Wednesday, February 20
Clinging to Postmodernism
Years ago, I and several of my colleges in graduate school, created a class with one of our favorite professors. In the class, we studied the concepts of postmodernism, structuralism, and deconstructionism. We affectionately titled it: "Does This Class Have a Text?" We all took the class, tongue firmly planted in our cheeks, since, at the time, we thought that postmodernism was dead and its precepts given up as defunct.
In a nutshell, postmodernism is a reaction against the modernist period from the turn of the 20th Century. At its core, it takes a skeptical look at modern culture, especially literature. It asks questions about meaning, which often leads to the Prince of Postmodernism, Jacques Derrida's conclusion that there is no such thing as meaning outside of the text.
Postmodernism has led to the philosophy that there are no absolute meanings, nor absolute truths. Meaning does not stem from, for example, the writer, since the reader still must interpret the writer's text. There is no absolute truth, since all truth must be filtered through culture and then interpreted by the individual. Meaning and truth, then, are left up to individual interpretation.
The reason I bring this up is to point out the utter stagnation of education since the halcyon days of the 1960s when postmodernism was at its height. Our school textbooks, which in my day used to reek of Marxist ideology, now reek of old postmodernism. The postmodernism has been packaged and repackaged to keep up with modern technology, much of the time deliberately obscuring real information behind a veneer of busy photographs, mixed typefonts, innumerable sidebars, and bulleted lists.
If you are past high school years and haven't picked up a high school text lately, you may be surprised at the incomprehensibility of modern textbook design.
As I continue to review textbooks for high school teaching, I recently had the displeasure of reviewing a current American Literature text. On the chapter on postmodernism (which, of course, praised the concept ad nauseam), the text strongly argued in favor of Derrida's dictum about text and meaning. The textbook took great lengths to describe, then to inculcate, the ideal that the reader creates meaning.
Anyone with half a brain can see the fallacy of this line of thought: If only the individual reader can get meaning from the text, why do these self-appointed High Priests of Postmodernism write so much about it, trying to convince everyone that they have the "answer" to meaning and interpretation? If writers can't express meaning in their writing, why do they do so darned much of it? The least they could do is to shut up since, according to their own philosophy, anything they say gets reinterpreted through culture and through the individual.
Postmodernism also denies its own roots. No human thought is created out of a vacuum. Yet prevailing postmodern ideals deny the validity of ideas that came before it. It is a philosophy of interpretation that bites the hand that not only feeds it, but gives it life.
Much of the philosophical world has moved beyond postmodernism and its children, deconstructionism, moral relativism, and multiculturalism. Yet the doctrines of postmodernism have ossified into our children's textbooks, mingling with even older, yet bankrupt Marxism.
Unfortunately, such doctrines are now embedded in American thought, personified by such people as Barack Obama. These true believers defend the wasteland created by postmodernism's inconsistencies. From deconstructionism, past moral systems become evil. Anyone who disagrees is labeled, marginalized, or dismissed as old fashioned. From moral relativism, wrong becomes right. Anyone who disagrees is jeered and mocked as a heretic. From multiculturalism, Western Civilization becomes the Great Satan. All other cultures, no matter how substantively evil, are exonerated - real evil then blamed on Western oppression.
We, as a nation, will not overcome the difficulties of the present, until we stop clinging to the philosophies of the past, and recognize postmodernist offspring as the barrier to real understanding.