"Campaigns and Movements", R. Rorty
(Winter 1995) Dissent Magazine
(...) "I suspect that someday we may look back on Stendhal’s and Baudelaire’s insistence that it is absolutely necessary to be modern as the beginning of a public relations campaign that, though begun with the best of intentions, eventually got out of control, and ended in involuntary self-parody. We may also look back on Weber’s distinction between traditional and modern society as a useful tool insofar as it provided suggestions for campaigns, but as an unfortunate re-enchantment insofar as it inspired a new philosophical problematic.
I hope that our successors in the next century will turn away from this problematic—the problematic of “the nature of modernity” —and will write the sociopolitical history of the West without mention of modernism, postmodernism, or any other such “major turning.” I hope they will write a narrative of a very large number of overlapping campaigns, rather than of a few great movements.
I hope they agree with Bruno Latour, who called his latest book We Have Never Been Modern, that history is an endless network of changing relationships, without any great big climactic ruptures or peripities. I hope they decide that terms like “traditional society,” “modern society,” and “postmodern society,” as well as “traditional art,” “modem art,” and “postmodern art,” caused more trouble than they were worth.
The discourse of twentieth-century intellectuals never quite got over the habit of asking questions about the spirit of the age. It never got over the kind of trend-spotting that Hegel and Marx made seem so attractive and so profound. I see the effort to spot, or create, a trend called “postmodernism” as the beginning of a welcome anti-trend-spotting trend, but as having picked exactly the wrong label. It has defined itself by opposition to the modem, thereby taking for granted the existence of something it would have done better to question. Lyotard is right that we need to give up on grand narratives. But his critics are right that we have to find a way of doing so that will not dramatize our own achievement. For such dramatization will result in one more grand narrative, namely, the kind of philosophy of current events that tells us how excitingly different we intellectuals have just now become." (...)
NYT (m. 08-06-2007)
Last Words from Richard Rorty
By Danny Postel
in The Progressive