For those who came in late to the postmodern party..

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. …

The following are excerpts from Richard Dawkins’ polemic on postmodernism: Postmodernism Disrobed reviewing the book “Intellectual Impostures”

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 . . .
“… 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? …”
The following link leads you to a new, automatically generated “postmodern” article, each time:
The postmodern mara-dragon has slippery and multi-speckled skin of indeterminate colour. It is said to spew flames of rhetoric with a hiss that is said to sound like “Who is to say?”.
The postmodern Rainman writes up a self-referenced, anti-structural, high-style null-truth-value (what is that?) interpret-me-if-you-dare write-up and gloats to his brother: “I made a falutin’! “.
  1. Chi-Ling said:

    “… 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.”

    This bit reminded me of the recent rise in atheist sects. How ironic that now even the believers of not congregate. I think people generally hold their own views in high esteem. And for some reason or the other, people with like views tend to congregate. Historians use labels to make sense of this phenomenon over time.

  2. Unawoken said:

    Hi chi-ling,
    Hmm, perhaps you have something there regarding atheism. Perhaps it is slowly starting to lose its antiestablishment posture, and is getting more mainstream. Historically though, atheist congregations, if any have been far outcongregated by believers. The trend in religious belief-atmosphere is confusing, imo. On one hand, there are more atheists, and there are trends towards moderation among the believers. On the other hand, there is organized religious extremism overseas, and a neocon religious right revival in the nation.

    However, as far as “isms” go, atheism ideologically is a description of the negative space w.r.t. belief. The grouping is not due to a holding of similar belief-structures.

    Sam Harris in his 2007 PBS interview:
    says the following..

    “Q: How are atheists most misunderstood? What should people know that they don’t know about you?

    A: They should know that the very term “atheist” is not necessary. There are many atheists who would never dream of calling themselves atheists or join an atheist society or otherwise organize themselves. We don’t have a word for not believing in Zeus, which is to say we are all atheists in respect to Zeus. And we don’t have a word for not being an astrologer. Nobody gets up in the morning and says I’m not an astrologer, I’m not an astrologer. This is just not a variable around which people gather. Ultimately the point of view of atheism is really one of — atheism is just the disgruntled noises people make in the face of religious dogmatism. It’s really reason and a demand for evidence in the face of religiously sanctioned false certainty. I’ll be very happy when we retire the term “atheist,” and I think it is a word destined for disuse because if atheists win and we all just achieve a level of intellectual honesty where we are no longer going to pretend to be certain about things we are not certain about, then we’ll just be open-minded, rational, scientifically inclined people who will talk about spiritual experiences honestly, talk about ethics honestly, talk about the shape of the universe honestly, and it won’t be a word.”

    People with like views tend to congregate, yes, this is ingroupism that is observed all across human culture.. However, even when people do not congregate, the ideas that they hold, write about, the lifestyles they choose are similar enough for a classification into an “ism”.

  3. Ratna said:

    Nice post
    “We have left the post modern era behind us or in the process of doing so”
    what era are we drifting into now? What ‘ism’ is congregating now?
    Another question (may be a stupid one)
    these postmodern concepts are not new, they have been present in the last 150yrs or more. However the modern to post modern transition appears to have happened latter 1/2 of 20th century as reported (when I was looking it up)
    so the post modernism was brewing & congragating that long?, but lasted not even half a century? Is it because it is more a reactive ‘ism’ against the modernism & does not have well defined fundamental theories of its own ?

    • Please tell me the answers to your questions if you find out.

  4. unawoken said:

    “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident.” — Arthur Schopenhauer

    • unawoken said:

      not really true. Just leaving it here for relevance.

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