GLOBALIZATION AS TRANSMODERN TOTALITY
by Rosa María Rodríguez Magda
(Chapter 1, Rosa María Rodríguez Magda, Transmodernidad, Barcelona, Anthropos, 2004)
To think the world is to create it through philosophical categories. And here the Hegelian dialectic was possibly the most ambitious method of rational totalization. To confront ourselves with the “global” brings us back to this very epic of meaning that we may have certainly been somewhat oblivious to in these recent times of wastefulness and dissemination.
Is it still possible to speak of a grand narrative (grand récit)? Does the dynamism of the social still respond to a dialectic although the game has already been declared over?
The final years of the 20th century left us in a kind of gnoseological impasse. By talking about postmetaphysical thought, philosophy seemed to inexorably yield the floor to more positive disciplines such as sociology, economics and even geopolitics. Yet through this very impossibility of the Absolute, knowledge was marred by provisionality and granted a hypothetical, pragmatic, potential character. Cultural relativism drowned the universality of principles, and the grand theoretical constructs turned into little more than models of understanding, the certainty of which, as well as being contingent, was basically poetic: fuzzy logic, catastrophe theory, string theory in physics, fractals and black holes all indelibly marked by the finite nature of our theoretical ambitions.
The past century silently welcomed the esthetics of murder, the disagreeable orgy of extenuation. The world ceased to be a factum, an entity of facts, and increasingly turned into a fictum, a joint collection of simulacra. First the crime was committed against the essences, the noumenal background through which antique metaphysics intended to bestow upon phenomena an underlying scheme. Then later empirical materiality lost the weight of its consistency to become little more than an illusionary construct of our theoretical models. Subsequently it was Theory itself that, isolated in itself with no convincing paradigms to follow, emerged as a heterogeneous beam of micrologies. In view of such a three-fold crisis of fundamental thought, i.e., metaphysical, empirical and theoretical, the most deep-rooted notions became hardly more than a strategic consensus. Following the death of God and the Self, by way of a silent epidemic, a faint extinction completed the plague of extermination: Reality, Subject, History all produced gasping sounds of death rattle. Thought turned into a dispirited shadow of itself. An unusual occurrence of a phantasm that escaped, however, any appearance of tragedy. A feverish apotheosis of the carnivalesque, a happy cheerfulness of the ephemeral gave a festive air to these dances of death. Pretending to celebrate the continuous glory of the body, we were eager in the end to abandon the putrefaction of the flesh and prepared ourselves to become mere images of ourselves, approximate entities in a virtual landscape.
The delirium of extinction, kind irrelevance, the happy replacement of cathedrals by great surfaces. Yet let us take a closer look at some of the above-mentioned references and moments.
A brief review of Hegel
In Hegelian thought, understanding is the characteristic form of deductive thinking, an analytic exercise appropriated for use in the sciences and the real world as a postulating force for axioms and rules that atomize and conceptually drain the flow of events. It constitutes but the first moment of philosophical thought, which was bound to be followed by a second: Dialectics, or the self-displacement of the finite judgements of the first. Dialectics puts order into a vast disarray of contradictory and complimentary abstractions, into a flow of interdependent notions that reflect in their dynamism the very movement of reality. Upon its conception everything turns into its opposite, becomes transitory and mutable.
Beyond the principle of the excluded third in formal logic, not only A and not A is possible, but this very contradiction at the heart of things becomes its primary driving force. A world of contradictions is nothing unthinkable but its most profound reality. We must therefore force our logic to include that the real becomes also thinkable; it shapes the function of Dialectics, a moment of philosophical thought itself overcome by Reason, that which will actively reveal the underlying or immediate harmony of contradictions by embracing opposites in new units. The rational or speculative phase of philosophy represents “a return of thought to the unthinkable rationality of ordinary thought and language that had previously been dismantled by the action of Understanding”. The anxiety of an achieved Totality, the achievement and binding force of a first intuitive experience that does not annul contradictions in a homogenous continuum but instead embraces them and turns them into the very center piece of its superior unity. A triadic movement that departs from an immediate total in order to break it apart, then perceive its myriad dynamic explosions and finally raise it to a new and higher stability.
Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis tirelessly proclaim the coming of the Spirit or Absolute Knowledge. Truth is, without doubt, Everything; its way of manifestation is Wissenschaft or Systematic Science; its task lies in reaching the Universal by “overcoming fixed or defined modes of thinking”. The “idealism” of Reason is indicative of the achievements of Understanding, i.e., world domination by way of Absolute Knowledge, while managing to reconcile conscience and self-conscience. History has gone through a series of fragmented moments that have later become reunited in the Absolute Spirit. In this way, “to the extent that it can do away with the limitations of the particular national spirits and its own mundane nature, the thinking spirit of Universal History captures its own concrete universality and rises to become the knowledge of the Absolute Spirit as the eternal truth in which cognitive Reason is free in its own right, while necessity, nature and history merely administer how it becomes revealed and are only vassals of its honor” (1).
Modernity as global discourse
I have deemed it convenient to turn back to this brief outline of Hegelian thought in order to illustrate how far removed we find ourselves now from its romantic epic and yet, as I believe to have demonstrated, how obliviously bound up we are in its totalizing rhetoric.
Don Jorge Guillermo Federico was something of a visionary and, like a Napoleon of concepts, suffered his own Waterloo of oblivion. The construct of modernity rests on the stones of the Enlightenment and the mortar of industrialization replacing the pomp of the Sturm und Drang. Yet retrospectively it has never given up its systematic manner, which bestows upon it the belief in universal values and an almost incontestable faith in the bastions of the Subject, Reason, History or Progress.
