Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition

I’m having a little bit of difficulty reconciling these two:

self does not amount to much, but no self is an island; each exists in a fabric of relations that is now more complex and mobile than ever before. Young or old, man or woman, rich or poor, a person is always located at ‘nodal points’ of specific communication circuits, however tiny these may be. Or better: one is always located at a post through which various kinds of messages pass. No one, not even the least privileged among us, is ever entirely powerless over the messages that traverse and position him at the post of sender, addressee, or referent.

Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, 15. 1979. (Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. 1984.)


It is therefore impossible to judge the existence or validity of narrative knowledge on the basis of scientific knowledge and vice versa: the relevant criteria are different. All we can do is gaze in wonderment at the diversity of discursive species, just as we do at the diversity of plant or animal species.

p. 26

On the one hand, Lyotard describes the postmodern subject, which is always located within a tapestry of networks, as in some way fundamentally empowered, a never powerless node through which messages pass; on the other, “we” are left outside of this mess of networks, capable only of “gaz[ing] in wonderment” at it but nothing else, presumably not participating, lacking completely any capacity of judgment or validation. The difficulty here is figuring out who or what this “we” is from the second excerpt. But it only works at all if this “we” is, in actuality, not real, not an actual part of the really existing tapestry of networks that makes up postmodern/contemporary reality. I would at first presume the “we” is the sort of assumed position of the critic, of Lyotard — but then we’re left wondering from what position these actual statements that we’re reading have issued. On the other hand, Lyotard wants to empower the presumably more real “even the least priveleged among us,” but while this subject or node is always granted a power over any statement or message, it would seem that if this subject stepped out to ‘judge’ any of these, it must blink out of existence. An interesting puzzle.

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