Michael Peters (1999) '(Posts-) Modernism and Structuralism: Affinities and Theoretical Innovations'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 4, no. 3, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/4/3/peters.html>
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Received: 17/3/1999 Accepted: 13/7/1999 Published: 30/9/1999
modernism in art, literature, and philosophy involved novelty, break with tradition, progress, continuous development, knowledge derived from either the position of the subject or from claims to objectivity ... [It] involved a shift ... to the stream of consciousness, lived and internal time-consciousness, transcendental subjectivity, narrated remembrance and awareness (Silverman, 1996: 353)
I identify Modernism with the intensification, almost the exacerbation, of this self-critical tendency that began with the philosopher Kant. Because he was the first to criticize the means itself of criticism, I conceive of Kant as the first real Modernist. The essence of Modernism lies, as I see it, in the use of the characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize itself -- not in order to subvert it, but to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence. Kant used logic to establish the limits of logic, and while he withdrew much from its old jurisdiction, logic was left in all the more secure possession of what remained to it (Greenberg, 1973: 66).
post-modern, a. Also post-Modern. Etymology: post- B. 1 b. Subsequent to, or later than, what is 'modern'; spec. in the arts, esp. Archit., applied to a movement in reaction against that designated 'modern' (cf. modern a. 2 h). Hence post-modernism, post-modernist a. and sb.
1949 J. HUDNUT Archit. & Spirit of Man ix.108 (heading) - Post-modern house. 1949 J. HUDNUT Archit. & Spirit of Man ix. 108 (heading 119 )- He shall be a modern owner, a post-modern owner, if such a thing is conceivable. Free from all sentimentality or fantasy or caprice. 1956 A. TOYNBEE Historian's Approach To Relig. ii. xi. 146 - Our post-Modern Age of Western history. 1959 C. W. MILLS Sociol. Imagination ix. 166 - Just as Antiquity was followed by several centuries of Oriental ascendancy... so now the Modern Age is being succeeded by a post-modern period. Perhaps we may call it: The Fourth Epoch. 1965 L. A. FIEDLER in Partisan Rev. XXXII. 508, - I am not now interested in analyzing... the diction and imagery which have passed from Science Fiction into post-Modernist literature. 1966 F. KERMODE in EncounterApr. 73/1 - Pop fiction demonstrates 'a growing sense of the irrelevance of the past' and Top [sic] writer ('post-Modernists') are catching on. 1966 N. PEVSNER in Listener29 Dec. 955/2 - The fact that my enthusiasms cannot be roused by... Churchill College.., does not blind me to the existence today of a new style, successor to my International Modern of the nineteen-thirties, a post-modern style, I would be tempted to call it, but the legitimate style of the nineteen-fifties and nineteen-sixties. 1977 N.Y. Rev. Bks. 28 Apr. 30/3 - A process that culminates, by a curious but inexorable logic, in the post-modernist demand for the abolition of art and its assimilation to 'reality'. 1979 Jrnl. R. Soc. Arts Nov. 743/1 - Many Post-Modern architects us motifs... in questionable taste. 1979 Jrnl. R. Soc. Arts 751/1 - Post-Modernists have substituted the body metaphor for the machine metaphor, because so much research has shown that we unconsciously project bodily states into architecture. 1979 Time 8 Jan. 53/1 - The nearest man Post-Modernism has to a senior partner is, in fact, the leading American architect of his generation: Philip Cortelyou Johnson. 1980 Times Higher Educ. Suppl. 7 Mar. 16/1 - Postmodernism, structuralism, and neo-dada (formerly known as 'concrete poetry') all represent a reaction against modernism.
postmodernism can be recognized by two key assumptions. First, the assumption that there is no common denominator -- in "nature" or "truth" or "God" or "the future" -- that guarantees either the One-ness of the world or the possibility of natural or objective thought. Second, the assumption that all human systems operate like language, being self-reflexive rather than referential systems -- systems of differential function which are powerful but finite, and which construct and maintain meaning and value (Ermarth, 1998:587).
Postmodernism aims at exposing how, in modern, liberal democracies, the construction of political identity and the operationalization of basic values take place through the deployment of conceptual binaries such as we/them, responsible/irresponsible, rational/irrational, legitimate/illegitimate, normal/abnormal, and so on ... postmodernists draw attention to the ways in which the boundary between ... [these] terms is socially reproduced and policed (Lilly, 1998:591).
I will use the term modern to designate any science that legitimates itself with reference to a metadiscourse ... making explicit appeal to some grand narrative, such as the dialectics of the Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth (Lyotard, 1984: xxii).
the progressive emancipation of reason and freedom, the progressive or catastrophic emancipation of labour ..., the enrichment of all through the progress of capitalist technoscience, and even ... the salvation of creatures through the conversion of souls to the Christian narrative of martyred love.
[It is] not simply that a language is a system of elements which are wholly defined by their relations to one another within the system, though it is that, but that the linguistic system consists of different levels of structure; at each level one can identify elements which contrast with one another and combine with other elements to form higher-level units, and the principles of structure at each level are fundamentally the same.
Were we to comprise the leading idea of present-day science in its most various manifestations, we could hardly find a more appropriate designation than structuralism.. Any set of phenomena examined by contemporary science is treated not as a mechanical agglomeration but as a structural whole, and the basic task is to reveal the inner, whether static or developmental, laws of this system. What appears to be the focus of scientific preoccupations is no longer the outer stimulus, but the internal premises of the development: now the mechanical conception of processes yields to the question of their functions.
If, as we believe to be the case, the unconscious activity of the mind consists in imposing forms upon content, and if these forms are fundamentally the same for all minds -- ancient and modern, primitive and civilized ... -- it is necessary and sufficient to grasp the unconscious structure underlying each institution and custom, in order to obtain a principle of interpretation valid for other institutions and other customs...
First, structural linguistics shifts from the study of conscious linguistic phenomena to the study of their unconscious infrastructure; second, it does not treat terms as independent entities, taking instead as its basis of analysis the relations between terms; third, it introduces the concept of system...; finally, structural linguistics aims at discovering general laws, either by induction [or deduction] (p. 33).
As a first approximation, we may say that a structure is a system of transformations. Inasmuch as it is a system and not a mere collection of elements and their properties, these transformations involve laws: the structure is preserved or enriched by the interplay of its transformation laws, which never yield results external to the system nor employ elements that are external to it. In short, the notion of structure is compromised of three key ideas: the idea of wholeness, the idea of transformation, and the idea of self-regulation.
'structures' have not been the death of the subject or its activities ... in the first place, structuralism calls for a differentiation between individual subject ..., and epistemic subject ... In the second place, the always fragmentary and frequently distorting grasp of consciousness must be set apart from the achievements of the subject; what he knows is the outcome of his intellectual activity, not its mechanisms (Piaget, 1971: 139)
... the entire history of the concept of structure ... must be thought of as a series of substitutions of center for center, as a linked chain of determinations of the center. Successively, and in a regulated fashion, the center receives different forms or names. The history of metaphysics, like the history of the West, is the history of these metaphors and metonymies. Its matrix ... is the determination of being as presence in all senses of this word. It could be shown that all the names related to fundamentals, to principles, or to the center have always designated an invariable presence -- eidos, arche, telos, energeia, ousia (essence, existence, substance, subject) aletheia, transcendentality, consciousness, God, man, and so forth.
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