"local" vs "universal"

As a kind of serendiptous connection, I've just been reading a
translation of Gianni Vattimo's _The Transparent Society_, which also leads
to a recap of Lyotard. Part of Vattimo's argument about postmodernism
sounds very much like that passage from Foucault about the renewed
emphasis on local knowledges. A general strategy of postmodernist
thought leads in the same direction: universal metanarratives are now
defunct in the wake of what Lyotard refers to as our "crisis of
deligitimation." ("We" being the inheritors of Enlightenment
philosophies, the "project" of modernity, questing for universal reason
and freedom....) In place of all that we are left with a strategy of
resisitance to totalizing (and totalitarian) universals: "local"
knowledges, non-official discourses, or what Lyotard called, "le petites

Perhaps the last bastardized project of modernity that continues
to succeed on a global basis is capitalistic technoscience. Its
discourse could be easily defined as universalizing and its apparatus
literally depends upon a global system of information and
transportation. Colonialism and neocolonialism are co-extensive with
this. Hence the varieties of postcolonial resistances are just about the
only surviving forms of alternative epistemologies and worldviews.
Postmodernism places a decisive strategic hope in these surviving
alternatives and calls for their multiplication. Rather than take on a
totalizing discourse with a total counter-discourse, postmodernists want
to cultivate a myriad of partial resistances, growing out of local needs.

I take this to be a pretty common theme now, and Vattimo's book
presents it very clearly. He does more that this though, and I recommend
his insights into the centrality of the technologies of communication,
his reconnaissance on the return of myth, and his critique of Habermas.
There is no simple and unitary promise implied here. We are left again
with dangerous strategies which bring their own potential oppressions.

It is interesting to go back to an older passage from Foucault
like this one from the vantage point of a contemporary statement like
Vattimo's. Foucault did not like the terms of postmodernism, yet he now
appears to be pretty solidly within their strategy.

Nevertheless, so diverse are the definitions of the postmodern
(and the modern), that I expect some disagreement....

--Erick Heroux


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