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The tragedy of postmodernism (1/2)

Postmodernity, which puts an end to mythical grand narratives and grand illusions, is both “talkative and mute”. From Kant to the present day, the postmodern is condemned, faced with the death of metaphysics, "to dwell on its inability to say the whole thing".


It is customary to think that postmodernism is a movement of ideas resulting from contemporary nihilism, which is attributed, among other thinkers, to the critical work, both genealogical and archaeological, of Nietzsche[1] and the end of the metaphysics of transcendence (the death of God and of the values ​​that all theology bears as metaphysics of the sensible and of the intelligence). In this sense, we can date, in a more precise periodization, the birth of postmodernity at the very moment when theology as a science is invalidated by the Kantian project of the critique of reason in all the fields in which it has ventured since Plato. and Aristotle to the philosophers of the Enlightenment.


Indeed, the projectCritique of pure reason(1781) is not so much to analyze the conditions of the production and validity of knowledge in the light of experience and the scientific paradigm – notably Newtonian experimental physics – as to limit the dogmatic claims of idea of ​​pure reason wanting to know the in itself, the noumena, the true things of the world as it is beyond and behind the senses, the phenomenon of its appearing, of itsErscheinung, of its perceptible being. Kant therefore definitively invalidates the project of any metaphysics claiming to be science by the fact that, on the one hand, we cannot go beyond phenomena to think things in themselves and that, on the other hand, reason only gives us the phenomenal version, for us, of things, not as they are in themselves, but as they appear to us for us, without any guarantee of their ontological truth. Transcendence is forbidden to us in the theoretical world, except, and this is no small domain, in the practical domain (Critique of practical reason, 1787).

We can neither know the World in its totality, the soul in its free subjectivity, time and space, because we cannot have any experience of the One, of the All, of freedom, of time elsewhere than in the categorical grasp of the pure concepts of the understanding which are only the limited and finite form of our sensitive and intelligible relationship to the empirical and transcendental world which conditions our experiences and delimits them. In other words, our subjectivity and the constitution of our science[2]do not allow us to leave the conditioned to go to the unconditioned. And Kant claims that leaving the sensible to pretend to a knowledge by pure idea would be like the dove which thinks that it would fly better in a vacuum, without the resistance of the air, forgetting that the vacuum would asphyxiate it and that it would could not fly at all, having then no air resistance to support its flight...


The end of the great mythical stories and the great illusions


Note that all post-Kantians will try – Hegel, Schelling and Fichte, each in their own way – to contradict Kantian criticism and to make philosophy a science of the absolute or a metaphysics of truth. The fact remains that the claims of reason are by and in Kantianism limited to moral action and ethico-aesthetic activity. We can already think with Kant of the end of modernity as an ambitious and total project of the Enlightenment: if using one's understanding to think and freeing oneself from superstition, dogmatism, obscurantism requires intellectual audacity (thinking for oneself -even and without tutor other than pure reason), then this freedom must lead to something other than the theoretical science of being or of the things of the world, but on the ethical and practical transformation by the will of the sensible world guided by the ideal of pure reason. Criticism is therefore not a total skeptical relativism: it limits knowledge to leave complete faith in the act based on the Idea of ​​the just, the beautiful, the good. This is the meaning of the conclusion of theCritique of pure reasonand the works that will follow its publication, up to the questioning of religion, which must be contained within the limits of simple reason to avoid delusions and dogmatic enthusiasms prejudicial to the freedoms of peoples and to the sciences themselves, according to Kanto[3].

This means that postmodernism, as Jean-François Lyotard thinks (The post-modern condition, 1975) puts an end to the great mythical narratives, to the great illusions, to theological finalities or to transcendent teleologies, be they those of history and its progress over time, such as those of scientism and humanism as philosophies of the story. There is no longer any continuum in the production of knowledge, and there is no longer any Meaning hovering above men and their stories. God is not the judge because he is a historical production of human ignorance. We see from this that Spinoza (Ethics, 1677) or other authors, such as Machiavelli (The prince, 1532,) La Mettrie (The Man-Machine, 1748), each in their own way, can be considered postmodern insofar as they refuse to think that there is a transcendence, a logic of appearances, an ultimate and metaphysical reality which would make it possible to account for the effects of the present by a backworld and to understand the appearances of the history of science, politics, cultures, as being the realization of a great design traced and hidden from the eyes of mortals by a great architect of the Universe, omniscient, omnipotent, providential. The world is a discontinuous series of knowledge in an archipelago, to speak like Edouard Glissant, or a series of illusions more or less well linked together by the theoretical genius of intellectuals and scientists.


