postmodernism: yea or nay

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postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Freyja » Mon Jun 23, 2008 7:27 am UTC

I'm at work right now and it's three in the morning, which means i have loads of nothing to do. And because i'd love hearing other's thoughts on this, i'm going to share an e-mail i just sent to my buddy Alisto. I'm just copying and pasting an excerpt here:

So then i got thinking about how, from what little philosophy i've read, my thoughts tend to be postmodernist. And how i agree with much of postmodernism. But also how i see some issues with it. Or rather, not with postmodernism. More like how i see some issues with how people *interpret* and work (rather ironically) in the confines of postmodernism.

The following is a brief overview of my thoughts on the current state of postmodernism and what's coming from it. (i've thought about this before, but i'm also adding a lot to it as i type, so this is very nearly a stream-of-consciousness kind of e-mail)

Postmodernism, as a rule, embraces diversity and complexity. It seems to have more or less grown in response to the minimalist and inadequate foundations of modernism, which explains why postmodernist views more or less define the world as a set of complex interactions of widely varied components. Some critics of postmodernism seem to target this perception head-on, saying that it over analyzes things, makes them too complex. And these critics essentially sit on a pair of forked branches stemming from postmodernism itself.

So we have a chart (or "family tree") that looks something like this:

all that really old stuff --> Romanticism --> Modernism --> Postmodernism -- [fork in branch] --> Reversion or "Remoderism" (branch I) and "Post-postmodernism" (branch II)

The Reversion/"Remodernism" branch seems self-explanatory. These people disdain postmodernism and have circled back around to modernism (which leads to the potential for a circular evolution, and how cool would that be?). Then there's the Post-postmodernism approach. I highly doubt most of these people would define themselves as such, since they're not quite so likely to even think about this stuff in the first place. But it seems that, by and large, people who i would tag as post-postmodernist have a largely pessimistic, anxiety-driven view. They note the holes in postmodernism (primarily citing the excessive complexity of post-modernist interpretations) and unconsciously arrange themselves into a new school of thought.

However, it seems to me that this might be the wrong approach to take (or if not exactly "wrong", since i'm loathe to say that in this sort of discussion, then perhaps "unnecessary" would be the better word choice). What we need is not a new school of thought- or, in the case of remodernists, a return to the old school- but rather a renovation of the current school.

In other words, don't fix what's not broken, but do feel free to make adjustments and offer improvements.

Focus less on the complexity of individual components within the whole and more on the complexity of the interactions of those individual components. Since everything seems to be made of progressively smaller components, analyzing the interactions of the larger components will invariably and appropriately lead to the analyzation and definition of those individual components and their own composition (much like the structure of a molecule, which is made of atoms, which are made of protons, electrons, and neutrons... and so on). Look at the world not as an advanced mammal, but as something more like a Portuguese man-o'-war.

Pay attention to individual trees and take note of their species, but never lose sight of the forest.

Keep in mind that everything is relative and must be interpreted in context, if at all. Do that, and you need not fear running the risk of generalization or over-simplification.

This may seem a deviation from what is widely thought of as postmodernism, and perhaps in some ways it is. Yet this is not a new school of thought so much as it is a new department within the school in question.


So what about the rest of you guys? I'm not a philosophy student- in fact, i haven't taken a single class on the subject- so i'm sure there are plenty of holes in my reasoning. But the root of my thoughts is that i've read a bit of negative criticism regarding postmodernism. But it seems to me that the problem isn't postmodernism, but the intellectual cowardice and/or impotency of many so-called postmodernists.

Anyone want to help me bounce this one around a bit?
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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby seladore » Mon Jun 23, 2008 8:06 am UTC

Apologies if this is rambling, but I'm just going to write as ideas come to me: it's too early in the morning to construct a structured post.


Postmodernism is ultimately meaningless. I'm not even sure what it is, in any real sense. I guess it's a framework through which the world can be interpreted? In my view, postmodernism is utterly banal and trite, and hides this behind a screen of obsfucated language. It is the confused result of sheer intellectual laziness.

Have you heard of the 'Sokal Affair'? Alan Sokal (a physicist) submitted to the postmodern journal "Social Text' a paper which was literally nonsense: he wrote it with the express intention of it appearing to be a typical postmodern piece of writing, but having no content whatsoever. The paper got accepted and published.
This, for me, reveals everything you need to know about postmodernism - the whole affair is smoke and mirrors. There is nothing to it at all, but pseudo-intellectual posturing.

Among the criticisms made of postmodernism by Alan Sokal, are that it

  • [uses] scientific or pseudoscientific terminology without bothering much about what these words mean.
  • Imports concepts from the natural sciences into the humanities without the slightest justification, and without providing any rationale for their use.
  • Displays superficial erudition by shamelessly throwing around technical terms where they are irrelevant, presumably to impress and intimidate the non-specialist reader.
  • Manipulates words and phrases that are, in fact, meaningless. Self-assurance on topics far beyond the competence of the author and exploiting the prestige of science to give discourses a veneer of rigor.

I'm sure everyone has heard of the postmodern feminist (Luce Irigaray) claiming that E=mc[imath]^2[/imath] is a sexed equation, as it privileges the speed of light over other, equally important speeds.

Read what Jacques Derrida had to say about the theory of relativity:
Jacques Derrida wrote:The Einsteinian constant is not a constant, is not a center. It is the very concept of variability - it is, finally, the concept of the game. In other words, it is not the concept of something--of a center starting from which an observer could master the field - but the very concept of the game.


