From: Jeroen <cwbijjvd@xxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 14 Apr 1997 17:24:24 +0100
=46or some time I have been 'lurking' on this interesting discussion. Since
it's close to the things I am working on now and the things I am
desperately trying to understand, I felt the need to throw in a few
At 12:16 +0100 14-04-1997,
>From: John Ransom <ransom@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
>Date: Sat, 12 Apr 1997 22:58:57 -0400 (EDT)
>A question that's been asked repeatedly is whether or not postmodernists
>have some kind of criterion for distinguishing acceptable from
>unacceptable kinds of transgressive acts. Perhaps an element of the answer
>can be found in the profound dependency transgression and limit have on
>one another. In _language, counter-memory..._, the "Preface" essay, F puts
>it like this:
>In other words, the limit and transgression both get their being from each
>other. If that's the case, then it's a mistake to think of them as radical
>opposites, or as mere excuses for each other. Instead, we create the kind
>of being we are by the kind of limit we choose to transgress? So the
>criterion we might bring to a transgressive act could be: what does the
>interplay of this act with that limit say about and do with my being? Such
>a decision would still be local, but not necessarily individual, nor again
>arbitrary; but also not pushing us in the direction of "humanist"
>conclusions? I hope it comes across how tentative I want to be about this
Thanks John, for this interesting point. For a week now I have been trying
to understand something of Luhmann's system theory. While doing this I had
the feeling I could link this to Foucault. (although bearing in mind
Nietzsche's warning (FW, =A7228) I know this is only the first step in a lon=
process) Your mentioning of the dependency between the limit and
transgression gave me a clue on where to look further. So the ideas I am
giving here are not full-blown theories, just the things I have on my mind
while reading Foucault against Luhmann. I am interested on your opinions on
The way I read your text, transgression can be seen as being part of the
limiting system, transgression always starts from within the boundaries,
Maybe transgression is a way of 'maintaining the boundaries', by way of
experiments. That means that there is no limit on what 'acts of
transgression' we choose to do within the self. (there is no ethical
guidance for transgression)
What happens in your examples is that we transgress only those boundaries
where we expect some sort of success in changing them (that means that the
system is constantly working on it's own boundaries, and the possibility of
success in changing them is already present.)
>(A) Limit: Women are (ideally) perfectly proportioned sexual objects who
>nevertheless find their sexuality constrained and shaped by the fashion
>Transgression: Burning bras at the Miss America pageant
Yes, burning bras only makes sense within the limits of women as perfectly
proportioned sexual objects. Partly due to this transgressive act the
limits/boundaries are changed, after which the transgressive act is
senseless again. Burning bras is a reference to something outside those
limits, but at the same time only understood within those limits.
So how do we choose where to transgress and where not to transgress? Only
if a transgressive act makes sense, that is the possibility of something
else has already entered the limited system: Women *could* be seen as
something else than perfectly proportioned sexual objects.
Another transgressive act would be to burn shoelaces (shocking!), but does
that make sense?
>The problems proliferate when one moves from this example, which is not
>trivial, to one such as infantcide. Here the question of a
>limit/transgression dialectic comes up against the rock of 'why should we
>care about babies being killed?'
>Knowing, that ethical and moral problems come about because people have one
>set of limits and others others, which may or may not transgress the limits
>of the others, is as you say "trivial but true".
This is a wild guess, but I would think that the moment we start
interfering with a different group of people with a different set of
limits, we are part of that group. So in that group a new set of limits has
to be settled from within, bearing in mind the existing set of limits.
Transgression can then be used as a means of questioning those limits and
as a start in the creation of new ones.
In your example 'killing babies' is part of the system, but at the same
time 'not killing babies' is already a possibility (a possibility we
brought in when we entered that group). So that's also the moment when we
decide to try to change the limits.