Reading Guide to: Lyotard, J - F (1986) The Post - Modern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, Manchester: Manchester University Press
Foreword by Jameson
This work contains several themes:
(1) The consequences of new views of scientific research, such as those of Kuhn and Feyerabend [and Lakatos on the role of the research programme, although this seems little credited].
(2) A polemic against Habermas on legitimation and communicative competence
(3) Lots of descriptive material on post-modernism as an aesthetic, and on its diagnosis of socio-economic conditions, as in terms such as 'media society', 'society of the spectacle' (as in Debord), consumer society (Lefebvre), and 'post-industrial society' (Daniel Bell).
(4) Some methodological pieces, for example on narrativity
Addressing the first theme, Lyotard argues that doing science now raises the question of legitimation, especially after Kuhn and Feyerabend. This is now part of the general 'crisis of representation, in which an essentially realistic epistemology, which conceives of representation as the reproduction, for subjectivity, of an objectivity that lies outside it -- projects a mirror theory of knowledge and art whose fundamental categories are those of adequacy, accuracy, and truth itself' (viii). This crisis is especially damaging for science, and Lyotard tries to save the 'coherence of scientific research and expertise by recasting [it] in terms of linguistics, and in particular of theories of the performative (J L Austin)' (ix). What this means is that science has to produce more work, new ideas or 'best of all (and returning to the move from the aesthetics of modernism), again and again to "make it new"' (ix).
This leads to a reconstruction of older forms of legitimation as myths, as 'narrative archetypes', promising the liberation of humanity and or the speculative unity of all knowledge. There are hints here of rivalries between French and German philosophy, says Jameson, which leads to an endless spiralling debate: this accusation, however is brought against targets such as Deleuze's celebration of schizophrenia, Adorno's denunciations of reification and fetishism in culture, the French affirmation of the decentred ego, and critical theory's defence of psychic autonomy
The second theme points to Habermas especially as guilty of both mythical claims. Habermas also sees himself as offering an alternative response to the eclipse of marxism in France, and the emergence of neo-conservatism. Lyotard thinks that Habermas's vision of communicative community is the last remnant of a concern for totality, leading to deep conformism and even a 'terrorist' notion of consensus.
[Jameson then addresses the 4th theme, for some mysterious reason -- was he never teacher trained?] Austin and linguistic philosophy is now celebrated in France, as a way of overcoming the static implications of French structural linguistics. The emphasis now is on pragmatics, on language games as the 'taking of tricks... the trumping of a communicational adversary' (xi). This review leads to seeing narrative as a 'central institution of human mind and a mode of thinking as fully legitimate as that of abstract logic' (xi). Narrative expresses story telling knowledge, which was partially eclipsed in positivism in favour of abstract, denotive, logical cognitive procedures. Now, after sciences legitimation crisis, narrative has been revived. Indeed, science itself has become seen as a set of narratives or stories, and narrative units are a vital everywhere locally. However globally, narrative is in crisis, because it can no longer depend on legitimating metanarratives. Jameson himself thinks that metanarratives have not been abandoned, despite the famous 'scepticism towards' them, but remain 'underground', with an 'unconscious effectivity as a way of "thinking about" and acting in our current situation'-- and act in Lyotard's text (xii).
Lyotard draws on Nietzsche on the differences between science and narrative knowledge -- they differ in terms of temporality, especially the relation to the past. Narrative 'consumes' the past, in order to forget it, and time ceases to be a support for memory [what I think this means is that meaning arises from sequence, producing timeless themes?]. By contrast, science 'stores, hoards and capitalises' on the past, managing it via range of 'institutional objectifications... writing, libraries, universities, museums... micro storage... data banks... whose control or even ownership... is one of the crucial political issues of our time' (xii--xiii). [This seems to be associated with a rather uncritical 'gee whiz' view of the role of knowledge as it explodes beyond control in post-industrial society].
Returning to the third theme [!], a knowledge-based society produces problems for Marxist categories especially. It is true that companies are increasing their attempts to own and monopolise knowledge, but the working class as a revolutionary agent is absent. We need to think out new categories, for example to grasp the impact of bureaucracy.