This is utter nonsense - in Sokal's words, "not even incorrect, but just gibberish"

Noam Chomsky wrote:There are lots of things I don't understand -- say, the latest debates over whether neutrinos have mass or the way that Fermat's last theorem was (apparently) proven recently. But from 50 years in this game, I have learned two things: (1) I can ask friends who work in these areas to explain it to me at a level that I can understand, and they can do so, without particular difficulty; (2) if I'm interested, I can proceed to learn more so that I will come to understand it. Now Derrida, Lacan, Lyotard, Kristeva, etc. --- even Foucault, whom I knew and liked, and who was somewhat different from the rest --- write things that I also don't understand, but (1) and (2) don't hold: no one who says they do understand can explain it to me and I haven't a clue as to how to proceed to overcome my failures. That leaves one of two possibilities: (a) some new advance in intellectual life has been made, perhaps some sudden genetic mutation, which has created a form of "theory" that is beyond quantum theory, topology, etc., in depth and profundity; or (b) ... I won't spell it out.


This pretty much sums up my views.

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Freyja » Mon Jun 23, 2008 8:19 am UTC

Oh i definitely agree that most postmodernists are totally full of shit. But like i said, i think the problem lies with postmodernists and not postmodernism itself. The idea of postmodernism as a framework is a great approach for anthropological topics and i've used the fundamental principles (unknowingly, i admit) in my papers.

I did once hear about the Sokal Affair, but i think that the fallout really just supports the idea that the problem is postmodernists and not the school of thought. Judith Butler's work, for instance, has a distinct postmodernist slant and she's been criticized as writing book after book of nothing at all. But while i agree that a lot of it seems meaningless, the ideas behind her work are actually quite meaningful. You just have to dig through a lot of junk to get through to it.

Perhaps the real problem is that most postmodernists just like to hear themselves speak.
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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Varsil » Mon Jun 23, 2008 8:53 am UTC

Postmodernism is a con job. What has merit in it is simple and was not new or unique to postmodernism. The school of thought is essentially a way for people who have nothing useful to say to pretend at being profound by hiding simple and/or stupid arguments in a smokescreen of writing made deliberately arcane so as to hinder understanding.

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Iv » Mon Jun 23, 2008 9:08 am UTC

Freyja wrote:But like i said, i think the problem lies with postmodernists and not postmodernism itself. The idea of postmodernism as a framework is a great approach for anthropological topics and i've used the fundamental principles (unknowingly, i admit) in my papers.


If we can consider postmodernism without considering postmodernists, I challenge you to provide a meaningful description of postmodernism, what are its principles, what are its assumptions, what conclusions it drew.

From the OP, it looks like the only definition we have is "postmodernist views more or less define the world as a set of complex interactions of widely varied components." What is new in that ? Can't the same be said of science. From my point of view it really seems like postmodernists are not interested in making these complex interaction understandable, otherwise they would be scientists. Their main goal is to obfuscate as much as possible the world model in order to be able to infer unverifiable claims. It may be valid from an artistic point of view, bur from a scientific point of viex, this is just dishonest.

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Freyja » Mon Jun 23, 2008 9:42 am UTC

Iv wrote:If we can consider postmodernism without considering postmodernists, I challenge you to provide a meaningful description of postmodernism, what are its principles, what are its assumptions, what conclusions it drew.

From the OP, it looks like the only definition we have is "postmodernist views more or less define the world as a set of complex interactions of widely varied components." What is new in that ? Can't the same be said of science. From my point of view it really seems like postmodernists are not interested in making these complex interaction understandable, otherwise they would be scientists. Their main goal is to obfuscate as much as possible the world model in order to be able to infer unverifiable claims. It may be valid from an artistic point of view, bur from a scientific point of viex, this is just dishonest.


But it is valid from a scientific point of view. Perhaps not for sciences such as physics and chemistry, and i'm not going to attempt to argue for it because my exposure to those fields has been minimal (in fact, i've never even touched a chemistry textbook and i barely passed physics). In anthropology, however, it's totally valid. Postmodernism embraces the holistic perspective, which is a core tenet of anthropology.

The definition you quoted may not be "new", but that doesn't mean it isn't a good idea. What matters is the interpretation and implementation of said interpretation of that definition rather than the definition itself. To say simply that "postmodernist views more or less define the world as a set of complex interactions of widely varied components" might not seem like much. But if you put it in the context of examining culturally relative ideals- especially aspects of fringe movements- it's fantastic. And, in a way, it really is "new".

One problem with a lot of social scientists- anthropologists included- is that they have a rather limited scope. They may be holistic in principle, but not in practice. They see a room as something composed of four walls, a floor, and a ceiling. But if you apply a postmodernist approach, those four walls, floor, and ceiling serve other functions. My apartment floor, for instance, is another apartment's ceiling. And my ceiling is someone else's floor.

This approach is especially important when looking at something like categories in the construction of a social identity. I, for instance, may be tossed into any number of categories, including female, queer, military brat, and so on. I may use any one of these to identify myself and to identify with others in a community, but no single one of them defines me as a whole person. Individually, they are important, but the collaborative use of these labels is equally important.

As for providing a definition of postmodernism, i admit that i'm not entirely satisfied with any single definition i've come across. I'm hashing out a definition on my own and i'd like to do a bit more thinking and reading before i settle on any one interpretation. However, there is one thing i would include in that definition, and that's the fact that everything is relative (in anthropological terms, not mathematical) and a holistic approach is vital to understanding the world around us.
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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Asleep or Wrong » Mon Jun 23, 2008 9:53 am UTC

i'm rather curious as to exactly what you goodly folks are talking about when you type "postmodernism." we note someone talkin shit about foucault and lacan, so i guess (post)structuralism is in on this.

we recommend the article on postmodernism in the stanford encyclopedia of philosophy as a base text, it's pretty okay for a topical encyclopaedic article.
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/postmodernism/

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Iv » Mon Jun 23, 2008 10:14 am UTC

Freyja wrote:But it is valid from a scientific point of view. Perhaps not for sciences such as physics and chemistry, and i'm not going to attempt to argue for it because my exposure to those fields has been minimal (in fact, i've never even touched a chemistry textbook and i barely passed physics). In anthropology, however, it's totally valid. Postmodernism embraces the holistic perspective, which is a core tenet of anthropology.

