The Postlllodern Condition: A Repo t on Kno-wledge

The Postlllodern Condition: A Report on Kno-wledge Jean-Fran ois Lyotard Translation from the French by Geoff Bennington...

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The Postlllodern Condition:

A Report on Kno-wledge Jean-Fran�ois Lyotard Translation from the French by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi Foreword by Fredric Jameson

Theory and History of Literature, Volume 10

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Manchester University Press

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rt�pport sur I� savoir, copyright© 1 979 by Les Editions de Minuit. English

translation and Foreword copyrigh t© 1 984 by the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved . Publ ished in the United Kingdom by Manchester University Press. Oxford Road Manchester M 1 3 9PL Printed in the United States of America.

British Libruy Catalopaing in Publication Data Lyotard, jean-Fran�is The postmodem condition- (Theory and history of literature) 1. Knowledge, Theory of 11. La condition postmodeme. I. Title English Ill. Series Z361 001 I SBN 0·7190 - 1 454-9 ISBN o-7 1 90-1450-6 pbk. " Answering the Question : "Wh at I s Postmodemism?" appears in this book counesy of the University of Wisconsin Press ( English translation of this essay by Regis Durand copyright© 1 9 8 3 by Un iversity of Wisconsin Press ; the essay ap pears in lhab Hassa n and Sally Hassan , eds., lnno11atio n/R�no11atio n !Madison: Un iversity of Wisconsin Press, 198 3 ) ) and counesy of jean Piel,

editor of Critiqu�. where the essay originally appeared as "Reponse a Ia question: qu'est-ce que le postmodc:rnc: ?" in Critiqu�. number 419 (April 1982).

Contents

Foreword by Fredric jameson vii In troduction xxiii 1. Th e F ield : Knowledge in Computerized Societies 2. The Problem : Legitimation

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3. The Method: Language Games

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4. Th e N atu re of the Social Bond: The Modern Alternative

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S. Th e N atu re of the Social Bond : The Postmodern Perspective

6. The Pragmatics of Narrative Knowledge 18

7. Th e Pragmatics of Scien tific Kn owledge 2 3 8. Th e N arrative Function and t h e Legitimation of Knowledge

9. Narratives of the Legitimation of Knowledge 31 10. Delegitimation 37 11. Re se arch and Its Legitimation through Performativity 41 12. E du cation and Its Legitimation through Performativity 47 13. P ost modern Science as the Search for Instabilities S 3

14. Legitimation by Paralogy 60 Appendix: Answ ering the Question: What I s Postmodernism ? Notes 85 Index 107 ·

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Foreword Fredric ]an1eson

This seem ingly neutral review of a vast body of m aterial on con­ temporary science and p roblems of knowledge or inform ation proves on closer inspection to be a k ind of crossroads in which a num ber of d ifferent themes-a number of d ifferent books - intersect and problematize each other. For jean-Fran�ois Lyotard 's discussion of the consequences of the new views of scientific research and its parad igms, opened up by theorists like Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend , is also a th in ly Veiled polemic against jurgen Habermas 's concept of a "legitimation crisis " and vision of a -nnoiSefree ," trans­ paren t, fully COI1l_!Il�!l!cational socie ty . Meanwhile th e tttle Of ilie book , with its fash iona&le theme ofpostmodernism provocatively in eviden ce , open s up th is su bject matter, at least by implication , in the d ire ctions of aesthetics and economics, sin ce po.s.tmod� rn_i_�Q)__:jS_ i Uu ener ally u nder.st9od involves a rad!ca!.E_reak, both with a domi­ nan t cul ture and aesthetic,--and with a. ra_!!t e r different moment of _ c so cioe on omic organization against wh ich its structu ral novelties an d in nova tions "are measured: a "riew social and economic moment (or even sys tem ) , wh ich h as variou sly been called media society , the "society of the spectacle" (Guy Debord) , consu me r society (or the "societe de cons ommation "), the " bureaucratic society of controlled co nsum ption " (H enri Lefebvre), or "p�stindustrial society" (Daniel Be ll) . It may also be assumed th at th is ostensibly techn ical and vii

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im personal h andbook is also a sign ificant move in the development of Lyotard 's own ph ilosoph ical views, wh ose combative and prophetic voice , fami liar to the readers of his oth er works, will surprise by its relative silence here . F i n ally , and closely related to this last, The Postmodem Co ndition p resen ts u s with sign ificant method�Jlogical operations, wh ich , alth ough they draw on a whole very rich contem­ porary trad ition of narrative analysis nonetheless strike a relatively isolated and u n u su al note in the wh ole range of contemporary philo­ soph ical research . Lyotard 's official su bject matter - the statu s of science and tech­ nology, of tech nocracy and the control of knowledge and inform ation today - is perhaps th e most fam iliar material for th e American reader, yet it opens immediately and in stru ctively onto all the other themes I have just enumerated . "Doing science , " for instance , involves its own kind of legitimation (why is it that our stu dents do not do labora­ tory work in alchemy ? why is Immanuel Velikovsky considered to be an eccen tric ? ) and m ay therefore be investigated as a subset of the vaster p olitical Q!Oblem -�f the legitimation of a whole social ord�� ( a theme , which�-formu latea1ntllatP articular -code or termi­ n ology , is associated with the work of Habermas) . Doing "normal " science and particip ating in lawful and orderly social reprodu ction are then two phenomena - better still , two mysteries-that ough t to be able to illuminate one another. But as the term crisis in Habermas's tide, as well as the· prefix ost in that of Lyotard , reminds u s, legitimati�� �ecomc:s vi�i�le as p a p�)?.lem and an object of study only at me po�! in ��i.£h it is . calfed 1nto . q uestio n . As far as science is concerned , this crisis m ay be taken ·to be th at of wh ich the h istorical theories of Kuhn or Feyera­ bend stand as crucial sym p toms : it would seem rather less important to decide whether those th eories imply that we are now in a position to th in k or concep tualize scientific rese arch in a very differen t way from the N ewtonian period , or on the contrary th at we now actu ally do science in a different way . At any rate , th is " break " now links up with the oth er thematics of Lyotard 's essay by way of an evt:nt generally taken prim arily to be an aesthetic one , although it has relatively immediate ph il�sophical and ideological analogue s : I am referring to the so-called lC risi� of _repre�E!_ation, in wh ich an essen­ tially real istic epistemology, wh ich conceives of represen tation as the reprodyction , for su bjectivity, of an o bjectivity th at lies outside it­ p rojects a m irror theory of knowledge and art, whose fundamental e valu ative categories are those of adequ acy, accu racy , and Truth itself . ..!_ t is in terms of th is crisis that the transition , in the history of

