welcome to the neutral ground podcast
i'm your host joe meyer or am i
hmm
i'm suddenly quite skeptical of this
hey that reminds me we're going to be
talking a bit about postmodernism today
so where to
begin well as i mentioned in previous
episodes major historical movements can
be somewhat difficult to define actually
and perhaps the most difficult one is
postmodernism because it kind of resists
coherency by its very nature
it's kind of like yelling at a chameleon
for blending in the background
that's just kind of what it does
nonetheless for the sake of making sense
we're going to define it right now
post-modernism can be boiled down to
an age of skepticism
skepticism in just about everything
you name it it's skeptical of it
so let's try to give post-modernism some
historical context here
post-modernism arguably begins with the
end of world war ii
and it extends itself into i think the
early to mid 2000s
you might be thinking to yourself though
um
joe
there's postmodern stuff happening right
now as we speak
and that's true my skeptical friend
but you also have age of enlightenment
stuff and romanticism stuff and
modernism stuff as well going on
remember you never really fully get rid
of a movement you always keep parts of
it with you
normally the parts that are most
necessary for continuing social
evolution of the species
i'll talk about why i think you start to
see the end of postmodernism
in roughly the mid 2000s
in my episode of neo-modernism
now i'd like to break post-modernism up
into two categories for us
the first category is post-modernism as
an actual theory a framework for
thinking about the unrepresentable
nature of modernism
and to an extent modernity itself and
yes those are two separate things as i
spoke about in an earlier episode
the second category has to do with
post-modernism as a form of pop cultural
representation
with all due respect to dereda lachan
and mr francois leotard
it is this second category of
post-modernism this pop-cultural
representation
that i think is most likely to survive
and continue propagating into the future
although i will defend some utility for
the first category as well in this
episode
ultimately i'm going to break these two
parts of post-modernism up into two
separate episodes of the podcast because
these ideas are really quite large and
sticky
and because i'm likely going to need a
nap after this one a very long
nap
so let's dive into the first category
postmodernism as a theoretical framework
for attempting to represent the
unrepresentable while resisting the
declaration of meaning
oh yeah
that's the good stuff that's the stuff
that i remember from grad school
before we begin i want to make two
things clear about this first part of
the discussion as well
first if you find yourself getting lost
in the language just act like a typical
graduate student
not and make some kind of profound
grunting noise
[Music]
even if no one is around to hear it but
yourself
that will automatically put you three
credits closer to getting your phd
second
post-modern theories often resist
definition and meaning by their
definitions
therefore i will do my best to make it
as graspable and utilitarian as possible
however there's so much information
between the various approaches to
post-modern theories that there is
really no way that i can hit upon all of
them in this podcast
so if i don't get to your favorite
post-modern theorist or rock star theory
forgive me
as a bonus third point
did i mention that my phd is in early
american literature
yeah that will become apparent pretty
quickly as we break this stuff down
let's start with one of the more
difficult authors
jacques lacan
the khan's intellectual framework
resides in really kind of both modernism
and postmodernism dude lived a long time
like 1901 to like 1981 or something
so he has developed thoughts and
theories that span both modernism and
postmodernism
this is actually kind of important
because
proper postmodern theory really is kind
of predicated on an interaction with
modernist ideas
in the case of lacan he was really
fascinated with freud and psychoanalysis
so one of the many theories proposed by
lacan has to do with differentiating
drive and desire
we tend to think of drive and desire as
being
linked together in a kind of a positive
manner
and you know some to some degree i think
some people tend to even almost look at
them as synonyms
and of course i think many of us would
push back against that
but for lacan
he saw this kind of positive connection
between drive and desire as being much
more negative than i think many of us do
for the purpose of this
you know difficult language that we have
to wade through i'm going to be relying
quite heavily on stanford's encyclopedia
of philosophy
which if you are interested is a
phenomenal resource for philosophy they
do a great job of putting things
as succinctly and and comprehensible as
possible
so i'm going to be taking
