- Paperback: 110 pages
- Publisher: University of Minnesota Press (1 March 1984)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0816611734
- ISBN-13: 978-0816611737
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1 x 22.9 cm
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,32,403 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Theory & History of Literature) Paperback – 1 Mar 1984
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In this book it explores science and technology, makes connections between these epistemic, cultural, and political trends, and develops profound insights into the nature of our postmodernity.
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He wrote in the Introduction to this 1979 book, “The object of this study is the condition of knowledge in the most highly developed societies. I have decided to use the word ‘postmodern’ to describe that condition. The word is in current use on the American continent among sociologists and critics; it designates the state of our culture following the transformations which, since the end of the nineteenth century, have altered the game rules for science, literature, and the arts. The present study will place these transformations in the context of the crisis of narratives…
“Simplifying to the extreme, I define ‘postmodern’ as incredulity toward metanarratives… To the obsolescence of the metanarrative apparatus of legitimation corresponds, most notably, the crisis of metaphysical philosophy and of the university institution which in the past relied on it… Postmodern knowledge is not simply a tool of the authorities; it refines our sensitivity to differences and reinforces our ability to tolerate the incommensurable. Its principle is not the expert’s homology, but the investor’s paralogy [i.e., similarity without shared ancestry].”
He observes, “When we examine the current status of scientific knowledge---at a time when science seems more completely subordinated to the prevailing powers than ever before and, along with the new technologies, is in danger of becoming a major stake in their conflicts---the question of double legitimation, far from receding into the background, necessarily comes to the fore. For it appears in its most complex form, that of reversion, revealing that knowledge and power are simply two sides of the same question: who decides what knowledge is, and who knows what needs to be decided? In the computer age, the question of knowledge is now more than ever a question of government.” (Pg. 8-9)
He states, “The ruling class is and will continue to be the class of decision makers. Even now it is no longer composed of the traditional political class, but of a composite layer of corporate leaders, high-level administrators, and the heads of the major professional, labor, political, and religious organizations. What is new in all of this is that the old poles of attraction represented by nation-states, parties, professions, institutions, and historical traditions are losing their attraction. And it does look as though they will be replaced, at least not to their former scale… A SELF does not amount to much, but no self is an island; each exists in a fabric of relations that is now more complex and mobile than ever before.” (Pg. 14-15)
He summarizes, “We no longer have recourse to the grand narratives---we can resort neither to the dialectic of Spirit nor even to the emancipation of humanity as a validation for postmodern scientific discourse. But… the little narrative… remains the quintessential form of imaginative invention, most particularly in science. In addition, the principle of consensus as a criterion of validation seems to be inadequate… The problem is therefore to determine whether it is possible to have a form of legitimation based solely on paralogy. Paralogy must be distinguished from innovation: the latter is under the command of the system, or at least used by it to improve its efficiency; the former is a move … played in the pragmatics of knowledge. The fact that it is in reality frequently, but not necessarily, the case that one is transformed into the other presents no difficulties for the hypothesis.” (Pg. 60-61)
He explains, “What, then, is the postmodern?... It is undoubtedly a part of the modern. All that has been received, if only yesterday… must be suspected… Postmodernism thus understood is not modernism at its end for in the nascent state, and this state is constant… The emphasis can also be placed on the increase of being and the jubilation which result from the invention of new rules of the game, be it pictoral, artistic, or any other… The postmodern would be that which, in the modern, puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself; that which denies itself the solace of good forms, the consensus of a taste which would make it possible to share collectively the nostalgia for the unattainable; that which searches for new presentations, not in order to enjoy them but in order to impart a stronger sense of the unpresentable… The artist and the writer, then, are working without rules in order to formulate the rules of what WILL HAVE BEEN DONE… ‘Post modern’ would have to be understood according to the paradox of the future (post) anterior (modo).” (Pg. 79-81)
This is perhaps Lyotard’s best-known and most influential book, and will be of great interest to students of contemporary philosophy and culture.
