[-empyre-] Meta-

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Tue Apr 28 13:28:19 EST 2009

Oh...  the URL <www.sienaheights.edu>.  Oh...  and I was really just
referring to malls.  I don't know that I would call anyone's school a
shopping mall.  I don't know that I would go so far as to criticize
another scholar's home institution in that way (I have a sister-in-law
who works for one of the big online universities.... out of
necessity...  but she really tries her best to teach well regardless).


On Mon, Apr 27, 2009 at 10:22 PM, davin heckman <davinheckman at gmail.com> wrote:
> 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
> argument.
> 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).
> Davin
> 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
>>> >>
>>> >>
>>> > _______________________________________________
>>> > empyre forum
>>> > empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>>> > http://www.subtle.net/empyre
>>> >
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> empyre forum
>>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
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