always been postmodern [facetious]

nicholas gessler (gessler@UCLA.EDU)
Sun, 18 Feb 1996 10:47:21 -0800

Danny Yee wrote:

"It seems to me that postmodernists reject all of this mostly because they
don't understand it and they hate the idea that anything they don't
understand could actually be so powerful. On the other hand, they have
nothing at all to replace it with."

That is an interesting hypothesis and one well worth consideration.
Postmodernism is a banner too often employed to give legitimacy to partially
formulated ideas. Many of those who introduced the term, wisely, no longer
use it. I believe Lyotard understood well some of the key points on the
nature of science. It might be worth rereading what he had to say about
science, language, and his expertise:

========== begin lyotard quote ==========

... what never fails to come and come again, with every new theory, new
hypothesis, new statement, or new observation, is the question of
legitimacy. For it is not philosophy that asks this question of science,
but science that asks it of itself...

The question, "What is your argument worth, what is your proof worth?" is so
much a part of the pragmatics of scientific knowledge that it is what
assures the transformation of the addressee of a given argument and proof
into the sender of a new argument and proof---thereby assuring the renewal
of scientific discourse and the replacement of each generation of
scientists. Science develops---and no one will deny that it develops---by
developing this question. And this question, as it develops, leads to the
following question, that is to say, metaquestion, the question of
legitimacy: "What is your 'what is it worth' worth?"

It remains to be said that the author of this report is a philosopher, not
an expert. The latter knows what he knows and what he does not know: the
former does not. One concludes, the other questions---two very different
language games. I combine them here with the result that neither quite
succeeds. (Lyotard xxv)

... I chose language games as my general methodological approach. I am not
claiming that the entirety of social relations is of this nature---that will
remain an open question. (Lyotard 15)

... the striking feature of postmodern scientific knowledge is that the
discourse on the rules that validate it is (explicitly) immanent to it.
(Lyotard 54)

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. *The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.*
Theory and History of Literature, Volume 10. University of Minnesota Press,
Minneapolis 1991.

========== end lyotard quote ==========

It seems to me that the sciences have always been their own most profound
critics. Following Lyotard's own use of the term, and with an obvious
turnabout on Latour's *We Have Never Been Modern*, I think it may be fair to
add that in the endeavor to do scientific or processual anthropology, "we
have always been postmodern."

Nick Gessler
UCLA Anthropology
Computational Evolution and Ecology Grouup