This page is devoted to Jean-Francois’s essay “Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism?”
La question c’est quel est le postmodernisme?
Well, that’s the question, and, 11 pages later, he answers: “The answer is: Let us wage a war on totality; let us be witnesses to the unprintable; let us activate the differences and save the honor of the name.”
So we can just stop there, right?
Lyotard (as do other postmodern observers) see postmodernism arriving after World War II. The Modernist/Post-Modernist break isn’t of too much concern for this class, but that discussion yields another approach to understanding the conditions of the hegemony of Western Capitalism. However, the answer to whether or not Lyotard is a marxist is conditional…we may or may not get there tonight.
Let’s see if we can’t unpack some of Lyotard’s assumptions on Science and Technology. The major idea to understand is that Lyotard sees postmodernism as the end of Grand Narratives. Consider the multiplicity of narratives, pluralities of interpretation as fundamental to postmodern critique.
To help, let’s quote Cy Knoblauch’s (2014) description of postmodernism, which he brings up when discussing Lyotard: “Postmodernism doesn’t valorize meaninglessness; it opens up the abundance of meaning, liberating whatever has been suppressed or repressed in the interest of maintaining arrangements of power” (p. 181).
- p. 71: “From every direction we are being urged to put an end to experimentation, in the arts and elsewhere.”
- He must dislike his generation…
p. 72: “…political authority, especially when a worried public opinion encourages authority to a politics of totalitarian surveillance in the face of nuclear warfare threats.”
- Consider that but replace “nuclear warfare threats” with “war on terror” 2001-2011.
- p. 72: Via Jurgen Habermas, “the remedy for this splintering of culture and its separation from life can only come from ‘changing the status of aesthetic experience when it is no longer primarily expressed in judgments of taste,’ but when it is ‘used to explore a living historical situation,’ that is, when ‘it is put in relation with problems of existence.’”
- p. 74: “capitalism inherently possesses the power to derealize familiar objects, social roles, and institutions to such a degree that the so-called realistic representations can no longer evoke reality except as nostalgia or mockery.”
- p. 74: On the superiority of “Industrial photography and cinema…to stabilize the referent, to arrange it according to a point of view which endows it with recognizable meaning, to reproduce the syntax and vocabulary which enable the addressee to decipher images and sequences quickly.”
- Compare that to what you know about propaganda.
- p. 76: “By becoming kitsch, art panders to the confusion which reigns in the ‘taste’ of the patrons. Artists, gallery owners, critics, and public wallow together in the ‘anything goes,’ and the epoch is one of slackening.”
- p. 76: Such realism accommodates all tendencies, just as capital accommodates all ‘needs,’ providing that the tendencies and needs have purchasing power. As for taste, there is no need to be delicate when one speculates or entertains oneself.”
- Think about the above two quotations as you read Umberto Eco for next week.
- p. 78: “…the axioms of avant-gardes in painting…devote themselves to making allusion to the unpresentable by means of visible presentations.”
- p. 81: On philosophers… “it must be clear that it is our business not to supply reality but to invent allusions to the conceivable which cannot be presented.”
“I think [‘First We Take Manhattan’] means exactly what it says. It is a terrorist song. I think it’s a response to terrorism. There’s something about terrorism that I’ve always admired. The fact that there are no alibis or no compromises. That position is always very attractive. I don’t like it when it’s manifested on the material plane – I don’t really enjoy the terrorist activities – but Psychic Terrorism… I remember there was a great poem by Irving Layton that I once read, I’ll give you a paraphrase of it. It was ‘well, you guys blow up an occasional airline and kill a few children here and there’, he says. ‘But our terrorists, Jesus, Freud, Marx, Einstein. The whole world is still quaking…”
November 9, 1988 interview with Ralph Benmergui, Massey Hall in Toronto (Broadcast live on CBC radio and rebroadcast on March 11, 1990 on The Entertainers) http://cohencentric.com/2015/09/01/leonard-cohen-on-terrorism-and-first-we-take-manhattan/