Saturday, November 13, 2004

[Focus Nederland] Theo Van Gogh and Arafat : Our Prince of Sarajevo or Deconstructionist Semiotics? (Incomplete)


אבסטרקט: המאמר

"Justice is discordant; war being the father and mother of justice, the one that turns kings into slaves and slaves into kings";
This is one of the politico-philosophical statements least seriously taken by modern readers from the works of the Pre-Socratic philosophers. Written in an ancient and dark Greek dialect that is still uncomprehensible to most students of Attic Greek in our Classics seminars without previous experience; nevertheless this powerful statement, that could be simply defined as a very early statement in political thought should have been taken more seriously and it still should. Some thinkers and politicians of our times have probably not read the Pre-socratic philosophers and are not what we would call logocentric thinkers; our philosophical systems and scientific paradigms have evolved in many different ways so that we normally need not to regard such as "sententia magna" in our highly interpretative cultures; specially in times of deconstructionist philosophies and humanist thought, openly encouraged by our postmodern thinkers that rather "destruct" and not "deconstruct" the operae magnae of our our civilization in their social semiotics; the destruction of the text and the super-importance of the discourse. The current structuralist and post-structuralist approaches, even when undeniable important for the advancement of the modern linguistic science, constitute nothing but a denial of the most basic linguistics principles; sciences such as the historical-comparative linguistics and molecular biology themselves are more to regard as explanatory vehicles of our history in diachronic perspective than any constructivist and hyper-cognitive approach of our days.

As a classicist I do not fear to defy the current paradigms of political sciences, who regard Plato and his dialogue "Republic". On the ground of having looked up into the Classical works of different civilizations that make up the cultural-anthropological strati of the Western culture, I could definitely state that political philosophy might be regarded as old as organized language and might have been present even in the so-called anthropological cultures that preceded our fore first civilizations (Sparta, Athens, Israel, Egypt, et alia) ; I might even regard it as "political thought" instead of political philosophy, having radically altered our definitions of science, thought and philosophy all through the centuries, standing nowadays way behind Kant's famous "Was ist Erklaerung?" and occupying ourselves once again with simple questions such as what is science, philosophy or culture in general. Not even the works of Leibniz and Descartes have achieved their purpose to respond to those questions effectively, and certainly postmodernism does not in any sense. What we have elaborate probably is a methodological interdisciplinary discourse that have allowed the social science, the human science and the exact science to begin pondering about those questions borrowing methodologies, approaches and current dogmas. Sciences such as socio-biology and cognitive psychology are a good example of the current "devenir" of science in general. Political thought, inasmuch as homosexuality, religious conscious, essential sexual identities and others has been present since the awakening of civilization; and it would be wrong to state there is no political struggle intended in so-called sacred texts as the Hebrew scriptures, the Athenian laws and the Roman codex; I could mention many others that were present in different Near-Eastern and less known Indo-European cultures such as the Tocharians, the Babylonians and the Hitties, but from my background almost exclusively relying on the Classics I prefer to withhold myself to quote relevant examples without having been sufficiently elucidated in the subject. I also must clearly state I am not pretending to establish or expose any Marxist view on the subject, I am talking about cultural sub-identities (albeit we probably know no longer what this really means in the melting pot of deconstructionism of text) as a whole. It is not an economics-centered history of civilizations that includes sub-strati of economic power and trade as a consequence what I am advocating for.