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fonn, from a novelistic "realism " of the Lu kacsean variety to the vario us n ow classical "h igh " modernisms, h as been descri�ed : the:_ even m? r� dis�� c o gn i ti Vf vocation of science would � owever seem from ft tatt�nal to a sh represen a analogous e th by 1 mpaired t r ou sly 1 "saves" me ingeniously here Lyotard . practice al ntation se re p e no nr its now recasting by experiment and research scientific of e c n e r e c oh lingu is­ of terms in " "epistemology postreferential or nonly ing m see ), Austin L. (J. performative the of eories th of particular in d an , tics for w h ich the ju stification of scientific work is not to produce an a dequ ate model or replication of some outside reality , but rather simply to produce more work, to generate new and fresh scien tific hwnces or statements , to make you have " new ideas" (P. B. Meda­ war), o r , best of all ( and retu rn ing to th e more fam iliar aesthetics of h igh modern ism ) , again and again to "make it new ' :J''Au fond de l'Jnconnu pour tro uver du nou veau!" However th is novel way of relegitim izing contemporary sc ience is understood or evalu ated -and it has many family resemblances elsewhere in contemporary though t 1 -it then retrospectively all o ws Lyotard to sketch a narr a tive analysis of the older forms of scientific legitimation , whose collapse in our own time imposes su ch desperate solu tions , su ch remarkable last-m in u te salvage operations. The two great legitimizing "myths" or narr a tive archetypes (recits) are also someth ing of a complication, in th at they reproduce the denotative argu ment of the book in a connotative or au toreferent spiral . For the two great myth s d isengaged by Lyotard and identified as th e al tern afejustifications for institu tional scientific research up to our own period - that of the Jibera!!_�n of human i!Y and that of the specu lativ�_J!!l_ i!}' of all_�nowle�ge (qua ph ilosoph ical system ) ­ are also national myths an d reproduce th e very polemic in wh ich Lyotard ' s own book wishes to intervene . The first -political, m ili­ tant, act ivist - is of cour� th e tradition of the French eigh teenth �entury and the French Revolution , a tradition for which philosophy Js al read y p olitics and in wh ich Lyotard must himself clearly be ra nge d . The second is o f co_um;_the Germ�nic and llegelian_��.!�i!i_ o n -a c o ntem plative one, organ ized around the value of totality rath er th an _ t h at of commi tmen t, ana a trad ition to which Lyotard 's-pliil o ­ so��Jcal adv ersary , Habermas, still - h owever distan tly - remains affiliated. T h e conflict can be dramatized and magn ified if for these n�mes we su b sti tu te even m ore prestigious ones wh ose philosophical d J�ferences a rc even more sh arp ly articulated : compare , for example , c .. lll es D ele u ze 's influential celebration of sch izophrenia (in books _ hke th e Anti-Oedipus) with T. W. Adorn o 's no less in fluential and

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characteristic denunciations of cultural reification and fetishization . The opposition can also be rotated in a psychoanalytical direction , in which case a characteristically French affirmation of the "dece ntered su bject " or the illu sion of the coherent self or ego is set off again st m ore traditional Frankfurt School defenses of psychic "au tonomy . " Still, these trad itions are not altogether so continuous o r symmet­ rical as I have just suggested . Lyotard is, after all , writing in the wake of a certain French "post-Marx ism , " that is, an enormous reaction on all levels against various Marxist and Communist traditions in France, whose prime target on the philosoph ical level is the Hegel/Lukacs concep t of "totality " (often overh astily assimilated to Stalin ism or even to the Leninist party on th e political level). Lyotard 's own philosophical break with Marxism (he was a member of the impor­ tant Socialisme ou barbaric group in the 1 9 5 0s and early 1 960s)2 largely antedates this more recent, rather McCarthy ist moment in F rance (itself since overtaken by the unexpected S ocialist landslide of 1 98 1 ); but it clearly makes for a situation in which Habennas can still stand in fo r th e totalizing and d ialectical German traditio n , while Lyo­ tard 's own philosophical relationsh ip to the politicized Fren ch one has become far mo re problematic and comple x . Indeed , I want to show a little later on th at one sign ificant "libid in al " subtext of the p resent volu me consists of a symbolic effort to clarify this tangled plot as well . At any rate , Habermas 's_ v�iQ.JJ. of an evolutio..nary sog.al_l_eap into a new type � f r3:ti�_n_� �o � len: , defined i n communicational terms as·nthe commumcatio n commun ity o f th ose affected , who as partici­ pants in a practical discourse test the valid ity claims of norms and , to th e extent that th ey accep t them with reasons, arrive at the conviction th at in the given c ircumstances the proposed �Q[msHali_'.right,� "3 is here explicitly rejected by Lyotard as t�e tJ.n�cceptable remnant of a " totali z ing" philosophiCal tradi tion and as tl!�-��Q(ization.aLcanform­ ist , when not ..terrorist," ideals of consensus. ( I ndeed , insofar as Haberm as will.fnvciKe a li beratory rhetoric as well , th ere is a sense in wh ich , fo r Lyo tard , th is philosophical position unites every th ing that is unaccep table about botb·trad itions and myth s of legit imation . ) Before examin ing the posi tion in term s o f which such critiques are m ade , however, we m u st tu m at least parenthetically to the method­ ological perspective developed h ere , in which legitimation is secured in terms of master-n arratives of the two types already described [i'he adll)ission to France of such Anglo-American linguistic notions as th at of Austin 's "performative" is now largely an accomplished fact (alth ough a rather u nexpected development?) In a more general way , the lingu istic d imensions of wh at used to be c alled Fren ch structural­ ism and the seemingly more static possibilities of a domin an t sem iotics

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have in recen t years been corrected and augm ented by a return to

