Primer to Postmodernism

Scott Smith —  July 6, 2012 — 2 Comments


You’ve likely heard the word, but many have no idea what it means. Settle in and watch as Anthony Weber unpacks what Postmodernism is, where it came from, and why it matters.

(After watching, feel free to weigh in with your thoughts!)




Scott Smith

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Scott Smith is a lifelong Christian and an active member of his church. He enjoys blogging and teaching on Christian theology and defense as well as engaging skeptics in debate regarding Christian truth claims. Scott is a co-founder of Etcetera as well as TC Apologetics, and in his spare time he runs his own 3D design company.
  • Jazz Feyer Salo

    Hmm, I have to say this is a pretty patchy introduction to postmodernism.

    It seems that a distinction between postmodernism and postmodernity would clear things up some.

    Postmodernism pertains to the cultural condition of late capitalist society. This is where all the cultural references from the lecture would come in.

    Postmodernity is a broad term that attempts to encompass a philosophical trend in the 20th century. The names associated with this trend would include: Derrida, Lyotard, Foucault, Deleuze, and many others. I would have to say that there were only a couple instances where the ideas of these thinkers were represented in this lecture.

    It may be the case that this lecture is on the first term “postmodernism” and if so than it does alright (a little to negative, in the sense that I don’t think “postmodernism” can simply be described through reality tv and a kid’s lack of motivation…its bigger than that.). But I have a feeling that the lecture was also meant to presented the main “ideas” of “postmodernity.” In this regard I have to say that most points were lacking in both accuracy and integrity (in regards to sources).

    Here is a list of key words used yet misrepresented:

    Nietzsche’s Death of God
    > It’s good to remember that Nietzsche here is announcing something that *has happened*. He considers himself a physician diagnosing society.

    “interpretation all the way down”
    > The lecturer seems to root the death of the author in a subject’s “perspective”. The problem with this is that most figures associated under the banner of “postmodernity” spent a lot of time decentering the subject. Thus to say that the death of the author results in infinite authorial interpretations would miss the mark. 
    > In regards to “objective truth” or “Truth” its much less a matter of something being “out there” and more a matter of tracing the processes that create objectivies, subjectivies, uniformities, authorities, etc.

    “fluidity of identity”
    > Again, I think the lecturer focuses too much on the determination of the subject “creating new identities for itself”. Whereas, the major point of highlighting the fluidity of the person is to map out the processes that create the “subject”.

    “no meta-narratives”
    > This just recognizes that Christianity, or the Natural Sciences are not the only narratives in the world.
    > The lecture mistakes Lyotard’s famous quote “incredulity toward metanarratives” with “there are no metanarratives”. The former identifies a skepticism while the latter makes a claim. In confusing these two statements he mistakes Lyotard for making another metanarrative when he is actually all he is saying is that there is a suspicion of metanarratives.

    > This was actually quite frustrating. According to the lecturer, deconstruction amounts to the practice of intentionally misreading a text and lying about its contents. Nothing could be further from the practice of deconstruction. It is also not the practice of searching for a bias in a text in order to disregards to contents. Holy crap, seriously?!  In a nutshell, deconstruction is something that *happens”, not some kind of deception by the reader. 

    • Anthonyweber

      Jazz, thanks for weighing in.  My goal was to present postmodernism in it’s current pop culture form, not necessarily delve into its roots.  However, I do have some comments on what you had to say (I’ll use bullet points so I don’t have to work on transitions). 

      1) You are
      obviously correct about Neitzsche.  The quote I used did not suggest


      2) Deconstruction (decentering the
      subject) most certainly does allow for individual interpretation. Postmodern literary criticism
      looks for the unintended message in texts by looking for opposition, or clashes
      within the author’s writing or between his/her writing and other relevant texts.   By doing this, they seek to find out what’s really being said.  As a goal, that’s admirable.  It’s the method that troubles me.

            Richard Rorty said, “The term ‘deconstruction’ refers in the first instance to the way in which the ‘accidental’ features of a text can be seen as betraying, subverting, its purportedly ‘essential’ message.” Richard Ellmann called it the
      “systematic undoing of understanding.”  The back cover
      of a collection of essays by Derrida noted his idea that “linguistic meaning is fundamentally indeterminate.”   Jeremy Smith has noted that, in postmodernism, “we can only have competing perspectives on the world and no form of authentication of claims to true statements.” Deconstructionists may not intentionally misread the text, but they
      clearly have permission to do so.      After all, who decides the “accidental” or
      unintended messages? The one deconstructing.  And based on the bias of the
      reader, those accidental messages can be just about anything.  I find that to be a troublesome way of
      understanding communication     

      3) An incredulity toward metanarratives is a metanarrative. The New World
      Encyclopedia notes, ” Lyotard’s
      postmodern incredulity towards metanarratives could be said to be
      self-refuting.If one is skeptical of universal narratives such as
      “truth,” “knowledge,” “right,” or
      “wrong,” then there is no basis for believing the “truth”
      that metanarratives are being undermined. In this sense, this paradox of
      postmodernism is similar to the liar’s paradox (“This statement is
      false.”)….Postmodernism is an anti-theory, but uses theoretical tools to
      make its case.” 


       4) Fluidity of Identity. I am hardly the first person to note how a theory that offered some insight into how we are created by our environment was taken as a suggestion that we can not only create new selves, but should not be limited by societal or biological expectations about what it means to be “us.”   It may not reflect original postmodern thinking, but it’s where pop culture has taken it, and that was the point of my presentation. To better understand the point I was trying to make about pop culture influence, youmay find
      this article in The Examiner insightfull (