A Primer on Postmodernism


A Primer on Postmodernism
Grenz, Stanley J.

Postmodernism is an emerging force in contemporary Western culture. But what is it and how should Christians proclaim the gospel to a postmodern generation?

In this scholarly yet accessible overview, Grenz introduces you to thinkers such as Derrida and Foucault, and helps you understand the impact of this cultural shift on art, philosophy, literature, and the media.


Excellent history and analysis
By J. Miller
This was an excellent study in the philosophical foundations of the actual movement of postmodernity, contrasted with the pop images of that movement which don't represent the shift in the history of human thought.
Grenz cleverly takes us into the movement (c. 1) by contrasting images of the old Star Trek, in which Mr. Spock represented the peak of intelligence, pure logic. He is presented as an image of modernity. In the newer Star Trek(s), there is ethnic diversity, a diversity of skills and stories, and a new emphasis on emotion. This is a taste of postmodernity.
Chapter 2 gives an account of the rise of postmodernity into the public eye and the U.S. culture, but this largely reflects the art and architecture of the post-1960's cultural revolution. The real foundations of postmodernity consist of a more sophisticated critique of earlier philosophy. Chapter 3 gives a more detailed look at a shifting worldview or vantage point, away from the monolithic empiricist view of the Enlightenment. As Descartes split the subjective self from the objective world, Bacon's creation of empirical method to bridge the two, and Newton's mechanistic description of an ordered universe created the pursuit of a universal worldview, the God's eye perspective. Modernity sought that one perspective and believed that humanity could attain an objective, rational grasp on it. Unfortunately, reasonable people in power seem to find ways to rationalize their use of it. This cast doubt on reason and objectivity themselves. This culminated (c. 4) in the Kantian analysis of reason. Reason creates categories through which the world is filtered. It is thus limited by its filter (leaving room for the noumenous or the metaphysical), but it is still rational and objective.

Chapters 5 and 6 are worth their weight in gold. This is a beginner's survey of the philosophical influences leading up to the present day. Without summarizing them all here, it suffices to say that Nietzsche announced the conclusion of modernity (both descriptively and prophetically). Godamer attempted a last grab at modernity by positing "a fusion of horizons" (Robert Nozik has more recently called it "invariances"). Schleiermacher and Wittgenstien turned modern philosophy from strict epistemology to linguistics, grounding meaning (if it can be had) in shared vocabulary. Foucault then accused language itself of bearing Nietzche's will-to-power, particularly language concerning sexuality; Derrida deconstructed the correspondence theory of knowledge and suggested that meaning coheres only within the context of a given vocabulary; Rorty affirms a coherence theory as well, denying there is a fundamental essence in anything.

Grenz fails to make note of the consequent shift of philosophy towards cognitive science after the perceived failure of epistemology. The contemporaries: Searle, Putman, and Nozik, are now operating under an assumed pragmatic realism and talking about whether or not computers can create minds.

I like that Grenz leaves us with very little prescriptions in the end. He closes on a fairly mild assertion that we need neither fully reject or embrace postmodernity, but we have to deal with it. Excellent book.

Postmodernism without the weird stuff
By Jeffrey B Robinson
This is one of the most accessible books on postmodernism (PM) available. While other authors become almost unintelligible when discussing PM, this fellow remains clear and fairly concise. For those that are new to the concepts of PM or are especially interested the philosophies and philosophers of modernism and PM, this is an excellent book. The early chapters lay down the groundwork for some well-considered conclusions towards the middle and end of the book.
The features of the book that I thought could have been better were the rather slow build-up of the story, and lack of connections to PM art, film and architecture. Nevertheless, a great book on a tricky subject.