According to Habermas the project of modernity is originally based on the attempt to develop from reason the spheres of science, morality and art, keeping them separate from the metaphysical and religious realm. While the latter may be carried out in theory, its material manifestations include a process of modernization, among them the industrial revolution, scientific progress, population growth, technological advances, the expansion of markets, capitalism etc., i.e., a relentless force characterized by ever greater dynamism and innovation. Modernity constitutes a view towards the future; it is there rather than in the imitation of the past where individuals believe to find fulfillment of their somewhat unrealistic visions. The new becomes attractive as a form of constant denial and conquest, which fuels the pioneer spirit underlying the esthetics of modernity. However, these two aspects, i.e., the theoretical tenets and material development, are not equally firm: whereas the latter seems stable and takes on new forms in the shape of the postindustrial society, new information technologies etc., the former has been subject to serious criticism. As Albrecht Wellmer points out: “From a technical and economic perspective modernity is made of such solid wood that playing with its aims easily turns into a child’s game. By contrast, its political and moral tenets, its democratic and liberal traditions are so weak that playing with their aims is like playing with fire. The transgression of modernity in the sense of a return to barbarity today constitutes a real possibility” (2).
Despite the diversity of its underlying concepts, modernity is perceived as a coherent mass of rational beliefs and socio-ethical progress, the weakening of which is felt by many as nothing short of a genuine threat. It is a paradigm, in which one could say, everything occupies the right place. Knowledge responds to an objective and scientific model validated by experience and the progressing domination over nature and strengthened by technological development. All of this leads to a higher emancipation of the individual and greater amounts of freedom and social justice as gradually achievable goals. It is the very utopia underlying this model, the decay of which can only lead from its own point of view to nothing other than barbarity.
The breakup of postmodernity
Modernity is therefore anchored in the possibility and legitimacy of global discourse. The postmodern crisis has as its target precisely this very possibility and legitimacy.
Lyotard proclaimed the end of the Grand Narratives, e.g., the model illustrated earlier including Hegelianism, Marxism, Christianism etc. History can no longer be conceived of in the form of linear progress towards emancipation. According to postmodernists, we would embark upon, as Arnold Gehlen puts it, the age of Post-history. Universal Reason, they claim, would have uncovered the manipulative side of instrumental rationality (cf., the Frankfurt School), and its utopian vision would have turned into a genuine iron cage (cf., Weber).
The end of the unitary paradigm would pave the way for multiple micrologies, i.e., contextualised narratives that offer heterogeneous and diverse perspectives. Fragmentation, polysemy, difference, excess and hybridity were pet concepts to designate this new situation. As innovation became frowned upon and the pioneer spirit declined, the future ceased to function as the predominant sphere of reference, and the past turned into a storehouse of images, lifestyles and ideas for us to recycle. Pastiches, hypertexts, a culture of imitation and, ultimately, of simulacra. It is imperative, however, to analyze not only the alleged break of postmodernity with respect to preceding phases, but also the very breakup of itself, i.e., its own conceptual crisis.
Any type of cultural innovation has a critical and subversive moment once it departs from the hegemonic discourse. Reality changes in our view and forces us to embrace new concepts and to even give name to what previously had none. This is the labor of intellectual pioneers. Later then, an entire legion of small workers comes to back up the construction, to perfect its profile and to reproduce the model indefinitely. This is the phase of scholastic paralysis that, as we can typically observe, renders the theoretical construction obsolete.
We are then already faced with the uncertainty of the pioneer who has entered unknown territory and takes insecure steps forward without knowing whether the ground below is firm enough to support his bold upward moves, except for the plain certainty of parrots that echo common ground like axioms and, although they seem to talk just like the pioneer, achieve precisely the opposite, i.e., in the face of uncharted territory ahead they become centered on the Self and turn a blind eye and deaf ear to a dynamic reality that explodes from all sides from a conceptual suit that was tailored too tightly.
Can we still blindly echo in the early days of the 21st century the types of post-notions that had disruptive powers more than two decades ago?
One of the conceptual pillars of post thinking, as pointed out earlier, lies in negating the possibility of Grand Narratives, of a new all-encompassing theory. And yet for the past decade we cannot help but notice everywhere the emergence of a new key concept. Although the fragmentation and multiplicity acknowledged by postmodernity seemed to irreversibly fall prey to centrifugal forces, the scattered pieces were put into contact or “globally joined” due to the virtual revolution of the Information Society, thus facilitating a new Grand Narrative, i.e., Globalization.
The grand metanarratives of modernity were the product of a theoretical enterprise, i.e., the will to be part of a system, and as such pertained to the sphere of knowledge. Globalization, by contrast, is the subsequent result of a technological revolution, i.e., the practical effects of the will to be interconnected, and thus pertains to the sphere of information.
Whereas the industrial society had modern culture and the postindustrial society had postmodern culture as their conceptual twins, a globalized society corresponds to a type of culture that I have referred to for some time as transmodern .
Modernity, Postmodernity, Transmodernity would form the dialectic triad that, in more of less Hegelian manner, completes a process of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.
The phenomenon of globalization cannot be reduced today to simply the beginning of the “world-wide capitalist system” that some scholars, e.g., Wallerstein, take as far back as the 15th century and the rise of capitalism. Following the so-called “end of politics” or “the end of the social” we can now see how both sectors overlap once again and do so beyond the paradigm of the nation state.
