Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Postmodern Theory: Critical interpretation by Steven Best and Douglas Kellner 91

Postmodern Theory: Critical interpretation by Steven Best and Douglas Kellner 91

xi-“…theoretical discourses can b read as responses to historical crises, to unsettling ecoc and technologyical dvlpmnts, and to social and intellectual turbulence produced by the disintegration of previously stable or familiar modes of thinking and living. New theories and ideas articulate novel social exprecs and a proliferation of emergent discourses therefore suggests that important transformations r taking place in society and culture”
-says 70’s and 80s saw “a series of socioecoc and cultural transfrmtn…[which] suggested that a break w/ the previous society had taken place”, includes more media, computrs, other techs, “a restructuring of capitalism, poll changes, novel cultural forms, and new exprcs of space and time produced a sense that dramatic dvlpmnts have occurred thruought culture and society”—the “new, as yet barely charted, ‘pomo’ terrain” and these writers map this and give new modes of theorizing for it—writers of (x) “pomo theory”
x-“While the term ‘pomo theory’ may seem problematical, since pomo critiques r directed against the notion of ‘theory’ itself—which implies a systematically dvlpd conceptual structure anchored in the real—the writers we classify under the pomo rubric nonetheless dvlp theoretical positions on diverse topics”—and the authors “assess their usefulness for dvlping critical theories of society and radical pols”
1-in the 70s and 80s, “pomo debates dominate the cultural and intellectual scene in many fields throughout the world”—does it exist?, what r its facets?, critics said it was a fad, a specious invention made for “social capital”, an attempt “to devalue emancipator mod theories and values”
2-“there is no unified pomo theory”, and they smtimes conflict

-modty is genlly seen as a historical period following feudalism, and in it: “Reason was deemed competent to discover adequate theoretical and practical norms upon which systems of thot and actoions could b built and society could b restructured” (to b egalitarian and not feudal)
-“Aesthtic modty…rebelled against the alienating aspects of industrializtn and rtlztn, while seeking to transform culture and to find creative self-realiztn in art”
3-“modztn” includes “those processes of individualztn, secularztn, industriaztn, cultural differentiation, commodification, urbaztn, bureaucrtztn, and rtlztn”
-“Yet the construction of modty produced untold suffering…ranging from the peasantry, proletariat, and artisans oppressed by capitalist industrialztn to the exlusion of women from the public sphere, to the genocide of imperialist colonztn.” And the legitimzng “instittns practices , and discourses” for its domination
-some claim tho that modty can repair itself

-pomosts, otoh, think that in a “hi tech media society” there is a new society (Baudr, Lyo, Harvey), while others say its “hi capitalism”—more “capital penetration and homogeniztn”-- (jameson and Harvey)
-both say it makes “increased cultural fragmentation“ and “new modes of exprc, subjectivity, and culture”
4-“mod theory…is criticaized for its search for a foundation knowledge, [incl descrts, comte, marx, weber] for its universalizing and totalizing claims, for its hubris to supply apodictic truth, and for *its allegedly fallacious rtlsm.” While defender attack “pomo relativism, irrationlsm, and nihilism”
-“POmo theory provides a critique of representation and the mod belief that theory mirrors reality”…instead they think “theories at best provide partial perspectives on their objects, and that all cognitive reprtations of the world r historically and linguistically mediated”; often rejecting metatheories; ideas of social coherence, and “notions of causality in favor of multiplicity”’ and (5) “abandons the rtl unified subject…in favour of a socially and linguistically decentered and fragmented subject”
5-in this book, “pomoty” refers to the epoch and “pomosm” describes cultural artifacts and mvmnts; “mod pols” is “characterized by party, parliamentary, or trade union pols” v. “pomo pols” –“locally based micropols that challenge a broad array of discourses and instittnlzed forms of power.”

