Sunday, 31 May 2015

Living in Postmodern Times

Here systematic explication of postmodernism is not possible so a few points will be made though I risk certain oversimplification. It must be borne in mind that there are divergent interpretations of and approaches to understand postmodernism.
Muslims are required to appreciate the spirit of the times and recognize the signs of the Lord in change, in history, in new unfolding events.  A Mujaddid or reviver of religion is born after every 100 years to help cope up with the new challenges. Today we try to appreciate the challenge from postmodern thought currents are posing and opportunities they are providing for exploitation on our part.
First it is to be noted that ours is, willy-nilly, the postmodern age. Living in a globalised world, a multicultural world we might suffer cultural shock or pathologically reaction to the cultural or religious other. Salafi-Sufi polarisation or Shia Sunni skirmishes that have intensified recently for reasons we know can be better understood by understanding the times we are in and then we can explore possibilities of dialogue.
Postmodernism is said to be the new religion of the West. As a philosophical articulation of contemporary cultural experience it is the spirit of our skeptical age. It is defined by the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard as a state of disbelief in all grand theories or narratives that claim to explain everything or have access to Truth or promise salvation. Religions as ideologies explaining or interpreting the world and claiming to impose their views too will fall under this rubric. Its critical tool is deconstruction, which distrusts all centres, all claims of unique or final interpretation of any text. It asserts that all we have is a text that has infinite contexts and words whose meanings can’t be fixed. Power relations are so pervasive that truth is always a casualty. All ideologies, all views are in some sense exclusionary and thus need to be overcome or resisted. We need to give benefit of doubt to the opposite party. Justice is never done but we must strive to do it. We must criticize whoever presents itself as the Truth. To man condemned to deal with texts or language there is no unproblematic or direct access to Truth. We must resist those who say they know and then seek to impose their views. Let thousand flowers bloom and all tell their small stories. Let us respect singularity of every event. All dogmatic thinking could lead to totalitarian or Fascist or antidemocratic approach. Resist binary logic of either, whose notorious example is Bush’s statement: “Either you are with us or against us.”
Postmodern thinkers have presented devastating critiques of dogmatic Marxism. Today Neomarxism engages with postmodernism. American Marxist political theorist Fredric Jameson wrote a foreword to Lyotard’s classic text ‘The Postmodern Condition’. Fundamentalism in any version, religious or secular, is no longer credible in intellectual terms. However, there is a relativist and nihilist interpretation of postmodernism that asserts nothing matters, only power, as all truths are equivalent and we don’t have access to the Truth. But more sophisticated advocates of postmodernism have resisted these interpretations arguing that what we are given is greater freedom to explore alternatives, letting marginalised or oppressed groups speak, letting those stories like Kashmir being heard equally respectfully.
Derrida, the founder of deconstruction, is notoriously difficult thinker. So are other postmodern thinkers including theologians like French Emmanuel Levinas. However, all of them seem to have affinities with spiritual currents like mysticism. Postmodernists have rejected rationalism and claims of the enlightenment project that banned the realm of unreason. So science claiming to explain everything has been questioned. Mystics are not unfashionable. Neither are madmen to be condemned unheard. In fact Foucault wrote a book ‘Birth of a Clinic’ in which he showed how traditionally there was a space for mad people and it is only recently thanks to new narrow view of reason that they had to be dispatched to psychiatric wards. In Kashmir we know, for instance, mad people were mostly perceived as special people and somehow tolerated. Some powers or insights were attributed to them. Of course a few pathological cases were not thereby condoned.
We need to understand postmodernism if we are to be up to date in intellectual matters. Our audience has been exposed to some current postmodern thought. An example of how contradictory things exist side by side is ‘QTV’ showing advertises of commodities or women in such a manner that contradicts the speaker, stating his views or giving sermons before the break. Or we keep changing channels every moment or countless versions of the same story we find circulated in social networking sites.
Let us see both dangers and opportunities of postmodern thinking. Engage with it respectfully but critically. We have things to learn and unlearn.

No comments:

Post a Comment