In order to offer a valid characterization it seems imperative to follow Ulrich Beck’s distinction between globalism, globality and globalization (3). By globalism he understands the “conception according to which the world market gets rid of or replaces political tasks, i.e., the ideology of domination by the world market or the ideology of liberalism”(4) . The notion of globality refers to the realization that we live in a “global society” where closed spaces no longer exist. Such globality appears irreversible precisely because it comes as a response to profound yet multifaceted developments of economic, political, social, cultural and ecological globalization. In this manner, globalization links, responds to and designates all those “processes by virtue of which sovereign nation states become enmeshed and arranged in a particular order through transnational agencies and their respective openings towards diverse forms of power, orientation, identity and structural set-up”(5) .
All these developments create a framework that, although certainly not new, is structured in increasingly coherent and solid manner and characterized by general features such as the world market, globalized culture, the constant development of new communication technologies, the information society, postinternational and polycentric world politics, world-wide involvement in armed conflicts across cultures, environmental atrocities and the issue of poverty. The constant presence of flux and connectivity forms an emerging process of Totality that, rather than hierarchical or pyramidal, follows a network-like model devoid of clear organization or any hegemonic center. While the strengthening of the nation state fueled modernity and while the postindustrial society stood for an on-going attempt to give meaning to international organizations in an effort to extend the modern political model of a renewed diverse social contract, globalization shows the limitations of a strictly political model and integrates the implicated financial agencies, NGOs and mediators without even raising or making palatable the idea of a world government still based on vague democratic principles or the observance of shared norms such as Human Rights.
It is these very formal declarations, such as the ones cited with respect to Human Rights, that are indicative today of a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, they linger on as empty shells of an outdated spirit of enlightenment while claiming on the other hand to be ideals designed to regulate a new republican “cosmopolitan” spirit or ostensibly work as light mechanisms to mobilize NGOs that seem to have simply occupied the place of what once used to be the revolutionary working class. In any case, beyond the nation state and due to the very decline of the latter, their universalistic stance is equally compromised by a decline in competencies allocated to the control organs that ensure their compliance.
What R. Robertson refers to as the Glocal, i.e., the prevalence of the global and local levels along with the concomitant decline of traditional territorial spaces, designates a new form of geopolitics in which the very space that gave rise to Modernity seems stripped of its leading role in history and deprived of its support base formerly provided by an entire political, ethical, social and identificational model. With the end of what Agnew & Corbridge have termed the “domination of space by the state” we have now entered a “space of flux” (cf., Castells) that once and for all puts an end to the modernist paradigm.
Political and ethical theory now seems outdated, as it churns out neatly boxed and inadequate concepts in a futile attempt to rationalize phenomena that fail to correspond to frameworks designed for a world different from our current. Our mode of thinking should become, just as our social reality, “transborder”, fluid, interconnected and unstable. A risk-type thinking for a global risk society. Following the national comes the postnational and, at a later stage, the transnational. Trans is the prefix that should guide the new digital form of Reason in a reality that is virtual and fluctuating.
What Rosenau(6) refers to as “polycentric world politics” is characterized according to Beck (7) by the rise of the following phenomena:
- Transnational organizations, ranging from the World Bank to multinational corporations, from NGOs to the Mafia…
- Transnational problems, including the monetary crisis, climate change, drugs, AIDS, ethnic conflicts, etc.
- Transnational occurrences, among them wars, sports contests, mass culture events, solidarity marches, etc.
- Transnational communities based on religion, generation-specific lifestyles, environmental action, racial identities, etc.
- Transnational structures as they relate to work, culture, finance, etc.
Globalization shows that these developments take place in many places at the same time and are nor merely echoes or reverberations. This simultaneity is due to the very fact that we are interconnected. The local thus becomes translocal.
The possibility of events taking place in real time creates a fate of Laplacian eternity that is dynamic rather than static and thrives on permanent speed. Reality becomes constant transformation. Its actual conditions are transcended to become part of an interconnected whole that is infinitely readjusted on a global level. In the end, the Total does not bring us back to a religious or supernatural power, nor to the noumenal kingdom of Metaphysics or Absolute Logic. The transcendental that used to be beyond and yet close to empirical reality has now become the hyperreal empirical reality itself, i.e., virtual transcendency.
Culture has ceased to be the universal matrix to smooth out differences, yet nor does it express a certain Volksgeist. Through postcolonial critique postmodern society intended to put an end to this type of condescending universalism of “dead or old white men” and set out to embrace multiculturalism. On the latter, a globalized information society provides us with a true perspective of neither post nor multi, but transcultural by way of dialectical synthesis, as it is impacted by both cosmopolitan and the most minute local currents.
We refer to the information society as a “society of knowledge”, and this implies a subtle epistemological shift. For centuries knowing meant to uncover and to reach into the depths of things – it is for this very reason that the truth was understood in platonic terms as Alethia. We had to focus less on appearances to get to the essence of things, go beyond phenomena to discover the noumenal, to find the numbers and logic underlying the real world – this was the formula that would grant us access to the necessary process of inductive-deductive thinking. Nowadays, by contrast, proper knowledge is defined more in terms of transmissibility rather than the old criterion of adequatio (intellectus ad rem). Ours is a society of knowledge in the sense that it is built and transformed according to the quantity of knowledge that it can transmit. Whatever cannot be transmitted simply does not count. All of us are in a position to claim leadership amongst the most privileged to the degree that we successfully become software providers, recycle, utilize, send out and apply information. Being interactive means to master the codes of transmissibility, to be successful and draw benefits from it. Whereas the added value in the industrial society was generated by the work force, in today’s digital society it rests on the input of transmissibility.
