Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Email Conversation Continued: Absolute Truth and Separation of Languages

Eugene to Me

Here are a few questions that would help me out greatly:

In your own terms, are you a postmodernist (and thereby and anti-modernist)?
How do you define postmodernism succinctly in 2-3 sentences?

Me to Eugene

2) I think of postmodernism as a movement (and not necessarily or primarily as a theoretical construct) that seeks to "deconstruct" the modern self, a modern Cartesian self founded, theoretically upon the notion of the individual's power of rationality housed in his intellect, his "cogito", and founded historically as a reaction against the political and religious tyranny of the established traditions of the time. The rippling effects of this new self went quite far, reaching through 400 years of history and to every tradition and discipline. Postmoderns seek to unmask this self for what it is.

The direction in which postmoderns end up heading is not only purposefully left open in response to modern sociological tendencies to limit their arena of action to their own pre-concieved goals, purposes and agendas, but are also simply attempting to come to terms with the world and it political and cultural conditions in which they find themselves, conditions that arose through those rippling effects of modernity, but have now presented to us a world very different from the one we knew in the "modern world", conditions primarily established by mass media and hyper-consumer capitalism and described as information/choice bombardment to the extent that individual consumerist choices loose meaning due partially to the sheer numbers of choices available and also to a postmodern's annoyance with the agendas attached to the availabilities. Heiddeger said that in this sense "postmodernity" is really just the beginning of modernity, signalling the completion of its project, a world that appears as a powerful man-built machine that runs mechanically and autonomously.

1) OK, so that was two succinct paragraphs rather than sentences sorry. As for whether or not I'm a postmodern, I'd say that, in terms of what is described above, the answer is yes. It is, however, for me more complex than that. Postmoderns are against the modern construct in which every action is pre-conceived in accordance to an agenda. This last sentence in itself, however, does not necessarily delineate modernism from anything else. The problem with the modern agenda is that its very agenda itself is a pre-set agenda; it's agenda is to establish a pre-set agenda as the agenda, specifically a utopian agenda in which through individualized and purely cognitive powers of reason and knowledge man establishes the basis for a hope in the powers of technology to control the world and nature. Out of this ability and power to control comes the future Utopia.

The foundation upon which this entire construct is built is the ancient Greek polis. The political arena of the Greek polis was one in which free men were free to display their gifts and powers, to perform mighty deeds that would carry their name through the generations and thereby provide that powerful free man with a measure of immortality. This arena of the Greek polis, however, was also itself built upon the foundation of a great, bloody and heroic fight for that very freedom. In other words, the Greek tradition is one whose purpose and/or end is a measure of a man's freedom, both in itself and for the purpose of providing an arena in which a man can display his gifts and skills to woohh folks.

All that to say that I identify with Postmodernity in the sense that it is seeking to come to terms and have some peace with our contemporary conditions, which provide us with a lot of tension and problems, but the Greek foundation of postmodernity is really no different from the Greek foundation of modernity. In other words, the modern agenda was that a Utopia be established through individual cognitive powers of reason and knowledge, whereas in the postmoderns you can actually still see ultimately the same (or a similar) agenda for the same Greek notions of freedom and glory (like Achilles), albeit hopefully in a form and/or medium that more purely resembles the original Greek.

To summarily answer your question, therefore, I could in a sense describe myself as a postmodern, but do not see myself as having any allegience to "postmodernism". My allegience is to God, and my end and/or purpose, at least as I intend and/or hope, is His glory, rather than my own, which cannot be planned or controlled. My own glory, however, is the very foundation upon which the Greek polis was stayed in motion. The Greek gift becomes my "Achilles heel". God's gift, however, is "my" salvation, enacted in the context of an interdepent community rather than in the context of rivalry and competition that is essential to the continued running of the Greek polis.

So in that sense, while I just ignore a postmoderns spirit of competition and rivalry, I can try to take his deconstruction of the modern individualized self as an oppurtunity to re-open the doors to true Christian community, allowing their deconstruction to inform me where possible about the issues present in the church, such as (as mentioned) our tendency to interact with scripture on a cognitive level, to try to reconcile with sin in the privacy of our own closet, to separate worship into either an invigorating emotional experience for me or a good lecture from a smart (cognitively developed) guy, the tendency (built into the education system) for the pastor to run the church as if he were the CEO of a business, or the tendency to separate justice from the very body of Christ into a "parachurch organization", as David Fitch refers to them in his blog and his book.

