Postmodernist Domination

Dave asked if I planned to say anything about the comments on Scott’s Inside Higher Ed interview. I thought I would mention just one item, in the most recent (at the moment) comment, because it has a certain risible typicality. It comes from someone who calls herself, matily, ‘Violet’, an associate professor in the midwest, addressing another commenter.

I’m sorry to hear that postmodern thinking wasn’t for you. I suppose it’s up for debate whether or not we should abandon the teaching of postmodernism, a cultural movement which dominated the latter half of the twentieth century, solely based on your negative experiences.

There. I like that. I didn’t know postmodernism had ‘dominated the latter half of the twentieth century’ – did you? I also don’t know what that means – did postmodernism dominate plumbing in the latter half of the twentieth century, and transportation, and chemical engineering, and ecology, and the weather, and wars, and rumours of wars, and demographics, and epidemics, and revolutions, and medicine, and tv, and agronomy, and everything? Just, everything about the latter half of the twentieth century, every event, every object, every pattern, everything? And if so how did this domination manifest itself? Did everything, like, cower before the massive power and bulk and teeth of postmodernism? Or what?

Well, that’s probably not exactly what she meant, she probably just wrote carelessly. She certainly reads carelessly, as you can see if you read her first comment – she misreads every single answer of mine that she elects to comment on. Maybe she meant something far more modest, such as that postmodernism dominated, let’s say, intellectual life in the latter half of the twentieth century. I’m betting that’s what she meant. That seems like a fair reading, don’t you think? Not uncharitable? Or perhaps she meant only academic endeavor? Or perhaps she meant only academic endeavor within the humanities and social sciences? That would certainly be radically narrower and more modest than what she did say. And yet, even narrowed down that drastically, it’s still not true. But her thinking it is true is absolutely typical of ‘postmodernism’ at its preening worst. (If you don’t believe me, just remind yourself of that letter Judith Butler wrote to the NY Times about its Derrida obit. Go on. We’ll wait.)

And then, amusingly, having been so opaque herself, she goes on to ask a commenter who is less than fond of postmodernism a lot of sharp questions about what exactly he means. That’s a postmodernist thing to do.

(I have to say this though. What’s with the first name bit? Who invited her to call me by my first name? Eh? I certainly didn’t. Is that a postmodern thing too?)

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