Monday, May 01, 2006

J. Morgan and Foucault: tragic Target shoppers.

J. morgan's definition of a post-modernist is someone who lives in a post-modern society, and his definition of a post-modern society is, roughly, where there are Targets, and one can "shop" for metanarratives.

What the hell's a metanarrative?

Wikipedia defines it as "a global or totalizing cultural narrative schema which orders and explains knowledge and experience." I'll localize that and say that it's a psychological construct which dictates decisions--from who you can marry, to where you can live or travel, to what you do for a living, to whether the bread and wine are really the body of Christ, etc.

It matters less for j. morgan than it does for me how fully people still operate under metanarratives. The fact, for him, is that we don't have to be psychologically bound the way that people in other societies are, or the way people in past societies were. That's what's important. That's what's post-modern. QED. The consequences of this shift (what we've lost and what we've gained) are still up for grabs.

In discussing this j. morgan and I divided everyone on the planet into 3 camps: post-moderns, Papua New Guineans, and Scrantonites. (Note: these camps are not made to be definitive and final; there are exceptions; this is just a framework for discussion.)

Post-moderns are those like J. morgan and Foucault who have stood under the bright lights of Target and appropriated modernism properly: recognizing the signs of the age, like Pascal, Nietzsche, Henry Adams, or Lyotard. Papua New Guineans are those who still manage, in 2006, to have an honest-to-goodness metanarrative. (We're referring to tribal groups.) Scrantonites, the most problematic of the 3 camps, are those on whom metanarratives still have a grip. They might be promiscuous; they might have a MySpace page; they might shop at Walmart; they might live in a Penthouse in Manhattan; they might cut you from their bloated budgets like sharpened knives through Chicken McNuggets. When it comes down to it, though, many if not all of their decisions are still dictated by a metanarrative, like Catholicism, or being a West Virginia coal miner, or Buddhism, or neofascism, or the 1980s.

My objection: how do you fit the Scrantonites into J. morgan's structuralist approach?


At 2:30 PM, Blogger RedHurt said...

I think I has the solution: deport them to cuba.

At 4:45 PM, Blogger Hans-Georg Gadamer said...

Are you saying Catholics are tribal? And what is an honest-to-goodness metanarrative anyways? To be absolutely simplistic and honest I have to admit that I don't think "metanarratives" have disapeared, they have just become more switchable, thus under the new metanarrative of "switchable." I don't get it, but then again I probably fall into group 2. Now where did I put my spear...

At 4:46 PM, Blogger Hans-Georg Gadamer said...

disappeared. I also used the handicapped option when entering my verification. Post-modern!

At 10:13 AM, Blogger J. Morgan Caler said...

Well, even if Hans was joking, I think he got at some really important things (in pointing those out I hope to answer Charles's challenge):

“To be absolutely simplistic and honest I have to admit that I don't think ‘metanarratives’ have disapeared, they have just become more switchable, thus under the new metanarrative of ‘switchable.’”

I think that is just it: metanarratives, by definition, cannot be switchable. As soon as people are conscious that the story that orders every aspect of their existence is a) a story, b) one among many, and c) that, by choice, they could adopt a different story – in part or in whole – then that story ceases to be a metanarrative. Metanarratives are totalizing and authoritative. Once people – either individually or collectively – relocated the locus of authority away from the story and towards themselves (that is what we call choice), then the story is not authoritative and totalizing any longer. Hence the rise of the Scrantonites (and Protestants, and scientists, and Americans, and civil rights leaders, and everyone else we know).

Scrantonites are, I think, the most postmodern of all. They are terribly inconsistent (Catholics who use birth control, members of a labor union who shop at WalMart, etc.). So, they order their lives according to stories – either consciously or unconsciously – like everyone else, but they don’t understand them to be authoritative. They understand themselves as choosing agents who can treat stories like buffets – take what you like, leave the rest. Now, they might not understand them to be stories and they might not engage in choosing in any self-conscious way, but they are still doing it and could still reason through doing it.

That is why I would disagree with Charles’s statement that “Scrantonites… are those on whom metanarratives still have a grip.” Scrantonites use what used to be metanarratives, but don’t use them in that way. They, rather, use them as they see fit. It strikes me, then, that most Scrantonites aren’t aware of or bothered by their inconsistencies, which is exactly what good postmodernists should be. People like Foucault are bad postmodernists insofar as they cannot bear being inconsistent.

PS – Hans, I found your spear at Lenin’s. Don’t you remember? After drinking a bunch of absinthe, you thought it would be funny to play darts with spears… God, what a disaster. Anyway, I have it if you want to pick it up.

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Hans-Georg Gadamer said...

J. Morgs - thanks for the excellent clarification and the location of my spear. Let's not mention the latter event anymore. I think you are right about Foucault (and Sartre?) being anti-postmodernist postmodernists. I guess the word "postmodernist" has so many meanings it is hard to use it in any meaningful way without clarifying. I think F&S were postmodern in the systematic (!) destruction of hyper-rationalism and such, but they are certainly a far cry from Wal-Mart shoppers or anti-Christian Catholics (those who use birth control). Good comments and clarifications.

I will pick up the spear next time we meet. Is that ever going to happen?


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