One common pattern that executes itself repeatedly in human history is the following loop:
Step 1. Individual (small-collection) nonconformism with prevailing philosophies and establishments.
Step 2. A successful nonconformist movement gaining establishment status.
Step 3. A different counter-culture looping back to Step 1.
The transition from Step 1 to Step 2 is curious. This is where large numbers of individuals consider themselves unique in their nonconformism. This is where people are occasionally surprised to learn that there already is an ‘ism’ in prevalent language for their espoused brand of antiestablishmentarianism.
One such contemporary phenomenon is self-proclaiming (in a sense) definition-defying postmodernism. (Although, I believe that it is now generally considered that we have left the postmodern era behind us, or are in the process of doing so.)
The following are excerpts from Paul Newall’s introduction to postmodernism:
” … we could say that postmodernism is skeptical of theoretical viewpoints that are foundational (as we discussed in our fifth article) or grounded in some way, and critical of theory in general. Sometimes a distinction is made along the following lines:
Affirmative postmodernists: theory needs to be changed, rather than rejected
Skeptical postmodernists: theory should be rejected, or at least subject to severe critique …”“… Although we must be careful to over generalization or oversimplification, opposing modern to postmodern we have:
Structure opposed to anarchy
Construction opposed to deconstruction
Theory opposed to anti-theory
Interpretation opposed to hostility toward definite interpretation
Meaning opposed to the play of meaning or a refusal to pin down
Metanarratives opposed to hostility toward narratives
The search for underlying meaning opposed to a suspicion (or certainty) that this is impossible
Progress opposed to a doubt that progress is possible
Order opposed to subversion
Encyclopedic knowledge opposed to a web of understanding …”“… Another telling criticism is to note that to be anti-theory is still to have a theory; that is, the theory that we shouldn’t have a theory. Rejecting the need for criteria (whatever their purpose) is still a criterion. Is it possible to be as playful as some suggest, not holding beliefs or methodological approaches and instead refusing to define or pin down narratives? How lightly can we hold our ideas before we end up either holding nothing at all or become certain of them without realising it? …”
“… Are long, complicated words being used as part of a specialist language or because postmodernists have nothing of consequence to say and want to hide this fact behind their rhetoric? Often the answer is a matter of opinion, or of saying that even a difficult writer can sometimes offer a comment clearly enough to raise an eyebrow before plunging back into a thicket of terminology. Since a key assumption of this series is that anything worth saying can be said clearly, it may be that some people are reluctant to wade into postmodernist thinking for fear that their time will be wasted; unless the writer is composing his thoughts merely for the amusement of himself and a few select friends, this is a difficulty that still restricts the impact that postmodern ideas can have. …
Quoting Medawar: “… Style has become an object of first importance, and what a style it is! For me it has a prancing, high-stepping quality, full of self-importance; elevated indeed, but in the balletic manner, and stopping from time to time in studied attitudes, as if awaiting an outburst of applause. It has had a deplorable influence on the quality of modern thought . . .and“… No doubt there exist thoughts so profound that most of us will not understand the language in which they are expressed. And no doubt there is also language designed to be unintelligible in order to conceal an absence of honest thought. But how are we to tell the difference? What if it really takes an expert eye to detect whether the emperor has clothes? In particular, how shall we know whether the modish French ‘philosophy’, whose disciples and exponents have all but taken over large sections of American academic life, is genuinely profound or the vacuous rhetoric of mountebanks and charlatans? …”