Search Results for Postmodernism
Postmodernism is a term that became popular in the 1970′s but which arguably has antecedents spanning back through the centuries.
While social theorists often try to define concepts through some core idea, postmodernism is somewhat difficult in this regard. Few seem to clearly agree as to its definition. This is partly because it questions the very act of defining, labeling, signifying and so on.
If postmodernism has a core idea, it might be to say that it paradoxically has no basic core idea upon which to stand. But that doesn’t render it meaningless, as amorphous as it may be.
In one sense, postmodernism is a reaction against the kind of scientific certainty which had been associated with the enlightenment and modernism. It’s also a reaction against the proclaimed truths of religion.
Concerning scientific truth claims, postmoderns challenge the idea of “natural laws” from which we can accurately predict future events. This challenge is especially prevalent in the social sciences.
In psychology, postmodernism questions the idea of a stable, eternal, unchanging aspect of the self, such as a soul. Perhaps the ironically enduring truth of many postmoderns is their conviction that all truth claims are relative to a given society or subculture.
Michel Foucault, for instance, says that power is the creative agency which generates social truth. For Foucault, power not only represses individuals and certain types of belief, knowledge and practice but also has the ability to create discourses of truth that may have tangible effects on persons and their bodies.
Since power in this sense constructs truth, postmoderns are often concerned to “deconstruct” taken for granted truth claims.
In the arts, postmoderns tend to mix different elements from various styles and genres. And the notion of the ‘fragment’ is totally acceptable in postmodern art, literature and philosophy. An example might be in rap, hiphop and even club music where digital sampling makes it possible to easily reproduce disparate past musical and non-musical sounds and mix them into an entirely new artistic outcome.
The postmodern scene is arguably becoming more holistic, even spiritual, particularly with figures like Jacques Derrida who talks about a ‘metaphysical space’ in between links in endless chains of connotation, and Stuart Hall whose cross-cultural perspective opens doors (or at least points to open doors) which formerly were unopened.
Additionally, the whole notion of ‘postmodern theology’ shifts the meaning once again as to what it means to be postmodern. Daniel J. Adams’ “Toward a Theological Understanding of Postmodernism” (Cross Currents, Winter 1997-98, Vol. 47 Issue 4 ) might be taking postmodernism in the opposite direction from which it began; it says that postmodernism is actually restoring the sacred in an age turned off by religious dogma and yet ironically blinded by the new dogmas of scientific materialism.
Those aware of these latest trends in postmodern thought would realize that a responsible view of the individual in society takes into account the idea that human beings are not just biological, psychological and social beings, but also spiritual beings. And any mature postmodern thinker would explore the spiritual element of human belief and experience, incorporating it within their vision of self and society.
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Jean A Baudrillard (1929-2007) was a French postmodern theorist who has become popular within academia. Following thinkers like Marshal McLuhan and Roland Barthes, Baudrillard asks whether we can draw a precise line between media hype and reality.
In The Gulf War Did Not Take Place (French: 1991, English: 1995) he discusses the Gulf War as a “media event.” This was controversial at the time, mostly because it seemed to trivialize so many actual human deaths. But some argue that, despite the weird title, Baudrillard doesn’t mock the tragedy. His supporters say that he merely offers an opinion as to how the tragedy fits into the larger picture of global economics, media imagery and what Berger and Luckman called the social construction of reality.”
Over the years Baudrillard developed two central concepts to describe his views: the hyperreal and simulacra. The hyperreal comes from the presence of simulacra. Simulacra are linguistic signifiers totally divorced from their original meanings. Baudrillard argues that, over time, the original meanings of signs gets distorted, or in some cases submerged, only to visibly reemerge in different historical periods. With its reemergence a sign is transformed and takes on new meanings in its new cultural setting. So at some point, the process of signification loses its original meaning and we have simulacra of what were once signs.
