Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Postmodern Lexicon

By way of a postscript, I thought I would offer a quick and dirty guide to postmodern jargon, so some of their writing will be (oh so slightly) less painful, if you decide you want to read it in the original.

I.                   Authoritative/Dominant/Normative/Patriarchal: Any regulative principle which inhibits the “freeplay” of meaning. Sometimes also God, Logos, The Father, The Imaginary, depending on the context. A bad thing.
II.                Binary Thinking: the instinctive but erroneous premise that only two alternatives exist. Up/down, black/white, gay/strait, democracy/communism, self/other. Synonymous with the either/or fallacy. A bad thing.
III.             Death of the Author: repudiation both of the idea that the author is the creator of the text and that their intent is the most important element in deciphering its meaning. According to Roland Barthes it is the reader, not the author, who must decide what the text means. A good thing.
IV.             Deconstruction: examination of a particular discourse in order to reveal its hidden assumptions and implications – usually with the intent of showing how it is being used to manipulate people in a particular context. A good thing.
V.                Diachronic/Synchronic: a thing considered in terms of its history and development/a thing considered in terms of its relationship to similar things at a particular moment. Postmodernism is largely synchronic in that its claims viz. the nature of language rest on synchronic analysis.
VI.             Discourse: any constellation of signs considered in its relation to power – either a particular conversation, a group of conversations, or the possibility of conversation at all, depending on the context. A bad thing. 
VII.          Freeplay: The multiplicity of meaning made possible by the abandonment of logo-centric thinking. A good thing.
VIII.       Hermeneutics: that area of thought concerned with formulating principles for the interpretation of texts.
IX.             Logos/Logo-Centric: Any conceptual network regulated by a concept which stands apart from, or in a position of authority over, the others. According to Derrida all previous Western philosophy. A bad thing.
X.                Meta-: of a higher or second order. I.e. a meta-history would be a history of history, a meta-discourse a discourse of discourse, and so on.
XI.             Modern: a cultural condition, beginning more or less with the Enlightenment (c. 1650 – 1800) in which truth, value, and meaning are understood to reside in the world rather than in the speaker, and in which they are understood as singular and exclusionary rather than multiple and inclusive, and necessarily entailing an authoritarian ethos of domination which glorifies ignorance and violence. A very bad thing. Opposed by postmodernism, a very good thing.
XII.          Sign: a word-concept, given as signifier/signified. According to Saussure language is composed of an arbitrary constellation wherein each element receives its meaning only from the difference between it and the other signs. This has the important consequence that the divisions inherit in language bear no necessary relationship to the world as it is. Since language precedes, creates, and determines thoughts, this has the further consequence that nothing can be thought which bears a necessary (only an interpretive) relationship to things as they are.
XIII.       Text: anything considered as a constellation of signs: narrowly writing, the spoken word, or any gesture or act intended to communicate. But, since anything can be considered as such a constellation, anything can be understood as a “text,” and therefore understood according to the techniques of linguistic analysis.

The main point: All our talk is just talk about our talk.
Hope that helps! 

Part of a Series on Postmodernism (XVII o XVII)

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