Postmodern Analysis. Third Edition


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In other words, postmodernism is not an autonomous concept, thus indicating its limitations, references, and theoretical vicinities. The ideals of the social and cultural modernity, despite their proved fragility and the historical events of the twentieth century, can still be achieved in an objective science, an autonomous art and a universal morality, whose consequences can be visible in the betterment and enrichment of our daily life. From this perspective, the postmodern project represents an attack on some important traits of modernity, such as rationality, progress, democracy, the underlying rhetoric being one of strategic withdrawal, reply or counterattack.

The modernity is not consumed, fulfilled, complete, so that the postmodern project is not in the right position to formulate a valuable critique. Moreover, authors like Nietzsche, Derrida or Foucault are accused of making a serious error when they deconstruct the theses of modernism using concepts and methods that belong to the modern rationality.

For the interpretation of modernity, Habermas usually examines the "progressive" and the "oppressive" elements, using a kind of argumentative rhetoric with witch "weighs" the validity of modernity.

This exchange of arguments is a dialectical activity that is very relevant to Habermas and Perelman too and outlines "the model of controversia " CONLEY, , p. This model gives the control upon the thesis that is discussed and seems to confer a degree of certainty for the conclusions revealed as a result of this process.

Of course, the high appreciation of the universal principle of rationality is the general premise that underlies this model. But then this process can be interpreted as the opposite of the Habermasian desire for consensus at this point the Habermas - Lyotard debate is the main illustration , since the exchange of arguments can be, in many cases, agonistic and polemical. Furthermore, his philosophical work calls into play dissensus and thus breaks his defended distinction between philosophy and literature:. Philosophical Discourse on Modernity can be read as a grand narrative that employs literary construction, copious rhetoric, and frequent moral and political passion.

While he champions consensus, his text enacts dissensus, attacking both certain forms of modern theory and its postmodern opponent. Habermas' tone is sharply polemical and he rarely searches for common ground or points of agreement, preferring instead to engage in often passionate and sometimes overstated polemics.

Thus, the similarities between Lyotard and Habermas can be more important than their declared theories. In the same time, the use of rhetorical means in the act of argumentation even against rhetoric! The rhetorical differences sometimes directly intervened in the discussions, and this was the case with the famous Habermas - Rorty debate, especially when the subject was the relationship between public and private.

Habermas thinks that Rorty's contributions are a part of the so called philosophy of life, in the sense that his main intention would be that of "poetization" and not of rationalization. The "poeticized" culture promoted by Rorty, his aestheticizing discourse and the depiction of the "world-disclosing function of language" is opposed to by his own philosophy of problem solving within our "intramundane praxis".

Rorty thinks that. Unlike my political differences with Foucault, my differences with Habermas are what are often called "merely philosophical" differences.

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RORTY, , p. What is very interesting in the case of Habermas remains the paradox of his relationship with rhetoric. On the one hand, Habermas avoids rhetoric in his theories; Thomas Conley explained this refusal by the important role played by rhetoric in the old order of German history. The reasons of historical circumstance are seen as sufficient for this rejection of rhetoric in his critical project and his orientation towards the universal principle of rationality: "[ Even if those reasons can't entirely explain Habermas's position, they can be seen as a possible starting point for it.

On the other hand, Habermas was included in the list of rhetoricians, as an influential thinker for this domain, too. Conley detects the existence of a consensus between Habermas, Perelman, Burke, McKeon and interprets this theoretical convergence as a symptom for the emergence of a "new Ciceronianism" that seems to be the central key for the understanding of their most relevant contributions in the post war rhetoric. The philosophers construct "rhetorical frameworks" for addressing significant philosophical inquiries that otherwise they would not be able to put.

General Introduction to Postmodernism

In this context, Crosswhite , p. He also considers the Habermas - Gadamer debate as a suggestive moment that illustrates exemplary the comeback of rhetoric to philosophy. In this position, the destructiveness of the European wars and the crisis of modernity aren't the premises for the abdication of rhetoric, but, on the contrary, those facts conduct to the urge of rethinking reason, and in this process rhetoric is re-appropriated and re-used.

As Habermas, Anthony Giddens thinks that the illuminist skepticism in its radicalized version is high modern, but it cannot be labelled as postmodern. For Giddens, the dissolution of the metanarratives, the obliteration of providential history or the relativity of interpretations do not represent the signs for a present postmodernity, but they nevertheless constitute some key traits of a late phase of modernity. A fresh visit to the study of modernity is mandatory, because its power is not yet exhausted.