Baudrillard sees this process as passing through three phases: First, signs correspond to reality. Sloppy clothing, for instance, once meant that someone was poor and of lower class. Second, signs become subject to industrial production. Photography, for instance, allows the same sign to be reproduced ad infinitum. Third, signs are cut off from the original context and meanings. Sloppy clothes worn by a wealthy rock star, for instance, take on a totally new cultural connotation. And the same “look” is quickly reproduced by industrialists hoping that impressionable teens will try to emulate a pop idol. Thus sloppy clothes are suddenly desirable within certain sectors of the population where previously they had been undesirable and avoided at all costs.
However, this example only goes so far because the wealthy have dressed sloppily on purpose for various effects in other historical periods. The difference for Baudrillard is the mass marketing aspect. And the hyperreal refers not just to a reversal of previous connotations but to an abolishment of a former reality. As such, the line between real and fantasy is blurred. Culture “implodes” because any thinking person fully realizes that what they see on the TV news, for instance, is similar to a carefully scripted movie, with a carefully coordinated set. And that which signs apparently represent is, by thinking people, taken with a grain of salt.
According to Baudrillard, the so-called “respectable” media does the same thing as the vulgar, in your face tabloids. But respectable media does it far more subtly, combining fact and fantasy so smoothly that it’s nearly impossible to differentiate between the two.
The main problem with Baurdrillard’s work lies is his assumption that, at one time in the distant past, signs connoted fixed, uniform meanings. Anyone who reads history will find that different groups have always been in conflict over the meaning of signs, the biblical Golden Calf being one classic example. Also, different individuals within a given group would most likely have variously interpreted the meaning of such a sign. Also,politicians, teachers, and public speakers like the Sophists have always been mixing fact with fiction in order to appear legitimate.
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A Dogma is a doctrine or a creed that can refer to religious or non-religious belief. The word “dogma” comes from the Greek dogma (“opinion” or “that which seems good”).¹ Dogma often refers to beliefs articulated and endorsed by the Papacy of the Roman Catholic Church, apparently derived from divine revelation, and to be accepted by believers despite the lack of conventional scientific evidence to support them.
But the word dogma has also been applied within the philosophy of science. For instance, Willard Quine wrote a seminal paper, Two Dogmas of Empiricism, which levels a devastating critique of those who uncritically accept truth claims made by scientists.²
In everyday usage, the word dogma can refer to any kind of authoritarian claim that demands or depends on unquestioning belief. For instance, we have dogmas about healthy eating habits, normal sleep patterns, the efficacy of some green products, what constitutes intelligence and success, to name a few.
¹ S. G. F. Brandon (ed.) Dictionary of Comparative Religion, 1971, pp. 244-245.
² Unfortunately, if someone is callow or careless enough to be uncritically blinded by science, they probably won’t take the time to try to understand what Quine is saying.
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Traditionally, the term discourse was applied to any kind of serious treatise or homily that was used for educational or pastoral purposes. A good example of the older usage of discourse can be found in Rene Descartes’ Discourse on the Method (1637).¹
But with the rise of postmodernism, the idea of discourse underwent something of a revolution. Instead of representing the “last word” on a given topic, discourses now became socially relative truth claims. And rather than being perceived as originating from some great authority on high, to be received by a passive audience, the new idea of discourse is far more intersubjective. That is, in the grand scheme of things, one truth claim is about as good as another.
The poststructuralist thinker Michel Foucault popularized the idea of discourse as an essentially political utterance. The key for Foucault is that discourse (as relative instead of absolute truth) always occurs within a relational matrix of social power. For Foucault, a given discourse actually creates a specific truth. This truth is relative to the network from which it emerges. In postmodernism, which includes but also extends to thinkers other than Foucault, discourses may be vocal, written or gestural.
The Foucauldian understanding of discourse also includes institutionalized practices (e.g. the school system) or even architectural statements connoting a certain truth claim about a given group or society (e.g. 1 WTC, Burj Khalifa, CN Tower, Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building, Taj Mahal).
