I: what is postmodernism? (fwd)

Here's an attempt I made to define postmodernism once. Corrections and
criticisms appreciated, should anyone here be so inclined.

-- John Ransom
-----Messaggio originale-----
Da: John Ransom <ransom@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
A: dickinson <dickinson@xxxxxxxxx>
Data: Sunday, March 21, 1999 6:23 PM
Oggetto: what is postmodernism? (fwd)

>---------- Forwarded message ----------
>Date: Thu, 18 Mar 1999 17:44:26 -0500 (EST)
>From: John Ransom <ransom@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
>To: mctighe@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
>Subject: what is postmodernism? (fwd)
>Subject: what is postmodernism?
>My colleague [so-and-so] asked me to come up with a brief description of
>postmodernism. I couldn't find anything I liked so I tried to map out the
>idea below. I do, however, draw on several articles on postmodernism.
>References can be provided for those interested. Comments, additions, and
>criticisms are *welcome*.
>This word is used in different though related ways in different
>disciplines. It actually started off as a term that applied to an
>architectural style.
>I would describe postmodernism as follows:
>To understand postmodernism we need some familiarity with modernism.
>"Modernity" is closely linked to the industrial and agricultural
>revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It follows --
>speaking very generally and necessarily crudely -- the feudalistic middle
>*Economically* modernity is characterized by the growth of massive,
>industrially-based productive forces making possible whole new
>dispositions of human material on the basis of the incredible wealth
>produced by those forces.
>*Sociologically* modernity is characterized by the division of society
>into more or less self-conscious classes that compete and cooperate with
>one another to achieve fairly clearly identified material and ideal
>*Culturally* modernity is dominated by a faith in the efficacy and
>truth-producing capacities of science and the scientific method.
>*Historically* modernity is characterized by a forward-looking belief in
>"progress." Progress occurs in terms of the accumulation of ever more
>precise kinds of knowledge; it also refers to an infinite increase in
>goods and labor-saving devices.
>*Politically* modernity is dominated by nation-states. These are the
>primary actors on the international stage; influencing and perhaps
>controlling them is also the primary object of the classes within them.
>*Ethically* modernity focuses on the sanctity and rights of the individual
>person, especially as it confronts a powerful nation-state and a peer
>pressure that promotes conformity.
>Let's contrast postmodernism to modernity on each of these points.
>*Economically* postmodernism (PM) is marked by the transition from an
>industrial (factories producing commodities) to a service economy
>(organizations providing services).
>*Sociologically* PM is marked by the disintegration of the old class
>structure and the dispersion of labor into various clerical and service
>occupations that militate against political action based on class
>*Culturally* PM has a skeptical attitude toward science and the scientific
>method, pointing to the interests and societal imperatives that science
>unavoidably pursues. The sociological disintegration of society reduces
>the pressure on agents to understand their interests and ideals in terms
>of broad social values. Cultural particularism holds sway, and the more or
>less clear battle lines characteristic of modernity are blurred.
>*Historically* PM gives up on the idea -- whether in Marxist or liberal
>terms -- that history is the story of progress and the realization of
>human freedom. The events of the twentieth century, in postmodernist eyes,
>discourage such optimism.
>*Politically* PM is characterized by "plurality." This plurality, however,
>should not just be seen merely in terms of "interests" in the sense, say,
>of Dahl's use of the term "pluralism." Instead, pluralism in the PM mode
>refers to discrete ways of viewing and valuing the world that cannot be
>subsumed under some kind of progressive "united front."
>*Ethically* (and this point is unsurprisingly related to the politics
>point above) PM turns away from a unitary account of the individual and
>her rights as they relate to the broader social environment. (This is not,
>of course, to say that PM advises us to give up rights!) It focuses
>instead on the plurality of structures of value. The ethical question for
>PM is not: "Are the rights of the (uniformly conceived) individual being
>respected?" but rather, "What alternative ways of knowing and of being are
>being marginalized by today's dominant forms?"
>One last point: we should not think of "postmodernism" as an exclusive
>possession of the "left." The term (in the sense that we are discussing it
>here) was first introduced by historians like Toynbee and sociologists like
>Daniel Bell. They *describe* the postmodern condition, but *deplore* it.

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