from those pages
for this postmodern section of the
podcast here
and on the lacan page it states
an essential characteristic of desire is
its restlessness its ongoing agitated
searching and futile striving
no object it gets its hands on is ever
quite it
whereas desire is stuck with its
dissatisfied drifting from object to
object and ever onward
in a structured movement akin to the
spurious slash bad infinite as per hegel
drive derives a perverse enjoyment from
this desire-fueled libidinal circling
around the vanishing point of the
impossible qua unattainable
there where desire is frustrated drive
is gratified drive gains its
satisfaction through vampirically
feeding off of the dissatisfaction
of desire
ah
it's not a post-modern party until
someone drops a qua
so what does this actually mean here
well
it's actually quite fascinating what's
going on here
and i think we can also make this fit a
bit into our own
psyches today and make it work you know
so that we have a better comprehension
of it
what lacan is essentially saying is
desire is predicated on the idea of the
the searching for
the object but even if we
get that object it's never really it
it's never really the object nothing
about the object actually even
necessarily satisfies
the
desire we just continually are stuck in
desire think for a second about
the smartphone
kind of phenomena that we still have
even today
many times people will buy their
smartphone
and then when apple or samsung or
whomever it is that you you know use
we'll use apple just because i think
that's an easier example here when apple
comes out and says
we have a new phone it's got this and
this and this
it immediately creates
again this idea of desire
and in our minds in our consumer-driven
minds
we desire that object or at least we
think we desire that object
and when we do actually buy that object
or get a hold of it think for yourself
for a second
how many times have you desired
something
you have it in your possession
and it's not as if
it really creates that big of a
difference in your life did it really
satisfy
the desire really
no because in actuality
as soon as that next phone comes out we
desire that one and that's what lecom
means by
we just sort of
move from one object to the other right
desire is stuck with its dissatisfied
drifting
from object to object that's what
essentially we do in this environment
whereas drive
takes a kind of and i love this idea of
a vampiric feeding
off of the dissatisfaction
of desire
we we still have that satisfaction
feeling
that we don't get from actually
obtaining the object and drive feeds off
of that dissatisfaction
so what's the utility
in this for us it is
i think important or it can be important
to differentiate between drive and
desire and what lacan does here is he
does give us language from which to
maybe better or more accurately think
about where we might be stuck
in certain situations
are we typically stuck in desire
just kind of drifting from object to
object
or are we
stuck even in drive
where we're just feeding off of that
desire
only
neither one
is really particularly good even if
drive may sound a little bit better
than just moving from object to object
neither one is particularly good so if
you can identify which one you're more
likely stuck in i think you have a
better chance of
disconnecting yourself
from that particular one
okay what about art however what role
does art play in all of this
again proper postmodern theory at least
the kind that everyone seems to hate so
much today
is connected to modernism itself
how does it relate to modernism
well let's go again to stanford's
encyclopedia of philosophy here for some
language that we can then kind of break
apart
these ideas come from the mind of
francois leotard quote
modern art
is emblematic of a sublime sensibility
that is a sensibility that there is
something
non-presentable demanding to be put into
sensible form and yet overwhelms all
attempts to do so
but where modern art presents the
unpresentable as a missing content
within a beautiful form as in marcel
proust
postmodern art exemplified by james
joyce
puts forward the unpresentable by
foregoing beautiful form itself
thus denying what kant would call the
consensus of taste
furthermore says leotard a work can
become modern only if it is first
postmodern
for postmodernism is not modernism at
its end but in its nascent state
that is at the moment it attempts to
present the unpresentable
and this state is constant
the postmodern then is a repetition of
the modern as the new
and this means the ever new demand for
another repetition
that's a lot to kind of take in here
to break it down really what we need to
kind of just think is it's almost as if
post-modernism is in a sense a precursor
to modernism now in terms of our
historical and chronological timeline
that doesn't really make much sense
but what i think you're going to find at
least by the end of this episode and
