Marx and the Postmodernism Debates: An Agenda for Critical Theory

By Lorraine Y. Landry | Go to book overview

mediation of relatively, but not absolutely commensurable realms of differentiation within modernity]." 78

However, Lyotard does sustain utopian hopes that modern technology is evolving away from its repressive uses alongside his technological-determinist view. It is these features, in particular, which make his work less amenable to the sorts of rapprochement suggested above for they put Lyotard squarely at odds with Habermas who is "committed to the quest for legitimating principles while acknowledging the forms of 'repressive rationality' that work to distort those principles." 79 Given that the "only point of contact between Habermas and Lyotard is that both diagnose a deep-lying crisis in the present state of cultural and scientific knowledge," 80 Habermas, at least, offers a basis for positive social critique while Lyotard radically spurns engagement with large-scale narrative, which could complement his bid for small- scale analyses of "postmodern" social, political, and economic phenomena.

In addition to the criticisms of Lyotard cited above, Habermas's catalog of criticisms includes those he claims Lyotard has in common with Derrida and Foucault. That is, Lyotard is himself caught up in a version of the "performative self-contradiction;" espouses more of a rhetorics than a pragmatics of language; falls to avoid dogmatism in attempting to evade the self-referential paradox; and arrives at political impasse as a consequence of his epistemological commitments. These criticisms of Lyotard, when taken together with his particular argumentative strategies which leave some crucial features of his critique underdetermined, contribute to an overdetermined case militating against a fruitful tension with Habermas.

In conclusion, while some of Habermas's criticisms of the poststructuralists per se are susceptible to counter-criticism, some of his own positive positions are open to a greater degree of accommodation with Derrida and Foucault than with Lyotard's qualified postmodernism. Likewise, a stronger case can be made for Derrida and Foucault than for Lyotard as offering partial insights of considerable value in their critiques of Enlightenment modernity. There is more of a basis for a constructive tension in the postmodernism debates among the perspectives of Derrida, Foucault, and Habermas and less of a case for this between Lyotard and Habermas. 81


NOTES
1.
The phrase comes from Axel Honneth, "An Aversion Against the Universal. A Commentary on Lyotard's Postmodern Condition," Theory, Culture & Society 2(3) ( 1985), pp. 147-156.
2.
Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition. See especially his summary statement in the introduction.

-95-

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