Shhh…. don’t tell anyone but I have postmodern leanings. I’m a writer. Words matter. Barthes has always been important to me. However much I craft I know I have to let go. Interpretation is personal. All words are imbued with alternatives yet language is all we have to produce meaning.
‘We are suspended in language in such a way that we cannot say what is up and what is down.’ *
Postmodernism was always going to be contentious. It doesn’t even exist in any graspable form. It’s more a lens for seeing reality – or challenging what we might think is real in the first place. A postmodernist lens has value for viewing digital realities – which are always second hand and can only ever be simulations of the real. Virtual reality and postmodernism go well together. Each time we log onto we become cyborg. We exhibit increasingly hybrid identities. The internet encourages performance. No one knows you’re a dog or a cat. You can have one persona or a dozen. Be anonymous. Be whatever you want to be. The categories of social attribution are empty. Fractured identities and the bricolage of digital communication platforms epitimise the postmodern condition. I fell for these ideas long before new digital stages for performativity were invented. Researching gender through a postmodern lens taught me how to think in spectrums, understand the social construction of sex. When it comes to social reality, I’ve never been one for fixed meanings.
Political sociology and revolutionary Marxism has no time for postmodernism. The harsh economic realities of 21st century favour the resurgence of popular politics. The dismantling of the welfare state and digital-first policies are creating new dividing lines where social difference is stark. ‘Postmodernism is dead!’ claim those who never liked it in the first place. It has fallen out of favour. I know this. Criticisms include being pretentiously intellectual, elitist, a showground for those with nothing better to do than climb inside themselves – anally.
Chomsky is one of many who has viciously attacked postmodernism Just a month ago he called it nothing more than the inflation of humanities, where advocates set themselves in competition with the theoretical physicists and mathematicians, the practitioners of real science as opposed to the ranting polysyllabics of the postmodern scholar’s empty posturing (Chomsky’s words – not mine). You have to ask what lies behind such a savage indictment. Chomskyesk polemic appears to be saying science is the only method when there is as much to be learned from myth as math.
When it comes to the day to day social realities of the use and abuse of learning technology, postmodernism isn’t going to hold up. Its strength is more philosophical than practical. I need to be grounded in social reality. I’m reading Feenberg’s critical theory of technology – instrumentalisation. I’m not sure what Chomsky would say to its polysyllabic title but it holds promise. I’m working my way into the gap between rhetoric and the practice of digital education, the space where technology is the site of tension between freedom and restraint. It feels like the road less travelled. I retain my postmodern roots. Academia is a world of parallel universes. Contradictory theories compete. Diametrically opposed ideas clash. There is room for everyone. Digital education as the practice of freedom has to be multidisciplinary, multi theoretical. There is space for all ways of seeing. Activism for social equality and justice should be a secular enterprise.
* Neils Bohr Quoted in Philosophy of Science Vol. 37 (1934), p. 157, and in The Truth of Science : Physical Theories and Reality (1997) by Roger Gerhard Newton, p. 176