Many of what I would call "cultural sub-identities" of the Judeo-Christian civilization have been to some extent mistakenly drawn from accidental and circumstancial "endeavours" of former civilizations. Good examples of this cultural wrongdoing would be homophobia, certain spectra of national identity (another term to a large extent confused ever since modernity), religious identity and the pre-modern legal systems such as the "Droit Roman", the Islamic law and Halacha, the Jewish legal system. The contemporary legal battle between identity and logic, between usability and semantic formality, between constitutionality and citizenship concensus are just small examples of how our modern democracies have engaged in the well-extended deconstructionist discourse of social semiotics and in spite of the state-of-the-art-technology our world exhibits we are as yet unable to tackle with the most simplistic matters that make organized live in society possible. It is a super-imposed example of what social science would call "social symbiosis"; our development as societies, civilizations, countries, etc. is dependant not on our conceptual asbtractions, definitions of the limits of power and science, etc. but on other less fundamental issues such as immediate power, mediatic outreach and economic progress; again this is not meant as a Marxist theory of history, it could be actually more of an Existentialist view. Even in the awakening of the 21st century the most basic questions of human existence and knowledge "in itself" and "by itself" are still largely unanswered. The civilizations are being led simultaneously in two ways, one forward and the other backward; that phenomena actually make me think about the end of history that was foreseen in the Classical and even Archaic texts; such as the statement of Hesiodus in which he claims in "those days" -probably referring to the modernity,
"our children will not borne such as the children of today, our children will be borne with their eyes wide open".
I grant some degree of truth to this metaphor, finding ourselves in a competitive society of the end of times in which our science seems to able unable to break through the most basic concepts; quantum physics is a clear example of this trend, the quantum physicist will be able to explain us what the quantum is about, how it behaves, how it developed, how it can be used and how we are as yet unable to use it; still he is unable to tell what this quantum is about. The same could be said about most other sciences, unless we are following a postmodern discourse in which everything is relative to the observer and the intention of the author, and therefore text itself has no value of its own and the discourse is what we should be calling upon; postmodern arbitrariness. I personally still find myself puzzled by this structuralist view, and even when I condemn as well the narrow-minded view of the philologist (in which I was educated and from which I constitute a somehow biggoted and intellectually-classist element) to follow the text slavishly, relying on nothing but the literary metaphor to explain core values of men; there the modern social sciences provided us with a great deal of information, for example anthropologists and sociologists enhanced our views of the Classical world from providing us with extra-textual information that accounted for the understanding or interpretation of certain historical period as a whole. The text has value, for it is the only evidence we have of history; nevertheless there are exceptions such as oral traditions maintained through generations and folk tales whose versions vary from one historical period to the other, from one dialect to the other, from one geographic region to the other. In this aspect linguistics have proven itself one of the most interesting sciences (indeed a science) clustering somewhere in between the human sciences (e.g. historical linguistics), the social sciences (e.g. semiotics), and the exact sciences (phonology, computational linguistics). This science serves an ulterior purpose by investigating language as a whole without procrastinating in the symbol or the text or the purely socio-economic trends; I will sin of postmodern and will leave linguistics allienated and on its own, trying to avoid the structuralist claim of Levi-Strauss that linguistics is the most advanced of the social sciences because of its highly empirical methodology and analytical approach infered from certain given data, which cannot be interpreted thus by any other social science. Maybe it is needlees to be thus postmodern, we might just say in general lines, linguistics is still a human science, not the science of text, role that is definitely played better by the goold ol' philology (although the term is not very widely used in English, the Germans in their lust to be super-specific use it much better, "die Philologie") than by critical theory or anthropology. Linguistics is, as the coining of the term specifies it, "die Sprachwissenschaft"- the science of language.

This extensive discourse obviously does not unravel the questions posed in modern science and philosophy, but rather complicates the matter so that we wind up with an hyper-cognitive tendency to "over-intellectualize" what once used to be clear definitions in science and knowledge. I am not self-assured about the accuracy of those out-dated definitions or of any definitions at all and as a classical liberalist I prefer to understand it as simple opinions within an epistemological system, thus the validy of those opinions entirely depend on the context of the receiver, such as in Saussure's "signifee" and "signifier" analogies that basically constitute the foundational ground of scientific linguistics. This freedom of opinions as convenient as it might be constitutes actually a foremost important limitation; for we're denying henceforth the existence of a material world as in the classical realism preached by Aristotle and foundational stone of the positivist science and theology. In the subjectivist system of thought founded by Descartes the world is actually an individual idea that is entirely dependant on the existence of the observer, of the Saussurian "signifier". This logocentric idea that was expelled from scholarly philosophy and science ever since the formal introduction of Christendom, that gave birth to the post-aristotelic philosophy whose main aim in the eyes of the Christian philosophy was to establish a world of absolute truth and dogmatism that in my eyes did not exist in any of the Classical cultures other than the Ancient Hebrews, which might have been actually a conservationist ethos. When the early Christianity of Byzantium underwent its formative period the absolutist idea of Judaism entered and permeated the West indefinitely; and finding there substance within those neo-aristotelic ideas would breed the new cultural identity of the West; that would be super imposed on other pre-existent cultures until the Middle Ages found a fully converted Europe. The ideas of Descartes were not properly his, for such ideas were taught in different schools of thought all over the Greek world, particularly in ancient times during which there was no clear distinction between nowadays clearly defined sciences such as philosophy, medicine, theology and literature. The famous aphorism of Heraclitus is illustrates the archaic hermeneutics:
"If you have not heard me but the Logos, it is wise to ascertain by means of the senses that all things constitute only one very thing".
This idea is basic to our modern notions of cosmology and ontology and great philosophers and thinkers of our times developed wholesome systems of thought based on the science of those great men of the western antiquity, such as Heidegger and Nietzsche, and poets such as Hoelderlin. The motivations of their works are not to be elucidated here but this is merely a confirmation of how the ideas of the antiquity as they were, permeated through the Judeo-Christian positivism and gave birth to a liberal philosophy, whose highest peak was found probably in Nietzche with his openly alleged assassination of God, replaced by the ultimate man who happened to be an Indo-European, the sub-stratus of pre-Classical culture and obviously contrary to the dogma established by the systems of thought prevalent until that time. I am not sure we have produced any great philosophy ever since. Our ideas have been altered by fashionable anthropologisms and historicisms that have started to curdle up into old unanswered questions and righteously so; nevertheless following the opinion of those whom I consider the greatest thinkers of Western civilization those questions are not to be answered by means of positivist empirism and constructivism. As an alleged existentialist I could claim that poetry and literature of all times have extensively answered to the challenge of responding to those interrogants of existence without answering straightforward but simultaneously not precluding us from the divagations that are thus necessary; Camus, De Beauvoir and Unamuno, etc. are good examples of this introspective approach. I believe the role of popular literature in the interpretation of culture has been far more accurate than that of modern philosophy, for most of us intellectuals of present times sicken in our intellectual miopia; Marxism itself even as a working-class empiric response to the class-dominated science of the time, sins in its approach and lacks a broad spectrum of overview.

