Thursday, December 08, 2005

One cheer for postmodern thought

Despite of most of the ”new theory” having proven to be such a blind alley for humanities it must be acknowleged that it has raised awareness of the polyfony of human experience: it has listened to silenced voices, to minorities, to the marginalized. There is much true value in that. The whole postmodern family of theories and schools of thought have also very analytically focused on the complex way that language interacts with the structures culture and society, and vitally important questions have been thus raised. Even if never satisfactorily answered. Yes, enormous amounts of energy have been wasted, incredibly much time has been lost to scholastic trivialities, but even amidst this gathering backlash we should remember the genuinely valuable contributions which have profoundly changed our perspectives for the better.

2 comments:

helsinkian said...

I think too there is a lot of good in postmodern thought. The ability to put everything into question is a great philosophical tradition and postmodern thought is quite a logical continuation on that path.

Yes, sometimes it seems a lot of time is wasted on trivialities and those trivialities give a convenient excuse not to see what else is happening. But that's what the scholastics already did in the Middle Ages. What about the sophists in Ancient Greece? A certain trivial way of putting things into question and not seeing them in perspective is perhaps quite a profound human trait.

Of course, postmodern means almost nothing as there are so many things beginning with post-. Most of those other things, not strictly postmodern but related to it, are very useful and already a step back into putting things into perspective. I think it depends on whether one is a postmodern purist or uses new insights in a creative combination with something else, bringing substance to the project.

When it comes to postmodern as such, I still haven't read Baudrillard or Lyotard (often credited with theorizing the whole thing in French philosophy) and don't feel able to pass judgment on what they meant by postmodern. It's like everybody is passing judgment on Freud without reading him. Of course, the reason not to have read Baudrillard or Lyotard has been that I haven't expected to get that much out of reading purely postmodern philosophers. Poststructuralism interests me somewhat but postmodernism itself has always sounded more like an academic marketing ploy to me.

stockholm slender said...

Yes, a good point on the inexactness of the term postmodern. I used it quite loosely, there are many strands of thought and some quite contradictory even, but at the same time I think it fairly easy to understand to what is referred to in practice. Post-structuralism to me is quite the core of postmodern philosophy, but I do realize that there differing opinions about that.