[-empyre-] Meta-

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Tue Apr 28 13:22:12 EST 2009

My little school is called Siena Heights University.  We're sponsored
by Dominican nuns.  We have about 750 full time undergrads on our main
campus.  I think it isn't all that uncommon for some of the smaller
liberal arts colleges to be this way.  Because the so much of the
administrative work is handled by teaching professors, the
administrative bureaucracy isn't quite as potent as it is at some
places.  On the one hand, I don't have as much time to research and
write as I would like....  but on the other hand, the overall
atmosphere is very low key.  Also, if I want to advise dissertations,
I have to work as a guest advisor with another school.  But, because
we are so small, I also work with my most ambitious undergrads very
closely, which helps to satisfy that need for intense reading and

Small schools have their disadvantages.  And, if you consider teaching
at one, it is important to make sure that the culture of the school
works for you (fortunately, Siena is progressive, but many schools are
quite the opposite).  But, they can be really fine places to work.
(More than anything, I tend to enjoy hanging out with my students much
more than hanging out with professionals.  It's more unpredictable).


On Mon, Apr 27, 2009 at 6:54 PM, Michael Angelo Tata, PhD
<mtata at ipublishingllc.com> wrote:
> What is your "little school"???  Can I see the site?  I'd love to learn
> more, especially it seems that, from an epistemological, as well as
> pedagogical, standpoint, you face some unique challenges and opportunities
> so richly different from the ones dealt with by professors at
> those Zoloft-enriched, air-conditioned shopping mall universities you refer
> to.
> *******************************************
> Michael Angelo Tata, PhD  347.776.1931-USA
> http://www.MichaelAngeloTata.com/
>> Date: Mon, 27 Apr 2009 08:31:10 -0400
>> From: davinheckman at gmail.com
>> To: empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>> Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Meta-
>> Steve,
>> I do think that there is some good sense in maintaining at least
>> significant portions of Lyotard's understanding.
>> For instance, I am working on curriculum revisions at my home
>> institution which could change the very nature of the education we are
>> providing at my little school. In the 80s and 90s, we drifted in the
>> direction of a consumer-oriented approach... we are a very small
>> school, so the argument that "We won't treat you like a number" is
>> true in a very real sense and a compelling selling point. Like so
>> many schools, we searched for meaning in the postmodern environment,
>> and, unfortunately, found it in this strategic selling point.
>> Fortunately, we are too small for such a philosophy to have
>> effectively changed what it is that we do. (At least as far as I can
>> tell.... I've only been here for 5 years). In many ways, we never
>> made the full shift to the service model--we all know each other and
>> our students too personally to adopt the sort of detached, serene
>> benevolence that reigns in zoloft-enriched shopping environments,
>> where secret shoppers enforce friendliness. Plus, we are in Michigan
>> and most of our students are first generation, which means that we
>> work on the edge of a precipice--on the one hand, we have known for a
>> long time that the "new economy" isn't all it's cracked up to be, on
>> the other hand, we cannot pretend that our students need to be able to
>> survive in whatever situation awaits them. So, while the "service"
>> narrative has been there, there are also, I think, stronger narratives
>> that run through the school. The task is not to make these narratives
>> official, but to hack away at the "consumer" narrative that tends to
>> detract from the organic narratives. And, to provide supplemental
>> narratives which might help guide this underlying narrative away from
>> despair, as the economy becomes grim, and turns us all towards a
>> stronger sense of mutual support, solidarity, and creativity. More
>> than anything, I don't want my students to feel helpless. I don't
>> want them to feel like they need to wait for the answer to come to
>> them over the TV or Walmart or GM or Washington. I want them to get
>> into the business of making/finding/revising their own answers, in a
>> practical sense.
>> So, I see Lyotard's observation as useful. These grand narratives may
>> or may not circulate, but they do not rest upon any sort of certain
>> foundation, and even slight scrutiny has the potential to disrupt
>> them. In their place, are other narratives, and maybe they can be
>> widely held, but I think they fail to rise to the status of "Grand"
>> narratives when we accept that they tend to be agreements, which are
>> arrived at for the sake of common utility and mutual benefit, and
>> which can be discarded.
>> Now, this brings us back to the question of "liberalism," because this
>> certainly is a liberal understanding of commonly held narratives as a
>> sort of social contract. But I don't know that the problem is with
>> "liberalism" as much as it is with the reification of the fruits of
>> liberalism. If a particular narrative emerges as useful, and then we
>> try to firm it up in such a way that makes any questioning of the
>> narrative into nonsense or blasphemy.... then it becomes something
>> other than a social contract. This is where I tend to have the most
>> serious issue with "neoliberalism"--on its surface, it seems like a
>> valid theory, maybe open markets can lead to the extension of certain
>> freedoms (certainly, pornography has loosened up certain attitudes
>> towards sex [but it has tightened up others]). The problem is the
>> notion that free markets will always lead to the extension of all
>> freedoms, even to the absurd point that governments will restrict
>> human freedom to protect the market.... why!? Because the market
>> will lead to freedom!!!! This is not a social contract. This is
>> tyranny, because it forecloses the possibility of a social contract.
