What is the Postmodern Condition?


Over the last few years of studying post modernity I have come to see three different ways that have been expressed about post modernity. 1) Post-modernity as a cultural shift that abruptly changes culture. 2) Post-modernity as a Condition of late modernity as a way to critique early to mid modernity. 3) Post-modernity as a condition in which culture is transitioning over time. For this post I am looking at post-modernity as a Condition of late modernity critiquing early to mid modernity and I am capitalizing Postmodern Condition as a way to designate this concept. The use of Postmodern Condition is adapted from Jean-Francois Lyotard’s book The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.

 The word postmodern has been ascribed by sociologists and philosophers to designate the state of our culture following the transformations, which since the end of the nineteenth century, have altered the game rules for science, literature, and the arts. The Postmodern Condition places these transformations in the context of the crisis of narratives (Lyotard 1984, xxiii). Modernity brings with itself and enlightenment perspective of either/ or thinking which carries into its use of grand narratives that try to categorize and structure everything inside or outside the grand narrative. Grand narratives become the measure of what is truth and what is not truth. The problem with grand narratives is in regards to the authority and power of the grand narratives. Grand narratives just don’t validate or invalidate truth but they also develop their own rules for defining truth. Karl Marx speaks out in regards to the power and authority of the grand narratives as, “The issue of the cycle of dissimilation of information to assimilation of local, regional, and national perspectives as a form of controlling the classes and creating dependency” (Lyotard 1984, xiv).

Lyotard states that the postmodern issue is not creating to recreate, but creating to discover new Ideas and critical questions. He states that the problem is two Great Legitimizing myths; 1) the liberation of humanity, and 2) the speculative unity of all knowledge (Lyotard 1984, ix). The two legitimizing myths flow out of two main traditions of philosophical thought and come to different conclusions. The first one is the German and Hegelian tradition. It was influenced by the Religious Reformation, Theological developments, and Psychological developments. And the second one is the French tradition. It was influenced by the French Revolution and various political and socialist movements with a emphasis in community organizing. It was focused on a philosophy with a purpose and a vision for a direct outcome and was organized around commitment. The question that now arises in the Postmodern Condition is, “Who controls the narrative?” Truth is no longer measured by what is provable but now it is measured by what is probable according to cultural editors.

Habermas‘s “consensus of community” speaks towards the dissolution of the self into a host of networks and relations of contradictory codes and interfering messages. And he refers us to “paralogism” which tells us that the point is not to reach agreement but to undermine from within the framework. And it leads us to the formal problem of how to do without grand narratives by means of narrative itself? In trying to answer the formal problem Habermas gives us a way to evaluate the meta-narratives. He sees narrative analysis as the form of criticism that we need to engage in and he tells us that in narrative analysis we are to remain a by standing nonjudgmental outside observer instead of choosing a side and becoming an apologist for the system (Lyotard 1984, xix, xx). By choosing sides we can regulate narratives to the rule of consensus between the sender and the addressee of a statement with a truth value as deemed acceptable if it is cast in terms of a possible unanimity between rational minds (Lyotard 1984, xxiii).

 So what exactly is the Postmodern Condition? The Postmodern Condition is not against absolute truths. The Postmodern Condition is against grand narratives that claim to be absolute truths that other meta-narratives are filtered through without adequate discussion and dialogue. In the Postmodern Condition we are asking new questions in regards to whose truth and how our they translating and interpreting it. Often the grand narrative is based off of previous culturally engineered questions and situations that have little relevance and significance in our current cultural context.

Lyotard, Jean Francois. The Postmodern Condition. C. 1979 by Les Editions de Minuit. English translation C. 1984 University of Minnesota Press. Translated by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi.


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