While diving deeper into the thinking of postmodernism, that means diving deeper into the views of Jean-Francois Lyotard. The thing about French philosophers is that they write really, really difficult. Their structure of sentences and choices of words are ambiguous to say the least and I always find myself rereading every paragraph three times before I know what is going on. This book is no different.
This book tries to look deeper into the concept of time through the arts. Since painting something is trying to capture something in time, this is all the artist thinks about. But now with photography painting has become absolute. The function of painting needs to be readdressed. Here Lyotard presents the Sublime. What it is, is pretty ambiguous and is never truly explained. I would say it is this kind of feeling of being overwhelmed by something, like the beauty of a sunset for example. The sublime is not something that can be thought. Trying to achieve the sublime, will immediately result in not achieving the sublime. In this sense it is a state of wonder about how beautiful something is.
Humanism puts the human at the center and gives it a certain value. But what is value? What is certain? What is human? These are all questions that plague our ‘postmodern’ society. That which we call human in people is actually a second nature. We have our first nature, which is the one granted by actual nature. And then we have a second nature, which has been granted by culture. Humans are not fully programmed by nature, so culture has to fill in that hole. Culture does this with ideologies. An ideology is not just a system of ideas, according to Lyotard, but rather a power of realization. Our prominent ideology today is progress and in the 20th century many ‘grand narratives’ like liberalism, fascism and communism have tried to encapsulate that idea of progress.
Lyotard calls this the inhuman. It is inhuman for us to follow these ideologies because they are inherently oppressing because of their power of realization. We should go away from utopian or idealistic thinking. There is no endpoint in the ideologies, but there is one for humanity.
Lyotard gives the example of when the sun will burn up 4.5 billion years from now. He asks the question: what are we working towards? If the answer is the survival of our species, then what’s the point. We’ll all die in 4.5 billion years when the sun explodes. The true achievement of humanity is trying to create thought without a body. If that would exist, then that thought could live on forever, even after the sun exploded. This is the true goal of the sciences and everything we do.
This is just a small bit of Lyotard’s thinking in this book. It is a vast book, packed with questions which will make you ponder endlessly. A hard read for sure, but if you have the time and the interest, it is a good read into understanding 20th century continental philosophical thinking. If that doesn’t interest you, than I would just skip this book.