-precursors: 1870 engl painter john Watkins chapman talked of “omo painting” to designate painting “more mod” than fr impressionist painting; 1917 german writer rudoph pannwitz used it describe (6) nihilism; then historians D. C. Somervell and Arnold Toynbee (late 40s to 60s) used it to describe new stage in history, starting for them in 1875 characterized by anarchy, social turmoil—tho its “universalistic philosophy of history w/ its notions of historical cycles of the rise and decline of civliztns, hsit philosophical idealism, and the relus overtones of his analysis would b totally foreign to those who took up the concept of pomodty in the contemp sense”—its similar to Nietzsche and Spengler
7-in 50s, several more “historical-sociological notions” of pomodty, appeared; (8) incl c. wright mills who is not very optimistic b/c it’s the end of Enlightnmnt belief that “increased rtlty would produce increased freedom”—tho his sweeping generlztns is “very much ‘modst’”; (9) barraclough 64 says what defines pomodty is 3rd world resisteance, indv to mass society,a dn new forms of culture
9-in 40s and 50s, it was used occasionally for architecture and poetry, but in 60s and 70s was used to describe many cultural artificats—(10) eg mixed media, pastiche—and not as serious/moral; (12) g. steiner 71 said pomosm rejects “foundational assumptions and values of w. society”, pomo culture “no longer blindly and unproblematically trusts in science, art, and reason as beneficent, humanizing forces,a dn, consequently, there has been a loss of ethical absoluteness and certainties”; etzioni thot it was based on increased tech dvlpmnt after wwII that would change human capabilities and values; (13) d. bell sees pomosm as an extension of modty’s release of “rebellious, anti-bourgeois, antinomic, and hedonistic [and narcissism] impulses”

14-“there r 2 conflicting matricies of pomo discourses in the period before it proliferated in the 1980s”: 1) the “predominatly positive valence”—drucker, etzioni, sontag, Hassan, fiedler, ferre and others; 2) negative discourses, eg Toynbee, mills, bell, baudrillard; the positive one was “divided into social and cultural wings”—all them “reproduced 50s optimism and the sense that technogy and modnztn were making possible the break w/ an obsolete past”—the “affluent society” idea—the “grea society”; and positive culturalists affirmed the liberating properties of pomo art

15-pomo cultural discourse had greater impact on 80s pomo theory than the sociohistorical discourses b/c that still used “mod modes of thot (reason, totaliztns, unification, and so on)”
-negatives saw a crisi for w. civilztn—and the discourses of “Howe, Steiner, Bell and others would also prepare one way for the neo-consrvtv attacks on contemp culture in the 1980s”
-both were responding to new capitalzm that encouraged hedonism and new lifestyles
-by the 80s there were ether cultural conservatives or avantgardists; tho started in Amer, (16) Fr made theories more comprehensive and extreme
16-and Fr had other precursorsin anii enlghtnmnt ppl (bauderlaire, rimbaud, etc) and other eurpns (Nietzsche and heidegger who went against hegel, marx, phenomenology and existentialism”)

-“The most significant dvlpmnts of pomo theory have taken place inFr”, “a series of socioecoc, cultural, theoretical, and poll events occurred in Fr which helped give rise to new pomo theories”
17-Fr pomo theories were influenced by rapid modztn after WWII, dvlpmnts in philosophy, and “the dramatic sense of rupture produced by the turbulent events of 1965, in which a study and workrs’ rebellion brot the country to a standstill, appearing to resurrect Fr revory trads.”

