Postmodernism and the Ethical Subject

Postmodernism and the Ethical Subject

Barbara Gabriel
Suzan Ilcan
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 520
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  • Book Info
    Postmodernism and the Ethical Subject
    Book Description:

    Writing across the disciplines of sociology, literature, film, anthropology, and museology, the contributors examine the way in which radical postmodern shifts around knowledge and value have mobilized new relations between ourselves and others and transformed a range of cultural practices. This volume includes philosophical reflections and essays on museums and memory, visual culture, and relations with the other. Postmodernism and the Ethical Subject examines the altered frameworks that simultaneously help us to meet the contemporary challenge and raise the ethical stakes of our historical moment.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7187-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. ix-x)

    • “Writing against the Ruins”: Towards a Postmodern Ethics of Memory
      (pp. 3-24)

      The scene I am describing is Canadian multi-media artist Vera Frenkel’s installation …from the Transit Bar, a reconstruction at the National Gallery of Canada, from 9 May to 27 October 1996, of the work first shown four years earlier at documenta 1X in Kassel, Germany. In its blurring of the boundaries of the artwork and the “real,” Frenkel’s installation inhabits a postmodern space that extends many of the conceptual problems posed earlier in the century by the Duchamps ready-made. This time round, however, they are folded into a scenic framework intensely saturated with social concerns. “Whosestory?” the viewer...

    • From Modernity to Postmodernity
      (pp. 25-38)

      It is not a coincidence that postmodernism and postcolonialism have materialized at the same time as objects of study in the human sciences: the one is a function of the other. The collapse of thegrands récitsof the Enlightenment that Jean-François Lyotard (1986) identifies as the signifying mark of postmodernity is contingent upon the end of the great European nation-state empires and of capitalism grounded in nation-states. Trans-or multinational capitalism is a system that has outgrown the institutions that created a space for its expansion, as it previously outgrew and disregarded the centralized monarchies that fostered its development over...


    • On Being “the Last Kantian in Nazi Germany”: Dwelling with Animals after Levinas
      (pp. 41-74)

      “The last Kantian in Nazi Germany”: this is how Emmanuel Levinas (1990b, 153) describes “Bobby,” the dog who befriends him during his “long captivity” in a slave-labour camp. Thirty years after the fact, Levinas briefly tells the story of his terrible days in Camp 1492, days whose numbing inhumanity is momentarily relieved by the arrival of an animal that offers a semblance of respect. I say “semblance” because Levinas’s experience of Bobby is informed by conventional assumptions about animality that make it impossible for him straightforwardly to attribute dutifulness to a creature that is not human.Mon semblable, mon frère:...

    • The Transject: The Ethical Subject of Postmodernity
      (pp. 75-88)

      Is there a subject that is not an ethical subject?¹ To what is any subject subjected if not ethical exigency – by which I mean, not the necessity to choose to follow this or that ethical prescription but, rather, the unrefusable givenness of being-in-the-world-with-other-subjects, the state of affairs summarized negatively in Sartre’s (1962, 91)Huis clos, “L’enfer, c’est les Autres”? The positivities of this situation are explored in the writings of Emmanuel Levinas (1969, 1981): here ethical exigency reduces, in the Husserlian sense of leads back, to the Face – the demand from the other as a physical body for acknowledgment, recognition,...


    • Salvador Allende and the Construction of a Harmless Icon: Museums and Memory
      (pp. 91-98)

      Are we, ourselves, the Pinochet museum?

      “I know you. You’re from Iquique. I knew your sisters. Good people.” Former General Augusto Pinochet adopts a kindly, paternal tone in speaking to Dr. Luis Fornazzari, who, along with other experts, examines him over a four-day period at the military hospital to determine whether he is fit to undertake a judicial process for the crimes committed under his watch. Pinochet remembers. How can he remember? Fornazzari was exiled to Canada three decades ago, after the coup d’etat headed by his patient in 1973. Now in 2001, they smile. The diagnosis, following a reading...

    • Commemoration/(de)celebration: Super-shows and the Decolonization of Canadian Museums, 1967–92
      (pp. 99-124)

      The late twentieth century has seen profound changes in relationships between Canadian museums and First Nations, changes that are transforming the professional practices that control the way museums represent Aboriginal people.¹ Today, in institutions large and small, the development of an exhibition on Aboriginal art or culture is likely to be shaped by intensive consultations with Aboriginal communities and by the active participation of Aboriginal curators. These interventions can affect everything from the initial conceptualization of an exhibition to the writing of its storyline or narrative to design, installation, and interpretive programming,

      The contrast with past practice is dramatic; until...

    • “Into the Heart of Africa”: Curatorship, Controversy, and Situated Knowledges
      (pp. 125-146)

      Into the Heart of Africa, an exhibition that ran from November 1989 to August 1990 at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, began as a scholarly and somewhat provocative inquiry into the historical sources of the ROM’s African collection and ended up the centre of a prolonged and bitter controversy in which the museum and the curator were accused of racism. The exhibition and the resulting controversy brought to the fore issues that are central to the consideration of the role of the museum in a contemporary multi-ethnic, multi-racial society. Museums, whatever approaches they choose to take, are sites...


