The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Explaining Postmodernism

I’ve just started reading this one, and it a real treat. BTW it is free on Kindle Unlimited, but worth the money if you have to pay a few bucks. I read a lot of philosophy but this one stands out for clarity and perspective.
He begins by delineating the pre-modern (medieval) from the modern, and then moves into the postmodern, as it shows itself in science, literature, sexuality, law - and has sufficient quotes from the sources to back up his presentation.

Here’s a snippet from the section on postmodern Law. Sound familiar?

@mcarans - Michael I think you in particular would like this one,

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How about a short, intro video? :crazy_face:

I think the book is very good, and stands out in the 40 year period of my philosophy reading.
The reviewer, I think, has a bias in one direction, and is reading that bias into this work.
Don’t trust that review, imo.
But just my $.02.
Here’s a review I could have written:
This is a superb, important book, one which I have begun recommending to friends and colleagues. It is a history of postmodernism that connects its relationship to history, the history of philosophy, leftist politics and even the ugliness of contemporary art. The overarching thesis is that “the failure of epistemology made postmodernism possible, and the failure of socialism made postmodernism necessary.” From the Anglo/French Enlightenment the left turned to Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche and Heidegger. By the mid 20th century it was clear that socialism was a grand failure, leaving the world awash in millions of dead bodies. Such straightforward Enlightenment tools as reason, logic and factual evidence made that clear. The result was that hard leftists such as Foucault and softish hard leftists like Derrida and Rorty (all born in very close proximity to one another) set out to destroy those Enlightenment tools, arguing that language does not reflect reality, facts are really fiction, there is no such thing as ‘human nature’, all comes down to questions of ‘power’, and so on. These strategies were ultimately designed to protect socialism from common sense criticism. This has not advanced socialism to any appreciable degree, but it has roiled our colleges and universities and served as a countercultural infrastructure for a vast machine of indoctrination, one that seeks to win a succession of tiny battles when it is clear that the larger war has long been lost.

Hicks’s conclusions are this stark but his arguments are detailed. He sees this as fundamentally a failure of epistemology that has been exploited endlessly. Kant’s ultimate subjectivism and his separation of subject and object have been decisive in opening the door both to postmodernism and to romanticism. Hicks does not pursue the latter; that would require another book, but one which I would very much like to see him write.

The book is one of the most lucid and accessible studies of the history of philosophy that I have ever encountered and it is particularly acute in its ability to connect the dots and trace the intellectual lineages and etiologies. If you want to see how the defense of affirmative action, speech codes, and global warming activism ultimately connects with Rousseau, Kant and Marx, et al, this is the book with which you should begin.

This expanded edition adds two relevant essays: “Free Speech and Postmodernism” and “From Modern to Postmodern Art: Why Art Became Ugly.” The latter is particularly incisive.

Highly recommended.

So - here is a snippet showing the reasoning behind this author’s explanation of Kant vs the skewed remark of the reviewer you quoted.: (sorry for the CAPS. These are clips and not documents):

I know of at least one questionable assertion in this book. It’s not true that medieval phiopsophers didn’t value rationaility. Not at all. We’ve all attempted some beard shaving with Occam’s razor on this site I reckon - from time to time :smiley:

Dick, his point is, I think, that certainly reason was used and has been used throughout human history; but there is little doubt that medieval philosophers did not ‘start’ from nature, but from tradition, faith and the mystical - so ‘free’ Reason in the distinct terms of the Enlightenment, what we might call ‘autonomous’ Reason - was not the order of the day. I think he understands it well. OTOH I have yet to read a ‘perfect’ book. :slight_smile: and I appreciate your critical reading.
The reliance on autonomous reason is I think the focus.

Is Hicks commending returning to “reliance on tradition, faith & mysticism” over the modern view “that perception & reason are the human means of knowing nature”?

True confessions, for a modern guy, that will seem problematic. In a pre-scientific era, where tradition and faith was homogeneous, one might well assume that what such external authority in one’s culture asserted about nature and the world must be correct.

