, but increasingly in our time stored in ostensibly less material but equally reified form on microchips or on computer discs. For Lyotard, one effect of this is the necessity to wage war on all forms of totality. He argues that any ‘grand narrative’ or foundational theory necessarily tends to homogenize the absolute heterogeneity and specificity of singular events, thereby robbing the event of its full ontological or historical status and, more importantly for a philosopher, denying the possibility of genuine thinking. Further, he argues that such totality most often articulates itself under the form simply of consensus. Here, he explicitly set himself apart from a thinker such as Jürgen Habermas, who argues that, given the lack of any prior foundational philosophy upon which to build a rational society, individual Subjects must strive collectively or mutually to attain a rational consensus which will enable the formulation of (at least provisional) values against which individual acts can be judged. In other words, a practical social theory is to be based upon rational discourse and the disinterested pursuit of the better argument by a community. Lyotard argues that the consensus thus reached is illusory, for it is necessarily founded upon a covert violence between the participants in the dialogues, in which the discourse of one Subject will always find itself degraded in and by the discourse of the other. There is no consensus without the covert exercise of an imperialist power, according to Lyotard, who therefore prefers the pursuit of paralogy over consensus. In order to maintain thinking at the status of the event, it becomes important to bear witness to what Lyotard calls the ‘differend’. A differend occurs when, in a dispute between two parties, the rules of conflict which bring them into their opposed positions are made in the idiom of one party while the wrong from which the other suffers simply does not figure and cannot be recognized in that idiom. That is, the fundamental clash is one of language-games; the language-game of each party to the dispute simply cannot accommodate the terms of the wrong suffered by the other; and further, there is no common language to which a ‘neutral’ appeal can be made to facilitate an adjudication between the two parties. Here we enter the second specific realm of Lyotard’s concern: justice. As with knowledge, justice or judging too must become, for Lyotard, an event rather than a substance. Given that we should abandon the metanarrative, or theory, we now have no grounds upon which to make our judgments, be they aesthetic, ethical, political or whatever. Yet we must judge, as a simple condition of living. For Lyotard, we must bear witness to the differend and learn to judge without criteria. This he relates to the Kant of the third Critique, where a fundamental distinction is made between determining judgment and reflective judgment. Determining judgments are made in conformity to a rule; reflective judgments are those where we lack any formal guiding principle, as in aesthetics. Lyotard urges the prioritization of the latter, for it is only by making judging and thinking reflective—and thereby ‘eventful’ —that we will attain to the postmodern mood; and it is only that way that we can avoid the tacit political violence which dominates and informs our modes of philosophy and of social being. Jean Baudrillard Baudrillard, like Lyotard, began his career on the political left. But in The Mirror of Production, he began his trajectory steadily away from any recognizable Marxism and towards an extremely different position indeed. Fundamentally, Baudrillard began by arguing that Marx was not Marxist enough; that in the attempt to confound political economy, Marx simply could not manage to escape the form ‘production’ and the form ‘representation’ which shape political economy. Marxism is thus tainted by a complicity with capitalism, argued Baudrillard. He then began himself to try to find a way out of this by insisting that the world is not ‘pro-duced’ but ‘seduced’: seduction, he claimed in De la séduction, was logically prior to production. Seduction is not simply sexual: it is rather any mutual interplay of forces of attraction and repulsion. It thus can have no paradigmatic form and veers into a multiplicity of social practices, none of which can assume a position of centrality, normativity or dominance. By this point, Marxism has not been modified as much as entirely abandoned. Baudrillard began to indicate that Marxism had become part of the problem rather than part of the cure for a society in any case. He suggested that in any given system (such as a capitalist one) which is characterized by efficiency, the possibility of opposition to the system has to be controlled internally if the system is to persist. The single best way of controlling opposition is, of course, by accommodation. Hence, using a medical analogy, Baudrillard argued that every system generates localized ‘scandals’ which ostensibly throw the system entirely into disrepute—but which operate rather like an inoculation against disease. Thus, for instance, Watergate was a scandal to the office of the President of the USA; but it was a scandal which ‘purified’ the office by vilifying its temporary occupant; it thus enabled the possibility of that now ‘purged’, ‘incorruptible’, office being inhabited very soon after by Ronald Reagan, whose folly, lies and obvious insincerity far outstripped anything of which Nixon seemed capable. Similarly, capitalism needs and thrives on Marxism; masculinism and patriarchy need feminism if they are to strengthen themselves; racism requires anti-racist legislation; and so on. This somewhat desperate scenario provokes Baudrillard into his most radical claims, and into a position usually described as ‘nihilist’. The principle of reality itself, he argues, is defunct. At an early stage in his career, when he concentrated his attention on consumer society, Baudrillard rapidly realized not only that consumption was the new structure of power in the social, but also that something had happened to the very materiality of the object of consumption. He argued that the object as signifier was more important than the object as referent. In other words, classical ‘use-value’ had been replaced not just by ‘exchange-value’ but by what might be called ‘signifying-value’, or the value of the object as a sign. The referent—the ‘real’ world—began simply to disappear in Baudrillard’s theoretical thinking. When allied to his thinking on negation or criticism as a form of therapeutic inoculation, this has far-reaching consequences. Baudrillard is now able to argue that Disneyland, for example, is there as an arena of fantasy in order to generate the belief that the rest of the USA, everything ‘outside’ Disneyland, is ‘real’. In fact, Baudrillard argues, it is the rest of the USA which is now living entirely at the level of fantasy. Meanwhile ‘the real’ has disappeared, or has been overtaken by simulacra of the real. Thus he felt able to claim, for instance, that, in a specific sense, the Gulf War of 1990 ‘did not take place’. Baudrillard indicates that technology has now made it possible for us to reproduce the real in a ‘more’ real form than the ‘original’; and historical events for us now are only real once they have been mediated, usually by television. If we are to make any genuine philosophical or political engagement in this state of affairs, it has to be done by attending not to specific aspects of the real but rather to the very principle of reality itself. ENLIGHTENMENT AND ITS LEGACIES A major source for the contemporary debates around the postmodern is to found in the work of the Frankfurt school, and perhaps nowhere more precisely than in the text proposed by Adorno and Horkheimer in 1944, the Dialectic of Enlightenment, a work ‘written when the end of the Nazi terror was within sight’. This work prefigures some of Lyotard’s later scepticism over Enlightenment; and it also seriously engages the issue of mass culture in ways which influence Gorz’s thoughts on the ‘leisure merchants’ of contemporary capitalist societies. It is worth indicating in passing that it is Adorno and Horkheimer, and not Lyotard, who propose that ‘Enlightenment is totalitarian’:10 the vulgar characterization which describes contemporary German philosophy as pro- Enlightenment and the French as anti-Enlightenment is simplistic and false. Enlightenment aimed at human emancipation from myth or superstition, and from an enthralled enchantment to mysterious powers and forces of nature. Such emancipation was to be effected through the progressive operations of critical reason. According to Peter Gay, ‘The Enlightenment may be summed up in two words: criticism and power’:11 criticism would become creative precisely by its capacity for empowering the individual and enabling his or her freedom. Why would Adorno and Horkheimer set themselves in opposition to this ostensibly admirable programme? Why do they argue that ‘The fully Enlightened earth radiates disaster