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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