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The Inhuman: Reflections on Time Paperback – March, 1992
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"Extremely important for everyone interested in issues of (post)modern literature, art, and music." (Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht Stanford University)
"In this collection of 17 essays, all written or presented between 1980 and 1989, Lyotard addresses a variety of topics related to the transition from modernity to postmodernity. . . . Addressing issues of relevance to art, music, literature, and philosophy, Lyotard's collection will be of interest to students, scholars, and practitioners in each of these areas as well as to a general readership interested in aesthetic postmodernity and the avante-garde." (Choice)
From the Back Cover
“In this collection of 17 essays, all written or presented between 1980 and 1989, Lyotard addresses a variety of topics related to the transition from modernity to postmodernity. . . . Addressing issues of relevance to art, music, literature, and philosophy, Lyotard’s collection will be of interest to students, scholars, and practitioners in each of these areas as well as to a general readership interested in aesthetic postmodernity and the avante-garde.”—Choice
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He wrote in the Introduction to this 1988 book, “We should first remember that if the name of human can and must oscillate between native indetermination and instituted or self-instituting reason, it is the same for the name of inhuman… But the stress placed on the conflict of inhumanities is legitimated, nowadays more than previously, by the fact of a transformation of the nature of the system which I believe is a profound one. We have to try to understand this transformation, without pathos but also without negligence… The term ‘postmodern’ has been used, badly rather than well if I judge by the results, to designate something of this transformation. It will be seen in the pages that follow how one can try to describe it following the general, positivist hypothesis of a process of complexification, negative entropy or, put more simply, development.” (Pg. 4-5)
He says, “Human death is included in the life of human mind. Solar death implies an irreparably exclusive disjunction between death and thought: if there’s death, then there’s no thought. Negation without remainder. No self to make sense of it. Pure event. Disaster. All the events and disasters we’re familiar with and try to think of will end up as no more than pale simulacra.” (Pg. 11) He adds, “So the problem of the technological sciences can be stated as: how to provide this software with a hardware that is independent of the conditions of life on earth.” (Pg. 13)
He begins the second chapter, “The title ‘rewriting modernity’ was suggested to me… it seems far preferable to the usual headings, like ‘postmodernity,’ ‘postmodernism,’ ‘postmodern,’ under which this sort of reflection is usually placed… neither modernity nor so-called postmodernity can be identified as clearly circumscribed historical entities, of which the latter would always come ‘after’ the former. Rather we have to say that the postmodern is always implied in the modern temporality, comprises in itself an impulsion to exceed itself into a state other than itself… Modernity is constitutionally and ceaselessly pregnant with its postmodernity.” (Pg. 24-25)
He says in a chapter on American artist Barnett Newman, “A canvas by Newman draws a contrast between stories and its plastic nudity. Everything is there—dimensions, colours, lines---but there are no allusions. So much so that it is a problem for the commentator. What can one say that is not given?... SO many expressions of a feeling which does have a name in the modern aesthetic tradition…. the sublime. It is feeling of ‘there’… There is almost nothing to ‘consume,’ or if there is, I do not know what it is. One cannot consume an occurrence, but merely its meaning. The feeling of the instant is instantaneousness.” (Pg. 80)
He observes, “Photography brings to its end the programme of metapolitical ordering of the visual and the social. It finishes it in both senses of the word: it accomplishes it, and it puts an end to it. Know-how and knowledge as worked out, used and transmitted through studios and schools, are objectified in the camera. One click, and the most modest citizen, as amateur or tourist, produces his picture, organizes his space of identification, enriches his cultural memory, shares his prospectings.” (Pg. 120)
In the final chapter, he suggests, “Domestic language is rhythmic. There are stories: the generations, the locality, the seasons, wisdom and madness. The story makes beginning and end rhyme, scars over the interruptions. Everyone in the house finds their place and their name here, and the episodes annexed. Their births and deaths are also inscribed, will be inscribed in the circle of things and souls with them. You are dependent on God, on nature. All you do is serve the will, unknown and well known, of ‘physis,’ place yourself in the service of it urge, of the ‘phyhein’ which urges living matter to grow, decrease and grow again. This service is called labour.” (Pg. 192) Later, he adds, “Metaphysics is realized in the physics, broad sense, operating in the techno-science of today. It certainly requires of us another mourning than the kind required by the philosophy of disaster and redundancy. The line taken is not that of the untameable, but of its neglect.” (Pg. 199)
This book will be of particular value to those interested in Lyotard’s ideas about art, etc.
To follow Lyotard's concepts it may be best to familiarize one's self with some post modern philosophy and general media theory. It is my personal feeling that those I've spoken to, that felt unclear about the work didn't understand some assumptions the text makes. First of all, the construction is brilliant, playful and participatory its self-using the medium to further convey core concepts. These ideas include mass culture's descent from reality, general concepts of linguistic reception and the important gender divisions that occur in isolated system designs.
This is a frightening series of essays, it is almost as if Lyotard was mapping relationships between economics and communication. If so, this might be the research he decided to share at the end of his life. Sadly, this is his final work. I personally find The Inhuman, essential reading for anyone working in new media, especially during our current economic climate.