p ra gm atic s, ro the analysis of langu age situ ations and games, and of language i tself as an unstable exchange between its speakers, whose ut te rances are now seen less as a process of the transmission of i n for m ation or messages, or in term s of some network of signs or even sig nifying systems, th an as (to use one of Lyotard 's favorite figures) the " taking of tricks, " the trump ing of a communicational ad ver sary , an essentially conflictual relationsh ip between tricksters­ and nor as a we ll-regu lated and noisefrec: "passin � f tokens from hand to han d " (Mallarme on denotative speech) .f.Fe have already observed Lyotard 's promotion of the "performative " to the very fu ndamen tal prin ciple of contemporary science itself; what is even more striking in his methodological perspective, however- indeed , to my knowledge he is one of the few professional ph ilosophers of statu re anywhere formally to have (although Paul Ricoeur and Alistair Mcintyre also come to m in d ) d rawn this m omentou s conse­ quen ce - is the way in which narrative is affirmed , not merely as a significant new field of research , but well beyond that as a central instance of the human _ m ind and a m od� _ . of th inking fully as legitimate as that of abstract logic !\ A lengthy methodologic ar"parenthesis defends th is proposition, wh ich at once itself becomes a kind o f h istorical n arrative in its own righ t , since - particularly in the context o f a discussion of science­ it is obvious th at one of th e features that characterizes more " scien­ tific" periods of history , and most notably capitalism itself, is the relative retreat of the claims of narrative or storytelling knowledge in the face of th ose of the abstract, denotative , or logical and cognitive procedu res generall y associated with science or positivism . Th is p arenthesis once again complicates the arguments of The Postmodern Condition insofar as it becomes itself a symptom of the state it seeks to diagnose - its own retu rn to narr a tive arguments being fully as revealing an example of the legitimation crisis of the older cognitive and ep istemological scien tific world-view as any of the other develop­ ments enu merated in the tex t. Lyo tard does indeed ch aracterize one recenr innovation in the an alysis of scien ce as a view of scientific experiments as so many sm aller narratives or stories to be worked out. On the other h and , p aradoxically , th is revival of an essentially narrative view of "truth ," and the vitality of small narrative units at wor_k eve rywhere lo cally in the presen t social system , are accom­ pamed by something like a more global or totalizing "crisis" in the narrative fu nction in general , since , as we have seen , the older m aster­ narratives of legitim ation no longer fu nction in the service of scientific -

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research-nor, by imp lic ation , anywhere else (e.g., we no longer believe in p oli tical or h istorical teleologies, or in the great "actors" and "su bjects " of h istory- the natio n-state , the proletariat, the p arty, the West, etc . ) . Th is seeming contradiction can be resolved , I believe, by taking a further step that Lyotard seems unwilling to do in the present tex t, namely to posit, not the disappearan ce of the great master-narratives, but th eir p assage underground as it were,. their contin u ing but now zmconscious effectivity as a way of " thinking abou t" and acting in our current situ ation . This persistence of buried master-narratives in what I h ave elsewhere called our "political unconscious , " I will try sh ortly to d emonstrate on the occasion of present tex t as well . t Wh at is most striking in Ly otard 's d ifferentiation between story­ te ing and "scientific " abstraction is its unexpected modulation towards a Nietzschean thematics of h istory . In effect, indeed, for Lyotard the fundamental distin ction between these two forms of k nowledge lies in their relationsh ip to temporality , and in particular in their relationship to the retention o f the past. N arrative , wh ose formal properties become magnified in prosody and in the rhythmic features of trad itional tales , p roverbs, and the like , is here ch aracter­ ized as a way of co nsu ming the p ast, a way of forgetting : " as meter takes precedence over accen t in the production of sound (sp o ken or not), time ceases to be a su pport for memory to become an im­ memorial beating th at, in th e absence of a noticeable separation between periods , prevents their being numbered and consigns them to oblivion " (section 6) )0ne recalls the great and still influential essay of Nietzsche on the debilitating in fluence of h istoriography and of the fidelity to the p ast and the dead that an obsession with h istory seems to encou rage . The N ietzschean "strength to fo rget the p as t "­ in preparation for the mu tation of the superman to come-is here p aradoxically redeployed as a pro perty of storytelling itself, of pre­ cisely th ose n arratives , heroic or other, in which we h ave been taugh t t_o see a form of p rimitive data storage or of social reproduction . at this formulation d oes very sh arply ach ieve, at any rate , is the radical differentiation between the consumption of the past in n ar­ rative and its storage , h o ard ing, and c ap italization in "science " and scientific th ough t : a mode of u nderstanding th at, like the first sur­ p lus on the economic level, will little by little determine a whole range of ever more complex and ex tensive in stitu tiona} objectifica­ tions- first in writing ; then in libraries , universities , museum s ; with the breakthrough in our own period to microstoragc , computerized d ata , an d d ata banks of hitherto unimaginable proportions , whose





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co ntrol or even ownersh ip is, as Herbert Schiller and others have w arned us ( and as Lyotard is very well aware ) , one of the crucial political issues of our own time J We thus return to the th ematics of science and knowledge in its cia so l form : one th at raises issues of social class - is the technocracy p ro du ced by such a prim acy of knowledge a bureaucracy or a whole new class? - and of socioeconomic analysis - is th is momen t of ad­ van ced indu strial society a stru ctu ral variant of classical cap italism or a mu tation and the d awning of a wholly new social stru ctu re in which , as Daniel Bell and other theoreticians of the concept of a properly "postindustrial society " have argued , it is now science , knowle dge, technological research , rather than industrial production and the ex traction of surplu s value , that is th e "ultimately determin­ ing instance "? In reality , two distin ct and overlap ping q uestions are raised simul­ taneously by these two interrelated theo retical problems, which to h is credit Lyotard does not seek here in perempto ry fashion to resolve. The problem is finally th at of the nature of a mode of production , and in p articular the nature of the capitalist mode of produc tion and the structu ral variations of wh ich it is capable . The question may therefore be rephrased as a q uestion abou t Marxism : do the categories developed th ere for the analysis of classical capital­ ism still retain their valid ity and their explanatory power when we tum to the multinational and media societies of today with their "th ird-stage " technologies? The persistence of issues of power and control , particularly in the in creasing monopolization of information by private business , would seem to make an affirmative answer unavoidable , and to reconfirm the privileged statu s of Marxism as a mode of analy sis of cap italism proper. But the question h as often been taken to involve a second set of answer s or consequences as well , having to d o w ith the end of capi­ talism , the possibility of revolu tion , and, first and foremost, the con­ tinu ing fu nction of the industrial working class-as the fundamen tal revolutionary "subject of h istory . " It has at least h istorically been possible for in tellectu als and militants to recognize the explanatory powcr of Marxism as the priv ileged mode of analysis of cap ital ism _ (m clud ing the particular social moment th at is our own socie ty ) and , at one and the same time , to abandon the traditional M arxian vision of rc� o l u tion and socialism, main ly out o f a conviction that the in­ du st �lal wo rk ing class ( in any case defined by its relationship to pro­ d u_ct !V e techn ologies of the first and second type , rather th an the t h 1rd, cy bern etic or nuclear variety ) no longer occupies the strategic

