Postmodernism

Someone on Quora just asked some important questions about postmodernism. Do postmoderns really believe there’s no objective truth? Do they think human knowledge is always biased? What are some other academic follies from history?

Here’s my answer:

You’ve been misinformed. Of course there’s objective truth. But you’re right that information is always filtered through our personalities, experience, culture, and other factors.

Here’s one of my favorite quotations from Jacques Derrida: [“The] value of truth …is never contested or destroyed in my writings, but only reinscribed in larger, more stratified contexts” (Norris, Postmodernism 44-45).

My favorite example of postmodern thinking is our modern skepticism about once-hallowed institutions like the monarchy, government, and religion.

Postmoderns no longer believe in privileged institutions. We are skeptical about claims that church officials and government leaders have an exalted mandate. We realize that often they are conspiring (away from the public eye) to protect their own interests.

They sometimes use grand ideas to make us feel that they live in a rarefied atmosphere that the rest of us don’t understand, and for millennia they’ve gotten away with it.

Another example: feminism would be impossible without postmodernism. We have only very recently started to dismantle the ideology of male privilege.

My own interest in postmodernism focuses mostly on language. Again, we are much more skeptical about language than we used to be. For a long time people believed that philosophical and religious language were privileged and different from ordinary language. They didn’t use rhetorical tricks. They were a fast lane to truth. Again, that thinking is fading away.

You (and the rest of us!) have plenty of postmodernism in your head. Like water, it’s always there, and that means we’re not aware of it.

Don’t label it a folly. That’s not worthy of you.

Christopher Norris’s book Jacques Derrida is the best work I’ve ever read on postmodernism.

Or you might enjoy The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. (I’m sure she didn’t know she was writing a postmodern book!) Watch how she dismantles the ideology surrounding male/female roles. (She was a Marxist when she was in college, and the postmodern project of questioning exalted ideologies really begins with Marx.)

                    Betty Friedan

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