POSTMODERNISM IS A DEAD CANARD
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
Is Postmodernism Dead?
Postmodernism is rarely mentioned anymore even in vulgar quarters. It is obviously out of vogue, whatever it is or was. I suppose its popular demise is a crying shame for those who were devoted to extrapolating it for so many years. On the other hand, many of those shedding tears into handkerchiefs behind their veils must be weeping with joy, having been partially relieved of their burdensome postmodern confusion. Yet they may not understand just what the dearly departed was, whether it was a quacking duck or a canard, hence some confusion remains to be buried. For those who are still in mourning or are rejoicing, I will share my memories of and opinions on the dearly departed in hopes of clearing up the controversy over postmodernism’s late identity so that we may have closure.
At first I was so confused by postmodernism that I thought “postmodernism” was synonymous with “confusionism.” Nonetheless, I believed I could give a reasonable account of it. Reasoning about confusion as if it were understandable did little to dispel my confusion. My initial efforts to rationalize postmodernism with linear thinking were sinking me deeper into its bewildering morass. Unclean spirits crept in and infected my reason when I suspended judgment to listen to postmodernism’s farraginous canon of discourse.
I was reminded of the time I visited a friend in Bellevue for too long, and, thanks to the power of suggestion, I nearly got myself committed by the head discerner of unclean spirits there. It is certainly no wonder postmodernists mention madness and imprisonment so often. Be that as it may, my investigation of postmodernism was making an unwitting postmodernist out of me.
I had given existentialism the old college try before my encounter with postmodernism. Although I could not quite put my finger on my existence as a passionate and free individual responsible for its choices, at least with existentialism I was left with faith in meaningful meaninglessness, and in Nothingness, which seemed to be naked Being, or Being stripped of all its predicates. But with postmodernism I became a scattering of incoherent bits and pieces, a random jumble, a sort of trash-art personality or gallimaufry incarnate. I was nonetheless allowed to keep the precious conflict with authority my dad said was my issue, and I was encouraged to resent any encroachment on whatever culture I might want to conform to someday, namely someone else’s culture, the more exotic the better. I began to suspect that postmodernism was some sort of sophisticated temper tantrum mixed up with tantric practices and whatnot. I must confess that I was taken in by it, whatever it was or was not, and I wanted to do something about it.
I seriously considered moving to Mongolia where I would buy a used yurt, round up some stray livestock, and become a nomad. I would have to give up lactose-free vegetarianism and take up meat-eating and drinking mare’s milk. I would learn to like the diet, horse racing, and vodka. But then I learned a money economy had been introduced by some yuppies with a laptop. Bankers were stealing the money. Nomads were exchanging their herds for money, which is absurd: a nomad’s real wealth is measured by number of head and not by number of exchange units or the Western junk that can be purchased with them! To make matters worse with the virtues of an advancing free-market economy, the Russians were no longer putting out fodder for the winter.
Survival of the fittest is not my cup of tea. So much for my Mongolia plan! Then my mind wandered to Myanmar for awhile, but I could not bring my body there to be shot or hung: I just hate juntas. I was disappointed to learn that the Myanmar junta wanted to build scarce Western houses for everyone who approved of the junta. I preferred plentiful bamboo. I know, fire insurance is not available, but so what if the bamboo house burns down? Happy-go-lucky villagers can just throw up another house after celebrating the good life again. As for the contents of the bamboo shelter, who needs more possessions than can be carried on one’s back? Indeed, I speculated, property is theft, the source of all the violence. Evil is of our own making! But alas, the globe is overrun with property and its attendant evils including monogamy and juntas who hate multiculturalism. (Ironically, in its love for denigrated others, postmodernism includes juntas on its protected species list). After much such mental globe-trotting, I gave up on finding a postmodern Arcadia. There are no pockets of paradise left, so I decided to stay put in the despicable West.
