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Jove Jim S. Aguas PhD

University of Santo Tomas, Manila, Philippines


This paper presents some key concepts and outline some key themes in Postmodernism with the view of using these as framework for analyzing Philippine politics today. The main focus will be on Lyotard particularly on his book: The Post Modern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, the book which the I believe gave the word postmodernism a more concrete concrete form. This paper is divided into two parts, the first which takes the majority on this paper, deals with the key themes in postmodernism as discussed by Lyotard and the second my reflections on Philippine politics. I do not intend to give a final analysis or diagnosis of Philippine politics today, rather, I will mention some transformations and events which can be the jumping board for a further discussion or "paralogy" on Philippine politics.



Postmodernism is perhaps the most talked about topic today, but it is at the same time the most confusing and elusive term in contemporary society and culture. It is being talked and written about everywhere especially in Western societies and now in our country as a new discourse in analyzing society. The term is being used in many intellectual, artistic, cultural and academic fields; it is mentioned in anthropology, sociology, geography, literature and in philosophy. This only points to the fact that postmodernism is of great interest to a wide range of people, particularly the intellectuals for it directs our attention to the changes, the major transformations taking place in our contemporary society and culture. Hence to mention postmodern has become fashionable, everything is interpreted in the language of postmodernity.

However, the term is elusive and there are certain ambiguities and controversies regarding its meaning.


Some Related Concepts

Perhaps it will be useful for our discussion if we begin by looking at the "family" of terms associated or interrelated with postmodernism. 1

    1. Modernity - it is generally thought to have come into being with the Renaissance and was defined in relation to Antiquity and the medieval period. It implies the progressive economic and administrative rationalization and differentiation of the social world, this differentiation is manifested in the separation of fact from value, of the ethical or practical from the theoretical sphere, of the State from religion, etc. During the medieval times there was some kind of a fusion between the faith and reason, state and religion, science and religious doctrines, but with the Renaissance there emerged a distinction between these areas and fields. Hence modernity can be taken as a summary term referring to that cluster of social, economic and political systems which signaled the independence of thought from faith and religion and was brought into existence in the West from the Renaissance onwards.
    2. Modernization - a term used to refer to the stages of the social development which are based upon industrialization. It refers to a diverse unity of socio-economic changes generated by scientific and technological discoveries and innovations, industrial upheavals, population movements, urbanization, the formation of national states and mass political movements, all driven by the expanding capitalist world market.
    3. Modernism - this represents a particular set of cultural or aesthetic styles associated with the artistic movement which originated around the turn of the 20th century and have dominated the various arts. It emphasized experimentation and the aim of finding an inner truth behind surface appearance. The basic features of modernism are as follows: an aesthetic self-consciousness and reflexiveness; a rejection of narrative structure in favor of simultaneity; exploration of the paradoxical, ambiguous and uncertain; the conception of an open-ended nature of reality; and the rejection of the notion of an integrated personality and emphasis on the "split" subject. It is however difficult to determine at what time in modernity, modernism started, and it is also difficult to differentiate it from postmodernism, since they share some common features.


The Term "Postmodern"

The term postmodernism originated among artists and critics in New York in the 1960s, it was used as a name for a movement in advanced capitalist culture, particularly in the arts. Later it was taken up by European theorists and critics in the 1970s, prominent of them was the French thinker Jean-Francois Lyotard, in his famous book: The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.

Postmodernity suggests what came after modernity; it refers to the incipient or actual dissolution of those social forms associated with modernity. Some thinkers assume that it is a movement toward a post-industrial age, although there are some ambiguities: is it part of the modern, is it a continuity or a radical break from the modern? Is it a material change or does it indicate a mood, a state of mind? 2

Broadly, postmodernity emphasizes diverse forms of individual and social identity, it is now widely held that the autonomous subject has been dispersed into a range of plural, polymorphous subject-positions inscribed within language. Instead of a coercive totality and a totalizing politics, postmodernity stresses a pluralistic and open democracy, an awareness of ambivalence and contingency.


