Tuesday, April 10, 2007 Is postmodernism a weed? CJ and Matthew have been talking about postmodernism (specifically, postmodernism and conservativism) . Matthew also comments here in a post titled "Battling Postmodernism Down." My reply is here (slightly edited version below):
MD, On the weed metaphor that you use... I use it to describe my HIV (weeds) in a garden of flowers. See my guided visualization here:
I'm mostly content to just lurk and see how CJ or others reply to this post, but a quick word or two on your metaphor... I wanted to say that as I see it the term "postmodernism" must have a meaning, otherwise it would not incite the sort of deep disdain you and I share for weeds. So it will not surprise you that I feel CJ made his case in the dialogue by providing an ample reference of philosophical learning to clarify his use of the term postmodernism. As a term which refers to a broad current or movement with both an intellectual component (i.e., scholars write books about it!) and a pop cultural component (e.g., contemporary camp humor), it's obviously a very inclusive term (much like the terms classical and modern, terms which I've noticed you continue to use). Or, if I may add, the word Humanities. It's a shallow (umbrella) term, not a deep (precise) one.
- The postmodern current, as I see it, isn't so much like a weed with roots more than 10 feet deep. It's too new, and it has taken hold mostly in an academic enclave among intellectuals. Culturally, it is in evidence only in styles and trends shared by a minority of the population of America and other highly developed nations (for example, "post-PC humor").
- Postmodernism is more like a style of gardening in which shrubbery is not pruned, trees are left to "go wild", weeds are considered acceptable and desirable. It's a fondness for jungle-like gardens. In contrast, your classical perspective is more like a traditional approach to gardening.
I hesitate to say anything more because I don't want to put words into your mouth, but generally classical approaches to anything tend to have greater respect for order and carefully pruned thoughts and the elimination of weeds, and perhaps these phrases characterize your view of the postmodern current.
I don't agree with your view of pomo as, within the context of a Great Books approach, "a pathological riff under the heading of Opinion," but I'm afraid it would involve a more significant exchange to come to anything resembling understanding/agreement. I'll stick to the gardening/weeding metaphor, even as I insinuate without argument that the pomo current in relationship to the Great Ideas is like the attitude of a collector of Great Books who reads them carefully but scattershot, in no particular order, and in a continual dialogue with himself and the books, decides that they do not form a coherent Order. Therefore the collector decides to cut up the books and use the pages for different purposes. Some pages he frames and places high on an altar. Other pages he uses to line a bird cage. Others he sails into paper airplanes, others he gives to friends who he thinks will find the pages useful. On other pages, he scribbles notes and eventually publishes a collection of random notes from his journal (not unlike Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations). He's a postmodern collector of the Great Books. His attitude may or may not be pathological, but it is not the Idea of Opinion he is concerned with, it is the very essence (or lack thereof) of All the Great Ideas themselves. Perhaps postmodernism's concern is what you call the Humanities.
I'm actually very appreciative of your reference to poetry. It does appear that the formal properties of language as reflected in poetry are important and noteworthy. Study of them further, esp. in poetry, may be an effective way of moving beyond postmodernism. There are other ways out of postmodernity and I highly recommend to you the neo-Thomist, neo-Aristotelian philospher Alasdair MacIntyre to you, esp. After Virtue or Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry (the latter book is referenced in your encyclopedia article link). MacIntyre begins a very compelling critique of postmodernity from a neo-Aristotelian view. For example, he argues with Thomas that modernity and postmodernity alike are guilty of the sin of pride, and that their distorted worldviews are symptoms of this spiritual malaise.
But if like MacIntyre or Ewa Thompson you are battling postmodernism, then you must first recognize that something which may be called postmodernism exists, right? That seemed to me the issue where you got backed into a corner in your exchange with CJ. It was hard to tell whether you were debating that postmodernism is too vague to exist or if postmodernism needs to be shot down because it's a pathology of Opinion. I shared CJ's confusion and would invite you to be more clear. You sound a bit like a prosecuting attorney who says, "There may or may not have been a homocide, but if there was a homocide, then the defendant must be the guilty party." bestwishes, joe Subscribe to this feed • Add to del.icio.us • Digg This! posted by Joe Perez at 4/10/2007 0 comments links to this post