On the Supposed Birth of the Altermodern

Adbusters — the de facto magazine of choice for leftist fundamentalists — has an interesting article by Micah White on the (too oft-heralded) death of postmodernism and the birth of “altermodernism.” I think he gets things half-right, and we’ll start with his conception of postmodernism:

“…[A]n essential precept of postmodern philosophy: Western thought has hitherto divided the world into a series of binary oppositions that privilege one side over the other. The political implications of the lesson were clear: Oppression can be traced back to the way we think, and hope of liberation rests on escaping this binary thinking.

The postmodern project of overcoming binary thought, however, is more difficult than it may appear. First of all, one cannot simply flip the terms and privilege what was once diminished – that would merely replicate the binary in inverse. The issue is not which term is privileged but the false belief that existence can be divided into two distinct, competing parts. Thus the task of the postmodern activist became the blurring and problematizing of distinctions in order to destroy dualist thinking. It was all done in the name of political liberation.”

So far I’m fine with this, and he rightly pulls out the political & ethical bent of deconstruction instead of just characterizing it as literary navel-gazing. But I think things fall apart when he starts to spell out how/why postmodernism & deconstruction failed us:

“…[B]y the time the project of deconstructing distinctions was widespread in academia and had filtered down to society at large, oppression lay not in the maintenance of dualism but in the opposite: increasing hybridization. That is the irony of contemporary philosophy: what we take to be a tool of resistance, the application of cutting-edge theory to our contemporary moment, turns out to be a hammer of our oppression. And by rejecting binary thought outright, we were not challenging the status quo … we were helping it along.”

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Museo de Awesome

We finally got our lesson assignments for the next two weeks. The summary:

Tuesday –>  high beginners –> house chores
Wednesday –> low beginners –> talking about past vacations
Thursday –> basic beginners –> describing daily and weekly routines

Tuesday –> high intermediates –> compare & contrast dating customs
Wednesday –> basic beginners –> houses / our dream house
Thursday –> low beginners –> our future vacation plans

They also gave us the grammar points we need to teach with each (eg the “going to + verb” structure for that last class) but I won’t bother typing those all out now. I wish I had more high beginner & intermediate students but my schedule’s pretty decent otherwise. Monday we take our final exam over grammar & phonology then start prepping for Tuesday’s trial by fire.

I feel like I spent all of today taking public: taxi to class, bus home (my first time on a colectivo; cost me a whopping 30¢), then subway to and from the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires. I had a couple places to see tonight but lots of sites close at 6pm; MALBA was open til 8pm thankfully. It’s normally $4, but I got in for $1.30 as a student with my BAIS card. This museum was well worth the hassle of the subte and is a total bargain even at $4. Mostly 20th-century and contemporary art — which is my preference anyway — though I forgot to look for their Frida Kahlo stuff. As my guidebook points out, MALBA is the only BsAs museo built-for-function, ie it’s not a re-purposed mansion, warehouse, factory, etc. Thus the building itself is extremely interesting, a bit of which you can see in my recently-uploaded photoset. Indoor photos are forbidden so I could only sneak a couple. Unfortunately my shots of the world’s most amazing benches didn’t turn out (someone obviously beat me to it anyway).

Dangerous Knowledge

I guess I’m on a philosophy film kick. The latest was the BBC’s Dangerous Knowledge, a documentary on mathematicians Georg Cantor, Ludwig Boltzmann, Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing — four geniuses whose neuroses drove them fatally mad. It’s debatable the extent to which their respective theories made them insane — the film obviously plays this up for dramatic purposes — but it’s an intriguing film and not overly technical.

One of the ironies here is that I learned of this film via some people with deep antipathy towards postmodernism, despite the fact that these four helped unravel the modern project and clear the conceptual space for postmodernism. For me, it’s impossible to ignore the links between these mathematicians at the turn of the century and the postmodern philosophers at the close of the century. The key is recognizing that the quests for certainty, universality, and totality that were under assault in science & politics — climaxing in the existential refutations that were World Wars I & II — were being assaulted in logic & mathematics via Cantor & Co.
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