The Nature of Knowledge in The Postmodern Condition

It was the French thinker Jean-Francois Lyotard who gave a specific form and character to the posmodern condition in his analysis of the social change and transformation in contemporary societies in his book: The Postmodern Condition. Lyotard in that influential work discussed the changing nature of knowledge in computerized societies, the differences between narrative knowledge and scientific knowledge, the ways in which knowledge are legitimated and sold and the social changes that will take place in the future.

In The Postmodern Condition Lyotard observed that during the last forty years, the leading sciences and technologies have become increasingly concerned with language: theories of linguistics, problems of communication and cybernetics, computers and their languages, problems of translation, information storage and data banks.3 And the technological transformations are having a considerable impact on knowledge. Lyotard believes that the nature of knowledge cannot survive unchanged within the context of general transformation. Lyotard wrote:

The nature of knowledge cannot survive unchanged within this context of general transformation. It can fit into the new channels, and become operational, only if learning is translated into quantities of information." 4

The status of knowledge is altered as we enter into the postmodern age. Anything in the constituted body of knowledge that is not translatable into quantities of information will be abandoned and the direction of new research will be dictated by the possibility of its eventual results being translatable into computer language. Eventually knowledge will be reduced to a commodity to be sold.

Knowledge is and will be produced in order to be sold, it is and will be consumed in order to be valorised in a new production: in both cases, the goal is exchange. Knowledge ceases to be an end in itself, it loses its "use-value." 5

Lyotard observed that in the worldwide competition for power, knowledge as quantifiable information will be major stake and the different nation-states will be fighting for control of it as they have fought for control of territories before.

Knowledge in the form of an informational commodity indispensable to productive power is already, and will continue to be, a major - perhaps the major - stake in the worldwide competition for power. It is conceivable that the nation-states will one day fight for control of information, just as they battled in the past for control over territory

In fact Lyotard observed, that in the last few decades, economic powers have reached the point of imperiling the stability of the state through new forms of the circulation of capital that go by the generic name of multi-national corporations. These new forms of circulation imply that investment decisions have, at least in part, passed beyond the control of the nation-states. Information has gone beyond the control of the nation- states.

The question now is Who will have access to them? Who will determine which channels of information or data are allowed or forbidden? The State? Or will the State simply be one user among others? New legal issues will be raised, and with them the question: "who will know?"

Indeed the possibilities are unlimited.


Narrative Knowledge and Scientific Knowledge

Knowledge in general cannot be reduced to science, it is not meant only as a set of denotative utterances, it also includes notion of "know-how," "knowing how to live" and "knowing how to listen."

"Knowledge is a question of competence that goes beyond the simple determination and application of the criteria of efficacy or technical qualification, ethical wisdom or visual sensibility, etc. Hence "knowledge is what makes someone capable of forming good denotative utterances, but also "good" prescriptive and "good" evaluative utterances." 6

As a parenthetical discussion, a denotative utterance such as "The university is sick," made in the context of a conversation or an interview, positions its sender (the person who utters

the statement), its addressee (the person who receives it), and its referent (what the statement deals with) in a specific way: the utterance places (and exposes) the sender in the position of "knower" (he knows what the situation is with the university), the addressee is put in the position of having to give or refuse his assent, and the referent itself is handled in a way unique to denotatives, as something that demands to be correctly identified and expressed by the statement that refers to it.

Lyotard observed that the notion of scientific and technical knowledge as cumulative is never questioned. At most, what is debated is the form that accumulation takes - some picture it as regular, continuous, and unanimous, others as periodic and discontinuous. However these truisms are fallacious. In the first place, Lyotard stressed, scientific knowledge does not represent the totality of knowledge; it has always existed in addition to, and in competition and conflict with, another kind of knowledge, which he calls narrative.7

The narratives (popular stories, myths, legends and tales) bestow legitimacy upon social institutions or represent positive and negative models of integration into established institutions. In traditional societies there is pre-eminence of the narrative form.