triumphant’?12 The problem lies not in the theoretical principle of Enlightenment but in its practice. In the desire to contest any form of animistic enchantment by nature, Enlightenment set out to think the world in an abstract form. Consequently, the material content of the world becomes a merely formal conceptual set of categories. As Adorno and Horkheimer put it: ‘From now on, matter would at least be mastered without any illusion of ruling or inherent powers, of hidden qualities. For the Enlightenment, whatever does not conform to the rule of computation and utility is suspect’.13 In a word, reason has been reduced to mathesis: that is, it has been reduced to a specific form of reason. More importantly, this specific inflection of reason is also now presented as if it were Reason-as-such, as if it were the only valid or legitimate form of rational thinking. But Adorno and Horkheimer share a fear that, in this procedure, reason has itself simply become a formal category, which reduces or translates the specific concepts of material realities into rational concepts, or into a form amenable to mathematization. Reason becomes no more than a discourse, a language of reason (the codes of mathematics), which deals with the ‘foreign’ matter of reality by translating it into reason’s own abstract terms; and something—the ‘event’, non-conceptual reality itself—gets lost in the translation. As Adorno and Horkheimer have it: ‘The multiplicity of forms is reduced to position and arrangement, history to fact, things to matter.’14 A mathematical consciousness thus produces the world, not surprisingly, as mathematics. So a desired knowledge of the world is reduced to the merest anamnesis, in which a consciousness never cognizes the world as it is, but rather recognizes the world as the proper image and correlate of the consciousness itself. Enlightenment thus serves only the self-Identity of the Subject of consciousness. ‘Emancipatory’ knowledge turns out to involve itself firmly with a question of power, which complicates and perhaps even restricts its emancipatory quality. Knowledge, conceived as abstract and utilitarian, as a mastery over a recalcitrant nature, becomes characterized by power; as a result, ‘Enlightenment behaves toward things as a dictator toward man. He knows them in so far as he can manipulate them. The man of science knows all things in so far as he can make them.’15 Knowledge is hereby reduced to technology; and that in nature—the ‘event’—which is unamenable to the formal or conceptual categories of such mathematical knowledge simply escapes consciousness. Yet the Subject believes itself to have captured, dominated and conceptually controlled the event; for it can determine the meaning of the event. There is thus only the illusion of power over nature; and yet there is a more important dividend of power here: the Subject endowed with Enlightenment ‘knowledge’ has a power over the consciousness of others who may be less fluent in the language of reason. Knowledge is thus caught up in a dialectic of mastery and slavery in which the victim is not a dominated and overcome nature but rather other overwhelmed human individuals. Accordingly, knowledge such as this cannot be purely characterized by disenchantment and emancipation. Enlightenment does not simply produce a disenchanted knowledge of the contents of the material world; rather, it produces a formally empowered Subject of consciousness, a Subject which exerts its power in the discourse of reason, in a language-game. From now on in philosophy—and this is what will be characterized as the ‘modern’ philosophy from which postmodernism wishes to escape—to know is to be in a position to enslave, or, as Lyotard will argue, ‘what was and is at issue is the introduction of the will into reason’.16 What is thus at issue is a confusion between the operations of a pure reason on the one hand and a practical reason on the other: a confusion between theory and practice, between gnosis and praxis. This is an old Aristotelian distinction which has resurfaced precisely at the moment when many thinkers are becoming suspicious precisely of theory itself. Twentieth-century literary criticism, the field in which much of the postmodern debate has been fought out, presents us with a series of attempts to yoke together theory and practice. Language, for instance, is often seen not as something which merely runs alongside and parallel to the ‘real’ events of material history: rather, it is consistently secularized, realized as itself a historical event. This is so all the way from J.L.Austin’s speech-act theories of performative linguistics, through various advocates of the idea of ‘language as symbolic action’ (Kenneth Burke, R.P.Blackmur and others), and all the way on to the contemporary revival of Jamesian and Deweian pragmatism in the thinking of Rorty, Fish and others.17 These are all attempts to bring together the epistemological function of language with the ontological event of linguistic activity. And in this regard, twentieth-century literary criticism can be seen to be wrestling with one major and fundamental issue: the perceived rupture between the realm of language and the realm of Being, a rupture articulated most vigorously by those readers of Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics who prioritize above all else the arbitrariness of the relation between the linguistic signifier and the conceptual signified. By inserting the cognitive activity of a real historical reader between the text and its epistemological content, critics such as Fish, Jauss, Iser and others tried to circumvent the threatened split between, on the one hand, the structure of consciousness (i.e., the conceptual forms in which a consciousness appropriates the world for meaning) and, on the other, history (the material content of a text which may—and indeed, according to Fish, must—disturb such formal structures). In philosophical terms, what is at stake here is an old Kantian question regarding the proper or adequate ‘fit’ between the noumenal and the phenomenal. Kant was aware that the world outside of consciousness does not necessarily match precisely our perceptual cognitions of that world; and in the Critique of Pure Reason he argued that it was erroneous simply to confuse the two. The two elements of signification being confused were distinguished by Frege as ‘sense’ and ‘reference’; and it is a distinction similar to this which was maintained by Paul de Man, who argued that such a confusion is precisely what we know as ‘ideology’: ‘What we call ideology is precisely the confusion of linguistic with natural reality, of reference with phenomenalism.’18 De Man’s concern was to ensure that literary criticism made no premature assumptions of the absolute validity of reference; and in this he simply followed the deconstructive practice of maintaining a vigilant scepticism about the legitimacy or truth-contents of any linguistic proposition made about those aspects of the real world that could properly be called ‘non-linguistic’. He was aware that the premature assumption that the world was available for precise, ‘accurate’ or truthful linguistic formulation was itself an assumption not only grounded in but fundamentally demonstrative of ideology. But this, of course, is simply a reiteration of Adorno and Horkheimer in their complaint about the assumption made by (mathematical) reason that the world is available for rational comprehension. It should now be clear that the fundamental burden of the Dialectic of Enlightenment is that Enlightenment itself is not the great demystifying force which will reveal and unmask ideology; rather, it is precisely the locus of ideology, thoroughly contaminated internally by the ideological assumption that the world can match—indeed, can be encompassed by—our reasoning about it, or by the attendant assumption that the human is not alienated by the very processes of consciousness itself from the material world and events of which it desires knowledge in the first place. Enlightenment, postulated upon reason, is—potentially at least—undone by the form that such reason takes. For Adorno and Horkheimer, this argument assumed a specific shape recognizable as an abiding question in German philosophy from Kant to Heidegger. What worried Adorno and Horkheimer was that under the sign of Enlightenment, the Subject would be capable of an engagement with the world in a manner which would be ‘rational’ only in the most purely formal (and thus vacuous) sense of the word. That is, they were anxious that what should be a properly political engagement which involves the Subject in a process called intellection or thinking could be reduced to a ritual of thinking, to a merely formal appearance of thinking which would manifest itself as a legitimation not of a perception of the world but of the analytical modes of mathematical reason itself. The political disturbance of the Subject proposed by an engagement with a materially different Other (i.e., the Subject as transformed and transfigured through an ‘event’) would