Thursday, April 12, 2007

Final Reply to Matthew (b)

My deconstruction piece was meant as just a side issue but turned into a separate post itself. So this one more to the specific criticisms of the word postmodernism by Matthew. I told MD in advance I'd write these as the last for this round.

Others have taken up different avenues of criticism of Matthew. For those interested see comments section here. The basic argument from different quarters seems to be that postmodernism is about as helpful and unhelpful as a term like conservatism, liberalism, classical, etc. No better, no worse. But I'll let those deal with those aspects.

But in that thread, Joe Perez asked a question to Matthew. MD's response is a very good succinct summary of his criticisms against the word postmodernism:

Joe's question to MD:
It was hard to tell whether you were debating that postmodernism is too vague to exist or if postmodernism needs to be shot down because it's a pathology of Opinion.

Matthew's response:
It is both those. The perception, however widespread held, that "postmodernism" means something tangible or worthwhile must be bludgeoned. Its users want it to mean too much. They eschew regular language to attempt to mask that failing. And they are intellectually sloppy and/or dishonest.

So the both are: 1.too vague to exist and 2. a pathological version of Opinion.

To the first point, Matthew states it is undeniable that people assume/believe postmodernism means something hence he (Matt) can use the word relative to what is real--i.e. people assuming postmodernism means something---without actually himself having to hold the word has meaning.

The second point, a species Opinion, flows from Matthew's support of the notion of the Great Ideas, canon. Opinion is one of those ideas. Postmodernism is a form of Opinion, hence it is not a post-anything but rather basically just a different version of an ancient theme.

In the previous post I dealt with deconstructionism and argued that it was not merely a species of opinion, as defined under the rubric of the Great Ideas. Deconstructionism does not define postmodernism no doubt, but if my argument made any headway, than I think that would start to chip away at the foundations of point #2. Not fully but make a dent.

This is probably not the best place to get into here, but for what it's worth, as the issue of the Great Ideas arises in this argument (brought in by Matthew) then I'll just re-state something the two of us have already debated/argued over. Namely that the Great Ideas is one form of interpretation. It is one way to organize and give a sense of coherence to philosophy, history, etc. It is a loose, conversational approach that has much to offer for itself, no doubt. But it is, by my light, one way of so doing. Not the only way. As per my last post, as someone who points towards holons (not postmodernism per se), then the position I am out to criticize is "wholeness" alone. Wholeness that does not recognize its part-ness.

To be fair, in as I understand Matthew interpretation is already prejudicing the debate to my end, showing my own bias. It is not an interpretation but rather a conversation, exploration that has been ongoing for two millenia plus. It's not an interpretation but rather just a basic noting of what the themes running through classical texts are.

Here I'm just trying to get the reader as best as I can get a sense of the over-arching positions we take.

To me the root of this argument between us is this. I think he is taking the Great Ideas/Artistry model as Wholeness, which does not recognize its own partiality. Its own contingency, context, and limitations. That is why he is so adamantly opposed to what he calls the "taxonomy" of premodern, modern, postmodern, among others. But this call for the recognition of its contextual nature is not inherently suspicious and skeptical. It need not be anyway.

For the readers reference my position is that such a taxonomy has a place in certain contexts and not others. The contexts where it does have value, I think, are in cosmologies, values, periods, political agendas, etc. Where they don't have much, if any, value is in situations of living life from the inside. Whether that is listening to a great piece of music, reading literature, art, whatever. I agree with Matthew on this point. I'm only saying that is not the only context. It has its place and there are places where it is not the best way of dealing with/looking at things.

This is why in our back and forth comments I brought up the notion of choice, emotional connection, and identity in all our ways of thinking. Peirce called these abductions. At the crux of our disagreements (which again we have many agreements as well, those just aren't sexy) are our two different abductions.

I argue that both have value in different contexts--it's more inclusive by nature. And moreover with my writings on post-integral (there's that post again), I have claimed integral itself is a holon. It is a whole, that is part of something larger.

No doubt I tend towards the taxonomy place, but partly that is due to the fact that Matthew is already doing the Canon aspect better than I ever could. Not wanting to reinvent the wheel and working on creating say a table is not the same as denying the wheel's reality. Also, although I don't specify this enough I realize now, my writings for school (which I don't post) are almost entirely of the more hermeneutics, close readings of texts. This is my only outlet for the other ways of reading, being.

I'm reading a book now called From Jesus to Christ by Paula Fredriksen. When it comes to (outside this particular text) church matters on women, homosexuality, politics she is typically liberal (or green in the color scheme). But I don't label her book therefore as "green." Nor would I dismiss it even if it were. It is a well thought out, well argued very good book. For those moments I'm reading it, I'm just with the flow of her argument. Hell, even Wilber does as much--see his use of Arthur Lovejoy's Great Chain of Being in Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality. It forms the backdrop to his entire narrative and argument. Wilber doesn't dismiss the work out of hand because its too modern. Or not post-modern enough or something.

I hope that sufficiently clarifies I am not against MD's (nor the Great Ideas/Classical Ed.) approach altogether. Just the point at which it won't recognize its own terminus. When it does not admit its own boundaries then it makes (to my mind) specious claims like that postmodernism is too vague to mean anything.

Once of course you accept the presuppositions of such an outlook as Matthew's, if you take that perspective, then yes postmodern doesn't exist. I argue it doesn't "stand-out" in that perspective. The perspective he is taking does not allow for pomo to arise. As a consequence it doesn't. The mistake is assuming in all other perspectives/contexts the word is equally devoid of meaning. He isn't being disingenuous, it really just isn't there. And again that not as a statement of lack of intelligence. For something to "stand-out" requires a "standing-in/under" (hypo-stasis), standing-in the context in which something can stand out. It requires inner movement and will.