But now we are aware of many conflicting faiths and traditions, and thus to depend on any of those begs the question of which tradition is a reliable guide to “knowing nature.” Indeed, it seem impossible to cogently choose which external authority we should rely on, unless we first look to “reason” and the “perceptions” we can observe in order to decide which faith & tradition is a convincing & helpful guide.

He’s not commending anything, actually - he’s presenting a mainly broad-strokes introduction to the historical movement from medieval to modern to post-modern thinking.
If he has an agenda, I haven’t seen it yet. This is not a work of philosophy, but a work about philosophy.
I haven’t googled him so don’t know and at this point don’t want to know anything about him - I’ll form my opinions as I go along and when I’m done maybe I’ll see ‘where he’s coming from’. More exciting that way. :-). I found a like-new hardback on Alibris for a few bucks and will continue reading when it arrives because, if you can’t read a book with a pencil, what’s the point?

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I was being a pickle there Dave … but I would contend that wheras the so called Realists among the scholastics fit this picture the Nominalist were quite far down the path of philopsophical naturalism.

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Dick, I am actually happy when you take a close look at something I’m reading, and question it - it means I have to look a little more closely at the text and make sure I was reading it correctly - or not.

Good point re: solipsism!


We need a song, emphasizing this thread’s theme. :crazy_face:

I’m only looking at the pages that Amqazon revie allows me to do. But from the start I’m unclear about definitions Dave :slight_smile: It’s a long time since I’ve read this stuff but I still remember that there was/is a debate amongst feminist between those who embraced po-mo and those who were/are against it. Non po-mo feminists are adamant that experience isn’t infinitely mallable according to individual desires but, rather, is predicated upon objective facts. Dworkin was a deeply damaged person - but she was certainly in the anti po-mo camp as I remember. Here’s an extract from the writings of an anti po mo feminist that clarifies the differences (one does not have to agree with everything she writes to see that she is not a post modernist in the sense that it is normally used, and she cites Dworkin as a comrade):

Radical feminists engage in materialist critiques, denouncing existing oppressions –to be perceived and abolished. We are women who talk about real, material oppressions of women (e.g. Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology , 1979). Postmodern ‘feminist’ authors ignore such concepts, stating that history is discourse, and interpersonal relations are ‘performance’ (as in Butler, 1990).

The postmodern project contributes to the erasure of the female biology (as written about by Charlene Spretnak, in States of Grace: The Recovery of Meaning in the Postmodern Age ; 1991). At least postmodern feminist Jane Flax (in a Signs article, ‘Postmodernism and Gender Relations in Feminist Theory;’ 1987) still admitted “…there are anatomical differences between men and women” (p. 636). However, Judith Butler (in Gender Trouble , 1990) denied that there was such a thing as the female sex or biology, and claims that it is ‘essentialist’ to say so. Yet women’s bodies are a central target for patriarchal oppression (Rowland and Klein, 1996, in Radically Speaking ). The atrocities done to women in the real world damage their bodily integrity.

In her book Of Woman Born (1977), Adrienne Rich had warned that female biology tends to be denigrated and ignored by patriarchal thinking, as this is not something that can be experienced by men. Rich argued that female biology had to be reclaimed, outside of the realm of gender roles, and had to become viewed in a more positive light. Janice Raymond (in A Passion for Friends ; 1986) had repeatedly denied that radical feminists are ‘biological determinists.’ Women are not ‘naturally’ nurturing, etc but there are certain reproductive capacities in the majority of female bodies (Daly, 1979), hence women are defined and oppressed as a sex class by our ability to bear children. Menstruation, pregnancies and lactations are a core reality to many women’s embodied experience (Spretnak, 1991). Yet within the realm of patriarchal postmodernist scholarship– these bodily phenomena –because they exist outside the male embodied experience, just disappear into ‘texts’. Women’s experience no longer matters.

The fact that women’s bodies are being dehumanised through their interpretation as ‘texts’ (i.e. the pomo ‘body-as-text’ ideology) in postmodern feminist thinking shows that this theory is so far removed from the reality of women’s lives. According to Renate Klein (1996), postmodern feminism invisiblises and symbolically ‘dismembers’ women through theories of disconnection and dissociation.

