Postmodernity, Architecture, Society and Religion:
`A heap of broken images' or `a change of heart'


Michael York
King's College London
Academy for Cultural and Educational Studies




Postmodernity, a contradiction of terms, is inevitably defined in relation to modernism. Implicit in both is a value-judgement. At first a term designating an architectural style, postmodernism has been extended in application to all the arts as well as to philosophy, sociology and religion. Does the contemporary fragmentation of faith and commercialisation of culture amount to Eliot's `heap of broken images' in The Waste Land, or should we follow Auden's Petition and `look shining at / New styles of architecture'? While today's Fundamentalisms are reactions to postmodernity, the New Age religions are indicative of it. A postmodern `meaning-system' presents new images of transcendence and resacralisation. In helping to create a postmodern world, sociology has brought awareness of cultural and religious options - allowing the psychological freedom for non-conventional experimentation.


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Postmodernity/postmodernism has become the catchword of the late 1980s/early 1990s. But the very term `post-modern' sounds like a contradiction of meanings. If `modernism' refers to something which is peculiar to or characteristic of modern, contemporary times, anything which is `after' or `post' this implies futuristic. But modernism itself suggests futuristic, and, therefore, by postmodern we tend to comprehend something which is `after the future'.

In general, since modernity and futurity have in our century been closely tied to the `promise of a renewed world', the connotations of postmodernity have been largely negative. The end of the millennium is ceasing to be seen as an occasion for optimism but rather as the advent of an era of scepticism and dread. Comparing our culture with that of the avant-garde cradle of modernism a century earlier, Robert Hughes (1980:9) sees that we have lost "Ebullience, idealism, confidence, the belief that there was plenty of territory to explore, and above all the sense that art, in the most disinterested and noble way, could find the necessary metaphors by which a radically changing culture could be explained to its inhabitants." Has modernist hope now been replaced by postmodernist despair?

In reviewing Akbar Ahmed's book, Postmodernism and Islam (1992), Malise Ruthven comments that "Whatever is meant by postmodernism ... diversity and eclecticism are its most obvious features."[1] "Post-modernity is confusing to everyone, not least because to understand it requires familiarity with - if not mastery of - a wide variety of different cultural traditions." Nevertheless, "Freedom to choose one's religion or lifestyle - to be as `culturally mutant' as one likes - is becoming part of the post-modern condition."[2] But `consumer choice' in religion along with the shifting of what were once `familiar moral and cultural reference points' threaten traditional religious orientations whether Christian or Islamic. For Ahmed, Western secular materialism has become the dominant ideology or expression of the post-modern world, yet this very materialistic secularism has been associated more with modernism - from which postmodernism supposedly represents a departure.


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Postmodernism was at first an aesthetic term - referring originally to an architectural style as defined by the art critic Charles Jencks (1977). It has been subsequently adopted by the disciplines of philosophy, theology and sociology among others. It remains frequently one of those terms one uses but shudders over the possibility that someone may ask what he or she means by it. Its very contradictory implications make it difficult to define. But inasmuch as it is grounded on modernity, the modern, we must begin with what is meant by `modernism'.

The term `modern' derives from the Late Latin modernus which in turn developed from the Latin adverb modô with the meaning of `just now' - itself a derivative of the ablative of modus or `measure'. The Indo-European root is given as *med- `to take appropriate measures' - suggesting perhaps that `postmodern' refers to the `taking of inappropriate measures'. Consequently, in a latent sense, modernism and postmodernism imply the making of value judgments in terms of relevance or utility.

In the broad sense, modernism relates to an affinity or sympathy with modern thoughts, practices or standards. The epitome of architectural modernism consists of straight lines, rational thought and extreme refinement of proportion and detailing - the `International Style' fostered by Mies von der Rohe. In philosophy and art, modernism has come to refer to a self-conscious and deliberate break with the past and a search for new forms of expression in any of the arts.

But whereas in architecture, the modern style became one of functionalism in which, as a philosophy of design, form is to be adapted to use, material and structure, the postmodern has become a movement against an art style and architectural design which is seen as not fulfilling human needs. For example, the house is a home and not merely a functional design project but something symbolic of the human need for a cave-like/nest-like shelter. Charles Jencks, in fact, dates the symbolic commencement of the postmodern era with the televised dynamiting of the St. Louis Pruitt-Igoe Housing Estate in 1972.