    • The Unbearable Strangeness of Being: Edgar Reitz’s Heimat and the Ethics of the Unheimlich
      (pp. 149-202)

      The appearance of Edgar Reitz’s film chronicleHeimaton West German television in an eleven-part film-length series in the autumn of 1984, after a premiere at the Munich film festival earlier in the summer, marked an important foray into cultural debates around the nation’s place in twentieth-century history. Though both a film and an “event” that would eventually spiral into an ongoing project, it was initially designed to take back the history that had been “stolen” from Germany in the American television seriesHolocaust.¹ Its wider context, however, was the ongoing labour of national memory-work taking place around what Adorno...

    • Devastation of the Hapless Structure: Architecture and Ethics
      (pp. 203-206)

      Melvin Charney’sUn Dictionnaire …was presented in 2000 as Canada’s entry to the 7th Venice Biennale International Exhibition of Architecture. The exhibition as a whole was given the theme of “Cities: Less Aesthetics, More Ethics.” The thematic of the exhibition is embodied inUn Dictionnaire …, which is composed of a collection of press clippings of wire-service photographs classified into numerous series and sub-series. Charney has observed that the images of news events tend to focus our attention on particular places “and attribute an aura, a certain cachet of consequence, to hapless structures caught in an instant of celebration...

    • Beyond the Frame: Ethics and Morality in Deleuze’s Cinema
      (pp. 207-224)

      The purpose of this chapter is to analyze morality and ethics in cinema. This analysis is based on the assumption that morality and ethics are discourses of conduct and character. Moral discourse concerns itself with the appropriateness of conduct and action relative to situations. Rather than prevent changes in conduct and character, morality (at least in its cinematic forms) aims to control their flow and regulate their transformation (see Deleuze 1992 on control). The extent and effectiveness of these efforts can be recognized in the regularities of movement they produce. Ethics also involves movement and change, but it is concerned...


    • The Marginal Other: Modern Figures and Ethical Dialogues
      (pp. 227-253)

      Strangers have become the subjects and objects of intense social, cultural, and political exclusion. We need only recall the discontents of a stranger who is refused entry at a state border, or an exiled subject, a native denied cultural membership, a “foreigner” excluded from public service. These strangers, or marginal others, appear everywhere. It is not their image that is at stake here but, rather, the effect that this otherness implies in the development of specific social practices.

      In this chapter I explore the notion of the stranger through an analysis of encounters between agents and the stranger informed by...

    • Changing Health Moralities in the Tropics: Ethics and the Other
      (pp. 254-270)

      Though “tropicalism” has been understood recently as a grand narrative directly implicated in the colonial project, this chapter sets out to complicate this story, too, by exploring the competing discourses of health and place employed by a marginalized population in coastal Ecuador. Through a consideration of various responses to the 1990s cholera epidemic, I illustrate how the appropriation of a biomedical perspective by coastal residents is linked to political and economic transformations in the country that have both enabled and limited the credibility of biomedicine for healing the body tropical. In making this case, I argue for the development of...


    • “Covering Their Familiar Ways with Another Culture”: Minnie Aodla Freeman’s Life among the Qallunaat and the Ethics of Subjectivity
      (pp. 273-301)

      Freeman’s (1978) and Suleiman’s (1991) reflections on identity and difference – on the perils that attend seeing “there” as (always already) an encroachment on “here,” and “them” as alien and a threat to the charmed circle of “us” – were written in the shadow of the Gulf War and the war in Bosnia, respectively. I read their apt metaphors as timely reminders: affirming (through the organic tropes) the human longing to belong, contesting any view of identity as homogeneous or bounded, and recognizing the shifting and variable nature of identifications. They offer a simple moral: that those who recognize the complex and...

    • “A Network of Relations”: Ethical Interdependence in Bronwen Wallace’s Talking Lyric
      (pp. 302-332)

      At the heart of Bronwen Wallace’s poetics is a profound sense of the way our lives take shape in narrative relation to other people’s stories and their reciprocal responses to ours. As a result, she developed a poetic voice that was immediate, down-to-earth, and always caught in the act of offering up a good story. Her distinctive gesture is the direct address of the talking lyric, calling a community of readers into narrative filiation and response-ability. Significantly, she attributes her talking lyric to forms that, for her, constitute female popular knowledge and culture – gossip and storytelling.¹ In a number of...

    • Memory, Identity, and Redemption: Notes on the Culture of Autobiography
      (pp. 333-359)

      Towards the end of the 1970s Christopher Lasch described American social behaviour of the time as a kind of grass-roots disenchantment with progress. “Having no hope of improving their lives,” he contended, “people … convinced themselves that what matters is psychic self-improvement: getting in touch with their feelings, eating health food, taking lessons in ballet or belly-dancing, immersing themselves in the wisdom of the East, jogging, learning how to ‘relate,’ overcoming the ‘fear of pleasure’” (Lasch 1979, 29). Together with other things, at the heart of this retreat from “the political turmoil of the sixties” into “privatism” and “personal preoccupations”...