This is particularly visible in the work of the pro-prostitution postmodern writer. Shannon Bell (in Reading, Writing, and Rewriting the Prostitute Body ; 1994) conceptualises the flesh-and-blood human female body as an object –‘referent’. The rewriting of the ‘prostitute body’ entails a positive framing of prostitution through discussing how prostituted women “inscribe their own bodies in diverse and contradictory ways…” (p. 4). The ‘prostitute body’ no longer has any inherent meaning. Prostitution is not seen as exploitation or sexual violence against women by johns and pimps here. Those forms of abuse do not inscribe themselves onto her body or experience. Instead, the prostituted woman is portrayed as ‘choosing’ to feel empowered by her role. Once again here, the subordination and abuse of women in prostitution becomes invisible.

This is reminiscent of the fragmentation of prostituted women’s minds that Melissa Farley described ( Prostitution, Trafficking and Traumatic Stress ; 2003), after doing a large-scale and cross-country research on prostituted women. Farley explained that the abuse the majority of women experience in prostitution and pornography is so unbearable that prostituted women have to compartmentalise mentally, fragment their minds from their bodies to be able to survive the brutal commodification and violation of their flesh by the sex industry. Postmodernism, as a form of academic dissociation from reality with a ‘body as text’ analysis, feeds into similar mental fragmentation.

In the name of postmodern writing, women’s bodies are reduced to ‘texts’, body parts and denied real humanity. This shows a split between academic feminism and political feminism. Even Marysia Zalewski (2000) could not come up with a concrete explanation of the postmodernist approach to reproductive technologies. By denying the reproductive capacity of women as a sex class, by denying that women’s bodies are real –physical flesh and blood (not ‘texts’) that can be harmed– postmodern feminists are unlikely to recognise reproductive technologies as invasive procedures and escalation of violence against women (as documented by Gena Corea, in 1988). Nor are they likely to recognise pornography as male hatred of women (as documented by Dines’ Pornland , 2010; Dworkin’s Pornography: Men Possessing Women , 1979; and Jeffreys’ Industrial Vagina , 2009) or feminine beauty practices as harmful, patriarchally institutionalised practices (Jeffreys, 2006). I seriously wonder how postmodern ‘feminists’ would conceptualise women’s experiences of female genital mutilation in the so-called ‘third world’?

The constant postmodern prioritising of style over substance is another attempt to ‘feminise’ feminism, i.e. tame it with vague and obscure texts wrapped up in a seductive style, creating a diversion from the lack of concrete substance. When feminism becomes too femininely ‘polite’ to address real issues, and too ‘stylish’ to reach women who are outside of complex academic readership, it is unlikely that it will stir up women to passionate political anger and rebellion. Instead, what remains is a form of academic dissociation that attempts to irrationalise feminism. Let me examine central tenets of postmodern ‘feminism’. As Kristin Waters pointed out:

In a post-modern world, theories become discourses, words become signifiers; both books and bodies become texts to be read, studied, and dissected, criticisms become deconstructions; and people and groups become fragmented selves, reason becomes desire, and substance becomes style.” (Waters, in Radically Speaking , 1996, p. 285; italics in original)

There is a rational goal in identifying common interests and shared experiences between women, but since postmodern ‘feminism’ favours desire over reason and denies there is such a thing as truth, its analyses stick to the sphere of the theoretical and never moves beyond this.

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“Industrial Vagina”? What a GREAT name for a punk band, rivaling “Pussy Riot” imho. :wink:
Thanks for the remarks, trenchant as always.
The book I referenced arrives today in hardback, so I can sit with a pencil and have a good go at it. Some of your concerns are nuanced later in the book but it is good to remember what the book is trying to do, and it is outstanding in that effort.
Your point that not all feminists are pomo is of course true; but then I think feminism went off the rails long ago, the whole work of deconstructing Patriarchal society in terms of power is just simply exaggerated. Those who do that type of deconstruction are imo pomos in everything but name.