be reduced to a confirmation of the aesthetic beauty and validity of the process of mathematical reason itself, a reason whose object would thus be not the world in all its alterity but rather the process of reason which confirms the Identity of the Subject as an identity untrammelled by the disturbance of politics, an amorphous identity predicated on a narcissism and uninformed by any real event. In short, the Subject would be reduced to an engagement with and confirmation of its own rational processes rather than being committed to an engagement with the material alterity of an objective world.19 The ‘aesthetic engagement’ with the world might be characterized as follows: the structure of consciousness determines what can be perceived, and processes it in accordance with its own internal logic, its own internal, formal or ritualistic operations of reason. There is thus a ritual or appearance of engagement with the material world only. ‘Political engagement’ would be characterized by the rupture of such ritual, by the eruption of history into the consciousness in such a way that the aesthetic or formal structures of consciousness must be disturbed, reconfigured, rearranged. Enlightenment’s commitment to abstraction is seen as a mode of disengagement of the ideological, opinionated self: abstraction is itself meant to address precisely this problem. But it leads, according to Adorno and Horkheimer, not to a practice of thinking but rather to the ritualistic form of thought; it offers a form without content. Adorno and Horkheimer fear that it is precisely when Enlightenment addresses the political that it in fact most successfully evades the political; that Enlightenment is Idealist precisely when it pretends to be fully materialist. One twentieth-century legacy of Enlightenment is the so-called ‘Copernican revolution’ proposed initially by structuralism and semiotics. In the wake of Roland Barthes, the world became an extremely ‘noisy’ place: signs everywhere announced their presence and demanded to be decoded. Such decoding was often done under the aegis of a presiding formal structure, such as myth in anthropology (Lévi-Strauss), desire in psychoanalysis (Lacan), or grammar in literature (Genette, Greimas, Todorov). In semiotics, it is always important to be able to discover a kind of equivalence between ostensibly different signs: this is, in fact, the very principle of decoding or of translation which is at the basis of semiotic analysis. But as Adorno and Horkheimer indicate: ‘Bourgeois society is ruled by equivalence. It makes the dissimilar comparable by reducing it to abstract qualities.’20 Such abstraction must wilfully disregard the specificity of the material objects or events under its consideration: ‘Abstraction, the tool of enlightenment, treats its objects as did fate, the notion of which it rejects: it liquidates them.’21 The semiotic revolution—a revolution which frequently masqueraded as a political, emancipatory heir of Enlightenment, but a revolution whose content was only at the level of the abstract sign and thus at the level of an aesthetics denuded of politics—is, like Enlightenment, irredeemably bourgeois in the eyes of the postmodernist, for it is irredeemably caught up in a philosophy of identity which negates material and historical reality in the interests of constructing a recognizable Subject of consciousness as a selfidentical entity. When postmodernism rigorously questions the tradition of a selfconsciously ‘modern’ Enlightenment philosophy, it does not do so in the interests of nihilism or irrationality. Postmodernism indicates rather (as did Foucault) that Enlightenment reason may not itself be entirely reasonable.22 Further, postmodernism returns to the great Kantian questions: how might we know the alterity of a material reality; how might we validate or legitimize that knowledge? The Dialectic was written in a profound awareness of the material and historical realities of fascism and of the Nazi atrocities. It is a text which inserts itself in a specific tradition of philosophical and ethical tracts which ask for an explanation of the presence of evil in the world. This tradition was properly inaugurated in the modern world by the debates around Leibniz and Optimism. Optimism is based on the idea that nature is a Leibnizian monad, and that there is a great unifying chain in nature which links, in a necessary conjunction, all the ostensibly random and diverse elements of a seemingly heterogeneous and pluralistic world. Much more important for our purpose is the observation that Optimism must be based upon a specific idea of progressive time which challenges the meaning of events. It argues that what appears ‘now’ to be a local evil will be revealed ‘in the fullness of time’ as something which essentially serves the realization of a greater good. As Voltaire’s Pangloss has it in Candide, ‘All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds’; or, as a less comic predecessor, Milton’s Satan, has it: ‘Evil, be thou my good.’23 History would reveal the immanent goodness in the most apparently evil acts; under the sign of a homogeneous and monadic eternity, the heterogeneous and secular would be redeemed. In a sense this philosophy is a precursor of some contemporary theoretical principles; and it foreshadows directly the great (and perhaps final) flowering of a modernist thought in deconstruction. According to Optimistic philosophy, the meaning of an event is not immediately apparent, as if it were never present-to-itself: its final sense—to be revealed as the necessity of goodness—is always deferred (to be revealed under the sign of eternity), and is thus always ‘different’ (or not what it appears to be to the local eye caught up in the event itself). The major difference between deconstruction and Optimism is that Optimism believes that the final sense lies immanently within an event, whereas deconstruction eschews any such ‘immanentist’ ideas as metaphysical. Yet the trajectory underpinning both is the same in that they share fundamentally and tacitly an investment in the notion of a ‘progressive enlightenment’: the passage of time is invested with the idea of progress. Optimism was buried, of course, with the buildings under the earthquake in Lisbon on 1 November 1755. But at that time a different idea of progress in history arises. After 1755, progress is characterized as a gradual emancipation from the demands of the sign of eternity. The secularization of consciousness became a necessary precondition for the possibility of an ethics: that is to say, the ethical is increasingly determined by the philosophically rational, or the good is determined by the true. Hans Blumenberg in his The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, offers eloquent testimony to the inflection this gives to philosophy and to truth. Traditionally, the pursuit of truth had been pleasurable, eudaemonic; from now on, the absoluteness of truth, and correspondingly its ascetic harshness, becomes a measure of its validity: ‘Lack of consideration for happiness becomes the stigma of truth itself, a homage to its absolutism.’24 Pain legitimizes knowledge. There arises thus the possibility—and Kantians would argue the necessity—of separating the realm of facts from the realm of values: neither can legitimately be derived from the other, neither facts from values nor values from facts. Optimism has proceeded on the grounds that these were intimately conjoined; and it followed that the progressive movement from evil to good was seen as inevitable. But once epistemology is separated from ethics, the whole idea of historical progress is itself called into question: no longer do we know with any certainty the point towards which history is supposedly progressing. In the wake of this, humanity becomes enslaved not to the enchantments of myth but rather to the necessities of narrative, for humanity has embarked upon a secular movement whose teleology is uncertain, whose plot is not inherently predetermined by values or by an ethical end.25 This critique of progress returns in the twentieth century; and is acentral component of a postmodernist mood. The paradigmatic example comes in architecture, where there has grown a resistance to the ‘modernist’ idea that all buildings must be innovative in aim and design. As Jencks and Portoghesi have suggested, it is possible to relearn from the past, to develop a ‘new classicism’ or simply to engage with an abiding ‘presence of the past’.26 The result is—in principle if not always in practice—a heterogeneous juxtaposition of different styles from different architectural epochs as a putative response to the homogenizing tendency of the so-called ‘international style’. This argument leads to two interrelated consequences. The first is that lived space is inhabited by a complicating sense of historical time.27 More importantly, there grows an awareness in architecture and urban planning in general that the local traditions of a place should be respected in all their specificity, while at the same time these