Philosophy: (1 of 3) Postmodernism – Chronology and Meaning

Philosophy: (1 of 3) Postmodernism – Chronology and Meaning November 10, 2005

Amongst other topics, there has been a recent surge in talk on Postmodernism here so I thought I should dedicate a post to it. I would love to see comments with links to further reading (as I know all of this could baloon into endless exegesis on our parts, and I for one don’t have time for that!)

First read the third comment here for Nacho’s full intro to Postmodernism. My own scattered comments can be found elsewhere, but aren’t worth the cross-linking. For now I just want to ask questions, base in my own (still developing) theoretical framework.

First, the chronology bit gets me. When is ‘Modernity‘? Did it begin with Luther, Newton, Kant? It may seem trite, but I find the chronology issue important. We in the West champion the ‘newest’ thing; so to say that Modernity is old and something new has come along is a nice rhetorical way to sell your philosophy (even if it just happens to be recycled Sophistry – side note: the ID theorists argue that their theory is a new paradigm, exposing weakness in the ‘old Darwinian’ theory – eek).

I prefer to look at modernity, romanticism, postmodernity, etc as attitudes, some prevalent in certain times, but none necessarily preceding others.

Nacho wrote, “Meaning is about the relationship of signs to other signs… signs have no direct referent that exist in an independent object world.” Merleau-Ponty argues against Saussure, stating that signs must have some contact with the world through us, and thus have meaning in relation to that world (not just to other signs). I hit my head and emit a sound, that sound need not display any particular relationship to other signs to be understood by coworker. My sound will have meaning if it coheres with the lived situation, neither available language nor the physical situation seems to determine meaning. I can hit my head and can coherently say ‘ouch, ught, oooft, eeesche, f*ck, etc’, but not something like, ‘Alice’. Language (like the physical situation) sets boundaries, but it seems incapable of providing much in the way of meaning.

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