I was just talking with a colleague about the nebulous modernism / postmodernism divide. My shot from the hip was that they’re basically the same basket of ideas about fragmentation, hybridity and uncertainty, the difference being that the modernists angst or ennui about it whilst the postmodernists dance on the verities’ grave. Incredulity toward metanarratives and all that. (These issues came up recently at Cultural Parody Center as well.)
In this context my colleague talked about something she’d just read that distinguished two basic metaphorical approaches to argument: argument as war, and argument as play (or dance). We’re both players. We talked about how these were lenses that could really help to clarify what happens (or fails to happen) in class discussions. And perhaps protracted blog debates about Kant.
Arguments are not always (only) about what they’re about. If I may indulge in self-quotation for efficiency’s sake, when argument is in the war style sometimes what’s happening is a status bloodbath:
When irrational waste is occurring Geertz tells us to look for ways in which people’s sense of social honor is at stake. Sometimes the particular equipment in play — cocks, novels, philosophical systems, histories, footballs — is far less important to the players than “the dramatization of status concerns.” Certainly we can see this logic being played out in the Olympic games — how else to explain the enormous economic and political capital being spent over dubious accomplishments soon forgotten? A “status bloodbath,” as Geertz quotes Goffman. But can we see this sort of game being played in our own meetings, hallways and classrooms?
Apparently I was saying that war is also a game, but of course the (perceived) stakes are much higher.