local traditions may be opened to a kind of criticism by their juxtaposition with styles from other localities and from different traditions.28 This is a localism without parochial insularity: a revalorization of the ‘periphery’ without the need for a determining ‘centre’. Probably the greatest and most-cited description of the postmodern coincides nicely with this architectural scepticism regarding inexorable progress. In philosophy, Lyotard argued that the postmodern mood was characterized by an ‘incredulity towards metanarratives’. In an argument which he subsequently described as ‘overstated’, Lyotard argued that it was becoming increasingly difficult to subscribe to the great—and therapeutically Optimistic—grand narratives which once organized our lives.29 What he had in his sights were the great totalizing narratives, great codes which in their degree of abstraction necessarily deny the specificity of the local event and traduce it in the interests of a global homogeneity or a universal history. Such ‘master narratives’, as they subsequently came to be called, would include the narrative of emancipation via revolution proposed by Marx; the narrative of psychoanalytic therapy elaborated by Freud; or the story of constant development and adaptation advanced under the rubric of evolution by Darwin. Such narratives operate like Enlightenment reason: in order to accommodate widely diverging local histories and traditions, they abstract the meaning of those traditions in a ‘translation’ into the terms of a master code, thereby violating the specificity of the local and rendering real historical events unrecognizable. As metanarratives, they also become coercive and normative. In the interests of respecting the heterogeneity of the real, and (more importantly for Lyotard) in the interests of maintaining the possibility of thought, of philosophy, we must wage war on such totalizing prescriptive grand narratives. Lyotard’s debt to Adornian critical theory is obvious here. This new pessimism with regard to the idea of historical progress was foreseen by Walter Benjamin, another great source for much postmodern thinking. In his famous seventh thesis on the philosophy of history, he indicates a specific scepticism regarding history which has been picked up and thoroughly developed in postmodernism. His famous words in that thesis—‘There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism’—prize open the historical document—and, by extension, the event itself—to an internal instability and mutability.30 Postmodernism has enlarged on this to the extent that it challenges the very notion of there being any universal history at all. It is important to be clear on this: postmodernism does not deny history; rather, it denies that there is only one history. For Lyotard, a universal history implies a single transcendent Subject position from which the history might be recuperated, appropriated, recounted or narrated: that is to say, universal history is predicated on monotheism. In place of this, Lyotard advocates the pluralism of paganism: multiple gods, multiple histories, no transcendence.31 Any singular event can be inserted into any number of histories, each presided over by a different force or power; and its value—its essence—will depend upon the contradictions and incoherence involved in our necessarily considering the event from such a pluralist perspective. In the simpler terms which Benjamin had in mind, the singular event of a battle, say, is different when one is the victim and when one is the victor: postmodernism would ask us to think the narratives proposed by both such positions simultaneously. ‘Modernity’ itself is increasingly seen as a Benjaminian document of civilization and of barbarism at once. It is a crude banalization of the postmodern position to suggest that it entirely reneges on modernity. Zygmunt Bauman’s work is an excellent case in point here. Given the pessimism regarding Enlightenment and subsequent European history, it would be an easy step to consider the twentienth century’s greatest disaster, the Nazi atrocities, as a consequence of modernity. But Bauman takes a much more circumspect postmodern attitude to the Holocaust. Citing sociological research into the victims of hijackings and terrorist activity, he indicates that so-called ‘personality change’ after the traumatic event is in fact illusory. What happens is that historical circumstances after the trauma favour the appearance of traits which were always latent, but which were not appropriate under the historical norms which conditioned the life of the victim before the traumatic event. A different aspect of the personality assumes the normative position: the same person remains. Bauman allegorizes this to consider the Holocaust: The unspoken terror permeating our collective memory of the Holocaust…is the gnawing suspicion that the Holocaust could be more than an aberration, more than a deviation from an otherwise straight path of progress, more than a cancerous growth on the otherwise healthy body of the civilized society; that, in short, the Holocaust was not the antithesis of modern civilization and everything (or so we like to think) it stands for. We suspect (even if we refuse to admit it) that the Holocaust could merely have uncovered another face of the same modern society whose other, so familiar, face we so admire. And that the two faces are perfectly comfortably attached to the same body.32 Modernity does not lead inexorably to the Holocaust; rather, the civilized face of modernity is attended constantly by a barbarism which is its Janus-complement. The horror at the evil of the Holocaust is, for Bauman, really a horror at the rationality inscribed within the practice of the Holocaust. Enlightenment reason had enabled the development of an extraordinarily complete rationally ordered and self-sustaining social process. Part of the legacy of this is the development of efficiency in productivity, and the (often self-serving) development of technology. The horrifying truth of the matter, according to Bauman, is that ‘every “ingredient” of the Holocaust…was normal, “normal” not in the sense of the familiar…but in the sense of being fully in keeping with everything we know about our civilization, its guiding spirit, its priorities, its immanent vision of the world’.33 Structurally, the gas chambers are driven by the same presiding principles that were taken for granted as the positive aspects of modernity: rationalized efficiency in industrial production. The barbarism of the Holocaust arises because Enlightenment contained within its drive to reason a carcinogenic drive to rationalism, which can be used as well for fascist as for emancipatory ends. For a postmodern sociologist such as Bauman, it becomes difficult to disintricate the ‘rationality of evil’ from the ‘evil of [modern, instrumental] rationality’. As he indicates, in the world of the death camps, everything was rationalized: ‘Each step on the road to death was carefully shaped so as to be calculable in terms of gains and losses, rewards and punishments.’34 The SS also knew that, in a perversion of Enlightenment, but a perversion made possible precisely by Enlightenment, reason was their single best ally in ensuring that their victims would become complicit in their own suffering, betraying their fellows in the reasonable hope of prolonging their own lives thereby: ‘to found their order on fear alone, the SS would have needed more troops, arms and money. Rationality was more effective, easier to obtain, and cheaper. And thus to destroy them, the SS men carefully cultivated the rationality of their victims.’35 Reason, which was supposed to legitimize the neo-pagan and emancipatory activities of Enlightenment, is now itself in need of legitimation. It can no longer assume the capacity for self-legitimation without assuming an exclusivity which necessarily victimizes other possible (and equally, if differently) reasonable narratives. Its claims upon universality are supplied by its inherent tendency to fall into the merest rationalism. It produces an administered society, and not a reasonable one; reason is replaced by efficiency and by the aesthetic and formal vacuities of rationalism. As both Derrida and Foucault have argued, though in very different ways, Enlightenment reason is profoundly exclusivist: it can legitimate itself only by first identifying and then stigmatizing its Other. As a result, Enlightenment reason is a potent weapon in the production of social normativity, driving people towards a conformity with a dominant and centred single ‘norm’ of behaviour. Reason, in short, has to produce the ‘scandal’ of its Other to keep itself going. Baudrillard has argued that this has an extremely important corollary effect in the twentieth century. In our time, it is not so much reason itself which requires legitimation as the very principle of reality (which, it is assumed, is founded upon rational principles). Society, in a move structurally parallel to Enlightenment reason, thus produces the Other of the