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CulturePrintCritical dictionary

The current and the contemporary

Moisés de Lemos Martins

The current and the contemporary are explained by the idea of the occurrence. In the Western religious tradition – that is, the Judaico-Christian tradition - the occurrence is enlightened by the idea of the history of salvation, a singular understanding of historical time, which is governed by an eschatological principle and delineated in a narrative which takes place between a Genesis and an Apocalypse.

Keywords: culture; nature; technique

 


The current and the contemporary are explained by the idea of the occurrence. In the Western religious tradition – that is, the Judaico-Christian tradition - the occurrence is enlightened by the idea of the history of salvation, a singular understanding of historical time, which is governed by an eschatological principle and delineated in a narrative which takes place between a Genesis and an Apocalypse. In that narrative, the event is singular fact and new meaning, an autonomous source of meaning and intelligibility, carrying within it a hermeneutic power, a power of revelation, which allows for full experience. In these conditions, an occurrence opens out of continuity within time and space, and is imposed on subjects, their rationales for action, their motives and their interests. In the Western secular tradition, on the other hand, it was the concept of identity, essential in Aristotelian logic, and the concept of teleology, along with the concept of contradiction, which had Hegelian logic as its cornerstone, endowing meaning to the occurrence. 

 

Two traditions founded both in the idea of historical time, and in the concepts of identity and contradiction, which structure individual and collective experience, ruling over the idea of discontinuity as an idea providing conciliation with regard to the meaning of the current and contemporary. This hermeneutic point of view is reinforced, on the one hand, by the Kantian tradition, and also by the elevation of an aesthetics of life according to Bergson and Simmel, and, on the other hand, by Hegelianism, based on the cognitivism of Gadamer and the pragmatism of Dewey. This idea of the occurrence implicitly contains within it the ideal of harmony, of regularity and unity, both organic and cosmic, which we can encounter in authors as diverse as Teilhard de Chardin, Gibert Durand and Paul Ricoeuer. Although this deals with a disruptive fact generating conflict, struggle and pain, the occurrence presupposes a forthcoming peace, an irenic moment, where conflict, if not definitively suppressed, is at least temporarily suspended. 

 

The renewal of the debate on the occurrence, taken up by Habermas (1987), enables us to see the current and contemporary in a new light.  The “theory of the communicative act” sought to emphasise the duality of the occurrence, between fact and meaning, and shifted the relationship framework between description and explication and applied the paradigm of intersubjectivity, as established by George Herbert Mead and Alfred Schutz, to social analysis. We have thus been placed on the path of an anthropology which enables us to view the current and the contemporary as exigencies correlated to a constituent social activity. Classical sociology had bound the current and the contemporary by converting all aspects of social and individual action into entities, from individuals, societies, groups, individual and collective actors, classes and nations, even including facts, events, activities, behaviour and everything which enabled us to explain and rationalise them, including social structures, personality structures, norms, rules, significations, values and culture. The purpose of moving to the intersubjective paradigm was to desubstantialise these entities. As such, this accentuated the fact that human life and its creations was constituted by language and linked the construction of objectivity and subjective to the existence of a community of language and practice.

 

In this way the objectivity of social facts, the establishment of the social order and the observable regularity of social behaviour had this nature, grouped around the anthropological beliefs of epistemology, or that is, around the individualistic premises of conscience. And the current and the contemporary did not possess a different nature. But they became a distinct thing, if we characterise them without classifying them as the “myth of data”. Within the context of the intersubjective paradigm, individuality and sociality, objectivity and subjectivity, intelligibility and communicability are taken up within the context of a constituent social activity. Besides this, the public world which we have in common is based on the result of an institution. Finally, the opposition between the individual and society is replaced by considerations of the processes of individuation or sociality.

 

At the extremes of this line of thought regarding the occurrence, and thus concerning the current and the contemporary, are Nietzsche, Freud and Heidegger, who express a new theoretical concept, a thought concerning difference, not identity, and neither conciliation. Within this notion of difference is in fact present a post-Aristotelian and Post-Hegelian line of thinking - that is, a greater conflict than that which has been sanctioned, both through logical concepts of diversity and opposition, as well as by the dialectical concepts of distinction and contradiction.

There is,  in thought concerning difference, a view which points to the impureness of feeling - that is, to experiences which are unheard of, disturbing, ambivalent and excessive, undoubtedly irreducible to the notion of identity, and which constitute the experience of our contemporariness. Our experience is no longer dictated by the demands of perfection and conciliation which characterise modern thought. On the contrary, its source of inspiration is in this type of kindred sensibility with psychopathological states and mystical ecstasies, a type of sensibility which manifests itself in the “hallucinations” of electronic interaction, and also in drug addictions and perversions, in situations involving handicap and deficiency, in so-called "primitive" cultures and in "other" cultures (underground cultures, and suburb or suburban cultures).