probably by the end of the next episode
as well
you're going to understand i think what
leotard is trying to say here which is
that
postmodern thinking
in some ways sets up
the unders our understanding of
modernism itself
and if you recall from my previous
episode where i talked about modernism
if you hadn't listened to that episode
you might want to listen to that episode
first here so that you can get a good
grasp of modernism because then i think
all of this is going to connect
quite well in the end
but what i find fascinating about this
too
[Music]
one i think the thinking exercise of it
alone is is interesting enough for me
the idea that
post-modernism in some way
is kind of a precursor to modernism
that's just fascinating to look back
at something like that
but i think this idea also further
scaffolds my argument that we are in
neo-modernism right now
because in a lot of ways these
post-modern theorists were right in that
the post-modern structure of thinking
has created a kind of reemergence
of modernist thought
right think about the fracturing effect
of it because of the ways in which
postmodernism kind of presupposes the
decline of hierarchies and structures
you know that distrust in structures
that we see
and what about literature and language
well
come on you knew we were going to have
to hit up the godfather himself the man
who needs no introduction because he
would have just denied that it signifies
any relation to his subjective self
if he were a transformer he'd be a
deconstructicon
jock
don't call me a postmodernist
dera
da according to stanford's philosophy
page on dereda
postmodern sensibility does not lament
the loss of narrative coherence any more
than the loss of being
however
the disillusion of narrative leaves the
field of legitimation to a new unifying
criterion the performativity of the
knowledge producing system whose form of
capital
is information
well that's what i've been trying to say
all along
i mean was that so difficult to
understand
and you were worried that you wouldn't
be able to keep up
don't you feel silly now
hmm
what was that
what does it mean
oh you mean you want me to explain it
um
sure yeah
of course i can i mean
come on i have a phd in literature
i took courses in grad school on this
stuff so um
yeah let me just uh
adjust my um
microphone here a second and um
take another look
wait i think i hear my wife calling me i
no oh she's saying i'm on my own here
okay um
all right
you can do this
basically
the point is that
forget about the meaning of the text
it's not really there what is there is
the system by which the text attempts to
construct an a priori meaning of itself
only to reveal that there are secondary
referent points within the text that
actually propose alternate meanings ones
that supplant the initial proposed
dominant meaning revealing complex
layers of meaning that work in
conjunction with the dominant narrative
while at the same time supplanting it
boom
pulled that one out
in all seriousness
their last point about language and text
here is that when you deconstruct the
text you can identify what the text
attempts to show but through
deconstruction you find alternate ways
of viewing the text that can sometimes
support or even destroy that initial
one-dimensional interpretation that the
text tries to give you
the structure of the text itself is
usually the thing that reveals this
which is why you need to pay careful
attention to how the structure of the
language tries to both prioritize
and hide meaning at the same time
so let's think about a text for a moment
let's talk about hemingway's the old man
and the sea
it's a fairly simple narrative about an
old man named santiago who goes out
fishing
hooks a marlin and then persists in a
great battle to bring that marlin in
the fish is so big he has to tie it to
his boat
but as he takes his boat back to the
dock the man finds himself in a new
battle
trying to keep the sharks from eating it
spoiler alert
it doesn't really work out well for the
marlin
now a straightforward interpretation
might look at the story from a man
versus nature reading or even a man
versus you know man
or it could look at how life is a series
of intense battles with less than ideal
endings and how we interpret those
endings
seeing them as character building or
character destroying
is what we need to take away from it or
what we need to focus on
a deconstructive reading
might read the text to see how its
structure subverts these readings and
draws our attention to other meanings
for example there is a young man an
apprentice in the story named manolin
a deconstructive reading might ask
how does the text deny manolin his epic
battle
his right at being tested by battle and
what does this potentially do for how he
confronts conflict
you would then look at the language of
the text the
interactions between the old man
santiago and munolin and try to see how
the language reveals this
now