Jameson himself still thinks there is a Marxian alternative, however, if Marx is reworked along the lines suggested by Mandel (especially in his Late Capitalism, Mandel 1975). [These points were much extended in Jameson 1991] All the trends noted by Daniel Bell can be reworked in this Marxist perspective, as everything becomes fully mechanised and industrialised. This view would also be consistent with Critical Theory on the culture industry and the penetration of commodity fetishism into the imagination and the Psyche. It would agree with Debord that 'image is the last stage of commodity reification'. The relation to the labour theory of value and to social class is more problematic, but we would retain a general commitment to the idea of a 'mode of production' -- the key test for a radical for both Jameson and Lyotard.
Lyotard himself is committed to a critical role for experimental and avant-garde art, and here he is very close to Habermas and other modernists. He is against the idea of post-modern culture as offering a radical break with the modern -- the postmodern is a 'moment in the perpetual revolution and innovations of high modernism... as a cyclical movement' (xvi). Culture possesses a dynamic which keeps it ever ahead of commercialism and commodification, providing the basis for a revolutionary political aesthetics, centred on the idea of critical negation.
Habermas's view is based more on actual politics in Germany, hence his view that post-modernism is a rejection of the revolutionary potential of modernism, and return to conservatism (Habermas 1981). Jameson confirms this view by citing post-modern architecture as a 'return of all the old anti-modernist prejudices' [as in the return to cosy neo-Georgian housing in Britain?], although he admits that revolutionary modernist plans also failed to break capitalism, and became accommodated in it. Thus both Habermas and Lyotard still see some mileage in the return to high modernism, although both are over-moralistic: they both see the social conditions for change as available already.
Post modernist architecture does celebrate the superficial against the 'proto-political vocation and terrorist stance of older modernism' (xviii) [as in compulsory housing of workers in tower blocks?]. It also celebrates the eclipse of unwelcome emotions -- depth, but also 'anxiety, terror, the emotions of the monumental'. It does offer a 'rich and creative movement', although it does raise the issue of ethics. Lyotard's own reservations reveal his own suppressed metanarrative, agreeing with Deleuze after all that schizophrenia is the only way to survive in capitalism. Lyotard certainly prefers this to Habermas's consensual community. He sees science and knowledge today as pursuing the search for instabilities rather than consensus, for ways to undermine the existing frameworks [this reads like a kind of academic punk ethic]. He wants to celebrate marginals and guerrillas [only in thought, apparently] (xix). But this risks merely 'making ourselves at home in our own alienated being, to cite Marx (xix). It risks a merely 'imaginary resolution of real contradictions', [referenced to Levi-Strauss, to my surprise -- I thought this was a term invented by British gramscians in their work on youth culture] (xix).
Can we manage without master [or meta-] narratives of liberation and universality? Modern intellectuals denounce them -- Foucault denies the possibility of liberation in his History of Sexuality, for example. Lyotard keeps a contradictory emphasis -- he uses an metanarrative to contest capitalism rather than to apologise for it as does Bell. Science is capable of revolutionary change as in high modernism, it is non-conformist and open to the new. But this is only the 'permanent revolution of capitalist production', says Jameson, citing Marx in the Communist Manifesto. It is a pleasure and a reward of the social reproduction of the system itself (xx). This is recognised by Lyotard in the last pages, with the issues of ownership and control of all these new data banks is raised, and there are doubts about the pleasures of anarchist science as sufficient.
Extracts from Lyotard himself
There is a similarity with Habermas on the democratic potential of conversational pragmatics -- conversations break out of institutional constraints, and those constraints themselves can be made 'the stakes and provisional results of language strategies' (17). Indeed, science depends on such strategies, including narrative strategies to legitimate itself, even for the apparently easy denotive utterances -- as with all language games, these depend on a 'contract, explicit or not, between the players' (10): 'the first principle... to speak is to fight... not necessarily to win... [but for pleasure]... (but there is pleasure in winning even if only over convention)' (10).
There are criticisms of Parsons and systems theory in German thought in Section 4, and Critical Theory is also seen as necessarily utopian. These views fail to realise that there is a new social bond based on language games as some 'minimum relation required for society to exist'. [Unlike Winch, however Lyotard denies that all social relations are merely language games]. The undoubted progress made by systems theory or cybernetics arises from his ability to make unexpected moves, new moves (16). [The usual objection to seeing language games as the basis of society -- that relations of force or terror is used to try and eliminate the other player -- is mentioned on page 46, but rather briefly].
