A post about postmodernism

Believe it or not I have a piece of paper from Oxford University saying I hold a degree in Philosophy and Politics. Actually I have a hard time believing it as I really struggled with Philosophy. I was particularly hopeless at the jargon. To win a philosophical argument with me, all you had to do was to suggest that I was being solipsistic (or pretty much any such term). I’d stare at you blankly, because I had no idea what it meant but didn’t want to admit to such professional ignorance. Secretly, I’d sneer at your pretentious use of language, but you’d never know that. It was only 18 months ago that I learnt from David Weinberger about Ordinary Langauge Philosophy, which is more my cup of tea.

I really do try to avoid using jargon, but occasionally I make an exception. For instance, I’m quite fond of the fundamental attribution error , because the phenomenon it describes is so fascinating to me.

Today, I’m making another exception for the term postmodernism. I’ve heard this bandied about for decades but never really had a clue what it meant, though it seemed to be associated with other phrases like avant garde and smacked vaguely of rebelliousness.

Well, I recently went to a conference where the term was used so often that I had to look up postmodernism in wikipedia. Postmodernists don’t go in for universal truths, or as wikipedia puts it

According to postmodern theorist Jean-François Lyotard, postmodernity is characterized as an “incredulity toward metanarratives”, meaning that in the era of postmodern culture, people have rejected the grand, supposedly universal stories and paradigms such as religion, conventional philosophy, capitalism and gender that have defined culture and behavior in the past, and have instead begun to organize their cultural life around a variety of more local and subcultural ideologies, myths and stories.

That sounds quite attractive to me – and fits very nicely with my experience of what folks are using the internet for. And it strikes me that a lot of branding is stuck trying to create grand universal stories, instead of embracing multiple narratives. So maybe I’m a branding postmodernist! How pretentious is that?

PS Am I alone in finding this note at top of the wikipedia entry a little ironic? “This article needs to be cleaned up to conform to a higher standard of quality”

UPDATE Dan at Headshift also gets into postmodernism:

The history of the 20th century has been one of grand narratives, big life stories that affect everyone, two world wars, recoveries, depressions, cold wars. The media as it has existed over the last 100 years and political institutions have played an important part in telling these stories. These have all been simple stories and the media and politics have evolved to tell these simple stories. Maybe the media shaped the perception of world events, or the world events shaped the media but I’ll not get into cause and effect in meta-technologies right now.

However life is more complicated now. For a variety of reasons events, opinions, sides, religions and lifestyles are all more nuanced and intermixed, they don’t fit nicely into grand narratives.

10 thoughts on “A post about postmodernism

  1. Chris Corrigan

    Yes but is that THE definition of postmodernism or is the signified so transitive that meaning slips through the glosses of context and becomes me/aning, a personal construction of decentred definitivness, reliant on the subject to read his intentions so as to deconstruct the text of them?

    Or isn’t it?

  2. Jack Yan

    Maybe we are branding postmodernists, or postmodern brand consultants? I have always thought of the term in a more literal sense: that modernism, as a design movement, was considered the pinnacle with its order and geometry. Postmodernism moves past that to a disorder but one which does not go all the way to chaos. Perhaps in branding terms, we are advocating that the “wrong” way (read Wall Street, Enron, etc.) should be revolted against, but not to the point where no system exists at all—a thought that may well coincide with your adaptation of the Wiki definition.
       Of course, give us a few more decades and this may all be seen as one large democratic movement over the last few centuries to individual empowerment and respect of individual spiritualities and paths.

  3. Tom Asacker

    Funny. About eight years ago I did a session at Inc. Magazine’s Inc. 500 Conference titled “Postmodern Marketing.” It didn’t draw many attendees. What the heck was I thinking? 😉

  4. Monkeymagic


    If you want to know what a philosophy degree’s really like, then Johnnie’s probably the man to tell you. I was particularly hopeless at the jargon. To win a philosophical argument with me, all you had to do was to…

  5. DUST!N

    Here’s a question for you:

    Is the postmodern society willing to maintain a conversation with the modern society?

    Postmodern thinkers have challenged the traditional establishment. Will they listen to the response? (i.e. emergent church, permission marketing, social responsibility, et al)

  6. Johnnie Moore

    Hi Dustin. I don’t know if society is either modern or postmodern… I think these are frameworks we as individuals take. I suppose a postmodern view would have to embrace multiple perspectives as it doesn’t hold with universal truths!

  7. DUST!N

    Yes, I suppose it is misleading (albeit simpler) to speak in the collective sense. I guess the question is whether a postmodern view would embrace/accept/tolerate a perspective which does hold some universal truths.

    (I know we’re getting very philosophical here) Is the postmodern view convicted that there are NO universal truths, or that there are much fewer than generally accepted.

    My personal view is that most people believe in too many universal truths, but that a few actually do exist.

    The ironic thing is by saying there are no universal truths, doesn’t that become a universal truth?

  8. Johnnie Moore

    Dustin: This is why studying philosophy starts to drive one a bit mad! I don’t really claim authority on postmodernism, I just like the sound of it.

    In the end, I think we’re all trying to figure out “how shall we go on together”. The answer to that is (I think) always unfolding, and no explicit description can ever grab the whole story.

    The truths we can make explicit can’t capture the complex reality. Shades of Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty!

  9. DUST!N

    Don’t hate me for this, but the uncertainty principle espouses quantitative bounds for the uncertainty. So one could make statements of absolute verocity, but not be absolutely certain of the absolute accuracy of details involved in such a statement.

    I’ll stop now before we both go “a bit mad!” I enjoy discussing this, but am uncertain of it’s purpose. If nothing else, it did give me an idea to post on this week.


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