What became of postmodernism and its deconstructive and iconoclast delusion?
Fernando R. Genovés
A brief memorandum of postmodernism, the self-deemed ‘weak’ and ‘pragmatic’ countercultural movement, which aspired amazingly to destroy idols, grand narratives, principles and gods, and ended up consumed by its own iconoclastic fever*
Who speaks of postmodernism today? Who takes seriously this neo-countercultural movement of construction and deconstruction, that animated by a variety of means of communication, managed to monopolize the attention of so many academics and teachers across Europe and America? What became of this intellectual new fashion of the last decades? The impulse and the purpose that propelled it, more than fruitful and constructive, were by nature hypercritical and destructive, presumptuous demolishers of tradition, no matter what kind. It managed, nevertheless, to exert a noteworthy influence in the défait de la pensée, and perhaps for that reason, one deed ought to be recognised in it: having stupefied, by its own measure, the necessary work of reconstruction of rationality in the realm of philosophy and the social sciences, without which they survive as they can and with much hardship.
The project of countercultural deconstruction and demolition of the fundaments of reality remained in every aspect symbolized by one of the major emblems of postmodernism: the ‘weak thought’. In the present, it does not simply show the vigour and the strength that honour the presumed ‘weakness’ of its will and the objectives it defended. There isn’t, therefore, a contradiction or delusion here, nor could be, and, from what this suggests, this wouldn’t concern its masters and disciples either, or whatever remained of them. This is so for being a syllabus —the postmodern— which has denied precisely the same doctrinal base in the thought. By being postmodern, anyone could be generous and indulgent, altruist and compassionate, Thyrsian and Trojan, although never rational or liberal –in the classical sense–, as these are rather frowned up attitudes among innovative professors, lounge journalists, professional politicians and the uncritical public in general.
Built as a chain of opinion that impugned the principle of reality while at the same time it dissimulated the self-reference to the principle of pleasure, in the course of time, it suddenly crashed against the upright reality. And finally, from having established itself in a peculiar philosophy, disobedient of traditional logic, unwilling to hear about the principles of identity, noncontradiction and of the excluded middle, the ‘postmodern condition’ discovered, at last, by its own experience, the meaning of being and, especially, not being. Unreasonableness also creates monsters that end up destroying their ‘creator’ (as in Shelley’s Frankenstein) or their own children (as in Saturn depicted by Goya).
To define themselves so pragmatic and so weak, the postmoderns aspired not to leave stone upon stone on the current culture. In order to remind that in this irreverent and frivolous intellectual storm, nothing should be deemed holy, I propose, in the present paper, to recall the musings of Richard Rorty and Gianni Vattimo in The Future of Religion, title of a book compiled by Santiago Zabala (Paidós, Barcelona, 2006), whose subtitle is Solidarity, charity, irony (Solidaridad, caridad, ironía). It is nonetheless ironic, to read in this volume, how they pontificated about the future, those who wouldn’t have it.
Interpretation of interpretations, everything is interpretation. This is what they used to say. The weak and ‘postmodern’ thought constituted a programme that, deep down, was extremely ambitious (a post-revolutionary relic), which could dismiss any criticism with great skill for the falsification principle (of Karl Popper) didn’t even operate in their territory, such was their aversion to principles in general. They simply had an explanation for everything, because everything, as they argued, is a matter of opinion. In the ‘Era of Interpretation’, that would replace the ‘Era of Faith’ and the ‘Era of Reason’, doxa (belief) replaced episteme (knowledge) in the order of legitimacy, thus allowing it to becoming a kind of a new Theory of Three Stages (of Auguste Comte), although in an antipositivist version.
The general plan of postmodernism, through a series of editions, basically consisted in promoting cultural travesties of the models under suspicion, which were put under the spotlight, as new victims to be disfigured. The method was the most elemental: to take the place of the marked models and to leave them in a stand by situation, misplaced and displaced: you get out so that I can come in. Such a feat is known by the term ‘empathy’, an emotional tendency that is supposedly very solidary and compassionate, although totally devoided of irony.