I hope that helps. Thanks Eugene,


Me To Eugene Again

A link from my blog, which itself has another link to another blog. A little more articulation that should help clear things up a bit, I hope, at lest in regards to one particular issue within the big picuture (Expository Preaching). Again, take your time, and no response necessary, at least not right away or anything.


Eugene to Me

I appreciated the debate that was raging, and yes, you should be a little more careful with your choice of words. Often times, I found myself thinking, wow, Jason has some great logic skills and is able to argue with convincing reason. But then I thought... oops, isn’t Jason opposed to much of this type of rationale truth-getting/proclaiming? You’ll have to remember that the post-modern position is one that is at least humble, one that admits to no claim to any absolute knowledge. Your claims appear to be just as absolute as those that you are arguing against. This is the perennial postmodern quagmire.

I think you’re getting there. I feel your passion, and I resonate with many of your frustrations. Keep searching... don’t get stuck in a particular ideological position, listen to the Holy Spirit, and don’t depend so much on what “makes sense” or “feels right” (both are not necessarily wrong epistemologies in my opinion, they are simply abused when embraced absolutely). Stay humble, consider others’ positions carefully, even being open to your enemies’ words (I hope I’ll never be considered an enemy by you). ...

All that to say, I believe that you also bring something quite unique to our group, a voice that needs to be heard... alongside the many stories, narratives and threads of life that weave and interweave in our shared journey.

no reserve,no retreat,no regret...eugene

Me to Eugene

You mention that in my identifying in the way that I do with postmodernity I should not hold onto any idea of truth-proclaiming. Well, first, as I said, I don't have an allegience to postmodernism. I just see it as helpful in dealing with the construct of modernity. Part of that construct is the idea of absolute truth, which, quite literally did not exist prior to modernity (and therefore is obviously not necessarily tied to Christianity, as we tend to assume; in fact the concept of absolute truth is necessarily tied to modernity), an idea that became part of the construct to help further the modern agenda of a universal Utopia. Absolutism and universalism are interdependent. I don't think that the post-moderns were against any notion of truth. From the moderns I think they get criticized for placing themselves in a quagmire in which they never entered.

Also, to adress another epistemoligical issue that arose in this past email. When I say that things "resonate" with me, I do not mean to say that they fit with my experiences of the world. I'm thinking of how a Medieval bell would ring from atop a belltower (causing music to resonate in the town and nearby countryside), calling the faithful to worship.

Now, I do not consider you an enemy. I consider you a brother in Christ. When I get irritated with "Nick Hill" during a comment conversation to a blog, its because I believe his statement to be a common one that is extremely unhelpful, and even destructive, or at least contribuiting to some destructive forces. Not that my irritation isn't destcructive. I am working on that. As for your fear that, out of my possibly viewing you as an enemy, my possibly not wanting to be your "disciple" anymore, it isn't true. I am still interested in learning from you in a strucured way, if you yourself are still interested in maintaining a relationship that would allow for such an education. I still see you as an elder in Christ who loves the church, me, our group, and the world, someone from whom I can learn a thing or two about leadership of a group of Christians. Again, the ultimate techton of the moderns and postmoderns is different from the eschatology of Christ...


Me to Eugene Again

Eugene, I should have explained something else in this past email. See, you said I should be more careful about my choice of words, and it seemd that the root of that was an issue of humility. Then, based on what you were saying, it seemd that you were associating pride with absolute truth, saying that my claims appear just as absolulte as those against which I am arguing, meaning there was pride behind them, or at least the appearance of pride.

I then responded by saying that postmoderns, so far as I can tell, get words about truth put into their mouths based on what they did have to say about the modern construct of absolute truth. In this context, to a degree, I was separating the issue of pride from the issue of absolute truth, even though in a way pride is the root of the problem with absolute truth. The reason I was thinking of it this way is because it is my position that the modern construct of absolute truth has to be truthfully broken down in order to get anywhere these days, with the understanding that absolute truth was a term/idea/concept/phrase that didn't enter the scene of our history until modernity itself. There was of course, however, "truth" before that. There could or could not have been (our could or could not be now) pride in such truth.