The internal contradiction that the above thinker pointed is the fact that the postmodern epistemological claim affects the fundament of the concept of postmodernism itself when it assumes that knowledge has no foundation anymore how is it possible to give a fundament to a concept when the very notion of fundament is dead? The modern design of the world cannot be surpassed by inventing new terms, new types of rhetoric or performing a deeper reflexivity.

For Giddens, modernity doesn't search the novelty for its own sake , p. This is present in every modern movement and its existence may cause the release of a radiant rhetoric. Nevertheless, the crisis and its rhetoric are insufficient reasons for the proclamation of a postmodern era; on the contrary, Giddens sees in them the universalisation and the reformation of the effects of modernity. For us, his theory is a good example for the rhetoric of incompleteness, for the great trust in the modern project and in its non-finalized, but desirable objectives.

As in the case of Matei Calinescu , for whom postmodernism is just a face of modernity, among other five notorious faces - modernism, avant-garde, decadence, and kitsch - Giddens remains a faithful partisan of the modern movement. Rhetoric accompanies modernism rhetoric of progress, rhetoric of crisis, rhetoric of aesthetic conservation, etc.

Allowing the Other to Speak: the Relevance of Postmodernism to Political Analysis

Tackling this relationship from a rhetorical perspective, Ronald Schleifer notices that the postmodern stance, that was described. It is inhabited with the same sense of negative materiality that modernist discourse presents, but its relationship to that materiality is not quite - not wholly - the "same". Of course, this relationship is extremely complex: on the one hand, the postmodernism can be seen as a culmination of modernism; on the other hand, the postmodernism is separated from modernism through a "radical negativity".

Thus, the crisis of modernism is still found in postmodernism, and the latter took it to its final metaphysical consequences; this crisis accomplishment is both a culmination and a negation. The ideas of loss and crisis, that are specific to modernism, are also found in postmodernism, but without their usual fervour; they became operational entities, tools to be used in the act of writing.

The diminution of the linguistic shock can be observed in the "postmodern rhetoric of play", that both replied and continued "the modernist rhetoric of crisis". The "chilling sense" of anaesthesia, the blurred meaning of the discourse, the feeling that "things are not quite right", the contingent nature of everything are some features of the contemporary discursiveness, that is caught in an endless symbolic exchange between modernism and postmodernism. The failure of the synecdoche, which dominated the early modern period, is associated with the end of the domination of the western way of thinking and with the institution of a new world that is not only meaningless, but of meaningless plenty.

Being a semantic figure of speech built through contiguity, coexistence, proximity or vicinity, the metonymy itself is the subject of various efforts of differentiation from metaphor and synecdoche. For Marc Bonhomme , p. Bonhomme underlines five important metonymical effects that we can find across different discursive uses: the individualization of a notion, the devalorization of a concept, the destructuration of a description, the concretization of a process, the densification of a process.

Thus, we notice that in the discursive practice, the accents may be modified, some metonymies being fit for polemical use, for the devalorization of the denotation, while others lead to descriptive amalgamations, to subjective re-compositions of the interpretive frames or to dynamic reconfigurations of an entire theoretical field.

If we think about Fontanier's view on metonymy - the metonymy ensures the depiction of an object through the name of another object, different from the former, but maintaining a dependence relationship with it -, then we get an interesting angle of interpreting the dyad modernism-postmodernism.

From this perspective, there is a substantial connection between modernism and postmodernism, and this is more than a simple form of continuity, coexistence or co-dependence - and this view is quite similar to some of Lyotard's interpretations.


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On the other hand, if we use Du Marsais's , p. As it can be seen from this brief analysis of the relationship between modernism and postmodernism from the standpoint of metonymy, the complexity of this conceptual couple is self evident. The "quarrel" between rhetoric and philosophy, that is easily observable in the history of the western culture, becomes rather dimmed within postmodernism. Traditionally, rhetoric was given the task of analyzing the ephemeral, the contingent and the persuasive issues - "fragile" objects of study in comparison with those pertaining to philosophy - truth, objectivity, knowledge.

