Europe's Times and Unknown Waters #1
e-revistă culturală de filosofie şi literatură aplicată
lansată în Aprilie 2009
ISSN 2066 - 3323

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The Chaotic Society (Gianni Vattimo, The Transparent Society, the Romanian edition, issued at Pontica, Constanţa, 1995)

by Andrei Marga

nbsp;        It is considered fairly that, along with the work Dialektik der Aufklärung (1947), media have become, properly speaking, a topic of philosophical reflection. Very much indeed, in their famous analysis, Horkheimer and Adorno anticipated the magnitude of the media-expansion in late Modernity and they interpreted the ample intervention of the means of mass-communication (radio, television, written press) as a way of “homogenizing” and of “standardizing” of knowledge, of sensibilities, of tastes inside this society, within a vast process of manipulation of citizens. Gianni Vattimo - today's illustrious philosopher, carried further away the thought, forty years later, and he moved his research behind the “standardizing” thesis, as promoted by the Frankfurt School. He considers that the cultural trend set along with the publication of Lessing's book The Education of Humankind (Die Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts - 1780) and acknowledged by Hegel's philosophy of history - trend which conceived history as a progressive process of achieving a goal (liberty, emancipation and so on and so forth) ends before our very eyes - and that, following Walter Benjamin's Theses on the Philosophy of History (Über den Begriff der Geschichte 1938) this conception of history will have to be deconstructed by historicization.

         The “post-modern” society means precisely leaving “history as something unitary” in favor of the multiplication of “local histories” and of the perspectives on history, and, as a consequence, the abandonment of “ the idea of progress” (with the corollary: the abandonment of Eurocentrism).

         The “post-modern” society - thus connoted by “the current crisis of unitary conception of history” and by “the crisis of the idea of progress”- is put by the author of the volume La società trasparente on account of two historical factors: “the end of colonialism and of imperialism after World War II” and the emergence of “the society of communication”. In his turn, Gianni Vatimo ponders upon the “transparency” of this society. Decades ago Horkheimer and Adorno (the latter in Minima Moralia [1951] as well) accused that the tendency to “uniformize” of the “cultural industry” is present even in the production of what is labeled as “new” in the modern society, and they saw in the dawning “media society” (their term was “Kulturindustrie”) a confusioning in the public life, including the logic distinctions (singular - general, accidental - necessary, fact - value, and so on and so forth). Gianni Vattimo rejects the equalization of today's “society of communication” with a “transparent society”: the expansion of mass media does not shed more light upon the people's clarification of the state of affairs. Horkheimer and Adorno would accuse the orientation of mass media towards the cultivation of average -“media”(to the disadvantage of exception), of “functionality” (to the detriment of value), of that which is “consumable”(in spite of the subtle relationships), of the “intuitive” (to the loss of concepts). Gianni Vattimo argues how wrong it would be to consider that today's media expansion means more transparency, more cognition, an increased self-consciousness of humanity and a sort of embodiment of Hegel's Absolute Spirit. On the contrary, that which increases along with today's expansion of media is the opposite of a “transparent society” - it is chaos that increases. The reason for “untransparency” seem to lie in the fact that the media distributes subjectivized and uncorrelated cuttings of the “reality” thus hindering, by its very own mechanisms, a direct-enough approach to reality and its understanding. It is the case of a society that is now in an “explosive situation, a globalization that appears to be irresistible and which makes impossible the conceiving of the world and of history following some unitary points of view”(the Romanian edition, Pontica, Constanţa, 1995, p.10)

         We are not going to dwell right now on the question if not Dialektik der Aufklärung and La società trasparente assumed incompletely the impact of the media (because a more ample informing of the people is realized, however, by the media! )

         For Gianni Vattimo however, it is precisely the disintegration, due to the media, of the “unique reality”, that is the positive premise of a step forward: the release of people until the end from Spinoza's as well as the entire “metaphysical tradition” 's postulate - according to which freedom depends on some understanding of the necessity - and redirecting people to assuming history as “local history”, as creation, and to assuming the writing of history as “account” without obligations or constraints. The “society of communication” contains, therefore, an unexpected potential for emancipation. “Here emancipation consists rather in the uprooting, which is simultaneously also release of differences, of local elements, of what we might call, generally speaking, the dialect. The idea of a central rationality of history having fallen, the world of generalized communication explodes as a multiplicity of 'local' rationalities - ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, religious minorities, cultural or aesthetic minorities - which take the floor, finally no longer silenced and repressed by the idea that there is only one true form of humanity to achieve, in expense of all singularities, of all limited, ephemeral and contingent individualities”(Ibidem, p.15) Gianni Vattimo believes that the emancipation of one's own “dialect” would be exempt from risk of turning this “dialect” into an obligation for the others, because one's own “dialect” would commit itself to the acknowledgement of the “dialects” of others.

         Gianni Vattimo devoted to religion more works than any other philosopher of postmodernism. He assumed, as early as Credere di credere (1996), that there is “a return of religion in our life”, after the modern interpretations that relied on the “liquidation of religion” have collapsed. (the Romanian edition, Pontica, Constanţa, 1995, p.10) The dialogue Quale futuro aspetta la religione dopo la metafisica? (2005) ended with the emphatic statement: “in ogni modo, la religione non e morta…, Dio e ancora in circulazione…”(p.33) Gianni Vattimo actually claims that his very doctrine “the weak ontology” derives from the Christian heritage - “the weak ontology is a transcription of the Christian message” (p.35) and it and inherits “the refusal of violence”(p.58) - but applies to Christianity his own philosophy grounded on Heidegger. He wants in fact a “found-again-Christianity”(p.93) driven by the value of “charity”(Richard Rorty, Gianni Vattimo, Il futuro della religione. Solidarietà, carità, ironia, Garzanti, Milano, 2002, p.13), which involves “demystifying Christianity”, a demystifying somehow parallel to philosophy's release from metaphysics. On the other hand, according to Gianni Vattimo, it is precisely “the postmodern pluralism” which enables one to “rediscover the Christian faith”. In Jenseits des Christentums. Gibt es eine Welt ohne Gott? (2002) the philosopher argues that “precisely because God as the ultimate foundation (which means: as absolute metaphysical structure of the real) can no longer be represented, it is therefore now possible to once again believe in God” (Carl Hanser, Wien, München, 2002, p.13)

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