CONTRADICTIONS AND CONFUSIONS IN OOO: the parallax is in the real

The principal contradiction in OOO is not that of the posited impossible relation between subject and object. It is squarely in their account of « objects », in the distinction between real objects and sensual objects. No example of a real object can ever be given, or even « alluded » to. All examples are illusory, the opposite of what people think to find in OOO.

Harman tries to get round this impossibility by means of his doctrine of « allusion », but this is to confuse « reference » and « allusion », two quite different things. All referential sciences are condemned by Harman as undermining or overmining. He pretends that « allusion » remains, but even such a tenuous signifying relation is inconsistent with the principle of withdrawal, i.e. of withdrawal from relations (to use the full title).

These contradictions and confusions are fomented by OOO, but it can only get started by ignoring them and making its audience forget, or never even notice, their existence.

In the case of his critique of Zizek’s supposed subjectivism, what Harman ignores is that Zizek has noticed these sorts of contradictions, and that Zizek’s basic step is transposing the subject-real (and not « object ») parallax into the real itself. This step is the opposite of subjectivism, and Harman misses, or travesties knowingly, this primary point (Theorem I in SEX AND THE FAILED ABSOLUTE).

Note: I am grateful to a discussion with Jack Black for helping me to clarify my ideas on this subject.

Publié dans Uncategorized | Laisser un commentaire

OOO’S TRI-REDUCTIONISM: Triple O is Triple No

Graham Harman’s problematic

(1) a simplistic binary grid of subject/object, imposed on more complex thought

(2) a false analysis of Continental Philosophy as all-subject

(3) which he considers to be mere fashion

(simplistic reductionist de-concepting marketisation of philosophy in the footsteps of Bernard-Henri Lévy and the « nouveaux philosophes »).

So he decides to create

(1) a new fashion

(2) leaving the binary intact

(3) by passing over to the other pole: all-object.

In this he is triply wrong.

Publié dans Uncategorized | Laisser un commentaire

SEX AND THE FAILED ABSOLUTE (9): « The Waistcoat » and Absolute Knowing

I have thought a lot about the first example in Zizek’s SEX AND THE FAILED ABSOLUE. Zizek summarises and comments on the short story THE WAISTCOAT, and concludes that it provides us with a good illustration of Absolute Knowing, the central concept of his book. This is high praise indeed!

This story comes at the start of Chapter One and is the incipit of the book as such. If the Introduction can be considered a retroactive summary then the paragraph on « The Waistcoat » is a prospective synopsis of the whole book, not just of Chapter One, and could just as well have come at the end.

It is rather hard to see the relation of the story with that particular chapter, and Zizek’s comments on it are brief and cryptic, as he talks of « Absolute Knowing », which is not the subject of that chapter.

(For a transcription of the paragraph see: https://www.reddit.com/r/zizek/comments/fdf2qq/russian_short_story_about_a_husband_dying_of/)

So I was puzzled as to the example’s relevance at that point of Zizek’s argument, and, given the terms of the story, as to its relevance to the book as a whole. Yet its position as incipit and its characterisation by Zizek as illustrating the central concept of the book give it salience, calling for careful consideration.

After much reflexion, I came to the conclusion that the « waistcoat » in the story functions as an analogue of our transcendentally constituted knowledge, and its relative fit to the husband’s torso corresponds to the « fit » of our knowledge with reality.

Seen in this light the story is emblematic of the fundamental problem and argument of the whole book, of its movement from the dangers of reductionism or relativism due to the parallax of the transcendental constitution of our knowledge to the resolution of this problem in the Absolute.

Since the couple’s knowledge of the progression of the wasting disease is mediated by the waistcoat, its adjustments and its fit, this knowledge can be manipulated accordingly. As the mediations pile up it becomes even more impossible for them to get at the true state of the disease’s progression.

So a displacement of investment takes place. The adjustments to the waistcoats bands lose their function as (well-meaning) manipulations, and become demonstrations of love. The move is from material game to formal game, but the game is also very concrete, its stakes are life and death.

