Re: Of Postmodernism, Spins, and What The Hell (fwd)

Robert Parks (
Thu, 30 May 1996 02:09:36 -0400


There are differences in use of the terms "modernist" and "postmodernist"
in different disciplines, and many different interpretations of the issues
that define them. The easiest take on the developments though is to go back
and review the intellectual history of the "enlightenment". This is the
period in which the intellectual project of "rationality"... especially
scientific rationality... got off the ground. The "modern" aspiration is to
assume that we can understand the nature of everything through application
of the methods of science and the strictures of rationality.

>Gary replies: A.What is 'a universalistic epistemology?'

a universalistic epistemology, then, is a theory of knowledge that says we
can comprehend everything from an objective/observer's point of view.

> B.What is a 'transcendant observer?'

the observer must be separate from the thing observed.... so "transcendent"
when we are observing everything....

> C.'Relevant evidence' to what?

relevant to the subject matter of the scientific investigation

> D. What is a 'universal perspective?'

the perspective of the transcendent observer or theorist

> C.You seem to call 'modern' what I thought was postmodern.'

post modern is the critique of this scientific rationality (sometimes
called "positivist") that emerged in the modern period..

> D. Please give me an example of what you mean,re above items.

An example might be the idea that social science would pave the way for the
dissolution of racial prejudices. The thought was that when social science
could prove that there were no significant differences among races, racism
would disappear. The modernist impulse is to say that everyone is in
theory, in principle, equal. This country was founded at the beginning of
the modern era... and Jefferson proclaimed "all men are created equal".
Modernists will claim that Jefferson really meant all people (including
women and blacks), but a post modernist will say that he was influenced by
the meaning of those terms in his time.... His "universal" perspective, was
a cover for the impulse of white men to assume the world was appropriately
dominated by white men.

>Gary replies: I hope to understand this after I read your responses to the
>above questions, especially 'the universalistic aspirations of modernism.'
>I have not encountered that idea before and just don't know what you mean.
>>3] VALUE to the positionality (for example, multiculturalism) of
>>groups, the localism required to see problems from the bottom up.
>Gary replies: Here again, if you would be willing to give me a little more
>explanation and examples, I would appreciate it.

Multiculturalism is a critique of the view of some whites that their
culture is value neutral... that English can adequately express the culture
of any of the peoples who live here, for example, so we don't need to teach
Spanish in schools. This contrast is parallel to the modernis-postmodernist
approaches. Postmodernism, however, isn't a theory of multiculturalism. It
only gives an epistemological backing to the notion that no language or
culture can sustain such universalistic aspirations.
>>...It isn't clear to me what postmodernists would substitute, except as
>>Lois has hinted, a revolution of permanent deconstruction.
>Gary replies: What Postmodernists would substitute for what?
> And, what do you mean by 'a revolution of permanent
> deconstruction.' What would that look/feel like?

I was suggesting that it isn't clear to me what postmodernists would
substitute for the aspirations of a modernist to comprehend reality from an
"objective" point of view. The postmodernist points out that when we study
human beings, at least, we can never truly be an observer, because we are
participants always in the human venture.

I'm sure there are some short sources that Lois or others could suggest for
a more systematic presentation of issues... Again.. I hope I havn't
confused or muddled any issues.... But I'm sure someone will step in and
set things straight if I have