Plato described the art of rhetoric as a construction of counterfeit conceptions and as a means to creating weak, but persuasive, arguments instead of telling or searching for the truth. Aristotle tried to offer legitimacy to the field of rhetoric, but centuries after that it was still short of a good reputation and recognition Kant, for instance, depicts rhetoric as an "art of illusions", that is recommended neither for the bar, for the pulpit and surely not for the philosophical discourse, because of its tendency of gaining the reader's acceptance from the very beginning, without giving them enough time for a rational analysis of the topic.

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Nietzsche, on the other hand, includes rhetoric in his definition of truth, which itself becomes a poetical and rhetorical construction that is gradually transformed in a canon through constant use NIETZSCHE, It is no wonder, thus, why Nietzsche has been seen as a forerunner of postmodernism and the studies on metaphor reached such high amplitude, one that has never been encountered before.

The relationship between philosophy and rhetoric determined, as Richard Lanham puts it, the emergence of two distinct "species": homo seriousus and homo rhetoricus. The philosopher is the prototype of homo seriousus , owner of a central identity, irreducible to something else, while homo rhetoricus is rather seen as an "actor" that manipulates the reality according to his own goals, and he does not try to know it objectively. If homo seriousus is very suspicious about the linguistic methods used by homo rhetoricus , the latter undermines the claims of truth and of a neutral language within which homo seriousus believes that he or she develops his or her theories.

The postmodernism achieved the passing from the project of "despised doxa " to the project of "despised logos " SCHRAG, - Derrida, Deleuze, Lyotard being just a few examples of practicing a politics of opinion, and thus a detachment from the politics of reason.

The "ostracism" of logic and its dispatch towards rhetoric was deeply criticized by Habermas, especially because this re-disposition of forces affects the argumentative reason and the criteria put forward by logic. The rebuttal of the classical oppositions - on the reason of changes in the domination relationship or of generalized suspicion concerning the idea of philosophical system - is interpreted by Habermas as a form of "fanatism" with negative implications, and not a natural consequence of the deconstructionist approach.

Derrida, on the other hand, maintained his idea according to which the liberation of philosophy from literature or rhetoric is simply impossible, as long as philosophy uses tropes in order to produce changes in beliefs. Derrida generally tries to set free the rhetorical energies within texts, and his research on metaphor gives an extra ubiquity to rhetoric, that becomes an all-permeating power.


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  • Moreover, Derrida's works show that rhetoric is a not an optional, but a necessary tool for deconstruction. In similar fashion, Rorty thinks that the rhetorical discourse underlines the idea of contingency, destabilizing the frames of the logical-metaphysical discourse, so that the "poeticized" culture that he advocates seems to compensate for the shortcomings of the former discourse.

    The fade of the distinction between the two genres namely, philosophy and literature is a consequence of the inversion of the relationship between logic and rhetoric - logic loses its primacy. For Baudrillard , p. As Rorty points out, if the nineteenth century thinkers wanted to replace philosophy with the natural sciences, the twentieth century offered a central place for literature, science and philosophy being conceived as literary genres RORTY, , p. The relevance of literature when we tackle the problem of discussing the main themes of philosophical reflection gives credit to the tendency of using the term "literature" for almost any type of writing that is capable enough to modify our sensibility concerning the themes mentioned above.

    Thus, a discourse that facilitates the moral reflection and enlarges the capacity of analyzing matters from multiple perspectives is coined as being "literary". Paul Virilio, for instance, explicitly asserts the inclusion of philosophy in literature: "[ To me, Shakespeare is really a great philosopher, perhaps above Kant and a few others. The postmodern science itself becomes a species of discourse and, in Lyotard's terms, it can be understood by means of transformation of the speech in a polemics that leaves sufficient space for the enunciation moves in order to turn them into inventions within conventional rules.

    The problem of the indistinction of genres has been also discussed by literary critics. Macherey thinks that there are no pure types of discourse, but a sort of discursive blend which philosophical or literary character "degree", in his own terms depends on the writing variables, notably definition, identity form and cultural frames MACHEREY, , p.

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    Maingueneau also rejects the idea of pure discourses, opting for a search for the dominant discursive issue that makes us include that discourse in one genre or another. Moreover, philosophy and literature are considered constituent discourses, so that this common belonging must be turned to account, and the classical criteria of interpretation aesthetic in literature, ethical and epistemological in philosophy should not be positioned in opposition anymore, but in conjunction. The repositioning of rhetoric in postmodernism contributed to the reconfiguration of the philosophical space, and also to the reconfiguration of the relationships between genres and discourses.

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