Nay. It is not valid in physics, it not valid in anthropology, it is not valid in sciences. The goal of sciences is to harness the complexity of the world into simpler abstract object that can be manipulated in order to draw conclusions, predictions, plans of action. Voluntary complexification of a model without improvement of the results is called obfuscation. It is interesting from an artistic point of view (in fact I am a huge fan of this) but from a scientific point of view, this is undesirable. In science, simple models are, most of time, imperfect but yield some minimal results. Scientific progress can arguably be defined as the complexification of these system by experimentally verifiable steps.


Freyja wrote:The definition you quoted may not be "new", but that doesn't mean it isn't a good idea.

Oh, it is an excellent idea. In fact it is such an old idea that this is the mains goal of science ever since it was called "natural philosophy" : studying the interactions about stuff.

Freyja wrote:To say simply that "postmodernist views more or less define the world as a set of complex interactions of widely varied components" might not seem like much. But if you put it in the context of examining culturally relative ideals- especially aspects of fringe movements- it's fantastic. And, in a way, it really is "new".

Well, it is a good idea to do so in anthropology. But you better call it "anthropology" than call it "postmodernism". You probably want to mix data from genetics, with geological data, cultural data, neuropsychology, linguistics and so on... The last thing you want is some guy who will pretend that quantum physics is fundamentally anti-feminist. (I can dig the source if you want) and that every fact you will present him will prove his point.

Freyja wrote:This approach is especially important when looking at something like categories in the construction of a social identity. I, for instance, may be tossed into any number of categories, including female, queer, military brat, and so on. I may use any one of these to identify myself and to identify with others in a community, but no single one of them defines me as a whole person. Individually, they are important, but the collaborative use of these labels is equally important.

Yes, and why does such an information processing require postmodernism chunks ? What you say is that several properties can identify you according to some properties you share with different sets of people. You are an intersection of many sets. From there you can draw theories, try to prove them, confront them with other theories and if your theories bring interesting results, it will be worth consideration. This is the hard path of science.

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Varsil » Mon Jun 23, 2008 10:22 am UTC

Asleep or Wrong wrote:http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/postmodernism/


Yep, when I talk about trash pretending to be clever by being deliberately obfuscated, things like that article are exactly what I am referring to.

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Asleep or Wrong » Mon Jun 23, 2008 10:27 am UTC

Varsil wrote:
Asleep or Wrong wrote:http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/postmodernism/


Yep, when I talk about trash pretending to be clever by being deliberately obfuscated, things like that article are exactly what I am referring to.

???????????
what parts of that page were opaque? i guess the word games thing might require some more background than is given but the rest is a pretty straightfoward explanation of postmodernism.

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Iv » Mon Jun 23, 2008 11:29 am UTC

Asleep or Wrong wrote:what parts of that page were opaque? i guess the word games thing might require some more background than is given but the rest is a pretty straightfoward explanation of postmodernism.

Not opaque as "I don't know that word" but opaque as "I know that word but it can't be used in that way." If we are to take the first paragraph (I can't believe I am actually doing a postmodernism analysis):
That postmodernism is indefinable is a truism. However, it can be described as a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practices employing concepts such as difference, repetition, the trace, the simulacrum, and hyperreality to destabilize other concepts such as presence, identity, historical progress, epistemic certainty, and the univocity of meaning.

Let me extract some of the things in that text that appears, on first (very) quick read, to be coherent.
"hyperreality is a concept employed to destabilize some other concepts" (rephrased but coherent with the source). You'll have to explain to me :
1. What hyperreality is supposed to be
2. What destabilizing a context means
3. How hyperreality can be used in such a way

Next : "it can be described as a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practices".
1. Critical practices : Ok, I suppose this supposes a skeptical mindset. It makes sense.
2. Strategic practices : I know the word "strategic", I just can't link this work to any of its various sense so that this sentence becomes enlightening. Obviously we are not talking about military theories, so it is maybe something from game theories, that would suppose an opponent (who? the reader ?) and some rules (which ones ?) but all of these questions are left unanswered.
3. Rhetorical practices : We know these. It basically means "if you can't make it be right, make it sound right". That is usually perceived as a bad way to prove things.

The thing is that these words are understandable, and if I have to ask the meaning of something like "strategic" it is easy to retort me something along the line "If you don't know what strategic means, this essay is not for you". I have the opinion that this postmodernism stuff is more a self-sustaining sociological construct than a set of theories.

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby proof_man » Mon Jun 23, 2008 12:46 pm UTC

edit
Last edited by proof_man on Fri May 17, 2013 12:31 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby seladore » Mon Jun 23, 2008 3:08 pm UTC

proof_man wrote:a few things (discaimer: i'm invested in the humanites...):
1) i don't find postmodernism too exciting, but i don't agree that it is necessarily all bee-ess. could somebody who thinks that the ideas are meaningless please explain to me which specific ones are bad and how they are exactly without any merit? i've heard postmodernism used more as a punchline than with sincerity, but i haven't really heard any justification for calling it baseless that actually engages the material (picking weird looking sentences out of context does not count).


To pull an example out of the air, Baudrillard claimed, pre-gulf war, that the gulf war would not happen.

After the war ended, he claimed he was right, and the war didn't happen. Instead (he said), what happened was that the war was culturally re-created as a simulacrum of a true war, through garish media representations. The reality of war was displaced by signs and symbols of a war, a simulation. Therefore, there was no war.

This is so muddle headed I can't believe he gets taken seriously. See also this quote:

Jean Baudrillard wrote:Perhaps history itself has to be regarded as a chaotic formation, in which acceleration puts an end to linearity and the turbulence created by acceleration deflects history definitively from its end, just as such turbulence distances effects from their causes


This is simply incoherent. The idea underneath the obsfucation is that 'history is complicated, and effects often have far-reaching, non-predictable causes'. But this is a pretty banal thought, and wouldn't pass for original intelligent thinking without all the window dressing Baudrillard adds.

