Friday, June 18

Post-Modernism is Dead…Wait, What?

I feel compelled to sum up an article that I read at  And the compulsion to sum up the article may in fact be the proof that post-modernism is dead according to the author, Alan Kirby, PhD.

In interactions there are three possibilities.  There is the originator of an idea, the recipient of the idea, and the place in the middle where they come to meet.  In the past, from an empirical standpoint (modernity), we have privileged the originator of the idea in an attempt to be a "neutral" party with no claim over content.  We moved to the idea that there is no "neutral" way to receive the idea so we grew, in post-modernism, to understand our own social locations in an attempt to neutralize our own biases.  In fact, this still privileges the originator of the idea (this is Kirby's point).  Kirby says, "Postmodernism, like modernism and romanticism before it, fetishised [ie placed supreme importance on] the author, even when the author chose to indict or pretended to abolish him or herself."  BUT, he says, we are beyond this.  We have lost control of the idea and it is all in the hands of the "recipient of the text to the degree that they become a partial or whole author of it."  What does this mean?

"Whereas postmodernism called ‘reality’ into question, pseudo-modernism defines the real implicitly as myself, now, ‘interacting’ with its texts."

  • Books - now thousands and thousands of 'fan fics' are springing up all over as people take the idea and rewrite into a new idea as they become the new author of the idea.
  • TV - phoning in to vote for your favorite dancer?  that is becoming the author of the television show.
  • Social Media - ultimate control over small bites of text that favor the recipient

Some points:

  • Most students who will take postmodern fiction classes will be reading texts that were written before they were born.  That is the ultimate definition that postmodernism is dead.
  • Postmodernism was characterized by calling reality into question.  This means that it is calling assumptions that we "knew to be true" into question.  i.e. LGBTQ people cannot marry.  Oh?  America is a Christian nation, etc. 
  • Pseudomodernism is characterized by a narrowing of exploration as controlled by market economics.  The ideology of globalized market economics is all-engulfing, all-explaining, all-structuring.  All intellectual exploration is constrained by market economics, governments are constrained by the market (People United), etc.
  • Pseudomodernism is characterized by intellectual ignorance, fanaticism, and anxiety.  "Bush, Blair, Bin Laden, Le Pen." 
  • Psuedomodernism is characterized by the intersection of small, religiously fanatical groups and the less powerful masses on the other side. 

"Pseudo-modernism belongs to a world pervaded by the encounter between a religiously fanatical segment of the United States, a largely secular but definitionally hyper-religious Israel, and a fanatical sub-section of Muslims scattered across the planet: pseudo-modernism was not born on 11 September 2001, but postmodernism was interred in its rubble."

  • The pseudomodernist can communicate around the world instantly, but needs to be told to eat vegetables, "a fact self-evident in the Bronze Age."

So what?  We are now in the pseudomodern age.  What do we do about it?  First, our structures haven't even gotten used to postmodernism, so moving into pseudomodernism makes our collective heads ache.  It is not inevitable that we continue to stay in this age of pseudomodernism and its favoring of the recipient of the idea v. all else.  Those of us with more communal mindsets need to continue to work on three tasks:

1.  Build relationships with live people.  Use technology, use pseudomodern techniques, but use them to pull people back to the middle at the intersection of the originator and the recipient of the idea.

2.  Not become caught up in the vitriol of fanaticism and anxiety no matter what side of the issue you are on.  Our job is to decrease anxiety and to broaden world views so that we can see other people as the gift to the world that they are.

3.  Continue to advocate for fair economic practices that will take into account point #1!  Capitalism, incorporated companies, are the ultimate in the recipient of the idea and taking it and making it their own.  Then they take the idea and wash it in fanaticism and anxiety.  (If we don't cut taxes for corporations, we will fail as a country!  No jobs will be created! Etc.  All directly flying in the face of historical evidence.)  Capitalism will work when we get to the center at the intersection of the originator of the idea and the recipient.  And make no bones about it, corporations do not originate ideas, people do.  Advocating for fair economic practices leads to advocating for better educational systems and a better justice system.  They are all intertwined.

