Now that we have discussed What Post-Modernism Is Not – it’s time to get our hands dirty and figure out what it is.
The definition of Post-modernism is as follows: Incredulity to all metanarratives.
This is already getting boring – I’m bringing in pictures of my cats so I don’t lose you.
Desmond (left) and Molly (right) are going to help us.
But, what is a metanarrative and how can we be incredulous to them? Fortunately, metanarratives are not complicated, it’s just an obscure word and the concept can be explained by discussing two other simple things – narratives and social constructs. Here we go!
Narrative – The story of an individual thing, group, concept, etc. Your life has a narrative; so does your cat and your oven and that idea you had to start a business. Here are some examples.
Joe Average grew up in Indiana where he got married and worked in construction while his wife baked pies and their kids sold lemonade; he eventually retired and moved to Florida.
Flabby, the goldfish, was taken from the pet store and placed in a glass bowl in a suburban home. He was flushed 6 months later.
The first line of iPhones was very popular but was discontinued when the next model was manufactured. Some people still have them.
So, a narrative is just a story. Easy .
Narrative – “Desmond spends a lot of time on our bed instead of the cat bed we bought for him.”
Social Constructs – Concepts that we develop when we see what these narratives have in common.
Guys are tough – women are pretty.
Goldfish die easily.
iPhones are popular.
Nothing complicated. By looking around us we see themes in our social patterns that we are all familiar with. We may not appreciate these themes but they are part of our society. We all know tough guys who like to wear pink and construction workers who listen to Mozart – but these social constructs are the “norm” based on the majority of the things we see.
Social Construct – “There is always a cat on our bed.” Sheesh.
Metanarrative – The “over-arching story.” Combine these social constructs into a single account and you have a single narrative that tells the whole story.
Here’s the Wikipedia definition of a metanrrative:
…therefore, a metanarrative is a story about a story,
encompassing and explaining other ‘little stories’ within totalizing schemes.
Now, working from the narratives and social constructs I just discussed, here is an example of how we might see the metanarrative:
In our world, men marry women and they raise a few kids. At some point, they will buy a gold fish that will die quickly. If any one is cool they will have an iPhone.
Of course, your view of this metanarrative will be different from that of a person in India or someone who is from the future. We develop our view of the metanarrative naturally without stopping to think about it. Uneducated people and scholars all hold to their own views of the over-arching story of mankind.
When Desmond realized that he was only hanging out on our bed because it was the way he had always done things, he opened his mind to new possibilities and started sleeping in the laundry basket. (It also made him more efficient in his task of ‘getting cat hair on clean clothes.’)
The average person walks through life being inexplicably guided by their view of the metanarrative. We expect our neighbors to have two cars and our children to sell lemonade in the summer. We expect everyone to share our views about eternity.
As kittens, Molly would stand up and pose for a camera. However, as soon as he knew that he was simply following standard procedure, Desmond refused to comply to society’s expectations and only scowled at the camera.
The post-modernist, however, is of a different sort. They recognize that they are walking on a path that society has made for them and consider how they can go their own way. When they realize that they are doing what is expected of them, they stop and re-consider the decision. ” Is this the right thing to do?” they might ask, “or is it just what I am expected to do?”
By questioning the metanarrative, women suffragists realized that they should be allowed to vote – even though most of society had unquestionably accepted the notion that they should not. In the same way, philosophers, like Plato, decided that beyond the physical world was a world we could not see that, unlike our world, is eternal. By giving important melody parts to the bass guitar, instead of the electric lead guitar, Paul McCartney stepped out of the framework of rock music and recorded the first bass guitar solo on “Paperback Writer.” (As you can see, post-modernism is not necessarily new.)
Since everyone knows that “cats don’t wear flannel,” Molly has decided to embrace post-modernism and put on one of my plaid shirts. Desmond has other plans and insists that wearing this shirt will not make her happy. Their existential struggle continues to this day.
Next time, we will discuss how this interesting view is misused in our time and what its proper context might be. As always, discuss!
(W0w, I just found out that Mental Floss, one of my favorite stops on the internet, has linked to this! Thanks, Miss C!)
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)