how is this useful for us
well
often times when we kind of construct
our day we construct it almost like a
story or construct our lives like a
story even if we're not fully conscious
of it
and when we construct our story
we tend to put ourselves as the lead
actor right or actress
and in doing so
we can sometimes not really give thought
to how the other people in our story
work how their lives interact with our
own we might call this being selfish we
might call this being egotistical
but still nonetheless there are times
when we we aren't fully aware of what
how other people are functioning within
our story even the idea that we
again the the post-modernist would say
you structure your tale your life
and put that dominant narrative of
meaning
behind the subjective self right i am
the story i am the lead actor
and in doing so or i should say i'll say
it this way
when we deconstruct that though
we see how
other parts of the narrative
we can focus on those other parts and in
doing so they can convey meaning to us
that is just as important as that
initial when we try to put forward of
ourselves so for example by
deconstructing our lives
and moving that
dominant narrative of meaning aside
we can
possibly better connect
with how others function in our lives we
can better connect with their tales and
we can even put their stories
as dominant and in doing so learn
how
how to better interact with other
individuals how to be more empathetic
and sympathetic with them so there is
some utility
to that and and you might think wow that
was a long way around to say think of
others well
yeah actually sometimes post-modern
theory
is kind of i think a long way around but
it gives us at least language and it
gives us a theory
by which to study these ideas
let's take a look at another text
actually
and to give us kind of another example
here of how language can can kind of
reveal these other ideas to us
we're going to take a brief look at an
exchange from a commonly known play in
postmodernism samuel beckett's waiting
for godot
now if you've never read it it's
definitely worth a read
however i think it's more enjoyable
if you go into it understanding some of
the concepts that we've discussed
already the skepticism of language of
meaning the deconstructing of the main
idea
in order to generate new meanings of the
text
now beckett composed his play in
1948-1949
but it was first put into performance in
1953
it's about two men vladimir and estragon
who are waiting for someone to arrive
that's right
godot
while they're waiting they have some
meaningful and seemingly disjointed
discussions
here's one exchange early on in the play
between the two
and rather than me say like estragon
blank vladimir blink
i'm just gonna read it it's basically
just a one line back and forth kind of
thing here so just assume
that these are just one lines back and
forth
so we'll begin with estrogen here
charming spot
inspiring prospects let's go
we can't
why not
we're waiting for godot
ah you're short was here
what
that we were to wait
he said by the tree
they both look at the tree
do you see any others
what is it
i don't know a willow
where are the leaves
it must be dead
no more weeping
or perhaps it's not the season
looks to me more like a bush a shrub a
bush
what are you insinuating
that we've come to the wrong place
he should be here he didn't say for sure
he'd come and if he doesn't come
we'll come back tomorrow and then the
day after tomorrow
possibly
now you might be thinking to yourselves
okay
nothing happened
but think about the language for a
second and break down the meaning that
occurs in their seemingly disjointed
exchanges
godot says to meet by the tree
okay that in itself is problematic in
that a tree has many forms and are not
always easily distinguished from each
other
then the two men discussed that the tree
looks like a bush or a shrub
if it's not a tree but a bush
or a shrub then this can't be the right
place right
godot said meet at the tree
you're starting to see how the author is
deconstructing meaning here is the tree
a tree because godot said it was the
meeting place
or is it really a shrub or a bush
that has been renamed a tree by godot
does godot assert you know some kind of
power over the plant by naming it
correctly or incorrectly
finally
think about the dimensions that are
necessary for meeting someone
it makes me laugh because neil degrasse
tyson always talks about this in his
like podcast and stuff like that he
talks about the important dimensions of
meeting
meeting someone requires at least two
dimensions we need place and time
you can't just tell someone meet me at a
tree
they'll naturally ask okay when
and you can't really just say meet me at
5 pm
the other person is going to say
ok
where
we know the place right here it's the
tree or the shrub but what about time
estragon asks and if cadeau doesn't come
to which vladimir replies we'll come
back tomorrow and then estrogen says and