Section 4.There have been two ways to conceive of society, either as a functional whole, as in Parsons, or as a duality, based around class struggle, as in marxism. Functionalism has changed from seeing society as an organism to seeing it as a system. In Germany, systems theory has become 'technocratic', and even 'despairing' (11) -- it is aimed only at performativity, and incorporates even industrial conflict and dissent. However, at least society is still a unity. Critical Theory tries to offer something that cannot be incorporated, but its critical edge ended when class struggle ended, leaving it entirely as utopian or as token protest.
The social role of knowledge therefore seems to fall into two camps -- it helps society to function as a machine, or it should remain somehow outside of the machine. One obvious approach (Habermas's) tries to maintain there are two kinds of knowledge, positivist and hermeneutic, in order to preserve this critical space.
Section 5.Such a split is unacceptable and nostalgic. Reproduction and regulation have become increasingly computerised, and the issue now becomes one of deciding access to data. The ruling class has also changed to include corporate leaders administrators and the heads of various organisations. Nation states have also lost their social significance. A form of limited individualism is now widespread.
The ending of these familiar social groups and the bonds they offer represents a 'breaking up of the grand Narratives' (15), although much discussion is still 'haunted by the paradisaic representation of a lost "organic" society' (15). Individuals are now nodes in networks, players in a wide range of language games. They must retain some power, if only to provide novelty for the system.
This is why language games are at the centre of methodology, although it is not true that all social relations are merely language games --'that will remain an open question' (15). However, social relations are grounded in language games, which are 'already the social bond' (15).
This is not to say that purely functional mechanistic communication dominates -- someone has to formulate goals, for example. This also underestimates the 'agonistic aspect of society' (16), where each move in a language game changes both sender and receiver, and must do if there is to be novelty. Of course, language games are constrained to varying extents by institutions, and bureaucracies represent the 'outer limit of this tendency' (17). However, these limits in constraints can be stakes in the game themselves -- they do not remain static, especially when dealing with knowledge.
Section 6Knowledge in general cannot be reduced to science nor to learning -- it also includes "know how", competence that extends beyond the establishment of truth, and considers efficiency, justice, happiness, or beauty. These criteria are legitimated by being 'accepted in the social circle of the "knower's" interlocutors' (19). Such local circles remain in advanced societies.
The narrative form characterises such 'customary knowledge' (19). Popular stories help legitimate institutions and personal performances are. Narratives also permit a great variety of language games. Narratives also express a popular pragmatics -- seen immediately in the conventional openings and closings of traditional narratives. What this means is that you are only a llegitimate narrator are if you have heard the story yourself, and thus the story has an authority beyond that of the narrator: the story therefore represents a set of social conventions, to which listeners conform as well as speakers. Narratives follow rhythms and thus avoid relying on time as a support for memory.
'By way of a simplifying fiction, we can hypothesise that... a collectivity that takes narrative as its key form of competence has no need to remember its past' (22). There is a timelessness about the story, which makes it inhabitable in the present, and no individuals own the story of: thus to enact a traditional narrative is to establish a social bond, requiring no further legitimacy.
Section 7.The pragmatics of scientific knowledge are quite different. In research, the relation to truth is far more important. Addressees can assent only if they share the scientific values of the speaker. Proof of truth becomes problematic, leading to particular solutions to the problem of legitimacy -- as in verification and falsification, procedures which allow a limited consensus to be established, among peers. Teaching is required to insure that the reproduction of scientific knowledge takes place, and it is a different game than the research game. Relations are between ignorants and experts, and proof is not open to question, at least not until apprenticeship is progressing.
Science claims a monopoly so the one language game is accepted and all others excluded. In this way it cannot be used to form a social bond. A new problem of integrating science into social life then arises. Science also requires no consensus from those outside the language game. Its knowledge is always subject to falsification. Memory and the ability to run a project are very important -- which places it firmly in 'diachronic temporality' (26): it is in principle cumulative.
Science therefore co-exists with narrative knowledge, and the one cannot be used to judge the other. The emergence of science is thus the first sign of the '"loss of meaning" in postmodernity' (26). Further, science sets out to her radically question and undermine narrative knowledge, but not vice versa, and this is 'the entire history of cultural imperialism from the dawn of Western civilisation... it is governed by the demand for legitimation' (27).
Section 8. Science finally broke with narrative methodology with the development of positivism, But it still remains a an active force -- for example when scientists are trying to popularise or glamorise the history of science on TV, enabling 'science to pass itself off as an epic' (28). These popularising tendencies are essential to legitimate the State's huge expenditure on science. Science also finds itself operating with the need to forget [a version of the appealing timelessness of traditional narratives?].