Consequently, postmodernism moves "away from the free plan and the abstraction of modernism ... towards a more catholic architectural approach involving a whole range of revivalist imagery." [3] If modernism breaks with the past, postmodernism reaffirms it. Things - whether styles or attributes - from earlier times are utilized as being more interesting; they have emotional appeal over the stark, severe forms which had been accepted by modernism as the ideal. Postmodernism becomes a movement against the functional iconoclasm identified with modern times. [4] There are two broad camps within the postmodernist movement: one which represents a fundamental break with the recent past - a negation of modernism; the other, a `reweaving' of modernism with elements of western humanism - a consolidation of `free-style classicism'.


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Briefly, to summarize what I have said so far, postmodernism appears at three junctures: (1) for the architects, it represents a return to some classical shapes - e.g., symmetry, use of columns, Beaux Arts architecture, in fact, everything which was thrown out by the Modernists. The turning point between architectural modernism and postmodernism is recognized with Philip Johnson and John Burgee's AT&T building in New York. Acknowledged postmodern examples in architecture include the Lloyds Insurance building in London and the Beauborg or Centre Pompidou in Paris,[5] on the one hand, and the Transamerican Corporation or Pyramid Building in San Francisco as well as James Fraser Stirling's Stuttgart Neue Staatsgalerie, on the other. More broadly, there are four major groups recognized within Post-Modernist architecture: the Fundamentalists (e.g., Aldo Rossi, Mario Botta, O.M. Ungers, Leon Krier), the Revivalists (e.g., Philip Johnson, John Burgee), the Urbanists (e.g., Jane Jacobs, James Stirling, Ricardo Bofill) and the Eclectics (Robert Venturi, Arata Isozaki).

Secondly (2), for art more generally, postmodernism is the rejection of modernism which itself represents the conscious questioning and rejection of all accepted values from the past. For the modernist, all has to be new and different from what went before. By contrast, postmodernism is the appropriation and impulse shopping from the entire supermarket of Western civilization. Its epitome could be said to be found in the works of photographer-artist Sherrie Levine which are the re-photographing of other people's photographs along with an essay justifying her approach as having to do with the contemporary culture of images. The underlying philosophy is that the beginning and end of cultural endeavour is maintaining the circulation of certain pictorial representations. Whether original or reproduced makes no difference. [6]

And finally (3), postmodernism has been joined with the notion of a post-historical culture. In this sense, modernism represents one of the last movements of cultural change, and we are now supposedly entering a period of stability and unified stasis. [7]The postmodern `end of history' is the dissolution of the legitimating function of the grand récit to compel an established consensus. From the pluralistic postmodern perspective, the `end of history' might signify the beginning of many, simultaneous histories. Bill Martin (1992:47), in fact, defines postmodernity as "the continuation of history beyond its end."


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In all cases, postmodernism is defined in counterpoise to modernism. When we turn to religion, we find that modernism has had several applications. In Christianity, it has tended to be contrasted with both liberalism and fundamentalism. In the wide sense, modernistic movements represent attempts to define church teachings in terms compatible with modern scientific and philosophical developments - even revolutions - in thought.

Christian modernism has been largely a Protestant movement which first developed in the latter half of the nineteenth century. It endeavours to establish the meaning and validity of the Christian faith in relation to immediate human experience - with the aim of reconciling traditional theological concepts to the empirical bases of modern knowledge. In Anglicanism, it has been accepted that all knowledge which relates to religion must necessarily reaffirm the fundamental truths of the Christian faith, but what is demanded is the Church's restatement of these truths into a language compatible with the intellectual vocabulary of modern times.

Roman Catholic modernism developed concurrently with Protestant modernism until it was condemned by Pope Pius X in 1907. This movement had denied the objective truth of revelation - even that of the entire supernatural world. The Catholic modernist held that religion's only vital element is its power to maintain and communicate religious experience. If we see religious modernism in the light of denying the reality of the transcendent or supernatural, postmodernism in religion may be taken as an affirmation of the otherworldly as real or at least approachable.

