After Postmodernism? “True, but still…”

If you missed it, postmodernism died on September 24th, 2011.  Yup.  At least if you take the word of Victoria & Albert Museum in London, which opened its “Postmodernism—Style and Subversion 1970-1990″ on that day. You can read about it here and here (and find that I shamelessly took their pics!).

But if postmodernism is dead, is over, is done with, what comes after?

Isn’t this the question we always want to ask, that we have to ask?  If postmodernism indicated that which follows modernism, which being integrally an extension of it (i.e. modern is still with the very name), don’t we have to ask what is after it?  Which is really not a postmodern question, but a modern one, for modernity trained us to expected the new, the next, the upgraded against the old, traditional, normal.

But let’s stick with the question (now that I’ve accomplished the proper deconstructionist preparation).

Either/Or  |  Both/And

As was common, let’s defined the modern and postmodern according to the slash (“/”) between words.  Modernity was characterized by “either/or” of binary oppositions, structured hierarchies, and oppressive exclusions.  Modernity was obsessed with identity through definition, with foundation made from decisions.  To these modern antitheses came the postmodern “both/and” of identity through difference, of the deferral of closure, of perpetual openness (as the story goes of course).  The more philosophical approaches took this slash (“/”) and put it through the subject (S) to indicate the divided subject ($) who is always “both/and” of something else, and put the slash through the object (O) to indicate the divide object (Ø) which is incomplete in its existence.

But what now?  What of that which comes after the postmodern?  Well, while reading about the above I came across this post which at the bottom mentions that perhaps the typical response these day is, “true, but still.” I think this is just right.

True/But Still

Could the pithy slash-phrase of the “after” postmodern be “true/but still…”?

True all politics is corrupt, but I’m still going to vote in the hope for change.”
True capitalism is functional rigged, but I’m still working on the margins to create sustainable business models.”
True all claims to truth are partial and contextual, but I’m still living from this truth and toward it.”

Maybe it is wishful thinking, but that which comes after postmodernism, while acknowledging the deep wounds and cynicism of deconstruction, doesn’t allow this as a reason for inaction or indifference, but moves forward with a second naïvete.

Maybe “true/but still” is the contemporary rendering of Mark 9:24, “I believe, help me in my unbelief.”

Of course it is true that “true/but still” is just the ultimate gesture of cynicism coupled with cooptation:

“I know it’s true that TV corrupts my ability to critically think, but I still love the Simpsons.”
“I know it’s true that voting is really just a way to pacify the masses into thinking they are involved, but still voted for Obama.”
“I know that buying organic coffee at Starbucks doesn’t really change anything, but I still love the taste.”

So, it is certainly is true that maybe people still don’t really care about the truth, but I’m hoping maybe they might.

  • Jeff

    There is nothing “after” post modernism or post structuralism, because neither accept the naive and uncritical idea that time is linear. The “post” means that these ways of thought are always already constructed after “modernism,” etc. as critiques. Also, there’s nothing “cynical” about deconstruction. It’s not a “reading” of texts, but an event that iterates itself repeatedly while reading, not something you “do” but something that happens. Read your Derrida and Deleuze and think again.

    • Blake

      There is something to be said of their being an “after postmodernism”. Graham Harman in a recent blog discussed the difference between the continental and analytic traditions and I think he hit the nail on the head by describing the history of philosophy as changing paradigms of question and answer. Modernism favored a scientific paradigm. Postmodernism favored a deconstructive paradigm. Neither paradigms have disappeared, but there will come a time if it is not already here when people will prefer to construct again despite deconstructive tendencies (I think this is already happening with Speculative Realism).

    • geoffh


      Thanks for your comment. I agree that deconstruction isn’t necessarily cynical. I was mostly riffing on the more popular appropriation of postmodernity (culturally, not exactly philosophically). In that context i think that the “either/or” for modernity and “both/and” for postmodernity fits pretty well.

      You call us to “think again”, which is right and true. But while you say that deconstruction is not merely the “reading of texts”, but an event while reading, but that which comes after postmodernity seems more concerned with the “event” rather than the “reading.” But more could be said about that another time.

  • Topsy Kretts

    Jeff is clearly another idiot poststructuralist twatface. Deconstruct my dick, bitch.

  • Tripp Hudgins

    You might find this helpful…

    • Jeff

      AngloBaptist, my remark above was addressed to the eloquent “Topsy,” not you. What you posted is interesting, thanks.

      • Tripp Hudgins

        If it helps to deconstruct our genitalia in some post-post-modern griefwerk, I guess we can do that.

        • Topsy Kretts

          Anyone who calls themselves a baptimonastic preacher can shampoo my crotch.

  • Jeff

    Lol, brilliant :)

  • Joel Kuhlin


  • Patrick Oden

    Which postmodernism?

    And I don’t think we’re at the stage of coming to terms with what comes after it, I think we’re still at the stage of determining what it is as a cohesive expression of human existence.

    And I think there are lot of proposals depending on what field you’re looking at. Like human knowledge in general throughout history, the trend has tended to follow the leading edge of science and knowledge. Deconstructionalists may never grow old, but they will fade away, simply because that’s not a cohesive form of deciphering our world–we can only not know for so long and only in certain fields.

    Basically, the trend is towards complexity. The metanarratives of the modern era were generalizing and totalizing. That doesn’t work with people any more than weather (it’s always cold in Winter I might say, even if it was close to 90 degrees here in SoCal).

    The fuddy-duddy field of history is looking, for instance, at complexity in terms of the ecology of human existence, both in a universal form (see Big History), and more like cartography where a inexact expression of human events can portray reality on varying scales.

    Moltmann himself seems to reflect this in his own works, with an emphasis both on ecotheology in terms of connection to the environment and in terms of the ecology of a context (everything matters) providing holistic contribution to a theological system.

  • AngloBaptist

    You want something minty or the double duty Pert Plus kind of thing, Topsy?

    • Topsy Kretts

      Minty…wait, this is getting weird.

      • AngloBaptist

        Look behind you, Topsy. We passed “weird” a while back. Welcome to the eschatological mystery…long past Weird and on to Minty!

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  • Bennerman

    Maybe the “but still” is the quiet, steady sound of hope expressed in the face of an otherwise totalizing nihilism, that in its own (postmodern?) way undermines what would otherwise be a pretty bleak picture of the world.

  • Dustin

    Thinking along the lines of the “true/but still”, I am often reminded of tenproblem in virtual ethics (or in my world of teaching high schooler ‘character education’) there is a big difference in knowing what the right thing to do is, and actually doing it.

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