Sunday, January 01, 2006

-ern, -ernism, -ernity, whatever

There it is, right on the top line of this blog, that "p" word:

. . . seeking the seeds of the word in a postmodern world.
Not everyone likes that word, too many people use that word, and most people do not understand that word. But there is an important idea tied up with it that I find useful. I need, though, to sort out a couple of different uses of the word here at the start.

  • Modern - this means more than just "new" or "up to date". In talking about the Modern age, we generally refer to the roughly two centuries or so dominated by the ideas of the Enlightenment and the socioeconomics of the Industrial Revolution. This means a rational, empirical, and individualistic world-view and a society built around the ideas of progress, rational management, and mass organization.

  • Postmodern - well, on its face, it means "after modern," of course. For more than a century some have seen the signs of the passing or transformation of the modern world view. When something is called postmodern, it means something that is not simply pre-modern, un-modern, or anti-modern, but something fully influenced by "modern" ideas, but having a new relationship to them.

  • Postmodernism - this is a highly varied and often controversial group of social, political and aesthetic theories that try to account for a world not driven by Enlightenment ideas. Postmodern literary and social theory is largely the product of a group of largely French post-60's writers such as Lyotard, Derrida, Foucalt and Jameson. In my opinion, these and other writers have some useful insights, but you don't have to be a "postmodernist" to think that the basic idea has merit.

  • Postmodernity - or as I often think of it, the postmodern predicament. There has been a loss of confidence in the enlightenment ideas, a recognition of the failures of modern political and social structures as well as deep doubts about the reality of progress, one of the foundations of the modern world. Much of our culture and many of our institutions, including religious institutions, have been deeply influenced by modern ideas. Those who have grown up in this postmodern predicament often feel alienated from these institutions, even if they agree with much of what these institutions were originally intended to teach and do. It is certainly up to you whether you agree with any one persons response to this situation, but you cannot ignore that the situation exists. In the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, "Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. But not their own facts."

That's a start. I want to revisit some of this in the coming weeks, looking at how Christianity, especially from the Catholic perspective, needs to respond to this postmodern predicament.

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