As Lyotard argues, aesthetic judgment is the appropriate model forthe problem of justice in postmodern experience because we areconfronted with a plurality of games and rules without a conceptunder which to unify them. Judgment must therefore be reflectiverather than determining. Furthermore, judgment must be aestheticinsofar as it does not produce denotative knowledge about adeterminable state of affairs, but refers to the way our facultiesinteract with each other as we move from one mode of phrasing toanother, i.e. the denotative, the prescriptive, the performative, thepolitical, the cognitive, the artistic, etc. In Kantian terms, thisinteraction registers as an aesthetic feeling. Where Kant emphasizesthe feeling of the beautiful as a harmonious interaction betweenimagination and understanding, Lyotard stresses the mode in whichfaculties (imagination and reason,) are in disharmony, i.e. thefeeling of the sublime. For Kant, the sublime occurs when ourfaculties of sensible presentation are overwhelmed by impressions ofabsolute power and magnitude, and reason is thrown back upon its ownpower to conceive Ideas (such as the moral law) which surpass thesensible world. For Lyotard, however, the postmodern sublime occurswhen we are affected by a multitude of unpresentables withoutreference to reason as their unifying origin. Justice, then, wouldnot be a definable rule, but an ability to move and judge among rulesin their heterogeneity and multiplicity. In this respect, it would bemore akin to the production of art than a moral judgment in Kant'ssense.
Postmodern sensibility does not lament the loss of narrativecoherence any more than the loss of being. However, the dissolutionof narrative leaves the field of legitimation to a new unifyingcriterion: the performativity of the knowledge-producing system whoseform of capital is information. Performative legitimation meansmaximizing the flow of information and minimizing static(non-functional moves) in the system, so whatever cannot becommunicated as information must be eliminated. The performativitycriterion threatens anything not meeting its requirements, such asspeculative narratives, with de-legitimation andexclusion. Nevertheless, capital also demands the continualre-invention of the “new” in the form of new languagegames and new denotative statements, and so, paradoxically, acertain paralogy is required by the system itself. In thisregard, the modern paradigm of progress as new moves underestablished rules gives way to the postmodern paradigm of inventingnew rules and changing the game.
The term “postmodernism” first entered the philosophicallexicon in 1979, with the publication of The PostmodernCondition by Jean-François Lyotard. I therefore giveLyotard pride of place in the sections that follow. An economy ofselection dictated the choice of other figures for this entry. I haveselected only those most commonly cited in discussions ofphilosophical postmodernism, five French and two Italian, althoughindividually they may resist common affiliation. Ordering them bynationality might duplicate a modernist schema they would question,but there are strong differences among them, and these tend to dividealong linguistic and cultural lines. The French, for example, workwith concepts developed during the structuralist revolution in Parisin the 1950s and early 1960s, including structuralist readings of Marxand Freud. For this reason they are often called“poststructuralists.” They also cite the events of May1968 as a watershed moment for modern thought and its institutions,especially the universities. The Italians, by contrast, draw upon atradition of aesthetics and rhetoric including figures such asGiambattista Vico and Benedetto Croce. Their emphasis is stronglyhistorical, and they exhibit no fascination with a revolutionarymoment. Instead, they emphasize continuity, narrative, and differencewithin continuity, rather than counter-strategies and discursivegaps. Neither side, however, suggests that postmodernism is an attackupon modernity or a complete departure from it. Rather, itsdifferences lie within modernity itself, and postmodernism is acontinuation of modern thinking in another mode.
Finally, I have included a summary of Habermas's critique ofpostmodernism, representing the main lines of discussion on both sidesof the Atlantic. Habermas argues that postmodernism contradicts itselfthrough self-reference, and notes that postmodernists presupposeconcepts they otherwise seek to undermine, e.g., freedom,subjectivity, or creativity. He sees in this a rhetorical applicationof strategies employed by the artistic avant-garde of the nineteenthand twentieth centuries, an avant-garde that is possible only becausemodernity separates artistic values from science and politics in thefirst place. On his view, postmodernism is an illicitaestheticization of knowledge and public discourse. Against this,Habermas seeks to rehabilitate modern reason as a system of proceduralrules for achieving consensus and agreement among communicatingsubjects. Insofar as postmodernism introduces aesthetic playfulnessand subversion into science and politics, he resists it in the name ofa modernity moving toward completion rather thanself-transformation.