Paradoxically it is these very concrete stakes that give an added twist of universality to the story. It takes on more general import concerning the negativity at the heart of life and of the couple as a lived experience and institution.

This general import is not limited to how we handle disease, but also (lack of) money, (frustrated ambitions), housework etc. and even « good » things, as radical negativity lies in the inescapable trauma of pure difference. (This is why a promotion, a marriage, the birth of a child, or winning the lottery can have a traumatic impact).

Our own versions of the Waistcoat predicament will be hopefully less tragic. Zizek likes to use pathological examples, but the lesson is also formal. We should not get too hung up on the concrete pathology of the content.

I would add that in accordance with Lacan’s formulas of sexuation Zizek describes the actions of the husband as being undertaken in order for his wife « not to worry », which corresponds to the masculine side of keeping up the pretence that everything is under control. Conversely, the woman acts so as to « give him hope », which corresponds to the feminine side of the « not-all », keeping the world, and thus also the future, open.

Conclusion: I admit to still being a little confused, but I wished to share my voyage of discovery. The story of the WAISTCOAT is deeper than it at first seems, as Zizek tries to convey. I try to discuss this example in a previous post, but my analysis is very tentative:

https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2020/07/30/sex-and-the-failed-absolute-5-a-puzzling-example-of-absolute-knowledge/

 

 

 

 

 

Publié dans Uncategorized | Laisser un commentaire

SEX AND THE FAILED ABSOLUTE (8): On (Failed) Dialogue

I am in the process of re-reading Zizek’s SEX AND THE FAILED ABSOLUTE and I find it a very interesting and inspiring work. It contains a very useful and systematic elaboration of Zizek’s main ontological and epistemological theses. In particular, the book contains a thorough working out of Zizek’s thesis that the (epistemological) absence of foundations for our knowledge is redoubled by the (ontological) absence of foundations in and for being.

According to Zizek, it is the absence of foundations that is foundation enough.

I read the book as presenting a metaphysical research programme in the technical sense of Karl Popper and Imre Lakatos, i.e. as presenting a very general vision of the world containing both testable and untestable elements (Popper) structured around a heuristic core (Lakatos).

Zizek’s metaphysical research programme is in explicit dialogue with other metaphysical research programmes, in particular with those of Gilles Deleuze and of Alain Badiou, and with the various new materialisms and speculative realisms.

I would also include François Laruelle, Bruno Latour, and Bernard Stiegler as important components of the current problem-situation. A neglected predecessor is Jean-François Lyotard, especially in his epistemological and ontological reworking of the death-drive.

Zizek is in dialogue with these thinkers, and with many more from philosophy’s history. « Dialogue » is a big word. In Zizek’s terms all dialogue is failed dialogue. He also explains there can be no complete epistemological or ontological closure, so dialogue is always possible.

We can see this thesis of the necessary failure of dialogue exhibited both in Zizek’s often flawed accounts of other thinkers and conversely in the many flawed or travestied readings of Zizek’s books. Unsurprisingly on this account, Zizek also misunderstands himself.

Zizek’s self-thwarting dialogue with his own thought is a great part of the dialectical force driving his research programme forward. No doubt he also self-plagiarises, we all do that, the name of this operation is ego. However, it is self-failing that is the primary dynamic.

We should be aware of this fraught, fractured, wounded incomplete, and improbable self-dialogue, and of our own, as we plunge into this eccentric, cranky, wrong-headed, unlikely, i.e. philosophical, book.

Publié dans Uncategorized | Laisser un commentaire

FURTHER NOTES ON OOO: withdrawal vs science

« Withdrawal » is not a scalar concept for Harman, it is absolute. There are no degrees of withdrawal, nor can a real object de-withdraw, not even partially. Any proposed example of an « object » is of necessity always sensual, i.e. illusory.

The thesis that objects withdraw from relations entails that objects withdraw from facts, with facts being the existence of a set of relations between objects. Factual existence is temporal, even in the case of universal or eternal facts (relating to all times). Harman’s real objects have no relation to facts or to time, and are strictly a-factual and a-temporal.

Harman’s OOO is a combination of objectal reduction and absolute withdrawal, entailing the irreality of time and the unthinkability of facts.