The referred strategy, although presumably transforming and ground-breaking, is very ancient. It works by entering (infiltrating oneself) inside the structures believed to be ‘decadent’ in order to ‘transform them’, in a Marxist or post Marxist lingo, and thus to readapt them using new terminology and imagery, to the desired new objective. The organizations, movements and institutions, which deep down are known to be weak (because they are), it is convenient for them to avoid the direct confrontation, the wrestling with the superior adversary. Other more convoluted tactics serve the same function of replacement, for example, the patient labour of burrowing that in the end undermines the defence and the resistance of the strong; the intellectual poisoning, in small doses, of the adversary; duplicity, deception and fraud; stubbornness and tenacity; propaganda and repetition. However, the main purpose of the deconstruction was the demoralization of the opponent (and, by extension, of society), a new version of the transvaluation of the values (Friedrich Nietzsche) reduced to a ‘weak’ and denaturalized pedestrian version.
In the so called ‘post metaphysical era’, whose existence and circumstances only the very experts could give faith, reason was an idol to be toppled. Such purpose was proclaimed in the name of nothing less than rationality. Gianni Vattimo, for example, who is not that naive to reject rationality wholesale, accepts —what’s the alternative— the ‘hermeneutic rationality’, that is, that which situates the debate in the exclusive terrain of interpretation, where there would be no other facts other than the linguistic ones. And such desideratum must be understood as a fatum (fate, fatality fatuity), and never as a factum (fact).
Richard Rorty, wouldn’t be any less, does not have anything against rationality either, provided that ‘rationality is identified with the effort to reach an intersubjective universal consensus and the truth is a result of such effort’. And what we said about reason and rationality, should apply to other projects in the process of reconversion or cultural transformation, such as: ‘dialogue’, ‘consensus’, ‘interpretation’, ‘universal’, ‘nihilism’, ‘democracy’, and, why not, ‘solidarity, charity, irony’, the notions that appear selected in the subtitle of the mentioned book.
It is indeed portentous in this case that such initiative —the ‘postmodern one’— took (in vain) Nietzsche as one of its inspirers, prophets and legitimizers. Precisely Nietzsche, the philosopher who dissected with the precision of a (skilled) surgeon the carrion of resentment! Or precisely for that reason… Here we have a model application of the transformation that we just showed to be typical of the postmodern procedure. The complete appropriation of Nietzsche’s philosophy was, in the end, little more than a conceptual makeup, retouch and readjustment based on a few phrases which were ad hoc selected with the objective to compose an interrupted discourse, and which pretended to be tempestuous and post-revolutionary, typical of the New Era. And with the adages arranged in compliance with the post revolutionary manual of substitutions, they were hung (as a joke) in the shoulders of the solitary of Sils-Maria so that he would carry the cross of ‘postmodernity’. As in Nietzsche’s ecce homo…
In reality, the promotion urbi et orbe of a ‘postmodern Nietzsche’ (this was also done to many other classic authors) was made possible thanks to the peculiar (and highly opinionated) interpretations of the work of the German philosopher, first by Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault, and later by Jacques Derrida and Gianni Vattimo, among those in the vanguard of the postmodern brotherhood. I won’t enter into arguments over truth by correspondence to see who is ‘right’! For the case, fortunately, is closed.
At this stage I limit myself to highlight the impertinence of certain language games carried out at the expense of an author —Friedrich Nietzsche—, who, from master of aphorisms, was transformed indiscriminately into a Nazi beacon, a fierce anti-Semite, a leader of situationism, an ideologue of anarchism or the champion of ‘postmodernism’, often with succession and continuity. Whether one or other circumstance would occur, or all of them at the same time, it suited the interpreter on the shift, to rescue only determinate aphorisms from the hundreds that the philosopher from Röcken wrote, some of which, for certain, very susceptible to any class of interpretation (let us recall, however, the high volume of literature produced around the famous expression ‘red beast’, one among the many that Nietzsche wrote in The Genealogy of Morality).
