JOB’S ENCOUNTER WITH THE ARCHITECTS OF THE POSTMODERN MIND

 

The last advocates of Aufklarung, such as Popper or Adorno, were only able, according to them, to defend the project in a few particular spheres of life, that of politics for the author of “the Open Society” and that of art for the authors of Asthelishe Theorie. Jurgen Habermas thinks that if modernity has failed, it is in allowing the totality of life to be splintered into independent specialties which are left to the narrow competence of experts, while the concrete individual experiences “desublimated meaning and destructured form, not as a liberation but in a mode of that immense ennui (disturbance, nuisance) which Baudelaire described over a century ago.

 

Habermas’ remedy for this splintering of culture and its separation from life can only come from changing the status of aesthetic experience when it is no longer primarily expressed in judgments of ‘taste,’ but when it is used to explore a living historical situation, that is, when it is put in relation with the problems of experience. For this experience then becomes a part of a language game, which is no longer that of aesthetic criticism; it takes part in the cognitive processes and narrative expectations; it alters the manner in which those different, moments refer to one another.

 

What Habermas requires from the arts and the experience they provide is, in short, to bridge the gap between cognitive, ethical, and political discourses, thus opening the way to a “unity of experience.” My question is to determine what sort of unity Habermas has in mind. Is the aim of the project of modernity the constitution of sociocultural unity within which all the elements of daily life and of thought would take their place as in an organic whole? Or does the passage that has to be charted between heterogeneous language games--those of cognition, of ethics, of politics, belong to a different order from that? And if so, would it be capable of effecting a real synthesis between them?

 

What then is Postmodern? What place does it not occupy in the vertiginous work of the questions hurled at the rules of image and narration? A postmodern artist or writer is in the position of a philosopher: the text he writes, the work he produces are not a principle governed by pre-established rules, and they cannot be judged according to a determining judgment, by applying familiar categories to the text or to the work. Postmodern would have to be understood according to the paradox of the future (post) anterior (modo).

 

It is the business of modern texts/art/music, etc., not to supply reality but to invert allusions to the conceivable that cannot be presented. The efforts to fuse the “language game” (Kant’s faculties) and Hegel’s transcendental illusion can be accomplished by crossing the horizon into a total real unity (Pantheism). But Kant also knew that price to pay for such an illusion is terror. The 19th/20th centuries have given us as much terror as we can take. We have paid a high enough price for the nostalgia of the whole and the one, for the reconciliation of the concept and the sensible, of the transparent and the communicable experience. The Postmodern cultural maze is waging a war on totality, by witnessing to the unpresentable (cf. periodization-writing history: cultural periodization; massive kinship and homogeneity or identity within a given period; collective cohesion; historically dominate or hegemonic-criteria of assessment).

 

JDS