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posmon of power in th is social formatio n . A stronger theoretical form of th is proposition would then be derivable in the notion th at social classes - of th e classical type defined by M arx ism - no longer , function as such today , but are rather displaced by differen t , non­ class formations su ch as bu reaucracy and technocracy ( an d this would seem to be the position of Lyotard , whose formative political work in the So cialisme o u barbaric group turned p recisely around the analysis of bu reaucracy in the Eastern countries). The question of social class, and in p articular of the " proletariat" and its ex isten ce , is h opelessly confused when such arguments con­ flate th e problem o f a theoretical category of analysis (social class) with the emp irical q uestion abou t the mood or in fluence of workers in this or that society today ( th ey are no longer revolu tionary , bour­ geoisified , etc . ) . Mo re orthodox Marx ists will agree with the most radical post- or anti-Marxist positions in at least th is, that Marxism as a coherent ph ilosophy (or better still , a "unity of theory and p raxis ") stands or falls with the matter of social class. What one can at least suggest here is th at ith Ernest M andel's theorization of a third stage of capitalism beyond th at of the classi­ cal or market capitalism analyzed in Capital itself, and that of the monopoly stage or stage of "imperialism " proposed by Lenin , there exists a properly Marxian alternative to non- or anti-Marxist th eories of "consumer" or "postindustrial " society today , theories of wh ich Daniel Bell 's is no doubt the most influential. Mandel indeed under­ takes to show that all of the features mobilized by Bell to document the end of capitalism as su ch - in p articular the new primacy of science and technological inven tion , and of the technocracy gener­ ated by that privileged p osition , as well as the sh ift from the older industrial technologies to th e newer in formational one s - can be accoun ted for in classical Marx ist terms, as indices of a new and powerfu l , origin al , global expansion of capitalism , wh ich now specifi­ c ally penetrates the h itherto precapitalist enclaves of Third World agricul tu re and of First World cultu re , in wh ich , in other word s, capi­ tal more definitively secures th e colonizati on of N atu re and the Un consciou s : "This new period [ 1 940 to 1 965 ] was ch aracterized , among other things, by the fact that alo ngside mach ine-m ade indus­ trial consumer goods (as from the early 1 9th century ) and m achine­ m ade. machines (as fro m the mid-1 9th centu ry ) , we n ow find ma­ c h i n e- p roduced raw materials and fo odstu ffs� Late capitalism , far from represen ting a 'post-industrial socie ty , ' th us appears as the period in wh ich all branches of the economy are fully industrialized for the first time ; to which one could further add the in creasing



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mech anization of the sp here of circulation (with the exception of p u re repair services) and the in creasing mechanization of the super­ •>4-1 s t ru cture . ..,.� Th is descrip tion is also quite consistent w ith the Frankfurt Sch ool 's co ncep tion of the "cu ltu re industry " and the penetration of com­ modity fetish ism into th ose realms of the imagin ation and the psyche which had , sin ce classical German philosophy , always been taken as so me last impregnable stronghold again st the instru mental logic of cap ital . What remains pro blematical about such conceptions - and abou t mediatory formu lations such as th at of Guy Debord , for whom "the im age is the last stage of commodity reification " - is of course the difficulty of articulating cultural and informational com modities with the labor theory of value, the methodological problem of reconciling an analysis in terms of quantity and in particular of labor time (or of the sale of labor power in so many un its) with the natu re of "mental " work and of nonphysical and nonmeasurable "commodities" of the type of informational bits or indeed of media or en tertainment "products . " On the other h and , the posing of the catego ry of " mode of production " as the funda­ men tal one of Marxian social analysis and the endorsement of a "problematic" that asks such systemic q uestions about contempor­ ary society would seem to remain essen ti al for political people who are still comm itted to radical social change and transformation . I ndeed , it is precisely as a contribution to th is general problematic that Ly otard 's little book is valu able , even th ough , as we shall see shortly , its author by no means counts h imself among revolutionaries of the traditional kin d . If the ch anging status of science and knowledge ( and of i t s ex­ perts) leads u s to the q uestion abou t the n ature of this mode of produ ction as a system and a function al whole , this second , larger issue retu rn s us, after a considerable detour, to the problem of cul­ ture , and in p articular of th e existence or not of some properly "p ostm odern ist " cultu re . For although the category of the mode of production h as sometimes been m isu nderstood as a narrowly eco­ n omic or "productionist " one, its adequ ate solu tion clearly demands a s tru ctural examin ation and p ositioning of the superstru ctural levels of a given social formation and , most urgently , the function and space to be assigned to culture itself: l}o satisfactory model of a given mode of produ ction can e x ist without a theory of the histor_i� ally . and d ialectically specific and unique role of "culture " within it. _..l llcre Lyotard 's sketch is tantalizing and fin ally frustrating; for the fonnal li m ita tion of his essay to the problem of "knowledge " has

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tended to exclude an area - cultu re - th at has been of the greatest importance to h im in h is o ther writings, as he has been one of the most keenly commi tted of contemporary thin kers anywhere to the wh ole range and variety of avant-garde and experimen tal art today. This very commitment to the ex perimental and the new , however, deter­ mine an aesthetic that is far more closely related to the traditional ideologies of h igh modern ism proper th an to cu rrent postmodern­ isms, and is in deed - p aradox ically enough - very closely related to the conception of the revolu tionary n ature of h igh modernism that Habermas faithfu lly inherited from the Frankfurt School. Th us,[although he h as polemically endorsed the slogan of a "post­ modern ism " and has been involved in the defense of some of its more con troversial produ ctions, Lyotard is in reality quite unw ill­ ing to posit a postmodernist stage rad ically differen t from the period of high modernism and involving a fundamental h istorical and cul­ tural break w ith this last. 5 Rather, seeing postmodernism as a discon­ tent with an disin tegration of th is or that h igh modernist style-a moment in the perpetu al "revolu tio n " and innovation of h igh modernism , to be succeeded by a fresh burst of formal invention ­ in a striking formula he h as ch aracterized postmodernism , not as th at which follows modern ism and its particular legitimatio n crisis , but rath er as a cyclical moment th at retu rns before the emergen ce of ever new modernisms in the stricter sense . ) There is then here reproduced something of the celebration of modernism as its first ideologues projected it - a constant and ever more dynamic revolu tion in the langu ages, forms , and tastes of art (not yet assim ilated to the commercial revolu tions in fashion and commodity styling we h ave sin ce come to grasp as an immanent rhythm of capitalism itse lf) ; to which a later wave of more explicitly left-wing and often Marxist ideologues and aesthetes after World War I I will add an explicit political dimension - so that the revolu tionary aesthetic of the modern w ill sometimes be grasped by the Frankfurt School, but also by th e Tel Quel and Screen groups, in the more l iteral sense o f critical negation when not o f outrigh t social and p syc h o logi­ cal transformatio n . Lyotard 's own aesth etic retains much of this pro­ topolitical t h ru st; h is c o m m itmen t to cultural and formal in novation s till valorizes culture and its powers in much the same sp irit i n wh ich the Western avant-gardc h as done so since the fin de siccle . On the oJh er hand, it wo uld seem that the assim ilation of post­ modern ism to th is older concep tio n of high modern ism and its n ega t ive , critical , or revo lu tion ary vocation depro blematizes a far

