Postmodernism for Beginners, a Review

Jim Powell, the author of Postmodernism for Beginners does not say that this will be easy. I was a philosophy major and then spent four years in graduate school studying theology which is at least somewhat similar. I read this book slowly. Appreciated the cartoons, of which there were many, not so much that they advanced the thought, but that briefly they delivered me from it.

Everything I know about postmodernism I have learned from this book, so when I tell you that reading anything else will probably be even more difficult, I am accepting the authors evaluation of his fellow postmodern authors. But I can tell you he does use simple words, grows concepts gradually, and is not trying to show off how admirably different he is. I think he is as clear as one can be taking this mountain of knowledge and describing it in 156 pages.

There are at least three difficulties that cannot be easily overcome. First there is not agreement on what postmodernism is, so the best he can do is take you down a list of postmodern heroes and tell you what they think or did, always haunted by the reality, if there is such a thing as reality, that there are others who did other things. (But who cares anyway because it is not what it is that counts but what you think it is. Try that one out the next time you are on a quiz show. Or taking a driver’s test.)

Second the normal language of postmodernism has been created to express ideas strange to most of us modernists. So we have strange words for strange ideas. Powell gives us a lift by eschewing or explaining most of these words. But he has to use some of them.

Three, while postmodernism is a philosophy, it is also an art form, (painting, architecture, dance, music, literature, and Madonna. {Yes, Madonna for she knows that appearance means more than reality so she is totally simulation. She is “simulacra.” One of those words I told you about. Get used to it. “Rhizomatic” will have come earlier and despite its importance in a non-centered universe does not show in the appendix. Why is that? I think he just forgot it, but who knows.}) So we cannot settle for just understanding a corner of this world and think we understand postmodernism. (For instance there is no center for center implies marginalization. Since the marginal see themselves as central the axiom that one plus one equals zero applies.) If you understand that immediately you may be ready for all of this.

After reading Postmodernism for Beginners do I understand postmodernism? Of course not. Well, just a little. More than I did. If you would like to understand it and know nothing, I do think this is a book to get you started. I’m not sure I want to know any more than I now know.

I do know that the postmodernist, or at least many of them, have no belief in a meta-story so there goes the resurrection, reincarnation and even a hopeful evolution. Since I am 80 this is really bad timing guys. Some think post-modernism is dead. That cheers me a little. If it is dead, do I get my meta-stories back? I would like to die thinking if I am not to play a harp, or reappear as a genius frog or have participated in the evolution of the species, at least that I have improved my little corner of the world. But sad to say, the meta-story of “improving” is also out along with better or worse. Tsk. Are you sure you want to know this?

Let me admit it. I am going to read it again. Or maybe not.

You may have just read a post-modern review of a book on post-modernism. Put this jumble in your head and proceed to wherever.