In addition, Foucault maintains that different discourses may take similar forms. For instance, political and economic discourses of the 18th and 19th centuries embrace discursive styles reflecting the scientific belief in evolution.
In the 21st century, giving a discourse a scientific look and feel may enhance its social legitimacy, appeal to the masses, and therefore have real effects. This is perhaps most obvious in TV ads, where products are often endorsed by actors portraying scientists, doctors and nurses. Dressing up ads in the garb of science is one form of scientism.
Interestingly, some contend that all of science (and not just cheesy ads) is really just another kind of mythmaking. These critics argue that science is always biased at some level, has degrees of institutionalized corruption, and reflects some kind of culturally relative paradigm (way of seeing the world).
From this perspective, science is a kind of temporary fiction. Its method does generate practical and helpful results. But some argue that scientists should better recognize their limits and not make overblown truth claims based on the visible successes of the scientific method. After all, this method is, to put it simply, one that tests hypotheses. And any hypothesis is always subject to falsification—if not today, perhaps tomorrow. So technologies usually improve, as does our grasp of ourselves and the world around us.
¹ This historical introduction is derived from David Macey’s The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory, 2000, pp. 100-101.
- Foucault: His Thought, His Character (review) 2012 (foucaultnews.com)
- Wrong-Doing, Truth-Telling by Foucault (2013) (foucaultnews.com)
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To some, existentialism is a bleak philosophical worldview. To others, it’s the only sane solution to a seemingly insane world. Existentialism most visible originator is probably Søren Kierkegaard but its best known proponent is Jean-Paul Sartre.
Sartre put a lot of very basic ideas into catchy phrases and hence made a celebrity out of himself. And this exemplifies what existentialism is all about: The creation of meaning and purpose from a human world said to be meaningless and uprooted from nature.
According to Sartre, one creates meaning and purpose out of absurdity by choosing to make commitments to an ideal or movement deemed worthwhile.
Unlike animals supposedly bound by stimulus and response, Sartre says a “gap of nothingness” that lies between our present and past means that we are able to choose. Thus we’re “condemned to be free.”
Existentialism was in vogue in the late 1950′s and 1960′s among beatniks, hippies, journalists and academics. As David Bowie rather amusingly puts it in the song “Join the gang” (1967):
Let me introduce you to the gang
Johnny plays the sitar, he’s an existentialist
Once he had a name, now he plays our game
You won’t feel so good now that you’ve joined the gang
Sartre’s stardom in the halls of academia was generally succeeded by Karl Marx in the 1970s, by the postmoderns in the 1980s, and by the likes of Wittgenstein and Noam Chomsky in the 1990s. Other famous existentialists include Simone de Beauvoir (1908-86) and Albert Camus (1913-60).
- Sartre Quotes at Thinkexist.com
- Day 15,463. Existential Rabbits. (grousendale.wordpress.com)
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- A review of Jean-Paul Sartre’s ‘Nausea’ (tobagostars.wordpress.com)
- Canadian spies tracked philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre during Quebec political upheaval (news.nationalpost.com)
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- Jean-Paul Sartre, the apostle of absurdity… (integratedcatholiclife.org)
The emic-etic debate originates from the work of linguist Kenneth L. Pike. It’s sometimes called the insider-outsider problem. The emic-etic debate has far-reaching implications for the social sciences.
In anthropology, the emic model refers to an indigenous people’s understanding of their own cultural representations, whereas the etic model is an outsider’s perspective of those indigenous cultural representations.
These categories have been roundly critiqued. Emic models are often said to have been discovered by an outside researcher but current trends question the neutrality of external observers. So formalized statements made by external observers are seen as exogenous constructions, making any supposed emic theory about a people’s beliefs unavoidably etic.
The idea that theories developed within the humanities and social sciences are social constructions instead of uncovered, formerly hidden truths leads to the area of poststructuralism and postmodernism.
Other questions arise that are seldom addressed by social scientists. For instance, we cannot be certain that each member of an indigenous community believes in their group’s cultural representations, or if each member believes in the same way. Could some be pretending to believe for material security or social expedience?
