The Modern and the Post modern 8th (final) assignment {Wesleyan / Coursera}

Which two thinkers in our class do you think Anthony Appiah would consider “cosmopolitan” in his terms?

Cosmopolitan versus the Really real.

Richard Rorty’s analytical philosophy introduces the concept of post-modern pragmatism and the dire relationship of the vocabulary we use and perceive as “truth” with the community we belong to. Worlds outside this community do not qualify for us to review or judge, since we are in effect irrelevant to these and these to us.  The notion is close to the Hegelian ideals and their sense that human dignity and moral derive from being a part of the community [4].

Kwame Anthony Appiah takes this idea a step further and suggests that people, who belong in different communities, are in fact capable of exchanging ideas about morality – what’s right or wrong – thus engaging in a globalized discourse. These people are considered “cosmopolitans” [1], a term coined from the 4th century BCE Ancient Greek words “cosmos” (world) and “polis” (city state). A global citizen of the world is briefly described in his book “Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers”:

Cosmopolitans think human variety matters because people are entitled to the options they need to shape their lives in partnership with others”. [1]

He’s being careful while analyzing the “cosmopolitan” post-modernist identity by refusing to put fixed cultural tags to specific groups of people; one can rather accumulate a range of characteristics from various communities in order to shape his own cultural identity through a multiplicity of traditions. In a sense a cosmopolitan identity is an overlap of identities; depending on what context one finds oneself, one projects the most suitable part of it accordingly.

What about the criticism against “global citizens”? Well, Appiah doesn’t advocate the purity of a certain tradition – meaning that it is only meant for members of that particular community alone to uphold – but he doesn’t want to abandon the sense of belonging to your community either. Originally a paradox but Appiah explains that we in fact need to both have a healthy sense of national pride as well as understanding international neighbor communities without letting our own background overlap all others. He remarks

And the one thought that cosmopolitans share is that no local loyalty can ever justify forgetting that each human being has responsibilities to every other”[1]

Appiah might have considered some key figures of (post -)modernist philosophy and art as “cosmopolitans”.  Rorty after all believes that it is in art we must seek to converse, in order to discover our identity:

“The principal backup for historiography is not philosophy but the arts, which serve to develop and modify a group’s self-image by, for example, apotheosizing its heroes, diabolizing its enemies, mounting dialogues among its members, and refocusing its attention”.[4]

 In his poem “Crowds” [2], Baudelaire wanders around the boulevards of Paris, with no particular reason. His idea of the “flâneur“ means essentially finding delight in observing people and witnessing unknown scenes of human interaction, which might come as a refreshing surprise to the viewer. In retrospect the wanderer becomes less selfish by getting out of his lonely shell, of his boring sheltered space and delving into the wider world, “the Crowd”. Appiah’s words do portray a sense of belonging to a broader world yet the backbone of his philosophy is there in Paris Spleen; go out and meet the world, whether that’s the Earth’s countries or just the other part of the city you rarely visit.

Coming to a more recent thinker, Butler seems to uphold that same “cosmopolitan” ideal as well, despite focusing on gender issues alone. In her book “Undoing Gender” she is convinced that gender is “a practice of improvisation with a sense of constraint.” [3] If we take this definition and apply it to having a globalized identity then

  1. People do improvise when coming to terms with other customs, religions, beliefs in their attempt to understand them
  2. People are constrained in their own social, economic and cultural background, thus making it hard to wholly embrace the “Other” – in return they engage in a dialogue with it, trying to understand it – achieving the “cosmopolitan” global ideal.

Appiah’s post-modern tradition is interesting, since it connects the modern human world with a sense of practicality. It also reaches out equally to developed and emerging societies, without falling victim of euphemology or global utopia (Hippy 60s style). He shows a deep understanding of how difficult the task of global understanding is, he respects tradition as well as co-existence and offers valuable insight instead of vague empty philosophical rhetoric of what’s really “Real”.

