2.2.1. Durkheim and Bergson

16 June 2021

Riley’s observation of the Dreyfus affair relates to postmodernism. It posits that two contemporaneous, conflicting positions arrived at the same conclusion that cultural change, a move towards the secularisation of the sacred, was confronting the French society. At this time, Emile Durkheim, a Jewish sociologist and Henri Bergson, a Jewish philosopher, both wrote about how the social consciousness in France had changed, leading to a redefinition of the sacred. Their enquires were, in part, catalysed by the propagation of objective laws and moral truths through the overarching enforcement of the Roman Catholic Church and the French Army within French society and the injustice of the Dreyfus affair. Understandably, The Dreyfus affair evoked deep thought and criticism toward the Catholic French Republic, by both Durkheim and Bergson, possibly in the context of their own Jewish identity or simply due to the unfair trial and unequal treatment directed toward Dreyfus by the Catholic hegemony of France. The opposing thought of Durkheim and Bergson can be used as a diving board into the sea of postmodernism and helps to clarify how ‘Raves’ and neo-tribes become spaces of postmodernists ranging from diverse social strata and cultural milieus. 

Durkheim is understood to be Cartesian supporting systems of order hierarchy authority and bureaucratic institutions exemplifying the esprit de geometric: the state, the military and the University… [and] most compatible with the scientific mentality. 

(Clark, 1973, p. 247)

In Clark's portrayal of Durkheim, one can understand him as a modernist who follows a logic to self-develop that constructs his perception of reality which correlates with institutional hegemonic values. Bergson can be understood "As spontaneous and is defined by a preference for antiauthoritarian, anarchic, often irrational, or antirational modes of thought and action” (Clark, 1973, p. 247). Bergson looked to experience the moment both empirically and sensitively, where Durkheim defined the moment logically and rationally through what he already knew. Even though these two philosophers offer polarising positions, they were morally aligned against the French Army regarding their ruling of Dreyfus. How the two polarise can also be seen through the view of the French philosopher Michel Foucault, who points to this as two dominant always struggling avenues of French philosophy, the philosophy of experience, meaning, and the subject and the philosophy of knowledge, rationality, and the concept (Balmand & Fabiani, 1988). It is clear that Durkheim was rational and followed logic, and of the two academics Bergson and Durkheim, It seems, it is least likely that Durkheim would shift towards postmodernist thought. However, in his writing, he gets to the crux of postmodern theory;

Although opposite to one another, [the pure and impure sacred] are at the same time closely akin. First, both have the same relation to profane beings. . . . To be sure, the two do not provoke identical feelings. Disgust and horror are one thing, and respect another. Nonetheless, for actions to be the same in both cases, the feelings expressed must not be different in kind. In fact, there actually is a certain horror in religious respect, especially when it is very intense; and the fear inspired by malignant powers is not without a certain reverential quality. Indeed, the shades of difference between these two attitudes are sometimes so elusive that it is not always easy to say in just which state of mind the faithful are[….]. So the pure and the impure are not two separate genera but two varieties of the same genus that includes all sacred things [. . . .] The impure is made from the pure, and vice versa.

(Durkheim, 1995, as cited in Riley, 2002, p. 252))

Durkheim states that it is no longer possible to understand the reasoning and foundation that guides the states of mind of the faithful. That the pure (Catholic faith) and the impure (non-Catholic actions) are not two separate genres but the same and that the ‘pure’ have lost their foothold on what the ‘pure’ is and goes in a direction that at first glance could be seen as impure and against Catholic practice. If it is possible to see how even the Catholic faith can be questioned due to its bias, the same surely is true for other modernist social, cultural and political hegemonic objective truths. Therefore, through Durkheim’s observation, it is understandable why a sceptical view of modernist objective truths is the underpinning of postmodernist theory. If the foundation on which knowledge is founded can shift due to power loss, how can there be an objective truth? Power surely is not the essence of truth. This example of the Catholic Church and the French Army enforcing their bias objective truth onto society and becoming victims to sceptical thought opens up the social perspective to new ideas of objective truth. It is possible to say that then, through the impossibility of one objective truth, one runs into the territory of pluralism. In pluralism, what becomes evident is that there cannot be two possible objective truth views. If they are the same, they are the same thing twice, meaning they are the same. Therefore, two objective truths on a subject must mean a difference in opinion and a conflict discrepancy in which subcultures arise.

In considering that, subjective views on objective truths existed in subcultures, such as punks and skinheads, who shared a nihilist anarchist perception contra to the political, cultural or social hegemony. Is it then not possible to understand that subcultures are or were the incubator for postmodernism? Subcultures were the first diversions that went against the hegemonic vectors of thought supported or created politically, culturally or socially. Subculturists were sceptical of the capitalist hegemony as it did not equally include them or did not care for them but just wanted to exploit them. It is, therefore, the feeling of distrust in a neoliberal hegemonic government that ignited ‘Rave' in the UK by 1988. The distrust and scepticism towards the UK government in the late 80s are similar to the shift in French society's view of the Catholic Church regarding the Dreyfus affair. The UK youth started to think or want something different from what was being asked of them by a Thatcherite government that had privatised the UK, effectively closing down the mining industry and making thousands of workers unemployed. The younger generations relieved the gloom of this time with the hedonistic freedom ‘Rave’ facilitated. The experience of ‘Rave’ opened ‘Ravers’ perception to a world different to The neoliberal conservative individuated self-developing one imposed on them. ‘Rave’ changed what a subculture’s function was. Subcultures evolved to become transient and individualistic in style and fashion while still ‘colectifiying’ people. Different from the subcultures of the past, ‘Rave’ and other contemporary subcultures included a diverse mix of people from all economic classes and locations that did not want to commit to the singular identities or uniformity of traditional subcultures or that one could not leave when wanted. People wanted to pick and choose and combine different fashion and music styles not to limit them or chain them to one identity. ‘Rave’ loosened the hegemonic binding of the modernist governmental structure that was the subject of sceptical thought. Through scepticism, postmodernists found a type of sensitivity to consider what to trust if society could not trust the modernist neo-liberal structures. People started to look to themselves to consider what to trust and found an inner sensitivity, one that is collectively experienced in neo-tribes such as ‘House music’ parties, ‘Raves’ and club culture today that could be considered as neo-premodern, a supportive community. Subcultures, therefore, evolve to facilitate a space where the plurality of truth is the subject of interest and support. Before I look into how ‘Rave' evolved to be what it is today, I review postmodernism from the perspective that will support its implementation as a technique of embodied knowledge in ‘The Frame’. 

2.3. The Two Faces of Postmodernity