The pragmatics of science emerged early -- in Plato's notion of dialogue aimed at consensus among willing partners. There is a narrative in Plato to to describe how people came to want knowledge -- the allegory of the cave. But doesn't this reliance on [originating ] narratives undermine the self sufficiency of science? Modern science simply leaves behind the search for an origin, and claims that scientific rules only found in scientific debates, needing no justification apart from consensus by experts.
Oddly, this leads to 'a renewed dignity for narrative (popular) cultures' too (30). The new middle classes also required a narrative to legitimate their authority, not in the name of a hero, but in the name of the people. The people debate and reach consensus. Modern politics has to both destroy traditional knowledge and operate with more abstract subjects. The techniques conferring legitimacy in science are borrowed in this process, but the richness of traditional narratives also persist.
Section 9.We therefore have two possible source of narrative conveying legitimation. The first one sees humanity in its heroic pursuit of liberty, relying on scientific knowledge to overthrow tradition. This narrative is grounded in primary education [seen best in the explicit deliberations on educational policy in France, no doubt]. Higher education was seen as a specialist institution to produce a technical and political elite -- and a scientific one. Such an elite was still supposed to act on behalf of the people [in Napoleonic France].
In the second narrative of legitimations, the best model is the University of Berlin, declaring that science should be left to follow its own interests. The connection with the rest of the nation was more problematic, initiating a kind of split between scientific knowledge and social and political practice. Individuals therefore had to be trained in scientific, ethical and social, and a moral and political activities. But this ideal was not to be grounded in any concrete persons or institutions -- it is embodied in Spirit, and expressed best in philosophy. Philosophy unified learning, by linking sciences together as 'moments in the becoming of spirit' (33) --'a rational narration, or rather nmetanarration' (33). This is realised in projects such as Hegel's Encyclopedia, and in institutions such as the University.
Universities like this were adopted in many other countries. Knowledge is not legitimated because it is useful, or it because it serves the interests of the State. Humanity as such is not expressed in it, but rather 'Life'or 'Spirit'. All values are based on values for Life. Truth itself become subordinated to these. But this kind of legitimation is particularly under threat --'the status of knowledge [is] unbalanced and its speculative unity broken' (35).
Legitimation reverts to a matter of permitting the liberty of humanity and its emancipation. Language games feature prescription -- statements relating to justice. Knowledge is legitimate so only if it 'allows morality to become reality' (36). This is a criterion that can leads to criticism of any actual state, but it's still implies that knowledge is only legitimate if it serves the real goals of humanity. Such a social role for knowledge means it can never be united with scientific knowledge: the latter simply provides information to achieve the goals of the former.
Marxism has flirted with both models of legitimation. When it operates in the name of some historical metasubject, such as the proletariat, it risks dictatorship as in Stalinism. When it operates as a critical knowledge, a means to emancipate humanity, it looks more like Critical Theory. Heidegger's acceptance speech as a rector under the Nazis offers yet another possibility -- university knowledge as linked to the destiny of the German Volk, offering not some total picture, but an ongoing attempt to realise the calling of the volk.
Section 10. In post-industrial society and post-modern culture, 'The grand narrative has lost its credibility, regardless of what mode of unification are uses, regardless of whether it is a speculative narrative or a narrative of emancipation' (37). The growth of technology has shifted emphasis towards the means rather than the ends of action. Advanced liberal capitalism has eliminated its alternatives. However, there are no easy causes to link social change with the decline of the grand narrative (38).
For one thing, the grand narratives themselves contained the seeds of their own delegitimation. Positivism on its own could not legitimate itself as a form of knowledge. Such positive, empirical knowledge was always 'demoted to the lowest rank, that of an ideology or instrument of power' (38). Science has always denied it should itself be grounded empirically: instead, it resorts to asserting the set of rules which define it. It comes clean as a language game. Nietzsche thought that this was one of the early ways in which it nihilism developed -- even science could not justify itself using scientific procedures. This is the source of the crisis in science -- the overall hierarchical system has been eroded. Networks of areas of inquiry replace unified activities. Universities also lose their legitimating functions, since they no longer monopolise research, and focus on teaching instead.