>> But, the official narrative is that it makes you free! And, of
>> course, this narrative is rarely questioned, except through the straw
>> men arguments against socialism (which equates even modest regulation
>> with Stalinism). [As an interesting aside: In the thick of the
>> demonization of socialism in the popular press, Bill Moyers was
>> gracious enough to interview Mike Davis:
>> http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/03202009/profile.html]
>> I believe that social groups need narratives in which to ground their
>> vocabulary... without them, I cannot say with any likelihood that I
>> would even begin to understand what we are talking about. We, right
>> now, are partially situated within the connective tissue of
>> postmodernist discourse. Someone says, "Lyotard this." Another says,
>> "Lyotard that." A third says, "No, Lyotard such and such." And, this
>> is obvious, we are using this common narrative to situate our specific
>> subject positions such that we can have disagreements, and hopefully,
>> come to more useful understandings of each other and the narrative
>> itself, but mostly about those things which were not initially
>> situated within Lyotard's argument.
>> To bring it back to my own little project.... my little school needs
>> to talk about what kind of narrative structure we will operate
>> under... not to solidify it for all time... but to give students and
>> faculty some places where we can get some traction against the
>> prevailing narrative which people only tend to "believe" by default,
>> whenever we give off the impression that such a narrative cannot be
>> questioned. But, even if we do calcify some narrative that sees the
>> prevailing cultural narrative as insufficient, we would accomplish a
>> great deal. Nothing is worse than teaching young people that their
>> existence can be boiled down to some simple external measure of value
>> that they cannot even control, and that, statistically speaking, they
>> are destined never to succeed in. It's like a contemporary retelling
>> of the literalist interpretation of the biblical 144,000.
>> Peace!
>> Davin
>> On Mon, Apr 27, 2009 at 3:33 AM, sdv at krokodile.co.uk
>> <sdv at krokodile.co.uk> wrote:
>> > Joseph,
>> >
>> > It always interests me how when people write of Lyotard's understanding
>> > of the post-modern they write as if his writings of 1979 remain and were
>> > accurate. As if the death of the meta-narrative of human liberation
>> > meant the death of all meta-narratives. But actually as the past month
>> > has demonstrated this is not the case.
>> >
>> > The Meta-narratives that have survived and proposed during the past 30
>> > years since Lyotard's post-modern condition was published are broadly
>> > speaking those which can be grouped under the heading 'theories of
>> > liberal governance' , the internal arguments being around the subject of
>> > how things should be governed - the critical one being neo-liberalism
>> > with it's libertarian overtones. Given its existence I don't see how the
>> > acceptance of the misreading of the 'passing of grand-narratives' is
>> > really that helpful. That the postmodern stopped believing in the
>> > narrative of human liberation did not finally mean that the liberal
>> > narratives of human governance went away,  it mean rather they were
>> > never stronger. So that when Michael writes of meta-N passing he was
>> > ignoring our actual history to maintain a particular theoretical
>> > understanding which at its best could only address the passing of one
>> > set of enlightenment discourses but not the one that we most need to
>> > critique that of 'liberal governmentality'.
>> >
>> > steve
>> >
>> >
>> >
>> > joseph tabbi wrote:
>> >> The transcendence of Meta-Narrative as itself a Meta-Narrative?
>> >>
>> >> Logically, Michael, that makes sense. I suppose it's a question of
>> >> where one situates oneself. Lyotard, after all, made the absence of
>> >> meta-narratives into a narrative of a new, emergent period, a
>> >> 'post-modern' era defined by the loss of faith in the grand narratives
>> >> of modernity. Freud, Marx, and Durkeim, once so powerful and capable
>> >> of explaining so much, with the passing of time could be seen as
>> >> expressive of the hopes, aspirations, oppressions and (consequent?)
>> >> repressions of a certain /period/. The fact that the old explanations
>> >> failed to convince, or failed to convince in ways that could inspire
>> >> widespread dedication to a cause, was an indication that society had
>> >> reached a different moment. The transformation in sensibiity occurred,
>> >> palpably, whether or not the post-modernists were paradoxical or
>> >> contradictory in how they described the occurrence.
>> >>
>> >> It does seem to be the case that, by Lyotard's time (1970s, '80s), the
>> >> only narratives to attain an (admittedly restricted) power, were those
>> >> that admitted their own contingency, their dependence on a particular
>> >> subject position, their construction of a situated identity. If there
>> >> were not so many actual 'petit histoires' on offer, in the cultural
>> >> domain, the meta-narrative of postmodernity would not have been
>> >> persuasive (at least, not for as long as it was persuasive).
>> >>
>> >> (for as long as it has been persuasive?)
