Saturday, March 28, 2015

José Pablo Feinmann on why he rejects postmodernism

José Pablo Feinmann explains his own reckoning with postmodern philosophy in Vattimo, dialectos y transparencias Página/12 22.03.2015. He does so in the context of commenting on the thought of Gianni Vattimo, a postmodern philosopher who was recently visiting Argentina.

Feinmann quotes Vattimo to give a description of the aspect of postmodernism on which he focuses in this brief but dense essay. The development of the media of communication, in this postmodern model, allows for the abolition of the Cartesian ego and of the unity of opposites in the Hegelian philosophy, which latter Feinmann references here as the One:

El mundo de la comunicación permite el desarraigo de la dictadura de lo Uno y la liberación de las diferencias. A esto le debemos llamar, dice, el dialecto. Ya no hay una razón. Hay racionalidades locales, dialectos. “Minorías étnicas, sexuales, religiosas, culturales o estéticas, como los punk, por ejemplo” (Ibid, p. 17). Esto no es una manifestación irracional de la espontaneidad. Las diferencias se manifiestan, se emancipan de la dictadura de lo Uno.

[The world of communication permits the uprooting of the dictatorship of the One and the liberatio of differences. This we can call, say, the dialectic. But there is no Reason. There are local rationalities, dialectics. "Ethnic, sexual, religious, cultural or aesthetic minorities, like the punks, for example." {Vattimo} This is not an irrational manifestation of spontaneity. The differences manifest themselves, they emancipate themselves from the dictatorship of the One.]
Feinmann responds with a contemporary Hegelian argument, one based in actual history. He looks at the end of the Cold War circa 1989 and the subsequent enormous expansion of neoliberal "globalization" and argues against what he views as a conservative tendency in postmodernist philosophy:

Voy a decirlo de una vez por todas: los intentos posmodernos han fracasado estrepitosamente. El sujeto cartesiano y el sujeto hegeliano están, hoy, más centrados que nunca. Nadie descentró al sujeto. Nadie lo adelgazó. Nadie lo deconstruyó. El sujeto absoluto es hoy el Sujeto del Poder Bélico Comunicacional. (Así: con mayúsculas fascistas, porque es de derecha y colonialista.) Este sujeto está globalizado y coloniza día tras día las subjetividades de los ciudadanos de este mundo. Su constitución ha sido reciente. Ni Sartre ni Foucault lo vieron. Y los posmodernos, que presenciaron su surgimiento y consolidación, lo interpretaron idílicamente, como el fruto maduro de una democracia comunicacional por cuyo medio se expresarían las distintas, mútiples voces de la libertad, sobre todo una vez caído el coloso comunista. ¿Error, ingenuidad o colaboracionismo? No son – arriesguemos – filósofos del “neoliberalismo”. Pero son –sin la menor duda– filósofos de la caída del comunismo, expresada en el colapso de la Unión Soviética. La distancia entre una cosa y la otra es demasiado estrecha.

[I'm going to say once and for all: the postmodern intentions have failed ostentatiously. The Cartesian subject and the Hegelian subject are today more central than ever. No one removed the subject from its central place. Nobody slimmed it down. Nobody deconstructed it. The Absolute subject is today the Subject of the Communicational Power of War. (Thus: with fascist capital letters, because it is rightwing and colonialist.) This Subject is globalized and day after day colonizes the subjectivities of the citizens of this world. Its construction has been recent. Neither Sartre nor Foucault saw it. And the postmodernists, who were present at its upsurge and consolidation, interpreted it idyllically as the mature fruit of a communicational democracy by whose medium the multiple voices of liberty express themselves, above all when the Communist colossus fell. Error, naivety or collaborationism? There are no - we'll take a risk to say - philosophers of "neoliberalism." But there are - without any doubt - philosophers of the fall of Communism, expressed in the collapse of the Soviet Union. The distance between one thing and the other is too narrow.]

There's a nice word play there in the sentence, "Nadie descentró al sujeto." I translated it above as, "No one removed the Subject from its central place." It could also be translated, "No one put the subject off its game."

In my reading - to use the polite postmodern expression! - Feinmann is arguing that postmodernism as derived from Heidegger and Foucault has a tendency to remove any intellectual basis for challenging the established order because it effectively gives up the concepts of Reason and objective truth. It does rule out efforts to change. But it puts the claims of the powerful on the same level normative as those of the weak, the claims of the tyrants on the same normative level as the claims of their subjects demanding freedom.

Feinmann isn't willing to give up the Hegelian historical subject, nor the Enlightenment standard of Reason, nor the Humeian/Hegelian goal of perceiving objectively material reality accurately.

Feinmann here is on the side of the Frankfurt School of critical theory. Gary Aylesworth in his 2015 entry on Postmodernism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy summarizes the criticism that "second generation" Frankfurt theorist Jürgen Habermas makes of postmodernism:

Habermas argues that postmodernism contradicts itself through self-reference, and notes that postmodernists presuppose concepts they otherwise seek to undermine, e.g., freedom, subjectivity, or creativity. He sees in this a rhetorical application of strategies employed by the artistic avant-garde of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, an avant-garde that is possible only because modernity separates artistic values from science and politics in the first place. On his view, postmodernism is an illicit aestheticization of knowledge and public discourse. Against this, Habermas seeks to rehabilitate modern reason as a system of procedural rules for achieving consensus and agreement among communicating subjects. Insofar as postmodernism introduces aesthetic playfulness and subversion into science and politics, he resists it in the name of a modernity moving toward completion rather than self-transformation. [my emphasis]
Habermas and other Frankfurt School theorists are not only very much aware of the "nightmares of reason." They have been leaders in pointing them out. But they haven't abandoned Reason and the necessity of understanding empirical reality in doing so.

Feinmann also makes his own reckoning with Hegel's unifying concept of the One in the context of Islam's role in world history in El estruendo de los fanáticos Página/12 22.03.2015.

There are also Spanish-language lectures of his on YouTube from a Canal Encuentro series on Michel Foucault (1926–1984).

T2 CAP 11: Foucault [1]:

T2 CAP 12: Foucault II:

Also one on postmodernism more generally, T2 CAP 13: Los posmodernos:

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