On objectal reductionism and the impossibility of emergence (or de-withdrawal) in OOO: https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2012/06/03/the-problem-of-change-in-harmans-ooo-how-can-a-withdrawn-object-de-withdraw/

On OOO’s a-factuality and a-temporality: https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/harmans-a-temporal-ontology-objects-withdraw-from-facts/

Given OOO’s critique of « undermining », i.e. the practice of reducing objects to smaller components, the problem is scale. In their definition of undermining « smaller » can only be used as a logical concept. Its meaning must be logically rather than physically smaller as breaking an object down into waves or strings leaves us with components bigger than the composed object.

Thus OOO’s account of science is conceptually problematic, and is lacking in descriptive accuracy. It can at best accommodate an old-school atomism combined with Newtonian mechanics. Its conceptualisation of science corresponds to an outdated phase of physics: it is pre-wave mechanics, and to an even greater extent pre-quantum.

In his replies to his critics Harman relies on his standard defence that other philosophies are unable to think the « interaction of two non-human entities when not under some sort of human surveillance », and his standard example is, surprisingly, a scientific one: of the « the relation between fire and cotton », as if his position can cope with this sort of phenomenon.

Harman in fact has repeatedly shown himself incapable of thinking such interactions: https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/harmans-bad-example-a-song-of-cotton-and-fire/

On the ethical plane OOO is a doctrine of resignation and passivity: we cannot know the real object, the object we know is unreal, an « utter sham » (Graham Harman, THE THIRD TABLE), we cannot know what is or isn’t a real object. Harman’s objects do not withdraw, they transcend.

Note: I also deepen the critique of OOO for its pseudo-animation of an already over-animated capitalism here: https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2020/07/23/notes-on-object-oriented-ontology/

Publié dans Uncategorized | Laisser un commentaire

SEX AND THE FAILED ABSOLUTE (7): particular, universal, concept – a tangled heuristics

We have seen in the previous post that sometimes Zizek slips into a vocabulary of access, and that this is unfortunate. This usage can be contrasted with an analysis making use of the terms of « embodiment » and « inherence », which I think are far less likely to induce us into error than the vocabulary of « access », a terminology popularised by OOO and its archaic analysis of the knowledge relation as one of access.

« Access » indicates a short cut in the passage from the particular to the universal, without noting that this passage is itself by no means universal. It can only be a heuristic, useful in some cases but non-obligatory, requirement. Even so the impression of this passage is often the product of a retrospective re-ordering of a far more messy dis-ordered or « un-orientable » process.

In many cases one can begin with the universal and approach the particular almost as an afterthought. This is true both on the intellectual plane (identity politics as particularism is a derivative, tardive phenomenon) and the subjective plane (politics is in place before ego). There is no rule.

These neat orderly progressions (such as first particular then universal) correspond to a detached pedagogical schema imposed on a more disorderly subjectivity. The pedagogy of life and of lived political experience may, but need not, follow this schema.

The primacy of the signifier as material, and thus particular, element is of no avail here. The signifier is one face of the concept, it risks enclosing us in a pseudo-universal phase of the dialectical process because of its own associated parallax. The necessary parallax of the signifier is just as much a transcendental trap as the parallax of the concept.

The discovery of the signifier may induce a subjective revolution but its moment cannot be absolutised without falling into the trap of abstraction. This may lead in some cases to the « disappearance of the signifier », where an author appeals to some other word or set of words in order to avoid the word « signifier » becoming itself a master-signifier.

A similar phenomenon would be at work in the « disappearance of the concept ». Once one has recognised the omnipresence of the concept one can begin to think that its parallax is dangerously reinforced by the word itself, which may tend to enclose our thought in a pan-conceptualism, or pan-intellectualism. The passage by a synonym can be a useful heuristic in this case.

For example in his new book UNIVERSALITY AND IDENTITY POLITICS makes far less use of the word « concept » than in his previous book on EMANCIPATION AFTER HEGEL, Todd McGowan clarifies, quoting Hegel, that the word universality « belongs to the concept as its own », p 220.

