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Postmodern Lectures 1 to 11

Postmodern Lectures 1 to 11

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Lecture 1 Modernity and Postmodernity
Since the Renaissance, humanity has made its world over again in its own imagein ways unprecedented throughout the millennia of human habitation on theplanet. Science and the advance of technology that it fosters have progressivelyempowered human beings
Õ
own fashioning of their world beyond the wildestimaginings. This human advance upon the material grounds and substrate of itsown existence over time undermines objectivities such as
Ò
nature
Ó
and even
Ò
reality.
Ó
By the time we get to the postmodern world that many human beingsinhabit today, the lived-in, physical environment is for the most part culturallyproduced. Reality is encountered mostly as virtual, or produced as an effect of human instruments and operations. A symbol of this predicament, celebratingand exploiting it, might be found in the Opry Land Hotel in Nashville. Guestsare enveloped by a vast indoor simulation of luxuriant nature as they exit fromtheir hotel rooms. Nature itself turns out here to be technologically generated.This is true on a larger scale of the cities we live in. We are kept constantlysurrounded by human productions and enmeshed in their operations. We aretransported everywhere by machines within a realm totally fabricated by humanengineering. We remain mesmerized by phenomena that are electronicallysimulated. Hong Kong with its elevators and escalaters and pedestrian bridgesand walkways, its skyscrapers and transportation and communciation networks,its dense commerce, its neon landscape of flashing advertisments and videoscreenings in the street, is an epitome of such a modern urban experience.This technological progress in the wake of the resurgence of humanism since theRenaissance is crucial to the story of modernity as the conquest of ever greaterhuman autonomy. The supplanting of the natural by the culturally producedworld is basic to modern and postmodern realities alike, their commongenerative matrix. All this is what we might call the culture of reflexivity. Thehuman being finds itself reflected everywhere in the world it has produced bytransforming the environment by which it is surrounded. (We will return to thisissue of reflexivity and humanism at the end of these the lectures.)Is this humanization of all reality to be seen as the goal of evolution? Or does itentail the exclusion and repression of some necessary otherness to the human?In other words, What are the results of humanity
Õ
s attempt to found andground itself, remaking the world around it to suit its own purposes
Ñ
or at leastto bear the scars of transformation by humanly unleashed powers?Postmodernism has raised these questions, thereby calling modernism and itsideology of unlimited progress and of human completion through its owncreative, demiurgic, formative powers into question. Especially post-1
 
structuralist forms of postmodern thought elaborated by Heidegger, Derrida,Deleuze, Irigaray, etc. have been obsessed with the Other.Certainly ecology and other political and religious movements in postmoderntimes have raised their objections to the unlimited hegemony of the human. But,at the same time, there is another postmodernism that tends more to be thecontinuation of modernism than to place it in check and to question it. There is apostmodernism that entails complete erasure of the Other, effacement of anytrace of otherness whatsoever. The total system of the World Wide Web and theconsumer capitalism that brooks no boundaries for the expansion of its globalmarkets evince no qualms or pieties in the face of 
Ò
otherness.
Ó
Perhaps weshould mark a further split and admit that there are both serene and troubledversions even of this sort of conquering postmodernism (as opposed to thequestioning sort which is already one clearly alternative postmodernism).Whereas modernism and some forms of postmodernism typically celebrate theprogress constituted by such all-consuming
Ò
human development,
Ó
andconceive of human activity as perfecting the materials of nature, making theenvironment friendly and serviceable, other postmodernists are bothered andeven obsessed by certain ambiguities of this process. Taken to the extreme, theprogress of development undermines its own basis, obliterating nature. Theunderlying material support for any human activities whatever can be degradedand destroyed by this activity itself.In the typical modern and postmodern perspective, one tends to lose touch withany ground and root outside human, technological production altogether.Modernism is a movement of development and mastery of the natural world.Postmodernism goes even further in this direction and projects a world of pureartifice without any reference or basis and grounding in nature at all. Reality istransumed into simulations and itself becomes just the mirror image of humanartifice. There are no longer any original presences that are not in evident waysproduced by representations. Reality disappears into its simulations, becomingpurely virtual. This can be seen as the continuation but also as a collapse of theproject of modernism. Indeed the idea of shaping the world in the human imageis shattered as impersonal forces of system and chaos supplant humanism.In this manner, the foundations of human cultural productions and constructionstend to be corroded by this very development
in extremis
as the limits withinwhich the development of something made sense and could be shown to be apositive progression are exceeded. Progression appears no longer true or real,nor to be clearly distinguishable from
re
gression. It may still be possible toaffirm the surpassing of such outmoded values as truth and reality, so as to2
 
reinsert the more complicated developments back into the modernist narrative of continuing progress. But such affirmation and optimism and the
 grand r
Ž
cit
of progress may also be rejected as outmoded. A mood of peering anxiously intothe inscrutable, without any comforting narratives of linear progression at all, ismore characteristic of the postmodern. Beyond the inevitable consternation itcauses, this can also be exhilarating. The mystery of existence is rediscovered,the world may become
Ò
reenchanted,
Ó
now as a mystery within. We become
Ò
strangers to ourselves.
Ó
This suggests how postmodernism follows the development of modernism to itsfurthest consequences, which results in certain reversals and in some respects a
reductio ad absurdum
of the hopes and program of modernism. Elimination of anyalien reality outside of human making and culture results in a wildnessappearing unaccountably from within: we become strange even to ourselves.This is the opposite side of the coin from the absolute banalization of human lifeproduced by technologization that reduces even human beings to meaningless,mechanical activity. Poles of opposition such as subject-object, apparent-real,given-made collapse when human creative power and shaping activity makeseverything over into its own image. Of course, there is always some sort of asupport, some material basis for this activity, and forgetting this sets it up tocome back in unexpected, perhaps unconscious ways. What had been treated asexterior to humanity now turns up as a dark, shadowy side within its own all-encompassing activity. This exteriority discovered as arising from within is forsome interpreters a rediscovery of the religious. A radical otherness to or ohumanity is recognized as the continuation of the experience of the sacred ordivine, especially as it was known in premodern times before the humanizationof God in anthropomorphic, so-called revealed religion.Mark Taylor
Õ
s Two PostmodernismsMark C. Taylor, in
Ò
Postmodern Times
Ó
(and elsewhere) distinguishes between a modernist postmodernism and an alternative postmodernism.Modernism can be understood as the enactment of the outlook first reached byGerman idealism and fully articulated in Hegel
Õ
s system, which in effectachieves total consciousness of reality through its complete and totalrepresentation, its being defined as fundamentally an object for a subject.Human activity as Spirit finds itself in everything as the principle of all reality.This is a rigorous and systematic working out on an intellectual level of thepostulates of human autonomy, of the human subject as only maker of its own3

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