Hence my continual calling back to existential choices in our thought, abductions, and perspectives. As goes the saying: "Careful how you see the world. It is that way."

By my lights, Matthew is right for the purposes of what is setting out to do--pomo is non-existent. Where he is wrong is assuming his project--or the project with which he identifies as it were--as the primary one.

Back to point 1 then, the word postmodernism is too vague to mean anything.

In 1784 Immanuel Kant wrote the famous essay "What is [the] Enlightenment?" Text here.

Wherein Kant states:
Nothing is required for this enlightenment, however, except freedom; and the freedom in question is the least harmful of all, namely, the freedom to use reason publicly in all matters.
Kant is reckoned by many (myself included) as a genius of the modern era. This era was, for all the manifold and wonderful divisions and differences within, marked by

--1.An idea in progress. Auguste de Comte (the movement from adolescent to adulthood paralleled by movement from myth to reason). Hegel, Marx, 19th century capitalist utopias.
--2. Progress achieved through the public deployment of reason. (Kant).

In 1789 when the French Revolution was igniting, the icon of Mary in Notre Dame Cathedral was thrown down and replaced with an image of Goddess Reason. It was the perfect image to express what was taking place. Humans moving to a worship (that is de facto assumption) of Reason.

Postmodernism as a distinct philosophical movement (as opposed to postmodernity which is more of a cultural mood) arose in light especially of the horrors of WWII, rising understanding of human destruction of planet earth, de-colonialization, etc. was that within reason lied at its heart (elements of) irrationality. Depicted by the Icon of Goddess Reason.

I would argue this is the key central insight of postmodernity. [Others would disagree, those self-described as postmodernists, those not].

--Lyotard: end of meta-narratives
--Derrida: division at heart of being; diference
--Foucault: knowledge gained through reason as infused with power schemes
--Heidegger: being-in-the-world, time, historicity over Eternal Being; techne
--Marcusse: one-dimensional capitalist and communist man.
--Nietzsche: existenz over essence; genealogy of ethics.

In other words it questions Kant's dictum that the public use of reason is the least harmful of all. Given the history of factory worker children (see Dickens), urban crime and suicide-sense of meaninglessness, genocides, is the public use of reason the least harmful of all?

Postmodernity only exists in a culture that has experienced modernity. Hence its rise in post war Europe. For the moment recognize such a narrative does not inherently imply better than or a developmental scheme. I would add that these follow in line from Freud, an otherwise characteristically bourgeoisie man. Freud noted the ego-I exists amidst the battle between a superego and the irrational impulsive id/it. As well as of course Hegel who noted the embodiment in time of all ideas and Marx who pointed out the social-technical-economic history of all ideas.

I stress strongly the modern/postmodern tie. Before the modern world (17-18th century roughly) many deep thinkers, visionaries, artists pondered ideas like truth, liberty, freedom, meaning.

The modern world is characterized by a sharp sense of progress. The ancient Greek view was cyclical. The medieval Western view was the universe was a graded chain of being static reflected in the hierarchies of social existence on earth. It is an entirely different feel. An entirely different way to organize life, society, meaning around individuals growing up to reason than adhering to myths-dogmas from the top-down.

Reason certainly existed prior to thinkers like Descartes, but society was never on the whole organized according to Reason. One could argue that certain of the Greek polis and Roman urbs were pointing in that direction, not to mention

The idea that history is moving through stages to a pinnacle is of course found from the Gospel of Luke/The Book of Acts, The Revelation, and the writings of St. Augustine (City of God). It is the apocalyptic view of Judaism and Christianity. In other words it is a myth and therefore not rationally proven.

Postmodernism makes no sense without that foundation. If postmodernism makes no sense, then so I would argue does modernism. Yet we talk of modernist art, architecture, the modern novel, I took a courses in early and late modern philosophy. I see no real difference with postmodernism.

As a contrast, there are many movements in the world today that are anti-modern while not being what I consider postmodern. e.g. Islamic sharia which is anti-modern in many ways but appeals to a revealed scripture/tradition to base all of society upon. Sharia advocates can (and do) co-opt postmodernist critiques of modernity but not for postmodern ends. For dogmatic, call them pre-modern, ends.

Postmodernity is characterized by a feeling of loss, of living in exhaustion after the program for progress was shown to have failed and led to incredible violence.

These are not too vague to have meaning. These are specific statements, though for sure broad in nature.

There are two ways to go once irrationality is accepted within (western) reason.

1. Reason is irrational to the core.
--This is the deconstructive, nihilistic train of postmodernism. It ends up in self-contradiction all over the place.

2. Elements of modern reason are irrational.
--These elements then must be fought. Postmodern in this context is only criticizing the way in which Reason operated during the 17-20th centuries in the West. Namely that this reason was built upon the observer model. The non-dialogical nature of the discourse. If a person prefers late modern over postmodern that could work as well.

Two then is reason criticizing itself. Which is why #1 is such a failure. It is highly reasoned thinking that does not admit reason, which is why it ends up in whirls of madness (e.g. Deleuze, Bataille).

I'm in the latter camp. I defend and still promote the idea of reason and progress, but it must be dialogical (not monological) reason and a dialectic of progress. It for me must exist in an evolutionary context. These both from Habermas. For example, modern technology and weaponry can be used for less than rational ends. [If the reader does not like premodern]. That helps explain in part, though not all, the horrors of the 20th century.


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