It was this kind of truth, or something like it, that I intended to speak into absolute truth through my email, and a similar kind of truth that I intended to speak into "expostion" and/or "analysis" in my blog link. This kind of truth might be localized (one way that it is localized is in ME), but that doesn't exclude it's relevance to places outside it locality (OTHERs cried at church when I cried while trying to share my story). This kind of truth might be contingent upon some story and/or history (one such contingency is upon MY story), but that doesn't exlude it from participation in greater truths that have been around longer and/or will be around for longer still. It is certainly not systematic, but that doesn't exclude it's possibility of association with topics and/or issues outside itself. It appears out of a horizon of mystery, but that doesn't mean that it has no form. In my estimation this is a humbling truth, or at least a truth that lends itself to a humbling fall after the building up of the construct of modernity, which presumes an abstracted, neutral and objective rising above the limits of bodies and locations. That is the very way that you end up with truths that are "absolute" and "universal".

I associate the construct of modernity with the Tower of Babel. Interestingly, it is a matter of regular old-fashioned recorded histroy (I'm not just making crap up) that one of the fascinations of modernity was to build a universal language (the story of Babel, in which man sought to reach UP to the heavens, ends with the separation of languages), in other words one not born out of a particular place, culture or location.

Back to an oldie: "The thought that a system could become the material refuge in which architecture protects itself against the negative effects of wonder and alienation has come to nought. The desire for total domination of space, has proved impossible. The desire to integrate in its own presumed totality a light that can only come from outside is the hubris upon which every system has perished. Architecture as life is perhaps impossible without some system, but Hejduk's architecture is not dealing with unambiguous facts or with serial information. Rather it is fired with a resistance to and separation from a dubious kind of order, without making a system out of this very resistence..." - Daniel Libeskind, p. 16, intro. to Mask of Medusa, by John Hejduk.

That is to say, maybe I should be more considerate of other's emotions and/or feelings in my choice of words. Maybe I could be more gentle and tactful. It is, however, my goal to "deconstruct" a self that has been being built for at least 400 years. That's bound to hurt. "Wise as a snake, gentle as a dove". Don't really know how to do that yet, I suppose.

Also, you said, "I fear that predispositions and categories are influencing the way you relate to us." Who's the "us"? Moderns? And what do you mean when you mention categories there? I have a feeling there's somehing behind that that I'm missing, but I don't know what it is really.

Also, when you mention "a voice that needs to be heard...alongside many stories, narratives and threads...", I wonder there what you mean too. When I think of the intermingling stories of modernity and post-modernity, I don't just think of the fact that some folks have been immersed in more of a modern culture, and some in more of a post-modern culture; where both deserve to be heard, respected and/or realized. I think of a violent tension between the forces of modernity and post-modernity present in our world, our culture, and in each of us; tension that exists in a world whose basic operation and/or culture grows to be more and more in accord with the conditions (not necessarily or primarily the theoretical construct) of postmodernity. In a way, I think of the reminder from one of my favorite Architects who said that a man who claims a religion but does not practice it is impoverished beyond compare. He then was talking about the need for a modern architecture at an earlier time of similar tension. In our case the parallel would be more like practicing a religion but claiming an entirely different one.


Me to Eugene Again Again

In other words, Eugene, considering Heiddeger's (sp. ?) statement that post-modernism does not signal the end of the modern world but rather the completion of the modern project, and therefore the beginning of the modern world, and considering the bigger picture involved in that statement, I don't think of post-modernism as anti-modernist. Just for clarification; it was supposed to be implied before. Also, I don't necessarily think of the problem with someone's actually speaking forth their position as pride. I think that since the modern Tower of Babel project has ceased, or is ceasing, before which God separated the langages here below, no one understands what anyone else is saying. It all sounds like babble. To the point where a friend of mine from Expression Mondays, around the time that I first met him, started going to church again because he looked up the phrases, "Ash Wednesday"and "Shrove Tuesday". Which is funny, because I haven't the foggiest idea what "Shrove Tuesday" is :)


holy shit.

I think it has been mentioned in intellectual circles that shit represents the "medium" that gives the message that ALL of creation is in fact Holy. I say that in the context of the mediumlessness against which the post-moderns have reacted.
Interestingly, the term post-Modern was coined by architects in the early 70's to describe buildings--usually their own--that no longer hewed to the Mies/Corbusier/Gropius Modernist orthodoxy of glass, steel, straight edges and form-follow-function. These architects wanted to play around with pitched roofs, neo-classical themes, warmer materials and intentional quirkiness. They wanted Henry Hobson Richardson to replace Mies van der Rohe on the altar of the temple. So because they were going beyond the Modernism in which they themselves had been educated they called themselves post-Modern. The first time I ever heard the word was from either Robert A.M. Stern or Charles Moore in about 1974.