One must be careful, however, not to confuse the postmodern with the premodern. This last is something which antedates the present; it is not of the current form or style but directly located to an earlier moment in time. Postmodern, on the other hand, may incorporate elements from the past - perhaps even eclectically - but it represents a new synthesis or perhaps even a grafting onto the modern itself.

Postmodern, in one sense, represents an extension of the new rather than a strict repudiation of it. Looked at this way, fundamentalism is a postmodern reaction which seeks a premodern restitution. It is a premodern literalistic response to the modern/postmodern situation. In a sense, the fundamentalist seeks a recapturing of the purity of a past state of being or a former condition of understanding.

The New Age movements, on the other hand, are the more direct legacies of postmodernity. They incorporate various mixtures of the scientific, that is, the modern, as well as the scientistic and the reconstructionistic. They do not seek a return to the past but an incorporation of it or at least parts of it into the present. Likewise, they do not so much seek a denial of the modern and scientific as they do an extension of these - or a concurrent development with them. In this sense, in the understanding of postmodernism from the vantage of its origins as an aesthetic term within the arts, the broad gamut of the New Age and Human Potential is indicative of postmodernity rather than being, as is fundamentalism, a reaction to it.


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The contemporary criticism of the postmodern state of affairs in Western societies in which it is argued that `belief has become fragmented, consumerism has reduced culture to a commodity, and scepticism or nihilism has become rife' raises several pertinent issues but might equally be seen as a fair criticism of `modernism' itself. Against depersonalisation and utilitarian efficiency, postmodernism is itself a reproach and postmodernity either a reaction or counter-development. The scepticism or nihilism of our era is more likely a product of the rationalism or even technical rationalism which has been exalted as the hallmark of twentieth century thought.

I wish to look more closely into the questions of belief fragmentation, the commercialisation of culture and the sceptical/nihilistic presupposition in a moment, but first it is pertinent to recognize that though fundamentalism may represent the more traditional position concerning the literal reality of religious truth, the New Age response can also contain word-for-word belief in the supernatural. True enough, New Age represents a wide-ranging gamut of differing stances and positions. On one end of the spectrum, we will find the attitudes embodied in Neo-paganism and psychic or psychological humanism in which the religious symbol or icon is a metaphor for a non-empirical reality.

Distinct from this interpretative branch of New Age, at the other end of the mixture's sweep, are to be found the Galactians and Spiritualists who, though acknowledging the difficulty of empirical demonstrability, affirm the true reality of UFOs and discarnate spirits. This side of New Age, in general more transcendental in orientation, exhibits close affinities with the Evangelical/Pentecostal wing of Christianity through their pursuit of spiritual guidance, direct experience of the sacred, unorthodox healing and radical spiritual transformation of the world. But within the New Age identity itself, an interchange is readily to be found between the more `fundamental' wing and the symbolists in that both use the same basic vocabulary despite differences of interpretation and both allow the latitude to the other for individual exegesis and personal belief assessment.

Both fundamentalism and  New Age represent reactions to postmodernity when the postmodern comprises what Luc Ferry (Homo aestheticus: invention du gout à l' âge démocratique, 1990) refers to as an emergent `non-metaphysical humanism'. Here we are dealing with the third juncture of postmodernism mentioned previously: that of post-historical culture. But once again, it is difficult to distinguish whether it is modernity or postmodernity which is the catalyst.

What we are concerned with is the current relinquishing of any reference to a subject. For Ferry, this tendency locks up modernism in a desperate flight toward itself. Both fundamentalism and New Age offer reactions to the illusory quality of relativism and the avant-gardes in a return to focus on the self and its salvation and/or development. Where the contrast between the two remains, however, is in what I would label as the premodern certitude of fundamentalism as opposed to the experimental orientation of postmodernity.


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Robert Wuthnow has seen the innovative tendency and inclination toward social experimentation as a product of the individual's cultural meaning-system. In 1976, he identified four essential modes: the theistic, the individualistic, the social-scientific and the mystic. The first two together comprise a traditional cultural meaning-system; the social-scientific and mystic together constitute the modern; and any combination of one component of the traditional with one of the modern Wuthnow terms transitional.

