Re: unusual language [postmodernism]

Cindy Wambeam (cwambeam@NMSU.EDU)
Wed, 9 Oct 1996 13:13:34 -0600

On Wed, 9 Oct 1996, Beth W. Baldwin wrote:

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

Well, I'm not so sure that I want to buy into notions of primary and
secondary text in terms of exploring postmodernism. First, many of those
"primary" texts aren't necessarily postmodernists. While their theories
influenced pomo criticism, it's very difficult to pinpoint a few texts as
central here. I think that maybe the struggle is that if pomo is a
historical shift, not just a new critical theory, defining central texts
is a bit like defining the central text of the Renaissance -- it depends
on your perspective and on what you're researching.

In terms of theoretical stance and critical research, perhaps there are
foundations -- texts or ideas or technological changes (like Adorno &
Horkheimer, the 60s student revolution, TV) that can be pinpointed. I
think that what you're referring to as secondary texts are those who are
contributing to the naming of the shift more than those who are secondary
to some theory that stands by itself.

Second, to search for primary texts is a rather modernist stance -- it
assumes that there is an area of authority or that we need to search for
the center/essence/Truth of an idea. Instead, we might get rid of notions
of centrality and "primary" in order to better move toward a webbed
environment of ideas (this is where I think studies of hypertext and and
hierarchical disruption meet). Of course, that sort of argument starts
spiraling in toward the nihilistic, chaotic end of pomo...

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

I guess I would revise this to say *some* pomo theories are
fatalistic/nihilistic. But then, I don't see pomo as *a* theory, or one
idea. I see it as a historical change with many theories, many cultures,
many voices. Maybe I'd term that "multiplistic" -- and just claim that
the nihilists have gotten a lot of the press up to now.

> > reasoning. Pomo theorists rely on dialectics, fragmented or webbed
> > processes, multimedia approaches, and multiple voices. Yet, many of us
> 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

I also prefer the term (and concepts) dialogue, but "dialectic" is not the
same as dialogue. I'm using the "dialectic" to refer to a method of logic
that is used by many postmodernists in critical examinations of cultural
issues. It's taken me a long time to even be able to read many of those
who use dialectics, but I'm moving away from my linear modernist logic
enough to be able to sort of understand now (and even attempt to use
dialectics on my own). A dialectic counterposes two (or three...) things
-- picturing them as opposites, yet parts of a whole, and working through
the examination of one thing in order to better examine the other.

A metaphor that is often used to describe this is a mobius (sp?) strip --
where when twisted, it looks as if there are two sides...but when
straight, the two sides are really one. Ack -- not a very clear
demonstration. Sorry.

Foucault was brilliant at doing this, as were Heidegger and others. But
it is hard to shift one's reasoning and sense of order/organization to be
able to follow along. Anyway, that's what I'm referring to when I use
the term dialectic. It's similar to dialogue, but not the same thing.

BTW, Beth, I'd like to thank you for your questions/responses. I'm
really having to focus many of my unconnected and chaotic thoughts to be
able to write about pomo and dialectics. And this is something that I've
greatly needed to do. :>


_ .........................
___(_) _ __ Cindy Wambeam : Oedipa, to retaliate,:
/ __| | '_ \ New Mexico State University : stopped believing:
| (__| | | | | English department : in them:
\___|_|_| |_|.......==><==....:.(The Crying of Lot 49):