Are we not, then, at the center of what Jean-Francois Lyotard calls the postmodern condition, which I, unlike him, understand to be the paradigm of all submission and every sort of compromise with the existing status quo? For Lyotard, postmodernism represents the collapse of what he calls the grand narratives of legitimation (for example, the discourses of the Enlightenment, those of Hegel’s accomplishment of the Spirit and the Marxist emanicipation of the workers). It would always be wise, according to Lyotard, to be suspicious of the least desire for concerted social action. Any promotion of consensus as an ideal, Lyotard argues, is to be regarded as out-dated and suspect. Only little narratives of legitimation, in other words, the ‘pragmatics of linguistic particles’ that are multiple, heterogeneous, and whose performativity would be only limited in time and space, can still save some aspects of justice and freedom. In this way, Lyotard joins other theorists, such as Jean Buadrillard, for whom the social and political have never been more than traps, or ‘semblances’, for which it would be wise to lose one’s fondness.
Whether they are painters, architects, or philosophers, the heroes of postmodernism have in common the belief that the crises experienced today in artistic and social practices can only lead to an irrevocable refusal of any large-scale social undertaking. So we ought to take care of our own backyards first and, preferably, in conformity with the habits and customs of our contemporaries. Don’t rock the boat! Just drift with the currents of the marketplace of art and opinion that are modulated by publicity campaigns and surveys.
But where does the idea that the socius is reducible to the facts of language, and that these facts are in turn reducible to binarizable and ‘digitalizable’ signifying chains, come from? On this point postmodernists have hardly said anything innovative! In fact, their views are directly in keeping with the modernist tradition of structuralism, whose influence on the human sciences appears to have been a carry-over from the worst aspects of Anglo-Saxon systematization. The secret link that binds these various doctrines, I believe, stems from a subterranean relationship– marked by reductionist concepts, and conveyed immediately after the war by information theory and new cybernetic research. The references that everyone continually made to the new communications and computer technologies were so hastily developed, so poorly mastered, that they put us far behind the phenomenological research that preceded them.
Here we must return to a basic truism, but on pregnant with implications; namely, that concrete social assemblages– not to be confused with the ‘primary group’ of American sociology, which only reflects the economy of opinion polls –call into question much more than just linguistic performance: for example, ethological and ecological dimensions, as well as the economic semiotic components, aesthetic, corporeal and fantasmatic ones that are irreducible to the semiology of language, and the diverse incorporeal universes of reference which are not readily inscribed within the coordinates of the dominant empiricity… (The Guattari Reader, 111)
Much of this passage reads as if it could have come directly out of Badiou, when he rails against the sophists that placed philosophy under the poem. How did language come to be seen as the “transcendental condition for the possibility of x” any? One says, “you must use language to express any thought therefore language is a condition for all beings in much the same way that Kantian categories are conditions.” Yet I have to use my lips, teeth, tongue, and ears as well, but I do not treat these as conditions in this way. I use my brain as well, yet I do not treat this as a condition in this way. There must be oxygen for the sound waves to travel, yet this is not a condition in this way. How did this move occur? What grounds it?