How has the status of our claim to knowledge altered? It has become, continuing the assertions of Adorno, Horkheimer, Luckacs and others, "commoditized". The attainment of knowledge, in our desperate moment, can no longer ever be regarded primarily as an end in itself, a process, as well as a product, but rather, as a defeasable means to an end. And whose end? We are reduced to scrambling for our own self-legitimizing narratives, and perhaps, in the final analysis, can find none. Of course, there are contextual variations on this theme. We are essentially curious. But even when the pressing questions of ontology and semantics - like what exactly are we doing here? - are answered in some vague, unsure, and predictably transient sense - these answers invariably develop a patina of inauthencity.
While I believe Lyotard's philosophic standpoint owes much to his reading of the Frankfurt School - their work is prerequisite to his - he deals more precisely and in more depth with the basic Enlightenment claim that information is power, which he claims, rightfully I think, to be the source of dominant egoist ethos of our current technocratic/totalitarian social forms driving our corporate masters' obsessive struggle for scientific information, esp military-related scientfic information. The obsession with mass-produced violence has become its own legitimization, as we are forced or alternately lulled into submission by ponderance of our technology and its seemingly inexhaustible capacity for simulation. The hegenomy of modern science has left us longing for so much that we really need, peace, personal safety, a clean, sustainable, and basically quiet habitat, universal rights for all sentient beings - to name a few - that not many of us are buying that so-called objectified claims to knowledge, legitimized by "reason", are really going to answer any of our problems, which are legion. Lyotard is right about our "incredulity".
I could not enter this review without citing what for me is among Lyotard's most remarkable passsages in which he discusses, among numerous other pressing issues of the current moment, "net-neutrality" and online security, close to a decade previous to the emergence of the internet, and over a quarter century before the issue reached the mainstream. Please note that this work was published in early 1979:
"Already in the last few decades, economic powers have reached the point of imperilling the stability of the state through new forms of the circulation of capital that go by the generic name of multi-national corporations. These new forms of circulation imply that investment decisions have, at least in part, passed beyond the control of the nation-states." The question threatens to become even more thorny with the development of computer technology and telematics. Suppose, for example, that a firm such as IBM is authorised to occupy a belt in the earth's orbital field and launch communications satellites or satellites housing data banks. Who will have access to them? Who will determine which channels or data are forbidden? The State? Or will the State simply be one user among others? New legal issues will be raised, and with them the question: "who will know?"
Transformation in the nature of knowledge, then, could well have repercussions on the existing public powers, forcing them to reconsider their relations (both de jure and de facto) with the large corporations and, more generally, with civil society. The reopening of the world market, a return to vigorous economic competition, the breakdown of the hegemony of American capitalism, the decline of the socialist alternative, a probable opening of the Chinese market these and many other factors are already, at the end of the 1970s, preparing States for a serious reappraisal of the role they have been accustomed to playing since the 1930s: that of, guiding, or even directing investments. In this light, the new technologies can only increase the urgency of such a re-examination, since they make the information used in decision making (and therefore the means of control) even more mobile and subject to piracy.
It is not hard to visualise learning circulating along the same lines as money, instead of for its "educational" value or political (administrative, diplomatic, military) importance; the pertinent distinction would no longer be between knowledge and ignorance, but rather, as is the case with money, between "payment knowledge" and "investment knowledge" - in other words, between units of knowledge exchanged in a daily maintenance framework (the reconstitution of the work force, "survival") versus funds of knowledge dedicated to optimising the performance of a project."
The promise of freedom and stability through corporatized ownership of the world's resources and markets (globalization) is a metanarrative we can simply no longer afford - and the putative effectiveness of corporate modelling as a structural principle for social organization is a uptopian myth which must be publically debunked, asap - for our survival requires a new level of caring - a new ethical concientiousness. We cannot afford acts of ecological carelessness or unconscious, blatent disregard, in the name of outworn ideology. We cannot continue to curtail access to knowledge through some sort of cultural spin, weighted to the random prefrence of the status quo. The current push toward media consolidation is yet another symptom of the same terminal trend to smaller and smaller group decision-making. If knowledge is power, which is what enlightment and its socio-ecomonic cultural expression, capitalism, avers, then power must, at the least, remain accessible to all sentient beings, at least within the purview of their aspirations.