The Death of Postmodernism? Inquiring minds want to know

Blogger Tony Jones points us to a brilliant article by Alan Kirby: The Death of Postmodernism And Beyond | Philosophy Now.

Jones, a leader in emergent Christianity continues to fight battles with conservative Christians and deploys Kirby on his side. However, what I found most interesting in Kirby’s piece was the last paragraph:

This pseudo-modern world, so frightening and seemingly uncontrollable, inevitably feeds a desire to return to the infantile playing with toys which also characterises the pseudo-modern cultural world. Here, the typical emotional state, radically superseding the hyper-consciousness of irony, is the trance – the state of being swallowed up by your activity. In place of the neurosis of modernism and the narcissism of postmodernism, pseudo-modernism takes the world away, by creating a new weightless nowhere of silent autism. You click, you punch the keys, you are ‘involved’, engulfed, deciding. You are the text, there is no-one else, no ‘author’; there is nowhere else, no other time or place. You are free: you are the text: the text is superseded.

It’s a scathing analysis of contemporary culture and the contemporary self, with devastating implications for Christianity, beginning with his notion that the typical emotional state is “the trance” and the concluding riff: there is nowhere else, no other time or place. You are free: you are the text: the text is superseded.

And speaking of postmodernism, the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions recently passed. An assessment of its impact on science, philosophy, and culture by David Weinberger.

 

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3 thoughts on “The Death of Postmodernism? Inquiring minds want to know

  1. My familiarity with contemporary British literature is limited to the engaging mysteries of Ian Rankin, so I found Alan Kirby’s essay more confusing than convincing. It had the feel of an intramural argument among members of the English department overheard in the faculty lounge. His conclusion seems to be that, “In place of the neurosis of modernism and the narcissism of postmodernism, pseudo-modernism takes the world away, by creating a new weightless nowhere of silent autism.” Didn’t Gertrude Stein say something along the same lines almost a century ago? “There’s no there, there.”
    Why do you see this as having “devastating implications for Christianity?” First of all, is Kirby really correct? Today’s undergraduates are even younger than he suggests; most were born between 1990 and 1995 and not 1985, so teaching them about “contemporary” fiction is challenging. But are young people today really in a “trance”? That hardly describes the students I know nor I suspect is it what you encountered at Furman or that you see now in Madison.

    On the other hand, the parishioners with whom I interact most often are still struggling to come to grips with the reality of quantum mechanics and the notion of indeterminacy. Post-modernity is barely on their intellectual horizons, even if some do enjoy surfing the web and using Facebook to keep up with their grandchildren. So what is the challenge for the Church in this situation? Is it to find ways to communicate with young people who see no relevance in its story? Or is it that the Gospel narrative of the Church has not kept up with the ways that people experience reality?

    • Bruce: I would key in on two things in his argument. 1) the importance of “trance”–I think that describes much of what contemporary worship strives for; and what many searching for meaning seek, what else explains the popularity of binge drinking?
      2) “technologised cluelessness”–As he describes it, “He or she can direct the course of national television programmes, but does not know how to make him or herself something to eat – a characteristic fusion of the childish and the advanced, the powerful and the helpless.”
      I think this is why formation becomes even more important. In an unrooted culture, how do we help people negotiate the world, how do we help them become discerning selves connected meaningfully to a larger world and to God? I think these questions are especially critical for young adults.

  2. I agree that’s a good article!! But I think actually it’s promising for Christianity, since – if we articulate it well – it can be an island of constancy and assurance in the midst of all that very real anxiety and disconnection.

    It will be be an incarnational anchor to creation. And fortunately, it’s all down in writing – on ancient scrolls, yet! – no matter how much anybody might hope to revise the text….

    😉

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