Science tries to legitimate itself by its connections with social and political practice, but this also has problems, because it has no special competence in those areas. It thus reverts to being a self contained language game, one among others. This is the beginnings of 'an important current of postmodernity' (40). New language games appear as science and technology progress. No one speaks all these languages, there is no universal metalanguage. Instead, 'we are all stuck in the positivism of this or that discipline of learning... the diminished tasks of research have become compartmentalised and no-one can master them all' (41). Even philosophy becomes another language game.
The Vienna Circle were aware of these tendencies, and spread them. However, we should not mourn the loss of universal languages, but grasp the possibilities, as Wittgenstein did. There might be a new kind of legitimation, not based on performativity. 'That is what the post-modern world is all about ... legitimation can only spring from... linguistic practice and communication or interaction' (41).
Section 11 discusses the growth of performativity as a criterion for scientific progress, and this links with Luhmann [against Habermas], who saw systems theory in terms of the shift to performativity procedures rather than normative laws: performance acted as a 'de facto legitimation' for systems theory (47). [Compare this with Habermas's view that the success of positivism arises from his ability to pursue a suppressed human interest in work and domination -- see file]. 'Reality' is shaped to dovetail with performativity, leading to a process of self-legitimation, because as a result, science increases its chances to be 'just' and 'right' as well. Performativity grows as the amount of information grows, demonstrating the links between power, forms of legitimation, and the growth of knowledge. It is now common for non-performative research to be not subsidised (47).
Section 12 discusses education and its legitimation through performativity. Educational policy is now all about the effective transmission of knowledge, and how it develops the performativity of the social system. For example, there is an increasing demand for skills, experts, to inform higher and middle-management, especially in 'telematics'. There is also a demand for internal cohesion -- the institutionalised version of the old emancipation narrative in education. New students are no longer just drawn from the liberal elite, nor do they simply enter this elite: there are new demands from students too for professional training and for the development of new professions. Important functions of the educational system now include job retraining, and continuing education, knowledge tailored to individuals rather than offered en bloc, education for adults to improve their pay and promotion prospects and to widen their occupational and social horizons.
These trends are not without conflict: they are not entirely equal in terms of opportunity, but reflect an increasing role of extra-university networks. This is especially likely since performativity breaks the monopoly of universities and weakens their claim for autonomy. There are no new possibilities offered by computerised didactics (50), which offer more possible choices: these are resisted and criticised 'only in the context of the grand narratives of legitimation' (51), but these are no longer the main motives in acquiring knowledge.
The real issue is power -- 'what use is it', or 'is it saleable?' becomes more important than 'is it true?'. This is not the end of knowledge but renewed growth. '[data banks]... transcend the capacity of each of their users. They are "nature" for post-modern man' (51). Mastery is replaced by an ability to forge links. Knowledge is power because learning is not about acquiring perfect information, but more to do with the ability to rearrange it. If knowledge is equally accessible, power becomes a matter of developing speed in linking data: this offers a chance to change the rules and make a new move (52). Thus there are liberating trends in interdisciplinary studies driven by use, rather than mere speculation, in 'hurried empiricism' rather than in developing a philosophy, in teamwork and brainstorming, especially if performativity is to be improved, rather than in conceiving of new academic models [I think Lyotard cannot conceal nostalgia for the old ways, though -- read it yourselves and see what you think].
There is a split between 'research' and 'transmission', apparent in actual usage, but also associated with simple versus extended forms of reproduction. Transmission can be simplified and made available more widely while research takes place still in small aristocratic groups. Research groups can include 'invisible colleges' based on publications and conferences, for example . Both can be dissociated from universities, however: professors are no more competent than databanks for transmission, or disciplinary teams for research.
Section 13 looks at post-modern science as the search for instabilities. The pragmatics of science emphasises the role of new moves and rules in language games. We no longer need presuppose a stable system where a given input produces a given output as a continuous function. New post modernist science breaks with these old conceptions. Even the notion of efficiency [performativity] is only relevant to justify research for those who award the grants (54). Legitimacy is the constant question for science itself, rather than from philosophical questioning. Scientists are now alert to the old criticisms of positivism as partial and limited, and they pursue open debates about the worth of proof and argument, deliberate dialogues which are now essential to the renewal and development of science. This soon leads to debates about statements of worth, that is legitimacy. There is no lapse into pragmatism -- pragmatism is inherent in science, and it is this that leads to paradigm change.