>> >>
>> >> But maybe there's another way to look at this. Michael's observation
>> >> expresses a paradox: the observation of the passing of grand
>> >> narratives is itself a grand narrative. Right. But what if we simply
>> >> recognize the development /as/ a paradox? and then take this paradox
>> >> as a starting point? as a way of legitimating the proliferation of
>> >> mini-narratives? an acknowledgment that our time is derivative, not
>> >> likely to have a dominant narrative of its own any time soon?
>> >>
>> >> Deflation of grandiosity certainly is the rhetoric of the day. "Yes we
>> >> can" is about as grand as we can hope for, these days. Yes, /we/ can -
>> >> even if Big Government, that mythical grandee, purportedly can't. (Can
>> >> I be forgiven for thinking back with nostalgia  to 'nothing to fear
>> >> but fear itself,' a slogan from long before I was born?  If the Obama
>> >> team really wants to jump-start the economy, the President's
>> >> speachwriters might consider the power of paradox and the logic of the
>> >> bootstrap.... )
>> >>
>> >> An admission of paradox (not as a problem in logic but as a starting
>> >> point) is in fact the approach taken by Luhmann, when he inaugurates
>> >> an alternative to the 'petit histoires' of postmodernity, and when he
>> >> attempts to replace talk of "cultures" with descriptions of
>> >> "functional systems." I'm away from my library, but I recall Luhmann's
>> >> opening an early major work, with something like the sentence: "We
>> >> assume there are systems." An essay that I can look up now, online,
>> >> opens with a similar move (the systems theorist was nothing if not
>> >> consistent):
>> >>
>> >>   "No one, I think, will dispute the fact of a global system."
>> >>    http://www.generation-online.org/p/fpluhmann2.htm
>> >>
>> >> I cited that once, in an email conversation with Stefanie Strickland,
>> >> and Stef responded (immediately): '/I/ dispute it!'
>> >>
>> >> But the point is not, really, whether a global system exists or not.
>> >> There are certainly narratives of globalization that many people
>> >> believe in, or we act as though we do. If people believe in a system,
>> >> a  description, or a narrative, then that belief offers a starting
>> >> point, something to build on. (Not a foundation - that only comes
>> >> later, after the system establishes itself, after a sufficient
>> >> investment in the system is established, and belief in the system
>> >> becomes widespread and self-sustaining.)
>> >>
>> >> "We don't do grand narratives anymore." That's what society tells
>> >> itself nowadays. But this mode of self-understanding doesn't have to
>> >> be a contradiction; it can be a way of seeing the grand
>> >> meta-narratives of the past for what they are, and marking our own
>> >> society as /different/.  We don't do foundations or universals, we
>> >> deflate anyone who attempts a grand claim. Or history does the job of
>> >> deflation for us: "Mission accomplished" is unlikely to be remembered,
>> >> even ironically, for long. Maybe 'You're doing a heckuva job,
>> >> Brownie,' will fare better as ecological crises pick up.
>> >>
>> >> We've gotten over 'grand,' That is what makes our current systems
>> >> powerful and also democratic (so we can tell ourselves). Those small
>> >> acts of resistance cited by Marc Herbst, "the glorious miasma of
>> >> identities [having] the capacity in little and big ways to tilt at
>> >> windmills" - what are these, if not elements in a current
>> >> counter-narrative to those bygone grandies. Instead of revolution
>> >> orchestrated by the state, we have resistance in the everyday,
>> >> unorganized and emergent. These acts of resistance are observable,
>> >> certainly, for those who know where and how to look for them (in
>> >> Ithaca and everywhere, every day). But the notion that these small
>> >> acts can add up to something, that they can effect a change or affect
>> >> a system in beneficial ways - that is a matter of belief, plain and
>> >> simple.
>> >>
>> >> To observe a system (a former grand narrative), and to use that
>> >> observation as a way of marking our own difference: that is a kind of
>> >> /re-entry/ (another key term in systems theory). Once we can mark our
>> >> difference, the old narratives become no more, or less, grand than the
>> >> stories we tell ourselves about  our own place in, solidarity with,
>> >> and/or resistance to, the current world system.
>> >>
>> >> JPT
>> >>
>> >>
>> >>
>> >>
>> >>> On Tue, Apr 21, 2009 at 10:27 PM, Michael Angelo Tata, PhD
>> >>> <mtata at ipublishingllc.com> wrote:
>> >>>
>> >>>> I am reminded of Rorty: contingency and irony as a basis for
>> >>>> solidarity.
>> >>>> Despite pomo-ism, have we transcended the meta-N, or is a meta-N of
>> >>>> no
>> >>>> meta-N a meta-N after all?
>> >>>>
>> >>>> *******************************************
>> >>>> Michael Angelo Tata, PhD  347.776.1931-USA
>> >>>> http://www.MichaelAngeloTata.com/
>> >>>>
>> >> _______________________________________________
>> >> empyre forum
>> >> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>> >> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
>> >>
>> >>
>> > _______________________________________________
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>> >
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