Whereas the signifier bestraddles the type/token distinction, which is what allows it to function as an implicit concrete universal, the concept is traditionally more on the type side of the distinction and so more readily associated with the universal. The passage from signifier to concept can be seen as one path of philosophical bootstrapping oneself into access to the absolute.

Note: I have discussed above the sense of « heuristic » as one non-obligatory path amongst many, and the defects of the terminology of « access ».

This « bootstrapping » via the concept comes close to granting too much autonomy to the concept as such. While I have no absolute objection to such depictions, in a discussion whose focus is on an epistemological heuristics it may be useful to emphasise that the impetus behind such « bootstrapping » is negativity.

Note: I am grateful to a thread on twitter by Matthew Flisfeder, where he discusses the relations between particular, universal and concept. All opinions expressed in this post are my own.

Publié dans Uncategorized | Laisser un commentaire

SEX AND THE FAILED ABSOLUTE (6): ontology and epistemology of the concept

In his book SEX AND THE FAILED ABSOLUTE Zizek gives a systematic presentation of his philosophy in the form of four theorems (I – Parallax, II – Redoubling, III – Unorientability, IV – Negativity). I describe these theorems in the previous post.

Together these theorems express our relation to the Absolute and relate a series of steps towards Absolute Knowing. Sometimes in discussing our relation to the Absolute Zizek uses the terminology of « access », and talks of the modalities of our access to the Absolute. However, I think this vocabulary is untrustworthy.

We must not forget that Object-Oriented Ontology has perverted the term of « access » to create a false problem and a corresponding false solution. Knowledge is not access, the knowledge relation is not best described as one of « access ». Further, perception is not access, although both knowledge and access may require some form of access among their conditions of possibility.

We have already given names to these theorems, but they have several possible names. If our focus is epistemological we can call them respectively: Theorem I – the No Access Theorem, II – the Disrupted Access Theorem, III – the Dis-oriented Access Theorem, and IV – the Dissolution of Access Theorem.

If the « object » to be accessed, the accessing « subject » and the relation of « access » itself are instantiations of radical negativity (Theorem IV), then the picture of a subject accessing an object (or not) is far too simplistic. This access is impossible (TI – Parallax Theorem), it cannot be achieved by indirection (TII – Redoubling Theorem).

This redoubling can be epistemologically effective only when it is itself redoubled (TIII – Unorientability Theorem), allowing for the inscription of subjectivity into every moment of the quest for access, opening an unorientable space in which access itself is dissolved and dispersed.

This allows us to reply to the question of the location of the concept, and also to that of its movement. The concept is present from the beginning (TI – Parallax Theorem –  concept-ladenness). All attempts to get behind the concept to compare it to the real only serve to redouble the concept-ladenness (TII – Redoubling Theorem – all methodologies aiming to redress concepts are themselves permeated by conceptual presuppositions).

A more formal approach to revising concepts based on methodological progression fails, opening up contradiction, discontinuity, cuts, gaps, lack and disruption in and between concepts (TIII – Unorientability Theorem). This failure to achieve « access » the object is re-conceptualised as indicating the necessary inscription of unorientable subjectivity (TIII) and retroactively attributable to constitutive negativity (Negativity Theorem: Dissolution of Access).

These four steps, derived from the four theorems, are present in Zizek’s recapitulation of « The Waistcoat ». He calls them deception, redoubled deception, silent knowing, Absolute Knowing. For a summary and analysis of Zizek’s approach to this story see previous post: https://terenceblake.wordpress.com/2020/07/30/sex-and-the-failed-absolute-5-a-puzzling-example-of-absolute-knowledge/

The Concept as concrete universality is immanent self-reflexively in step three (« silent knowing ») and fully subjectively in step four. It is however present from the start, and the parallax of the concept drives the process.

Note: it follows from this analysis that Deleuze and Guattari’s account of the concept and its place is seriously flawed. The detachment of the concept from other thinking practices creates an illusion of autonomy. They re-orient a previously unoriented space to striate it with separate Zones of Thought (philosophy, art, science).