real—fantasy—to legitimize the normativity of its own practices. Thus: ‘Disneyland is there to conceal the fact that it is the “real” country, all of “real” America, which is Disneyland (just as prisons are there to conceal the fact that it is the social, in its entirety, in its banal omnipresence, which is carceral.’36 The emancipation proposed by Enlightenment brings with it an incarcerating impetus: its ‘freedom’ turns out to be but the form of a freedom, an aesthetics rather than a politics of freedom. The name for this aestheticization of the political is representation. In the postmodern, representation, as both a political and an aesthetic category, has come under increasing pressure; and it is to this that we can now turn. JUSTICE AND REPRESENTATION Enlightenment reason is self-legitimizing: it takes one historically and culturally specific inflection of reason for the universal form of all Reason; and then adjudges all competing forms of reason to be, ipso facto, unreasonable.37 In crude terms, Enlightenment Europe judged the rest of the cultures of the world in precisely the terms of Enlightenment Europe; and when, not surprisingly, it found the rest of the world to be ‘different’, it judged it to be inferior, unreasonable, ‘underdeveloped’. Hence there arises the legitimation for a racist and imperialist consciousness which underpins some of the most unjust actions of the modern world, culminating perhaps in the Holocaust. Enlightenment’s difficulty, it seems, was in accepting the possibility of a plurality of the forms of reason, each specific to particular historical or cultural events in their singularity. That difficulty had its root in the tendency to abstraction, or to theory. Equally abstract is the idea of a Universal History which, if it is to exist, must disregard the singularities of specific events, reading them as ‘signs’ or semiotic counters which can be meaningfully inserted into a governing and totalized master narrative. Given that a human culture or society is made possible precisely by the narratives which it tells to itself, then it becomes clear that what is at stake here is a massive political injustice. The postmodern attack on the notion of a Universal History has important ramifications for the questions of representation and justice. As I indicated earlier, a Universal History is tacitly predicated upon a monotheism which brings in its wake an incipient totalitarianism. It presupposes a single transcendental position (‘God’) from which the whole of history can be recounted or truthfully narrated. Accordingly, if we subscribe to such notions, then all contradictory (‘pagan’) human narratives are automatically discarded and deemed to be nothing more than ‘fictions’. In pragmatic fact, of course, this has meant that, as Benjamin and others have indicated, all history is told from the point of view of the victor, who, as a ‘master narrator’, assumes the position of a totalitarian author, or God; and any opposing narratives—such as the narratives which constituted the entire cultural and social history of the victim—are either ignored, denied or brought into line with the dominant narrative of the victor, from whose point of view they appear to be deviant, disjunctive and clearly false. The master narrator simply subsumes other competing narratives within a totalized framework, and assigns the competing narratives to a marginalized position. Those margins have, in modernism, been occupied by various figures such as dissidents, intellectuals, communists, women, lesbian and gay people, ‘foreigners’, and so on. In contrast to this, the postmodern faces the problematic possibility of a potentially endless and self-contradictory series of representations without the predication of an implied presence anywhere which would exist to ground or hierarchize the competing representations or narratives. In addition to this, and linked to it, is the political complication of the issue of justice. How can we judge an event? In the ‘modern’ world it is possible to judge according to specific criteria. These criteria are assumed to be shared by a social consensus. But this also implies an instance of presence somewhere, a fundamental ground of truth upon which all judgments can be made. That is to say, both representation and justice require a foundational theory. It is precisely such a theory that postmodernism would challenge, on the grounds that it is a theory which is always tacitly founded upon injustice and upon the covert violence of totalization. Habermas would agree that no necessary foundation for a social formation exists prior to human beings in community. But he has consistently argued for the necessity of struggling towards the fabrication of a society founded upon a rational consensus. Lyotard challenges this on the grounds that consensus without the prior exercise of power and without covert injustice seems to be impossible; and on the grounds that such a consensus, which would of necessity conceal and act as a cover for the violences and injustices upon which the social is founded, may therefore not even be desirable. For Lyotard, there is, in any achieved consensus, necessarily repression or, worse, oppression.38 In order to circumvent this, he advocates that we multiply differences and that we bear witness to the differend, a term taken from legal discourse. A differend arises under specific circumstances: two opposed parties in a dispute are each in the right according to their own terms of reference; the terms of reference of each party cannot accommodate, or refuse to accommodate, the other party; and there is no common ground or third set of terms of reference which will allow an adjudication between the two parties while respecting their own terms of reference. In short, a differend arises when we lack a theory which will encompass radically divergent (‘pagan’) narratives. This may arise in a court of law; but, for Lyotard, it arises everywhere as an issue of justice and representation.39 Neither party to a differend can find an adequate representation of itself in the language-game of the other party. Each therefore feels violated by its insertion into that language-game. Further, we lack a ‘neutral’ or monotheistic theory which can encompass and adequately represent both parties. In the absence of criteria upon which to make the necessary judgments, how then do we judge?40 Judgment and representation are intimately related in the postmodern. The just has always been closely linked to the true; and justice depends upon a revelation of truth. There is a clear structural similarity between this and a Marxist hermeneutic. The project of an ideological demystification starts from the presupposition that a text (or the object of any critical judgment) is always informed by a specific historical and political nexus, and that the text is the site for the covering over (or disappearance) of the contradictions implicit in this historical conjuncture. The task of critical judgment here is in the first instance epistemological: it involves the necessary revelation of a truth lying concealed behind an appearance. But it is precisely the opposition between ideological appearance on one hand and foundational or true reality on the other which the postmodern puts under speculative pressure. As Baudrillard has argued, the real in our time is no longer what it used to be. Technology has made it possible to confound the separation between the authentic and the fake, between the real and its representation, in ways far more radical than even Benjamin imagined. Yet that separation, of course, is precisely the separation required for a foundational philosophy or for any philosophy which has a strong investment in a univocal and transcendental notion of truth. The postmodern eschews any such simple access to the true or to foundational criteria upon which to base its acts of criticism or of judgment. We live increasingly in the time of what Debord aptly called ‘the society of the spectacle’. Our politics, and our justice, have become increasingly ‘spectacular’, a matter of ‘show trials’ and ‘live’ television courtroom drama. A poignant icon of this state of affairs is to be found in the example, often cited by Paul Virilio, of the women of the Plaza de Maya in Buenos Aires, who congregate in silence at regular intervals simply to bear witness to their relatives who have been made to ‘disappear’ by a cruel politicomilitary regime.41 Political systems—including soi-disant ‘democratic’ systems— increasingly deal with dissident thought by controlling and regulating its appearances; and, on occasion, dissident thinkers themselves are entirely ‘disappeared’ either directly by force or indirectly by bureaucratic measures. The essence of the political in our time is formulated not upon the old—the ‘modernist’—relation between appearance and reality, but rather upon the relation between appearance and disappearance. Increasingly, the real itself is subject to this relation as well, when, for a random instance, the reality of the Gulf War of 1990 was reduced