CRF Blog

What’s It All About, Postmodernism?

by Damon Huss

“Welcome to the desert of the real,” said the character Morpheus to the character Neo in The Matrix (1999). This bit of dialogue was a direct reference to the postmodern philosophy of Jean Baudrillard, whose book Simulacra and Simulation (1995) also appeared in a scene early on in the movie. It is an example of postmodernism’s influence on contemporary culture, as elusive as the philosophy seems to be.

If you have ever tried to understand postmodernism but couldn’t, you are not alone. In fact, your lack of understanding might be a deliberate outcome of the postmodernist writer, according to two authors and professors of physics, Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont. Some years ago, they wrote a scathing critique of postmodernism called Intellectual Impostures (2003), in which they charged that most of contemporary postmodern theory is nothing more than well-crafted gibberish.

Writing a favorable review of Sokal’s and Bricmont’s book, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins concurred with their criticisms of several of the leading lights of postmodern thought, including Félix Guattari, Gilles Deleuze, Jean Baudrillard, and Jacques Lacan. In Postmodernism Disrobed on his foundation’s own web site, Dawkins cites many examples of the postmodernists’ seemingly meaningless writings, such as this by Guattari:

We can clearly see that there is no bi-univocal correspondence between linear signifying links or archi-writing, depending on the author, and this multireferential, multi-dimensional machinic catalysis.

He points the reader to The Postmodernism Generator, a web site that randomly generates short essays that are grammatically correct but also “completely meaningless.” Many of the buzzwords of postmodernism are strewn throughout the prose: hegemony, transgression, deconstruction, etc. When I went to the site, I saw an essay, properly footnoted and titled Deconstructing Constructivism: Cultural Appropriation in the Works of Gaiman by Jean-Jacques Dahmus and Henry F. Q. Hanfkopf, both fictional authors.

Sokal and Bricmont would argue that these randomly generated pieces of nonsensical prose are of the same caliber as those that get published in scholarly journals of postmodern theory. In fact, Sokal wrote a parody of postmodernism and got it published as a genuine scholarly work in the esteemed journal Social Text in 1996. It was titled Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Physics. I could not tell you exactly what the essay is supposed to mean. And that is Sokal’s whole point.