Zizek implicitly uses the Unorientability Theorem in his criticism of Badiou’s distinctions and demarcations between Being and Event, and between Truth and Knowledge. Similar considerations apply to Deleuze and Guattari’s treatment of the concept as characterising philosophy to the exclusion of other domains. We have seen that this thesis is untenable.

Unorientability is constitutive, it defeats their demarcations from within.

Publié dans Uncategorized | Laisser un commentaire

SEX AND THE FAILED ABSOLUTE (5): a puzzling example of absolute knowledge

After a general introduction (The Unorientable Space of Dialectical Materialism) which sets the context and summarises the argument, the book begins with a chapter entitled THEOREM I: THE PARALLAX OF ONTOLOGY. The incipit of this chapter contains a brief summary and even briefer analysis of a short story, « The Waistcoat », said to illustrate the concept of Hegelian « Absolute Knowing ».

The relation between this first example and the rest of the chapter is not evident, and the analysis proposed by Zizek is very compressed. Given that he praises the story as giving us an example of Absolute Knowing it may be better to see it as illustrating the whole of the book, and not just this one chapter.

The husband is sick, he is suffering from tuberculosis and ultimately dies of this disease. To hide his loss of weight he shortens the cinch of the waistcoat on one side. He does this « in order not to worry his wife ».

First Twist: Ruse

The man’s wife does the same on the other side, shortening the other band, not to give her husband the illusion that he is not losing weight, but that it is not happening as fast as he fears, that there are periods of remission, « in order to give him hope ».

Epistemology I

The waistcoat analogises our knowledge of the real. if we are constantly adjusting our knowledge to gain a better « fit » with the real and the other is doing so too, we cannot know the real, our knowledge is mere convention.

Instead of throwing out the waistcoat and substituting another each partner « fudges » the size to make it fit. Knowledge is instrumental.

This corresponds to Theorem I: the parallax of the waistcoat keeps us separate from the real as we are unable to know all the moves of adjustment at play in the game.

Asymmetry: Formulas of Sexuation

Each of the partners is hiding their ruse from the other, i.e. they are not content with just producing an appearance of (relative) health, they are trying to induce the other in error. However, the symmetry is only apparent, the result sought by each partner corresponds to the formulas of sexuation.

1) The husband is trying to produce an illusion that everything is under control, to close off the need to worry.

2) The wife is trying to produce an impression that despite his weight loss things may be more open than they seem, hope is possible

Second Twist: Redoubling

The second twist comes with the discovery by each partner of the other’s ruse: instead of the obvious reaction of calling the other out, halting the ruse, and discussing the problem openly, they continue the ruse as a new game. From material and instrumental the game becomes formal and pragmatic. We are not just confronted with errors that can be either involuntary or deliberate. We are faced with an ocean of anomalies and adjustments

Epistemology 2

If I take into account the moves of the other players in the knowledge game and I am still obliged to make further adjustments then something of the real is being touched on. The adjustments in knowledge are required by transformations in the real.

By including within our purview both the waistcoat and the ongoing adjustments a non-conventional, non-instrumental knowledge of the real is possible.

This corresponds to Theorem II:  the mutual failure to observe and know the real across an « unaltered » instrument amounts to the inscription of the subjective moves within the real to be known.

Third Twist: Unoriented Thinking

These two twists are redoubled in thought, as emblematic of a space of thinking that is opened up by the redoubling of the ruse.

The progression of the consumptive weight loss is no longer unknown degree (subjective uncertainty), it is unknowable to an unknowable degree (objective uncertainty).

This corresponds to Theorem III: the ruse itself when redoubled produces an uncertainty that becomes a mode of knowing. The wish to reassure the partner by dupery as to the progression of the illness is transformed into a wish to assure him or her of one’s love.

1) Möbius Strip: the redoubled play of ruses and adjustments leads to a situation of the coincidence of opposites (dupery/sharing, secret/explicit, silence/avowal).

2) Cross-Cap: the two ways of managing the traumatic situation of the fatal disease and its progress introduce the cut of sexual difference: a determinate state of affairs in the real becomes indeterminate in reflection.