In a theistic meaning-system, the role of God is stressed as the governing force. In the individualistic, the personal will of the individual assumes this role within a matrix of fixed laws. The mystic mode is similar except that the fixed matrix is denied.

The human role is also emphasized within the social-scientific orientation, but here the individual is socialized, and social influences are the governing forces. For this mode, the social environment assumes primary importance, and the image of transcendence is society itself. As Wuthnow explains, the predominant view of social organisation which this mode conveys is `libertarian' - promoting diversity more than conformity, deviance more than strict obedience to authority, and change and reform more than static order. The social-scientific aspect of the modern meaning-system entertains an evolutionary view of social and cultural history or a radical, apocalyptic view of social change. Rather than characters, souls or psyches, the `self' becomes the central concept, but this `self' is neither immutable nor internally consistent but more capable of non-conventional experimentation than the human entity which is central to the individualistic way of thinking.

By contrast, the mystic stresses peak experiences to be as important as the cognitive understandings of the other modes. In other words, ecstatic experiences constitute the primary way of constructing meaning out of reality. Perception for the mystic is one of a larger whole, and ecstatic, personal experience becomes an appeal in a situation in which cognitive belief systems have become too numerous - especially to those who are culturally and socially relative. The mystic mode, Wuthnow explains, allows order to be projected onto an otherwise incoherent reality - one which is approached only through analogy. The mystic's theodicy tends to devalue or transvalue the reality of suffering rather than formally explain its existence. This supposedly engenders social and political apathy, antinomianism and anarchy.

If, however, we are to locate a postmodern meaning-system in Wuthnow's terms, it would be post-mystic and post-social-scientific. If it were not also to be premodern, theistic might have to become pantheistic and individualistic meaning-systems extended to the collective whole of humanity. Post-modern would replace libertarianism with ecological and holistic conformity - `Gaiaistic' principles now becoming the governing forces, and Gaia the image of immanent transcendence. This re-sacralization of the earth, however, and the belief in the collective human response to and responsibility for the planet counters the social and political antinomian apathy characteristic of the mystic mode per se. This description is that which applies in general to the New Age and Human Potential phenomena in their multi-facetedness, and this application underscores the holistic movement's very cutting-edge position between the modern and the postmodern.


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I would like now to explore some of the ramifications and positive responses of the New Age/Human Potential/Neo-pagan development which may extend the idea of postmodernity as merely a reaction to or criticism of modernity. I contend the positive contributions inherent in these modern networks and their implicit theologies lie precisely in those areas often cited as criticisms of postmodernity: namely, belief fragmentation, cultural commodity reductionism and nihilistic scepticism.

Religion is an expression of culture. It describes the ways different parts of humanity phrase their relationship to the universe. All human culture conforms to a universal pattern which includes such things as the recognition of a specific language, the use of fire and tools, a food technology, some technical solution to protection from the variations of climate, the family and community, aesthetic elaboration and a system of meaning assignment and value allocation.

Every human culture provides for educating and assimilating those born within it. Intimately connected with any specific culture is its common language system - the pattern or structure of its communication, and like culture in general, all languages change in time as part of the cultural process of realignment and readjustment. It would seem therefore that part of the question of postmodernity and any incipient questioning of it relates to the very problem of cultural and linguistic change and any inevitable resistance to these.

But as the anthropologist Margaret Mead (1960:329) proclaimed in an essay titled `The modern study of mankind', "The history of man's ability to change his existing ways of doing things, either by making innovations or by learning from other peoples, is the history of his increasing recognition that the things he himself does are learned - that they are dependent in style on the culture from which they were learned and are in no sense inalienably related to his race, his lineage, his historical antecedents or the particular part of the earth on which he happens to live."

The key idea behind Mead's understanding of culture as a "system of learned, transmissible, and modifiable behavior through which the human species has been able to survive, multiply, maintain themselves and elaborate their relationships within groups and between groups, between themselves and their environment," (1960:328) is that cultures change; they are not static or fixed creations. Each new generation "borrows, invents, modifies, and adapts the system of habits which it receives from its predecessors and the members of neighboring cultures," and "As these people use new customs which were originally adapted to men and women with different habits, they modify them. They select parts to emphasize and others to de-emphasize. They introduce changes which make the institution more workable" (Mead, 1960:330f).