I know you said picking weird looking sentences out of the air doesn't count, but it's hard to do anything else. Postmodern writing consists only of heaps of these weird looking sentences, placed almost at random.

proof_man wrote:1b) the sokal affair, in my opinion, reveals the misunderstanding that those in the sciences have of the humanities. things like 'facts' are unimportant, not because the humanities are empty of meaningful information, but because papers written in the humanities have different purposes. for instance, they may try to question the extraneous baggage that goes along with the category of 'truth', rather than adding to a body of concrete knowledge. playing games with scientific findings is not an attempt to 'do science' but to see what science does with concepts that also possess particular cultural significances. postmodernism is also playful with science because it has particular ideas for how cultural criticism is supposed to function...with derrida, it starts to act more as literature, rather than as exposition. i don't see how this is necessarily useless or just pure pretension.


I don't see how it revels any misunderstanding.

I agree that papers in the humanities are written with a different purpose that papers in the sciences - this is not the issue. The issue is that when a paper written with the express intention of being nonsense gets accepted to a major journal, I think it calls the critical thinking abilities of those in the field into question.
It could have easily gone the other way: the paper getting rejected after being read, on the grounds that the author didn't know what he was talking about (as would happen in science, or any other valid academic field). But this didn't happen.
The only conclusion possible is that the 'experts' can't tell the difference between actual postmodern writing, and nonsense. If the experts can't differentiate, I don't think there can be said to be any difference.

proof_man wrote:2) the jargon is used because it acts as a shorthand for topics that have been discussed in other places. postmodernism's vocabulary is inherited from a distinct philosophical tradition that takes only a little bit of easy background reading to understand. i don't think this is any more elitist than referring to 'the krebs cycle' instead of explaining how it works each time you refer to it.


I partially agree. I think the difference, however, is that no matter how complex the Kreb's Cycle is, it is possible to get a clear, lucid explanation, upon which layers of understanding can be built.
This doesn't seem to be the case with postmodernist jargon: nowhere is it clearly explained what any terms actually mean. I don't agree that it takes "a little bit of easy background reading to understand". I am acquainted with philosophical writing, and there is a clear and marked difference in lucidity as soon as you begin reading postmodernist works: traditionally, philosophers would try to make their meaning clear, so as to better express their thoughts. With postmodernism, the game is to deliberately confuse the meaning of passages: whether this is to hide the fact that there is no content worth reading, or to express the trite idea that 'nothing has meaning' I'm not sure.

proof_man wrote:3) the culture wars are dead. let's be friends and just ignore pop-culture postmodernism.

Sounds good to me :)

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Indon » Mon Jun 23, 2008 3:26 pm UTC

Postmodernism is to philosophy what Dischordianism and Pastafarianism are to religion.

The difference is, because it's philosophy, that there are people who take postmodernism seriously.
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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby ducknerd » Mon Jun 23, 2008 5:36 pm UTC

You're thinking of pataphysics.

I'm not terribly well-versed in postmodernism, but I thought that the concept of the simulacrum--of a representation which becomes more real than the original. Despite Baudrillard's bullshit above, conceptualism is, I think, a pretty valid way of approaching the very recent media explosion.

That said, fuck the writing. I picked up a Derrida book on a whim at a library. I literally couldn't make it through the first page. The man is simply incapable of writing a comprehensible sentence.
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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Varsil » Mon Jun 23, 2008 6:42 pm UTC

ducknerd wrote:That said, fuck the writing. I picked up a Derrida book on a whim at a library. I literally couldn't make it through the first page. The man is simply incapable of writing a comprehensible sentence.


No, he's fully capable of writing a comprehensible sentence. It's just that if you translate what he's saying into comprehensible sentences, it is pathetically uninteresting. So he's incapable of writing a comprehensible sentence and still getting paid.

The train of reasoning I see with this sort of material goes approximately as follows:
1. "I find intelligent arguments hard to read."
2. "Therefore, the value of an argument must vary inversely with its comprehensibility."
3. "This Derrida article is nightmarish to try to read."
4. "Derrida must be a genius."

Here's another sample:

Deleuze and Guattari see in the capitalist money system “an axiomatic of abstract quantities that keeps moving further and further in the direction of the deterritorialization of the socius” (Deleuze 1983a, 33), which is to say that capital is inherently schizophrenic. However, because capital also re-territorializes all flows into money, schizophrenia remains capitalism's external limit. Nevertheless, it is precisely that limit against which thinking can subject capitalism to philosophical critique. Psychoanalysis, they say, is part of the reign of capital because it re-terrritorializes the subject as “private” and “individual,” instituting psychic identity through images of the Oedipal family. However, the Oedipal triangle is merely a representational simulacrum of kinship and filiation, re-coded within a system of debt and payment. In this system, they insist, flows of desire have become mere representations of desire, cut off from the body without organs and the extra-familial mechanisms of society. A radical critique of capital cannot therefore be accomplished by psychoanalysis, but requires a schizoanalysis “to overturn the theater of representation into the order of desiring-production” (Deleuze 1983b, 271). Here, the authors see a revolutionary potential in modern art and science, where, in bringing about the “new,” they circulate de-coded and de-territorialized flows within society without automatically re-coding them into money (Deleuze 1983a, 379). In this revolutionary aspect, Anti-Oedipus reads as a statement of the desire that took to the streets of Paris in May of 1968, and which continues, even now, to make itself felt in intellectual life.