Talk About Talk
Postmodernists seem to think language is everything, so I took up talk about talk. Talk is the model for everything; language is the model of organization. The universe is yackety-yack; the elements of the universe as we understand them are all talking systematically. Each element is determined by its system wherefore each individual is specified by its complex relation with other elements. Genuine postmodernists must remember that signs do not refer to the real world but are merely reflexes of the flexible system.
In fact, there is no real world for there is no Reality. And, without Reality for statements to correspond to, there is no Truth. The Universe is not a unity or singular entity with its own independent essence, but is a discombobulated universe of various canons or systems of “discourse.” Strictly speaking, the universe is just a speech of speeches without a Speaker. Anyone who dares to speak the Universe is a fool or a liar. However, if he is a bigot with a system, postmodernists cannot but admire him as an Other who has a canon of discourse, for they love the authority they hate.
In other words, there is no such thing as the Truth. Words like “Truth”, “Nature”, “Reality”, are weasel words, nominalistic lies implying that transcendental values exist. That is to say that only the particulars or elements of systems exist. Welcome back to the temporal and spatial finitude modern people fought so long and hard to transcend. So long to Liberty at the end of the historical road; say so long to Oz at the end of the yellow brick one. Welcome to Logos as a system without a wise God. Say hello to a postmodern idol, to Discourses, or systemic linguistic practices which are not just our everyday verbalizations, but everything we do.
Analogously speaking, everything of human value is a sign of a discursive system. As we speak, the elements of Chicago are carrying on a robust Midwestern conversation with cattle, corn and wheat, and, conversely, with the Windy City’s wind, residents, great lake, and everything else worth talking about. Within that urban complex, professors of sociology at the University of Chicago are firing their canon of discourse, perhaps at the reproductive canon of discourse in rural Illinois.
Initially taken in by postmodernism, I tried to be cool. I practiced putting down the supposedly Western way of thinking, which is, of course, the hard way; the rigid phallic way. However, when doing just that, I erected my thinking above thinking itself in the same old despised way! I grew increasingly cynical about the postmodern canon of discourse. It seemed to be shooting its mouth off to get a reaction. It seemed to be making trouble just to blame the trouble on its neoteric forefathers, biting every hand that fed it.
Postmodernists believe man is dead, buried in structural systems to which he constantly adjusts. But the postmodern structures are inane conceits. Thus postmodernists are left with a pseudo-science too arid to be ugly. Everything talked about had been talked about before so many times that it seemed like the graves had been picked clean of everything including the bones, and that we were just talking about some crazy talking technique neither we nor its inventor understood because it is actually an anti-technique.
In sum, I found very little original thinking in the postmodern camp populated by interpretations of interpretations of interpretations instead of human beings. Alienated from my transcendental ego, I was tempted to return to existentialism, to re-read Husserl, Heidegger, Camus, Sartre, and, may heaven forbid, Kierkegaard, Buber and Tillich, but I desisted since the very idea of existence before being, the category-of-one as a universal particular before the Universal, was incomprehensible.
I Love Aardvaarks and Slime Mold
I also took up the passionate study of slime mold and aardvarks during my excursions into postmodernism, and I wrote haikus about obscure herbal medicines. I was so infuriated by a Western zoologist’s rude remark that aardvarks are ugly that I imbibed a prodigious quantity of tranquilizing herbal tea. Duly intoxicated, I surmised that, with the advent of the Internet, mankind will soon fulfill its destiny by becoming a Global Glob, analogous to a gigantic slime mold covering the globe, living off of decaying matter while leaving the thriving vegetation unharmed. I composed a haikus on the subject because an idolized professor of postmodern literature said the sonnet form is really that of a syllogism, and as such it had served more to stifle erotic romance with patriarchal formalism than to promote it.
My haiku on the Global Glob, alluding to billions of cells becoming a single yellow cell having the appearance of a sick cosmic dog’s vomit, created quite a big stir on the Manoa campus. I was immensely amused by the feedback, but I still could not stand postmodernism’s supercilious talk-about-talk vocabulary. People really thought they knew it all when they learned how to say “paradigm” over and over. That I did not mind so much. But if I hear “discourse” or “episteme”, or even worse, “canon of discourse”, one more time, I will certainly redundantly retch.