That simple. I wonder if any dictionaries of derivations know that.

As one of those architects said around that time, "The shadow of Walter Gropius has left the land." Given that that shadow had caused the destruction of Penn Station, it was a event to be celebrated.
I was finding myself too curious about the origin of the term postmdodern, and finally came across the story of it recently. Come to find out, the early/mid seventies was the time not when it originated, but when it was popularized.

"...there are anticipations of and precursors to ideas and terminology which gain currency at a later date. For example, and English painter, John Watkins Chapman, spoke of 'postmodern painting' around 1870 to designate painting that was allegedly more modern and avant-garde than French impressionist painting...the term appeared in 1917 in a book...to describe the nihilism and collaps of values in contemporary European culture...

After WWII, the notion of a 'postmodern' break with the modern age appeared in a one-volume summation by D.C. Somervell of the first six volumes of British historian Arnold Toynbee's A STUDY OF HISTORY (1947)...Somervell and Toynbee suggested the concept of the 'post-Modern age'. This period constituted a dramatic mutation and rupture from the previous modern age and was characterized by wars, social turmoil and revolution..." (POSTMODERN THEORY, p. 5-6, Steven Best and Douglas Kellner).

The same book goes on to describe a usage of the term in 1957 by Bernard Rosenberg to describe something more like how we now think of it.

As for Stern or Moore, I like neither. It was folks like them, or even Peter Eiserman, who turned me away from postmodernity when I first began to learn about it. It was Focault and Daniel Libeskind who originally turned me onto it in some way.

What I find unhelpful about Stern is that, despite his efforts to bring us back home to actual recognizable images, ect., it still relies on an epistemology of Cartesian cognition that turns a classical iconicalism into a closed, objectified system both to view and live in the world. I can embrace icons, but not unless they are pointers to something beyond, not closed systems in themselves. This is why I like the symbolism in Libeskind's work.

It is also only Libeskind's work that is really able to resist the mass media capitalistic forces of contemporary culture in which architecture is indistinguishable from real-estate. Stern's epistemology plays right into the real-estate market.

Thank you very much for the deeper derivation of post-modern. I stand not just corrected but embarrassed at the unfounded confidence of my post.

Totally with you on Stern. A designer of buildings as attractive and hollow as magazine advertisements. Which isn't to say that some of them--the library at St. Paul's school--aren't very attractive indeed. Still, St. Paul's is itself a temple of elitism like no other.

But Charlie Moore--now that's another story. An architect who loved people, loved to glorify the simple act of entering a room, loved history and the overlaying of one culture on top of another. His buildings are playful, uplifting, grand when they need to be and fun when they want to be. His houses are miracles of discovery and not models to pose on the covers of glossy magazines.
Embarrassed? Baahh humbug! Boohh to that! No embarrassment allowed! Acceptance and love only, thank you :)

Stern...yeah. Now that you mention the elitist thing, honestly, part of why I don't like the guy is because he just seems like an ass hole to me...uuuhh, is that allowed?

As for Moore, I was exposed to him in college a bit, and didn't pursue it further because I saw certain things in his work that made it impossible for me to appreciate enough to persue it further. I just looked him up, and, yeah, playful and uplifting seem good discriptions. It looks too like, from what I saw, they don't just seek to "reference" a closed and objectified signifier in the misty and forgotten haze of the past, but that his work actually has a depth of times overlayed and transformed into the now. The colors have an intensity and brightness where Eisernman's have an annoying neutrality and chalkiness.
Also, Tom,

You probably aren't as embarrased as I was yesterday when I asked out this hot woman in public and was DENIED!

Also, I realized, my blog, "A Personal Story, from Dark to Light", I think you would like it. But I think you may not have seen it because it's burried there underneath so much intellectual babble :)
Eisenman is a nasty piece of work. Had him on several crits in school and he's just plain mean. Stern is a charmer and you should hear him do a fundraising stand-up in front of a crowd of Yalies. Gets the money flying out of their pockets. Not a bad guy at all: a warm-hearted operator. Charlie was (died in the 80's, alas) an absent-minded Santa Claus. One of my favorite quotes, recently recalled by a fellow student: somebody in the class had made a model of some building, and one of the teachers looked at it and said "Cute", and Charlie said "If I were 1/16th scale I'd be cute too."

Take a look at the pyramid bed from his house in Essex, Connecticut if you can find a picture of it.
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