Ongoing Russian attack on Ukraine raised the concern of western NATO nations, who declared to impose sanctions on Russia. The world is divided into two halves of West versus the East, this phenomenon seems similar to the world of capitalism in the modern world, followed by a criticism of capitalism in the postmodern world.
The modern period noticed industrialisation, market-oriented capitalist economies, enlightenment, democracy, violence and struggle. The modern period also witnessed two world wars and followed by the Cold War during the postmodernism period, but the dissolution of the Soviet Union did not end their struggle. This needs to be discerned through the eyes of postmodernism philosophy.
The opinion article enlightens the concept of postmodernism that criticised phenomena that happened in the modern period. Postmodernism emerged after the end of World War II and during the phase of the Cold War and the expansion of nuclear weapons.
Their deconstruction approach challenged the rational systems and institutions with the basis of morality and rationality. They advocate that the dominant group establishes every system, and the dissenting voices are always suppressed.
‘Other’ Story: Deconstruction Voice
History emerged due to the western thirst for hegemony over colonized lands and the desire to take their pasts. Postmodernism is a critique of modernity ideas and repercussions of modernity. This is a kind of intellectual/philosophical movement whose primary objective is to challenge the immediate stage of modernism that was widespread in the nineteenth century. This means a movement that came after ‘modernism’, so postmodernity came into prominence in the 1970s. They have criticized the culture, philosophy and politics that emerged out of modernity and are most popular in the developed western world.
It is implied to many aspects of society like economic, social, music, painting, architecture, literature, culture, art, fiction and history. They are not interested in historical developments or traditional historical approaches, as they believe the past is hazy that hinders comprehension of the present. History is portrayed as an undefined paste, similar to a work of fiction, where a historian creates narratives around the event by highlighting some facts over others, so historical language is not transparent.
Thus, it rejects the possibilities of historical generalization and historians’ neutrality is challenged. It claims that generalization does not communicate any truth on the nature of reality, and merely reflects regularities of the manner to conceptualize reality. These scholars gave importance to the human world and ‘nature’ became secondary. It entails breaking barriers with all that had come before in human civilization. It believes everything is seen as a social construction and no fixed human nature, and a human tries to receive acknowledgement or acceptance by society.
Postmodernism refers to philosophy as a movement that emerged in response to and in opposition to modernity. Many postmodernism scholars challenged the premise of modernity that is reason and criticised the modern world concepts of capitalism, rationalism, humanism and historicism. This movement also critiques the conventional mode of history writing, rejects the objectivist tradition of history writing, raises questions of historical origin with the interaction with the others, and raises doubts about historian subjectivity. They believe there is no historical truth, but it is historians’ ideological construction.
Tenet of Postmodernism
Postmodernism criticized the claim of enlightenment thinkers’ claim of universal knowledge and also the all-encompassing ideologies. Furthermore, they also challenge the view that science can achieve the truth, so the postmodern theorists entail that nothing is absolute and lean towards relativism. They even believe that there is no truth outside of or prior to linguistic intervention, and languages generate reality and the universe for people.
The next idea of postmodernism believes that modernists attempted to organise knowledge around main binaries where science is the common element like science [representing genuine knowledge] versus rhetoric, literature and story [imagination and false consciousness]. Science is considered superior, whereas the opposite side is described as weaker in comparison, so postmodernism focuses on the multiplicity, variety and uniqueness of things. They do not have strong defining boundaries to understand the concepts, as they believe everything is dependent on one’s own subjectivity and interpretation.
Postmodernists believe the reality is incomprehensive and the truth is socially created, and it is dynamic in character. It advocates the philosophy of globalization and promotes a free world without any obstacle to the growth of human society. For them, morality is a personal matter as individuals have their own personal choice. This liberal intellectual movement regards all religions as significant and effective, without giving any preference to one based on its liberal or secular approach. It advocates plurality of religions. This movement promotes equal rights to every person and believes that every person has freedom of biological preference social and intellectual freedom.