The hypocrisy of the postmodernist pseudo-scientists, who seem to be trained by frustrated Marxists, is appalling to any Westerner in his right mind. The very idea of it, to use the supreme canon of “Western” thinking to blast the West! And to think one might get away with it by peppering his supposedly objective manifestos with some such obscure weasel-word as “topos”. Please, I do not want to go to that confusing place! To hell with the “topoi”! I quit! Take me to the Enlightenment!
El Cogito Factor
One thing postmodernism is dead set against is the Enlightenment, especially the Enlightenment’s favorite induction, El Cogito Factor, which makes all brilliant deductions from a broad generalization possible. The amazing frustrated existentialist, Rene Descartes, discovered the world-shaking factor for himself, stating it in the elegant a< b (“a implies b,” or “a therefore b”) propositional form, “Cogito ergo sum”, or, “I think therefore I am”. And if one thinks long enough, one arrives at the conclusion that the “I” doing the thinking thinks about many things yet is still the “I”, hence consciousness is a unity apposite an infinite plurality of possible objects.
The “I” may be otherwise explained as a broad generalization instead of an a priori, existent essent, as self-consciousness mysteriously induced from the awareness of multiple objects. On the inductive side, the “I” or subject, when absolutely universalized, magically becomes the Subject-of-subjects or “God.” And from that universal supreme Individual, from that almighty-I, all things are deduced. Meditate on the interlocking triangles of the “Star of David” to better understand the logical absurdity.
Of course any reasonable person knows there is no person without society, that we are social beings, that there is no I without a WE, that language is common to all speakers, that the universe of discourse is essentially ONE. The ONE is the Unity-of-unities such as the unity of history, the unity of the self or ‘I”, the unity of the objective world and so on, unitary beings in themselves. Absent the unities, or absolute common denominators, we would quickly devolve to insanity and to the nihilistic end of history desired by many postmodern anarchists.
All this may be the usual philosophical nonsense about common sense. But it leaves us with due cause to wonder how people got so confused as to forget who they were anyway. So I shall continue apace: Postmodernism is reactionary and it would return us to the old confusionism that existed before the hero Descartes elevated the subjective -I to its noble status, an elevated status which asserts the individuality of the will, hence individual freedom; Descartes was a philosophical Protestant in the sense that, when seeking to know himself, he took no catholic authority for granted, but resorted to his ability to think for himself.
Nevertheless, postmodernists abhor the very unity of consciousness we take for granted even more than they detest globalism. They would make us and our groups into the elements of systems and into cogs in machines, slaves to the finite discursive systems, the fantastic monstrosities they concoct for us to constantly adjust to. They resent the authority of reason, confusing it with the arbitrary authority of the old patriarchs, whose irrational might made right and served the centralization of power in their royal “I”s on their thrones. The postmodernists’ confusionism betrays them, for they would actually revert to the primitive forms of arbitration. In their self-contradiction, in their absurd denial of the Cogito Factor, they assume that the organization of intelligence, which is the natural process of evolution, is a Western conspiracy that must be thwarted. And they would unwittingly outwit it by means of its own method. But of course! That is the only method we know of, the one Method of methods gleaned from the universal science of methodology, the study of methods, which depends on the Cogito Factor, on the identity of the “I” as a unity of consciousness capable of generalizing its objects.
Yes, indeed, ladies and gentlemen, we see here the grand contradiction of postmodernism: the rebellious child becomes its own father, the very father it hates. What it deplores, the Western culture that fathered it, it really adores.
Authority is a Big Problem
I must admit that my inner child was rebellious when I first embraced postmodernism. The movement was automatically impertinent, disruptive, and critical of authority. Good! I was born with a conflict with authority. But I was unable to discern the difference between postmodernism and philosophical anarchy or dogmatic skepticism. I wanted to join a postmodern protest march but I could not find a postmodern flag to march behind. I found out later there was no such flag or march.