We are now in the era of transformation in which water-tight boxes no longer make sense and everything functions as long as it is interconnected, is based on team work or capable of reinventing itself according to new demands or applications. The industrial society propagated serial production and mass consumption as its criteria of profitability, whereas today’s basic products must be customized to individual needs, be it in furniture design, computer programming or cable television. And this change not only affects the manufacturing industry: the very shape and size of nature itself can now be designed – the dawn of a transgenic age fills us with both hopes and fears. And even the body reaches out to unite the biological and mechanical: chips, implants, assisted reproduction, cloning, technological gadgets developed to extend our senses ranging from cellular phones to wrist-size Personal Assistant computers. The cyborg model embraces the metaphor of a mutating transhuman body, just as transsexuality has dislodged and paved the way for a vast array of possible genders, desires and identity beyond the dichotomy of masculine and feminine.
Jean Baudrillard has described in exquisite terms the entire scenario surrounding trans. In his view, “we are all transsexuals in the sense that the sexed body is bound today to an artificial destiny”(8) . The social turns into its very own mediate “mise en scène”: “We have now entered transpolitics, i.e., the ground zero of politics, which is also that of its reproduction and indefinite simulation”(9) . The doubling of things through advertisement, the media and images gives rise to a transaesthetics, an eclectic vertigo of form. “The system operates through the aesthetic added value of the sign rather than the added value of merchandise”(10) .
If glasnost (transparency) marked the fall of perestroika, the decline of the Soviet regime and the end of cold war politics, the same metaphor of transparency today stands for a world that aims to be its own image, and longs for instant presence on television monitors, a translucid and transferable hologram.
It is a transactional world, the legitimacy of which does not rest on authority but on contract and negotiation in the political, financial and social spheres, a criterion that guarantees both its democratic nature and its economic thrust.
This is not simply a matter of playing with words, of randomly assigning a prefix without further implications. The oppressive presence of these changes in the very qualifying notions with which we claim to describe our present world is a serious reminder of a different type of epistemological configuration, of a series of epistemic shifts that give rise to a new paradigm. We try hard to think in modern notions in political and ethical matters, we echo postmodern positions in cultural and aesthetic questions, and we reflect upon globalization with the perplexity of jumping back and forth between two paradigms that have lost their momentum. Reality is forever changed and calls for a transmodern type of thinking. In order to comprehend what is really taking place around us, it is imperative to look at Globalization from the paradigm of Transmodernity.
Transmodernity presents itself to us as a type of dialectic synthesis of the modern thesis and the postmodern antithesis, and in certainly the light, hybrid and virtual form typical of these periods. Ironically, with respect to Hegelian aims it does not constitute an increase in the Absolute but rather its omnipresent depletion; it is not true reality but real virtuality; it abandons the pyramidal and arborescent structure of the System and adopts a interconnected model of self-multiplying overgrowth. Evidently globality is not the Spirit, nor is Absolute Reason the only type of thinking, but it is precisely the synthesis that, to count as such, needs to combine the positive momentum of the modern with the emptiness of the Postmodern, the longing for unity of the former and the fragmentation of the latter. We are left with a totalizing sum of contingencies oblivious to its underlying base and definition, turning into proliferating crystallography.
The following list of features characterizing each of the three moments may help us to clarify the process, even though it inevitably implies simplifying and categorizing a much more complex continuum:
MODERNITY- POSTMODERNITY -TRANSMODERNITY
Reality -Simulacrum -Virtuality
Presence -Absence -Telepresence
Homogeneity- Heterogeneity -Diversity
Centrality- Dissemination -Network
Temporality- End of History- Instantaneity
Reason- Deconstruction -Pensée unique
Knowledge- Skeptical Information-Antifundamentalism
National- Postnational -Transnational
Global -Local- Glocal
Imperialism- Postcolonialism Transethnic- Cosmopolitanism
Culture- Multiculture- Transculture
Telos- Game- Strategy
Hierarchy -Anarchy -Integrated Chaos
Innovation- Security- Risk Society
Industrial Economy- Postindustrial Economy -New Economy
Territory- Extraterritoriality -Transborder Ubiquity
City- Suburbia -Megalopolis
Race/Class Individual Chat
Activity -Exhaustion- Static Connectivity
Public- Private -Obscenity of Intimacy
Effort- Hedonism -Joint Individualism
Spirit- Body- Cyborg
Atom- Quantum -Bit
Sex- Eroticism- Cybersex
Masculine -Feminine- Transsexual
High Culture -Mass Culture -Customized Mass Culture
Vanguard -Postvanguard -Transvanguard
Orality -Writing -Monitor
Work- Text- Hypertext
Narrative- Visual- Multimedia
Cinema -Television -Computer
Press- Massmedia- Internet
Gutenberg Galaxy -McLuhan Galaxy -Microsoft Galaxy
Progress/Future -Past Revival -Final Fantasy
A brief look at the three columns shows that the first is dominated by clearly defined principles that are guided by cohesion, unity, affirmation and substantiated arguments. The second column is generally made up of their antithesis, i.e., disintegration, multiplicity, negation and unsupported claims. The third tends to preserve the defining impetus of the first yet is devoid of its underlying base: by integrating its negation the third moment reaches a type of specular closure.
