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.