Postmodernism facing its own impotence


We can therefore legitimately wonder about what postmodernity means for us, and what it implies for our daily lives and for our freedoms. And finally reflect on the philosophical meanings and policies of science today to give meaning to this relative nonsense that is the world made opaque due to the increase in our lucidity and our knowledge. Because it is certain that reason also does not escape this deconstruction of knowledge, knowledge, reasons by the nihilism of postmodernity: by rejecting the notion of general or global meaning, it brings with it a figure of rationality, and not the least. Theremathesisuniversalis, the reason of the One, of the All, of Meaning, questioned in its epistemological legitimacy, makes any explanation a system, in the weak sense, which has its unreasons and its internal frailties, being issued from the finitude which gives it contingency and singularity in its historical appearance.

Postmodernism is therefore an attitude of thought which consists mainly in refusing that the absolute (in art, in science, in philosophy) is a substance, a goal, an idea, a reality other than cultural, produced by the history of practices human. In fact, it is therefore a relativism that dissolves the notion of truth in the hazardous chaos of the logic of knowledge. This does not mean that knowledge does not obey precise epistemological laws or that necessity is not required to understand scientific problems or philosophical questions. There is a logic of truths, a consistent and determining chain in the sequence and production of knowledge in history. Only, these productions or his stories do not have their cause in a beyond the world, or in a divine intention or in a providence allowing the realization of a theodicy or a divine plan or a logic of the absolute realizing itself in time. This model of parousia or eschatological realization is determined by a teleological rationality that comes from the religious field: our spirit, our logic, our rationality have been determined by providential and theological schemes that make us see intentions in historical facts and think of primary causes hidden behind the appearances of the world.


The very idea of ​​the world refers to a cosmological unity that comes more from the imagination than from experimental reason. Hence the fact that art, and principally the imaginary and virtual production of art, is worth as much as the most rigorous and orderly science. The world is only a set of appearances and collections of facts without cause other than the wills of humans; we must not seek a first or last cause for its production. Chance and necessity make it what it is without the need to resort to a metaphysics of primary causes or essences. Basically, postmodernity is the relegation of the Platonic world to the world of illusions and chimeras; we can speak here of an anthropocentric materialism within the framework of the analysis of scientific knowledge by postmodernity[4]. This is why postmodernism is fundamentally tragic and somewhat contradictory insofar as it expresses in time the vanities of all scholarly constructions of sciences and philosophies, as in Hermann Broch's novel,SleepwalkersOrVirgil's death, and, moreover, that he fails to formulate a general theory of his requirement since he refutes in principle the historical narrative, the great history, the illusory idea of ​​system or historical continuity. Postmodernity is therefore condemned to dwell on its inability to say the whole thing and to use to satiety, to the point of making it a stylistic and philosophical process, of discontinuity, of the fragment, of the unfinished, of the imperfection of particularity or the insubsumable singularity of the work in a totality which would give it its meaning. The postmodern therefore repeats his impotence even in the gesture that makes him refuse a theorization of his impotence. Between symbolization and the apophantic theory of the non-affirmation of theory, the postmodern is condemned to live in the present the powerlessness to think it in a total way,


Aesthetics of postmodernism


In fact, postmodernism has found its outlet in the arts (literature, architecture, painting, cinema) and in the human sciences, but also in a certain positivism which consists in refusing a general or universalizing interpretation of phenomena. Thus, a general theory of signs (which was the project of Saussurian linguistics as semiotics) will only be regional. Because the aestheticism of the relic, of the part, of the fragment, rejecting the totality or the holistic vision of life, of history, of humanity, will be fully realized in the arts, fashions (unstructured clothing, sociology tribes or affiliations, microanalyses refusing generalization or universalization), the aesthetics of interbreeding or hybridization, as in theworld musicor the recourse to ethnicity or to traditional, past cultures, as a reminder in the present of what is no longer current and which, therefore, then takes on the value of a reminder or a vintage fashion.

