Year after year I end up defending postmodernism first from hostility and second from misunderstanding. It isn’t really my job, nor am I the most qualified (far from it) to be doing this. But I agree with a lot with what postmodernism has to offer.
Last year, I had to defend against truth. Truth it was claimed to be out there, pure and obvious. Universal Grammar, modules and Language Acquisition Devices are like this kind of truth. That there is a brain, and that many creatures have it, I will not argue with. I will even agree with there being part of the brain that is especially good at language. But that anything outside of that – for example, language – is universal would mean that we should have the same concepts and forms for these. The fact is we don’t.
Language is a general and ordinary physical process in the same manner as vision is a process of the body. To see does not require exact identical machinery. Just as bees have differently structured eyes, spiders with their array, or rainbow mantises with their colour range, we human beings have a system that is unique to us. It solves a common problem to all sentient things – that of knowing how to relate to things in space.
Returning to postmodernism, it attempts to describe the nature of the world, including our own nature as a human being thing. It describes how we operate, as though we are in conflict with one another. In a way we are. Survival of the fittest, perhaps. But by not fearing we may have another way (not a better way) of surviving. Postmodernism is saying that rather than sounding like broken record forever looping we should fix the scratch and get on with the rest of the song. In other words, postmodernism is a way to move forward from centuries of repetition.
But this repetition isn’t accidental. It was a consciously (or at best subconsciously) perpetuated one. The strategy is one called by Lyotard a metanarrative or grandnarrative. In order to maintain a perceived advantageous position one uses a narrative which eliminates all objection. Not only this but also does so without drawing attention to the fact that is doing so. Broadly speaking, we can term this kind of strategy modernism.
Modernism hasn’t disappeared. Postmodernism wasn’t meant to replace it. It was never its intention to do so. Postmodernism owes much to modernism. It is indebted to it, and for this reason postmodernism includes modernism in its term. For without pointing out the strategy and tactics employed by modernism, postmodernism would not be necessary.
Postmodernism happily operates within a system of difference, while modernism operates a system for hiding differences. Postmodernism is like the YouTuber telling you how tricks are done. Modernism is like the magician keeping up the illusion of no illusion. But just to be sure, both are making money from you.