The narrative form unlike the developed forms of discourses of knowledge, lends itself to a great variety of language games.8 Hence you find in the narratives denotative statements, deontic statements, interrogative statements, evaluative statements, etc These various language games combine to form the social bond, the social bond between the narrator and the addressee or his audience.

Their narration usually obeys rules that define the pragmatic of their transmission. They establish the competence and authority of the narrator and the potential access of the listener to that same authority simply by listening, and the narration is always claimed as faithful transmission of the story.

Another aspect of narratives is its effect on time, "the narratives reference may seem to belong to the past, but in reality it is always contemporaneous with the act of recitation." 9

Narratives determine criteria of competence and or illustrate how they are to be applied. Therefore they define what is the right to be said and done in the culture in question. They allow the society in which they are told to define the criteria of competence and to evaluate according to these criteria what is performed or can be performed within it.10 The narrative tradition serves as the criterion in determining a threefold competence "know-how," "knowing how to speak or live ," and "knowing how to listen or hear." For Lyotard, the narratives provide immediate legitimation for themselves, he wrote:

Narratives determine the criteria of competence and or illustrate how they are to be applied they thus define what has the right to be said and done in a culture in question, and since they are themselves part of that culture, they are legitimated by the simple fact that they do what they do."11

Lyotard contrasts this type of knowledge to the abstract, denotative or logical and cognitive procedures generally associated with science.

In the science language game, the sender is supposed to be able to provide proof of what he says, and he is supposed to be able to refute any opposing or contradictory statements

concerning the same referent. The addressee is supposed to give or refuse his assent to the statement that he hears. The referent or what the sender says conforms to what actually is. The scientific rules underlie what nineteenth century science calls verification and twentieth century science calls falsification, that as long as the sender or speaker can produce proof, it is permissible to think that reality is the way he says it is; and that the same referent cannot supply a plurality of inconsistent proofs.

A statement in science does not gain validity from that fact that it is reported. Scientific knowledge allows horizon of consensus to be brought to the debate between partners: the sender and the addressee a particular statement. Not every consensus is a sign of truth, but it is presumed that the truth of a statement necessarily draws a consensus.

The main difference between scientific knowledge and narrative knowledge is that scientific knowledge requires that one meta-language game, that is denotation, be retained and all others excluded. A statements truth value is the criterion determining its acceptability.12 Scientific knowledge likewise sets itself apart from the language games (deontic, interrogative, evaluative, etc.) that combine to form the social bond. Unlike narrative knowledge, it is no longer a direct and shared component of the bond.13 Indirectly it is still a component of it, for it develops into a profession and gives rise to institutions and professional classes.


The Problem of Legitimation

"Legitimation is the process by which a legislator is authorized to promulgate such a law as a norm."14 Lyotard talks about the different ways that various communities lend legitimacy or authority to their statements.  In pre-modern communities narrative is legitimated by people saying that they have heard these stories before. The authority of the narrator has been passed on to him, he is his own legitimation for the societys stories and history and the collective consent has invested him with legitimacy and he needs no other outside legitimizer. Science uses its own legitimating method and textual practices; a scientific statement is subject to the rule that a statement must fulfill a given set of conditions in order to be accepted as scientific. In this case, legitimation is the process by which a "legislator" dealing with scientific discourse is authorized to prescribe the stated conditions (in general, conditions of internal consistency and experimental verification) determining whether a statement is to be included in that discourse for consideration by the scientific community.

In modernity statements are largely legitimated through cross-referencing. In postmodernity, Lyotard proposes, that legitimation may occur through the practice of paralogy. 

Narrative knowledge does not give priority to the question of legitimation and that it certifies itself in the pragmatics of its own transmission without having recourse to argumentation and proof.15 Scientist however, questions the validity of narrative statements and conclude that they are never subject to argumentation and proof. Narratives are classified by the scientist as belonging to a different mentality: savage, primitive, underdeveloped, alienated, prejudice, ignorance among others.

