What is postmodernism?


I've thought a lot about the question: What is postmodernism? Here are some quick thoughts for others to do with what they like.

As Lyotard says, postmodernism is incredulous of metanarratives. That means that the postmodern doesn't believe in grand theories, such as the Oedipal Complex, that defines large groups of people. Metanarratives are contrasted with local narratives that don't purport to tell the whole story, aren't the final word on the narrative for everyone.

And postmodernism deconstructs the myths that trap us in certain ways of thinking. By "deconstruct" I don't mean destroy the myths. I mean talk about them in such a way that the myths are no longer compelling and presumed.

There are certain myths that are typically deconstructed. One of them is that each person has only one narrative, or one unified self, for now and for all times. Foucault and others (e.g., Szasz) have also deconstructed mental pathology, not by showing us that there is no such thing, but by showing us how we socially construct mental pathology outside our own awareness so that after reading such accounts one is less tempted to think of people as 'mentally ill'. Feminist postmoderns deconstruct gender related categories. Historical postmoderns look at history without presuming the modernist model of a series of great men geniuses. Postmoderns are generally conscious of how we create the variables we are measuring without being aware of doing so. For example, therapists might see people as mentally ill because therapists tend to operate from within a mental set that causes them to look for evidence of illness rather than health.

Lois Shawver, September 1996