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Does Postmodernism Exist?

After reading several detailed explanations of postmodernism from a Christian perspective, many book-length or at least several chapters, I finally broke down and decided I need to tackle some postmodern philosophy for myself.  In general, three philosophers consistently rise to the top of the postmodern heap: Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Richard Rorty.  Francois Lyotard comes in as a distant fourth.  He loses points in my book for having a name that sounds like ballet clothing.  Derrida gets the most press time in Kevin Vanhoozer’s Is There a Meaning in This Text?, so he seemed like a good place to start.

I have to admit that after spending a bit of time with Derrida himself, I have absolutely no idea what he is trying to say.  In fact I’m not really sure I even get what postmodernism is about anymore.  Oh I understand how the critics of postmodernism characterize it.  Yet I wonder how an obscure writer like Derrida can be the major powerhouse of postmodernism that his critics make him out to be.  Every book I went back to that discusses Derrida includes a sentence like, “Derrida is notoriously difficult to understand.”  Great.  Why in the world did I pick him as my launching point?

To further add to the problem, Stan Grenz points to a book by Allan Megill that lays out the debate over whether Derrida even is a postmodern philosopher.  I also found out that Foucault never claimed the term for himself, and Rorty prefers to call his philosophy pragmatism rather than postmodernism.  The only real postmodern of the bunch is Lyotard.  I am beginning to wonder of postmoderism is just a bogeyman created by Christian apologists in order to help them feel better.  The truth of the matter, as is so often the case, is much more complicated than I was once led to believe.

It seems to me that postmodernism resists being defined and categorized.  This is itself good postmodern fashion.  But what’s the point?

  1. December 17, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    the most accurate description is that there are postmodernisms. but the idea of “being” postmodern or having a postmodern “community” is lost on me. the only really true self-described postmodernist is jean baudrillard and a few other cultural theorists. but its theory ground in a method of doing things that is anti-modern in intent. the idea started with architecture before moving into literary theory. jameson who wrote an influential book is a marxist as many who are called postmodern are! marx is about as modern as it gets.

    so when you hear things like, which i have heard before, “i am a postmodern” “postmodern community” “postmodern worship” “postmodern conversation” etc. ask them what they mean by postmodern. i doubt you will get a consistent or clear answer. the retort about lack of clarity is that this is what postmodernism is. derrida would freak out at such thinking as would other thinkers in the lot. that to them would be laziness and not much else!

  2. December 17, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Good post.

    Post-modernism is modernism taken to its logical conclusions. Think nihilism, but even “truth” has become meaningless (That’s an outsider’s description.).

    I can’t follow any of them. Maybe its because my social-construct of language is much different than theirs. Maybe I’m just not that smart.

  3. Pam
    March 8, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    “It seems to me that postmodernism resists being defined and categorized. This is itself good postmodern fashion. But what’s the point?”—exactly! I am still way confused about the meaning of post-modernity.

  4. April 2, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    Thanks Pam. If you (or anyone else who stumbles upon this blog) come back and keep commenting, I’ll start posting more again.

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