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Saturday, July 29, 2006

What Postmodern Means by Lawrence Cahoone

• Difficult to summaries postmodernism
– a. Disagreement among writers
– b. Postmodernists deny having any doctrine
• Idea of summary antithetical to Pm
• To understand - list
• Imp Ideas in pm works
• Different claims postmodernists make
• Issues dividing pms

Five prominent postmodern themes
Presence or presentation (vs representation or construction)
Origin (vs phenomenon)
Unity (vs plurality)
Transcendence or norms (vs their immanence)
Constitutive otherness

• =quality of immediate experience
• + the objects thereby immediately represented
• Traditionally presence contrasted with
– a, representation - sphere of linguistic signs
– b. construction – the products of human invention (hence whatever mediated by human factor)
• E.g.: Perception/sensation sense data – passage to reality, more reliable than mental contents subsequently modified, represented and altered by thought or language.
• Pm questions and denies it.
• Pm denies that anything is ‘immediately present’ hence independent of signs, language, interpretation, disagreement etc.
• Also presence presupposes representation
• Derrida- No thing as perception – immediate transparent reception of the given

• Postmodernists deny presence and analysis of representation
• Study The thing
• E.g. using intelligence systems in schools
• Postmodernists analyze use of term ‘intelligence’ by the tests proponents – implying the object or referent of the term never present
• It’s the history and political representations and their political use which is at issue
• We encounter the real world referents through texts, representations, mediation.
• We can never say what is independent of all sayings.

• = notion of the source of whatever under consideration
• A return to which is often considered the aim of rational enquiry.-
– An attempt to see beyond phenomena to their ultimate foundation.
• Modern philosophies of the self – existentialism, psycho-analysis, phenomenology, Marxism- attempt to discover self road to authenticity.
• Postmodernist argue – it’s not possible to have an access to self completely, it’s never available to us.
• No possibility of returning to, recapturing, representing the origin, source, deeper reality behind phenomena
• Casts doubts and denies existence
• Postmodernism is intentionally superficial. Surface of things, phenomenon don’t require any deeper reference.
• Author is dead - denies origin
• Because no meaning of text can be ‘authoritatively’ revealed through authorial intervention.
• They are not imp, have not privilege over other factors.

• Unity, single entity is plural
• Everything constituted by other elements
• Constitutive are plural
• Therefore individual plural
• Therefore no analysis is final
• E.g. Texts meaning are never complete/final
• Human self multiplicity of forces or elements.
• Not single unity, hierarchically composed, solid, self-controlled
• We have selves than self

Transcendence of norms X
• Norms- truth, goodness, beauty, rationality- not independent of the processes they serve to govern or judge
• They’re products of and immanent in those processes.
• Social justice product of social relations it serves to govern
• i.e. the idea was created at a certain time and place to serve certain interests and is dependent on certain intellectual and social contexts.
• Rejection of idealism
• Concept of ‘good’ and the act of calling something good not independent of the things we want to call ‘good’
• Therefore postmodernists show processes of thought, writing, negotiation and power which produced those normative claims

Constitutive otherness
• Complex application of the four themes
• Use of constitutive otherness in analyzing any cultural entity
• Cultural entities-human beings, words, meanings, ideas, philosophical systems, social organizations are maintained in their unity through active process of exclusion, opposition, opposition, and hierarchisation
• Other phenomena or units must be represented as foreign or ‘other’ representing hierarchical dualism in which a unit is ‘privileged’ or favoured and the other devalued in some way.
• Postmodernists find – privileged groups must actively produce and maintain their position by representing or picturing themselves- in thought, literature, in law, in art – as not having the properties ascribed to the underprivileged group
• Must represent those groups those groups as lacking the properties of the privileged groups.
• The self may feel compelled to represent itself as excluding sexual or aggressive feelings. They cannot be obliterated. So must be ascribed to chance situations E.g. “ I was not myself that day”
• Margins constitute texts
• Unities are constituted by repressing their dependency on and relations to others.
• Postmodernists analyse the excluded or ‘marginalised’ elements of a system or text.
• Pm in literature turn attention away from well known themes in text toward seldom mentioned, virtually absent, implicitly or explicitly devalued
• Presence constituted by absence.
• Real by appearance
• Ideal by mundane
• This apart from theme also applies to style.
• Postmodernist read metaphors with keen interest
• Process of exclusion false, unstable, immoral
• False= It’s a lie
• Unstable- Must be admitted some day
• Immoral- when becomes social oppression
• Repression in text when read carefully undermines its own message.
• Constitutive otherness shows the dependence of the privileged theme on the marginalized element.
• Social disenfranchisement, marginalization of sexual and racial group is moral and political case of this pattern.
• Some pm wish to remove such repressions, others admit no escape
• Render repressive forces more diverse and fluid- so none becomes monopolistic.

