Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Post-Post Modernism?

The theory of history has fascinated me almost as much as the practice, if not more, and one thing is noticeable- the weird status of postmodernist concerns.

On the one hand, they never really took root as fully in history as in some other areas (linguistics, sociology, English etc). That is to say that, while people have certainly expressed an admiration for posmodernist ideas about the limits of language, the nature of the other, and so forth, that hasn't definitively translated into a postmodernist approach to doing history in practice. Even Foucault's writings on prison history, except for their concern for an 'other' group, work in a broadly recognisable way.

On the other hand, hasn't postmodernism been surprisingly durable? How long are philosophical and theoretical constructs supposed to last without being challenged and picked apart? These have certainly managed a few decades now. After all, I remember hearing of Derrida's death while I was still at school, while many of the major works must be thirty or forty years old.

Now, I'll admit that age doesn't automatically require a process of overturning, but it is usually in the nature of youth to react against what has gone before, so where are the people treating Foucault and the rest as old hat? The absence makes it seem that we're taking the 'truths' of postmodernism as settled ones, which seems almost anathema to some of the movement's central themes.

Of course, in history, the narrativist school has drifted along as a sort of postscript to postmodernism, even if it started life in decidedly postmodernist pickings-apart of the role of narrative in history by the likes of White and Ankersmidt. Reactions to that seem to have provided a convincing basis for the role of story, and coherent narratives, in history, and so may have done something to undermine the rather scattered nature of the stuff influenced by postmodernist concerns.

Even so, there doesn't seem to be any big movement taking over. Perhaps this is down to the distrust of such movements and their accompanying metanarratives inherent in Postmodernist thought, but I suspect it also has something to do with the slightly undefined nature of that thought, allowing postmodernism to adapt and absorbed new strands. Of course, I could be completely wrong (or just viewing the whole thing through a different set of cultural asumptions, of course.) So tell me, in your field, whatever it is, is postmodernism still there? Is it still the main theoretical standpoint? Did it even have an impact? Did you do as many historians did and read halfway through the books before deciding that it was a threat to your ability to do your job and ignoring it?

3 comments:

Christina said...

Oh,you are writing about something I had a great deal of trouble with at University. My theory classes covered this, but my mind is nothing but modern and history is such a hard subject for me. I don't even want to admit what grade I got in the class.

Jodie said...

This post sent me off on a Google trip for a bit of debate about post modernism and I thought this article which I found might be interesting to you: http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=5
Working in marketing we have no time for these kind of ideas and I'd better get back to putting stamps on envelopes or something(yes it's a pity party day)...

englishcoach said...

Aren't big movements only identifiable post hoc? I agree with you that there's always a tendency to react away from what's gone before, but those reactions will only coalesce into a movement when after a few years someone comes along and indentifies similarities, perhaps? I know that the Romantics or the Avant-Garde movements did set out with a definite programme, but then they were reacting away from what they saw as the dictates of the Grand Old Men before them, but since one essence of post-modernism is that diversity rules, surely no-one needs to kick against the traces do they?
The new thing in lit is the spatial turn - which is boring old geographers (stereotypically from Hull) trying to get hip, I think.