And concerning religious officials, might some secretly doubt but feign certainty not just for the previous reasons but also, perhaps, for fear of being wrong and offending a deity?
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Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was a French social and historical thinker best known for his contribution to (what has been called) poststructuralism.
Foucault was a homosexual and experienced some friction over this. Succumbing to AIDS, his cultural and intellectual legacy is considerable.
Some argue that Foucault’s view is too bleak, placing undue emphasis on social power as the sole force which creates socially relative discourses and discursive practices. There isn’t too much room for “love and compassion” as a driving social force in Foucault’s analyses, although he does address this and related ideas from the perspective of deconstruction.
He read voraciously. Legend has it that each day he would return home from the library carrying a stack of books that he’d pour over that very night.
Foucault’s major works are Madness and Civilization (1961), The Birth of the Clinic (1963), The Order of Things (1966), Discipline and Punish (1975) and History of Sexuality (1976).
His later views about the creative power of discourse are perhaps best summed up in a series of interviews, published the book Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977 (1980). And as Shaheryar Ali suggests, he had a profound influence on what was to become the ‘New Historicism’ » See in context
Foucault’s ideas are too numerous and comlicated to cover in a short entry. But searching within this site, using any of the following keywords will help to demonstrate the depth and breadth of his thought: Archaeology, Athleticism, Bourdieu (Pierre), Counter-Discourse, Deviance, Discourse, DSM-IV-TR, False Consciousness, Hegel (Georg Wilhelm Friedrich), History, Hobbes (Thomas), Illness, Language, Madness, Marx (Karl), Meme, Myth, Postmodernism, Sign, Szasz (Thomas)
On the World Wide Web:
- Michel Foucault: Free Lectures on Truth, Discourse & The Self (downes.ca)
- Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Volume I: Re-reading its Reproduction (2012) (foucaultnews.wordpress.com)
- Foucault’s 1968 (2012) (foucaultnews.wordpress.com)
- False Consciousness (earthpages.wordpress.com)
- Revisiting Michel Foucault and His Contributions to Social Theory (2010) (stanfordgirlusa.wordpress.com)
- Foucault and Familial Power (2012) (foucaultnews.wordpress.com)
- The Identity Game: Michel Foucault’s Discourse-Mediated Identity as an Effective Tool for Achieving a Narrative-Based Ethic (2011) (foucaultnews.wordpress.com)
- Magnus Opium’s Note on the Madness and Metaphysics Debate (magnusopium.wordpress.com)
In the academic world it’s often assumed that the acquisition of different languages makes for a better, more valuable scholar. While this often may be the case, it’s not always.
For Bourdieu and other sociologists like Max Weber, social institutions – like universities – tend to legitimize themselves. Western universities, for example, are compelled to justify high tuition fees coupled with boring, run of the mill professors exhibiting mediocre analytical skills and a limited ability to think creatively.
As socially recognized and highly competitive organs of knowledge dissemination, universities strive to produce a certain quota of publications. Meanwhile, many scholars and the reading public tend to uncritically associate the knowledge of original languages with rational, coherent thought and scholarly legitimacy.
This is a book for people, not for scholars. Real scholars will read the Sanskrit; would-be scholars, or scholars from other fields, will fight their way through the translations of Geldner (German), Renou (French), Elizarenkova (Russian) and others; they will search the journals for articles on each verse, and on each word; they will pore over the dictionaries and concordances (Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, The Rig Veda, London: Penguin, 1981, p. 11).
And in footnote:
See appendix 3 for a bibliography of translations into European languages (Ibid).
While O’Flaherty lists noteworthy Asian commentators and Asian translators who render the Veda into European languages, interestingly enough, no mention is made of translations into contemporary Asian languages like Japanese, Korean or Mandarin.
She says the European translations are intended to encourage the “would-be scholar to make a better guess” than her own “educated guess on several problematic points” arrived at “by using the available scholarship” (Ibid., p. 12).