Anyone writing like this should be given a failing grade at whatever it is they're doing, and probably a brain function exam to make sure that they aren't actually suffering from a fluent aphasia. But when you're writing these deliberately arcane word salads, it has a number of effects. People not inclined to be snowed by your verbal diarrhoea put your paper down and ignore it, because it would be too much effort to translate in order to properly challenge, and doesn't seem to be worth it (in the same way that most of us wouldn't write an academic paper on the flaws in the argument made by a hobo ranting by the bus stop). So you can get a paper that is artificially well-praised on that basis, but that doesn't mean it's a good paper. If you can't write comprehensibly, you can't write well, and it saddens me that these thesaurus-abusing morons have been so successful in their essay-puffing as to create an entire school of thought along those lines.

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Thousand » Mon Jun 23, 2008 8:36 pm UTC

Varsil wrote:
Deleuze and Guattari see in the capitalist money system “an axiomatic of abstract quantities that keeps moving further and further in the direction of the deterritorialization of the socius” (Deleuze 1983a, 33), which is to say that capital is inherently schizophrenic. However, because capital also re-territorializes all flows into money, schizophrenia remains capitalism's external limit. Nevertheless, it is precisely that limit against which thinking can subject capitalism to philosophical critique. Psychoanalysis, they say, is part of the reign of capital because it re-terrritorializes the subject as “private” and “individual,” instituting psychic identity through images of the Oedipal family. However, the Oedipal triangle is merely a representational simulacrum of kinship and filiation, re-coded within a system of debt and payment. In this system, they insist, flows of desire have become mere representations of desire, cut off from the body without organs and the extra-familial mechanisms of society. A radical critique of capital cannot therefore be accomplished by psychoanalysis, but requires a schizoanalysis “to overturn the theater of representation into the order of desiring-production” (Deleuze 1983b, 271). Here, the authors see a revolutionary potential in modern art and science, where, in bringing about the “new,” they circulate de-coded and de-territorialized flows within society without automatically re-coding them into money (Deleuze 1983a, 379). In this revolutionary aspect, Anti-Oedipus reads as a statement of the desire that took to the streets of Paris in May of 1968, and which continues, even now, to make itself felt in intellectual life.




Urgh. Headache. I couldn't honestly imagine an entire book like this (though I assume that there exists many like it?). I expect that context doesn't make it much better? :D

I am also fairly sure that schizoanalysis is not a real word of any kind.

EDIT: Would you look at that. It was invented especially for the book; why am I not surprised?

EDIT2: And deterritorialization too.

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby andqso » Tue Jun 24, 2008 1:05 am UTC

It's worth remembering also that the postmodernist movement is not limited to philosophy but exists in art, literature, architecture, etc.

While I can't speak to the philosophical aspect I do believe that it has validity as an architectural movement. Robert Venturi's Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (considered to be postmodern architecture's manifesto), while largely filled with the meaningless garbage described above, also manages to put forth some important and valid criticisms of modern architechture; in particular, that the glass boxes so prized by the Modernists ended up doing a poor job of accommodating the needs of real human families and organizations, and that there is a place for ambiguous and non-functional elements in design.

(Reading that last paragraph again it sounds pretty pretentious and a bit too much like the word-salad that I find so annoying - I guess the point I'm trying to make is that the problem is with the practitioners and not the basic ideas of the movement.)

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Philwelch » Tue Jun 24, 2008 2:31 am UTC

If it's any consolation, it seems like postmodernism has long fallen out of favor among actual philosophers. It's very popular in the other humanities, and in university art departments, but not so much in philosophy. (I'm mostly talking about the Anglo-American tradition of analytic philosophy.) Postmodernism is really only a branch of continental philosophy: analytic philosophy branched off from continental in the late 19th century with Frege, who was followed by Russell and then Wittgenstein, along with the logical positivists and Karl Popper, and later a vast tradition.

As a further consolation, analytic philosophers seem mainly interested in making their writing clear (albeit to a specialized audience) rather than obfuscated. They also aren't quite so insecure: they don't take themselves as seriously and are more willing to straightforwardly admit places in their thinking where they are less certain. This isn't to say they're easy to read--like mathematicians, analytic philosophers can rush into complicated usages of logic and technical concepts without much pause because they mostly write for other philosophers. They also tend to address problems of philosophy that might seem rather academic (how can we be justified in thinking we know there's an external world? what is knowledge?) although they also discuss more interesting issues (what is justice?) and even, occasionally, "everyday" issues (Frankfurt's small book "On Bullshit" analyzes the concept of bullshit in length, and is highly recommended by me.)

Contemporary analytic philosophers I enjoy include Robert Nozick, Harry Frankfurt, and Nick Bostrom. John Rawls, Daniel Dennett, and David Lewis also seem to be popular outside of philosophy, although there a lot of others who are only famous among other philosophers, or among philosophers in a certain field.
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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Semidi » Tue Jun 24, 2008 3:32 am UTC

I don't like about 95% of the post-modern "theory" like Derrida and Baudrillard mostly because when I read them, I have a distinct feeling that they're trying to bullshit me. I have a philosophy background and reading Baudrillard pisses me off. He doesn't take the time to define words that he uses, uses odd definitions, and coins words without clearly defining them. He also makes claims which can be studied empirically, but he doesn't take the time to gather evidence. For instance, in Simulations and Simulacra he claims anthropological descriptive statements about Easter Orthodox Christians that are quite simply wrong, and he does not cite sources.

Though I'll admit that I have read essays by post-modernists that I have liked, and I'm a huge fan of Nietzsche who was a proto-post-modernist.
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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Philwelch » Tue Jun 24, 2008 3:35 am UTC

A lot of continentals (existentialists being a variety of continental philosophers) had interesting and valuable ideas. Nietzsche too. I would argue they fall short of philosophical rigor (which in itself is not that high a bar), but they do have their merits.

Obfuscationists, though, exemplify too much of what is wrong and not enough of what is right about the continental tradition.
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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Varsil » Tue Jun 24, 2008 4:47 am UTC

When people actually have a profound point to express, they try to do so clearly. If you've got a difficult concept, you're not going to make it any harder on yourself to explain by pounding on the thesaurus until a twelve-letter word falls out (or making one up if necessary) for every other word in your point. If you've got nothing, though, you need to work hard to make sure people can't easily tell.