to the status of a video game, death and destruction disappearing until such times as the military decided it was appropriate for their reappearance before the population to be acceptable.42 Fundamentally, this shift has affected the status of knowledge upon which judgment and representation are based. The opposition of appearance to reality assumes necessarily that the Object of knowledge is stable, and that there exists a model for the Subject of knowledge which is transcendent. But in the postmodern mood, this has been contaminated by a historicity and mutability which render both Subject and Object unstable. As a result, knowledge itself—predicated upon a stable relation between the Subject and Object of knowledge, upon a moment of anagnorisis or recognition producing the Identity of the Subject—has entered into crisis. This crisis was foreseen by Kant. In the Critique of Pure Reason Kant faced up to the question of the scientificity—by which he meant verifiability—of knowledge about the world; and he argued there for the necessity of a priori judgment in such matters. But more than this, he argued that an a priori knowledge gleaned simply from an analytic methodology would simply tell us a great deal about the methodology, and not necessarily anything new about the world: it would provide only anamnesis. That is to say, to perceive the world at all, consciousness needs a form in which to comprehend it; that form—the analytic method of perception—serves primarily the function of selflegitimation. Kant, like the contemporary postmodernist, wanted the world to be able to shock us into new knowledge, into the unforeseen and unpredictable. For Badiou, who makes a clear—and we might now say ‘Kantian’—distinction between truth and the accumulation of knowledges, for instance, ‘what is clear is that the origin of a truth is of the order of an event’.43 Kant wanted the world to be able to shock us out of the ideological conditioning of our consciousness’s structures. He wanted, thus, what he called the synthetic a priori, which would exceed the analytic a priori. The synthetic would not only confirm the method of epistemological analysis of the world; it would also allow for the structural modification of the very analytic method itself to account for and encompass a new given, the new and therefore unpredictable data of the world. It would thus provide not just anamnesis but what we would now call the event of knowledge, or knowledge as event rather than fact. In the Critique of Judgment, this distinction between analytic and synthetic more or less maps directly on to a distinction between determining and reflective judgments, a distinction made much of by Lyotard in the question of postmodern justice. In a determining judgment, an analytic method determines—predetermines—the result of the judgment: as in mathematics, say, where the structure of arithmetic determines the result of its internally generated problems, such as those of addition or subtraction. In reflective judgment, we have a different state of affairs, for here, as in our judgments about the aesthetically beautiful, there are no predetermining rules in accordance with which we can verify our judgments: we judge ‘without criteria’, in the phrase made famous by Lyotard. In short, this means that we judge without a predetermining theory. Judgments, we could say, are replaced by acts or by events of judging: the aesthetic form of justice is replaced by the political event of justice. In this state of affairs, the operation of reason extends itself beyond its own internally coherent framework and attempts to grasp—or to make—the new. This extension is one in which we can see a shift in emphasis away from scientific knowledge towards what should properly be called narrative knowledge. Rather than knowing the stable essence of a thing, we begin to tell the story of the event of judging it, and to enact the narrative of how it changes consciousness and thus produces a new knowledge. The postmodern prefers the event of knowing to the fact of knowledge, so to speak. But the central problem remains: how can one legitimize an ‘event’ of judging? With respect to what can one validate what must effectively be a singular act? For Lyotard, a credulity towards metanarratives (i.e., subscription to a prevailing theory against whose norms single events of judging might themselves be judged and validated) is tantamount to a concession to systems theory. Even Habermas, who is opposed to Lyotard on many counts, opposes this, seeing that in such systems theory ‘belief in legitimacy…shrinks to a belief in legality’.44 For Habermas, communicative action can lead to the establishment of consensus, which would provide the necessary—if always provisional—grounds upon which to make our judgments. But Lyotard would see the establishment of consensus as a means of arresting the flow of events, in such a way that truth would be reduced to an accumulation of knowledges. That is to say, in short, that consensus is the means whereby a philosophy of Becoming is reduced to a philosophy of Being. The modernist assumes that it is possible to pass from Becoming to Being; the postmodernist believes that any such move is always necessarily premature and unwarranted, and that its primary victim is truth in the guise of the event. Politics, as we usually think it, depends upon consensus; most often, such consensus articulates itself under the rubric of ‘representation’, in which there is first an assumed consensus between representative and represented, and second the possibility of consensus among representatives. This is bourgeois democracy, and, for the postmodernist, hardly a democracy at all. In place of such a politics, the postmodernist makes the demand for a justice. Justice cannot happen under bourgeois democracy, which is always grounded in the tyranny of the many (and even, of course, in many ‘democratic’ systems, on the tyranny of the few—on the hegemonic control of thought and of mediatic representations, appearances and disappearances, exercised by a few who mediate the norms of a social formation). We may no longer be able to legislate comfortably between opposing or competing political systems, for we can no more subscribe to such totalizing forms; but we can address the instance, the event, of judging and of justice in its singularities. Here lies the basis of the ethical demand in the postmodern, a demand whose roots lie in the work of a philosopher such as Levinas. We must judge: there is no escape from the necessity of judging in each particular case. Yet we have no grounds upon which to base our judgment. This is profoundly akin to Levinas: I have spoken a lot about the face of the Other as being the original site of the sensible…. The proximity of the Other is the face’s meaning, and it means in a way that goes beyond those plastic forms which forever try to cover the face like a mask of their presence to perception. But always the face shows through these forms. Prior to any particular expression and beneath all particular expressions, which cover over and protect with an immediately adopted face or countenance, there is the nakedness and destitution of the expression as such, that is to say extreme exposure, defencelessness,vulnerability itself…. In its expression, in its mortality, the face before me summons me, calls for me, begs for me, as if the invisible death that must be faced by the Other, pure otherness, separated, in some way, from any whole, were my business.45 The ‘face-to-face’ implicates us in a response, in the necessity of sociality. We must behave justly towards the fact of the Other; but we cannot do that according to a predetermined system of justice or a predetermining political or ethical theory. The Other is itself always other than itself; it is not simply a displaced Identity in which we may once more recognize and reconstitute our self. The demand is for a just relating to alterity, and for a cognition of the event of heterogeneity. In short, therefore, we must discover— produce—justice. Here, for Lyotard and many others is the real political burden of the postmodern: the search for a just politics which will respect the differend that constitutes the event. THE NEW PESSIMISM Postmodernism has thrown the very fundamental notion of critique into doubt. It asks two basic questions of critique: first, given that, in order to be consistent internally, critique must have a theoretical foundation, how does it escape the injustice of violence; second, is critique not always accommodated by and within the existing totality of its ostensible object, and thereby rendered at best redundant and at worst complicit with its own defeat? Many conclude, as a consequence, that postmodernism is nihilist through and through, and that it gives succour to a contemporary socio-cultural and political state of affairs in which late capitalism carries on unabated and uncontested. This view causes a particular concern among critics of culture, who, coincidentally with the rise of postmodernism in philosophy, have striven