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in teresting and complex situ ation , which is p art of the d ilem ma p osed by " late c apitalism ' ' (or c� nsu mer or postindustrial soci� ty , etc. ) i n th ose other areas of sc 1ence and technology, production , social change, and the like. Here it seems to me that Habermas ­ w orking to be sure with in the far more su ffocating and McCarthyist atmosphere of the Federal Republic - has a much keener sense of the p o liti c al stakes involved in th is seemingly theoretical matter than Lv otard has been willing to allow for. For Habermas, indeed, post­ m" odernism involves the explicit repudiation of the modernist tradi­ tion the retu rn of the middle-class philistine or Spiessbuerger rejec­ tion of modern ist fo rm s_ and values - and as such the expression of a new social conservatism. 6 H is diagnosis is confirmed by th at area in which the question of postmodernism h as been mostly acu tely posed , namely in arch itec­ ture / whose great h igh m odernists, th e architects of the International Style - Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wrigh t - were very precisely revolutionaries in the senses enumerated above : proponents of innovations in form and transformations in architectural space that could be expected in and of them selves to transform social life as a whole and , by replacing p olitical revolu tion (as Le Corbusier put it), to se rve as the latter's su bsti tu te (but in that form , the idea is as old as Schiller's Aesthetic Educatio n of Humank ind ). Postmodernism certainly means a return of all the old antimodernist prejudices ( as in Tom Wo lfe 's recent From the Ba ubau s to Ou r Ho use ), but it was also , objectively , th e recognition of a b asic failure on the arch itects ' own terms : th e new b u ild ings o f Le Corbusier and Wright did not finally ch ange the world , nor even modify the junk space of. late capitalism , while th e Mallarmean "zero degree " of M ies's towers qu ite unexpectedly began to generate a wh ole overpopulation of the shoddiest glass boxes in all the major urban cen ters in the world . Th is is t he sen se in wh ich h igh modernism can be defin itively certi­ fied as dead and as a th ing of the p ast : its Utopian ambitions were u nrea l iz able and its formal innovations exhausted . Th is is however not at all the conclusion that H abermas and Lyo­ t ard d raw from wh at they th in k of in their d iffere nt ways as the p ostm odern ist movemen t : for both of them a return to the older cri t i c al h igh modernism is still possi ble , j u st as (equ ally anach ronis­ tically) for Lukacs, writing in the th ick o f the h igh m odernist period , a re turn to some o l der premodernist realism was still possible . Yet if one is willing - as both Habermas and Lyotard are - to posit the emergence of some new state of social relations (even leaving aside -

xviii

0 FOREWORD

the question of whether this is to be considered a wh ole new mode of production in its own righ t or not) , then it does not seem p artic­ :Jlarly d aring to posit some equivalent modification in the very role and dynam ic of cultu ral production itself, someth ing indeed one ough t to be able to entertain dialectically, without any needless moralizing. Postmodernist arch itecture , for example, comes before u s a s a peculiar analogu e to neoclassicism , a play of ( "historicist") allusion and q uotation that h as ren ounced the older high modernist rigor and th at itself seems to recapitulate a whole range of traditional Western aesthe tic strategies : we therefore have a mannerist post­ m odernism (Mich ael G raves), a baroque p ostmodern ism (the j apan­ ese ) , a rococo postmodern ism (Charles Moore ) , a neoclassicist post­ modernism (the French , p articularly Christian de Portz amparc) , and probably even a "high modernist" postmodernism in which modern­ ism is itself the object of the postmodernist pastiche. This is a rich and creative m ovement , of the greatest aesthetic play and deligh t, th at can perh aps be most rapidly characterized as a whole by two important features : first, the falling away of the protopolitical voca­ tion and the terrorist stance of the older modernism and , second , the eclipse of all of the affect (dep th , anxiety , terror, the emotions o f the monumental) that marked h igh modernism and its replace­ ment by what Coleridge would have c alled fancy or S chiller aesthetic play , a commitment to surface and to the superficial in all th e senses of the word . I t was , however, precisely to the superficial (in all those senses) that a certain French poststru ctu ralism invited us, not excluding the earlier works of Lyotard h im self: this is, however, the moment in which aesthetics gives way to ethics, in which the problem of the postmodern (even in its relationship to new forms of science and knowledge ) becomes th at of one 's more fundamen tal attitu de toward the new social formation - the moment , fin ally , in wh ich what I have called the deeper repressed or buried symbolic n arrative of Tbe Postmodern Conditio n comes at length into view . Lyotard's affiliations here would seem to be with th e Anti-Oedipus of G illes Deleuze and Fel ix G u at t ari who also warned us, at the end of th at work , that the sch izophrenic eth ic they proposed was not at all a revolution ary one , but a way of surviving u nder capital ism , pro­ du cing fresh desires w ith in the stru ctu ral limits of the capi talist m ode of production as su ch . 8 Lyotard 's celebration of a related ethic emerges most dramatically in the context of th at repudiation of Haberm as's �onsensus commu nity already men tioned, in wh ich the dissolu tion of the self in to a host of netw orks and relations, of ,

F O R EWO R D 0

xix

con trad ictory codes and in terfering messages, is prophetically valor­ ized (section 4 ) . This view not su rprisingly will then determ ine Lv otard 's ultim ate vision of scien ce and knowledge today as a search , n � t for consensus , bu t very precisely for "in stabilities, " as a practice of paralogism , in wh ich the poin t is not to reach agreemen t but to un dermine from with in the very framework in wh ich the previous "n ormal scien ce " had been conducted. The rhetoric in wh ich all th is i s c onveyed is to be su re one of struggle, conflict, the agonic in a qu asi -heroic sense ; nor must we forget Lyotard 's related vision of n o n h egemonic Greek ph ilo sophy ( th e Stoics, the Cynics, the Soph­ ists ) , as the guerrilla war of the marginal s , the foreigners, the non­ Greeks, against the massive and repressive Order of Aristotle and his successors . 9 On the other h an d , aesthetics sometimes fun ctions as an unpleasant m irror ; and we need perh aps at least momen tarily to re flect on the peculiar conso n ance between Lyotard 's scien tific "free play " and the way in wh ich p ostm odernist architecture h as taught us to "learn from Las Vegas" ( Robert Venturi) and "to make ou rselves at h ome in our alienated being" (Marx on Hegel 's concep­ tion of Absolu te Spirit). h is is, at any rate , the deepest, most contradictory , but also the m o st urgen t level of Lyotard 's book : that of a n arrative wh ich -like all narr a tive - mu st generate the illusion of "an imagin ary resolution of real contrad ictions" (Levi-Strauss)-:-1 The formal p roblem involved m ight be expressed this way : how to do withou t n arrative by means of n arrative itself? On the political and social level , in deed , narrative in some sen se always meant the negation of capitalism : on the one h and , for instance , narrative knowledge is here opposed to "scienti fic" or abstract knowledge as precapitalism to capitalism proper. Yet-as became clear when the narrative legitim ations of science itself were evo ked at their momen t of crisis and d issolu tion - narrative also means someth ing like tele­ ology. The great master-n arratives here are those that suggest that something beyond capitalism is possible , something rad ically differ­ e n t: and th ey also "legitimate " the prax is whereby political militants seck to bring that radically d ifferent fu ture social order into being. Y ct b oth master-n arratives of science h ave become peculiarly repug­ nant or embarrassing to First World inte llectu als today : the rhetoric of liberation has for example been denounced with passion ate a m b ivalen ce by Michel Foucault in the first volu me of his Jlist01)' of -�t'.\"thllity; wh ile the rhetoric of totality and totalization th at derived from what I have called the Germ anic or Hegelian trad ition is the o bjec t of a kind of instin ctive or automatic denunciation by just about eve rybody .