But we should not believe that only the artistic disciplines or the human sciences are affected by this phenomenon of the decay of the absolute or of the metaphysics of the great stories, to speak like Lyotard. Indeed, modernity posed that the actuality, the present, the moment lived by the current was the sum of sciences, knowledge, theories and past practices. Modernity, which we find for example in the attitude of the dandy Baudelaire, or in the avant-gardes (artistic, political, philosophical, scientific), is thought of as the conclusive truth of the wisdoms and knowledge of the past condensed in the present, in the self-awareness of the present which knows itself to be the beneficiary of the works of the past and as if, to use Pascal's metaphor, perched on the shoulders of the giants of the past. Baudelaire, in his poem, "Lighthouses" will speak of the predecessors as heroic discoverers who allow the poet and the avant-gardes of modernity to think of themselves as the receptacle and the recipient of the laborious efforts made in the past by all the great men of history. Modernity is this acute awareness of the historical and destiny character of the past for the present, in the present, by the present. This is why it thinks of itself as unique, definitive, irreversible and resulting from a qualitative change which confers on it a certain dialectical position of historical and reflexive overhang authorizing a synoptic vision of the facts of the past. will speak of the predecessors as heroic discoverers who allow the poet and the avant-gardes of modernity to think of themselves as the receptacle and the recipient of the laborious efforts made in the past by all the great men of history. Modernity is this acute awareness of the historical and destiny character of the past for the present, in the present, by the present. This is why it thinks of itself as unique, definitive, irreversible and resulting from a qualitative change which confers on it a certain dialectical position of historical and reflexive overhang authorizing a synoptic vision of the facts of the past. will speak of the predecessors as heroic discoverers who allow the poet and the avant-gardes of modernity to think of themselves as the receptacle and the recipient of the laborious efforts made in the past by all the great men of history. Modernity is this acute awareness of the historical and destiny character of the past for the present, in the present, by the present. This is why it thinks of itself as unique, definitive, irreversible and resulting from a qualitative change which confers on it a certain dialectical position of historical and reflexive overhang authorizing a synoptic vision of the facts of the past.


Talkative and mute


In this context, postmodernity puts an end to an inchoative vision of history and time; it completes the journey or the odyssey of consciousness in Western history. It is the meaning ofThe Phenomenology of Spiritof Hegel (1806), who put an end to the criticism, by updating the idea that the absolute is realized in time and that the present is the concept, the truth, the absolute knowledge of oneself becoming aware of itself in its other as being a figure, a moment of the constitution of his Self in and through time. Humanity knowing itself to be mortal and sole possessor of its truth, it can no longer think of the past as reproducible and the future as a profound otherness or a horizon of expectation, unless it institutes a religious way of thinking about the world, and therefore by repeating the dogmatic errors and illusions of pre-modern metaphysics and theology. Modern is what makes it possible to think of the past as constitutive of the present, and postmodern is what then comes from the impossibility of leaving thehereof this awareness of the completion of metaphysics in the finitude of the Self thinking itself – in the history of its works and its historical journey – as completed in its very historicity.

Postmodernity knows its becoming as repetition of its past, commentaries on comments or infinite exegesis of its becoming present to itself (hence its allure and its melancholic style) and also knows that it cannot loop, finish, complete, a program that it refrains from synthesizing or globalizing because it would fall back into the rational myth of the Great Narrative (religious, metaphysical, political, historical). There is an aporia of this postmodernity, at the same time talkative, because condemned to repeat itself, and also mute, because advancing nothing other than what the death of god and the nihilism of the XIXth century had posed in its tragic pessimism, namely that being is an illusion of discourse and knowledge, the expression of a desire to master time which is met with the finitude and death of man.


Deeply folded in on itself, this humanism of the last man and the last thought, marked by a Hegelianism without relief, without the possibility of opening onto an Other or towards an elsewhere other than the forgetful and Sysiphean repetition of the absurd, will no longer be able to think of itself as anti-humanism or posthumanism, or even, wandering in theoretical fictions considered as possible biographies of the West, dead to itself at the moment when it became aware of its all and vain power over the world . Acosmia and anomie do not mean that the power of nothing, ofnihil, and its incessant deconstructions, are not dangers for the exercise of a reason freed from its tutors and onto-theological frameworks which kept it under a tutelage that precisely annihilated its powers. We must then ask ourselves about the meaning of this nihil and its consequences on our actuality and on the possibility of an ethics within the framework of this refusal of any possible transcendence and in the archeology of truth which has determined our will to truth. This is what we will try to answer in the rest of our work.



[1]Nietzsche,Thus spake Zarathustra, 1883;The Twilight of the Idols, 1888;ecce gay, 1888. [2]Kant holds that the constitution of our science is made possible by the categories of reason and synthetic a priori judgments – determined by our sensibility (transcendental aesthetics) and our categories (transcendental logic). [3]One will profit from reading Michel Foucault's long preface to his translation of Kant's work:Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view, ed. Verin, Paris. [4]Just because this world is human-too-human doesn't mean it's wrong; Kantianism anchors our knowledge in the structure of our finitude in order to invalidate its suprasensible or supra-mundane claims, but not the knowledge it procures for us. It is even the positive meaning of criticism to be a rational philosophy of knowledge and a justification of a humanism of ends from a practical point of view. Again, the goal of Kant's philosophy lies in action and not in the limitation served by reason itself. In this sense, Kant is a philosopher of freedom and not only, thought in a reductive way, a sad skeptic, annoyed thinker of the limits of the human condition.
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