public, legitimation, postmodernism


So right, the money question, "What is Postmodernism?". Once again, we see an attempt to make sense of postmodernism in its relation to the project of modernity and the enlightenment, in Lyotard's case in terms of a general failure of unity. The dialogue of "science", both physical and philosophical, becomes one of many language games, and is unable to prove its own legitimacy. With this failure the hegemony of scientific reasoning, or " scientific" knowledge, is destroyed. I read into this again the general idea of not necessarily disorder but disunion; something not so much disastrous as supremely unsettling. Lyotard's comment about "that which denies itself the solace of good forms, the consensus of taste" makes sense to me of the an occasional neurotic feel in little postmodern literature I have read, and of the fetishization of detail and complex structures. The promise of the enlightenment to bring together the sprawling "town" of language games into coherent provinces is moot, and as potential knowers we are thus left in the uncomfortable position of feeling that we ought to be able to understand. While I am still a little fuzzy on the "unpresentable" in Lyotard's aesthetics, things generally make sense because I can read again not only a rejection of structuralism, but also an acute consciousness of just this fact.

Having read a few William Gibson books, I really enjoyed the image of the data satellites. The part about the transition of the basic unit of power from money to information is very interesting to me because not only is it a cool idea but it does square with my own experience. I see struggles of this type playing out in the current battles for the "institutional ecology" (Yochai Benkler's phrase) of the internet.

I am unclear on a few points and would love for someone to chime in who has understood things better than I. I am curious about Lyotard's remark about efficiency and terror. I can make some sense of this by comparing it to the tension between efficiency and fairness in economics; a conflict between 'irrational' human preference and the optimal production and consumption of resources in an economy. However I don't feel all that confident that I really understand the point he's trying to make here and would love to have someone chime in.

Also I am confused by the following: "Lamenting the 'loss of meaning' in post-modernity boils down to mourning the fact that knowledge is no longer principally narrative". I had thought that it was part of the project of modernity/the enlightenment to discredit narrative knowledge in favor of scientific knowledge or at least to place it in a subordinate position. So in the modern world (if you are a sort of modernist person) I would think that one would find scientific knowledge to be the best source of "meaning", and it would be the loss of legitimacy/hegemony of scientific knowledge that would make one want to lament.

In general I feel more or less confident that I get what Habermas is driving at: he describes a system in which a section of the bourgoise (my background in marxist thought is weak, so I may misuse some of its terms) served as a sort of "reading public" who saw it as their purpose (after the transition from feudalism to market capitalism) to legitimate public laws through rational/critical debate. This was made possible by seeing their leisure time as entirely disconnected from the affairs of government and state, but when this leisure time assumed the discourse of consumption, it began to become so linked with public policy (already heavily influenced by organized private groups) that this rational debate ceased. Habermas seems to me to be arguing that thus laws lost their legitimacy. I find his position interesting in light of Lyotard's own discussion of legitimacy, but as I am a little foggy on some particulars, have little to say.