Re: Of Postmodernism, Spins, and What The Hell (fwd)
Fri, 31 May 1996 11:36:43 EST

Thanks for the kind words, Lois and Gary...

First, Mike wrote:
>> many postmodernists center their discussions around the notion of
>> _dialogicality_, a notion imported from Bakhtin and others. Any
>>statement about the world, about selves, etc. is founded in dialogue.
>Gary Replies: Kind of like saying, 'we live in language?' I would
>appreciate any reference you might have to the date/title of Bakhtin and
>others on this point of 'dialogicality,' a term I've never heard before,
>but whose relevance I can sense as valuable.

Bakhtin's originals include:

Bakhtin, M. M. (1981). _The dialogic imagination_ Austin: Univeristy of
Texas Press (M. Holquist, trans.).
Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). _Speech genres and other late essays_. Austin:
University of Texas Press (v. W. McGee trans.).

However, I would start with:

Holquist, M. (1990). _Dialogism: Bakhtin and his world_. London: Routledge.
Wertsch, J. V. (1991). _Voices of the mind_. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.

The latter includes an especially succinct discussion of Bakhtin in the
context of a Vygotskian/sociocultural theory of develoment.

>>Mike wrote:
>>Under modernism, everything is explained using some grand narrative, and
>>thus ideas that don't fit the grand narrative are marginalized.
>Gary replies: Sure would appreciate an example or two here, although I
>guess Bob spoke to this point in a prior note.
I won't offer anything terribly concrete, but I imagine virtually any
example of conflicting paradigms would work. A behaviorist would likely
discount evidence or discource pertaining to cognitive activity... A
person committed to scientific method would resist interpretations that
suggest that scientific activity is embedded in social processes (ask
a chemist!) Marxism was offered as a grand narrative in which economic
systems move from stage to stage toward the ultimate end of dictatorship
of the proletariat; alternative frameworks are likely to be interpreted
in terms of the categories of Marxism rather than vice-versa. Any
system offered as a universalistic system is open to this type of

(I say all of this while not being entirely sympathetic to the view
that the postmodern eclecticism that results from the deconstruction
of grand narratives is necessarily a good thing! I guess I have
one foot in modernity, another in postmodernity!)

>>Postmodernism would encourage the dissolution of grand narratives and
>>the inclusion of all groups within dialouge about any given issue.
>>Within dialgoue, there would be no necessary allegiance to any grand
>>narrative, no necessity to be consistent with any ideological
>>assumptions. There would be a sense of pragmatism here, and dialogue
>>would produce solutions (solutions to social problems, solutions about
>>how to characterize the world) the value of which would be determined by
>>what works best in the context in question and with the interlocutors in
>> A second solution, related to the first, is what Gergen calls
>>"serious play". If we reject grand narratives, then the issue becomes
>>one of playing with language, playing with ideas of how to construct
>Gary replies: I tentatively interpret you to be saying here that the
>nature of the 'grand narratives' is, essentially, ideological. (As in, a
>way of belief a about what is 'right,' or 'proper.')
> Assuming that Austen and Searle (Philosophy of Language),
>and Maturana and Varela (The Biology of Cognition), are correct in
>their views about the nature and operation of language...
> [...i.e., language is NOT a thing or object; and IS a
>transparent, but nonetheless real phenomenon...]
> THEN the ontology of language may be a new 'grand narrative'
>in this new Postmodernist period, at least for those of us who have
>adopted the paradigm shift that lets us see past the traditional paradigm
>of objectivism, and into the new one of constructivism.

Whether or not one assumes the validity of Maturana and Searle,
I think that this is potentially an centrally important criticism of
postmodernism. Can one make the argument, as Gary has above, that
the to the extent that postmodernism relies upon the idea of the social
and linguistic structuring of meaning, that postmodernists have indeed developed
a new grand narrative? I think there may be some merit in this point.
Can we discuss this?

Mike Mascolo