chapter
4 Pages

Introduction

WithJoyce Appleby, Elizabeth Covington, David Hoyt, Michael Latham, Allison Sneider

The postmodern attack on Enlightenment reason and the modern ideals of continual progress and individual liberation from superstition, convention and false belief, has been astonishingly successful. We are now familiar, possibly even comfortable, with Hay den White’s assertions that history is merely a narrative fiction written for self-interested purposes and with Richard Rorty’s claims that truth is entirely dependent on context, and thus one should never impose one’s own truth upon another. While we may not always agree with Jacques Derrida that there is nothing outside the text, he does evoke a nod of understanding when we look around and see that the major events of our time appear scripted and staged, and that a good deal of what constitutes our “reality” is not in fact real, but rather the product of an entertainment industry and advertising culture which produces images we all see and refer to in every day discussion. The fact that what often unites people across continents is the simultaneous viewing of events like the Gulf War, during which media images combined to give the impression of a “clean” war and directed our attention to the evaluation of the performance of high tech weapons systems over and above the actual causes and effects of the war itself, gives strength to the assertion that our world is something we “construct” versus something that “is.” And hence the feeling that we still inhabit a world of false pretenses and slavish belief; that the modern project of human liberation through reason has indeed failed. The spread of this postmodern sensibility during the last two decades, however, has provoked a critical re-assessment of the political, ideological and philosophical positions which adherence to postmodern modes of thinking may engender. This unit addresses the issues raised by those who, despite their diverse backgrounds and agendas, share an unwillingness to accept uncritically this postmodern state of affairs.