If there were no punches at the time when Nietzsche was made into the paladin of nihilism and ‘weak thought’, how could one find it strange that Rorty and Vattimo doubted at the time of reconverting, transforming, or better even, displacing God, by striking, without a second thought, against the ‘fundamentalism’ in the Christian religion, but only in the Christian religion, as if ‘Christian fundamentalism’ was a current subject and the most worrisome of the real fundamentalisms that exist? Here lays the central theme of the book The Future of Religion, or how to make Christianity go through the ‘weak thought’ crusher and convert it into a battering ram (and at the same time into a victim) of the deconstructionist project**. Let us reiterate, in a few steps, the plan proposed there:
1. To make of the previous Creator of the world, simply and coherently, a ‘weak God’, the justification for which being limited to the citation of a few and conveniently chosen biblical verses. For example, this one of Saint Paul: ‘For when I am weak, then I am strong’ (Corinthians, 12, 10).
2. God, in the religion of the future, will not be in Heaven but displaced. In the ‘postmodern condition’, God sees his power, or will of power, reduced to a human level, too human perhaps, until the point when —in an extremely audacious outburst of democratism and egalitarianism — he is converted into one more citizen, a comrade, a colleague, a ‘friend’, always in equal footing with the others in terms rights and duties. Nietzsche, undoubtable, treated the gods with much greater respect than his own purported interpreters.
3. In the ‘Era of Interpretation’, ‘true’ Christianity (not that which is ‘dogmatic’, ‘substantial’ or ‘metaphysical’), heads a list of more new age demands. In this new mission, it abandons those archaic and surpassed objectives (the missionary and the preaching, for example): ‘The non metaphysical religion is also a non missionary religion’), in order to adopt with fervour, and even to defend, the marriage of homosexuals, euthanasia, in vitro fertilization, abortion, use of condoms as preservatives, female priesthood and everything else that is necessary to go beyond good and evil, and beyond even atheism and theism.
4. The future of religion, according with Rorty and Vattimo, passes through the legitimization of the culture weakening mechanism, charging it to the account of Christianity itself. Once again, it is the so called Christian message, of the kind that denies ‘the principle of reality’ when, Paul again, states: ‘Where, O death, is your victory?’ (Corinthians, 15, 54-55), and at the same time blesses the ethics of the dialogue and limitless conversation as a source of understanding, consensus and practical truth, for instance, through this preaching: ‘For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them’ (Mathew, 18, 20).
Well then, one could say that Rorty and Vattimo met (or conspired) in the name of the weak and postmodern God with the purpose of deciding about their joyful future, which is no other than their retirement pension… And we should presume, moreover, that He was there with both philosophers (a sacrilegious imitation of the Holy Trinity certifying with his presence and support the deconstruction of Christianity. Perhaps it is for this reason that they say with such confidence and coolness, for they take it for granted that thanks to the evangelical spirit, they will always have compassion or forgiveness: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Lucas, 23, 33-34). And neither what they are saying.
Fernando Rodríguez Genovés is a writer, essayist, literary critic and movie analyst as well a professor of Philosophy currently on a voluntary leave of absence. Author of eleven books and several blogs, Dr Genovés is a founding member and habitual collaborator of El Catoblepas, a monthly magazine of contemporary criticism published since 2002.
* Version corrected and adapted to the new times of my text «Cristianismo deconstruido» [Christianity Deconstructed], a review of Richard Rorty and Gianni Vattimo’s book, El futuro de la religión. Solidaridad, Caridad. Ironía, Paidós, Barcelona, 2006, published in Anthropos. Revista, nº 217, «Especial Gianno Vattimo. Hemeneusis e historicidad», Barcelona, 2008, pp. 194-196.
** Following this project, can be cited others books by Gianni Vattimo: After the death of God, (coauthor, John D. Caputo), Edited by Jeffrey W. Robbins, Columbia University Press, 2006.; Christianity, truth, and weak faith (coauthor, René Girard), Edited by P. Antonello, Columbia University Press, 2009; Not being God: a collaborative autobiography (coauthor, Piergiorgio Paterlini), New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.”
Translation: Joaquina Pires-O’Brien (UK)
How to cite this article:
Rodríguez Genovés, F. What became of postmodernism and its deconstructive and iconoclast delusion? PortVitoria, UK, v. 9, Jul-Dec, 2014. ISSN 2044-8236, https://portvitoria.com