-at end of WWII “Fr was still largely agricultural” but w/ modztn became “one of the world’s most dynamic and successful “ ecoies—became “mainly urban and industrial”
-“Proseperity soard”—cahanging lifestyles and bringing conflict btwn old and new—and new theories analyzed the social change: esp mass consumer culture which Barthes said idealized this new structure, Debord criticized the “society of the spectacle” for masking the alienation and oppression; (18) Lefebvre said how new structure gave new modes of domination
18-post war Fr was mostly “Marxism, existentialism and phenomenlgy” but by 60s, “these theories were superseded by the linguistically-oriented discourses of structuralism and Lacanian psychoanalysis which advanced new concepts of lang, theory, subjectivity, and socity.”—“Structuralists applied structural-linguist concepts to the human sciences”
-eg Levi-strauss applied it to myths, kinship, etc.; lacan to psychoanalysis; althusser to Marxism
*-this was using “holistic analyses that analyzed phena in terms of parts and wholes, defining a structure as the interrelation of parts w/in a common system. Sturctures were governed by unconscious codes or rules, as when lang constituted meaning thru a differential set of binary opposites, or when mythologies codified eating and secual behavior according to systems of rules and codes”—and the goal was to “make known the ruels of functioning” of things—looked at “underlying rules which organized phena into a social system” eg totemic practices in trad societies for dividing things into sacred and pofane or culinary rules in mod societies—it (19) rejected humainism that used to shape social siceinces [that all ppl r essentially the same] “Structuralism stressed the derivativeness of subjectivity and meaning in contrast to the primacy of symbolic systems, the unconscious, and social relations…subjectivity was seen as a social and linguistic construct. The parole, or particular use of lang by indv subjects was determined by langue, the system of lang itself.”

*19-Sturcturalism had its roots in “semiotic theory” of Ferdinand de sussure (1857-1913), said that “lang can b analyzed in terms of its present laws of operation w/out ref to its historical properties and evo, Saussure interpreted the linguistic sign as comprised of 2 integrally related parts: an acoustic-visual component, the signifier, and a conceptual component, the signified. Lang is a ‘system of signs that expresses ideas’, or signifieds, thru diff signifiers that produce meaning. Saussure emphasized 2 properties of lang that r of crucial importance for understanding contemp theoretical dvlpmnts: First, he saw that the linguistic sign was arbitrary, that there is no nat link btwn the signifier and the signified, only a contingent cultural defsignation. Second, he emphasized that the sign is differential, part of a system of meanings where words acquire significance only by ref to what they r not.”—tho he believed that (20) the sign still has a “nat immediate relation to its referent”—the later post-structuralists would disagree, in fact everything social was arbitrary—even “society itself”

20-“Just as structuralists radically attack phenmlgy, existentialism, and humanism, so did poststructuralists assault the premises and sassumptions of structuraist thot.”; they “attacked the scientific pretensions of structuralism which attempted to create basis for the study of culture and which strove for the standard mod goals of foundation, truth, objectivity, certainty, and system. Poststructuralists argued as well that sturctlst theories did not fully break w/ humanism since they reproduced the humanist notion of an unchanging human nature…that the mind had an innate, universal structure and that myth and other symbolic forms strove to resolve the invariable contradictions btwn nature and culture. They favored instead a thoroughly historical view which sees diff forms of consciousness, ids, signficaation, and so on as historically produced and therefore varying in diff historical periods. Thus, while sharing w/ structuralism a dismissal of the concept of the autonomous subject, post structuralism stressed the dimensions of history, pols, and everyday life in the contemp aworld which tended to b suppressed by the abstractions of the structuralism project”
-by derrida, fouc, kristeva, lyo and barthes did this critique—and it mad “an atmosphere of intense theoretical upheaval that helped to form pomo theory”
21-“the signified is only a moment in a never-ending process of signification where meaning is produced not in a stable, referential relation btwn subject and object, but only w/in the infinite, intertextual play of signifiers.”

-these new theories attacked philosphy’s “root assumptions”, b/c it assumes there can b “an absolute bedrock of truth”
-Der thot w. phihlosphy and culture was based on “binary oppositions” (“subject/object, appearance/reality, speech/writing”, etc.)—and these create a “hierarchy of values which attempt not only to guarantee truth, but also serve to exclude and devalue allegedly inferior terms or positions.”—and many ppl followed der, in his conclusion that philosophy needed revamping

22-precursors to this were neitzsche, Heidegger, wittgenstien, james, dewey, de sade, bataille, and artaud; esp “Neitz’s attack on w. philosophy, combined w/ heidegger’s critique of metaphysics”
-Neit replaced “W. philosophy w/ a perspectivist orientation for which there r no facts, only interps, and no objective truths, only the constructs of various indvs or grps. N. scorned philosophical systems and called for new modes of philosophizing, writing and living. He insited that all lang was metaphorical and that the subject was only a product of lang and thot. He attacked the pretensions of reason and defended the desires of the body and the life-enhancing superiority of art over theory.”
-“Neit saw modty as an advanced state of decadence”
-Heid thot w. philosophy, beginning w/ plato, was increasingly doing “forgetting of Being” and we should go back to that, and advocated for “premod modes of thot and experc”