These questions themselves troubled the Renaissance man, and philosophy/art was produced as a response, even science. Not only the Renaissance man was bothered with this question, but also the Enlightenment man, such as Kant and Mendelsohn - particularly Kant. Many of those of us who have studied modern philosophy are familiar somehow with the moral categorizations of Kantian philosophy, its subjectivism and Idealism, better defined as Idea-ism. In his times science was probably less abstract than it is today, hence a more accurate definition of certain phenomena was thoroughly possible. The epos of positivist science was encouraged by philosophers, therefore a moral philosophy was necessary. It would not be the moral-political theory of the state that would invest the King with heavenly powers as representative of God on earth, neither would be a Marxist theory of the state; as we start to approach "Modernity" (a very complicated term these days) there was a need for an individually moral philosophy, that would be actually fundamental in the development of contemporary legal theory; yet very much not dettached from the dogma of a man's obligations and its morality as an end-by-itself. That certainly would be of nothing but little use in the world of today. Kant, still invested with the Prusian dogma would actually become the foundational stone of the later Protestant Ethics and Romanticism even, unknowingly. He claimed that man should be restrictive in private but more free in public; what does it really mean? Man should act "restrictively" in private, hence he owes to pay his taxes and comply with his obligations as a citizen and as a "member of the Church", and on the ground of those conditions being fulfilled then he would be allowed to be free in "society" and act less determinated. This categorization of morality as an end-by-itself strikes me as I find it terribly symptomatic of the Enlightened society, but what is interesting about Kant's "What is Enlightenment?" beyond the theory of man and the state is the question over the "mature man". Part of his moral philosophy debates the topic of "responsibilities of man" and hence he explains in detail how difficult is for man to be free; freedom requires more responsibility and self-consent than being restricted. Does then deconstructing literature and human conceptualization in general require more responsibility than simply constructing? Is this responsibility of the moral kind, or of the national kind or of the supra-national kind? I believe we are unable to answer those questions as yet. In the eyes of Kant the mature man was that of the Enlightenment, the man who could learn from its own history in a moral fashion and who would be dettached from the traditions and practices of backward cultures, either local or foreign. Such man would "adapt" himself to the state-of-the-art trends in religion; he would be restrictive in private but free in society.

The Kantian philosophy was not an end-by-itself, and such moral philosophy was radically altered by others, in particular the HHH triada that is studied together at some European universities (Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger). Heidegger might have been the last slabon of moral philosophy before the "deconstruction" and his philosophy, insofar as morality and technology goes is still very influential in Postmodernism. Kant was advanced by others and his categorizations, if not useless, proved themselves unnecessary and out of fashion by the philosophical trends that followed afterwards; that does not refer only to Kant but probably to any pre-modern philosopher, now we presumably do not have this challenge as we are not really making philosophy, or that is at least my opinion. In times of critical theory and semiotic hermeneutics the text as itself has lost its value; not that I didn't mention it before. The bastard son of formalism and structuralism is probably the death of the text and the new super-position of his majesty the discourse. If the text has no value, hence we cannot create philosophy, or at least as such as we used to believe it to be. We cannot demerit the value of Kantian philosophy and specially, of Kantian aesthetics in the panorama of general theory of art and the so-called critical theory or cultural theory, laid out by the Frankfurt School that in my humble view constitutes the "new" philosophy. The critic and hermeneutics of our current philosophical faculties might be better described as such, critical theory and hermeneutics; Nietzsche killed God and Postmodernism killed the text, only the discourse matters, and accordingly our current philosophy could not be described as such, for shall it be considered text? Probably not, we are more concerned with the get-around's of the discourse. Hermeneutics and critical theory then, not philosophy. Yet, is this critical theory to be considered systematic thought or a system of thought? That is a question we must leave for the next generation; for the "neo-modernists" S. Subrizi advocates in art.