However, Lyotard pointed out scientific knowledge cannot know and make known that it is the true knowledge without resorting to a narrative, a kind of knowledge which from its point of view is no knowledge at all. It could be said therefore that there is a recurrence of the narratives in the scientific.


The Grand Narratives or Meta-narratives

A grand narrative (grands recits) is a story or narrative that is presumed to have great generality and represents a final and apodictic truth. Also called meta-narratives, they are second order narratives which seeks to narratively articulate and legitimate some concrete first order practices or narratives. Typically, a grand narrative will make references to some ultimate originating principle or ultimate telos; it will seek to place existing practices in a position of progress toward or regress from the originating principle or ultimate end. The legitimating function of grand narratives in its ability to compel consensus. The development of humanity is a series of meta-narratives.

Because meta-narratives are second order discourses they cannot be directly empirically confirmed; this has made them objects of suspicion to empiricists, positivists and anyone who takes empirical confirmability as the criterion of cognitive worth. Because meta-narratives have traditionally sought to articulate historical experience with the ultimate terms of understanding truth, salvation, goodness, peace, happiness, etc. they have become object of suspicion of those who wish to critique or deconstruct metaphysics.

According to Lyotard, the meta-narratives no longer function in contemporary society, that is in the postmodern world. While the modernists, want to hold on to meta-narratives, Lyotard believes that they have lost their credibility, regardless of whether they are speculative narratives or narratives of emancipation. According to Lyotard postmoderns are incredulous towards meta-narratives.  This means the postmodern is one who is skeptical of  theories that speak in grand generalities and that universalize their conclusions.

The postmodernists are particularly suspicious of any form of universal philosophy, especially that of Hegel and Marx. In postmodernism, all the meta-narratives of modernity - the dialectic of Spirit, the emancipation of the workers, the accumulation of wealth, the classless society- have all lost their credibility. The advent then of postmodernity signals the crisis in a narratives legitimizing function, its ability to compel consensus.

Lyotard is particularly critical of Marxism because he holds that it wishes to create a homogenous society which can only be brought about through the use of coercion. He believes that the individualistic, fragmented society that we have today is here to stay.

He further argued that art, morality, and science or our notions of beautiful, good and true have become separated and autonomous. And a characteristic of our times is the fragmentation of language games. There is no meta-language, or universal language game that able to account for the changes taking place in contemporary society and culture.

According to Lyotard the meta-narratives have been replaced by little narratives (petit recits) associated with local creativity.


Legitimation by Paralogy

We no longer have to recourse to the grand or meta-narratives as a validation for postmodern scientific discourse. The grand or meta-narratives has been replaced by little narratives which for Lyotard is the quintessential form of imaginative invention, most particularly in science. 16

Even the principle of consensus as a criterion of validation as espoused by Habermas, according to Lyotard, is inadequate. At this point Lyotard advance the idea of legitimation by paralogy

A paralogy is a stimulating conversation that generates ideas without necessarily resulting in consensus.  These new ideas emerge, in large part, because paralogy allows us to define the rules of language games locally and provisionally.  For instance in a local conversation we might say, "I am using the word in this sense."  A statement is legitimated by appealing to a local and provisional set of rules and showing that an action conformed to these rules. Postmoderns are eclectic and gather their beliefs from a variety of sources while treating the resulting compilation as tentative.

Paralogy must be distinguished from innovation, while innovation is under the command of a system, paralogy is a move played in the pragmatics of knowledge.17 Consensus is not the end of paralogy, consensus in a horizon that is never reached.18 It is dissension that must be emphasized. Paralogy is not without rules however, but the rules are locally determined, they are provisionally negotiated.

The first step towards the direction of paralogy is "the recognition of the heteromorphous nature of language games". Lyotard wrote: "This implies a renunciation of terror which assumes that they are isomorphic and tries to make them so."19 The second is the acceptance that the consensus on the rules defining a game and the moves playable within it must be local, in other words, agreed on by its present players and subject to eventual cancellation.20 Paralogy then constructs for us a kind of social bond in which we can assist each other in gaining clarity about our chosen topics.