 

This is the tradition of Bataille, Klossowski, Blanchot, Foucault, Lyotard, Deleuze and Derrida, marked by thought concerning difference and which, in some cases, like that of Nietzsche, values tragic experience; others, attentive, like Freud, to the negative and disturbing experiences of the human soul; and also others who denounce, like Heidegger, the idea of the invariance of a full presence (of a foundation).

 

Within this thought concerning difference, on the other hand, debate has continued on the technical, and the role which new technologies, including the media, play in the redefining of culture – that is, in the delimiting of what is human. With the progressive merger of technê and bios, and the immersion of the technical in history and within bodies, contemporary experience increasingly dreams of cloning, replicates and cyborgs, the hybrid, the post-organic and the trans-human. The current and the contemporary are not separate from this experience.

 

Along with the aforementioned authors we should also add, in this context, the names of Giorgio Agamben, Mário Perniola, Jean Baudrillard and Guy Debord. All of these authors emphasise the “crisis of experience”, mentioned by Benjamin in his famous text on “The Narrator”, but which today appears to be at an unstoppable stage due to its technological acceleration. Agamben speaks of the impossibility in which we find ourselves nowadays, of having appropriated our very historical condition, which makes "our daily life unbearable" (Agamben, 2000: 20). Perniola, in turn, when describing contemporary experience, introduces the concept of the “already felt” and questions himself concerning the sex appeal of the inorganic, which is both fascinating and disturbing (Perniola, 1993 and 2004). As for Baudrillard, we are aware of his concept of attaining the real as a simulacrum (Baudrillard, 1981). Finally, there is Guy Debord on the growing process of the anaesthetisation of life - that is, the growing process of the covert freezing of the world (Debord, 1991: 16).

 

The linking of the media to the idea of a tragic social element in our days, has arisen through the recognition of the fragmentation of experience as an event which has been enfeebled and exhausted in the new, in the news item, in a process of the ceaseless haemorrhaging of meaning. This idea alludes to the crisis of the times, to its discontent, some would say, to the crisis of modernity (Lyotard, 1984, 1993; Miranda, 1997). The media express this crisis of the times, but also extend it along with discontent.

 

Lyotard states that nowadays our community melancholically consumes without expressing any purpose. It expresses only its suffering, “a suffering of finality” (Lyotard, 1993: 93). And it should be pointed out, however, that the trauma provoked by the disappearance of trust in the historical community, as well as the melancholy which has accompanied the banalisation of life, this vertiginous sensation of something tragic without tragedy, besides the very impossibility of cancelling it out, argues for us replacing the idea of a “community to come” (Agamben, 1993). The current and the contemporary play on this horizon, since it is there that one can play and safeguard the possibilities for human fate and adventure.

 

Bibliography
 

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AGAMBEN, Giorgio, 2000 [1978], Enfance et Histoire, Paris, Payot & Rivages.

 

AGAMBEN, Giorgio,  1993 [1991], A comunidade que vem, (The coming community),  Lisboa, Presença.

 

BENJAMIN, Walter, 1992 [1936], « O narrador. Reflexões sobre a obra de Nicolai Lesskov”, (“The narrator. Reflections on the work of Niclai Lesskov”, in Sobre arte, técnica, linguagem e política, (On art, craft, language and politics), Lisboa, Relógio D’Água, pp. 27-57.

 

DERRIDA, Jacques, 1967, L'écriture de la différence, Paris, Seuil.

 

BAUDRILLARD, Jean, 1981, Simulacres et simulation, Paris, Galilée.

 

DEBORD, Guy, 1991 [1967], A Sociedade do Espectáculo, (The Society of the Spectacle),  Lisboa, Mobilis in Mobile.

 

HABERMAS, Jürgen, 1987 (1981), Théorie de l’agir communicationnel, Tomes 1-2, Paris, Fayard.

 

LÖWITH, Karl, 1991, O Sentido da História, (The Meaning of History), Lisboa, Ed. 70.

LYOTARD, Jean-François, 1993, Moralités post-modernes, Paris, Galilée.

 

LYOTARD, Jean-François, 1984 [1979], A condição pós-moderna, (The post-modern condition), Lisboa, Gradiva.

 

MAFFESOLI, Michel, 1998 [1979], La conquête du présent. Pour une sociologie de la vie quotidienne, Paris, Desclée de Brouwer.

 

MIRANDA, J. Bragança de, 1997, Política e modernidade. Linguagem e violência na cultura contemporânea, (Politics and modernity. Language and violence in contemporary culture),  Lisboa, Colibri.

 

MIRANDA, J. Bragança, 1994, Analítica da actualidade, (Analysis of the present), Lisboa, Vega.

 

NIETZSCHE, Friedrich, 1988 (1887), Seconde considération intempestive: De l'utilité et de l'inconvénient des études historiques pour la vie, Paris, Flammarion.

 

PERNIOLA, Mário, 2004 [1994], O Sex Appeal do Inorgânico, (The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic),  Lisboa.

 

PERNIOLA, Mário, 1993 [1991], Do Sentir, (Of Feeling), Lisboa, Presença.

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