Am I a Postmodernist

12 September 2009

The term ``postmodern’’ came into use as a description of certain trends in architecture, art, and literature in the 1970’s, although the trends it describes reach back earlier in the twentieth century, to Joyce and Finnegan’s Wake in the case of literature, and to the 1950’s at least in the case of architecture.  But what counts as postmodern philosophy?

    One theme of postmodernism, according to Jean-François Lytard at any rate, is the opposition to theory and “meta-narrative”.  If I had just this much to go on, I might think that a good candidate for postmodern philosophy would be the views I was taught in graduate school at Cornell, a mixture of the philosophy of Wittgenstein and the Oxford Philosophy of J.O. Urmson, John Austin, and the like. 

    Urmson is an interesting figure.  He came back to Oxford after spending five or six years in a German prison camp; he was one of the British soldiers who didn’t make it onto one of the boats at Dunkirk.  Upon resuming to his career in philosophy at a very early stage, he once told me, he looked on things differently than he might have in more normal times, when he would have been five years younger.  He was more adventurous, more confident of his ability to do philosophy on his own than merely build on the last generation, and deeply suspicious of all “-isms” and overarching themes; he and the group of “ordinary language philosophers” at Oxford wanted to start philosophy over with few preconceptions about it.

Now this sounds very postmodernist.  And when you add to that the focus on language, and add in a Wittgenstein’s anti-theoretical position, the concept of language games from Wittgenstein and speech acts and performative language from Austin --- two ways of extending the philosophy of language beyond the merely descriptive uses of language --- it sounds very much like what postmodernism is supposed to be about. 

This may explain why I often enjoy the sentences and some of the paragraphs in postmodern philosophy, especially Lyotard, sometimes Rorty, not so often Derrida.  Lots of the sentences, some of the paragraphs ---- but I seldom make it through a whole essay.  The reason for the latter, apart from my adult onset attention deficient disorder, is that as you read on in postmodern essays one of two things happen.  Most often they turn into discussions of how this or that theme of postmodernism is related to what various dead people said, Hegel, Heidegger, Nietzsche, Freud, Dewey, etc. etc.  I am not very well-read in most of the relevant literature, and find these discussions hard to follow and boring and somehow not what you would expect from philosophy without meta-narrative.  At any rate, I get the impression that postmodern philosophers love to read philosophy --- either that or they are incredibly disciplined to read so much of it.

Some of the philosophers actually turn to examples at times and do some philosophy.  Derrida, for example.  He really has some interesting examples.  But what he has to say about them usually seems to me to head off in the wrong direction.  Postcards, for example.  When I came across Derrida’s discussion of postcards (I don’t remember where) I already had a theory of postcard’s, based on asking the question, “what do you know when you read “I am having a good time here” on a postcard but you don’t know who sent it, from where, and when?”  I found what I and my friends had to say on such topics much more interesting and somewhat more sophisticated than what Derrida had to say (as far as I could make it out), so I never got through a whole essay, much less a whole book, by him either.

I actually don’t like reading philosophy all that much; I like doing philosophy and reading it is the price you have to pay.  Not that it’s a terrible experience, but I can’t a less appealing way to spend the day than reading through the tomes that postmodernists all seem to know by heart.  Well actually I can think of a lot less appealing ways to spend a day, but you get my drift.

So, although I don’t like meta-narratives, and agree with many of Lyotard’s opinions --- or at least many of his sentences --- about states, capitalism, Freud, Marx, and the like, I guess I am not a postmodernist. 

Comments (12)


Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, August 18, 2007 -- 5:00 PM

please finish the discussion of "meta-narrative."

please finish the discussion of "meta-narrative."

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, August 21, 2007 -- 5:00 PM

THE AGE OF TRUTH I believe that man is emerging

THE AGE OF TRUTH
I believe that man is emerging from the era of philosophical darkness, into the age of Postdarkness. The Darkness Era is the age when the word "true" was undefined and misunderstood by mankind. An age when man practiced and lived in untruth, only because we had been taught to do so. The extent of that era is measured by the time of man's existence; before mankind, nature was absolutely true. We went the wrong way. There have been some along the way who have come close to reversing or missteps, who have seen the light of truth, who have fought and died for truth, but no one has yet to define it. Not even the great Socrates could grasp the truth. No one has yet to turn mankind toward the path of truth, the parallel path of nature's truth. .
Do not confuse Postdarkness with The Age of Enlightenment or The Scientific Revolution, which relied heavely on the flawed measurement of nature, and the resulting laws or restrictions of nature. The Postdarkness Era would be better described as an advancement of the Axial Age. Postdarkness will be a time when the absolute truth is known. A time when the truth is taught and practiced, a time when the truth is lived by not one but all. A time of absolute unity, a time of equality.
That Postdarkness Age will be called the Age of Truth.
The Age of Truth will not only set man free, but all of nature, all things equally.
Welcome to the Age of Truth!
MJA

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, August 31, 2007 -- 5:00 PM