I also discovered that, for all their love of concrete systems, the postmodernists were unable to propose any such system or institution to replace the Western hegemonic system they hate so much. When caught with their pants down in that respect, they resort to the very sort of vague generalities and weasel-word vocabulary they accuse modern thinkers of. Postmodernists realize they have no solution to the problem of injustice being done to others by the insiders of the predominant power-culture, therefore they resort to ineffable solutions instead of the ones already being employed.
We hear of “another law…lying beyond the totality of the present” (Derrida) and a “new form of right” (Foucault), of faith in an “imaginary community not really present but in relation”, of “agnostic respect”, or respecting the other’s system while not knowing that one’s own system is the best, and of the “radical democracy of the people” in whom there is a “uniformity.” But that uniformity would belie postmodernism’s beloved systemic differences and assert the absolute common denominator abhorred, the subjective-I. The object of postmodernism’s ethical relativity is not mere toleration of others, but the active celebration of the other as another hence we have a politics of Otherness. And what happens to the “we” who is celebrating its “others”? What if the others are Nazis who want to kill Jews and we are the Jews?
We are advised to remember that what we are depends on what we are not, therefore we are to have respect for the not that makes us what we are. This advice has it merits, but we should also remember that our love of the common good hates evil forms contrary to that good, vicious systems that might have to be annihilated. Furthermore, what we are depends more on what we want to be than what we are not. Yes, God must have Satan and Satan loves God, but let us place our love rightly.
The more I found out about postmodern politics, the more useless the same seemed. Since politics are actually rooted in morality, and since postmodernism espouses ethical relativity, there is no such politics as postmodern politics. In any event, we and the others have plenty of political, religious, and ethical tools already at our disposal, dialectical and critical tools forged by millennia of practical experience.
The Talking Cure
I was confused by postmodernism so I took up the detoxification program to talk my way out of the morass. As one may surmise from the foregoing, I most fortunately gave up my study of postmodernism before I had completely lost my mind. You see, behind the postmodernist mask is the mechanical madness of a plurality of selves. That is to say, there presumably is no patriarchal phallic “I” that postmodernism absurdly identifies with an abhorred “subjectivism” as it confuses objects with the subject and pleads for the very objectiveness it lacks in its own narcissistic subjectivity. Yes, the plurality is a system, but so is the multiple personality. Without a unifying soul, the plural system is possessed by devils or demons, so to speak. If a man became a constantly adjusting adjustment to a complex system, he would be mad.
The Authoritarian WE
We find much evidence of confusionism in postmodernist philosophical tracts. For instance, it would seem that the postmodern thinker, to be consistent, should not use the erect “I”, the nominative singular pronoun, when referring to himself in his tracts. Rather, since he has repudiated the Cogito Factor, he should always employ “we”, the nominative plural of “I”, because he really means to refer to the systemic collection of selves, the multiple personality that he, in his delusion, thinks he is. In doing so, he will be not only consistently confused but ideologically correct, since his “we” would be a feminist commune juxtaposed to a male chauvinist “I”, with transgender connotations. However (hypocrisy of hypocrisies), although we find the postmodern intellectual employing the “we”, he does not mean it in the postmodernist sense but rather in the usual authoritarian sense, that of “Western” science applied to the social quasi-sciences. While writing alone in his study, he uses the authoritarian ‘we’ to cloak his uncertainty with a semblance of social authority, as if the whole intellectual community were behind him, speaking through him.
That is to say, in his subjectivity he pretends to be objective. His ‘we’ does not really mean an actual plurality of subjective selves that are in turn plural in themselves, but alludes to a foil for the collective, a fictional unity postmodern theologians sometimes call “god.” The authoritarian ‘we’ is a screen standing for the fear of being exposed as a naked-I. That is why many academics fall prone to postmodernism. But the king really is nude, and he should not be ashamed of his sovereignty.