[f

xx 0 FOREWORD

Lyotard 's insistence on narrative analysis in a situation in which the narratives themselves henceforth seem impossible is his declara­ ti!'n of intent to remain p olitical and contestatory; that is , to avoid one possible and even log ical resolution to the d ilemma, wh ich would consist in becoming, like D aniel Bell , an ideologue of tech nocracy and an apologis t for the system itself. How he does th is is to transfer the older ideologies of aesthetic h igh modernism , the celebration of i ts revolu tionary power, to science and scientific research proper. Now it is the latter's infin ite capacity for innovation , change, break, renewal , which will infu se the otherwise repressive system with the · d isalienating excitemen t of the new and the "un known " ( the last word of Lyotard 's tex t), as well as of adventure , the refusal of con­ formi ty , and the heterogeneities of desire . Unfortunately , the other conjoined value of the book 's conclusion - th at of justice - tends, as in all interesting narratives , to return on this one and underm ine i ts seem ing certain ties . The dynamic of per­ petu al ch ange is , as Marx showed in the Manifesto , not some alien rhyth m within cap ital - a rhyth m specific to th ose non instru men tal activities that are art and science - bu t rather is the very "permanent revolu tion " of capitalist production itself: at which point the exh ila­ ration with such revolu tionary dynam ism is a feature of the bonus of pleasure and the reward of the social reproduction of the system it­ self. The moment of tru th , in th is respect, comes when the matter of the ownersh ip and control of the new information banks - the profit­ ability of the new tech nological and inform ation revolu tion-returns in these last pages with a vengean ce : the dystop ian prospect of a global private monopoly of information weighs heavily in the balance against the pleasures of paralogisms and of "an archist science " ( Feyeraben d ) . Yet that monopoly , like the rest of the private proper­ ty syste m , cannot be expected to be reformed by however benign a tech nocratic elite , but can be challenged only by genuinely political (and not sym bolic or protopolitical) action . Notes I. See for example l.ovis Althus.�er's essays in epistemology or, in another national tradi­

tion, Richard Rorty's l'b ilo s opby and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979) and his

l'ress, 191!2).

C:o11seque11ces of

Pragmat ism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota

2. See his interesting memoir, "Pierre Souyri, Le Marxisme qui n'a pas fini," in l:"sprit 61 ( j a nuar y 1982): 11-31. 3. Jiirgen l'ress, 1975),

Uaberrnas, Lrgitimatio11 Crisis. trans. Thomas McCarthy (Boston: Beacon

p. 105. And see also his more recent Zur Hekmrstruktion drs llistoriscben

FOREWORD

D xxi

.\laterialismus (Frankfurt : Suhrkam p Verlag, 1981 ), in which the transformation of society

is viewed in terms of Piagetian evolutionary stages : paradoxically the problem here is also th at of Lyotard whc:n he confronts the monopolization of information by multinational cor­ poration s today - namely that there is no reason to believe such a situation can be solved by peaceful evolution or by rational persuasion . 4. Ernest Mandel, /.ate Capitalism (London : New Left Books, 19 7 5 ) , pp. 190.. 9 1. S. Sec: his "Response: a Ia questio n : qu-cst-ce que le postmoderne?" in Critique, April 1982, pp. 3 5 7�7. which is included in this book as an appendix ; as well as his interesting book on Marcel Duchamp , /.es Transformateurs Ducbamp (Paris : Galilee , 1977). 6. Sec: his "Modernity versus Postmodc:rnity , " in New German Critique 2 2 (Winter 1981) :

3-14. 7. Sec: for a useful discussion of current postmodernist theories of architecture:, Paolo Ponoghc:si, After Modem Architecture (New York : Rizzoli , 1982).

8. At�ti·Oedipus: Capitalism and Scbi-z.opbrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and l lc:lc:n R. Lane: , with preface by Michel Foucault (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 198 3 ; reprint of 1977 Viking edition) , pp. 456- 5 7. 9. See "De Ia force: des faibles, " in special Lyotard issue of L 'Arc 64 ( 1976): 4-12.

Introduction

The object of th is stu dy is the condition of knowledge in the m ost h igh ly developed societies . I li ave decided to use the word post­ modem to d escribe that conditio n . The word is in current use on the American contin ent among sociologists and critics ; it designates th e state of our culture following the transformations which , since the end of the nineteenth century , have altered the game rules for science,._li.�.r.atW:� the..atts. The presen t study will p lace these transformations in the context of the crisis of narratives. �Ciencell as alWay s--been in ·c:oliiifcl:-;It"h ·ital-ra tives . ) udged by the y ardsti ck of science, the majority of them prove to be fables . But to the extent th at science d oes not restrict itself to stating useful regularities and seeks th e tru th , it is obliged to legitimate the rules of i ts own gam e . It then produces a d iscourse of legitimation with respect to i ts own s tatus , a d iscourse calle d phil osophy. I will use the term modem to designate any science that legitim ates itself with refe rence to a metadiscourse of this kind making an explicit appeal to some grand narrative , such as the dialectics of Spirit, the her­ meneu tics of meaning, the emancip ation of the ration al or working s u bject, or the creation of wealth or example , the rule of consensus between the sender and addressee of a statement with tru th -value is deemed accep table if it is cast in terms of a p ossible unanim ity be­ twe en rational minds: th is is the En ligh tenment narrative , in which

)F

xxiii

xxiv

C:

