Home > Philosophy > 1997 After Postmodernism Conference > Rosen (specific)

Three specific issues for the conference

Steven M. Rosen

I believe there is some agreement among us that coming after postmodernism means coming after the mere dissolution of fixed patterns or structures, without reverting to the situation that came before postmodernism, when we were dominated by such structures in a one-sided way (classicism and modernism). As I understand him, Gendlin suggests that logical patterns are generated from, and feed back into, a "pre-logical" bodily presencing, and that we can come after postmodernism by becoming explicitly cognizant of this generative process -- a process that has essentially been neglected by postmodernism, no less than by modernism and classicism. In gaining such cognizance, we are neither ruled by logical forms nor do we merely abandon them. Instead we operate on the creative interface between logic and that which exceeds it.

For my part, I would like to raise three specific issues for the conference.

  1. How can scientific and mathematical thinking in particular come after postmodernism in the fashion suggested above?
  2. What will be the effects of coming after postmodernism?
  3. Can we come after postmodernism in the very way we conduct ourselves in this conference?

1. Consider contemporary mathematics. It is essentially modernist. In a highly abstract manner, it continues the classical project of seeking to objectify reality, of expressing it solely in terms of fixed structures. With Gendlin, I suggest that, in actuality, mathematical thinking is generated from, and feeds back into, a "pre-mathematical body"; we might say that the sharply drawn distinctions of mathematics issue from a concrete matrix of activities that are so intricately entangled that they cannot be considered as separate (what Gendlin calls "unseparated multiplicity"). But the game until now has been to deny the prereflective source of mathematical reflection, or, if acknowledged, to underestimate its significance, permitting it to be relegated to an informal status that excludes it from the mathematical formalisms themselves. Postmodernism is sending the signal that the game of giving primacy to fixed structures cannot continue. But while the postmodernist recognizes that the one-sided rule of reflection is over, s/he is no better able to appreciate the pivotal importance of the prereflective dimension than is the modernist. As a result, the postmodern toppling of fixed structures has appeared to leave a vacuum, one that raises the alarming prospect that enterprises like mathematics simply no longer have meaning.

But mathematics actually can come after postmodernism. In so doing, mathematicians would come to pay explicit attention to the prereflective body from which their reflections arise and incorporate it into their very formulations. In fact, I have proposed that the limits of reflection are evidenced within the reflected-upon content of mathematics itself, that these limits are defined by the dimensionality of the mathematical operation, and that certain "higher-dimensional" mathematical structures may provide a natural segue into pre-structural bodily process (see my background paper for the conference). In coming after postmodernism, such a concretely processual mathematics would bring us beyond the old meta-mathematical debate among formalists (e.g. Hilbert), logicists (e.g. Russell), and intuitionists (e.g. Poincaré and Brouwer). A mathematics explicitly incorporating the prereflective dimension would entail a new kind of intuition (note 1), one that supersedes the objectivism of all extant approaches to mathematics by being grounded in the body.

2. Let us assume that coming after postmodernism does mean bringing to light the prereflective dimension of human being. What will be the effect of this? To be sure, by explicitly operating from the prereflective source of our reflections, we will be able to generate more subtle and intricate reflections that will have their applications in the "real world" (the realm of delineable patterns and structures). But I suggest that coming after postmodernism should have a larger significance as well. It is under the rule of reflection that we have become obsessed with "practical results"; incognizant of bodily process, we have fixed our attention on products that can secure and enhance our position in the world. Surely the realization of prereflective process cannot only, or even primarily, mean the design of "better products." I venture to say that contact with the prereflective will have the effect of changing our basic posture in the world from the future-oriented, "pragmatic" preoccupation with ends alone, to a stance in which the "means" -- the bodily present -- is also an end in itself.

3. Coming after postmodernism is our conference theme. Granting that what we say will focus on this question, does how we say it, and how we are with each other when we say it, also have a bearing? Is the way we comport ourselves in the conference relevant to the central issue of the conference? Already, through the Internet, we have begun to exchange ideas, draw distinctions, reflect together. If coming after postmodernism does involve prereflective bodily presence (an assumption that of course may be questioned), then would we not benefit from being present to each other in this way? In sharing our reflections, would it not help if we could speak to one another from the prereflective body, and listen to each other in the same manner? I must admit that I have never encountered such speaking and listening in any conference I have ever attended. My conference experiences have had a decidedly modernist flavor. People establish their positions and hold to them. People are "pragmatic," primarily concerned with the end-products of their reflections, incognizant of the prereflective process underlying them. People are given to high-flying abstractions about the future and the past, are oblivious to the present situation in which their bodies are grounded. I recall once seeing a fellow who was so caught up in his own heady pronouncements while walking with a colleague that he walked right through a glass door, hardly seeming to notice it when the glass shattered behind him! And I thought, "there but for the grace of God ...." Do we not need a different form of discourse in seeking to come after postmodernism? Must not our style of participation in a conference on this theme contribute to making it real?


See my call for a "neo-intuitionist" approach to mathematics, in: Science, Paradox, and the Moebius Principle. Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1994.

[After Post-Modernism Conference. Copyright 1997.]

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