In between the lines we can read then that the Enlightenment man of Kant was apparently not our "mature man"; neither was that of Marx nor the Modernist. Several ideological movements motivated by different world crisis did not respond to the question of the mature man, neither constituted themselves an example of the mature man. This question is posed by Foucault, the father of social constructivism and one of the most important Postmodern thinkers. The only thing I did not read about that "mature man" in Foucault, was that probably the "ultimate man" of Nietzsche is too "mature" to our understanding. Probably his philosophy was advanced way too many decades; and as far as art and literature are not able to cope with this phenomenon of the "ultimate man" of Zarathustra, we are unable to answer the question of whether he constituted the mature man or not for we lack a popular expression that might integrate the cognitive experience of the pure science with the manifestations proper of an intellectual or social movement. Existentialism, albeit my core trend, does not really constitute a rational or rationable explanation to the questions posed on the "mature man". Somehow the "man" of Kafka, Camus and Kierkegaard solves the question of the mature man, also does Kundera probably. But their proposed alternative do not really fall into the place in the eyes of the reason, and if we try to look at it through the eyes of Modernism, that is openly an anathema that contradicts Realism and Modernisn; for on the side of the cultural struggle for openness and freedom of speech and forms, the Modernist talk advocates for a different kind of knowledge, for an open knowledge against the conventions of Plato (the structure of the dialog would become a recurrent topic in early formalism and structuralism) and the "oscurantist" philosophies that would pose questions pre-assuming a certain knowledge and leave the question unanswered. The Modernist wanted answers in a world in crisis and struggled to find them through exploration of different new and radical creative styles; we can trace this evolution for example from the paintings of Camille Pissarro that markes a definit hit in the French Impresionist School through the greatest painters of our times such as Kandinsky and Van Gogh.

[Pictures Pissarro, Van Gogh and Kandinsky]

All sets of philosophical works that were merely "textual" were still valid in Modernism though, which was considered to have been a rational movement. Symbolist and Modernist Schools in French poetry are good examples of how successful the Modernist movement was in its pursuances. Baudelaire postulates a "theory" of Modernism, just as Shelley proposed a general manifesto of Romanticism. In his view Modernism was not a movement that claimed for the destruction of the old forms, but instead looked for new perspectives, for different perspectives, and for answers to the needs of our times; not to the needs of kings and patrons of long aristocratic lines. Asher quotes Foucault when he says that the two great discontinuities in the "episteme" of Western civilization are the first, inaugurated with the Classical period, and the 2nd, in the 19th century marking the beginning of what we call the "Modern Era". This revolutionary movement known as the Modernism and the inauguration of "Modernity" as a panoramic concept would surpass the achievements of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment in a very different way. The socio-political and cultural movements of the time, with the conflicts the world found itself at the time would shape most of the prevalent ideas of our times. I am not sure myself whether Modernism ever came to an end, but it is clear from literary and artistic schools that it branched out and streamed into different movements that would give birth to its wicked son; Postmodernism. According to C. Greenberg, the great art critic, we are not sure anymore and never have been about what Postmodernism is, except in architecture. The contemporary urban theory and its streamings in between the exact sciences, art and the social theory have indeed turned into a Postmodern era; as far the arts and the humanities are concerned such phasing has not taken place. Greenberg and others find themselves also in the position that many artists are described and criticized as Postmodern by art writers and critics that might have come from a certain Postmodern school, but not because they have ever claimed so. Postmodernism is a highly debatable concept, and in general a movement I oppose not only for the sake of the Classical values and importance (mind I did not say super-importance) of text, but also because such movement has been the trigger of the spread over the world of a new "unanimous" humanism that has led our societies, and therefore our civilization in general, to a state of destruction. Not the humanism of Eramus, nor the one of Descartes and the liberal thinkers. A politicized humanism, from a politicized Postmodernism. Postmodernism would make semiotics of terrorism acceptable, would make of militant feminism an example of sympathy, and hand by hand a new type of working-class homosexuality would be "created" on the ground of a socio-constructionist queer theory, of course their aims are more over-politicized than intellectually-constructed. I want to talk about Postmodernism a bit.

