Barthes and Derrida

Authored by: David Novitz

The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics

Print publication date:  April  2013
Online publication date:  April  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415782869
eBook ISBN: 9780203813034
Adobe ISBN: 9781136697142


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What we have come only very recently to think of as philosophical postmodernism is the final, perhaps the most intemperate, stage of a long reaction to the central doctrines of Enlightenment thought. Modern philosophy, and with it the contemporary idea of the natural sciences, hence the idea of modernity itself, stems from the thought of the Enlightenment (Habermas 1987: Lecture I). This is why one cannot properly understand the ideas that constitute postmodernism unless one also understands the central tenets of Enlightenment philosophy. And in order to understand this, one has to try to understand how European history and European philosophy come together in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. One has to think of the dreadful power of kings and of the medieval and Renaissance church, and one has to try to remember (and imagine) what life was like in a feudal world where the aristocracy had the power of life and death over most people and where the church could consign the unfaithful not just to persecution and misery on earth, but to eternal damnation. This was a society, based on rigid metaphysical and epistemological beliefs: the Earth was the center of the universe, blessed by God, who not only empowered kings, bishops and popes, but who afforded them privileged sources of knowledge not available to ordinary minds, all of which could be challenged only on threat of pains too great to comprehend.

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