3) Klein Bottle: the becoming aware of the game needed to continue the game displaces the object of reflection from the « game » (formal moment), which has as object disease and death, to the love of the couple playing the game (moment of subjectivity).

Fourth Twist: Retroactive Negativity

These adjustments, adaptations, twists, cuts, redoublings and paradoxical subjectivations are moments of a subtending negativity, that is reached not only at the end but at every moment along the way.

The couple of the story have been proceeding as if they were surrounded by substantial « normal » couples, and that their traumatic state of affairs is an exception to this rule. So they act to normalise their situation, by at least keeping up appearances. This is fated to fail, as no couple is normal, all couples have an absolute traumatic kernel.

This corresponds to Theorem IV: what they learn from these twists and redoublings is that negativity is there from the beginning, and is constitutive of the couple. As long as the couple perdures there is no way out, the ruses resolve nothing, nor does treating the whole thing as a game, for the game is itself deadly serious. The husband dies at the end and the waistcoat is sold back to the original merchant.

Final Remarks: On Abstraction

I hope this post has gone some way towards unpacking the sense of this story, and why Zizek could call it a figure of Absolute Knowing in a book titled SEX AND THE FAILED ABSOLUTE. Where is the sex? one may ask, and what’s so « absolute » about this foolish-seeming game? Why does Zizek conclude with « abstraction »?

I realised that the sex is to be found not in any transgressive excess of sexual passion, but in the modes of coping with the trauma, from closure and control under the conditions of exceptionality to openness and hope under the conditions of reflexivity.

The absoluteness is to be found in the passage from « faking » it to playing it through. The trauma of negativity is not something that we can talk through to resolve, as it resists full and convergent symbolisation.

The abstraction lies in acknowledging that our attempts to patch up or to cover over the cracks are empty (formal) but necessary (ritual) gestures.

Conclusion

In sum: love is a figure of real abstraction, moving in the unorientable space of traumatic divergence, hoping for moments of reprieve beyond our ability to provoke and control.

Publié dans Uncategorized | 7 commentaires

SEX AND THE FAILED ABSOLUTE (4): the heuristic core

Zizek’s SEX AND THE FAILED ABSOLUTE has an interesting and unusual structure. In the interest of de-schematising his thought he has resorted to a quasi-mathematical form of presentation: a nested layout of theorems, corollaries, and scholia.

The book contains 480 pages, and after a brief introduction (15 pages) it divides into four « Theorems » (numbered from I to IV), each followed by a « Corollary » (numbered from 1 to 4). Each theorem and corollary is followed by from three to five « Scholia » (numbered by decimal notation, e.g. 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 then 2.1 etc.). For the full table of contents see here.

Each theorem is stated and expounded in a chapter of about 50 pages on average (more or less, depending on the theorem. I will list the theorems here by chapter title, by name and by the formulation they are given in italics at the head of each theorem-chapter.

Note: the theorems are not given a name by Zizek, so I have chosen these. I have also chosen the formulation of Theorem III by quoting a very general statement within the chapter, as it is the only chapter without a formulation in italics at its head.

We shall see in surveying the four theorems that the book’s title SEX AND THE FAILED ABSOLUTE corresponds to only two of the four theorems. A more accurate title would be SEX AND THE FAILED ONTOLOGY OF UNORIENTABLE SPACES OF REAL ABSTRACTION.

1) THE PARALLAX THEOREM (or THE « FAILED ONTOLOGY » THEOREM)

THEOREM I: THE PARALLAX OF ONTOLOGY

« Not only our experience of reality, but also this reality itself is traversed by a parallax gap: the co-existence of two dimensions, realist and transcendental, which cannot be united in the same global ontological edifice » (17).

2)  THE REDOUBLING THEOREM

THEOREM II: SEX AS OUR BRUSH WITH THE ABSOLUTE

« The only way for us, humans, caught in the parallax gap, to break out of it is through the experience of sexuality which, in its very failure to achieve its goal, enables us to touch the dimension of the Absolute » (107).