According to Solomon and others, Postmodernism was born as a "misinterpretation" of Nietzsche philosophy and American social movements of leftist nature. I see it also as a French phenomenon product of Foucault, the critical theory and the crisis of science and religion. Solomon also claims it is a European theory in origin but one that reflects what basically is an American phenomenon. This might be true in the eyes of what Heidegger would call the theory of technology and knowledge, topic that interested the philosopher, also Marxist media theory (as from the Frankfurt School) could help us to view this "phenomenon" in a different way. European movements usually were breeded among certain intellectual elites and their trascendence was not certainly immediate, it extended into other societies normally by the text vehicle, that is when the text was regarded as the text. A more aggresive and mediatic approach on which the modern American "culture" was built could make but little use of the text. The kingdom of the discourse would start, from Bible studies to physics we would find ourselves drowning for a couple of decades already in the lacuum of social semiotics. Some modernist empirism and almost positive approach can be blamed for that too, for example through the literary and linguistic schools (which were in many cases the same school - e.g., formalist, structuralism) that found their cluster through the late Modernism. Knowledge was not important, only "opinions" were to count, and therefore we were to drown. The cognitive approach and the well-known constructivisms; the end of Modernism would erase from social sciences our conceptualizations of history and historical memory, collective memories.

I would like to view the chart proposed by Solomon as comparison between Modernism and Postmodernism. I might also add that Solomon does reckon the chart being a generalized comparison; but once again I tend to agree those comparison are useful as long as they can provide us with concepts.

Modern, Postmodern

Rational - Irrational
Scientific - Anti-Scientific
Utopian, elitist, belief in universal values - Populist claim, Local values only
Democratic - Feminist, minority hegemony
Hierarchy - Anarchy
Organized - Chaotic
Centered - Dispersed
European, Western (Judeo-Christian) - Multicultural
General - Non-general
Determinate - Indeterminate
Objective - Subjective
Objectivist values, masterpieces - Values determined socially/individually
Formal disciplines - Informal, undisciplined
Purposeful, meaningful - Entirely subjective meaning
Construction - Deconstruction
Progressive - Circular
Theoretical - Concrete
Analytical & Synthetical - Non-analythical, rhaetorical
Simple, Elegant, Spartan, Streamlined - Decorated-Elaborated, Evasive, Convolut
Cause-Effect - Chance
Linear - Non-Linear
Harmonious - Integrated, Non-integrated
Permanent - Transcience
Abstract - Concrete
Communicative - Arcane
Unified - Eclectic
Objective truth - Truth is socially constructed
Apolitical, occasionally political - Politicizes everything
Disciplines primarily indifferent to power struggles - Political power is primary concern
Reality is not anthropocentric - Reality is socially constructed

[cursive]: Analogies I do not completely agree with.

Postmodernism then, was "created" or it would be actually fitting to say "decreated" as an attack to Modernism, movement which found itself as a critical-end-by-itself of a critical-world-in-crisis. Modernism responded mainly to Victorianism and the Classical epos. Yet it acquired a certain structure which was developed over a time of span of several decades, the evolution of the Modernist novel and poetry can testify that. Yet Modernism presented itself by the end of its locus as a new Renaissance, as a vivifying liberal renaissance of the 20th century that streamed into the most varied school of thought; which later on degenerated or not into Postmodernist approaches. Modernism posed the problem that it was not a uniform movement, specially when already in the 20th century, and its end was not remarkable or even noticeable as it was the end of for example Romanticism and the beginning of Realism and Naturalism. The same problematic was inherited by Postmodernism; no one knows when it really started and by what, was it Foucault? was it Nietzsche? was it Existentialism? was it Marxism? was it Feminism? was it Cognitive Psychology? The question still remains unanswered; except for American Postmodernism, but that's beyond the scope of our study. It is not clear either exactly what Postmodernism is, which is actually the sword of mouth of many of its followers; who contemptuously disagree on what Postmodernism is, for we rather find the most dissimilar "Postmodernisms". The movement can also be framed as brother and almost same with Post-Structuralism, and its manifestation in the arts and critical theory is better known as Deconstructionism. Postmodernism[s] includes the most diverse schools such as Pragmatism, Feminism, Post-structuralism, Cognitive Constructivism, etc. that are influential in the most diverse sciences such as literary theory, general criticism and Komparativistik, art theory, linguistics, psychology, sociology, etc.



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