the blighted environs of M-normativity (Thomas Struth, Crosby Street, Soho,1982)
In this post we examine the advent of postmodernity and what that means for M-normativity. Particularly, we analyze Nietzsche's idea of futurity and how it subverts Modernity's presentism.
From an "oppositional" perspective emergent postmodernity presents questions that come back to hunt modernity. Questions are repressed under layers of theoretical hubris.1 The weight of a theory can be ponderous. Positions that have come to prominence become entrenched after years of back and forth between opposing sides. Discussions become compartmentalized and owned by specific tendencies. From entrenched positions very little can be negotiated and legitimate questions are often dismissed as derivative or spurious.
It's time to be frank about those repressed questions, no matter how naïve they may seem.
We start with M's bombastic presentism.
Because the new, the modern world is distinguished from the old by the fact that it opens itself to the future, the epochal new beginning is rendered constant with each moment that gives birth to the new. [...] Within the horizon of the modern age, the present enjoys a prominent position a contemporary history. (PDM p. 6)The term "epochal" is neutral. Things begin and end (except M). Recall that Habermas would prefer to argue for "oppositionality" rather than "chronology." But the truth is that M's use of "oppositionality" is a straw man. It announces "concept," when it really means "chronological time."
But opposing concepts don't presuppose anything "epochal." Concepts and time/space are independent metaphysical categories.
That M is a period within world history is a matter of consensus. But as we know, consensus doesn't necessarily anchor truth (think the consensus on slavery among southern landowners during early 19th Century America, or Arian Supremacy during the Nazi years in Germany).
Modernity makes historical claims while metaphysics hides behind the curtains.
M is deliberate about turning history into a teleological theater.
What are the methods of history? Like other disciplines in the Human Sciences, history is a big pottage of ideas, competing positions and methodologies. Generally, historians stay away from metahistory (a kind of independent auditor looking at the overall discipline). But being that metahistory is not so much about history but how history talks about itself, the talking is often hijacked by "foreign" interests (i.e., metaphysics).
Why is this relevant? Because Hegel's axiomatics.
Hegel's Lectures on the Philosophy of History is the Romantic metahistoric manifesto that brings together two reluctant siblings: philosophy and history. Together they announce the Parousia of Protestant Eschatology. This is how M-normativity is born.
As time passes M-theory get more gluttonous. M-theorists turn M into a gargantuan hyperobject with which to explain all imaginable phenomena. To top it off, M should last forever.
Let's imagine a regular historian doing research, negotiating different methodologies available to her, whether voluntaristic, Marxist, sociological, interdisciplinary, Feminist, etc. Despite the differences, the common denominator is the gathering of past facts in order to build inferences to explain it. These historic inferences are always fallible approximations.2
How could History, a discipline whose raison d'etre is to analyze and theorize changes in the past, declare an "epochal state of permanence?" How could an epoch in history get —as it were— out of its time to dictate: "I'm here to stay"? That's metaphysical hooey.
Here is M's dogma:
... [M] opens itself to the future, the epochal new beginning rendered constant with each moment that gives birth to the new.We have to find a way to expose the sham.
Let's take a look at the emergence of what M-theorists pejoratively describe as postmodernity. We should not even let the "post" prefix fool us. M-theorists don't mean "post" as posterior to M. They mean it as a mere (to bring a Hegelian shibboleth) "detour."3
But even granting the M-theorist that postmodernity is "oppositional" will be enough to show that M-normativity is a cheat, a Baron Munchausen pulling himself from his bootstraps.
the collapse of M-normativity? (Pruit Igoe, 1968)
Nietzsche, the first postmodern
Who's the bearer of postmodern iniquity? An eccentric, blasphemous, sickish professor of philology by the name of Friedrich Nietzsche. To double up the weird: a Schopenhauerian and a Wagnerian.
Nietzsche is said to have "broken away from the spell of M."
How did he do it?
Nietzsche renounces a renewed revision of the concept of reason and bids farewell to the dialectic of enlightenment... [He] uses the ladder of historical reason in order to cast it away at the end and to gain a foothold in myth as the other of reason. (PDM, 86)What myth?
... an investigation that led him beyond the Alexandrian world and beyond the Roman Christian world back to the beginnings, back to the "ancient Greek world of the great, the natural and the human." (PDM, Idem)The first postmodern is he who challenges M-normativity! Habermas is not shy to castigate dissension.
On this path the antiquarian-thinking "latecomers" of modernity are to be transformed into "firstlings" of a postmodern age. (PDM, Idem)"Postmodern age?" Habermas' own rhetoric betrays him. Does "age" = "epoch"? No two contemporaneous epochs are allowed by M-normativity. The culprit of this early jumble is Nietzsche. He incarnates "modern time consciousness" in search for a mythical time that is to be found not in the past but in the future.
Only the future constitutes the horizon for the arousal of mythical pasts. "The past always speaks as an oracle: only a as masterbuilders of the future who know the present will you understand it." (PDM, 87)Habermas reads Nietzsche's idea of the future as "utopian," directed to "the god who is coming, which makes Nietzsche less reactionary than say, a Romantic, who craves a "back to origins"call.
