Postmodernism isn’t post modernism

Bugs Bunny

Bugs Bunny (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have long been bothered by the notion of “postmodernism”. Outside of architecture it does not have a coherent definition. Applied to literature, culture, and philosophy it doesn’t come after modernism, modernism and postmodernism are contemporaneous and difficult to separate.

Characteristically modern are: Hegel, Jane Austen, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Sherlock Holmes, John Steinbeck,H. G. Wells, Robert Frost, Scooby Doo, and Cormac McCarthy. Characteristically postmodern are: Rousseau, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Kafka, Peter Pan, Oscar Wilde, Bugs Bunny, Steve Martin, Catch-22, and Chuck Palahniuk.

No temporal order is present, that is neither is “post” the other.

The missiologist and anthropologist Paul Hiebert has a much better way of reconciling such tensions as Modernism vs Postmodernism.

Hiebert explains relying on Opler that world-views are not reducible to monolithic patterns, rather they are composed of multiple theme and counter-theme pairs. Themes lacking counter-themes would topple a culture, counter-themes provide necessary balance. This framework relieved a tension in my mind.

When reading Hiebert on Opler I had an epiphany. An epiphany that so-called modernism and postmodernism are not two different world-views. Rather these are a theme and counter-theme within a worldview; these are components of secular materialism the dominating world-view in the West since the West ceased to be called Christendom. The modern postmodern divide is really the theme-pair of objectivism and subjectivism that goes back as far as the Enlightenment and Romanticism. This framework is most helpful for me here, in my society. Not being particularly (post)modern, with themes and counter-themes I can better engage post-Christendom Westerners rather than relying on the too-easy categories of modernism and postmodernism.

Objectivism and subjectivism have been in a tug of war since the rise of secular materialism, of course nothing is secular. We should reject both sides of the secular materialist coin.

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