Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jean-François Lyotard: ‘If we accept the rules of engagement, now we can begin to play the game.’

Modern society has replaced all reality and meaning with symbols and signs, and that now more than ever the human experiences are of simulations of reality rather than reality itself. It is mode, a system of control. But who is exactly is in control? Are we not breaking the rules here by believing in that which we cannot see? The key concept here is to never stop questioning.

How do we know we exist in the form that we inherently believe we do? We only exist in this human layout because that’s what we have sought to trust in. The possibility of defying that notion is only an implausible truth since we are only human after all. The post modern condition is a result of advance changes. Out with the old, in with the new. Origins can no longer simply take root in history, it must fight for validity.

“Symbolic language, being self-referential, had moreover the capacity to take itself as its own object, hence to provide its own memory and critique. Supported by these properties of language, material technique in turn underwent a mutation: it could refer to itself, build on itself, and improve its performance” (Lyotard).

We are only a condition of ourselves. For every action there is a reaction; that is the post modern attitude in regards to how it all came to be. The symbolism of language allows interpretation, improvisation, and altering perspectives. But at the same time in all its freedom, the openness of language formation, myth creation, and historicity leaves too much exposed for errors or the usual Freudian slip. What makes humankind able to evolve is our ability to input information and our ability to output information. It is the human instinctual need to survive even if only thru preservation of existence. How can we be so sure the manner in which receive information is correct? Perhaps the inaccuracy is that although message projection is successful, the methods in which we recognize truth from fallacy can be highly experimental, depending on thought process and personal systematic beliefs of faith, a false sense of assurance.

Lyotard's work is a representation towards constant opposition to universals. The bulk of his research is persistent and epitomizes the ‘collapse of the grand narrative’ or metanarratives that imbues generality. He is sternly critical of many of the ‘universalist’ assertion of the Enlightenment. Lyotard wanted to break barriers and conceptualized a type of reasoning that did not center a focus on discipline as a means to get answers. His works undermines the essentialisms of the Enlightenment’s principles that generated their expansive assertions.

In The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979), he argued that our age in context to the postmodern condition is discernible by a ‘incredulity towards meta-narratives.’ These meta-narratives (or ‘grand narratives’) are ostentatious, large-scale theories and philosophies of the world, such as the progression of history, the knowledge of everything by science, and the possibility of unconditional freedom (Lyotard).

Lyotard argues that we have stopped believing in narratives of this kind and are sufficient enough to represent and contain us all. We have become aware to difference, miscellany, the incongruity of our aspirations, beliefs and desires, and for that reason post-modernity is typified by a plentitude of micro-narratives (reminiscent of Richard Dawkins and ideas of memes). For this perception Lyotard borrows on and re-construes the idea of ‘language games,’ based on the works of Ludwig Wiggenstein.

With Lyotard, the term ‘language games,’ also referred to as ‘phrase regimens,’ he signifies the variety of knowledge of meaning. The incalculable and impossible to measure are the disconnected systems where meaning is produced and the convention for their transmission is created.

This ideology of Lyotard’s develops into something more vital and central in his 1979 work Just Gaming and The Differend (1983) where he develops a post-modernist theory ‘justice.’ The speculation here is the annihilation of human being is indirectly implemented by the idea of the micro-narrative, and the role the language game plays- the part where it is symptomatic for the collapse of ethics.

“You often say: “Let us be pagan,” and “Let us be just.” Commonly, these two requirements seem to exclude each other. Indeed, justice, insofar as it is generally thought within a Platonic problematic, calls for the fixing of a criterion of judgment, which is something that paganism seems to proscribe. When you bring the two prescriptions together, are you thinking of a justice of a different type? Then, what is it? Or is justice the necessary exception to paganism? Then, what is the meaning of this exception? Is it the return of a nonpagan externality within paganism? And if so, why?” (Lyotard).

In order for the engagement to work properly, universals are not permissible in world that has lost faith in meta-narratives. And the same for ethics, it is unworkable. Lyotard disputes the notion that justice and injustice, in truth still has a place in post-modernism. For ethics to work in an equivalent structure, the language game needs installation. When people stop believing, the system collapses, unable to move forward, unable to reproduce or replicate- the end of the transmission.


  1. Lyotard's postmodern condition sounds like a horrid place; it baffles me how it still attracts visitors. IMO, most of those who choose to see reality as devoid of meaning & meta-narrative structure, are either hardly looking for it, have severe myopia, or legitimately don't know where to begin. I recommend http://is.gd/78fKg

    Extreme philosophical viewpoints are rarely well-considered and usually their champions are just too intoxicated and proud of their own extremity to consider more mature perspectives. If you'd be interested in hearing a voice that's neither shouting out from the laboratory of metaphysical realism, nor the ivory tower of relativism/social constructivism, you might give Giere a try: http://is.gd/78o6o
    I have chapter 1 in pdf, which I'd be happy to share.

  2. ah God Jayne, sounds so depressing; do you think we are yet beyond the post-modern?
    "lost faith in meta-narratives..And..ethics... Lyotard disputes the notion that justice...still has a place in post-modernism...When people stop believing, the system collapses, unable to move forward, unable to reproduce or replicate- the end of the transmission."

    I hate to say it, but the whole postmodern-->80's/90s art and its tongue-in-cheek, ironic, pastiche aesthetic feel soooooo dated to me. It seems to me that this postmodern thing, while it has its postives, such as, say, recognition of the margins (including the marginalized), and away from macho/essentialist grand narrative type ideals, is fading. People are sick of being jaded all the time. Or else they're complete nihilists. Like you perhaps? ; )

  3. Postmodernism is dead. See my book "Digimodernism" (Continuum) as to why.

  4. 'Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination...And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to." -Jim Jarmusch

    'Interpret' carefully....

  5. We can't be free agents if we aren't free--to play! Let's play.