Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault
Postmodernism a popular subject these days. What is it? What is its history? There are a number of books on the subject — just key ‘postmodernism’ into an amazon search. I have read only one of them, this one, published in 2010. Hicks has written a great introduction here to both philosophical history and present implications. Here is a LINK to the book on Amazon. The subject ties into my recent essay REALISM and ANTIREALISM. Postmodernism is a final descent, very much the logical (or illogical) end point to Antirealist madness!
Not often I get to say of a non-fiction book that I didn’t want to put it down and was sad when I reached the end. Except for a sense of the movement’s nihilism, I didn’t know much about Postmodernism, but Dr. Hicks has covered the ground. He begins with a broad brush of what postmodernism stands for metaphysically (anti-realism), epistemologically (skepticism), ethically (collectivism in the social, educational and political sphere) and aesthetically (the meaninglessness of art and criticism). One gets the impression that he knows the subject well. His attention to detail is that of the scholar and even the true believer, but he hints slyly at the movement’s absurdity even here. From his review he goes backwards and traces the roots of the movement beginning with Kant’s response to the Enlightenment in an attempt to shore up the authority of the Church, and up through Rousseau, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Fichte, Nietzsche, Marx, and then Heidegger to the later 20th century with Foucault, Derrida, and Rorty. There are many other voices mentioned along the way (Kierkegaard plays a role as does Freud). Besides philosophers he traces political movements of the left and the right in opposition to the Enlightenment’s development of capitalism resting on individualism.
In the last chapter HIcks returns to Postmodernism proper and its absurdity from the metaphysical and epistemological to the political and aesthetic. In 200 hundred years every political and social consequence of anti-Enlightenment philosophy, every prediction and political hope has singularly failed. Postmodernism is the response to this failure by philosophers who come to the conclusion that if the foundation and development of the anti-Enlightenment movement over 200 years is rotten the only thing left to do, besides admit that you are wrong, is attack and destroy what the Enlightenment produced. Even Nietzsche (who Hicks returns to illustratively at the end) presciently suggests that one can take anti-realism and nihilism too far leaving the postmodernists to “quote Nietzsche less and Rousseau more”. Not only is Postmodernism nihilistic, it is destructively so, the bitter fruits of jealousy over the failure of collectivist anti-realism and seeming political, economic, and social success of Enlightenment realism, rationalism, and individualism.
An excellent review, thorough, scholarly, and easy to read. I find Hick’s style both serious and humorous at the same time. Superb!
7 thoughts on “Review: Explaining Postmodernism”
Hicks offers his book as an audio book on YouTube as well. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQcNjHNXnEE
Keep in mind that as excellent and persuasive as Hick’s analysis is, he’s anti-PoMo, so, someone who is pro-PoMo might give a different vantage.
Thanks for the link. Good resource!
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I don’t know about that last part. Anyone who is pro-PoMo is probably dangerous. Present U.S. president a good example. He probably doesn’t even know what postmodernism is but the people who ran his campaign surely do!
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Yeah, I know. I pretty much think PoMo is the root of all evil. I wrote a long blog post about it years ago, but didn’t want you to think I was just commenting to plug myself. Here it it’s though, and in layman’s terms: https://artofericwayne.com/2015/02/04/how-postmodernism-has-worked-against-us/
I come at it from an artist’s perspective, and PoMo has really been hard on artists, including me. When I was in grad school we hardly talked about art, it was all theory and politics. This is the result of PoMo. If you look at art criticism today it’s mostly identity politics and political correctness, both of which stem from PoMo and the idea that marginalized people’s feelings trump the reason and objectivity of Western, white male scientists. This is all taking PoMo rather literally, but that’s what the general public is going to do. Ultimately PoMo says all narratives are a fiction, but people ironically embrace PoMo as an essential truth. If you wanna’ know how PoMo has infiltrated art criticism, and how that has taken a ghastly toll on art, see my article on the art critic Rosalind Krauss, who is responsible for popularizing the idea the originality is impossible in art: https://artofericwayne.com/2017/05/08/inextinguishable-originality-refuting-rosalind-krauss/
PoMo has filtered through to the general population, but nobody really understands it, especially because it uses its own vocabulary and tortuously elaborated grammar.
Hey, I noticed on YouTube that Hicks has another long audio lecture, this one on critiquing altruism, egoism in Nietzsche and Rand. I sense Hicks might be a bit conservative for my tastes, but I’m interested in his arguments.
So, yeah, I was just suggesting we don’t only look at one side of the coin and, y’know, engage in confirmation bias in an echo chamber, as is so popular these days. But then I remembered that my whole graduate education was in PoMo, so I have seen both sides and I think the grass is much greener where PoMo hasn’t killed it. It DID makes some valid points and had good criticisms of modernism, but instead of tempering what we’ve learned, it tried to replace it. This is the problem of ideological revolutions. Instead of learning from the past, they try to sweep it away and start over with themselves at the center of history. Of course it fails.
Thanks for reply. Will read your links and comment. I like to avoid confirmation bias as much as possible (hence all the antirealism) but postmodernism is one leap too far 🙂
That was a great essay. I think the roots of the “postmodernism insight” appear in continental Antirealism before postmodernism but the latter certainly took it to its logical end. That’s what alienates me from Antirealism in general (and I loved your Chompski quotes). Any system whose logical end comes out to a denial of value in general (truth, beauty, or goodness) cannot have captured “reality” quite properly though it may have achieved a few genuine insights. Thanks for the link
This something of a P.S. to my last reply. I understand you are a struggling artist. I was curious if you have a day job?