THEORY AND PRACTICE: What is Post-Modernism?

Post-modernism, as a philosophy, is often attributed to the project of Jacques Derrida, who says that Western metaphysics is logo-centric. To echo Martin Heidegger, it suffers from the metaphysics of presence. The binary opposition of true-false, good-bad, among others, is to be destroyed. One can find this in Heidegger’s Being and Time in the term “destruktion” although Nietzsche can also be considered a precursor to everything by being “against everything.”

For a post-modernist, there is no truth. Only the text exists. Following post-structuralism, language is nothing but a system of signs. It is not its function to refer to reality. It is a form of misappropriation to presuppose that it contains the truth. In the same way, to ask the author what she “means” in what she has written is a mistaken presumption. If only the author can correctly interpret what she says, then no one will ever know about so many things since most great authors are already dead. The moment you write, you no longer own the text. That is very basic, unless you mislead a living author in order to malign another to pursue your own ideological agenda.

Post-modern philosophy deconstructs reality. This is the role of decentering. It entails locating meaning away from the source or center. For instance, the source of meaning for modern thought has always been the ego or self – the structure that governs all that can be known. To deconstruct means that there no singular source of interpretation. There is a multiplicity of meanings. The truth does not come from a reference to a world outside, but from differance. What does it mean? To “differ” implies that signs have meaning because they “differ” from each other. In this way, we must “defer” the unfolding of meaning. Every meaning postpones itself.

Derrida thinks that our prejudices should be set aside and/or subverted. Truth must be displaced from its foundation or essence. All interpretation must be uprooted from a notion of a beginning and an end. Post-truth points to the eschewing of universal standards. The postmodern thinker rejects metanarratives that attempt to give us a monolithic definition of reality – Being, Time, or God. Language must be continually interpreted and re-interpreted. But this meaning cannot come from the text. The postmodern idea, according to Robert Solomon, “represents a ragbag of objections, accusations, parodies, and satires of traditional philosophical concerns and pretensions.”

Post-modernism has developed into a reaction to systems that mirror totalization. In understanding man, modern thought sees the same as a homo economicus, which restricts man to being an economic value. In politics, you limit everything to reason or agreement. This distorts the meaning of the political in the notion of power. Power is about relations, says Michel Foucault. This means that power is not about any position, but the manner by which the dynamics of people and society or class difference, for instance, can influence their relationships. Jean Francois Lyotard proposed that we must judge beyond norms. For him, the idea of a “consensus” is the same tyranny of a majority that it aims to avoid. We also find the same in the work of Chantal Mouffe. Judging without norms means we put aside the grand schemes developed by tradition, i.e. rationality, democracy, and religion.

Lyotard introduced the differend. It suggests that every phrase is linked to others, without view of an overarching system of a totality or totalization. Lyotard thus says that “we act justly without criteria”, suggesting that the legitimacy of human action cannot be based on one particular set of principles. It is therefore anti-foundational, anti-metaphysical.

In order to understand Lyotard, consider the concept of language games, first found in the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein. There is no one game that governs all the others. In a meta-narrative, there is one great grand design, one game that governs all the others. This essentially destroys the multiplicity of voices. Truth is not an attribute of absolute systems. The idea of an absolute system is no more than an illusion. Systems become the only source of interpretation so they serve as the criterion of reality. But this destroys reality itself, for the system becomes the reality.


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