0

INTIUIDUCTION

the hero of k n owledge work s toward a good eth ico-political end ­ u n iversal peace . As can be seen from th is example , if a metanarrative im plying a ph ilosophy of h istory is used to legitimate knowledge, questions arc ra ised concern ing the valid ity of the institution s govern­ ing the social bond : these must be legitimated as wel l . Thus justice is cons igned to the grand n arrative in the same way as tru th. [Simplifying to the ex treme , I define postmodem as incredulity r toward metanarratives. This incredulity is undoubtedly a product o f progress in the scien ces : but th at progress in tu rn presupposes it. To the obsolescence of the metan arrative apparatus of legitimation corresponds; most notably , the crisis of metaphysical philosophy and of the u niversi ty institution wh ich in the p ast relied on it. The n arr_a_!ive fJ,!n_ c tio_ n_ is losing it� functors, its great hero , its g reat - d angers1 i�s gr eat voyages; its great goal . It is beiDgaispersed in _ -dou ds of narrative language elements - narrative , but also denotative , p rescriptive , descrip tive , and so on. Conveyed with in each cloud are p ragmatic valencies sp ecific to its kind. Each of us lives at the in ter­ section of m any of th ese. However, we do not necessarily establish stable langu age combinations, and the properties of the ones we do establish are not necessarily commu nicable] Thus the society of the fu ture falls less within the province of a Newtonian anthropology (such as stucturalism or systems theory ) th an a pragmatics of langu age p articles. There are m any differen t langu age games - a heterogeneity of elemen ts. They only give rise t o institutions i n p atches - local determ in ism. The decision makers , nowever, attempt to man age these clouds of social i ty accord ing to input/ou tput m atrices, following a logic which implies that their elements are commensurable and that the whole is determinable . They allocate our lives for the growth of power. In m atters of social ju stice and of scientific tru th alike, the legitim ation I o f th at power is based on its optim iz ing the system's performance­ efficien cy . The application of th is criterion to all of our games neces­ sarily entails a certain level of terror, whether soft or h ard: be opera­ tional (that is, commen su rable) or d isappear . The logic of m ax imum performance is no doubt in consiste n t in m any ways, particu larly with respect to contrad iction in th e socio­ economic field: it demands both less work ( to lower produ ction costs) and more (to lessen the social bu rden of the id le population ). Bu t our in credulity is now such that we n o longer expect salvation to rise from th ese inconsisten cies, as did M arx . Sti ll , rhe postmodern condition is as much a stranger to d isenchant­ ment as it is to the blind p ositivity of delegitimation . Where , after

INTKODliCTION

n xxv

the metan arrativc s , �an legitim acy re side ? The operativity criterion is technological ; it h as no relevance for judging what is true or just. I s l egitim acy to be found in c onsensus o btained th rough discussion , as jurgen Habermas th inks? Su ch consensus does violence to the heterogeneity of langu age games. And inven tion is always born of d isscnsion . P.ostmodern knowledge is not simply a tool of the author i�s.; i t.r�Jiw:s. our sensitivity to differences and reinforces our ability to tolerate th e incommensurable . I ts principle is not the expert's h omology , but the inventor's p aralogy . H e re is the question : is a legitimation of the social bond , a just society, feasible in terms of a parad ox analogous to th at of scientific activi ty ? What would su ch a p aradox be? Th e text th at follows is an occasional one . It is a report on know­ le dge in the most h ighly developed societies and was presented to the Conseil des Universi ties of the govern men t of Quebec at the request of its pre siden t . I would like to than k h im for his kindness in allowing its pu blication . I t remains to be said th at the au thor of the report is a ph ilosopher, not a n expert. The latter knows wh at he knows and what he does not know : the former does not. One concludes, the other questions - two very d ifferent language g ames. I combine them here with the resul t that ne ither q u ite su cceeds. The ph ilosopher at least can console h im self with the thought that the formal and pragmatic analysis of certain ph ilosophical and ethic o-political d iscourses o f leg itimatio n , wh ich underlies the report, will su bsequen tly see th e ligh t of d ay . The report will h ave served to in tro duce that analysis from a somewh at sociologizing slan t , one that tru ncates but at the same time situates i t . Such a s it is, I dedicate t h i s report to t h e lnstitut Polytechnique d e Ph ilosoph ic of t h e Un iversite de Paris V I I I (Vincennes) - at this very p ostmodern moment that finds the Un iversity nearing what may be its end , while the I n stitu te m ay just be beginning. ­

The Postmodem Condition

The Postmodern Condition

1 . The Field : Knowledge in Computerized Societies Our worki ng hypothesis is th at the starus of knowledge is altered as .agc.. and culwres ·socie ties eprer wh at is known as th e n ter what is known as the p0stmodem age 1 Th is transition has been u n der way sin ce at least th e end of the 1 9SQs, wh ich for Europe marks the completion of recon stru ction . The p ace is faster or slower depending on the coun try , and within cou n tries it varies according to the sector of activity : the general siru ation is one of temporal d is­ j u nction which m akes sketching an overview d ifficult. 2 A portion of the description would necessarily be conjecru ral . At any rate , we k n ow that it is unwise to p u t too much faith in fu ru rology . 3 R ather th an p ain ting a p ic ru re that would inevitably remain in­ com plete , I will take as my point of deparrure a single fe arure, one t h at immediately defines our object of srudy . Scien tific knowledge is a kind of discourse . And it is fair to say that for th e last forty ye ars th e "le ading " sciences aJ1sf..l��hn ologies have h ad to_do with langu age : p h o nology and theorits.. of linguistics,+_pio blems o-f communication a n d cybernetics,5 modern_. theories of alge bra and in formatics,6 com p uter s and their languages,? problems of tran slatio n an d the se arch for areas of comp atibility among compu ter langu ages , 8 prob­ le m s of information storage and data banks,9 telematics and the