Today, we refer to this process of cultural selectivity and modification as cultural supermarket consumerism. But this very process is in itself indicative of the human being's experience of other ways of life - whether cultural broadly or religious specifically - and his or her ability to value them. Nevertheless, it is facile and erroneous to assess a culture as capable of being or becoming a commodity. Cultural or religious items may be commercial or semi-commercial articles, but a culture or religion itself is a system or pattern or structured social situation - even an organic system - of human inventions and observations which human beings have made and within which they live.

The word `culture' derives from the Latin cultus - the past participle of the verb colere which denotes `tilling', `cultivating', even `worshipping'. A culture is something which is cultivated - not something which is bought and sold, and the borrowing or incorporation or interchange of meaningful inventions or ideas between different cultures is an inevitable and organic part of genuine directional change. The attribution that postmodern consumerism reduces culture to a commodity is naive, judgmental and fails to recognize the essential dynamics of social change as well as the different parameters of the contemporary world situation. All culture is in a perpetual process of change, realignment and readjustment, and postmodernity is simply the recognition of the very act of transformation which is occurring at the present within Western society.

This is of course a different interpretation of the postmodern from that of James Beckford who rejects the postmodern through its refusal to accept reality as the one sole means to truth. During the opening of the Bristol conference on Religion and Postmodernity, Beckford proclaimed the consequent inconsequentiality of postmodernisation. The hermeneutics of postmodernity, however, is still at the point where the postmodern struggles to define itself.

This self-defining postmodern process has been likened to the case of the American woman who talked incessantly about the inability to communicate. But the post-structural deconstructive project of Jacques Derrida on which much of the theoretical framework of the postmodern is founded does not so much deny truth as it sees truth as contextual and forever receding the closer one approaches it. In fact, for Derrida, like Nietzsche and Davidson, `truth' is "a mobile army of metaphors" (Martin, 1992:107). Truth is not denied but affirmed along with those things which are seen to make it possible: power, ignorance, falsification, forgetfulness, etc.

The diffusion process of human cultural change, however, has traditionally depended on a degree of separation and isolation between cultures to allow the spontaneous development of significant variations. But now, in our modern/postmodern contemporary world, the striking contrasts between civilizations are ceasing to exist and variation is becoming increasingly dependent on new internal forms. The pluralistic society of postmodernity may provide the basis for spontaneous innovation and invention in an otherwise increasingly homogeneous world. [8] Part of this postmodern pluralism is the variety of religious denominations, cults, sects and NRMs which make up humanity's religious life.

Though there is the modern recognition that human institutions and cultures are man-made, according to Mead (1960:331), "new religious cults and sects almost invariably still try to invest the simplest learned procedures of everyday life ... with some kind of rigid relationship to their own special and recently discovered supernaturally sanctioned way of life." Mead's observation is equally applicable to the current resurgence of various fundamentalisms. But even so, this condition of religious sectarianism appears to encourage the very emergence of communal distancing necessary to foster a continual ferment of growth, newness and accommodation.

In the postmodern world at large, one increasingly comes to realize that culturally, linguistically and religiously determined forms of behaviour are only `one of a series' of possible patterns. This awareness allows increase in response and the articulation and development of new social concepts. In a word, postmodernity allows for the very cultivation of culture and not, as its critics contend, its prostitution.

The commodity criticism of postmodernity does not recognize that culture is itself a series of integrated systems based on the structured integration of various basic components and compositions rather than ad hoc and random agglomerations. Traditional religion has been formulated in terms of belief, but postmodern religion has increasingly come to assert that belief per se is NOT essential to religious orientation. Where postmodern critics assert that belief has become fragmented, a matter of personal preference and `a commodity to be packaged for the market-place', much of New Age and Neo-pagan thought contends that belief is optional and of secondary importance. It is perhaps on this point that the new religious networks most challenge the traditional stance of religion.



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In a postmodern world in which beliefs, like cultures, are recognized as `one of a series' of possible options, Wiccan priestess Vivianne Crowley (1989:16) expresses the prevailing attitude when she proclaims that "Other than a very simple belief in the life force and the powers of the human psyche, all that is required is that we accept the framework of ritual and symbolism in which Wicca operates as containing age-old truths which are not literal but which are hidden and whose truth will unfold over the years as we integrate them into our own lives" (italics mine). Neo-pagan writer Margot Adler (1986) also stresses that techniques and practice and attitude toward life are the important issues rather than belief which is virtually incidental.