Hence Lyotard wrote:

postmodern knowledge is not simply a tool of the authorities; it refines our sensitivity to differences and reinforces our ability to tolerate the incommensurable.  Its principle is not the expert's homology, but the inventer's paralogy.21

The quest then in discussion fora is not for consensus around some grand statement of the truth but for paralogy.

We are now in a position to summarize what we have discussed about postmodernism and the postmodernist. Lyotard wrote:

A postmodern artist or writer is in the position of a philosopher: the text he write, the work he produces are not in principle governed by pre-established rules, and they cannot be judged according to a determining judgment, by applying familiar categories to the text or to the work. Those rules and categories are what the work of art itself is looking for. The artist and the writer, then, are working without rules in order to formulate the rules of what will have been done. Hence, the fact that work and text have the characters of an event, hence also, they always come too late for their author, or, what amounts to the same thing, their being put into work, their realization always begin too soon.22




The Condition of Philippine Society

How do we now look at the condition of Philippine society in the light of postmodernism?

At the outset, let us say that the Philippine society in general and Philippines politics in particular are no exception to some degree to the postmodern character of our times. We have also experienced during the last decades some transformations in our society. During the last quarter of 20th century, transformations in Western societies especially in terms of technology and the socio-political sphere have affected our country and have also brought about changes in our culture and society. There were ideas from the other societies which have affected our consciousness as a people and have changed the way we understand, interpret and analyze reality. We just have to look around us and we can see enormous transformations, in our thinking, in our preference, in our values and beliefs. There is now a prevailing ambivalence and contingency in our thinking, in our values and standards. There is a constant challenge or skepticism to established standards of our culture and morals, including social standards. It is difficult now to see a totalizing, universalizing idea or concept, value and standards, which stand unchallenged. Some meta-narratives are gradually forgotten, even the meta-narratives of our parents about family, relationships, courtships, moral values, etc. Our society now is open to dissensions and oppositions and to discussions on certain vital issues, issues which before are hardly discussed or simply taken for granted, because they are legitimated by the grand narratives of the past generations. Some examples are the issues about marriage, family and birth control.

There is a growing openness to free discussions and dialogues. There are now the heterogeneous dialogues, talks on television on radio, for a in schools and in the internet. There are discussions or "paralogies" all over the place. And the fact is even with these "paralogies" we have not arrived at consensus.

And because of this ambivalence and skepticism, no one can claim that he holds the ultimate truth, the ultimate standard, the ultimate value, nor the ultimate power. Hence it could be said that as far as this ambivalence and at the same time openness are concerned then we can say that we are at least at the threshold of the postmodern era.

This goes without saying that we are not yet totally immersed into the postmodern condition, for while there is a growing tendency towards small narratives, we still cling to some grand-narratives to legitimize our ideas and thoughts. Even the gays and the lesbians who maintain their small narratives about alternate sexual preferences have to resort to the totalizing truth about the dignity of every human being regardless of sexual preferences. Even those who are skeptical about our moral norms and constantly challenge our values through the movies and the arts, have to cling to the grand narratives about freedom of expression.


The Fragmentation in Philippine Politics

During the time of Marcos, grand narrative dominated our political system. The grand narrative was used to consolidate political power. The center of political power is Marcos himself with the totalizing ideology of the New Society or Bagong Lipunan. Bagong Lipunan as envisioned by Marcos is a promise of new life, new happiness, new order towards progress and development. It presented progress and development as attainable only through this totalizing ideology of Bagong Lipunan, concretized by his political party, Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL).

Then EDSA happened. The first EDSA People Power marked the transformation of our political system. EDSA signaled not only the collapse of the old regime, but also the end of the grand narrative of Marcos and his Bagong Lipunan. EDSA put to end the consolidation of power, there was fragmentation of power, power now belongs to the people, to the nameless mass of people, to the autonomous political groups with their various interests and aspirations.

