The Wisdom and Paradox of Postmodernism

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

As I continue to read The Search for Meaning: A Short History, I deeply identify with the blessing and curses of postmodernism.  Postmodernism assumes, as written by Ford, “the world is either unordered or pluralistic, and that any discernible order we discover in the world is constructed and imposed by human beings.”  This is in contrast to the modern world which assumes there is an objective world. Kant laid the foundation of postmodernism with his ideas that nature conformed to the mind, rather than vice versa.  This notion redefined the task of philosophy as an “attempt to understand and articulate how the mind structured experience.”

However, postmodernism did not begin to take hold until more than 100 years after Kant’s death when physicists began to make discoveries that undermined modernism.  Einstein showed that mass, time, and distance are relative to the state of the observer, and Heisenberg developed the “uncertainty principle” that says we cannot simultaneously know a particle’s position and velocity.  The more we know about one, the less we know about another. Further, the act of measuring changes the nature of the particle, leading to the idea that “we cannot observe nature without disturbing it.” These discoveries transitioned physics to figuring out what we can say about nature rather than a description of the world as it is.

One of the virtues of postmodernism can be seen as its ability to undermine any dogmatic beliefs.  The belief that everything is relative encourages the challenging of oppressive ideals, such as slavery, and cultivates the embrace of multiple perspectives.  If we believe we have not discovered the whole truth, we are much more inclined to keep learning and growing.  The ever-changing-ever-improving self is the ideal of postmodernism.  However, this leads to the idea that postmodernism maybe contradictory in loudly proclaiming that there is no objective truth when that proclamation is a form of truth that should be seen as only one possible perspective.

Although I hinted I was hoping for a Universal truth in my previous article, reading about postmodernism has made me embrace the idea that humans can create their own meaning.  I initially felt liberated when I accepted “What does life mean?” may have never have a definite answer, but asking the question is part of the experience of life.  The idea that Nietzsche continually espoused is humankind is something that can be overcome, and we can create meaning for ourselves.  However, I am very conscious that this optimism may be fleeting, as  skepticism and pluralism almost inevitably lead to more self-consciousness and anxiety.

As I embrace some of my new found liberty, I can only describe my new consciousness of my beliefs (largely postmodernism) as subversive. Indeed, postmodernism is subversive to nearly every belief, except for possibly itself.  The freedom to choose becomes perverted by the fact that our choices lack any meaning.  Nihilism is the obvious path if there is no choice worth making.  However, Nihilism doesn’t really appeal to me at least in the present moment, as I feel too young to be that skeptical.

Ford offers three myths which might provide meaning to the skeptical postmodernist.  The first is the myth of the rebel or outsider who demystifies and dispels those charlatans who proclaim to have the answer or truth.  I strongly identify with this myth as I believe one of my strongest attributes is my ability to discern when an absolute statement is not the whole truth or has certain exceptions to the normal rule.  Almost anyone or anything who proclaims to know something absolute can be exposed with enough knowledge and experience in the given field.  The second myth is that story of the creator and artist.  As Ford puts it, “postmodernism celebrates the ability to actively fabricate truth and meaning with new interpretations and ways of seeing.”  My readings this year have lead me to idealize the creator and risk-taker which I hope that someday I will become myself because it often feels like the only way I will ever find meaning in my life.  This ideal is why I am always so critical of myself; I know I could always do more to become this ideal.  The third myth is that of the existentialist who takes pleasure in the world now because he is only a tourist; therefore, he should experience as much as possible with the time available.  I do not strongly identify with this myth, although I do feel as though I should experience more of what the world has to offer.  Perhaps, it will come with time embracing my postmodernist beliefs.

Prior to beginning this book, I had many postmodernist beliefs, but reading has drawn me further into calling myself a postmodernist.  Adopting more consistent beliefs could leave me feeling more comfortable in a world that appears to me to lack objective Truth.  This book has encouraged me to explore and experience more things to identify with the third meaningful myth of postmodernism, giving me more opportunity to stumble upon meaning.

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