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby BlackSails » Tue Jun 24, 2008 6:16 am UTC

Postmodernism:Philosophy::Time Cube:Physics.

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby proof_man » Tue Jun 24, 2008 7:08 am UTC

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Iv » Tue Jun 24, 2008 9:05 am UTC

Nietzsche is considered close to the post-modernist movement ? I don't see any similarity at all. I guess this is another post-modernist claim.

I didn't study philosophy more seriously than a hobbyist, but I would consider Nietzsche a pre-singularitarian and a pre-posthumanist instead of a pre-postmodernist. Also, his style is way more clear than postmodernists garbage : one paragraph, one idea.

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Philwelch » Tue Jun 24, 2008 10:50 am UTC

proof_man wrote:@seladore: thanks for the thoughtful response. just a few (lengthy) comments.
seladore wrote:To pull an example out of the air, Baudrillard claimed, pre-gulf war, that the gulf war would not happen.

i've always been unsure about how to approach this. i really think he is winking at us while writing this, rather than making a sincere claim. i mean, he could be saying something provocative just to get attention or, if you give him the benefit of the doubt, to inspire discussion. but, yeah, even though i think that some postmodernist philosophy is valid, i get squeamish when they try to make outlandish claims, as they seem to smack of desperation for significance.


If an author writes a thousand words, you will eventually find meaning in them if you search long enough. This doesn't require that the meaning you find is the same as the meaning the author had, or even that the author had a meaning: people are great at recognizing patterns even where they aren't intended. Baudrillard is a kook and a bullshitter in the same way and for the same reason Gene Ray and Nostradamus are.

proof_man wrote:now, for philosophers coming out of this environment, it should not be surprising that postmodernists would be willing to write in an unclear, obtuse, and strange style in order to encourage a particular type of reading. i'm not saying that we should therefore always put up with whatever they want to say...what i mean is that there is often a different objective that they have in writing in a weird way. they intend for the language to be closely analyzed


No, no they don't. They're nihilists who turn language against its natural purpose.

If you want the language to be closely analyzed, you closely analyze the language, as Frege, Russell, and Wittgenstein did at the dawn of analytic philosophy.

proof_man wrote:also, i think we might have different backgrounds in philosophy. i am referring to the lineage that begins with semiotics and marxism, goes through the formalists, then the structuralists, and finally reaches poststructuralism and its postmodern cousin. starting with semiotics, seeing how the structuralists adapted it and then how the the deconstructionists tore it apart has helped me when reading some postmodern texts, although some is still pretty damn dense for little good reason.


I hate to say it, but you wasted your time. I saw this opaque nonsense coming the first time I read Hegel (who is the true grandfather of that particular brand of nonsense) and never looked back. In terms of "actually having something interesting and useful to say", "developing usable results", and most other useful criteria for judging philosophy, the analytic tradition is far superior. Unfortunately, it's also somewhat demanding: it requires you to actually think logically rather than playing stupid mind games reading linguistic entrails. The analytic tradition has its weaknesses, but at the very least it's capable of being meaningful.
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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby diotimajsh » Tue Jun 24, 2008 12:19 pm UTC

proof_man wrote:i think the problem is not the sokal wrote gibberish, but that he wrote gibberish that sounded like the type of language that can be found in postmodernist writings. people in the humanites love it when scientists say things that agree with their theories. [...] i think that seeing supposed 'science' put into their postmodernist language was all the editors needed when they decided to publish it.

This is a very good point. Let me try and expand on this (and a few other points) below. I can't believe I'm about to defend post-modernism.. ah well.

I just read through Sokal's actual paper (available here), and it is a surprisingly clear read, compared to my (admittedly minimal) exposure to typical post-modernist fare.

When considering the Sokal affair, we should keep some key things in mind:
A) From Wikipedia, "The paper, titled "Transgressing... [etc]," was published in the Spring/Summer 1996 "Science Wars" issue of Social Text, which at that time had no peer review process, and so did not submit it for outside review. " Emphasis mine. This alone is certainly worth noting.

B) Sokal is a physicist submitting to a humanities journal (a bit of an rarity). This brings in the issue that proof_man brought up with outside "validation." In particular, since science as an institution receives a lot of post-modernist criticism without any appreciable changes, it must have been nice to see a respected physicist finally "see the light." Maybe it was a little like a missionary, used to working with an obstinate group of heathens, who rejoices at a tentative sign of conversion. This might account for them being more forgiving with any oddities they might have noticed in the paper as well.

C) Sokal makes numerous references to scientific publications (Bohr, Heisenberg, Bohm, Lee Smolin, Lorentz, Gödel, Einstein, JS Bell, Hermann Minkowski--and those are just the big names, he also cites his own work and some lesser publications). Are these really works we should expect a post-modernist to be intimately familiar with, beyond possessing a cursory knowledge? Are we going to expect them to look up all of his sources, to see how they're used in context?

D) Suppose one of the journal editors did notice some bit of reasoning that didn't quite make sense. Knowing that Sokal has a PhD in physics, do you think your average humanities-type would really have the nerve to challenge Sokal's interpretations when it comes to theories of quantum gravity? I mean, wouldn't the normal inclination be to say something like, "Well, I don't exactly follow this part of the paper--but since he's a physicist, he probably knows what he's talking about here." If Sokal slips in some little jokes by blatantly misrepresenting some specific aspect of scientific knowledge, should we really expect them to catch on?

