“Postmodernism is an intellectual stance or mode of discourse characterized by skepticism toward the “grand narratives” of modernism, rejection of epistemic certainty or the stability of meaning, and sensitivity to the role of ideology in maintaining political power.” [Wikipedia]
… a bunch of over-educated privileged urban types who like to make contradictory assertions and then defend them by insisting that nothing really means anything;
… a bunch of over-educated privileged urban types who like to make contradictory assertions and then defend them by saying that the meanings of claims always depend on who is speaking and what power they have over others;
… a bunch of over-educated privileged urban types who like to make contradictory assertions because by doing so they force the listener to think harder about what we say and what we mean;
… a bunch of privileged urban types who have studied books and artworks that undermine traditional assumptions, and who like to make contradictory assertions in order to prompt others to reflect critically on traditions;
… an intellectual and artistic movement among people who have learned to see through the sham-structures established by oppressive traditions, and who, through words and images, are pointing out the contradictions in those structures.
… an active critique of all the ways in which the assumptions of the past have infected our thinking, combined with an encouragement to think new things.
(OK, OK, it’s legit; but still, a lot of it is just smart-assery.)
I feel this is a bit light weight. I am not “privileged” but many of the ideas of “Postmodernism” I find yseful, liberating and fascinating. I don’t hold with all of them. But a more indepth discussion needed. One thing I am a bit wary of, though not fatally, is the insistence of using the phrase: ‘The materiality of the signifier’ often by the Langauge Poets (who I am interested in). But in this field there were many variants and not necessarily a common agreement. Alan Sondheim on his Internet Project shows some fascinating things. Kenneth Goldsmith and Fitterman, esp. the former do ‘Uncreative Writing’. There is sometimes a detached over-use of certain themes etc in Art Crit., but many people attack Postmodernism but read novels and many things classified by various theorists as “postmodern”. In Philosophy I feel there is a similarity in the way Socrates found “aporias” in his (supposed) dialogues, with Derrida. But we all need to read the Primary texts. A generalized attack on such a large and complex movement, that is also freeing in many ways, needs to be informed. So if we are writers or philosophers we have to tackle the primary texts or as many as we can. Then comment. I have to concede some leave me baffled — Levinas for example. But I was interested in Derrida’s essay on ‘differance’. Meanwhile am reading or have some Wittgenstein, Rousseau, and Nietzsche as well as Plato and Boethius. Barthes writing is very good.
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You’re right, Richard; this is lightweight. I should have provided some context. I’m reading a book about postmodernism now, and it’s not very good. I keep wanting to dismiss the whole mess along the lines of the first “… a bunch of” definition I offer, but as I think more about it, I work myself toward the last definition.
Sorry I missed your reply before. I think a combination of reading about these various philosophers and reading them is the ticket. But I realize I need or perhaps feel I should for my own benefit, read more of the primary texts. Also, if difficulty is a problem, as you know that applies to all or most literature (or it can) or philosophy. But the difficulty goes right back even to the pre-Socratics. And maybe more, to China or wherever, perhaps Buddhism…and relativism worries a lot of people. But Protagoras’s ‘Man is the measure of all things’ I am sure is in Pope’s long poem ‘An Essay on Man’. And the issues or ‘headings’ in philosophy are frequently difficult or circle…and it is not surprising that writers, philosophers and others have focused on Language. And there are surprises. Was Warhol just a superficial pop artist? He echoes our times: and on YouTube I discovered that he was a deeply religious man and his images he made were inspired by those seen at the Church he attended as a child. I’m thinking of Modernism as particularly the poets around the time of Eliot, Pound etc but also novelists, but also developments in film and science etc. Inevitably an ‘after Modernism’ happened which remains. We cant claim to be before, it is a system or way, not time and is difficult to define. [In times before Modernism there were works of things happening we might label ‘postmodern’. We cant stay stuck in time. Dickinson is claimed by feminists but postmodernia might claim her. But liking or being interested in some strange or new art form or way of thinking as well as taking pleasure in earlier things (Keats or any earlier art mode etc or perhaps some of the Rationalist philosophers, or empiricists but then we might have a look at Foucault, who in logical terms could probably not show his systems of thought to be valid — Foucault deliberately mixes up truth and knowledge and probably never defines either, but he wrote histories that I believe (I know re “Madness and Civilization” which has criticability but is great and interesting to read). The problems presented in even asking these questions are like those posed by all Philosophers throughout time. Socrates found ‘aporia’, Derrida found ‘aporia’. And so on.