23-the 68 poll upheavals “signaled desires for a radical brea w/ the instittns and pols of the past and dramatized the failure of lib isntittns to deal w/ the dissatisfaction of broad masses of citizens.”
-the may 68 student revolt was against school’s and socity’s conformity, repressiveness and how it hides its mechanisms to perpetuate itself itn media, class
24-btwn poststructuralists there was “intense debate over how the subject was formed and lived in everyday life, as well as the ubiquity and multiplicity of forms of power in socity and everyday life.”
-and since Marxists supported fr govt in teling students to relax, theorists started moving away from Marxism, “embracing micro pols” like “feminism, ecocly, grps and gay and lesbian formations”—opposing marxsism’s strict emphasis on labour, saying there r multiple forms of oppression and power “that r irriduciby to the exploitation of labour.”—(25) “in effect redefining the socialist project as that of radical democracy”
25-some (eg glucksman and Bernard-levy) “denounced Marxism as a discourse of terror and power”, and poststructuras genlly attacked marsixm as, like other mod theories, “resting on obsolete epistemological premises”—and this permeated “literacy, philosphcl, sociological, and poll discourse in fr and elsewhere during the late 1960s and the 1970s and had a decisive impact on pomo theory”

-for b and k, they say that poststructuralism critiqued mod theory and produced “new models of thot, writing, and subjectivity, some of which r later takedn up by pomo theory”, which, for them, is the broader fo the 2. Pomo theory too takes, (26) “radicalizes it, and extends it to new theoretical fields” (eg sociohistorical theory and new pomo forms and exprcs) and genlly more comprehensive, tho “most of the indvs that we discuss int his bk can b considered as either pomo or poststructurst theorists”
26-and pomo theory gives primacy to “discourse theory” which is used for structuralism and poststructuralsm; it “sees all social phena as sstructured semiotically by codes and rules, and therefor amenable to linguistic analysies, utilizing the model of signification and signifying practices”, and they emphasize “the mat and heterogeneous nature fo discourse”—so for fouc and others they look at the “instittnl bases of discourse, the viewpts and positons from which ppl speak, and the power relations thse allow and presuppose.”
27-“much pomo theory follows discourse theory in assuming that it is lang, signs, images, codes, and signifying systems which organize the psyche, society,a nd everyday life” tho most pomo theorists don’t “reduce everything to discourse or textuality” and b and k say tho that some ppl can take it too far

28-in other countries: w. james championed pluralism; john dewey attacked tradl philopshy, nrth amers (drucker, mills, etzioni and bell) and n amer theoriest introduced “pomo” wrd into the arts; and “it has indeed been int eh English-speaking wrld that interest in all facets of the pomo controversies has been most intense w/ ocnfs, js, and publishing lists proliferanting in these countries.”
-so by the 80s, it “penetrated every academic field”; they “embrace principles of chaos, indeterminancy, and hermeneutics, w/ some calling for a ‘reenchantmnt of nature’”
-and penetrated culture (eg mtv)

29-there is difficulty and confusion when ppl use diff and conflicting defs
30-but pomo theorists think genlly there is a real break in history and critixize mod norms and calls for new forms of thot and values; some focus on alternative forms of “knowledge and discourse” (lyo and fouc) and some “semphasize the forms of ecoy, society, culture, and exprc”; some use mod theory “to ananlyze pomo cultural and social forms” (fouc, deleuze and guattari, lyo, guattari, and other s don’t even want that label)
32-“the Frankfurt school, esp adorno, anticipated certain trends of pomo theory”
-many ppl (incl habermas) say pomo theory is irrationalism

-b and k do not accept the idea of a radical break in history which need totally new theories, tho there r changes and new theories needed

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