to validate mass and popular forms of culture, and who therefore see the work of critical philosophy to be thoroughly enmeshed in matters of general political interest. It is a widely held belief that the postmodern has somehow eradicated the boundaries supposed to exist between ‘high art’ and ‘popular culture’. This is largely due to an understanding, deriving largely from Jameson, that the fundamental trope of postmodernism in art is pastiche, a ‘parody without purpose’.46 While modernists would cite or refer intertextually to a wide range of other artistic products (Joyce using Homer, say), they would do so for some specific ends. Postmodernists, it is argued, reiterate the same structural strategy of quotation, partial misrepresentation and so on, but they do this simply for the sake of it. In short, where modernism’s strategy of quotation sent the Subject from one signified to another, postmodernism’s similar strategy stays defiantly at the level of the signifier. We watch a rock video, in which allusions will be made to Hitchcock, say, and which may use archive cinematic footage; but the point is simply to play with such references and not to assign any governing ‘meaning’ or intentionality to them. This is an ‘ad hocism’ which has seen its counterpart in some forms of contemporary architecture, where some architects have explicitly tried to accommodate their design to the various tastes and demands of a variegated community. Typically, contemporary popular art-forms plunder, and thereby question the ‘value’ of, the forms of high art, which are often deemed to be obstructively monumental. Modelling themselves on Duchamp, whose ‘ready-mades’ or ‘LHOOQ’ derive their power from the questioning of all modes of ‘originality’, contemporary artists frequently ‘sample’ or repeat the ‘great works’ of the past. In fact, as a result of this, much of the popular cultural product which goes under the name of the postmodern in our time is actually simply a continuation of the modern. It is frequently characterized by fragmentation instead of unity, by intertextuality or autoreferentiality instead of reference, by the prioritization of the signifier over the signified, and similar tropes and figures as we found in Joyce, Proust, Mann, Gide, Picasso, Kandinsky, Schoenberg, Stravinsky and others. There is an important distinction, however. If the allusions and cultural crossreferences made in contemporary popular art are not grasped by an audience, then so be it. There is nothing to be gained by such knowledge, which would only allow for the selfsatisfying congratulation of narcissistic self-recognition and self-legitimation as a ‘connoisseur’. The fundamental argument here is based upon a rather cheerful ‘degradation’ of knowledge, or at least a degradation of knowledge-as-fact in favour of knowledge-as-event. Knowledge here has become nothing more than the next ‘byte’ on the computer screen, the next 30,000 pixel-image, the next software package. It is important to indicate that this is as much an effect of the technology of postmodernity as it is of any philosophical determinants of the cultural practices of postmodernism. For the philosopher or intellectual who assumes that his or her position is to be that of the critic whose criticisms are based upon knowledge, enlightenment, the pursuit of truth or at least of the better arguments in the interests of the construction of a ‘rational society’, this surely provokes a dismal pessimism. Yet it would be true to say that this kind of pessimism is, in a sense, rather banal. With this form of pessimism, there yet remains the hope of Enlightenment, of an enlightenment possessed by the critic and therefore available to others. What is at stake in postmodernism is a much more rigorous form of Pessimism, one which will act as a philosophical counter to the Optimism on which Enlightenment and modernity are fundamentally grounded. As I indicated earlier, such Optimism projects into the future a moment of redemption of the present. It suggests the possibility and even the eventual necessity of a coincidence between intellection and material practice, between aesthetics and politics, between ‘I’ as the Subject of consciousness and ‘me’ as its Object. Thereby it suggests the immanence as well as the imminence of a moment of self-presence; and fundamentally, therefore, such an Optimism can be seen to be predicated upon a philosophy of Identity. If the postmodern is distinguishable from the modern, the distinction lies in the willingness of postmodernism to countenance and indeed to encourage a philosophy of alterity. The Pessimism of the postmodern lies in a realization that the future will not redeem the present; that the material world may be thoroughly resistant to consciousness and to our determination to master it by signification; that history, in short, does not exist for the Subject. Such a Pessimism, of course, has nothing to do with an emotion of sadness. It is, rather, of the philosophical order of an ethical demand. If the crude formulation of Optimism is that ‘all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds’, then Pessimism does not strictly speaking simply or simplistically state the reverse, that ‘all is for the worst in the worst of all possible worlds’. Rather, it takes as its first step the acknowledgement, even within modernist Optimism, that there are a number of ‘possible worlds’. It advances from this that these possible worlds may exist simultaneously (in the form, say, of ‘first’ world, ‘Third’ world, ‘underdeveloped’ world, and so on), and that we should bear witness to the differend which constitutes their mutual relations. We cannot therefore homogenize these worlds, nor can we hierarchize their order of priority or normativity. We are in no position to speak of the ‘all’, and therefore cannot describe it as being either ‘for the best’ or ‘for the worst’: the ‘all’ is, in fact, precisely the kind of homogenizing semantic trope which postmodernism would counter with ‘the local’ or, better, the ‘singularity of the event’. The singularity of the event always implicates the Subject in an act of judgment, and such judgments, made without criteria, are best faced both stoically and ethically.47 Postmodern Pessimism derives from the realization that ‘the just’ can never be formulated; the positive aspect of such Pessimism lies in the realization that the just must be enacted, invented. History may not exist for the Subject; but the Subject must ‘just’ exist. NOTES 1 For a full indication of the scope of these debates, see T.Docherty (ed.), Postmodernism: A Reader (Hemel Hampstead: Harvester-Wheatsheaf, 1993), and C.Jencks (ed.), The Postmodern Reader (London: Academy Editions, 1992). 2 Onís (ed.), Antologia de la poesia española e hispanoamericana (Madrid, 1934); A.Toynbee, A Study of History, vol. 1 (1934; 2nd edn, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1935), p. 1, note 2, and vol. 5 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1939), p. 43. For a fuller documentation of the history of the term ‘postmodernism’, see M.Köhler, ‘“Postmodernismus”: Ein begriffsgeschichtlicher Überblick’, Amerikastüdien, 22:1 (1977). 3 H.White, Metahistory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973; repr. 1987). pp. 61–2. 4 E.Auerbach, Mimesis (1946; trans. W.R.Trask; repr. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), p. 552. See my comments on what, theoretically, is at stake in this text in T.Docherty, After Theory (London: Routledge, 1990), pp. 122–3. 5 L.A.Fiedler, ‘The New Mutants’, Partisan Review, 32 (1965):505–6. The distinction between aesthetic postmodernism as mood and political postmodernity as a periodizing term has often been seen as a state of affairs productive of a specific ‘schizophrenia’. For more on this, see F.Jameson, Postmodernism (London: Verso, 1991), pp. 25ff.; and cf. the work of Deleuze and Guattari and those thinkers usually grouped under the rubric of ‘anti-psychiatry’, such as Rollo May, David Cooper, R.D.Laing, Norman O.Brown and others. 6 See, e.g., J.Habermas, Theory of Communicative Action, 2 vols, trans. T. McCarthy (London: Heinemann, 1984); Habermas, Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, trans. F.G.Lawrence (London: Polity, 1985); F.Jameson, Late Marxism (London: Verso, 1990); E.Mandel, Late Capitalism (London: Verso, 1978). 7 J.Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition [14.44], xxiv. Lyotard indicates that such a definition is ‘simplifying to extremes’; and later, in Le Postmoderne expliqué aux enfants [14.34], 40, he points out that in this text he overstressed the narrative genre. 8 Lyotard, Postmodern Condition, [14.44], 81. 9 For more on the event, see Lyotard, ‘The Sublime and the avant-garde’, in A. Benjamin (ed.) [14.47] and cf. G.Bennington, Lyotard: Writing the Event (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988). On justice, see Lyotard, Le Différend [14.30] and Lyotard and J.-L.Thébaud, Au juste [14.41]. 10 T.Adorno and M.Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944; trans. J. Cumming, London: Verso, 1986), p. 6. 