For example, in footnote 33, he says, "Steven Best (1991, 225) has put his finger on the crux of the difficulty, which is that 'unlike the linear equations used in Newtonian and even quantum mechanics, non-linear equations do [not] have the simple additive property whereby chains of solutions can be constructed out of simple, independent parts'. For this reason, the strategies of atomization, reductionism and context-stripping that underlie the Newtonian scientific methodology simply do not work in general relativity." That conclusion does not follow, and it's almost completely unrelated (I think anyway--who knows how Best actually supports whatever conclusion he was drawing himself?). But is someone raised on literary theory really going to contest that point? You all know how non-mathematicians and non-scientists react to mathematical terminology. I can just imagine an editor saying, "I never really understood Best's point about equations, but here's it's being validated by a bona fide physicist. Great!"

E) A lot of what Sokal considered "nonsense" in the paper isn't actually nonsense in that it has no meaning. Rather, it is nonsense because it makes such ridiculous claims, such as that objective reality only exists as a linguistic framework, or that the equality in a mathematical equation is analogous to the feminist conception of equality. Note, however, that these claims are not necessarily ludicrous from the post-modernist perspective, where these sorts of things are routinely argued (and indeed, Sokal actually provides sources from within the po-mo literature to support his "nonsense"). It's not as though Sokal randomly strung big words together and submitted that for publication; rather, he made claims that were what he considered nonsense; yet these claims might be defensible or even reasonable from within the post-modernist tradition. In short, we should not be so quick to scorn the editors of that journal for not immediately seeing it as nonsense -- for it's not as though these claims have no content, and it's not as though that content is simply gobbledygook (meaning an unintelligible morass of words), but rather that the those claims are absurd, in Sokal's and others' eyes. This alone, however, does not prove anything about the editors' ability to discern good post-modernist writing from bad.

F) The other half of "nonsense"--the stuff that's a lot more likely to be meaningless in a strict sense of the word--comprises blatant misrepresentations of the state of physics and specious arguments about physics-related topics (see my example in D). Probably the most ridiculous paragraph is where he links morphogenetic fields with quantum gravity. But again, note that this is ridiculous from the perspective of a physicist, not necessarily something you'd expect someone with a PhD in philosophy or English to pick up on immediately. (Although do I like to think that analytic philosophers would be less susceptible to this sort of thing).
===

I think this is the large-scale point I'm trying to make: Sokal really played off of his role as a scientist in this hoax. It isn't just that the editors were clueless about their own field, but rather he was able to play off what they wanted to hear combined with their ignorance about science. Under ordinary circumstances, I would guess editors of such journals have a better sense for what's BS and what's genuine. But when you mix it with capital-S Science, you can get by with a lot more, since now there's twice as much technical terminology to wade through, only half of which the editors could reasonably be expected to be acquainted with. Moreover, it is only reasonable that they should defer to an expert's knowledge in a foreign field.

If Sokal or anyone else had pulled this off exclusively within the post-modernist's home-turf of scope and terminology (and within a peer-reviewed journal), I'd be more impressed.

Edited to add: ...Reading through some of the quotes in his paper where post-modernists DO talk about science or mathematics has led me to believe that Sokal's experiment, if nothing else, has shown that post-modernist's generally don't know WTF they're talking about in those domains. I do think that's a fair conclusion.
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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Iv » Tue Jun 24, 2008 1:08 pm UTC

diotimajsh wrote:I can't believe I'm about to defend post-modernism.. ah well.

I'll take the easy other side of the argument then :-)
All I want to point out is that post-modernism fails at having any worthwhile scientific contribution.

A) I thought that one of the point Sokal wanted to make is that peer-review is essential and a practice that many famous post-modernist publication considered as optional. Was this journal an exception or the norm ?
B)

C) Well what are reference supposed to be for ? Nowadays it seems like one only cite papers in order to gain from their authors' reputation. Let's not forget what it initially was for. When one doesn't understand something, or want to check something in a paper, he looks for the references, find the paper explaining the method used, or explaining a notation, etc... One shouldn't publish a paper he does not understand. If the paper is not understandable even when references are taken into account, it doesn't meet the standard for publication. Citation from so many heavyweights as Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg or Gödel should trigger red flags in the reader's mind, not a comfy feeling that "this is really good and heavy stuff".

D) Having the nerve ? Hell yes. Science works by understanding each others work. If a journal feels it is qualified to publish papers dealing with quantum physics research, it should have the nerve to ask for a good explanation of what it doesn't understand prior to publication. And if a passage is particularly obscure, it is fair to ask the author to develop his explanations a bit. And if you don't understand a fraggin' word about an article, just don't publish it.

E) Sokal played the postmodernist game : his sentences can be parsed to have a sense but they are difficult to parse and the sense is just absurd and don't care for demonstration. Sokal's genius has been to make affirmations in fields where it is possible to prove these affirmations wrong. A sentence can be parseable and still be completely absurd making a sequence of sentence effectively nonsensical. Example : "A duck can't fly, therefore the Earth must be flat"

F) It ultimately proves why peer-review is mandatory. And it shows that in post modernism, statements, if obfuscated enough, pass as valid demonstrations.

Finally :
If Sokal or anyone else had pulled this off exclusively within the post-modernist's home-turf of scope and terminology (and within a peer-reviewed journal), I'd be more impressed.

But how could you claim that it is flawed then ? Sokal had to make affirmations that were provably wrong in order to discredit postmodernism. Would have he done what you suggest, he would have managed to get published but the journal would say that his paper was completely valid from their point of view and couldn't be proven wrong. I agree however that peer-review would have been a plus.

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby BlackSails » Tue Jun 24, 2008 1:34 pm UTC

diotimajsh wrote:Edited to add: ...Reading through some of the quotes in his paper where post-modernists DO talk about science or mathematics has led me to believe that Sokal's experiment, if nothing else, has shown that post-modernist's generally don't know WTF they're talking about in those domains. I do think that's a fair conclusion.


