78 Search Results for: postmodernism

Postmodernism’s Dead End

As an undergraduate studying English at the University of Utah, I was required to take Introduction to the Theory of Literature. The course was a disaster. I was an awful student of critical theory. Like most burgeoning English majors I knew at the time (the early 1990s), I wanted to read and write literature, not to study what people had decided it meant to read and write literature. And then there was the professor who headed the class. He had a pretentious fondness for the French deconstructionist Derrida that I did not understand, partly because I did not understand Derrida himself, and partly because as a teacher this fellow was so single-minded that he could not reach any but the most earnest students. After class, I would often see him in the cafeteria, where he would practice his French with a colleague who also taught theory for the department. I guessed they were talking about Derrida, but who could say? Together, these elements would constitute my introduction to the baffling world of postmodern theory. I …

Post-Postmodernism on the Left

Postmodernism has never been as unpopular as it is today, especially on the right of the political spectrum. Often, conservative critics can be heard to blame left-wing ‘postmodern neo-Marxists’ and ‘cultural Marxism’ for the emergence of a vitriolic identity politics that eschews a commitment to truth, reason, and dialogue. Left-wing postmodernists are seen as undermining truth, reason, and dialogue by criticizing these values as ideological ‘myths’ designed to reinforce white male privilege, Western colonialism, and so on. The specter of left-wing postmodernism is also invoked as one of the forces undermining the confidence of the West, leading us to submit to dangerous and illiberal groups around the globe. Some even go so far as to claim that, in allegedly promoting a fundamentally collectivist philosophy qua the Soviet Union, left-wing postmodernists are proto-Totalitarians waiting for their opportunity to quash all dissent. On this reading, the philosophy which guides the utterances of a transsexual rights activist in the United States and a Maoist revolutionary in China, are one and the same and just as dangerous in principle: …

Postmodernism and the Decline of the Liberal Arts

The ‘liberal arts’ were so named for their orientation towards free thought, and the foundational claim that they existed to enrich the lives of free people. They are, in other words, dependent on the open-mindedness of individuals wishing to develop their knowledge and understanding by exploring thousands of years of history and literature produced by human civilisation. Despite this, universities in recent years have seen a rapid decline in the reputation and value of liberal arts degrees. Whereas once an education in literature and philosophy was highly revered in academia, setting the world at its students’ feet, today a liberal arts education is widely regarded as a useless endeavour for aimless students, which offers no clear path for the future. This development can, in large part, be laid at the feet of the ever-increasing influence of postmodernism, a superficially attractive philosophy often used to promulgate political and cultural ideas. Courses that have embraced a postmodern viewpoint tend to harshly ostracise any conflicting perspective, thereby eroding the intellectual freedom upon which the liberal arts had hitherto …

The Impasse Between Modernism and Postmodernism

Buying textbooks, writing syllabi, and putting on armor. This is how many students and teachers prepared to return to campus this past fall. The last few years have witnessed an intensifying war for the soul of the university, with many minor skirmishes, and several pitched battles. The most dramatic was last spring at Evergreen State, shortly before the end of the spring semester.1 Perhaps the most dramatic since then have been at Reed College and Wilfrid Laurier University.2 There is no shortage of examples, filling periodicals left and right. Wherever it next explodes, this war promises more ferocity, causing more casualties—careers, programs, ideals. What’s at stake? According to Michael Aaron, writing after the battle at Evergreen, the campus war is symptomatic of a broader clash of three worldviews contesting the future of our culture: traditionalism, modernism, and postmodernism.3 The traditionalists, he writes, “do not like the direction in which modernity is headed, and so are looking to go back to an earlier time when they believe society was better.” Whether they oppose changes to sexual …

Is Postmodernism Inherently Authoritarian?

College campuses are ostensibly venues for free and open discussion. All ideas should be given an open hearing, and be judged according to their individual merits. Are they supported by good evidence? Are they internally consistent? Will they produce desirable outcomes? That, in any case, is the ideal. More and more, it seems, there is breed of campus activist that disagrees with this view. At Berkeley, protesters rioted to shut down a speech by the right-wing provocateur, Milo Yiannopoulos. In Middlebury, they shouted down Charles Murray and later assaulted Professor Alison Stanger, who was hosting the talk. At Evergreen State College, they are championing the dismissal of a biology professor who expressed concern over the discriminatory nature of a campus event. Groups like Antifa (short for anti-fascist) adopt curiously jackbooted and signally authoritarian strategies to enforce their political will. They seem to be fighting fascism with something that looks conspicuously like fascism. Largely, the most raucous elements of far-left authoritarianism are part of fringe group. However, there is some cause for greater concern. According to …