3) THE UNORIENTABILITY THEOREM

THEOREM III: THE THREE UNORIENTABLES

« conceptual thinking is a matter of self-referential twists and inward-turns which, at the level of the figural, of what Hegel called “representation” (Vorstellung), cannot but appear as a perplexing paradox » (225).

4) THE NEGATIVITY THEOREM

THEOREM IV: THE PERSISTENCE OF ABSTRACTION

« In the twisted surface of unorientables that is our reality, abstraction is not just a feature of our thinking but the most basic feature of reality itself whose organic unity is always and by definition ruined » (343).

 

 

Publié dans Uncategorized | Laisser un commentaire

LYOTARD AND GRAND NARRATIVES: Lyotard, Althusser, Serres

Lyotard is not in fact against grand narratives as such, but against their dogmatically exclusive foundational use, that is why he calls them « grand narratives of legitimation ». If one subtracts the dogmatic and exclusive elements, he can accept grand syntheses as singular games or moves within a game.

The term « grand » refers to the scope, and « petit » refers to the local specific and testable activation and application. In this sense grand and petit are not mutually exclusive. A grand synthesis can be held experimentally and not dogmatically, being adapted and modified in terms of evolving considerations.

When Michel Serres claims that contemporary science provides us with an acceptable grand narrative, stretching from the Big Bang through the formation of stars and planets up to today, and which is true, he is not disagreeing with Lyotard, who he never cites. He is disagreeing with a certain usage of Lyotard that he encountered when he taught in the US, when he taught at Stanford.

Lyotard would not disagree with Serres’ grand narrative here, he would merely maintain that it was incomplete. Lyotard’s thought evolved after THE POSTMODERN CONDITION (1979) and he endorsed the scientific grand narrative of increasing complexification, but rejected its use for purposes of legitimation whether ethical or political.

The whole discussion of grand narratives is muddied because Lyotard’s thought evolved after THE POSTMODERN CONDITION, although the details are scattered and less well-known, and Michel Serres deliberately misunderstood the sense of grand narrative.

Lyotard himself came to criticise THE POSTMODERN CONDITION as too sociological and historical and came to see the postmodern as co-present with the modern, as a tendency undermining it from within, rather than its historical successor.

Lyotard’s key examples of grand narratives are the Enlightenment faith in Progress, Liberalism, Marxism, and Modernism. Their key attributes are not so much « size » or synthetic scope but their status as meta-narratives and as legitimating instances (i.e. as the source of prescriptions and proscriptions having normative force and, in principle, implementative power).

Michel Serres’ grand narrative is not just the origin story of the Big Bang and its sequels as found in Physics, but the whole saga of Big Bang-evolution of stars and planets-origin of life-evolution of humanity-history of civilisations-projected destinies of Earth and Sun-life cycle of galaxies-scenarios of the heat death of the universe and its alternatives. It is a patchwork synthesis of all the sciences.

Serres claims that this saga is the contemporary grand narrative and that it is our way of placing any event in its context and foundational for an ethics of invention. In his post-THE POSTMODERN CONDITION phase Lyotard basically accepts this scientific narrative, but he denies it universal prescriptive force, arguing that differends will always present themselves when we try to regulate thought and (political, ethical) action uniquely in its terms.

That is to say Lyotard limits this contemporary narrative, insofar as it is scientific, to the referential domain, and denies it meta-status (validity over other domains). Insofar as it is « meta- » and goes beyond the referential domain Lyotard considers that it is just one story amongst many and neither foundational for the other types of story nor supreme instance of legitimation.

Whereas in his THE POSTMODERN CONDITION phase Lyotard was willing to extrapolate « postmodern » contents from physics (e.g. quantum uncertainty, catastrophe theory) into philosophical categories, in his post-THE POSTMODERN CONDITION phase he imposed a strict demarcation of phrase-regimes.

In this aspect Lyotard came to converge with Althusser’s analysis of the « spontaneous philosophy » of scientists, and his thoughts on this subject (as I briefly summarise them here) can be seen as giving further precision to Althusser’s theses.

Note: I am grateful to Eric Sapp, whose discussion helped me to clarify my ideas.

 

Publié dans Uncategorized | Laisser un commentaire