Fun_People Archive
5 May
PSL classes (Postmodern as a Second Language)

Date: Thu,  5 May 94 13:32:20 PDT
To: Fun_People
Subject: PSL classes (Postmodern as a Second Language)

[I suppose, since PSL is already taken, perhaps it should be PEMD
(Postmodern as an antiprimarily-focused Enunciation of multi-discursive
Modality Dichotomies)  -psl]

Forwarded-by: peter hall <PHALL@YaleVM.YCC.Yale.Edu>
Forwarded-by: (Susan Keen)


Stephen Katz,
Associate Professor,
Trent University,

Postmodernism has been the buzzword in academia for the last decade. Books,
journal articles, conference themes and university courses have resounded
to the debates about postmodernism that focus on the uniqueness of our
times, where computerization, the global economy and the media have
irrevocably transformed all forms of social engagement.  As a professor of
sociology who teaches about culture, I include myself in this environment.
Indeed, I have a great interest in postmodernism both as an intellectual
movement and as a practical problem.  In my experience there seems to be a
gulf between those who see the postmodern turn as a neo-conservative
reupholstering of the same old corporate trappings, and those who see it as
a long overdue break with modernist doctrines in education, aesthetics and
politics.  Of course there are all kinds of positions in between, depending
upon how one sorts out the optimum route into the next millennium.

However, I think the real gulf is not so much positional as linguistic.
Posture can be as important as politics when it comes to the
intelligentsia. In other words, it may be less important whether or not you
like postmodernism than whether or not you can speak and write
postmodernism.  Perhaps you would like to join in conversation with your
local mandarins of cultural theory and all-purpose deep thinking, but you
don't know what to say.  Or, when you do contribute something you consider
relevant, even insightful, you get ignored or looked at with pity.  Here is
a quick guide, then, to speaking and writing postmodern.

First, you need to remember that plainly expressed language is out of the
question.  It is too realist, modernist and obvious.  Postmodern language
requires that one uses play, parody and indeterminacy as critical
techniques to point this out.  Often this is quite a difficult requirement,
so obscurity is a well-acknowledged substitute.  For example, let's imagine
you want to say something like, "We should listen to the views of people
outside of Western society in order to learn about the cultural biases that
affect us".  This is honest but dull.  Take the word "views".
Postmodernspeak would change that to "voices", or better, "vocalities", or
even better, "multivocalities".  Add an adjective like "intertextual", and
you're covered.  "People outside" is also too plain.  How about
"postcolonial others"?  To speak postmodern properly one must master a bevy
of biases besides the familiar racism, sexism, ageism, etc.

For example, phallogocentricism (male-centredness combined with
rationalistic forms of binary logic).  Finally "affect us" sounds like
plaid pajamas.  Use more obscure verbs and phrases, like "mediate our
identities".  So, the final statement should say, "We should listen to the
intertextual, multivocalities of postcolonial others outside of Western
culture in order to learn about the phallogocentric biases that mediate our
identities".  Now you're talking postmodern!

Sometimes you might be in a hurry and won't have the time to muster even
the minimum number of postmodern synonyms and neologisms needed to avoid
public disgrace.  Remember, saying the wrong thing is acceptable if you say
it the right way.  This brings me to a second important strategy in
speaking postmodern, which is to use as many suffixes, prefixes, hyphens,
slashes, underlinings and anything else your computer (an absolute must to
write postmodern) can dish out.  You can make a quick reference chart to
avoid time delays.  Make three columns.  In column A put your prefixes;
post-, hyper-, pre-, de-, dis-, re-, ex-, and counter-.  In column B go
your suffixes and
related endings; -ism, -itis, -iality, -ation, -itivity, and -tricity.  In
column C add a series of well-respected names that make for impressive
adjectives or schools of thought, for example, Barthes (Barthesian),
Foucault (Foucauldian, Foucauldianism), Derrida (Derridean, Derrideanism).

Now for the test.  You want to say or write something like, "Contemporary
buildings are alienating".  This is a good thought, but, of course, a
non-starter. You wouldn't even get offered a second round of crackers and
cheese at a conference reception with such a line.  In fact, after saying
this, you might get asked to stay and clean up the crackers and cheese
after the reception.  Go to your three columns.  First, the prefix.  Pre-
is useful, as is post-, or several prefixes at once is terrific.  Rather
than "contemporary buildings", be creative.  "The Pre/post/spacialities of
counter-architectural hyper-contemporaneity" is promising.  You would have
to drop the weak and dated term "alienating" with some well suffixed words
from column B.  How about "antisociality", or be more postmodern and
introduce ambiguity with the linked phrase, "antisociality/seductivity".

Now, go to column C and grab a few names whose work everyone will agree is
important and hardly anyone has had the time or the inclination to read.
Continental European theorists are best when in doubt.  I recommend the
sociologist Jean Baudrillard since he has written a great deal of difficult
material about postmodern space.  Don't forget to make some mention of
gender.  Finally, add a few smoothing out words to tie the whole garbled
mess together and don't forget to pack in the hyphens, slashes and
parentheses.  What do you get?  "Pre/post/spacialities of
counter-architectural hyper-contemporaneity (re)commits us to an ambivalent
recurrentiality of antisociality/seductivity, one enunciated in a
de/gendered-Baudrillardian discourse of granulated subjectivity".  You
should be able to hear a postindustrial pin drop on the retrocultural

At some point someone may actually ask you what you're talking about.  This
risk faces all those who would speak postmodern and must be carefully
avoided.  You must always give the questioner the impression that they have
missed the point, and so send another verbose salvo of postmodernspeak in
their direction as a "simplification" or "clarification" of your original
statement.  If that doesn't work, you might be left with the terribly
modernist thought of, "I don't know".  Don't worry, just say, "The
instability of your question leaves me with several contradictorily layered
responses whose interconnectivity cannot express the logocentric coherency
you seek.  I can only say that reality is more uneven and its
(mis)representations more untrustworthy than we have time here to explore".
 Any more questions?  No, then pass the cheese and crackers.

[=] © 1994 Peter Langston []