Does O’Flaherty contradict herself by elevating the ability of so-called “real scholars” while conceding that knowledge of an original language does not guarantee “correct” understanding?
If knowledge of original languages did guarantee correct understanding, the meanings of specific words and phrases in most ancient texts would not be continually debated and re-translated. By way of example, there’s no need to try to figure out what Sir Isaac Newton was trying to say with his three laws of motion, because we all get it. Ancient words and phrases, however, are continually being reinterpreted by self-proclaimed experts on the basis of new archeological findings, shifting academic approaches and societal changes.
With the exception of O’Flaherty and a handful of others, most translators go to great lengths to try to justify their particular rendering of problematic terms. They attempt to convince the reader that their ability to discern original meanings is as strong or stronger than all the other ‘specialists.’
And not only that. Many scholars push narrow-minded or far-fetched claims to make their translation of certain terms conform to their own point of view. In short, linguists and translators can disagree quite dramatically. These conflicted meanings arguably arise partly from incompetence, ignorance, ambition, and opinionated or wishful thinking.
Translation is clearly subject to human bias. Even with concerted and informed attempts to offer accurate translations, it’s doubtful that these biases may be eradicated. And even if translators could go through a time machine and be present when the ancient texts were actually written, the central obstacle to a precise and exact understanding of certain terms would persist: The translators themselves did not write the original text.
It seems safe to say that one can, in most instances, never fully understand another person’s mode of thinking and intent. To complicate things, consider contemporary English literature about which English-speaking scholars produce seemingly endless commentaries about the actual or “intended” meanings of certain English words and symbols. These intense debates occur within the very same language as that of the original texts.
Here, the student of religion may argue that religious texts differ from fiction because the former refer to fixed, unalterable truths. But this claim is complicated by the fact that the meaning of some religious terms change over time-such as angel and asura.
Moreover, the religious believer could say they have an advantage over regimented scholars because they possess higher forms of perception-that is, the alleged true meaning of a term is revealed or infused by God, even when reading that term in translation.
The scholar of religion cannot really prove or disprove such a claim. But scholars do point out that many apparently ‘revealed truths’ among believers often seem to contradict one another.
Meanwhile, several postmodern writers intentionally write texts with open-ended, ambiguous meanings. This creates, they say, a living dialogue between writer and reader instead of a dead monologue from writer to reader. The result, they seem to believe, is a ‘literary novel’ of higher value than say, ‘trashy pulp fiction.’ But arbitrary distinctions like this can become ingrained among literary circles, and are often loaded with unsavory, elitist connotations.
Another point to consider is that some believe that writers, themselves, may not be fully aware of their own intended meanings. And this is the underlying basis to a psychoanalytic approach to literature.
Clearly, scholars can and do produce insightful works without much knowledge of original languages. A good example would be John Kerr’s A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein (1993). Kerr openly admits to drawing upon the work of several translators. And perhaps this is a stronger method than merely relying on one’s own particular and possibly idiosyncratic translation of original texts.
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Modernism is a very broad term depicting a late 19th to mid 20th century movement in art, architecture, music, thought and theology.
This movement questioned preexisting beliefs and conventions while exploring new avenues of originality and creative synthesis.
Generally, modernism is taken as a period of “de-centering,” as illustrated in the artistic movement of cubism, T. S. Eliot’s Waste Land and the 12-tone compositions of Arnold Schoenberg.
C. G. Jung’s challenge to both Freud and orthodox Christianity is often regarded as another instance of modernism. However, several contemporary thinkers now see Jung as an early postmodern, in addition to his role in linking depth psychology and spirituality.
Also, Jung’s emphasis on a center to the psyche makes it difficult to classify him as a modern.
Search Think Free » Postmodernism, Picasso
On the Web
- “Synchronicity and Poststructuralism: C. G. Jung’s Secularization of the Supramundane,” Ph.D. thesis by Michael W. Clark (PDF 21.25 mb)
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