This god who is coming is Dionysus, a popular figure for German Romantics. Dionysus is favored by the romantics because he "preserves the cultic excess with archaic forms of social solidarity. (PDM, 96). Nietzsche is not original in his treatment of Dionysus. The fascination with the Greek god harks back to early Nineteenth Century, with the likes of Schlegel, Hölderlin, Novalis, Schelling, etc. The difference, Habermas points out, is that the Romantic Dionysus doesn't break with Western tradition. This mythology is a form of rejuvenation which seeks a Christian promise fulfilled with mythic Dionysian solidarity.4
The mature Nietzsche breaks with this Romantic Christian/Dionysian formula to embrace an openly aesthetic posture. For his discussion, Habermas cites from Nietzsche's On the Use and Abuse of History for Life.
We intend to mine this relevant text a little more.
How Nietzsche's futurity subverts M-normativity
Nietzsche is a futurist before Futurism.
It is appropriate now to understand that only the man who builds the future has a right to judge the past. (UAH, 26)The future is not merely "there" like chronological time. The future is a projection. Nietzsche in on the right path. That's why he's so influential for Existentialist theory: Dasein, or l'être depend of this futural projection.
Create in yourselves a picture to which the future is to correspond ... you have enough to plan and to invent when you imagine that future for yourselves. If you live your life in the history of great men, then you will learn from history the highest command: to ... flee away from that paralyzing and prohibiting upbringing of the age. (Idem)Nietzsche's "history of great men" refers to the ancient pre-socratics. A past that could happen again unless one flies "away from that paralyzing and prohibiting upbringing of the age." One has to respect a postmodern who can speak in such a "modern" manner.
When the historical sense reigns unchecked and drags with it all its consequences, it uproots the future, because it destroys illusions and takes from existing things the atmosphere in which they alone can live. (Idem)see how Nietzsche describes M-normativity:
As he sets down on the top of it the final stone of his knowledge, he appears to call out to nature listening all around, "We are at the goal, we are the goal, we are the perfection of nature." (UAH, IX)Nietzsche's futurity leaves M's trumpeted presentism lagging behind.
Nietzsche undertakes a conspicuous leveling. Modernity loses its singular status, it constitutes only a last epoch in the far reaching history of rationalization initiated by the dissolution of archaic life and the collapse of myth. (UAH, 35)To which extent can Nietzsche's critique of his present undermine M's singular status? Unless M is a Paper Tiger, its "epochal new" just a shibboleth defended by an out-of-synch status quo. Interestingly, Habermas' list of Nietzsche's postmodern buddies in PDM extend forward into the future to 1980s! That's a hundred years of postmodern trans-fat clogging M's arteries! 4
Let's introduce Nietzsche as the first modern postmodern.
(Picture the M-theorist, standing at the door of a small room filled with a postmodern coterie, holding a placard that reads: Long live the present!)
To top if off comes Baudelaire's contradictory declaration: Modernity can happen before modernity!
The poet is mixing up things. He has a right. For Baudelaire (a proto-Surrealist) time "is a greedy player."
"Time to get drunk!
Don't be martyred slaves of Time,
On wine, virtue, poetry, whatever!"5
Baudelaire's "get drunk" means dare to imagine!
What conceptual or epochal "warning" can prevent a critic disgusted with her present to look forward to a better future? Is theory a prerequisite for human imagination?5
To the preceding Baudelairean, let's double with this Nietzschean:
Postmodernity is possible before any modernity!
Now the distraught M-theorist throws up his hands and screams: "Stop, you're mixing everything up!"
But this is time! And time is elastic, it can be brought back and forth through memories. And memories are tools of superimposition. As we learn from Freud our psyche is in the business of mixing up events.
Does one have to be modern —or postmodern— to think like this:
The glance into the past pushes them into the future, fires their spirit to take up life for a longer time yet, kindles the hope that justice may still come and that happiness may sit behind the mountain towards which they are walking. These historical people believe that the meaning of existence will come increasingly to light in the course of its process. Therefore they look backwards only to understand the present considering previous process and to learn to desire the future more keenly. (UAH, 5)Nietzsche, the first modern/postmodern, has the freedom to go back and forth, shopping around for standards, evaluating past and/or future (even if as we know, it turns to be illusory).
Fill your souls with Plutarch, and dare to believe in yourselves when you have faith in his heroes. With a hundred people raised in such an unmodern way, that is, people who have become mature and familiar with the heroic, one could permanently silence the entire noisy pseudo-education of this age. (my italics, UAH, 5)Let's welcome this new Nietzschean relatum: "unmodern." How near of farther away is that from "modern"?
To make the M-theorist more miserable, Nietzsche —reluctantly— considers himself a modern.
For we modern people have nothing at all which comes from us.It's time for a second introduction: Nietzsche is the first unmodern modern.
Next: The Modernity that never was.
1 Our discussion takes Habermas' PDM as its main source, but the truth is that Habermas' own position is close to other high profiled M-theorists, such as Hans Blumenberg, Reinhart Koselleck, etc. 2 Induction is never certain. But M makes it look deductive. Which brings us to the difference between the "natural" and "social" sciences. In spite of the obvious differences, here I try to play a neutral game, i.e., in spite of their differences, both history and biology have to build a body of knowledge from explanations and predictions. 3 I'm thinking of Hegel's maxim: Der Weg des Geistes ist der Umweg. 4 This interpretation is challenged in a recent essay by Peter Sloterdijk.
Obviously Nietzsche doesn't see his present as this idea of M defended by Habermas a hundred years later. This is all metaphysical legerdemain. 5 Baudelaire's Paris Spleen. 6
"The same evidence follows us in our second principle, of the liberty of the imagination to transpose and change its ideas." Hume's Treatise on Human Nature (III)