then the day after tomorrow
it's as if neither man is aware of the
necessity of time here they'll keep
coming back to the spot as if all time
is equal as if their mere existence in
the spot is the only moment at which
godot can possibly
arrive
now i've had students tell me that they
came to my office at 11 30 a.m
and that i wasn't there
i tell them
while i was teaching another class
and they still give me this bewildered
look like
why weren't you there when i decided
that you needed to be there
these students are waiting for godot or
waiting for gajo as it were
this might seem like nonsense but in
actuality there is something to be said
for studying how our minds can create
spaces of reality where we really do
feel like we construct all meaning in
all things almost like we are writing
the code for the matrix we live in
which means that anything that seems
like it doesn't fit the code we've
written for it
just becomes something
utterly alien to us and can really kind
of create a narrative breach in our
minds right like that student thinking
why weren't you there
it's like well because i'm autonomous
i have other places to be
than where you've written me to be
all right
so let's bring this all onto the neutral
ground for a moment what we've discussed
right like what the heck do we do
with all of this in terms of its utility
for the everyday person
let's start with the positives here
post-modern theory can actually be quite
useful in controlled moderation
to help see how
the way that we build structures and
infrastructures
can potentially become
problematic or even tyrannical which is
something that in democracy we always
have to be careful of
in other words we can see potentially or
we can see potentiality
and then course correct if need be
earlier on maybe than usual
that's actually really useful because
trying to build the plane while you're
flying it is not
really recommended by anyone
additionally although the language of
postmodern theory is incredibly obtuse
and at times it's look it's just
downright obfuscating right it just
oh like purposefully hides its meaning
the fact that it can force us to rethink
the fullness of meaning behind words and
thoughts right think back again to
lacan's theory of desire versus drive
that can actually help us
more accurately explain to others how
we're particularly feeling
and it can also lead to better and more
accurate communications of thoughts and
emotions
i think with
with overall society in general the more
accurate we are or can be with
communication i think the healthier we
can be
as a society
now
on the negative side
there are times when postmodern
theorists reduce concepts and ideas to a
point of
what seems to be almost a complete lack
of utility like an infinite of
nothingness that seems to serve no real
purpose
you can be skeptical of language and you
can cut apart the meaning of a text
but in doing so you do run the risk of
bastardizing meaning and i don't just
mean the author's intentions which can
absolutely be up for interpretation at
times i mean you can destroy meaning
itself
stories have been a part of the human
experience for
probably as long as conscious human
beings have been around
we use meaning in stories to help
propagate both history and culture and
that's even collective histories and
cultures
however when you abolish meaning and you
destabilize the self so much that it can
no longer recognize itself and function
in society
you do run the risk of further
fracturing the human species into even
more tribal entities
with as much you know connection to each
other as like tigers have with lions
it's like yeah they're both large cats
but
they're vastly different from each other
and don't really overlap much for good
reasons
in this sense
leotard is right in to a degree that
postmodernism in a strange way
is a kind of precursor to modernism
because it has this same effect of
reducing i think the sacredness of
meaning or even any sense of a
collective cultural sense of beauty
ideals
and even potentially humanity itself
which is why i think today we're so very
negative on post-modernism because we're
seeing
or we're living
that transition
that leotard was talking about
the transitioning from the precursor
to modernism
into the actual fracturing itself of
neo-modernism
and so we're longing once again like we
did in modernism
for some kind of
unification or reunification i should
say of meaning
well i think that's enough for this
episode
although we're still going to talk about
post-modernism in the next episode i
promise it won't be
nearly as thick as this one was
we're going to do a lot more with texts
as well and we'll start to bring in some
popular culture here also
i thank you for taking the time to
listen and i hope you've enjoyed the
episode if you did enjoy the episode
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try to keep one foot firmly planted on
the neutral ground and have a great day