[-empyre-] Re:Is Modernity our Antiquity

dear empyres,

I saw that Christina introduced me already quite extensively, so let me just say by way of introduction that I work as a theorist (writing, lecturing) and as an organiser on culture, media, and technology. My time divides right now 50/50 between independent theory work and a position as co-ordinator of the media wing of De Balie, Centre for Culture and Politics in Amsterdam.

You can find some further bio-information, links, texts and other materials on the Balie website here:

And a nice project of 2004 was the archaeology of imaginary media, which is partly documented in a web dossier on media archaeology, and hopefully will finally be complemented in the Fall with a book and dvd:


I'm sorry that I'm late with my take on the discussion, and even more so that I'll probably only be able to really participate by the end of the week, but for now I want to send you an excerpt from a preparatory exchange with Christina on the theme of the lingering legacy of modernism / modernity. My take has become that it is improper to speak of a post-modern condition, if only because if culture and society were really past modernity it would simply be called differently. Beyond that, there's just to much modernity around us to say that it's over. Instead a term like hyper-modernity would better capture the spirit of the times, I think. Habermas called it 'late modernity', but my feeling is that we're really past that stage. Mostly this would be demonstrated by the lack of believe of any sensible person nowadays in universalist discourses, but also in more mundane terms, as for instance in the grandiose failure of the 'multi-cultural' society and its emancipatory claims (the "multi- cultural drama" as Dutch political theorist Paul Schaeffer calls it). Instead what becomes clear in various confrontations in deeply multi- ethnic cities like Amsterdam (even if we leave the extreme out, like the murder of flimmaker v. Gogh and so on) is a fundamental heterogeneity in society. Not so much a clash of cultures (reactionary poisonous talk), but an inability to translate judgements from one system to another, moral judgements foremost. Also, it seems rather impossible to reduce cultural differences and conflicts entirely to their material base, yet the same conflicts can also not be explained without their material underpinnings as part of the explanation.

So, roughly speaking then, the modern / modernity / modernism persists in many forms and modes, yet there is a growing consciousness of its limitations, short-comings fallacies, and fundamental incongruencies, which ultimately cannot be resolved without diossolving the core of what modernity is/was about. One of the ideas I'm toying around with regularly and recurringly is the question what it might mean to be hyper-modern? and secondly if it is possible to speculate what could lie beyond the modern, if it woud be possible to recognise this 'beyond' at all? On the latter I'm deeply sceptical. I don't think that's ever possible, but maybe it would be possible to highlight or intensify a sensibility for the things that are changing. This is also very much an experiental thing. For me these questions are therefore not just about theory or science, but also about experience and embodied action - 'art' could be a possible form in which to explore these other non- or not strictly discursive modes of exeperience that are connected to the sensation of being hyper-modern...

Anyway, here is the quote mentioned above, and I'll have to leave it at that here - will pick up on the discussion asap.

"I would prefer to focus in such a discussion on a notion that i would call hyper-modernity and that picks up from the modernity / post- modernity debate between habermas and Lyotard in the later 80s and that was carried through the 90s as well. I would agree that there is a certain lingering legacy of modernity, which is a.o., exemplified in the many ways in which modernist motives inform the thought of the later Lyotard, especially his aesthetics (of the sublime) and the connection he makes to the incommensurability of language games, especially vis-à-vis scientific and political discourse (that is western discourses).

One of the questions that I have been asking myself for a long time and in different ways is how to get beyond this final stage of modernity, the hyper-modern as it were (but that's also just a term). The problem being that the post-Lyotardian discourse locks itself in a dead-end street, in many ways it is already up against the wall at the end of that street.

Lyotard's rejection of technological mediation has been especially unproductive here, even if I share many of his reservations about universalist discourses in the modernist frame. So the question remains for me, how to stay away from and be critically aware of the fallacy of universalist modernist discourses, without falling into a reactionary regression ((culturally and politically, think for instance of people like Roger Scruton behind the church organ in the English country side - no joke! he does it really!!), or conversely to become locked up in a hermetic discourse of the sublime and the incommensurable”

best wishes,

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