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Postmodernism and History

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K Rollwagen

on 24 July 2013

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Transcript of Postmodernism and History

Concepts of Postmodern thought
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Discourse and Intertextuality
Postmodernism in historical context

"... our time has opted... to have as its program not having a program." F.R. Ankersmit
The Death of History?
The most serious criticism of historical consciousness in our time
from the fringe
- non-referential
- deconstruction
- searching for hidden assumptions, meaning, values, within texts
- intertextuality
- no distinction between text and context
- all are "texts" in a postmodern sense, and can only be compared to each other
- nothing is certain
- language is unstable, meanings change over time
-reading texts is always subjective
- 20th century disillusionment with progress
- decline of "the west"
- technological disaster
- reason doesn't always result in good
- science doesn't always lead to truth
- no reading is more authoritative than any other
Consequences for history
Without accepted facts and knowledge?
Without meta-narrative?
Without consensus?
Without objectivity?
History is...
- fragmented
- never innocent
- literary
- meaningless?
What does postmodern storytelling look like?
A Charlie Kauffman film.
Historians react(ed)
"...there has been a reluctance to consider historical narratives as what they most manifestly are: verbal fictions, the contents of which are as much invented as found and the forms of which have more in common with their counterparts in literature than they have with those in the sciences.”
- Hayden White,
“The Historical Text as Literary Artifact” (1978)
Language represents nothing but itself, so that whenever we read something, the meaning we put into it is necessarily our own and nobody else’s, except of course insofar as our own way of reading is part of a wider discourse or set of beliefs.
- language does not reflect reality, it creates reality
"...normal history orders the past for the sake of authority and therefore power."
- Robert Berkhofer,
"The Challenge of Poetics to (Normal) Historical Practice" (1988)
1. By ignoring postmodernism.
2. By historicizing postmodernism.
3. By deconstructing "postmodernism."
- symptom of political frustration
- Jean Baudrillard and Jean-François Lyotard
- May 1968 -- student strikes and general strike
- promise of New Left
"The past is not discovered or found. It is created and represented by the historian as a text."
- Alan Munslow
Patrick Joyce - New Social History -- Histories of the "Social"
4. By engaging with the concepts.
If nobody has access to the truth, neither do postmodernists...
so how can they claim to know for certain that no one has access to the truth?
- criticizing the way postmodern theorists use language
- absolute historical objectivity -- a straw man?
Joan Scott -- Post-structuralism
The evolution of history
- postmodernism -- the latest Meta-narrative?
"Periodic exercises in theory have an undeniably useful function as criticism of unself-conscious assumptions... but postmodernism cannot provide models for the future when it claims to to refute the entire idea of offering models for the future."
- Joyce Appleby et al., Telling the Truth About History (1994)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
- language creates discourses
- text and context
- identity
- there is no stable external referent called "class"
- concepts
- society is not just the background or foundation
- structure
- there is no objective structure outside the observer
INSTEAD of class structure -- languages of "class"
INSTEAD of stable society -- processual society constantly reproduced by members
- women's history -- pre-existing identities of women and men
- gender history -- inquiring how these identities came to be constructed
- language always and already part of the project
- gender history grew up with postmodernism
- influenced by Foucauldian ideas of discourse and power
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