This example, the notion of a stable system was destroyed by quantum mechanics and atomic physics. No complete description of the system became possible without an impossibly high expenditure of energy, so that a demand for total control actually lowers performativity (55). This is the same sort of process as when bureaucratic inertia becomes dysfunctional. In both cases, the way forward is by resisting these tendencies towards inertia, rather than developing a new metanarrative (56). These are practical objections, but they appear as objections in theory too, as when the uncertainty of measurement is found actually to increase with accuracy. This is especially the case in micro physics, where the example is given of a process where as measurements get smaller and smaller, the chances of missing particles and measuring the space between them increases dramatically. Most middle-range systems are actually probabilistic enough. General problems have always arisen, for example when attempting to measure any Irigaray object at all (58).
Catastrophe theory (in Thom) has actually replaced the notion of a stable state. The paradigm case here is the example of a dog whose aggressiveness and fear are both functions of anger -- as anger increases, a massive unpredictability sets in. The control variable (anger) is continuous, but the state variables (feature, attack) are discontinuous. This leads to Thom's postulate that the determined character of the process is itself determined by local states of the process (59). This means that instability is more general and likely than the occasional 'islands of determinism'. There are parallels in recent work on schizophrenia.
These examples are more typical of modern science than a stable state paradigm. Paralogy replaces performance. Science becomes a generator of ideas, a story which science itself is bound to verify. [Paralogy is illustrated by a note 207, page 100, which suggests that scientific activity is 'making the known unknown and then organising this unknown into an independent symbolic metasystem... The specificity of science is in its unpredictability'].
Section 14 expands the notion of legitimation by paralogy. There is now no need for grand narratives, the little narrative becomes the 'quintessential form of imaginative invention, most particularly in science' (60). Consensus can arise either as Habermas predicts in his narrative of emancipation, or it can be manipulated by the system just to improve performance [note 212, on page 101 refers to Japanese consensus, and the dangers of fragility in state inspired consensus which are actually reminiscent of Habermas and Offe on motivation crisis].
Paralogy is not the same as innovation. Normal science is important, but the old paradigms are chronically likely to be destabilised. Thom's notion of 'morphogenesis' suggests that there are still rules, but these are always locally determined, producing a necessary unpredictability which 'generates blind spots [rather than transparency] and defers consensus' (61). This opposes Habermas, but raises problems equally for Luhmann's suggestion that systems theory is some kind of essence of both science and society.
Systems reduce complexity in order to function, argues Luhmann, but this leads to the [Habermas?] objection that if opinions or ignored, serious disturbance results. Luhmann's counter is to suggest that the system influences opinions and wants to make them compatible. Performativity is better than metaphysics here, says Lyotard: the emphasis on pragmatics is right and it can raise the level of self knowledge. System approaches may dehumanise, but also offer to 'rehumanise ... at a different level of normative capacity', in tune with new technocratic 'needs' (63). Science no longer identifies particular projects with some universal needs of science or social life as a whole. Any suggestion that it does or should is terroristic. Performativity delivers much more tolerance of different language games. Science is an open system, operating with no metalanguage, and thus no identification with either systems or regimes of terror.
It is easy to see there is a connection between science and social life, of course -- social rules are now apparent even in the denotive functions of science. Appeals to change the rules of science are now inherent, but this is only legitimate if it generates new ideas [this is where Lyotard needs Lakatos -- those new ideas are generated in institutions which run research programmes]. Social pragmatics which underpin social life are much more amorphous and contain lots more rules. Here now universal legitimation is possible or desirable. An appeal to argumentative discourses in Habermas is a good weapon against the closures introduced by Luhmann, but social justice is not connected to consensus.
Instead, we need to recognise the heterogeneity of language and reject terroristic attempts to overcome it. We need to recognise that any rules or consensuses must be local only, agreed by the present players, and subject to cancellation (66). This would make sure that there were only 'finite [that is limited and concrete] metaprescriptives [governing rules]'. This corresponds to common social trends anyway, such as temporary work contracts, and including temporary liaisons -- these also aid performativity [very neoconservative here!]. We need to celebrate ambiguities rather than think in terms of some total alternative which would soon come to resemble the old system anyway.
A computerised society therefore offers different possibilities -- it can aid the development of terror, or it can aid those groups discussing metaprescriptives. Free public access to knowledge would be a 'quite simple' remedy to ensure the better possibility [pretty naive optimism here].
