It’s an interesting piece by Alan Kirby, who has a full book on the subject: Digimodernism: How New Technologies Dismantle the Postmodern and Reconfigure Our Culture. First among Kirby’s hypotheses is that, if postmodernism is dead, don’t look to “critical realism” for a successor:
Postmodern philosophy emphasises the elusiveness of meaning and knowledge. This is often expressed in postmodern art as a concern with representation and an ironic self-awareness. And the argument that postmodernism is over has already been made philosophically. There are people who have essentially asserted that for a while we believed in postmodern ideas, but not any more, and from now on we’re going to believe in critical realism. The weakness in this analysis is that it centres on the academy, on the practices and suppositions of philosophers who may or may not be shifting ground or about to shift – and many academics will simply decide that, finally, they prefer to stay with Foucault [arch postmodernist] than go over to anything else. However, a far more compelling case can be made that postmodernism is dead by looking outside the academy at current cultural production.
This will come as a shock to all those erstwhile fans of Dallas Willard who approach me at conferences and tell me that they’re critical realists. Usually, it seems to me that they’ve embraced that philosophical position because it allows them to sound smart and critical, while still hanging on to their fideist assumptions about the Bible, truth, and theology.Kirby contends that what’s after postmodernism isn’t something tamer, like critical realism, but something even more radical than postmodernism itself:
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 the culture we have now fetishises the recipient of the text to the degree that they become a partial or whole author of it. Optimists may see this as the democratisation of culture; pessimists will point to the excruciating banality and vacuity of the cultural products thereby generated (at least so far).
Let me explain. Postmodernism conceived of contemporary culture as a spectacle before which the individual sat powerless, and within which questions of the real were problematised. It therefore emphasised the television or the cinema screen. Its successor, which I will call pseudo-modernism, makes the individual’s action the necessary condition of the cultural product. Pseudo-modernism includes all television or radio programmes or parts of programmes, all ‘texts’, whose content and dynamics are invented or directed by the participating viewer or listener.
This is a brilliant analysis, and largely correct. An aspect of this shift was predicted by Jean Baudrillard in his concept of hyperreality, but he did not foresee the shift in power between the producer of content and the recipient of content.
This blog, and all content that resides on the Internet, is Exhibit A in Kirby’s analysis:
The pseudo-modern cultural phenomenon par excellence is the internet. Its central act is that of the individual clicking on his/her mouse to move through pages in a way which cannot be duplicated, inventing a pathway through cultural products which has never existed before and never will again.
The entire essay is well worth reading, and I commend it to you.
But overall it serves to bolster my claim that churches that are not fully participatory in all aspects of leadership and liturgy are already two cultural epochs behind our current situation.