The Neo-pagan consideration that truth is never more than a metaphor and that worship does not necessitate belief is a position which is shared with the human potential movement and interpretative branch of New Age. One might say, in fact, that postmodern religion is based on what is done rather than on what is believed. Prevailing over belief or belief-systems is experience - specifically what Wuthnow cites as the `peak experiences' of the mystic mode of orientation which comprise `altered states of consciousness' as well as intense feelings of ecstasy and joy (Adler, 1986:154). Consequently, it is less a question of `belief-fragmentation' in postmodernity as it is one of `belief-devaluement'. The locus of the individual and personal exegesis become the determinants of what is to be believed if anything, and it is the shared experience of particular frames-of-reference which allow the associations and networks which are becoming characteristic of postmodernity.

Postmodern critics tend to translate the abandonment of belief and shared doctrine into a position of scepticism and/or nihilism. True enough, postmodernism in part appears to be a legacy of the existentialism of Sartre and Camus among others which stresses the uniqueness of the individual and the isolation of personal experience within a universe which is indifferent if not hostile to humanity. But part of this existential inheritance is the consequent emphasis on human freedom, choice and concomitant responsibility for action and meaning. [9] To someone with the perspective of a traditional belief-system which accepts supernatural sanction, the postmodern position is blasphemy. But to the degree that social science presents any particular belief-system as `one among many' possibilities, it suggests an implicit theology through its relativising of all theologies whether traditional or new.

Through sociology, society and culture themselves become the images of transcendence. This implied theology is what Wuthnow terms the social-scientific meaning system, and its inherent libertarian consequence promoting diversity over conformity encourages the very non-conventional experimentation characteristic of postmodernity and challenging to traditional religion.


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But postmodernism as understood through human potential, New Age and Neo-paganism is in part a sceptical affirmation that absolute knowledge of the supernatural and/or transcendent is not possible, and in this respect, it differs little from the traditional position of Christianity which denies the ability of the finite human mind to comprehend the infinitude of God. Postmodern scepticism - a legacy perhaps from sociology and the sociology of religion in particular - relativises truth as a product of the religio-cultural system to which the individual belongs. In the religious pluralism coming to characterize Western society, the religious choice is no longer pre-set but a range of different and differently understood options. This situation itself tends to reduce the certitude in any kind of absolute truth. But at the same time, it encourages an unprecedented form of individual and social freedom which allows religion to survive as it is `consumed' rather than enforced.

Scepticism of course is part of the methodology of science - one in which sociology itself partakes. The process of doubting is integral to science's objective of relative or approximate certainty, but where postmodernity differs from scientific modernity is in its acceptance of supernatural and/or metaphorical truth which is nevertheless outside the domain of proper scientific inquiry. The typical, `trans-sceptical' attitude is expressed by Sig Lonegren (1991:118), despite his essentialism, in his Labyrinths: Ancient and Modern Uses when he states that "The point is that we need to find ways of allowing more female, receptive, birth-giving, intuitive energy into our lives today without, at the same time, throwing out all the benefits that the rational scientific mind has brought us."

The postmodernity of New Age, Human Potential, Goddess Spirituality and Neo-paganism does not deny the utility and validity of legitimate scientific inquiry, but it also asserts the spiritual reality encoded within the metaphorical world of myth and religion. It has moved beyond the limits of logical positivism and scientific empiricism to explore what it perceives as a magical-mystical reality only fragmentedly retained or perceived in any given, traditional religious belief-system.

For the postmodern individual, scepticism frees one from the narrow-minded thinking which comes from too total an immersion within any particular religion to begin the trek toward the spiritual apprehension which unites all religion. Since no two individuals are the same, no two spiritual paths are identical. Each individual must find his or her own particular way. If the individual is confronted with a bewildering array of choice through the spiritual supermarket of our times, perhaps the future of postmodernity is to refine the options and transform this supermarket into what Robert Hughes (1980,1991:412) refers to as the post-modernist delicatessen.


