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From the current dialogue between historical critics and postmodernists, it’s fairly clear that:

(1) nobody agrees on the definitions of either historical criticsm or postmodernism, and yet 

(2) everybody is positioning themselves more on one side or the other, even if they don’t really buy the caricatures by the other side or even the appellations “historical critical” and “postmodern”.

Funny, eh?

So, in a (possibly futile) attempt to get a more precise fix on what people are holding onto dearly, or fervently objecting to, I’ve noted down a few of the so-called “postmodern” characteristics which are often touted, whether real or imagined.

Please let me know:
1. which of the characteristics are more imagined than real,
2. other characteristics that should be included here, or
3. which characteristics are the more important areas of contention, and why this is so

(and anything else that you really want to say, such as “why are you even bothering?”).

Concerning method:

  • Ideological criticisms (feminist, queer, postcolonial, etc) versus historical-contextual criticism
  • Partial, non-totalizing interpretations
  • Deconstruction (yes, as method!), post-structuralist identification of inherent problems with underlying binaries
  • Personal, subjective, or unevidenced responses versus empirical and logically argued criticism

Concerning metaphysical assumptions:

  • Anti-realism versus idealism
  • Anti-humanist/individualist/subject-centred conceptions; pro socio-cultural, intertextual, decentred self
  • Anti-free will; pro determinism
  • Anti-valorization of mind (rational, conscious, self-directing); pro-body (passions, desire, unconscious) anti-dualistic
  • Anti-metaphysics, ontotheology

Concerning epistemological assumptions:

  • Heightened sense of uncertainty, subjectivity, and bias of knowledge (empirical and rational, including scientific)
  • Increased recognition and opposition to paradigms, universalization, and metanarratives in knowledge acquisition
  • [Investigation of the historial constitution of types of knowledge/discourses, genealogy versus the search for history-in-itself and universal truths and unchallenged teleologies]
  • Anti-universal theories of knowledge, theories of everything, totalization, closure
  • Relativism, anti-foundationalism; anti-objectivity of truth
  • Anti- correspondence theories of truth; pro pragmatic or coherence theories

Concerning hermeneutical assumptions:

  • Post-structuralist, emphasising instability of language, differance, deconstruction, inherent contradictions, polyvocality
  • Anti-inherent or authorial textual meaning; pro reader response, interpretive communities for establishing meaning
  • Anti-naturalizing of categories; pro social construction
  • Focus on the final synchronic form rather than the earlier stages and diachonic issues

Concerning ethical assumptions:

  • Anti-metaethical justification – pro the event, the singular
  • Anti-consensus; pro pluralism, tolerance of difference
  • Anti-power, hegemony; pro marginalized, disempowered, excluded voices

Concerning aesthetic assumptions:

  • Bricolage, border-crossing, borrowing

Defined in relation to chronology and/or cultural phases:

  • Post WWI/Holocaust/1968
  • Late capitalism, hyper-commodification

As polemic:

  • A fad, buzzword
  • Crackpottery (voguish neologism attrib. to Chris Weimer)