Let us now take a closer look at the triads:
Modernity was based on the legacy of reality and aspired after its transformation. The semeiosphere that fueled postmodern theory then transformed it into different types of discourse, whereby the signifier, far removed from its referent, finds its signified in the kingdom of meanings, in eidetic construction work, and thus it is not surprising that there it encounters simulacra rather than realities. This path towards self-destruction, however, then experiences an unexpected turn in the vision of transmodernity. The real and the unreal are no longer opposed, as a new concept of reality emerges, one that is no longer bound to the material world but turns into fiction because of it. Reality and existence are no longer synonymous – it is a type of reality that continues to “be” even when it may not “exist” and does not comply with the simple status of simulacrum, i.e., the virtual is the true reality.
The notion of presence therefore becomes modified in the process. The modern subject is an active agent that impacts on developments by physically taking part in them, be it in the material transformation of merchandise, in transportation, travels or wars. The invention of the telegraph, telephone etc. then paves the way for the first attempts at agency across distance. Postmodern society finds itself drowning in a vast array of media, but the distance between the sender and receiver still causes a delay across time and space, the receiver becomes overwhelmed by ever new ways of transmitting ever more information while communication becomes removed from the facts. In this manner the individual feels like a passive receptacle for events beyond her control. The dawn of interactive technologies put an end to this passivity and this sense of absence. In the transmodern society the subject receives information and acts accordingly, it can interfere in real time in on-going events, be it by e-mail communication, by participating in a group project, by carrying out financial transactions or by expressing her opinion live on television programs. Because of effective telepresence the subject actually takes part in events that are far away.
The discourse of Modernity sought to establish the Self, i.e., it centered upon issues of identity and definition for questions concerning nations as well as culture or science. Since the beginning of innovation knowledge was based on the integration of the Other into the Self, the legitimacy of which rested upon homogeneity. The postmodern critique then saw the rise of the Other, i.e., in different types of counter-discourse, margins, in everything that had erroneously been subsumed under a poorly differentiated homogeneity, including ethnic groups, minority cultures, women, homosexuals, etc. In short, it reached out to the extraordinary, the unclassifiable, or heterogeneity as both a form of attack and opening. Yet this heterogeneity seemed scattered, irreconcilable and thus loaded with negative potential, self-centered as it was on unifying the myriad tendencies it embraced. At present, by way of the new information technologies, minority groups are at times more active and present on the net than certain more traditional segments of society, ranging from agit-prop and international movements to the creation of libraries for documentation and broadcasting. On the other hand, however, the efforts and attacks launched in the preceding phase have given rise to an air of normality and assimilation even in areas as incongruous as specialized research groups, publicly subsidized minority groups, particular civil rights movements or fora in which exoticism is commercially exploited. Thus there are no divisions and no denials, but rather a type of tolerance and dislike, formal acceptance of what counts as politically correct, which in particular cases, however, may begin to bring about a shift in positions. Thanks to a more or less programmatic discourse, nowadays this type of support for cultural biodiversity has achieved a real and accessible type of visibility.
We can find the outlined tendencies in the theoretical premises underlying the type of thinking in each phase. Hegel defined the System according to the mere Aggregate, and naturally his entire writing focuses on the objective of reaching this systematic Total. Deleuze opposed the rhizome to the tree-like structure and opted for the former. We can witness here the break between a type of thinking that leans towards the center, a sense of order and a common origin underlying all subsequent offshoots, and another type of thinking that supports a liberating kind of dissemination. Everything Post was a serious attempt to blow up this neuralgic center into series, fragments, lines, into an ever-expanding gnoseological universe that does not reject chaos but conceives of an equilibrium in the form of self-defeating entropy. This type of dissemination, however, is nowadays joined by a metaphor through which the inevitably centrifugal forces become dynamically enmeshed in a never-ending net of interconnections. There is no center and no system of order, and yet the net somehow offers an unstable form of coherence and an image of the world that does not betray or oppose itself to the dynamic momentum of dispersion.
Modernity finds itself inseparably tied to the idea of time due to its own characteristics of innovation and progress, a historic temporality that in enlightened ways seeks the ever better or, in Hegelian ways, the fulfillment of the Absolute Spirit. Industrialization, the machine age, revolutions, social utopia, etc. all intended to reach a progressive leap forward in history. It is this very optimism that begins to falter with the crisis surrounding the Grand Narratives of emancipation; it seems as if there were no more utopia awaiting us in the future and it has been criticized with what deadly force they have been trying to capture everything in practical terms. The crumbling of Real Socialism shows us that the only alternative lies in a market-based society succeeding itself. This puts an end to the optimism and the epic atmosphere and the moment has come for the famous attacks by Fukuyama celebrating the End of History. Yet more so than the end of all times, the current technological boom surprises us because of the epistemic force with which it takes place. Time is no longer a flow, projection or hope; it accelerates at overwhelming speed, becomes compressed and plays itself out; it is the achievement of instantaneity. Everything takes place before us and, at the same time, at the dizzying speed of optic fiber. The transmodern world is not one in progress, nor is it beyond history, it is an instantaneous world, in which time reaches the breathtaking speed of an eternally updated present. The before and after, the causal chain of events or their synchronicity also become affected, as the order of events is determined by the speed of their transmission, i.e., less important news or events in poorly connected places arrive later or never, in which case they simply do not exist. Whatever is regarded as less relevant will be perceived as consecutive, and circumstances far removed in time, if presented together, will form a present-day Total.
