Thursday, 11 March 2010

More on Philosophy and Space

Modernity, it is claimed, is a historical epoch characterized by the attempt to universalise European culture in the name of ‘a priori truth’ and ‘rationality’. Central to this project was a particular notion of space and time, a notion that became increasingly problematic as the project of European modernity encountered its own internal and external limits.

After modernity’s early conceptions of empty space and linear time, its encounter with its cultural other transformed these notions into more relative variants; space in particular became enclosed as a culturally circumscribed ‘world’, grounded in familiar cultural practices and limited by cultural-difference as its cultural horizon.
We might then conceive of two modernities. Firstly, the age of radical modernity with its self-assured, expansive, conceptual confidence; and secondly the age of
20th centiry conservative modernity where the universal scope of reason begins to be questioned and reflexive philosophies of Kultur emerge to challenge the rationalist philosophies of modern European Zivilisation. On this account, conservative modernity is modernity at its moment of geographical and geo-political self-consciousness; the historical point at which modernity becomes aware of its own spatiality.

In this way, the philosophies of conservative modernity presuppose a new limited conception of space; infinite Euclidean space - where parallel lines never meet- is replaced by the ‘limited space’ of Riemannian geometries. The exapnding line becomes gthe infinitely self-enclosed and self-enclosing sphere.

Neil Turnbull

1 comment:

  1. I think this is dead right. Postmodernism has returned to sectional and identity politics by localising the aesthetic, ethical and political terrain, whereas early modernity was much more ambitious and global in its ‘spatial’ remit. The stakes of global politics rest on an uneasy tension between these two moments. Space has got smaller due to heightened fragmentation and information intensification. Frederic Jameson would be useful here. Jameson has argued for a theory or aesthetic of ‘cognitive mapping.’ His point is simple enough. In what he calls late capitalism there is a distinct inability to cognitively map the relationship between local and global. This is very debilitating ethically and politically for obvious reasons. The hyper-complexification of global knowledge has resulted in a breakdown of our ability to consciously map the broader terrain of how our world works. It is akin to working in a factory without knowing the entirety of how the factory operates (pick whatever institution you like). In terms of your post, this would corroborate the idea of a splitting of space; local spaces are the limits of the cognitive ability to map onto the broader world at large. This is where the human reaches cognitive closure, a phenomenon increasing with greater complexification.