The later nineteenth century is the age of modernity as an achievedreality, where science and technology, including networks of masscommunication and transportation, reshape human perceptions. There isno clear distinction, then, between the natural and the artificial inexperience. Indeed, many proponents of postmodernism challenge theviability of such a distinction tout court, seeing inachieved modernism the emergence of a problem the philosophicaltradition has repressed. A consequence of achieved modernism is whatpostmodernists might refer to as de-realization. De-realizationaffects both the subject and the objects of experience, such thattheir sense of identity, constancy, and substance is upset ordissolved. Important precursors to this notion are found inKierkegaard, Marx and Nietzsche. Kierkegaard, for example, describesmodern society as a network of relations in which individuals areleveled into an abstract phantom known as “the public”(Kierkegaard 1846, 59). The modern public, in contrast to ancient andmedieval communities, is a creation of the press, which is the onlyinstrument capable of holding together the mass of unreal individuals“who never are and never can be united in an actual situation ororganization” (Kierkegaard 1846, 60). In this sense, society hasbecome a realization of abstract thought, held together by anartificial and all-pervasive medium speaking for everyone and for noone. In Marx, on the other hand, we have an analysis of the fetishismof commodities (Marx 1867, 444–461) where objects lose thesolidity of their use value and become spectral figures under theaspect of exchange value. Their ghostly nature results from theirabsorption into a network of social relations, where their valuesfluctuate independently of their corporeal being. Human subjectsthemselves experience this de-realization because commodities areproducts of their labor. Workers paradoxically lose their being inrealizing themselves, and this becomes emblematic for those professinga postmodern sensibility.
While based and published in Melbourne, the writers and artists who have contributed to Discipline are both local and international. In presenting longer-form essays, the journal aims to ground a new body of sustained intellectual writing about contemporary art that does not merely fall back on the crutch of ʻpluralityʼ as a means for theorising art after postmodernism and globalisation.
That postmodernism is indefinable is a truism. However, it can bedescribed as a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practicesemploying concepts such as difference, repetition, the trace, thesimulacrum, and hyperreality to destabilize other concepts such aspresence, identity, historical progress, epistemic certainty, and theunivocity of meaning.
The notion of a collapse between the real and the apparent issuggested in Nietzsche's first book, The Birth of Tragedy(Nietzsche 1872), where he presents Greek tragedy as a synthesis ofnatural art impulses represented by the gods Apollo andDionysus. Where Apollo is the god of beautiful forms and images,Dionysus is the god of frenzy and intoxication, under whose sway thespell of individuated existence is broken in a moment ofundifferentiated oneness with nature. While tragic art islife-affirming in joining these two impulses, logic and science arebuilt upon Apollonian representations that have become frozen andlifeless. Hence, Nietzsche believes only a return of the Dionysian artimpulse can save modern society from sterility and nihilism. Thisinterpretation presages postmodern concepts of art and representation,and also anticipates postmodernists' fascination with the prospect ofa revolutionary moment auguring a new, anarchic sense ofcommunity.
Nietzsche presents this concept in The Gay Science(Nietzsche 1974 , 273), and in a more developed formin Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Nietzsche 1883–1891,269–272). Many have taken the concept to imply an endless,identical repetition of everything in the universe, such that nothingoccurs that has not already occurred an infinite number of timesbefore. However, others, including postmodernists, read thesepassages in conjunction with the notion that history is therepetition of an unhistorical moment, a moment that is always new ineach case. In their view, Nietzsche can only mean that the neweternally repeats as new, and therefore recurrence is a matter ofdifference rather than identity. Furthermore, postmodernists join theconcept of eternal return with the loss of the distinction betweenthe real and the apparent world. The distinction itself does notreappear, and what repeats is neither real nor apparent in thetraditional sense, but is a phantasm or simulacrum.
Nevertheless, Heidegger and Nietzsche are both important sourcesfor postmodernism's critical de-structuring or displacement of thesignature concept of modern philosophy, the “subject,”which is generally understood as consciousness, or its identity,ground, or unity, and designated as the “I.” WhereNietzsche finds in this concept the original metaphysical errorproduced by morality and the communicative needs of the herd,Heidegger sees in it the end and exhaustion of the metaphysicaltradition, inaugurated by the Greeks, in which being is interpreted aspresence. Here, being is the underlying ground of the being ofbeings, the that is enacted in modern philosophy asthe subject of consciousness. But in Heideggerconceives the human being as , which is not simply apresent consciousness, but an event of ecstatic temporality that isopen to a past () that was never present(its being-there) and a future () thatis always yet to come (the possibility of death). The finitudeof therefore cannot be contained within the limits ofconsciousness, nor within the limits of the subject, whether it isconceived substantively or formally.
Hyperreality is closely related to the concept of the simulacrum:a copy or image without reference to an original. In postmodernism,hyperreality is the result of the technological mediation ofexperience, where what passes for reality is a network of images andsigns without an external referent, such that what is represented isrepresentation itself. In Symbolic Exchange and Death (1976),Jean Baudrillard uses Lacan's concepts of the symbolic, the imaginary,and the real to develop this concept while attacking orthodoxies ofthe political Left, beginning with the assumed reality of power,production, desire, society, and political legitimacy. Baudrillardargues that all of these realities have become simulations, thatis, signs without any referent, because the real and theimaginary have been absorbed into the symbolic.