Reason played undoubtedly the leading role in the spirit of Enlightenment. Beyond mere terminological nuances we are referring to its underlying impulse to explain the world and to have faith in its opportunities, which, once actualized and implemented, would progressively lead to better social and ethical conditions. Yet the 20th century was one plagued by suspicion and self-criticism that undermined this powerful and optimistic type of thinking. If ultimately behind Reason we encountered little more than a thirst for power, ideological manipulation or obscure unconscious drives, the only thing left to do was to openly exercise its deconstruction, to tear down this domineering logocentrism that had planned a major conspiracy hidden behind the paraphernalia of grandiose concepts such as Truth, Justice and Morals, to uncover this mendacious nominalism and be left with the signs in a postmetaphysical type of thinking, half way between nostalgia and the euphoria of dissemination. Syntheses do not always have positive aims, but may sometimes display the most repulsive of preceding moments or a return to the nebulous disarray of their confusion. Without pomp and glory the proclaimed individuality of thought appears to us with the same arrogance that we previously observed in the Reason of Enlightenment by rejecting any possible alternatives and with the same instrumental tenor found in pragmatic types of discourse. Rejected or arrogant it may be, but it displays this very consensus fueled by the decline in alternative theories; it is a political interlingua of an international or financial organism. We would have to adjust the contrast significantly in order to discern any differences between the various possible ideological positions.
If the ideal of knowledge corresponds to Reason, its criticism goes hand-in-hand with a skeptical type of antifundamentalism. The past decades have thrived on relativism, contextualism and culturalism… Irony has been the weapon used to prevent the return of preceding times and also served as the means to create a new form of aesthetics through a distanced kind of repetition. Yet we could not help but to say and convey all of this with considerable fuss and through the machinery of all the technological resources available to us. This fury of the message and this compulsive urge to communicate have coincided almost unexpectedly with ever more sophisticated media bringing about a type of digital noosphere, the information society, in which everything, facts, business and we ourselves, are reduced to packages of transferable data. Information does not require a metaphysical base, its legitimacy does not rest upon a prior cause, but on its own operative functioning. One more step and the synthesis is achieved: Let us refer to this flow of communicative streams as the “society of knowledge” and resolve in one stroke all the problems of more than twenty centuries of metaphysics. From academia on to the assembly plant, from substance towards hardware, and from the monk in the library to the new management man.
Modernity represented the consolidation of nation states as territorial powers and the definition of their collective identities; all social practices, such as culture, language, economy, history and self-image go back to an internal homogeneity that is controlled by the state. This sovereignty has gradually declined in favor of a greater focus on international relations, which cease to be the mere stage for diplomacy, political alliances and trade directed by nation states and increasingly gain a momentum of their own giving rise to a postnational and postinternational form of politics and guided in greater ways by international organizations, social movements and transnational corporations. The transnational is not simply a negation of the Post, but a very recent situation, in which national agents find themselves overcome and overpowered, as previously mentioned, by transnational organizations, problems, events, communities and structures.
The modern state corresponds to a simple perspective of the world, i.e., a universalistic longing with respect to its culture and an imperialist approach with respect to its political expansion, thus seeking to consolidate its territory and to become projected beyond it. This simple world perspective was subject to serious criticism in postmodern theory. The momentary attraction of the local becomes subsumed under this emerging Total that comprises the specific, i.e., the Glocal(11).
Postcolonialism goes beyond the drive towards independence among formerly colonized countries; it represents a crisis of legitimacy affecting all forms of expansionism that seeks to combine the spirit of investment with the exploitation of dependent territories and their modernization on the basis of a culture that is allegedly not marked. It denounces economic and cultural policies that are carried out, however, in a world in which discrete national identities can no longer be recovered, as population movements have created an interracial blend in both the colonizing and colonized countries generating at the same time transethnic communities at the centers of clearly defined territories as well as transterritorial ethnic communities. Transmodernity thus restores the modern ideal of cosmopolitanism, but not on the basis of a clear-cut universality of specific differences as imagined by the spirit of Enlightenment, but precisely by spreading these differences beyond their traditional location it achieves a full synthesis, i.e., a transethnic type of cosmopolitanism.
Culture no longer claims to be a melting pot for displaced universal values, nor a shining Volksgeist. What we refer to as multiculturalism, however, is also turning into a transitory phase in which the developed countries observe the extent to which they have lost the purity of their national cultures and, between denial and the fervor of political correctness, acknowledge, not without tensions, the heterogeneous make-up of their respective populations. One step further, and this centripetal momentum of unifying national minorities at the centers of the state is once again affected by the consequences of interconnected rediffusion. The ethnic is not the area of study for modern anthropology, nor is it the place for minorities to voice their demands. The market seizes and builds upon Difference in a true “bazaar of cultures”, in which local identities become uprooted while they are also unexpectedly propagated thanks to marketing, in which essence turns into design, and lifestyles or gastronomy become products made for consumption, e.g., we dine at Lebanese restaurants, buy Japanese futons, decorate our walls with African designs, listen to Celtic music or watch movies made in Hollywood. Here and there fragments of cultures become jointed in hybrid disarray. This is not multiculture, but transculture.
