Consumer-Friendly Postmodern Cool

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February 2001


January 2001


December 2000


By David Hopkins, contributing editor Visit my website <> Underground, online, over-the-counter, and consumer-friendly. A guide to postmodernism for those goofs who: 1. Don't speak French <>, 2. Can't tell the difference between post-structuralism and deconstructive literary criticism -and/or- 3. Want to re-interpret the marginalized "other" without replacing one logocentric metanarrative with an oppressive hyper-real simulacrum

Confused? You should be. Willfully admitting your inability to understand is half the battle to impressing your intellectual buds while sipping on a latte at some hip coffee bar. Let's go...

Step 1: You've got to define "postmodern."

Ha! Yeah right. You actually believe I'd take such a MODERN approach. Tough luck. No easy definitions here. I may have read a lot on postmodernism, but when even the leading postmodern theorists fail to define their terms-- don't expect me to come to their aid.

Now to something I can help you with... Step 2: You?ve got to have the right books.

Option A: If you want a good book covering the general ideas of postmodernism, I'd highly suggest-- The Truth About the Truth: De-confusing and Re-constructing the Postmodern World, edited by Walter Truett Anderson, published by Tarcher/Putnam in 1995

Option B: If you consider yourself to be a very intelligent person, this book would be most helpful-- From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology, edited by Lawrence Cahoone, published by Blackwell in 1996

Option C: If you prefer the "give-it-to-me-like-I'm-a-five-year-old" approach to all things complex---Teach Yourself Postmodernism, by Glenn Ward, published by NTC in 1997

Step 3: You've got to know the people.

There are lots of names out there. I'll give you the big hitters and then just throw the rest out for fun.

1.) Jacques Derrida --- a French guy, he's the person most closely associated with postmodernism. Derrida is primarily concerned with language. Think deconstructionism. He is really hung up on the idea that Western society's obsession with reason caused us a great deal of harm. He calls it "logocentricism." He (more or less) blames logocentrism for the Holocaust <> and the Atomic Bomb <>.

2.) Michel Foucault ---another French guy, he's #2 on our list of big names in postmodernism. Foucault is big in the area of social science. He believes Truth is hopelessly caught within systems of power. These systems seek to define and determine "normalcy," thus oppressing and marginalizing the "other." Foucault wrote a lot about sex, mental hospitals, and the prison system.

3.) Jean-Francois Lyotard --- yeah, another French guy, he's #3. Although his essay "The Postmodern Condition," ranks #1 for hip discussion material, which he wrote for the scientific community. Lyotard wrote about metanarratives. Meta-what? Don't worry. According to Lyotard, we don't have these anymore. Moving on...

4.) Jean Baudrillard---yet another French guy, I like this guy! He said the Gulf War never happened. Baudrillard is really concerned about images in society. He believes because these images dominate everything, we have lost touch with reality. And hyperreality: a futile attempt to validate our existence with "larger than life" experiences.

5. Richard Rorty, not French, moving on...

Here's a list of everyone else who had something worthwhile to say: James Baldwin, Roland Barthes, Daniel Bell, Charles Baudelaire, Zygmunt Bauman, Iain Chambers, Guy Debord, Gilles Deleuze, Umberto Eco, Lesslie Fiedler, Felix Guattari, Jurgen Habermas, Ihab Hassan, Donna Haraway, Sandra Harding, bell hooks, Fredic Jameson, Charles Jencks, Thomas Kuhn, Marshall McLuhan?, my mother, Ferdinande de Saussure, Claude Levi Strauss, Mark C. Taylor, Robert Venturi, Andy Warhol.

Step 4: You've got to know the terms

De---The prefix which sponsors postmodernism. It means "to take apart" or "undo," and this is what postmodernism does best! Words you may see are "deconstruct," "delegitimize," and "devalue"

Deconstructionism- No one really knows what Derrida means by this. But we think when you deconstruct something, you are looking at the hidden meanings and messages found within the language itself.

Differanc?---Once again, we can only guess at what Derrida means. The word is pronounced the same as "difference" and it means almost the same thing. It gives me a headache, moving on?

Hypermodern---Gasp! Even worse than being modern is trying to fake postmodernism while maintaining the modern goals of progress and cold rationalism. Habermas is an easy target. (He actually believes we shouldn't reject the goals of the Enlightenment... wimp.)

Hyperreality---Our vain attempt to validate our existence through larger-than-life activities, just a clever escape plan from the "real world."

Metanarrative---an overarching story which validates all other stories in a society. Science is considered the modern metanarrative, while religion is seen as the pre-modern metanarrative. This word is commonly over used to describe anything-- so have fun.

Modern---I don't know. If it looks dull and mechanical, call it modern. If it looks like a suit and tie, call it modern. If you don't like it, just call it modern.

Nihilism <>- Whenever a pastor/theologian fears postmodernism, but doesn't know what else to say, he will opt for this word. Without purpose, without meaning, or direction. It sounds fancy, but it's just not the case.

Semiotics- The study of signs and symbols in society. Postmodern theorists might say signs are everywhere and everything. Pretty neat, huh?

Simulation- All the images that proliferate in society, yet another reason why we've lost touch with reality.

Truth- Considered a bad word in postmodern circles. It is an oppressive piece of the language game which de-legitimizes the other and promotes the metanarrative.

truth (with a lower case "t")- Not as bad as big "T" Truth