Works cited:

  1. Appiah, Anthony “Cosmopolitan Contamination” from Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. 2006.
  2. Baudelaire, Charles: Le Spleen de Paris. 1869. Web. Retrieved 13th May 2013 from
  3. Butler, Judith.  “Undoing Gender”.  2004.
  4. Rorty, Richard. “Postmodern Bourgeois Liberalism”. The Journal of Philosophy
    Vol. 80, No. 10, Part 1: Eightieth Annual Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division. 1983

The Modern and the Postmodern 7th assignment {Coursera / Wesleyan}

Butler writes that gender “is a practice of improvisation within a scene of constraint.”

Discuss how her idea of improvisation compares with notions of creativity and self-invention we have seen in one other writer we have read this semester.

The “normal-different”

Judith Butler’s “Undoing Gender” critically reflects the political feminist movement, continuing her previous work on gender theory and queer studies. In her work, the notion of gender is described as “performative” and re-defined as “a practice of improvisation within a scene of constraint”. [Butler 2004: p.1]

For Butler the question is not “what is really real” or what is really feminine or masculine. She approaches the issue of gender identity not as self- defining per se but rather as a product of social rituals in combination with individual improvisation.  At this point we are presented with a paradox; although people themselves strive for obtaining a unique, genuine role within the post-modern society, the latter still dictates norms in which gender roles must be “performed”. In this way, the individual mimics- creatively enough – a theatrical performance; the mask worn is what society conforms, the artist is the individual self, seeking to please the crowd in an endless effort to reinvent himself first. The postmodern men or women become creative in search for a self – definition; they are still bound however by the politically-correct norms of society.  Society argues that “difference is […] code for heterosexual normativity” [Butler 2004: p.202-203], thus implying that any transgression could be “unliveable”.

The seemingly non-academic writing style of the author gives way to practical examples of her analysis, especially concerning linguistic discourse.  Towards the end of her book, Butler  tries to exhibit that “…a prohibition on certain forms of love becomes installed as an ontological truth about the subject: The “am” of “I am a man” encodes the prohibition “I may not love a man,”…” [Butler 2004: p.199]. Chapter 5 of her book is attributed to kinship and heterosexual dominance in family ties and role-models [Butler 2004: p.102-130]. Gay marriage – a new creative, self-inventing proposal in order to belong – is taken as case in point and the author asks herself whether conforming to legal sanction of the marriage institution actually excludes those who do not wish to adhere to the nuclear, hierarchical prototypes.

The stable pair who would marry if only they could are cast

as illegitimate but eligible for a future legitimacy, whereas the sexual

agents who function outside the purview of the marriage bond and

its recognized, if illegitimate, alternative form now constitute sexual

possibilities that will never be eligible for a translation into legitimacy.” [Butler 2004: p. 106]

Žižek is another post-modernist thinker that has been associated with creativity and the self-invented Real. His main political and philosophical inspiration is attributed to the vast applicability of Freudian psychoanalysis and radical leftist political stance. Žižek likes using hype Lacanian terms such as the “Other” and the “Real” but he frequently adorns his speech with unconventional pop culture references.  Similar to Butler, the philosopher wonders:

Why does the decline of paternal authority and fixed social and gender roles generate new guilts and anxieties, instead of opening up a brave new world in which we can enjoy shifting and reshaping our multiple identities?” [Žižek 1999]

Again we see the self-identity struggle is marred by the social surroundings which allow little room for the “Other”. Power mechanisms that dominate society are attributed to libidinal Freudian pleasure taken when one exercises / obeys the law. We are growing in a society pseudo – liberal where acceptance is a guise for further restriction of the “Self” indirectly. The postmodern man / woman is reflexive when he listens to modern day doctrines;

 “This reflexivity undermines the notion of the Post-Modern subject free to choose and reshape his identity. The psychoanalytic concept that designates the short-circuit between the repression and what it represses is the superego.” [Žižek 1999]

It seems according to both authors the pursuit of self-identity and self-invention is contrary to populace beliefs not entirely a process of creativity; it is rather marked within boundaries of what society indicates or finds acceptable. Could the term “normal different” emerge in such a context? Perhaps.

Works cited:

Butler, Judith.  “Undoing Gender”.  2004.
Žižek, Slavoj. “You May!” London Review of Books, vol. 21. March 1999. Web.  Retrieved  8th May 2013 from: