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.
For the presentist present and past are incommensurable. A presentist talks about the past, but the past can only be judged from the present. The presentist accepts that norms change, but any evaluation of norms has to be present-bounded. The presentist is a subjective relativist with respect to the present: the past's norms may be Ok for the past but not for the present.
M doubles up the lemma. It adopts a presentist stance to norms, but in addition, it presents these norms oppositionally. In other words, M's present rules over the now & the now-block with everything in it. So, for an M- theorist, postmodernity is just a part of M.
An obstacle to this view is Hegel's very idea of Ground (see our previous post). How could the presentist makes sense of this jetztzeit unless he had a frame of reference to compare it with? To call out "X" presupposes some form of choice from members of a class other than those in the present.
Yet, even from an "oppositional" perspective, postmodernity presents difficult questions 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 dismissed as derivative or spurious.
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" seems neutral. Things begin and end (except M of course). Recall that Habermas would prefer to argue for "oppositionality" rather than "chronology." But M's use of "oppositionality" is a straw man. Opposing concepts don't presuppose anything "epochal."
Concepts and time/space are independent metaphysical categories. (unless the M-theories is an anti-realist, one hopes he agrees that time/space exists independently of any concept).
That M is a period within world history is a matter of consensus. But 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).
So, the game here is that M makes historical claims while metaphysics hides behind the curtains.
M turns history into teleological theatrics.
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., ideology, or good ol' 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. This is how M-normativity is born.
As time passes M-theory get more gluttonous and M-theorists turn M into a gargantuan hyperobject with which to explain all imaginable phenomena, plus 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 remain fallible approximations.2
How could History, a discipline whose raison d'etre is to 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"?
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.Let's take a look at the emergence of what M-theorists pejoratively call 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 to our discussion) "detour."3
But even granting the M-theorist that postmodernity is "oppositional" will be enough to show that M-normativity is a cheat, a 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' rhetoric betrays him. Does "age" equals "epoch"? No two distinct 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 as masterbuilders of the future who know the present will you understand it." (PDM, 87)Nietzsche's idea of the future is "utopian," directed to "the god who is coming, which makes Nietzsche less reactionary than say, a Romantic, who craves to go "back to origins."
Don't we hear anything of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Don't we smell anything of the divine decomposition? Even Gods decay. God is dead; God remains dead, and we have killed him. How shall we con sole ourselves, we, the murderers among all murderers. (Gay Science, p. 181)Nietzsche replaces the Christian God with a nihilistic god. Dionysus was favored by the German 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. 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
And yet, 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 bit more.
moderns lost in the high seas of the present, looking yonder @ their uncertain future (Théodore Géricault, Raft of Medusa, 1819)
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 reserve of chronological time. The future is a projection, this is 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, 26)Nietzsche's "history of great men" refers to the ancient pre-socratics. The past that could come back again unless one flies "away from that paralyzing and prohibiting upbringing of the age." One has to respect a postmodern who can speak with such modern panache.
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, 26)Nietzsche's futurity leaves M's trumpeted presentism behind time.
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)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 loves to mix 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 "time to get drunk" means dare to imagine!
What conceptual or epochal warning can prevent a critic, disgusted with his present, to look forward to a better future? Is theory a prerequisite for human imagination?5
Let's double up now with this Nietzschean:
Postmodernity is possible before any modernity!
The distraught M-theorist throws up his hands: "Stop, you're mixing everything up!"
But this is time! Time is plastic, it can be brought back and forth through memories. And memories are tools of superimposition and juxtaposition. 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 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 "unmodern." How near of farther away is that from "modern"?
To exasperate the M-theorist even more, Nietzsche —reluctantly— considers himself a modern.
For we modern people have nothing at all which comes from us.It's time for a revision: Nietzsche is the first unmodern modern.
Next: Against hyper-objects.
1 Our discussion takes Habermas' PDM as its main source, but Habermas' position is akin to other high profiled M-theorists, such as Hans Blumenberg, Reinhart Koselleck, etc. 2 Induction is never certain, but M makes it look so, as if it rests on deductive grounds. The distinction brings us back to the difference between the "natural" and "social" sciences. We take it that 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. Nietzsche doesn't see his present as as Habermas wishes him to see it, a hundred years later. 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).