The academic ‘we’ used as a cloak of authority may be worn as a proud badge of ability or of feigned humility, but under its skirts we discover genuine self-loathing and hatred of society. For the fearful individual has subjected himself to the curse of credentials under that terrible ‘we’ of “Western” science he allegedly deplores. The postmodernist would rather appropriate that ‘we’ internally, not in the unity he has subjectively made of the external objective ‘we’ that he hates for its restrictions, but as a plurality, a plurality he then demands without but does not really want because he does not really want it within. What he wants within is what he defies, the absolute unity of consciousness in the Subject-of-subjects, the Almighty-I. To have that, his self must be the naked-I he fears.
Yes, the postmodernist is ashamed of his nudity. He loves his linguistic textiles; he loves his distorted and fragmented reflection in the pool. He refuses to face the self being reflected by the mirror. He refuses to confess his fear and love for that “I”, the particular “I” that is a unique coincidence of universals and at the same time is in itself quite real although ineffable. That unique subjective self is indeed mad or crazy like a fox about its confinement, not as a systemic plurality, but in its real, divine unity struggling for authority over the multiplicity of objective restraints.
Now then, I believe I have cleared up my own confusion concerning postmodernism by making the foregoing perfectly clear to myself. But I proceeded with this address for altruistic reasons. I wanted to enlighten the confused persons who might be weeping with joy or grief over the popular demise of postmodernism, yet did not know exactly what had died. Therefore I have just a few more remarks to make before we adjourn. I will be brief since almost everyone fled for the exits some time ago. Please bear with me, especially if you doubt me, for my conclusion includes a resume of my confessional qualifications. Be not ashamed if you are still somewhat confused despite my clarification or even because of it. Many ordinary persons remain confused, disturbed, and deceived by the great canard called postmodernism. Since its recent demise beneath that inevitable historical progress of human enlightenment which is nothing but the remembrance of Truth, confused people are being gradually restored to common sense.
To return to the “I”, common sense dictates that I am thinking by virtue of my free will to think what I want to think, therefore “I” exists as a thinking-I that is essentially prior to its thoughts, or is, as subject, independent of its objects. In other words, I am prior to my thinking; nothing can resist god hence god has nothing to fear therefore no reason to think. However, the abstraction does not end there, for absent my objects of resistance (inertia), there can be no identified will set against objects, no “I” as free-will. Nevertheless, there is “I” as freedom-from-nothing; nothing exists. Then I am everything. I am the ONE, the Naked-I, the Unity of the void analogous to absolute space or total absence. And, from ONE, the All is posited. I mean, I am, so to speak, the universal universal.
As I appear in this particular human form within my Universe of intercourse, I am the particular concrete universal, the unique coincidence or unity of my adjectival universals (universal predicates). I am the creative unity in diversity of this my natural person (the fusion of individuality-society) in reciprocal correspondence with my diverse other ‘I’’s in my I-ness.
Furthermore, I am deliberately self-limited by my possession of this human form. Nonetheless, from transcendence I am self-created and self-moved.
The Universe is my gift to myself: the Universe is FOR my I-ness to exist in my various modes in relation to my objections raised. However, the only way I can be known to myself as a particular human being partially limited by myself, is in my individual human form. From that perspective there is no other universal-I besides the human-I. All other absolute universals are projections of the human-I, and they fall short of the absolute humanist Truth, towards which there is, however, historical progress; history, after all, is a human agency.
I, as a human being in this particular freedom incarnate, am a test of Truth available to all human beings. Our criterion, our unity of conscious experience, is in our freedom as individuals. There is no certain common structure of consciousness governing our being with a permanent rule of law, for we are I-Being and our being is life demanding freedom from all restraints upon its will to live eternally as “I”. In this I-will-love, this love of life, our lives are one. All structures and systems that fail to serve this purpose will eventually be dismantled. Other systems will serve us as machines for the time being, for systems and structures are our agents, not our masters.
Rest in Peace
Now that I have made myself perfectly clear, may postmodernism rest in peace. After all has been said, postmodernism is a dead canard, therefore this discourse is adjourned until further notice.
David Arthur Walters
University of Hawaii Manoa Campus 1999