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Why a Stone Can’t Turn into a Chicken, but how a Chicken brought down the Ivory Tower

7:00pm, Wednesday 2 April 2008, Contact for more information.

What the Foucault? That’s the Facebook Group name for the Michael Foucault fan club, appropriate since Foucault has been blamed for everything from the oppression of women in Iran, to cultural relativism, to the degradation of academia and the tag-team dismantling of the Western Enlightenment project, with partner-in-crime Jacques Derrida. But do the critics know their enemy? When old-school Marxists, the Daily Mail, the Christian Fundamentalist right and humanist ideologues are all in agreement in lumping society’s problems at the feet of postmodernism, we must know that they are talking about very different things. To understand what postmodernists are really getting at, we go all the way back to Socrates and his discourse with the sophists. Here we find the desire of the New French philosophers to take up the sophist’s cause and take Socrates down. In this maneuver, we find the critique of Hegel’s foundational system of Western rationality.

There is also another postmodernist hiding in history’s wings that we will have to deal with. When Mao declared in 1937 than a “stone cannot turn into a chicken” he shook the foundations of Western belief in universal progress. Nowadays the Culture Wars fight over the same opposing identities. Pro-lifers, pro-choicers; fox hunters, fox lovers; Christians, atheists; carnivores, vegans. What is decried as cultural relativism, is rather a symptom of the inability to reduce any of these identities to a unified truth. Only three strands of thought truly understand the profundity of the situation. Habermas and his attempt to construct a new communicative base for normative agreements on truth, the neo-conservative movement of Leo Strauss in which the persuasive lie is the founding act of truth and Alain Badiou’s ontology of the revolutionary event. However, there is no going back to the peaks of the ivory tower, these routes only allow us to structure the ashes.


Nathan Coombs, Masters student in International Politics at SOAS and an independent filmmaker/producer

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