When I Was in Love with a Comparative Literature Student

She said she did not believe there was such a thing as love—not because she was embarrassed by sentimentality, but because Jacques Derrida had convinced her that language did not actually refer to an external reality. I met her during the period she was reading Derrida’s Of Grammatology. Or maybe it was when she was reading Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time, which for weeks she kept open and in front of her at the campus coffee shop. At least once, she carried Heidegger into a bubble bath. The first time we hung out, we read together in an empty classroom. I was reading Philip Roth’s novel American Pastoral for a literature class. She was reading “The Concept of Irony” by literary theorist Paul de Man for fun. As in every classroom, there was a clock at the front of the room. The sound of the ticking, which I had unthinkingly accepted as an imperfect part of our environment, irritated her. She stood up on the table and flung the clock to the ground. She put …

Conceit and Contagion: How the Virus Shocked Europe

The World Health Organization announced last week that Europe is now the epicentre of the new coronavirus epidemic. As the announcement was made, many countries in Africa and Asia were imposing strict restrictions on the arrival of flights and visitors from Europe. It felt like a great historical reversal, one full of irony. Suddenly Europeans were being kept away, they who for so long fortified their borders against all the dangers—real or imagined—arriving from the developing world. The coronavirus crisis in Europe is, before everything else, a public health crisis, but it also reflects profound changes in the way the continent sees itself. Many of these changes have been taking place for a while. Previous moments such as the debt or refugee crises can be linked with the ongoing epidemic as part of a larger pattern, but the coronavirus has made everything more visible and certainly more tragic. It seems clear to me that the extent of the outbreak in Europe is directly connected to subtle questions of cultural identity, some of which I want …

Don’t Blame Neoliberalism for ‘Postmodern Conservatism’

The last decade has been an age of political tumult. The rise of right-wing populism is ascendant across the West. Liberal democracy and capitalism are in retreat. Fierce divisions erupted between north and south Europe following the imposition of fiscal austerity measures. In America, there was the Tea Party movement, Occupy, and the rise of social justice as a new form of increasingly brittle leftist dogma. Fuelled by online tribalism, everyday politics has become radicalized, with Brexit in the UK and the stunning election of Donald Trump in the United States. Trump’s Democratic opponent in the coming presidential election may well be Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist who is promising to implement a policy revolution on the scale of FDR. What is happening? In his newly published book, The Rise of Postmodern Conservatism: Neoliberalism, Post-Modern Culture, and Reactionary Politics, Tec de Monterrey philosophy professor (and Quillette author) Matt McManus attempts to provide an answer. Drawing on a wide-ranging body of work by leading intellectuals, he argues that the world we knew is unraveling not, as …

Complexity and Understanding

Do humans understand each other? Any honest attempt to answer this question will need to consider some profound and important facts. The question is broad, but worth asking repeatedly. Modern writers and thinkers fail to fully appreciate the merit in marrying science and philosophy, which the great psychotherapists of the 20th century (and many great philosophers before them) did rather admirably. Their writings shed light on the under-explored depths of our humanity. Historically, the inevitable faults of humanness are recurrent; the whims of our finite, imperfect human nature. Mutual misunderstandings run deep and at times prove to be dangerous. It is neither feasible nor especially useful to pass over the various reasons we fail to understand one another. There is also nothing novel or compelling about listing the countless examples of human misunderstanding such as war, tribalism, and political polarization. It is more useful to proceed with a relatively narrow focus, in an attempt to fully articulate one specific reason why humans do not truly understand one another. That reason is complexity. In the face …

The National Book Foundation Defines Diversity Down

Last month the Huffington Post published an essay by Claire Fallon entitled “Was this Decade the Beginning of the End of the Great White Male Writer?” Fallon celebrated the notion that white men are losing their prominence in contemporary American literature and that the best books being published in America today are being written by a wider variety of authors than ever before: “What was once insular is now unifying,” National Book Foundation director Lisa Lucas told the crowd at the 2019 National Book Awards Gala, where the fiction, nonfiction, and poetry honors all went to writers of color. “What was once exclusive is now inclusive.” Lucas took over the foundation in 2016, at a time when the high-profile awards had a somewhat checkered record with representation. Though historically the honorees had skewed heavily white and male, that began to change around 2010. (However, there had been some other recent embarrassments, like 2014 host Daniel Handler’s racist jokes following author Jacqueline Woodson’s win for “Brown Girl Dreaming.”) Lucas, the first woman and person of color …