Language games then are not about the acquisition of knowledges, but gaining knowledge itself, and this is inexhaustible. We need an outline of a new politics of justice [providing and then ensuring free access?]. We need to preserve 'the desire for the unknown' (67).
Appendix 'Answering the Question: What is Post Modernism?' [also published elsewhere]
There has been lots of reaction to experimentalism, including Habermas's attacks on post-modernism and its splintering effects. Different trends are detectable -- for example, the suspension of [rational critique] can become a call to reunite artists and the community, or a call for order. If 'post-modernism' means cynical eclecticism, it is far more to likely to restore bourgeois realism than if it means fragmentary experimentation -- but realism is no longer possible anyway, because capitalism 'derealises familiar objects, social roles and institutions' (74).
In terms of Benjamin's arguments, the emergence of photography and cinema did not threaten painting and novels just by being 'realist', which was already underway in an ideological sense. They merely did it better, speedily preserving fantasies of realism, together with universal communicable conventions. This helped to avoid the question of reality, or dismiss it as either academicism or kitsch (75). Where capital triumphs over political party, eclecticism becomes the 'degree zero of contemporary general culture' and kitsch (76). Money takes over from aesthetic criteria. However Benjamin and Adorno grasp this in too one-sided a manner -- science and industry were also becoming suspicious of bourgeois reality and the old notion that reality was grounded in consensus: they must have been to have made progress.
The experience of some lack of reality arises not only from Nietzschean nihilism, but from Kant's theme of 'the sublime'. 'Pleasure' for Kant arose from the recognition of an object as corresponding to a concept, 'beauty' from the correspondence between sentiment and the principles of universal consensus. 'The sublime', though, is different -- it arises where the imagination is unable to present an object as a case of an idea, so there can be no fusion of sentiment and universal judgment, no knowledge of the world, and no experience.
Modern art tries to present this fact of existence of the unpresentable (78). But the infinite and unpresentable cannot be presented or hinted at: it is a matter of an abstraction or a 'negative presentation' for Kant, who cites 'thou shalt not make graven images' as 'the most sublime passage in the Bible' (78).
This helps Lyotard develop an aesthetic of sublime painting, which avoids figuration or representation -- for example a painting of a white square helps us see by making it impossible to see, pleases us by causing pain (78). We can allude to the unpresentable via a presentation, although avant-gardism 'perpetually flushes out artifices of presentation', which only threatens this project. The dangers of 'repressive desublimation' mentioned by both Habermas and Marcuse refer to a Freudian notion of the sublime. This reveals they are still wedded to an aesthetics of the beautiful, not the sublime in a Kantian sense (79). [I think Lyotard is arguing that the Kantian sublime can never be repressively appropriated in culture, since it can never be represented. This is also an argument for an aesthetics that goes well beyond the avant-garde. Lyotard seems to be hoping that some postmodern aesthetic will go further -- we are far away from what is usually seen as postmodernist aesthetics, of course -- irony, intertextuality, pastiche and the like?].
Post-modernism was always a part of modernist challenge to its predecessors: it represents modernism in a nascent state. Yet there are differences from modernism: the same problem of the representation of the sublime persists, but it has not led to nostalgia for human sensibility or subjectivity. Rather, there is a 'jubilation' and an 'invigoration of being' arising from the new rules (80). It is more like Joyce than Proust.
Post-modernism is about the pleasure of reason, and an equal 'pain that imagination/sensibility is not equal to this concept' (81). It denies the 'solace of good forms', and seeks forms to make the case of the unpresentable rather than try to enjoy them in themselves. Post-modernist work is not to be submitted to the existing rules of good judgment [which appeal to some sense of beauty, rather than the sublime, as above]: the point is to discover new rules in the event itself.
No amount of searching will unify language games. Heading for totality will only bring terror, especially if it is connected to a nostalgia for the whole, a search for the 'reconciliation of the concept and the sensible, of the transparent and communicable experience' (82). There is a desire to return to terror, as a 'realisation of the fantasy to seize reality. The answer is: let us wage war on totality; let us be witnesses to the unpresentable; let us activate the differences and save the honour of the name' (82) [Very Adorno - like, I thought]
Habermas J (1981) 'Modernity versus Postmodernity' New German Critique, Winter, 3--14
Jameson F (1991) Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, London: Verso
Mandel, E (1975) Late Capitalism, London: New Left Books