Someone knows just what postmodern actually means
Lionel J. Flackswax, Fyodor Kazinski Professor of Philosophy and Dean of the Social Sciences at the University of California at Berkeley, spoke to a packed house at Russell House on Monday.
He spoke about postmodernism, the topic of his recent book, “Postmodernism for Dummies.”
“Some people think that postmodernism is just an academic trend,” he said, “But really, it is a body of theories that can help us use our individual subjectivities to realize that all previous academic trends are actually nothing more than fragmented discursive representations that can only barely show us subjective perspectives on the operation of power in society.”
According to Flackswax, postmodernism is important because it can help to dismantle the oppressive systems that modernity has put into place.
“For hundreds of years now, people have been trying to make the world make sense. Postmodernism shows that their best efforts have failed and that the world, if it even exists as such, makes no sense at all.”
Flackswax pointed out that modern thinking has brought about disease, famine, war, and unhappiness.
“We must seek out modernity and destroy it, where ever it lies,” he said.
According to Flackswax, modernity influences everything around us, including ourselves, so the project of undermining it can seem overwhelming. Luckily, though, he said, there are proven strategies.
“Deconstruction is one of our most potent tools,” he said, referring to the critical approach pioneered by French philosopher Jacques Derrida.
Flackswax said that even famous events or works of art that seem to be significant can be reduced to meaningless drivel by the proper use of deconstruction.
“Not even language is safe,” he said.
Flackswax took questions from the floor following his talk.
Eleanor Jenkins ’07, President of the Wesleyan Chapter of Focus on the Family, took a combative stance and criticized Flackswax for his failure to recognize the implications postmodernism had for the nuclear Christian family. She became gradually more excited in her critique and finally charged the podium, crying, “I'll deconstruct you, relativist scum!”
Two Public Safety officers removed Jenkins from the room, but Flackswax addressed a few of her points after she was safely out of the building.
“I recognize that my emphasis on the constructed nature of social institutions like the family may seem at odds with the positions of groups like Focus on the Family,” Flackswax said. “I think there may be potential for us to work together in the future, though, because both postmodernism and right-wing evangelicalism are very critical of Enlightenment ideals.”
At the reception following the talk, most students thought Flackswax's talk was bullshit, but some students gushed about Flackswax and the effect his book had had on their lives.
Ike Turner ’09 brought his copy of “Postmodernism for Dummies” for Flackswax to sign and said the book has made his freshman year much easier.
“When I got here, I thought college was going to be really hard,” Turner said. “And in the first couple weeks, it seemed like it would be, since I was having to write all these papers. But then someone recommended 'Postmodernism for Dummies,' and now papers are a breeze. Instead of the assigned five to seven pages, I just pass in a page or two about how I can't answer the question because objectivity doesn't exist! It's pretty sweet.”
Other students also found Flackswax's to be very influential.
“I used to be fascinated by all of the big words and theories that I heard about in classes,” said George Kepler ’06. “Now that I realize their full implications, though, I just spend my days curled up in a ball with the TV on mute and channel surfing while listening to Spanish language radio.”
“Yump blah,” said X, formerly known as Julia Bowers ’08.
“X has abandoned faith in the representative capacity of language to express her thoughts,” explained Frank Ford ’08, a friend of Bowers's. “I think she really liked the talk, though.”