Re: unusual language [postmodernism]

Jeffrey R Galin (galin+@PITT.EDU)
Thu, 10 Oct 1996 09:57:46 -0400

On Thu, 10 Oct 1996, Bob King wrote:

> But we don't have any trouble figuring that Einstein wrote some primary
> texts! Are we elitists in this? I'm wondering whether elitism is a
> misdirect, in other words, either way: when Beth figures the authors of
> that CFP as elitists, but not herself, or when you figure Beth is an
> elitist. Let's face it, we all make these sorts of decisions and
> determinations. The interversity just gives us a place to work our
> whiles, as Eric said recently.

I'll take issue with the way your read my post. I was not calling
Beth elitist. Rather I am concerned about the practice of expecting
others to read a designated bodies of texts that are priviledged as
primary before allowing those others the authority to speak. There are so
many issues here: 1) the idea of such privileging runs counter to the
decentering entropy of postmodernism, while at the same time it
demonstrates the relationship between knowledge/truth/power within
privileged contexts (those who decide which texts are primary and which
are secondary . . . control, to some extent, the production of knowledge);
2) as others have suggested, we run into the quagmire of canon with such
claims, whether there is in fact a identifiable body of knowledge that we
must all share in ordert to function within our cultures; 3) elitism
emerges out of the expectation that we must share these bodies of
knowledge. For example, a few years ago I got into a heated debate in one
of the pre-conference on-line forums with Michael Joyce about the use of
hypertext (pre-web days). I was arguing that teachers all over the
country would be using Hypertext in a range of ways and that there was no
reason to priviledge one form over another. He asked me if I had read the
50 year history of hypertext. I said no, but that most teachers using it
over the next 10 years would not know this history. He dismissed my
arguments after my admission. His expectation was a form of elitism.
Why should we expect everyone now using the www to know the history of
hypertext? For whom is this information really relavent? Because of my
particular place within the institution and the claims I was making, it
became useful for me to read this literature. But, for the average user,
no. I'd argue the same thing for pomo texts.

> I think we're all putting forth our own set of primaries.

There is nothing wrong with personal sets of primaries. we all enter the
discourses of postmodernism from different angles and different texts. It
is when one set of primaries is priviledged there is a problem. And here
is the paradox, right. Postmodernism is not a sudden thing. It does not
replace modernism, but modifies it. The move to canonize a set of texts
is a traditionally modernist move, centering the discourse. That
modernist gestures survive in a postmodern age should be no surprise. But
they should cause us to pause and consider on what grounds we make such
claims and what might be the effects of such claims.


\ Jeffrey R. Galin
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