Howl’s Moving Castle in Lyotard’s postmodern condition.

The phd machine lumbers on. Like Howl’s castle it’s clunky, noisy, blowing steam, neurons going off in all directions (I’ve stopped questioning how my mind works). Miyazaki’s moving castle is creepy but fascinating. Machine and magic together in a steampunk world. Weird but I like the blended eras – the juxtaposition of historical fact with present-day fantasy.  Steampunk is a postmodern phenomenon.

How's Moving Castle

I’m reading Lyotard. I wouldn’t begin to claim any expertise but Mike says I need to read original texts. The Postmodern Condition is 80 pages thin and there is something special about the connection. Me and Jean-Francois in the library with coffee and cake. There must be loss in translation and cultural difference to take into account, but the trick – I think – with postmodern theorists is to look for what they’re saying rather than get hung up about the way they say it. Sort of instinctive  deconstruction. Part of the postmodern condition is fluidity where language becomes a conduit for impressions and ideas. Meaning is felt as much as spelt out but in this lies all the madness associated with the P word. Has any other movement been so universally hated?  I think one of the reasons postmodernism became the scapegoat for everything associated with academic eliteness was because it was taken out of context. We live in a postmodern world of pic n’ mix and virtual realities, where knowledge is diffused. It’s as if postmodernism was ahead of itself  – and would love the  irony if that was so!

Once you get used to an idea, it can be hard to contextualise its initial impact.  Lyotard says technology affects the nature of knowledge. Research and the transmission of ‘acquired learning’ cannot survive unchanged – it has to fit new media channels.  Writing in 1979 – pre internet – Lyotard is referring to computers. The connections are not original – McLuhan was there before him – followed by Postman (was ever a name more apt for a postmodern era?) but Lyotard ‘s questions go deeper into language and the crisis of representation. The link between technology and knowledge has relevance to the implementation of the Digital Education Strategy (DES) at Lincoln. You wouldn’t want to bring Lyotard to the table, but the triangulation of machine, knowledge and user is useful for rethinking the purpose of technology in teaching and learning. There are many questions to be asked. If technology is the catalyst why do lectures and seminars remain dominant modes of transmission? How best can the institution support change?  Are the words ‘digital education’ an oxymoron? How do we keep the language accessible? Reading Lyotard is easier than Baudrillard or Butler but still a challenge. I’m sure postmodernism would have made more friends if it cut the polysyllabics. There are lessons to be learned.

postmodernist cartoon

Anime is a postmodern pastiche where styles blend and convention upended; the depiction of Sophie in Howl’s Moving Castle is a typical example where a young girl becomes both old woman and hero. Taken from the book by Diana Wynne Jones, the story is a fantasy made real. Postmodernism suggested the real is a fantasy. Academically, postmodernism was a disaster. It tried to tell us nothing can be fixed and found itself anchored. It promoted parody and found itself parodied. It was taken seriously when it told us not to believe in anything.

We live in postmodernity but struggle with language to describe it. Lyotard is worth revisiting, in the original, and applying to the present.  Postmodernism may have more relevance than its critics would have us believe and Howl has more to do with the postmodern condition than you might think.