These theorists also believe that there is no absolute truth or ‘nothing is absolute’ or ‘no single objective reality, as everything is subjective and depends on how one interprets reality. The truth keeps on changing with different explanations, and there is on supreme truth but multiple truths. It thinks the individual opinion is ultimate as everything is continuously changing. Every person creates their own reality based on the environment, culture and experience around them. There is no single objective reality as per postmodernists. Science investigates facts as per modernist, whereas postmodernist states facts may be perceived and interpreted in several ways based on the scientist’s character and subjectivity. These scholars believe traditional knowledge is useless in postmodern times and limits on humans that impedes their progress. This ideology is fundamentally atheist.
Michel Foucault (1926-1984), a French postmodernist philosopher, criticised enlightenment ideas and modernity. He criticised many social institutions that were considered the outcome of European modernity and even criticised the disciplines of medicine and psychiatry. He rejects the idea of history as a whole and continuity by forwarding the notion of discontinuity. He even criticised the Enlightenment notion as a rule of reason that can equate with progress and emancipation.
He contends that knowledge and power are inseparable, as a search for truth is linked to the goal of power. He also believes the discourses emerge from institutional activities. Jean-Francois Lyotard (1924-1998) believed that despite modernist claims of universal validity, ideas and discourses of all types, there are ‘concealed narratives,’ closer to fictional stories. He critiques modernist theories for tending to totalize and universalize notions that are basically the product of modern European. He rejects the idea of foundationalism, where all knowledge claims to be founded on sound theoretical foundations.
He also rejected the use of meta-narratives and ‘grand universal theories’ of the modern period and advocated that meanings are developed from one’s knowledge and experience. It advocates for comprehending the local narratives that are non-universal in nature and relate to a single event. Another French thinker, Jean Baudrillard’s ideas influenced the area of media and art; it is believed that three processes like simulation, hyper-reality and implosion create a postmodern situation. Under the postmodern society, the conventional class, gender and group barriers are dissolved. It gives rise to a nihilistic universe with no purpose, reason or rhyme.
Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), a French postmodernist philosopher, put forward the theory of deconstruction in terms of linguistic or style of writing the literature, where all written text is the result of complicated cultural processes. The texts may only be defined in connection to other texts and writing traditions. In simple terms, human knowledge is restricted to texts, and the reality one knows about the world is through language. Beyond language and its norms of existence, there is no awareness of reality.
It also believes nothing in the world is static, as its meaning changes in different circumstances and contexts. Another aspect of deconstruction is the concept of difference that asserts that the meaning of something can only be determined by its difference from other things. The instability and variety of meaning are emphasised in deconstruction. There can be different interpretations of a text, that is revealed through the use of deconstruction analysis. This implies different areas of humanities and social sciences, music, architecture and art. Deconstruction aimed to declare and re-evaluate western values.
Postmodernism is criticized for leading to various interpretations of a single phenomenon that lead to confusion and absurdities that disregard historical facts. Some criticize postmodernism as untrustworthy and unstable philosophies that are unconcerned with historical developments of the past. Others believe the deconstruction has a flaw as it results in extreme ambiguity. Postmodernists oppose a coherent and all-encompassing vision, and it also adds scepticism in comprehending society by rejecting the use of rational thought and reason that was the principal of modernism.
Modernism gave importance to science and technology were elevated, whereas the power of language and culture was reduced. Postmodernism is blamed to result in scepticism and unending interpretation resulting in confusion. Postmodernism is also called subjective in nature and a form of a romanticist. They are blamed for rejecting universal theories but giving no comprehensive understanding. Postmodernists are liberals as they embrace all interpretations, facts, and cultural forms equally, and any subjective interpretation seems to be valid.
Every legal system of modern times has the basis of force and maintains itself with the use of violence. Therefore, the postmodernists look at the current order from the opposite side of having dissenting voices. For them, complete justice or order is an unattainable ideal. It is difficult to define the word postmodernism, but it is a manner to look at the world as an intellectual movement that advocates there is no absolute truth, and every text has different interpretations.
Postmodernists consider objectivity as a myth because there for them, there is no reality, truth and way to perceive nature. It has a liberal character and wants to free oneself from the constraints of science and an authoritarian truth system. Under this Russia-Ukraine (plus NATO nations) crisis need to be looked into both perspectives to understand the complexity of the issue that has roots in the modern period.
Author: Dr Sakul Kundra is an assistant professor in history and Acting Head of School, School of Arts and Humanities, College of Humanities and Education, at Fiji National University.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are his own and not of this newspaper or his employer. For comments or suggestions, email. [email protected]