Modernity was the era of objectives, projects, future, goals, achievement, horizon of wealth and emancipation, utopia of progress and fulfillment. Following its crisis, we thought of knowledge in terms of language games, and from a certain hedonistic yuppie perspective saw life itself as a game. A return to childishness paved the way for us to be frolic without purpose, and, in addition, it was onto these random combinations without future that the liberating heterotopia were projected. We play with stocks in the same way that we play war (the Gulf War exemplified this suspension of reality that resembles a video game). The joining of this drive towards combination and the achievement of particular goals is called strategy. We seek efficiency without the grand discourse and seek areas of control without the legitimacy of power. As strategic subjects we no longer long for a transcendental ego, nor for a simple mask, but rather seek the construction of multiple and operative identities. We no longer desire eternal peace for tomorrow, but rather an unstable and calculated equilibrium, turbulence under control. Beyond the hierarchy for which we cannot find divine legitimacy and beyond the anarchy, the festive ingenuity of which we steer away from, the integrated chaos represents our very own desideratum.
Innovation was, as I previously pointed out, the very driving force of modernity. This rather naïve faith in scientific and technological progress was tested for good in the form of the nuclear mushroom in Hiroshima. From that moment on, states categorically decided that they needed to control research, theirs and of others, and to establish alliances to stop a world from spinning out of control capable of self-destruction. In the sobering up period of modernization, security ideals were postulated, whereby nothing, neither the delirium of science, nor the ideals of revolution, should upset a world that in order to be trivial needed to be stable. Nowadays, however, the concept of a “risk society” designates a new global and emotive paradigm. Risk in the positive sense that solely bold entrepreneurial leadership could generate wealth, e.g., by way of innovation that cannot be inferred from a common source, and that professional progress does not hinge upon original skills, but on the ability to adapt to new methods and the discovery of new applications. Yet risk also in the sense of facing a global environmental threat and the constant effects of recent developments in areas such as politics, industry, the exploitation of resources or strategic affairs.
The industrial revolution marked the beginning of the modern era: the machine age, serial production, the specialization of manual labor, the expansion of capital and the organization of large numbers of workers in trade unions, the exodus from rural to urban areas, dramatic changes in the traditional forms of community life, etc. The postindustrial society claimed to display higher levels or productivity and accumulation of wealth driven by an internal dynamic force that blurred notions of social class, the division between public and private spheres, the forms of knowledge and their transmission, the domination of the tertiary sector over the secondary, the over-all rise of the consumer society and new areas of social conflict. The current technological paradigm based on information technologies subsumes the industrial logic and integrates information and knowledge into areas of production and into the circulation of capital. This gives rise to a new economy that is global and based on information, or, in Manuel Castells´ words: “economía cuyos componentes nucleares tienen la capacidad institucional, organizativa y tecnológica de funcionar como una unidad en tiempo real, o en un tiempo establecido, a escala planetaria”(12) [“an economy with key components institutionally, organizationally and technologically capable of operating as a single unit in real time, or in any given time, at a world-wide level”]. Effective financial globalization coupled with the deregulation of markets and the liberalization of trade, based on state-of-the-art telecommunication and subject to the risky effects of speculations with financial funds.
All these developments locate us far away from modern understandings of city and space. While the presence of the yuppie in suburbia and, in the economically opposite case, the mushrooming of bedroom communities were the main characteristics of urban renewal, the notion of extraterritoriality gave rise to positive cultural metaphors. Yet the globalized society no longer contents itself with the dichotomy of the center and its margins, but instead thrives on a network of interconnected megalopoles indicative at any rate of a ubiquitous transborder space.
The outlined changes undoubtedly also affect social relations, giving rise to a new type of life, of meeting, feeling and communicating with the Other, a new emotive horizon, in which we acknowledge the mundane but story the extraordinary. The social agents that built modernity were driven by the individual but believed in the collective, i.e., people, class, citizenship, etc. and articulated ways of integrating a desirable political project. Postmodernity cast a skeptical shadow over faith in progress or in the opportunities created by revolution. From this emerges the individual, but this time secluded in the private sphere, in a domestic type of hedonism, far removed from the fervor of the public arena and the epic of effort as the key to ethics. We are currently witnessing a significant change, whereby the selfish Self of merely a decade ago begins a process of self-questioning and creates innovative forms of social interaction. We see the rise of a new type of connected isolation. Glued to their computer monitors, isolated Selves create an entire network of personal and intimate relations and do so out of pleasure or even as a virtual mobilization strategy. Chat channels have largely taken the place of traditional types of group formation, as they preserve the privacy of the individual while embracing ever expanding forms of social interaction unimaginable until recently. This is not a case of modern activity, nor of postmodern depletion, but rather the static connectivity of transmodernity.
It is this configuration of the Self by way of the monitor that allows for an overwhelming and yet protected kind of visibility. Protected by this very distance and instantaneity the personal turns into spectacle, ranging from television programs such as Big Brother to nude images on the Internet. We can witness an obscene form of intimacy that, by turning into a transmitted image of itself, seeks to recover a sense of reality, as the latter is based less on facts and more on their representation. The rejection of traditional forms of political action and partisan politics drives individuals towards new ways of getting ethically involved in world events; this is how a new solidarity- type of individualism is born, one that is aware of being part of issues related to the environment, poverty, natural catastrophes or the effects of war.
Even the physical world has seen transformations. Material reality, its final formation, atom, mass, power, space, time, etc. were all concepts that brought order to a Newtonian universe. The theory of relativity and quantum mechanics then followed suit: waves, chords, uncertainty, gravitational lines, the temporalization of space, etc., an entire fuzzy logic that brought physics to the edge of metaphysics. The digital society moves away from speculation and synthesizes the actual and ethereal. Reality is no longer found in the movement of aggregates of atoms (objects), but rather in the movement of packages of bites, quanta of information transmitted in real time. Space is no longer the site of transformation, nor the alleged place of secularization multiplied in n dimensions; it becomes irrelevant and ceases to exist, as a limit never reached before, the speed of light, takes on the form of everyday instantaneity.
