- Paperback: 144 pages
- Publisher: University Of Minnesota Press; 1st edition (June 21, 1984)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0816611734
- ISBN-13: 978-0816611737
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 31 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #72,556 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Theory and History of Literature, Volume 10) 1st Edition
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Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Back Cover
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.
Lyotard's contribution to the growing fount of postmodernism was his unique take on universality, a term that he would rename as a metanarrative. In short, he opposed ferociously the notion that underlying western discourse was a solidly grounded series of "events" that proved the ongoing continuity of that discourse. Where Americans would see their country as the Land of the Free, Lyotard would add that this belief existed only in their collective consciousnesses. What really simmered beneath the surface of any of these metanarratives was a discontinuous cobwebbery of mini-narratives, none of which could be accounted for or predicted. They were simply there like a mini-cosmos popping into being in a series of Little Big Bangs.
The modern age of the previous century was founded on this totalizing concept of a metanarrative, each of which was assumed to be self-legitimating. Lyotard argued that they were not so. Whenever a majority of a population would suddenly decide that this sense of self-legitimating is now patently absurd, then the resulting absurdity would manifest itself as a fragmented view of the universe. If one could no longer see the forest for the trees it was because the over-arching and previously comforting notion of a forest was to be replaced by an infinity of trees, none of which had anything to do with the other.
One of the key concepts of The Postmodern Condition is Lyotard's relation of knowledge and power. Today there is an unfortunate tendency to place an equal sign between the two. Knowledge is not power as Lyotard acknowledges with a corollary: knowledge is the flip side of power. One cannot exist without the other, at least as far as a technological society is concerned. And western societies such as the United States and Europe had experienced a veritable explosion of knowledge that began with the Industrial Revolution and accelerated with the Age of Computers. Whatever the status of knowledge is, that status by itself has no meaning without acknowledging who either controls its dissemination or has access. Part of this duo between control and access lies in what Lyotard had borrowed from Ludwig Wittgenstein, the notion of "games." Games in Lyotard's sense has nothing to do with fun and diversion but everything to do with the manipulation of language. Language in all its forms is at base a series of utterances: spoken or written. And like any game there must be agreed on rules for their use. One may indeed change the rules of the game but only if the game-players agree to these changes. These games are played out on a diverse field of playing sources, not unlike those of chess or checkers. These various fields compose the fragments of society that in a former generation had been a metanarrative. The layers of language as they were wriggling into the collective consciousness of the players soon altered their ways into the webs of social interactions that marked human discourse. The rules of the game became the rules of society, with each society setting its own standards as to what was legitimate and what was not. To help individuals sublimate the often free-flowing morphing of rules, Lyotard posited a duality of knowledge. One was based on the now-discarded premise that all metanarratives had at their base a founding narrative. Not surprisingly, he termed this obsolete form "narrative" knowledge. In this form, knowledge needs no attempt by anyone to legitimate it. Storytellers tell stories. Singers sing songs. And poets recite poetry. Those who read these stories or listen to these songs and poems simply accept them at face value. They seem to be legitimate and so they are. The other side of this duality is "scientific" knowledge. In this form, legitimation must come from somewhere. This "somewhere" is a function of the efficiency of how the power-knowledge brokers measure it. Lyotard calls this the "performativity" of scientific knowledge.
Much of The Postmodern Condition details the extent to which mininarratives have entrenched themselves as the bases for comprehending a multiplicity of disciplines ranging from art to music to literature and to architecture. Lyotard has presented a compelling case for the widespread acceptance of the postmodern condition, but it still remains an open question as to whether western society should accept it.