The last post made me remember (with the appropriate shudders) my chequered past dealings with certain types of academic discourses and research methods and that made me think about how I, a little like Kant, awoke from my postmodern slumber. (Kant actually claimed to have awoken from a dogmatic slumber but it was a slumber all the same.) My brush with the highly compelling and quite alluring ideas related to postmodernism and post-structuralism was brief but like all flings, most exciting. I’ve since returned quite firmly to the fold of analytic philosophy and methods and I heave a sigh of relief for that.
Yes, I admit it. This feels almost like an alcoholics’ anonymous admission but yes, I admit that I was attracted to the ideas of postmodernism and critical theory at one point in my life and even contemplated doing research in an area related to the latter a couple of years back. Looking back at my brush with those ideas, I can see how they crept into my thoughts as I tried to make sense of things as an undergraduate and how attractive it seemed for a start. Like the fruit in the middle of the Garden of Eden, it seemed to give one ultimate knowledge and a method with which one can use on any theory or idea. But just as those fruit were problematic, this one deflates when hard logic is applied and then disappears in a puff of contradiction.
I believe many of us went through that phase – attracted by the bright lights of post-structuralism and its anti-establishment ethos, thinking that objective truths might not exist in the world and that everything has to be understood within a particular discourse and that it would be almost impossible to understand things from the ‘outside’. We were enthralled with Baudrillard’s description of Disneyland as a simulation of real life and thrilled when Derrida claimed that the ‘centre is not the centre’ in our apprehension of things. We didn’t quite understand what these French guys were talking about but were impressed all the same. Even wrote papers using their ideas and defied all odds by actually getting passing grades for them.
Fast forward several years – one cannot imagine how one got tangled up in that mess when one compares it with the relative straightforwardness of the analytic methods. I even remember being quite indignant about receiving a poor grade for a term paper where I brazenly made use of a postmodern analysis of the philosophy of science. Now I know better. Philosophical analysis requires enough of our mental resources without having to divert some of them to decipher the obscure scribblings of a couple of Frenchmen (forgive my generalisation but many of them are). I also found that the inherent logic and ability to go backwards and forwards based on a number of fairly fixed principles allowed for more in depth analysis of ideas. The best part about this is the possibility of approaching some semblance of stability in theory (that postmodernists would vehemently deny) and that makes thinking and writing about ideas that much easier. The methodical layering of arguments that analytic philosophy is premised on also makes it that much more readable.
While I do admit that truth cannot be considered stable and that multiple perspectives of things do exist, I would not go as far as the postmodernists as to say that everything is embedded within a culture or discourse and external analysis is impossible. There’s a certain poverty in the claims of postmodernism and post-structuralism that I’m unwilling to abide with. One common premise in postmodern thought is that someone from outside a particular discourse would find it difficult to understand it. One needs to be ‘inside’ a time or place be able to do analysis in it. If no one outside the person talking about the thing itself can truly understand things then wouldn’t it mean that nobody would understand anything anymore? I believe it’s called begging the question. We can do it – we do take perspectives and other factors into account in an analytic reading of things though those things are not the be all and end all.
My last parting shot has to do with my beliefs as a whole. Several of the greatest Christian philosophers and theologians are steeped deeply in the analytic tradition. St. Thomas Aquinas, the scholastics like Peter Abelard, William of Ockam (of the razor fame) and St. Bonaventure all strove to align the teachings of the early church fathers with the analytic methods of Aristotle. The use of reason and the analytic method to examine our basic tenets of faith are not only compelling but help to strengthen our beliefs. Our late Pope John Paul II reminded us this in an encyclical quite appropriately entitled Fides et ratio (Faith and reason). After all, faith without reason can lead to serious errors just as reason without faith is often quite empty.
So let’s all get out our first principles, brush up our logic and get cracking on the great analytic bandwagon. Perspectivism, relativism and postmodernism can stare at its own tail for all it wants – I’d rather do something a little more worthwhile, thank you very much.
PS: Characters in comic created here. Picture in poster created here. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. Author apologises for poor caricature of postmodernism but he enjoyed himself too much to stop.