The spirit, soul, reason, the subjective, objective and absolute was the main protagonist of modernity, although progressively undermined by scientific materialism, it became a mere metaphor of itself as a dynamic driving force and shared form of rationality. Behind it all we are left with the body, fragmented, joyful, lustful, a form of moral subversion and doomed flesh. Nowadays the remaining organic matter seems more like a primitive burden, the mind plays with its transformation and turns it into a guinea pig for genetic engineering or expands it with technological prostheses. We are all mutants connected to the net, cyborgs that proclaim the era of the postcorporal and the transhuman.
In similar ways, sexuality, the standardized, reproductive weapon of submission or political liberation, gave way to eroticism, which dismantled gender and stereotypes with seductive artifice. The threat of AIDS opened up new aseptic sites of pleasure. We approach the flesh with the same precautions as those against biblical threats, which thus accounts for the visual, prophylactic perversion of cybersex.
Modernity was furthermore fueled by the notion of masculinity. The male species had access to public spaces and forms of political representation, whereas women were relegated to domestic bliss. The crisis of grand narratives also affected the patriarchal logic. Along with the integration of women into public spheres, discussion centered on a feminization of culture, as debatable as that may be. Yet in times of cybertechnology the feminine body is too often associated with the domination of nature; it is in other words excessively carnal. Design refashions nature, biology becomes a branch of engineering; we refuse to have our anatomy determine our personal preferences, and thus the icon of modern-day artistry is exemplified by the transsexual.
Cyberculture likewise shows signs of transformation with respect to the two preceding phases that we have analyzed. High culture responded to hierarchical and elitist criteria, the gradual expansion of education to the least privileged classes generated a highly politicized popular counter culture, Marxism largely helped to uncover the ideological manipulations of discourse and also fought to make knowledge accessible to all, yet it was only the postindustrial society that first displayed a need for a culture of mass consumption, which intellectuals, as we know, have either demonized or defended. While high culture offered restricted access, and mass culture intended to capitalize on ever greater modes of consumption, we would expect this technological expansion, once tools of transmission become affordable to all, to become customized to consumer needs. Mass culture, yes, but individually tailored, a la carte, cable television, special interest publications based on race, professional background, sexual orientation, a market integration of the exotic and the marginalized. An open form of standardization that allows for the integration of différance.
What is not needed, however, is a radical avant-garde type of innovation. It seems appropriate here to trace the key features of both post and trans avant-garde, whereby the former is characterized by denial, depletion, kitsch, a culture of imitation, a critical approach towards art work and the role of museums, a destructive form of irony, and the latter, present phase by reconstructive irony, pastiche, hybridization, intertextuality, transgender, etc., in which net art and, more generally, new technological means gradually regain a dynamic momentum of innovation and change akin to those of former avant-garde periods. Once again, trans becomes our prefix of choice.
The oral, the work of art and the narrative gave way in postmodern culture to a reappraisal of the written, the textual and the visual. Once again, the transmodern society carries out a synthesis that moves ahead to embrace both aspects, both transcendent in qualitative terms. The monitor subsumes both the oral and written, becoming increasingly interactive in real time while fostering greater cyber-literacy. It is in textual form rather than through images that interaction is updated. Yet it is a type of textuality without reference to the author or ties to the system, nor does it constitute a mere medley of signifiers beyond the intentions of the subject. The latter cuts, pastes, sends out and otherwise interferes in the series of discourse, whereby it is her own multiple and distinct intentionality that creates a proliferating maelström.
One single process streamlines the media, e.g., cinema, television, computer, etc. The internet will be the synthesis of the former print media and current forms of mass communication in a type of order that, according to the phases outlined earlier, would successively include the Gutenberg Galaxy, the McLuhan Galaxy and finally the Microsoft Galaxy. We thus return to the uncertainty of looking ahead into the future, a vision of tomorrow tired of the tiresome wave of revivals, plagued by cosmic heroes, threats of extinction and epics of glory, posthuman mutants dressed up as transnational executives, a Final Fantasy for which every day we invent the ingredients, eager as we are to go beyond our limits, but also anxious and delirious, because everything happens too fast, huge fragments of remaining misery leave blood stains on a deceivingly glossy universe, where bites fly through space like bullets and we have yet to resolve the human dimension of justice.
Globalization is the all-embracing Total, the chaotic and dynamic fulfillment of the dialectical imperative, the new paradigm that I have proposed to refer to as Transmodernity.
Yet underneath this Total the challenging task of thinking and the urgent need for action still remain.
(1)Filosofía del Espíritu, parágrafo 552.
(2) WELLMER, Albrecht, Finales de partida: la modernidad irreconciliable, Ciudad de Valencia-Madrid, Universitat de València-Cátedra,1996, pp. 35-36.
(3) ¿Qué es la globalizacción?, Barcelona, Paidós, 1998.
(4) Op.cit., p. 27.
(5) Op.cit., p. 29.
(6) Turbulence in World Politics, Brighton, 1990.
(7) Op.cit., p. 63.
(8) La Transparence del Mal, París, Galilée, 1990, p.28.
(9) Idem, p. 19.
(10)Idem, p. 25.
(11) término acuñado por R. Robertson, véase M. Featherstone et al. Global Modernities,Londres, 1995.
(12) La era de la información. Vol.1. La sociedad digital, Madrid, Alianza, 2000, p. 137.
© Rosa María Rodríguez Magda