POMO’s along with other post-Marxist, post-Colonial etc. positions are actually nonsensical in the extreme. The reasons for that are pointed out succinctly by Roger Scruton in his Fakes, Firebrands book.
I’ll be back.

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In the index of the book, which just arrived and it is a nicely put together hardback, easy to read font etc. - he references Dworkin a few times. The gist of his thinking is that the use of pomo language, whether or not one considers oneself pomo, has the same effect. He writes:

“…Dworkin calls ALL heterosexual males ‘rapists’ (he gives the references if you want them) and refers to ‘Amerika’.”
The point being, it is not the truth of the statement that ‘counts’ - it is the effectiveness of the language.
Oh so very Pomo.

Which also reminds me of the dictum that postmodernism is the “victory of rhetoric over dialectic”.

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Thanks Michael.

Hi Dave -

I’m aware that Andrea Dworkin made those statements (Im only talking about here because I had a discussion about her ith someone a couple of decades ago). She then backed down from some of what she had said. (She was very damaged - there was some sort of experience of sexual abuse by a male predator in her childhood that had traumatised her, and this temed to filter her views). Yes she did use rhetoric in a firebrand way - that is so; I’m very wary of anyone who does this. I’ll have to get my head round the idea that people who use rhetoric in this extrvagant way for effect while being somewhat careless of truth are very po mo (at least at the present time).

I’d agree that radical feminism has overdone the schitck about ‘the patriarchy’ by the way. :slight_smile:

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I hear what you are saying about definitions and such, Dick. The term pomo is a ‘big-tent’ term that includes actual self-aware postmodernists as well as those that have picked up the attitude by osmosis or as a type of mental virus.
The real pomos, such as Foucault, will say things like: “It is meaningless to speak in the name of - or against - Reason, Truth, or Knowledge.” Or Richard Rorty (who actually writes pretty well for a philosopher) : “…avoid hinting that (my) suggestion gets something right. that my sort of philosophy corresponds to the way things really are. For this talk of correspondence brings back…the idea that the world or the self has an intrinsic nature.”
Some people have actually ‘reasoned’ themselves into pomo, some people are attracted to the idea of fluid truth, exalting rhetoric over Reason - it seems to me that most of Washington DC power brokers are natural pomos - elasticity being a great political “asset.” The most glaring examples right now are the far Left Dems, but the virus is endemic both parties.
Thanks Dick.

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Yes Dave :slight_smile: - the crafty arts of rhetoric and the legerdemain of political persuasion are not new. I think it was Machiavelli who said that if you tell a lie often enough it becomes the truth (and I thought that good advice for a Prince who would outwit the turnings of the wheel of political fortune).

Foucault’s ‘post[-foundationalism’ was a terrible trap. If truth and power are equated - which is pretty much what he thought - then where is the foundation for critiquing oppressive forms of power (something he at least thought he was trying to do). And even in terms of praxis rather than theory he made huge mistakes - for example his hatred of the West and love of anything not Western lead him to think that the Ayatollah’s revolution in Iran was going to be good for gay people I seem to remember!!! I often agree with conservative critiques of Foucault.

If I remember rightly, Lyotard seemed very different to Foucault. He was more often describing and lamenting the fragmentation he associated with po mo than actually celebrating it.

I too see the ‘sins’ that are categorized as ‘po mo’ by thinkers and political figures on both the left and the right manifested in thinkers and political figures on both the left and the right. Hmmmm - perplexing :slight_smile:

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Perhaps this university lecture will shed some light, on this forum topic. :crazy_face:


Hmmmm - I am getting old. I was thinking of Jean Baudrillard above - he was the guy who talked about the simulacrum of hyper-reality !!! (crazeee) and not Lyotard. He was another dead Frenchman - but he was the one how talked about the break down of meta-narratives. OK - I’ve got me bearings now. So I’ll have a nice warm mug of tea and take my medication :smiley:

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Those dead Frenchman are thick as fleas on a dog’s back. lol
Never even HEARD about your Jean Baudrillard. And I can’t pronounce it anyway. lol

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