Thursday, July 29, 2010

What is post (post) modernism?

Jean-Fran├žois Lyotard
It's been a beautiful Melbourne day. Grey skies accompanied by a fine drizzle with an occasional gentle gust of wind. Just magic. So, why considering all this, am I feeling not quite up to my usual self? Perhaps, there is not an answer to the question why? Maybe, I just need to accept that I feel as grey as the weather and the intermittent showers and breezes. The answer might only in fact be superstitious, but then an irrational answer will often suffice in the absence of a better explanation.

I plan to meet up with my peers tomorrow. We are the core group of post (post) modernists. The group consists of a semi-retired Professor from Malta, an Italian PhD student and a picaro. I'm not telling which one I am, but I the term came to both the picaro and the Professor last week. An example of Jungian synchronicity. Over a coffee or two no doubt,  I expect that post (post) modernism will again be discussed. The Professor will say that 'two negatives make a positive' and the picaro will say that we are past what in fact never existed in the first place. All of us are excited to finally find our way past this aberration of Western thought, which was only ever really a watered down version of modernism proper in the first place: (post) modernism.

Even the post-modernists always accepted the fraudulent nature of their claims. 'Post-modernism is really only exists as a subset of modernism and doesn't exist separately to it' there foremost proponents  such as Lyotard seem to argue. This was all bad enough until butterflies  in Upper Mongolia started causing bushfires in the outer suburban Sydney, and dolphins actually attained an intelligence level greater than the average human: Whales became sacrosanct. The truth was, as Holmes told Watson, that fact is stranger than fiction; Crows were found to be in the same group of intelligence as these sea-going mammals, and whats more, they didn't even need to get their feathers wet to be so.

Ah, yes! But there is no truth, they would no doubt argue. Well, that's a truth statement if I've ever heard one. That sounds like a universal claim to an absolute truth to me at least. Post (post) modernism would rather, from my point of view at least, maintain that there may very well be absolute truths, but that we as humans can not know those truths directly due to the very limitations of our mode of perception and the limitations of language, our sole method of expressing any truth with any foundational accuracy. Art, of course, with its recourse to more subliminal meaning, may express these truths, but again, only in an interpretive and not a direct way.

From one cold winter's morning to another, this idea develops with a mixture of jollity and perseverance. That is the way of the post (post) modernist intellectual.  Over a coffee or two in a cafe in Heidelberg, far from Paris' left bank <> ,  these ideas develop one day at a time into questioning the very bases of modern thought. Language does not permit an escape from the modern, and no amount of grammatical tricks will allow one to free oneself from the bondage of this idea. Just writing the present in the past tense is nothing but a cheap trick advocated by some postmodernists.

merleau-pontySo, what is Post (post) modernism.  It is pure and simply an acceptance that human thought consists of rational and irrational components. That science and religion are equivalents just as are order and chaos. It rejects the notion that one is better than the other, accepting Maurice Merleau-Ponty's assertion that human consciousness is composed of perceptible and non-perceptible occurrences, The Visible and the Invisible being the seminal work in this area. It's basic tenet was written and described by Albert Einstein over a century ago, that matter and light are equivalents.

Furthermore, it is a proposed that human perception of the physical world is essentially dualistic, and while the physical world may or may not be so formed, it remains integral to our understanding of the world that we accept these opposing forces as a unity, St Augustine of Hippo was the first scholar of note to point this out nearly 2000 years ago.

The world at first appears Newtonian and well ordered. The deeper we look , however, he more this order seems to break up into disorder or chaos. If we go deeper still, chaos seems to give way to the extremely ordered world of the atom only to again resume its chaotic appearance at the sub-atomic level. The point being, we can never really know, because once past a certain point we are no longer directly perceiving phenomena but rely on intermediary devices.It becomes simply a matter of whatever works.

In any case, why should we expect the world to be one or the other? Since ancient times, order and chaos have been constant themes delimiting the way we see the world. Certainty and mystery  are intertwined and inseparable, and there is no escaping that. Absolute truths may or may not exist, but our limited positioning and the fact that we are confined to a body ensures that there can be no reliable omniscience in our knowledge. It can only be developed through discursive activity. There may  or may not be an omniscient view point but that view point is beyond the human realm.

The rain is pouring now. Who would have thought. The wind has ceased. Tomorrow is another day, and I expect it to arrive just the same as it did today.  The sun will inscribe its path across the sky, and the stars will go into hiding again. The wind and rain will do what they do. It will be cold because it's winter. What exactly will happen in detail is another point entirely. And of course, I am relying on my memory of the past to predict what tomorrow's present will be. That is a process that has worked for me and other bodies like me in the past, and I expect that it will work just as reliably in the morning. Who knows, I may very well be wrong.

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