11 P.Gay, The Enlightenment, vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966), p. xiii. 12 Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic, p. 3. 13 Ibid., p. 6. 14 Ibid., p. 7. 15 Ibid., p. 9. 16 Lyotard, ‘Svelte Appendix to the Postmodern Question’, trans. T.Docherty, in R.Kearney (ed.), Across the Frontiers (Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1988), p. 265. 17 See, for examples, J.L.Austin, How to do Things with Words 2nd edn, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975); K.Burke, Language as Symbolic Action (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966); S.Fish, Self-Consuming Artifacts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), and Is there a Text in this Class? (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980); W.J.T.Mitchell (ed.), Against Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), which includes a ‘more-pragmatist-than-thou’ statement by Richard Rorty, the most explicitly ‘New Pragmatist’ of current pragmatic theorists. 18 Paul de Man, The Resistance to Theory (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986), p. 11. See also G.Frege, ‘On Sense and Meaning’, in M.Black and P.T.Geach (eds), Translations from the Philosophical Writings of Gottlob Frege (Oxford: Blackwell, 1952). 19 On the philosophical deconstruction of such identity, see, e.g., V.Descombes, Modern French Philosophy, trans. L.Scott-Fox and J.M.Harding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), p. 38. 20 Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic, p. 7. 21 Ibid., p. 13. 22 See M.Foucault, Folie et déraison (Paris: Plon, 1961). 23 Voltaire, Candide (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968), passim; John Milton, ‘Paradise Lost’, in B.A.Wright (ed.), Milton: Poems (London: Dent, 1956), p. 218 (Bk iv, line 112) and p. 164 (Bk i, line 253). Cf. my comments on this in Docherty, On Modern Authority (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1986), ch. 7. 24 H.Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age (1966), trans. R.M.Wallace (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1983), p. 404. 25 The indebtedness of this mode of thinking to the proto-existentialist Kierkegaard should be clear: the sense that one was always ‘embarked’ and that the grounds upon which one makes judgments are constantly shifting was always close to the centre of Kierkegaardian thinking. 26 See, e.g., C.Jencks, Postmodernism (London: Academy Editions, 1987), and P. Portoghesi, Postmodern (New York: Rizzoli, 1983). 27 See D.Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989). 28 See K.Frampton, ‘Towards a Critical Regionalism’, in H.Foster (ed.), Postmodern Culture (London: Pluto Press, 1983). 29 J.-F.Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition [14.44], xxiv. For the suggestion that this is over stated, see Lyotard, Le Postmoderne expliqué aux enfants [14.34], 40. SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY What follows here is a list of titles by Lyotard and by Baudrillard which are relevant to the theme, concept, practices or philosophies of postmodernism. Given the fact that postmodernism is explicitly eclectic, it does not comprise a representative selection of the writings available on postmodernism. For a more detailed bibliography of postmodernism, as opposed to a list of the writings of Lyotard and Baudrillard, the reader should consult the following texts: S. Connor, Postmodernist Culture (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989); T.Docherty, Postmodernism: A Reader (London: Harvester- Wheatsheaf; New York: Columbia University Press, 1993); L.Hutcheon, A Poetics of Postmodernism (London: Routledge, 1988). Baudrillard Primary texts 4.1 Le Système des objets, Paris: Gallimard, 1968. 4.2 La Société de consommation, Paris: Gallimard, 1970. 4.3 Pour une critique de l’économie politique du signe, Paris: Gallimard, 1972. 30 W.Benjamin, Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. H.Zohn (Glasgow: Fontana, 1973), p. 258. 31 See, e.g., Lyotard, Rudiments païens [14.27] and Instructions païennes [14.26]. 32 Z.Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (Oxford: Polity Press, 1979), p. 7. 33 Ibid., p. 8. 34 Ibid., pp 202–3. 35 Ibid., p. 203. 36 J.Baudrillard, Simulations [14.19], 25. 37 See J.Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, trans. A.Bass (Brighton: Harvester, 1982), p. 213. 38 Lyotard and R.Rorty, ‘Discussion’ [14.49], 581–4. 39 See Lyotard, Le Différend [14.30]. 40 For a full exploration of this notion of ‘judging without criteria’, see Lyotard and Thébaud, Au juste [14.41]. 41 See G.Debord, La Société du spectacle (Paris: Buchet-Chastel, 1968); P.Virilio, L’Horizon négatif (Paris: Galilée, 1984), esp. cinquième partie. 42 See J.Baudrillard, La Guerre du golfe n’a pas eu lieu [14.15], and C.Norris, Intellectuals and the Gulf War (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1991). 43 A.Badiou, Manifeste pour la philosophie (Paris: Seuil, 1989), p. 17 (trans. T. Docherty). 44 J.Habermas, Legitimation Crisis, trans. T.MacCarthy (London: Heinemann, 1976). 45 E.Levinas, The Levinas Reader, ed. Séan Hand (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), pp. 82, 83. 46 See F.Jameson, ‘Postmodernism; or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism’, in his Postmodernism (London: Verso, 1991); and see also the various earlier, and more influential, forms of Jameson’s essay in Foster (ed.), Postmodern Culture (where it appears as ‘Postmodernism and Consumer Society’) and in New Left Review, 146 (1984):56–93. 47 On such stoicism, see G.Deleuze, Logique du sens (Paris: Minuit, 1969). 4.4 Le Miroir de la production, Tournail: Casterman, 1973. 4.5 L’Echange symbolique et la mort, Paris: Gallimard, 1976. 4.6 L’Effet Beaubourg, Paris: Galilée, 1977. 4.7 Oublier Foucault, Paris: Galilée, 1977. 4.8 De la séduction, Paris: Denoël, 1979. 4.9 Simulacres et simulation, Paris: Galilée, 1981. 4.10 Les Stratégies fatales, Paris: Grasset, 1983. 4.11 La Gauche divine, Paris: Grasset, 1985. 4.12 Amérique, Paris: Grasset, 1986. 4.13 L’Autre par lui-même, Paris: Galilée, 1987. 4.14 Cool Memories, Paris: Galilée, 1987. 4.15 La Guerre du golfe n’a pas eu lieu, Paris: Galilée, 1991. Translations 4.16 The Mirror of Production, trans. M.Poster, St Louis: Telos Press, 1975. 4.17 For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, trans. C.Levin, St Louis: Telos Press, 1981. 4.18 In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities, trans. P.Foss, P.Patton, and J. Johnston, New York: Semiotext(e), 1983. 4.19 Simulations, trans. P.Foss, P.Patton, and P.Beitchman, New York: Semiotext(e), 1983. 4.20 The Evil Demon of Images, Sydney: Power Institute Publications, 1987. 4.21 Selected Writings, ed. M.Poster, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1988. Lyotard Primary texts 4.22 La Phénoménologie, Paris: PUF, 1954. 4.23 Dérives à partir de Marx et Freud, Paris: Union Générale d’Editions, 10/18, 1970. 4.24 Discours, figure, Paris: Klincksieck, 1971. 4.25 L’Economie libidinale, Paris: Minuit, 1974. 4.26 Instructions païennes, Paris: Galilée, 1977. 4.27 Rudiments païens, Paris: Union Générale d’Editions, 1977. 4.28 La Condition postmoderne, Paris: Minuit, 1979. 4.29 Le Mur du pacifique, Paris: Galilée, 1979. 14.30 Le Différend, Paris: Minuit, 1983. 14.31 L’Assassinat de l’expérience par la peinture: Monory, Paris: Le Castor Astral, 1984. 14.32 Le Tombeau de l’intellectuel, Paris: Galilée, 1984. 14.33 L’Enthousiasme: la critique kantienne de l’histoire, Paris: Galilée, 1986. 14.34 Le Postmoderne expliqué aux enfants, Paris: Galilée, 1986. 14.35 ‘Sensus Communis’, Le Cahier du Collége International de Philosophie, 3 (1987): 67–87. 14.36 L’Inhumain, Paris: Galilée, 1988. 14.37 Leçons sur l’analytique du sublime, Paris: Galilée, 1991. 14.38 Lyotard, J.-F. and Chaput, T., Less Immatériaux, Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1985. 14.39 Lyotard, J.-F. and Francken, R., L’Histoire de Ruth, Paris: Le Castor Astral, 1983. 14.40 Lyotard, J.-F. and Monory, J., Récits tremblants, Paris: Galilée, 1977. 14.41 Lyotard, J.-F. and Thébaud, J.-L., Au juste, Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1979. 14.42 Lyotard, J.-F. et al., La Faculté de juger, Paris: Minuit, 1983. Translations 14.43 ‘One of the Things at Stake in Women’s Struggles’, SubStance, 20 (1978): 9–17. 14.44 The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. G.Bennington and B.Massumi, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984. 14.45 The Differend, trans. G.van den Abbeele, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990. 14.46 Peregrinations, New York: Columbia University Press, 1988. 14.47 The Lyotard Reader, ed. A.Benjamin, Oxford: Blackwell, 1989. 14.48 Just Gaming, trans. W.Godzich, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985. 14.49 Lyotard, J.-F. and Rorty, R, ‘Discussion’, Critique, 41 (1985):581–4.

Routledge History of Philosophy. . 2005.

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