A Post-postmodern Post ~ BitterSweetLife

Monday, March 07, 2005

A Post-postmodern Post

I’ve been wanting to write this for approximately forever.

I usually opt to show rather than tell, but occasionally one has to lapse into de facto exposition. I’ve been savoring the “post-postmodern” tagline in my blog intro, and reflecting on how it ought to be spelled out.

For months now, this verbal anomaly has existed without comment, but the time for closet post-postmodernism is past. No doubt the phrase has excited wondering agreement (“He’s right…I think”) and grammatical confusion (“This guy can’t spell”), if nothing else. Time to set the record straight. Post-anything words, when explained, must begin with their antecedents. Our starting place, then, is obvious.

“Postmodernism” is the supposed cultural constant that surrounds us all, the sea in which we splash, know it or not. If you’ll allow me to oversimplify: We unearthed this Truth (for which Nietzsche, among others, laid the groundwork) and it rose to dominance in the 20th Century. The Truth was that none of us really knew anything (relativism). In the arenas of faith and moral compass, we had to hazard our best guesses and trust to the winds of chance to treat us well (existentialism). In our necessarily troubled (angst-filled) lives, virtue could only be regarded in hazy terms of “acceptance,” “tolerance” and “inclusivism,” though when push came to shove, no one could define these either. And there you have it. Postmodernism in a paragraph.

But I haven’t said anything startling yet. My clincher, then: Postmodernism is becoming passé. Like kids with cotton candy, we're making the startling discovery that its skeleton is made of paper, and paper is a poor infrastructure. Have you ever seen a beached whale? If not, imagine a de-boned elephant. It’s not a pretty sight. Postmodernism is slowly collapsing under its own weight. The postmodern high-rise is a large establishment, and people will continue living there, unaware of their sinking real estate. Nonetheless, the street lights are flickering and the paint is starting to peel.

That’s not to say the movement hasn’t had its moments.

For example: One would have to say that the persistent tendency to question the status quo is, in itself, not a bad thing. Often it’s been good. But the benefits of a critical eye have often been neutralized by an ironic propensity to jump to new conclusions. All too often the jump is a back flip. The blind spot of postmodern thought is a hasty swallowing of unexamined claims, hook line and sinker, in a rush to fill the mental vacuum. The dash to dispose of “old truths” was too urgent to critique the new ones. “Fools,” as Pope says, “rush in…”

So we end up asserting things like All truth claims are manipulative! (except this one) and Words have no inherent meaning! (except mine) and One truth is no better than the next! (except the one you’re reading). Postmodern “truth” is like a folding dish chair on a waxy floor, where the axis of solidarity is always in flux. The mod styling is nice, but after awhile your back starts aching. That’s when you start looking for the overstuffed recliner.

I’m not saying that postmodernism was a waste. No, the existentialist-self-doubting ethos has given us some good things. Not the least of which is ironic hair and a critical inward eye.

But I have the sense that a whole group of people are steadily emerging beyond the postmodern. Like going through a tunnel, learning some valuable things about low-light vision, and reemerging into life in the sun. People eventually grow tired of naming their kids “Apple” or “Audio” and saying that Stalin was a guy with “different ideas.” Maybe absolute uncertainty wasn’t as absolute as we made it out to be.

Some of us are ditching the postmodern cloud of unknowing and itching to actually know something again. True to our roots, we’re seasoned debunkers. But our roots aren’t immune from critique.

We’re the ones waking up the benefits of truth and gravity. We think Beauty has a more than artificial charm. We say that constant ignorance can be draining. And we take a roguish joy in skewering the silly.

We’re willing to weigh ideas, for we think the post-postmodern has the weight of the universe on its side. This, we assert with happy bravado, is the supreme advantage: Post-postmodernism is not just avant-garde. It’s True.

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tim said...

Come on Arie, this post is so passe (see my post date 5.29.04) and peruse the article I send you...

But seriously, I think if you think about the significance of Eagleton's "Beyond Theory" you might come to more skeptical conclusions.

Ariel said...

Hey Tim.

I think you’re suggesting (via Eagleton), that “post-ness” quickly becomes mere philosophical one-upmanship. Which is another way of saying it’s mostly useless.

Actually, I agree. There must be an end of philosophical labels, each one shinier and righter than the last. Otherwise, as Eagleton points out, “theory” becomes a pseudonym for stupid mental trivia.

Post-postmodernism is not going to save the world any more than postmodernism or modernism did. Systems of thought never save the world. Rather, truth “in the face of Christ” is the source of life. And right knowing must lead to right doing. Call it “applied philosophy” if you will.

Post-ness is just fun to play with. And by way of defense, some ideas are worth ragging on. That’s where skepticism comes in…

Oneway said...

I'm with you, Lion of God.

>>No, the existentialist-self-doubting ethos has given us some good things.<<

True. God has used these lies like grindstones to sharpen the swords of the aware.


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife