If anything, Jean-François Lyotard’s examination of the epistemological problems that developed countries face,1 done as a research project for the Canada’s province of Quebec in 1979, which is known in English as The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge,2 might be said to maintain its relevance to the contemporary moment to the present day.
A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.
Done by a philosopher, this study belongs to a more customarily German genre of Zeitdiagnosen, diagnostic descriptions and interpretations of the present moment. It is striking that Lyotard dates the transition to the post-modern condition to the late 1950s, which at first glance can be perceived as a period when modernity has acquired its recognizable, if dated, shape in developed economies. As Lyotard likens the development of information technology to that of transportation and media in terms of its expected effects on the acquisition, classification and exploitation of knowledge, the post-modern condition, thus, in his conception, is an epistemological change that accompanies transformations in social, cultural and economic semiotics that the emergence of information society imposes on corresponding exchanges.
In many respects, Lyotard’s is a perspective on the residual contradictions between tradition and modernity from the point in time in which the latter has become a dominant force. At the same time, Lyotard’s analysis suggests that the notion of modernity can be aligned with that of capitalism, as he discusses the growing domination of the exchange value of information to the detriment of its use value, which restates Karl Marx’s3 contradiction between the use and exchange value as descriptive of capitalist economic relations. However, as post-capitalism is a condition that cannot necessarily be registered, as use and exchange values of tangible and intangible commodities have continued to circulate over recent centuries, albeit with ever growing velocity, the same may be stated about post-modernity as a concept that eludes reality, other than as a subject of philosophical discourse.
In other words, Lyotard has been among the first scholars to conceptualize the post-industrial transformation of capitalism as an interminable transition from traditional capitalism to modern capitalism, as both the definition and foundations of the latter continue to undergo transformations. By the same token, the post-modern condition can be conceived of as a re-interpretation of tradition, the terms of its production and reproduction. Historical debates around postmodernism, such as in the field of art, underline the continued opposition between tradition and modernity that continues to define the terms of reference in which the production of cultural, social and economic values is discussed, as Maxence Alcalde indicates.4 To some extent, Lyotard has also presaged the neo-liberal dynamics that aims at the progressive reduction of the role of the state, while turning transparency into an evaluation principle of social, economic and political processes increasingly modeled after communication and information exchanges, whose value and interpretation depends on their ease of assimilation into circuits of consumption.
Likewise, as states become sites for the production and valorization of knowledge, as well as other commodities, in the global space of financial flows, they have to make themselves attractive for the investment decisions of multinational corporations as autonomous actors, which runs counter to the modern logic of state sovereignty without, nevertheless, superceding it. Recent appraisals of the post-modern condition, such as that of Ileana Rotaru, Lavinia Nitulescu, and Cristian Rudolf,5 however, tend to introduce periodization, as part of its retrospective interpretation.
This reifies postmodernism, as the corresponding concept, in terms its historical theoretical usage, which reduces the heuristic value of the postmodern perspective.
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- Lyotard, Jean-François. La Condition Postmoderne: Rapport Sur Le Savoir. Paris: Editions de Minuit,  2009. [↩]
- Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Trans. by Geoff Bennington. Minneapolis, Minn: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2010. Print. [↩]
- Marx, Karl. Das Kapital: Kritik Der Politischen Okonomie : Erster Band. Ed. by Friedrich Engels. Hamburg: Verlag von Otto Meissner, 1890. [↩]
- Maxence Alcalde, « L’art postmoderne comme idéologie réactionnaire », Marges [Online], 03 | 2004, Online since 15 November 2005, connection on 12 August 2017. URL : http://marges.revues.org/779 ; DOI : 10.4000/marges.779. [↩]
- Rotaru, Ileana, Lavinia Nitulescu, and Cristian Rudolf. “The post-modern paradigm–a framework of today’s media impact in cultural space.” Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences 5 (2010): 328-330. [↩]