And in my world, church world, what does it mean?  I'll give the church FOUR tasks (and not one of these ideas is a new idea--just use the new tools to execute old ideas!):

1.  Learn to use technology but know that it won't save you.

2.  Be evangelist - spread the good news of a God of grace and glory by building relationships with people.  Remember that you should speak the gospel at all times...and sometimes even use words.  This means "shaking hands and kissing babies."  As easy as an email blast is, it is even easier to press the delete button if I don't know you and especially if I'm not sure I even like you.

3.  Do not scare the crap out of congregations.  They get enough fear and anxiety.    Be a truth-teller, but hold the truth with loving kindness and with the knowledge of your own biases.  (Yeah,'re not going to get the postmodernist out of me yet.)  And loving kindness are very intentional words here.

4.  Teach people critical analysis of religion, Bible, and the intersection with culture.  Stick with Sandra Schneiders' model of Behind the Text, In the Text, In Front of the Text.  This captures the originator of the idea, the reader, and meaning-making in that liminal space between.

Well, then.  I am not sure what brought this on.  But there you have it.  If you made it this far in the reading, kudos!  And thanks for sticking with me.




  • Each of the Biblical stories of the prophets encourages questioning of “perceived” reality! Postmodernists before their time? Hmmm. Terri, I really enjoy it when you take time to explore the framework of your own call to ministry in contrast to what the society at large seems to be tangled up in–pseudomodernism!

  • The true postmodern reply to Alan Kirby is that you can look at postmodernism any way you feel like it! I’d reply first by saying that in this notion of the originator and receiver of the idea—and the middle place where the originator and receiver meet—there’s also the idea itself. Ideas have a life of their own, and neither the originator or the receiver own them.

    I read Kirby’s article, and poked around on his blog, and I pick up a sense of loss. He’s a PhD in English living in Oxford, and no one cares anymore. Things are changing very quickly. He seems bummed. When people decry the current state of things, it usually means they miss the position they used to occupy. I do enjoy that his book, Digimodernism, is available on the Kindle.

    Kirby writes a lot about electronic media, and he’s dismayed by how banal it all is. Well, sure. I think we’re living in a kind of Dark Ages, where technology is cool and lame at the same time. We see the possibilities, but we don’t know what to do with them.

    Steve Jobs promoted the iPod and buying however many songs you cared about from an album on iTunes. When Steve went home, he put vinyl on the turntable and listened to complete albums. Things are more fragmented now.

    Most people don’t seem to like the fragmentation much. They find their affinity groups online. They confidently speak their truth to people who already agree with them. One of the beauties of the Internet is that you can find people who like what you like. Having the conversation across opinion lines is still an advanced skill.

    We’re not done learning what we can from postmodernism. Academics may be tired of the topic, or the publishers may be tired of the topic, but it’s still news to most of society.

    What comes next? My hope is that Post-postmodernism will be an environment in which people with differing points of view will be able to talk with each other using their inside voices.

    As for the church, it mostly pretends that a new hymnal, or a new program, or electronically-savvy leaders will save it. I don’t think so. The church used to serve as a spiritual brokerage firm—selling shares of salvation and the avoidance of hell. People don’t care anymore. They really don’t care. The church needs a better reason to exist. It might find it, or it might not. Right now, churches are scrambling to pay their bills with income from smaller, younger congregations that don’t tithe.

    The Spirit of God is already out there, with or without the church. No one owns the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God goes where it chooses. With a lot of humility and a lot of courage, the church might still have something to contribute to the conversation.

    • Great points! I wonder if pseudomodernism might be a subset of postmodernism. I keep thinking about this in terms of my kids and of the kids I interact with in detention. What I see is a move away from all these online affinity groups back to real people. They are sick of it already. And some of them even realize that they are being bought and sold by Mountain Dew.

      That leads me to what I think his strongest point is…we are controlled by capitalism. Even on the other side of the world in a cave, we are controlled by capitalism. And capitalism has post-modernly unhinged itself from its underlying reality of relationship/benefit with the employee. (Maybe this is in my imagination, but there seemed to be a time when it was mutually beneficial for some user groups.)

      Regarding church and the future, you know I think there is going to be something different! What it looks like and how it shapes is fascinating. For me, though, even though the outward form will be different, the inward form of love, relationship, community will be the same.

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