And yet these people feel the need to criticize science. At my school there is a class I found called: "Rethinking science: From latour to laboratories"

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Semidi » Tue Jun 24, 2008 5:58 pm UTC

Iv wrote:Nietzsche is considered close to the post-modernist movement ? I don't see any similarity at all. I guess this is another post-modernist claim.

I didn't study philosophy more seriously than a hobbyist, but I would consider Nietzsche a pre-singularitarian and a pre-posthumanist instead of a pre-postmodernist. Also, his style is way more clear than postmodernists garbage : one paragraph, one idea.


The Gay Science Parts 56 (To the Realists) and 257 (The Ultimate Skepsis). And that's just after about two minutes of flipping through a random (not quite, I'm most familiar with The Gay Science) book of Nietzsche. But yes he was an advocate of simplicity in his language, though his thought is still a bitch to understand. Most of what post-modernists took from Nietzsche was his focus on subjectivity, perpectivism, and his analyzation of literature to reveal insights (Birth of A Tragedy). Though I think he would really despise the places Post-Modernism has gone from there.
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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby proof_man » Tue Jun 24, 2008 9:36 pm UTC

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby diotimajsh » Wed Jun 25, 2008 2:48 am UTC

Iv wrote:A) I thought that one of the point Sokal wanted to make is that peer-review is essential and a practice that many famous post-modernist publication considered as optional. Was this journal an exception or the norm ?

Hmm. I don't know. That's a fair point.

Glancing back at Sokal's criticisms (listed by seladore earlier in the thread), I think his paper does hit home on a lot of them, such as the use of scientific terms without proper understanding (to craft the illusion of erudition/rigor). And yes, if the peer-review thing was part of it, I'd say this was a very effective demonstration.

I was mainly defending post-modernists against the attack that they don't even understand their own jargon, insofar as that jargon is not specific to science, but more on the literary-theory/political-theory/philosophy end of the spectrum. Also, I'm not convinced that every post-modernist article is meaningless drivel covered by fancy words: Sokal's paper showed more that the review process is terrible, not that there is never anything worthwhile published. Maybe I'm an optimist (or simply too inexperienced with post-modernist literature), but I think there must be some po-mo writers out there who strive for clarity, who genuinely try to make coherent arguments and the like.

At any rate, I'm not actually going to dispute any of the points you brought up. I agree with you: if a journal feels like it has the right to publish on scientific topics, it ought to have appropriate standards for accuracy.
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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Philwelch » Wed Jun 25, 2008 3:11 am UTC

proof_man wrote:
Philwelch wrote:If an author writes a thousand words, you will eventually find meaning in them if you search long enough. This doesn't require that the meaning you find is the same as the meaning the author had, or even that the author had a meaning: people are great at recognizing patterns even where they aren't intended.
this is actually their premise ('the author is dead') and they see nothing wrong with this, although they assume in practive that the reader will dwell within a limited range of interpretive possibilities. i don't want to defend this right now, partially because i don't agree with it all that much.


If the author is dead, why do they write?

proof_man wrote:
No, no they don't. They're nihilists who turn language against its natural purpose.
i don't think you've really read them closely enough...there are some pretty clear values at the root of it. for instance, they would scoff at the idea of 'natural' anything because they see that concept as a site where ideology hides itself, and the awareness of this is supposedly a way to escape a measure of alienation. i'm not trying to say that we should all agree with them, but they do have values that are vaguely rooted in marxism.


"Values that are vaguely rooted in Marxism" isn't a positive thing to say about anyone.
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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Varsil » Wed Jun 25, 2008 3:29 am UTC

On the "death of the author":

When I first started higher education, I did so as an English major (before fleeing due to such craziness as postmodernism).

One prof who was particularly enamoured with postmodernism annoyed me enough that I wrote my paper, encoded it, and submitted the unreadable paper with a cover sheet explaining that the author's meaning isn't really fully accessible to anyone, and that it was the reader who really interpreted and created meaning within the piece. Therefore, I was making my writing more obscure to step out of the way and allow the reader's full vision to develop, and that she, as reader, should grade my paper according to the value of the meaning she found in it.

I also had the unencoded version of my paper on hand, ready to hand in when she got that she was being made fun of and wanted the real paper. Instead, I just got an A-, for gibberish and a cover sheet.

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Philwelch » Wed Jun 25, 2008 3:43 am UTC

If I had more free time, my hobby would be to audit all the postmodernist classes I could (English, art, ethnic studies, women's studies, etc.) and spend all my time calling bullshit.

Come to think of it, I can't foresee this hobby lasting any longer than a week or two.
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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby proof_man » Wed Jun 25, 2008 4:49 am UTC

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Philwelch » Wed Jun 25, 2008 4:54 am UTC

To be fair, you're probably right. Most of these kooks do draw distinctions between each other, distinctions that ultimately aren't are less interesting to me than the divide between triclavianism and dissenting views.
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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Varsil » Wed Jun 25, 2008 5:34 am UTC

While my example is an extreme example, he wasn't the only postmodernist who was completely and utterly full of crap. I have encountered a lot of postmodernists, and none that actually were worth listening to. Generally postmodernism ended up being a refuge people would retreat to when they were making absolutely retarded inferences, under the guise of their personal interpretation having meaning too even if it wasn't the author's intent, was contradicted by the source materials, etc.

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby The Great Hippo » Wed Jun 25, 2008 6:15 am UTC

I always had trouble approaching the subject of post-modernism; it doesn't seem to have any singular definition. I've heard linguists claim post-modernism is about the impenetrability of language and I've heard artists claim post-modernism is about mediums of expression that are self-referential (didn't mannerism do this, though?). What is it? A movement that cannot be clearly defined isn't much of a movement.

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Re: postmodernism: yea or nay

Postby Philwelch » Wed Jun 25, 2008 6:22 am UTC

It's kind of like Web 2.0: a bunch of ideas became popular all at once and lazy thinkers lumped them together and put a name on it when they have nothing to do with each other.
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