In response to the post about the age of post-dark

In response to the post about the age of post-darkness That statement may be a little presumptuous or even neo-prophetic.
Isn't it possible that we would stray further from the truth instead? Or that maybe our discovery would not be one of truth, but perhaps the obsoletion of the word truth?
Perhaps "truth" is actually a mask on the face of reality, or merely a sort of carrot-on-a-stick distraction from perception. Or all is true because it has been percieved? Philosophers have never been able to define the word truth because it is the infinite and the ultimate unanswerable question to begin with; It is the philosopher's ultimate motivation. With truth solved there is no why. (perhaps truth is the ability to strictly percieve do u mean?)
What i would hope to see from this 'new age' is the recognition of what is valid and not what is true. 'Post-modern' for example... Isn't that a sort of redundancy?
This "age of truth" thus far seems to be a case of unnecessary confusion. intermediary? perhaps. I would hope.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, September 1, 2007 -- 5:00 PM

"Truth" is the one language meant to be "share

"Truth" is the one language meant to be "shared" through all people. The key word being "shared". It was created to be "felt" in order to be "understood". It is our guide in life towards a "deeper understanding" of life's design.
The "truth" is shared with everyone everyday of our lives. Our biggest "obstacle" is not understanding the "truth", it is within the "choice" that we seek to "understand" it with. With our mind is the usual "choice". We ask our mind to understand what it can not. In order to understand the essence of the "truth" we have to learn how to enhance our ability to "feel" so that we may "understand" what is being shared with us. Our minds were not created to "feel" or to "understand", it does not possess that ability. Which is why, very often, our minds will tell us the opposite of the "truth". How many times has that happened in our lives, where we "seek to understand" a "life moment" or ask our minds to share the "truth" of an event that we wish to understand, yet it's reply is always a series of guesses. Yet, how often has a moment been created in our lives, where we experienced a "feeling", that was shared with us, that translated into an "understanding" that we "just knew" something was "true" or "about to happen" or "just happened". Our ability to "understand" what our mind, our spirit, and our bodies were created for and how to grow each one separately so that they make work in unity provides the proper foundation for us to "grow in" our created purpose. Most people just lack the "understanding" to do so, mainly because no one has thus far "shared" the one thing that we all wish to know, how to understand, the "Truth" ..... have an awesome day .... Rich

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, September 2, 2007 -- 5:00 PM

You write to much to read!

You write to much to read!

Tom's picture

Tom

Monday, September 17, 2007 -- 5:00 PM

Hey All, Question for the postmodernists: what

Hey All,
Question for the postmodernists: what if I went down to the local domestic violence clinic and told the line of victims that what just happened to them was a "meta narrative" ? How 'bout switching off an airplanes engines 20,000 ft above the Atlantic Ocean because all knowledge is "artificial", "constructed," and has no independent reality. Or how bout this: a planeload full of pomo theorists 20,000 ft above the Atlantic given a vote on whether or not to switch off the engine ?
I'm not trying to be a smart-ass, just struggling with this new po-mo thing. I was an economics major...
Tom.

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, October 29, 2007 -- 5:00 PM

this blog is pretty ridiculous. "Most often th

this blog is pretty ridiculous.
"Most often they turn into discussions of how this or that theme of postmodernism is related to what various dead people said, Hegel, Heidegger, Nietzsche, Freud, Dewey, etc. etc."
you demonstrate rank ignorance here. at least half this list of people write in an extremely straightforward and highly readable way. so what if theyre dead? so what if you need to know some context? you have to know context in order to function in any specialised job. your response to this work suggests a fairly immature attitude to the real world.
"I found what I and my friends had to say on such topics much more interesting and somewhat more sophisticated than what Derrida had to say (as far as I could make it out), so I never got through a whole essay, much less a whole book, by him either."
how can you possibly know that derrida is 'unsophisticated' if youve never even bothered to read a whole essay by him? just because you admit you havent bothered to do the work doesnt justify holding these uninformed opinions. has it occured to you that perhaps your friends had actually read derrida and were providing you with a digested version of his (or indeed any other 'postmodernist's') ideas, thus saving you the travesty of having to do any work and allowing you to live in self righteous ignorance and write silly blogs like this.
if you actually were willing to put some reasonable amount of effort in you might find this work rewarding and be able to break down some of these silly adolescent prejudices that you hold. admittedly sitting around talking cod-philosophy with people who are going to give you your ideas is an appealing way to spend your time, seems a touch unrewarding however.

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

I guess I'm not a postmodernist either... although

I guess I'm not a postmodernist either... although I'm still not completely clear what the definition of one is!

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Always interesting to me how there are new terms p

Always interesting to me how there are new terms popping up with every generation... what happened to plain old people?

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Interesting "explaination"... not sure if postmode

Interesting "explaination"... not sure if postmodernist is the current terminology I would use... but I've heard the "kids" using it, so it must be right!!!

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 -- 5:00 PM

Interesting article. A good and clever read... li

Interesting article. A good and clever read... like your style! Thanks...
Omaha Remodeling

 
 
 

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