3

4 0 Ti l E J>OSTMODERN CONDITION

perfection of in telligent term in als, 10 paradoxology 11 The facts speak for th emselves ( and this list is not exhaustive ) . These technological tran sform ations can b e ex pected t o h ave a · considerable impact on knowledge . I ts two prin cipal function s ­ r CKa[Ch and the t�ansmissio_n...Q_f...acquircd_ lea_rn ing - are already feel­ ing the effect, o r- will in the fu ture . With respect to the first function , genetics p rovides an exam p le th at is accessible to th e layman : i t owes its theoretical p arad igm to cybernetics. Many other examples could be cited . As for th e second fu nction , it is common knowledge that the �niaty rization and cgmmer:cializatian _of. machines is already ch angin_g the w.ay in w�Ech l�ming is acquired , classified , made avail­ able , and explo ited Y ( I t is reasonable to suppose that the prolifera­ tion of information-p rocessing m achines is h aving, and will continue to h ave , as much of an effect on the c irculation of learning as d id ad­ vancements in human c irculation ( transportation systems) and later, in the circulation of sounds and visu al i m ages (the media) . 1 3 .J The wmue af knowledge cannar sunzi.ve. unchanged with in this context of general transformation . It can fit into the new chann�ls, and become operational , only if learning is translated into qu antities · of inform ation . 1 4 We can predict th at anyth ing in the constitu ted body of knowledge that is not translatable in this way will be aban­ d oned and that the d irection of new research will be dictated by the possibility of its even tu al results being translatable in to computer language . The "producers " and users of knowledge must now, and will have to , possess the means of translating in to these languages whatever they wan t to invent or learn . Research on translating m achines is already well advanced . 1 5 Along with the hegemony of · com£_1:1_!�rs -�o_mes a certain logic , and tli ereTore ·a ·c:e-itain set of pre­ scrip tions _d.� term ining Which StatementS are aCCepted a5 "knowledge" I ·statements. We may thus expect a thorough ex teriorization of knowledge with respect to the "knower, " at whatever point he or she may occupy in the knowledge process. Th e old principle that the acquisition of knowledge is indissociable from th e train ing (Bildung) of m inds, or even of individuals, is becoming obsolete and will become ever m ore so. The relationsh ip of the su ppliers and users of knowledge to the knowledge they supply and u se is now tending, and will in creasingly tend , to assume the form already taken by the relationship of com­ m odity producers and consu mers to the commodities they produce and consume - th at is, the form of value [Knowledge is and will be prod uced in order to be sold , it is and wiiT be consumed in order to be valo rized in a new produ ction : in both cases, the g�al is exch ange. ' . '/..... , . . ... . \ .......J�,... .

·



TU E POSTM O DERN CONDITION 0 S

K n owledge ceases to be an end in itself, it loses its "use-value . ' � I t is widely accepted th at Jmowledge has become the princip le fo rce o f produ ction over the last few decades ; 1 7 th is h as already h ad a n oticeable effect on the c omposition of the work force of the most h ighly developed countries 18 and constitu tes the maj or bottleneck for the developing coun tries. I n the p ostindustrial and postmodern age , science will m ain tain and no dou bt strengthen its preeminence in r h e arsenal of productive capacities of the n ation-states. Indeed , this si tua tion is one of the reasons lead ing to the conclusion that the gap be tween developed and developing countries will grow ever wider in th e fu tu re . 19 But th is aspect of the problem should not be allowed to over­ shadow the other, which is complemen tary to it. Knowledge in the form of an in formational commodity indispensable to productive power is already , and will continue to be, a major - perhaps the major - stake in the worldwide competition for power. Jt is conceiv­ able that the nation-states will one d ay fight for control onn forma­ tion , just as they b attled in the p ast for control over territory , and afterwards for control of access to and exploitation of raw m aterials and cheap labol} A new field is opened for industrial and commercial strategies on the one h and , and political and m ilitary strategies on the oth er. 20 However, the perspective I h ave outlined above is not as simple as I have m ade it appear. For the mercantilization of knowledge js bound to affect the privilege toe nation-states h ave enj oyed , and still enjoy, w���- -r:�spect to the production and d istribution of learning. The notion that learning falls with in the purview of the State, as the brain or m ind of socie ty , will become m ore and m ore outdated with the in c reasing strength of the opposing prin ciple , accord ing to wh ich � ocie ty ex ists and p rogresses only if the mess �es circulating within 1t are rich in information and easy to decode . LTh_c; ideology of com-· municational "transparency , " which goes hand in hand with the co mmercialization o f knowledge , will begin to perceive the State as a facto r of opacity and "noise . " It is from this point of view th at the p roble m of th e relatioDsfiip between economic and State powers t h re ate ns to arise with a new u rgency . : Alr e ady in th e last few decades, e c onomic powers have reached t h e poi nt of imperiling the stab ility of the State through new forms of �he circulation of capital that go by the generic n ame of multi­ �hlt w ntll co rp o ra tio ns. These new forms of circulation imply that m � c st men t decis ions h ave , at least in part, p assed beyond the control of t h e natio n-sta tes . 21 The question threatens to become even m ore

6 0

THE POSTM O D E R N CONDITION

th orny with the development of computer tech nology and telematics. Suppose , for exam p le , th at a firm such as I BM is authorized to occupy a belt in the earth 's orbital field and launch communications satel­ lites or satellites housing d ata b anks. Who will h ave access to them? Who will determ ine which channels or d ata are forbidden ? The State ? Or will the S tate simply be one user among others? New legal issues _will.....b � r:aised ...an d with them the question : "who will know? " Transformation in the nature of knowledge , then , could well have repercussions on the ex isting p u blic powers, forcing them to recon­ sider their relations ( both de j u re and de facto ) with the large corpor­ ations and , more generally , with c ivil society . The reopening of the world market, a retu rn to vigorous economic competition , the break­ down of the hegemony of American capitalism , the decline of the socialist altern ative , a probable open ing Qf the Chinese m arke t ­ these and m any oth er factors are alread y , at the end of the 1 97 0s, p reparing States for a serious reappraisal of the role they h ave been accustomed to playin sin ce th e 1 9 3 0s : th at of guiding, or even directing investments. A In th is ligh t , the new tech nologies can only increase the urgency of su ch a reexamin ation , since they m ake the i n formation used in decision making (and th erefore the means of control} even more m obile and su bject to piracy . I t is n o t h ard to visu alize !gming circulating along the samelines as money , ii}Stead ..of for.its "educational" value or political ( admin is­ trative , d ip lomatic, military) importance ; the pertinent distinction would no longer be between knowledge and ignorance , but rather, as is the case with money , between " p aymen t knowledge " and "invest­ ment knowledge " - in other words, between u nits of knowledge ex­ changed in a d aily m ain tenance framework (the reconstitu tion of the work force , "survival ") versus fu nds of knowledge dedicated to optim izing the performance of a project. 1 I f this were the case , £Q!!l_mu nication al transp arency would be ( similar t� jjb.o:alism. Liberalism does not preclude an organization of the flow of money in which some channels are used in decision m aking while others are only good for the p ayment of debts. One could similarly imagine flows of kn qwledge traveling along iden tical channels of iden tical natu re , some of wh ich would be reserved for the "decision makers, " while th e o thers would be used to repay each person 's perpetu al debt with respect to the social bond . •

2 . Th e Problem : Leg itimation

That is th e working hypothesis defining the fie ld with in wh ich I intend to consider the question of the statu s of knowledge. This

T i l E POSTM O D E R N CON DITION D 7

scenario , akin to the one that goes by the n ame "t�e C,