The EDSA phenomenon also marked the transformation of Philippine politics. Prior to EDSA I candidate must run on the platform of a grand party to be elected in office. Politics then was concentrated on a strict two-party system. Candidates run on the platform of their parties. After EDSA there was the weakening of the two-party system and the emergence of a new kind of politics based on a multi-party system. Politicians have actually undermined the party system and have transferred from party to another and have formed their own respective parties. Although the motives of these politicians are suspect, but their moves to form their particular parties are manifestations of the fragmentation so prevalent in the postmodern age.

The fragmentation of political power was recently reinforced by the People Power II. Political power does not rest on one totalizing party but on the autonomous political parties constantly engaged in paralogy. They never arrived at a stable consensus, there is always a dissension among these autonomous political parties and paralogy are constantly at play.

Then there was EDSA 3, which although cannot be labeled as another People Power, the organizers of which have positioned themselves as echoing the voices of the marginalized poor sector of our society.

Political power rested on these smaller political groups with their own little narratives. Even if there were political coalitions formed, the political power of these coalitions actually rested on the autonomous political groups. Smaller political groups and parties were gradually and consistently formed all having their little narratives about progress, peace, unity order, etc.

The political satellite groups first emerged as social groups concretized in the different organized sectors of our society: women, labor, urban poor, students, business, etc. Later they have transformed into political groups, first there were sectoral representatives in Congress and then during the last elections into party list representatives. During the recent elections these smaller political groups capitalized on the party list system to advanced their interests and put forward their voices and agenda.

The foreign media called the EDSA II a mob rule, may be EDSA III, they do not understand the emerging postmodern condition in the Philippines, there was a rule at EDSA II, but not a mob. They were looking for a universal rule, a constitutional rule, they found none, but it does not mean that there was no rule at all, only that the rule at EDSA was local and provisional. They were provisionally negotiated by the players of the game.

Our politics and the way we do politics is becoming very postmodern. The government should realized that the people have their own little narratives and that in the emerging postmodern age we cannot allow a hegemony - a culture or institution or one sector that is so dominant that other cultures in our case some segments or sectors of society and institutions do not have a voice.

Although we see the Presidency as the seat of political power in the Philippines, this seat of political power is only symbolic, for the real political power in the streets, held by autonomous political and social groups.

But as I have said, we cannot just abandon the grand narratives of the modern times. We still cling to them, to legitimize our claims, including our political claims and ideas. The recent elections was one show of how far our politics have gone postmodern. The streets was now a big display of the small narratives of the different political parties, including those vying for party list representatives. But at the same time, the recent election also showed that we cannot just abandon the grand narratives, because in the first place, election per se is one big story, a grand narrative so to speak, about how we must choose our government officials.

Although we never arrive at stable consensus, we should allow free discussions or paralogies.













1 cf Madan Sarup. An Introductory Guide to Post-Structuralism and Postmodernism 2nd ed., New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, pp. 130-131.

2 Ibid.

3 Jean Francois Lyotard. The Postmodern Condition, A Report on Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, p.3.

4 Ibid., p. 4.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid. p.18.

7 Ibid. p. 7.

8 Ibid. p. 20.

9 Ibid. p. 22.

10 Ibid. p. 20.

11 Ibid. p. 23.

12 Ibid. p. 25.

13 Ibid. p. 25.

14 Ibid. p. 8.

15 Ibid. p. 27.

16 Hence, this is not to suggest that there are no longer any credible narratives at all.  By metanarratives or grand narratives, I mean precisely narrations with a legitimating function. (LyotardThe Postmodern Explained p. 19)

17 Lyotard. The Postmodern Condition. p. 61.

18 Ibid. p. 61.

19 Ibid. p. 66.

20 Ibid. p. 66.

21 Lyotard The Postmodern Explained p. xxv.

22 Lyotard. The Postmodern Condition p. 81.


This article was published in the Ad Veritatem, the multi-disciplinary journal of the Graduate School of the University of Santo Tomas, Manila Philippines.

University of Santo Tomas


The ability to think is more important that the ability to memorize facts, but the most important is to generate new ideas.