Types of postmodernism
• Three-part classification, overlapping
• Indicative of aims
– Methodological postmodernism
– Positive postmodernism

Methodological postmodernsim
• Rejects the possibility of establishing foundations, thus of ultimate reliability of knowledge.
• Shows that traditional philosophical distinctions b/w real and ideal, objective and subjective, reality and appearance fact and theory are problematic
• It problemetaises
– A. by criticizing the traditional theories of knowledge and linguistic meaning
– b. human interests evident in the construction of these distinctions
• It’s antirealist – claims knowledge is made valid not by its relation to its objects, but by its relation to our pragmatic interests, communal perspectives, needs, rhetoric
• Undercuts the philosophical attempt to justify realism
• Sometime undermines rational inquiry itself by subjecting notions of truth, rationality and meaning to critique.
• M pm is negative – claims or shows inadequacy or problematic nature of other forms of writing and talking and theorizing but offers no explicit alternative.

Positive pm
• Positive reinterpretation of any phenomenon
• It may reconceive the self or God or nature or knowledge or society or art given the critique of unity, origin, presence
• Refers to writing that applies general postmodern themes to particular subject matters in order to offer new vision or understanding.
• Offers alterative

Issues dividing postmodernist
• First
• Recognize whether pm is
– a. merely making a historical claim that modern ideas and methods are being superseded or abandoned in the present age
– b. questioning the validity of modern methods without making any explicit claims about their falsity or suggesting that they be abandoned
– c. claiming the inadequacy of the modern methods and inviting us to abandon them in favour of something else.
• Some postmodernists are wrongly accused of rejecting modern philosophy and society when they only question them.
• E.g. Derrida interpreted as undermining western thought.
• But he says there’s no alternative to ‘logo centrism’ or traditional foundationalism of West: It can’t be abandoned
• Result - tension b/w methodological and positive application of pm
• Most extreme case - Some postmodernists use elements of pm critique to reformulate fundamental conceptions of God and the universe
• This is in principle anathema to post-structuralism and antifounatinalism
• Second
• Pm may seem antithetical to recapturing any past. – not always true.
• While pm philosophers don’t have anything to do with those who wish to recreate past, such a return central to architectural pm.
• Pm architect incorporates ornamentation, banished by modernism.
• But its not premodernism pure, but pluralism.
• Uses premodern element in something that is completely modern
• Synthesizing, juxtaposing and ironically commenting on traditions is not traditional.
• To be traditionalist or premodernist is to be faithful to one tradition, not to all.
• E.g. pm= premodern, monogamy=many sex partners
• Pm and premodern share same enemy

• Third
• Question of political implication of pm.
• Its well-known political manifestation is the attempt to make contemporary culture acknowledge and respond to ‘difference’ or ‘otherness’ under the names of feminism very influential intellectual movement, multiculturalism, a phenomenon in the field of education.
• Both movements overlap with pm.
• Some feminists, multiculturalists are pm some are not
• Most poststructuralist, feminists and multiculturalists are associated with the left. Some others are not
• E.g. Richard Rorty- calls himself ‘postmodernist bourgeois liberal
• Leftists criticize pm opening reactionary forces blocking leftist political reforms.
• Habermas
• Political usefulness of pm is in criticizing any established authority.


Cahoone, Lawrence. What Postmodernism Means. Modernism to Postmodernism an Anthology

Anil Pinto, Dept of Media Studies;

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