Re: unusual language [postmodernism]

Beth W. Baldwin (bobaldwi@HAMLET.UNCG.EDU)
Wed, 9 Oct 1996 12:30:04 -0400

After my flip response to Steve's question, I'll get serious (especially
since Bob thinks I'm projecting!). I want to thank Cindy for her
explanations of pomo. Yes, pomo problematizes defining itself and calls
us into the responsibility to see our own hand, and the socio-cultural
hand, at work when we spin definitions and make meaning. Thus, projection
is bound to play some role.

Many frustrations arise when trying to understand pomo because if you buy
into the idea that defining itself is problemation, you may end up in some
sort of weird spin-out, or infinite regress, that can lead to a shirking
of responsibility -- throwing up one's hands and saying "well, nothing
*can* have meaning, so why bother." This is the nihilistic extreme of

Another problem stems from the fact that we often rely on secondary texts
rather than the primary texts. There are plenty of pomo scholars, but who
are the ground-breakers. Cindy gives us a few:

> While it is rooted in theories of Foucault,
> Heidegger, Jameson, Horkheimer & Adorno (and many others), around 1968 is
> when several theorists identify the shift to postmodernism.

Lacan, Derrida, Baudrillard?

I would regard, for example, Lyotard as a secondary text -- after all, he
cites the French monolith.

> Some say that pomo is fatalistic and stresses a "who cares" philosophy,
> others (like Marilyn) turn toward pomo as a way of stressing individual
> agency and subjectivity.

And the theory itself, as I said, invites the fatalistic. Not so much
"who cares" as "why bother caring."

> Often pomo writers and artists can be very difficult to understand because
> they are making a move against modernist assumptions of language and
> reasoning. Pomo theorists rely on dialectics, fragmented or webbed
> processes, multimedia approaches, and multiple voices. Yet, many of us
> have learned a specific type of reasoning, based in modernist/positivist
> logic, and it can be hard to get at what is going on in pomo discourse
> (which is rejecting those sorts of logic, even in writing). [this is, I
> think in part, why the notorious conference announcement was difficult for
> many]

This may be true, and thus we are attempting on this list to engage in
a dialogue (I prefer that to dialectic). How this relates to the language
of the notorious announcement may have less to do with multiplicity of
voice and modernist/positivist logic than it has to do with simple
academic bombast (or my sardonic "image in search of identity"
*definition* of pomo).

Anyway, thanks for a clear and concise response.

Beth Baldwin, Ph.D. *
Office of Continuing Education *
University of North Carolina at Greensboro *
Greensboro, NC 27412-5001 *
910-334-5301, ext. 44 * *