chapter  5
Total society or heaps of fragments?
Pages 24

Totality is a concept that, like ideology, has endured changing fortunes. Our current circumstances favour a revival of this term along with some of the sensibilities that it entails. Some of our most popular words and phrases such as globalization, climate change and financial ‘system’ evoke the sense of inescapable and universal phenomena that totality calls to mind. Totality also suggests, for some, that we have the capacity to visualize and comprehend the entirety of our conditions as if blessed with a God’s-eye view. A wellknown ‘war on totality’ was initiated by Jean-François Lyotard who issued the following call to arms at the end of his influential book The Postmodern Condition. ‘Let us wage a war on totality; let us be witnesses to the unpresent - able; let us activate the differences and save the honor of the name.’2 The essence of Lyotard’s war translates into a battle against the cunning of reason and the triumph of identity over difference and otherness; in short, totality is code for how the humble individual concept and the grand metanarrative diminish the diversity of existence by imposing pre-set identities on local and particular differences. Equally alarming political implications are evident in Lyotard’s account: the closure of representation wrought by totality results in exclusions of difference that are symptomatic of political repression. Lyotard’s campaign found familial support in the work of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, who offer somewhat different and arguably more compelling reasons to abandon totality and related concepts such as society and system. Their argument begins by questioning the concept of totality before asking whether it is even possible for a totality to exist in reality (a progression that roughly replicates Lyotard’s move from theory to politics).