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But before the refinement to which Hughes refers becomes a possibility let alone a reality, any evaluation of the postmodern at present appears to oscillate between assessment in terms of a `heap of broken images' (pastiche, parody, quotation, self-referentiality, eclecticism and shallowness) or `shining new styles' (moving beyond the materialist paradigm of modernism, acknowledgement of difference and otherness, the re-enchantment of nature, etc.) Vis-à-vis modernity, the postmodern is either critical, i.e., a form of anti-modernism, or it is recognized as the completion of the modernization process itself. As Frederic Jameson explains, in the process of becoming modern, the old and obsolete are still present. But as the archaic continues to be eliminated, the postmodern is achieved.

A third possibility is that the postmodern surpasses or overtakes the modern. In its monocentric or unitary thought and quest for a monopolistic domination by the rational and technological single paradigm, the modern is perceived as having reached bankruptcy. The postmodern, then, is that in which the limits of the modern are by-passed. Attempting to graft onto the modern, the postmodern endeavours to extend the new rather than repudiate it. As Jencks expresses this, the postmodern double-codes the modern with something else - whether the classical, the romantic, the nostalgic or the purely innovative - or all these together.

The postmodern itself has been understood as comprising two distinct schools of thought. One is variously labelled as the deconstructionist, deconstructive/eliminative or revisionary branch. The other is known as the reconstructive branch. The first has been inspired chiefly by the deconstructionism of Jacques Derrida [10] with its search for meaning behind meaning and the continual dissecting of truth as the means toward attaining liberation. In seeing all metaphysics as forms of closure, Derrida aims to discover through a process of intertextual analysis the inherent ontotheological presuppositions in all systems of thought. He denies of course that deconstructionism itself is an either/or system or methodology.

Also instrumental in the formation of the revisionary perspective is the heterology of Georges Bataille who understood both the sacred and the erotic in terms of transgression. Bataille denied both the constriction and security of the established boundary. He was seminal to the various philosophers of marginality and alterity - including Adorno, Levinas, Foucault, Kristeva, Iragaray, Derrida, Baudrillard and Lyotard - and their concern with hearing the `call of the other': the unnamed, disenfranchised and neglected.

Another revisionist is the Marxist critic Fredric Jameson who defines the postmodern as the cultural logic of late or consumer capitalism. He sees the emergence of present-day multinational capitalism as integrally connected with the establishment of a global and decentred communicational network in which the individual subject is lost and alienated. While opposing the post-structuralist rejection of a master narrative, Jameson's `unheard other' is the dominated labouring class. A unified shared code on the cultural level would allow for him the very possibility of dialogue between dominator and dominated.

In the postmodern shift, Jameson argues, subject fragmentation has replaced subject alienation and resulted in the depthlessness and superficiality that is often cited as characteristic of postmodernity. Another revisionist is Jean Baudrillard who sees in the vapid and hedonistic mass media culture of our times that similacrum has displaced metaphor and simulation has eliminated reflection. Baudrillard adds `hyper-reality' to the traditional categories of the real, the symbolic and the imaginary and argues that once inside the artificial environment of simulacra, there no longer is an `outside'. In this situation - one from which Baudrillard saw no escape, the `other' is permanently marginalized.

Like Baudrillard, Jean-François Lyotard is a `televisual' thinker. He argues that the postmodern condition is that in which computerized knowledge has become the principal force of production, and, in the general context of concern for language, knowledge is no longer an end in itself but a commercial commodity. But Lyotard sees postmodern knowledge as a means to refine our sensitivity to difference and encourage our ability to tolerate the incommensurable. In this, Lyotard comes close to the second or reconstructive branch of postmodernism.

In fact, the reconstructionists tend to identify deconstructionism and the deconstructionist school as really manifestations of modernism itself - Margaret Rose terms revisionism `late modernism'; David Ray Griffin, `ultramodernism'. Jürgen Habermas, on the other hand, calls the deconstructionist/postmodern critique of Enlightenment values and norms `neo-conservative' - a line of thought he sees running from Bataille through Foucault to Derrida who all leave modernity as an unfinished project. By contrast, the reconstructive form of postmodernism includes the ecological and ecumenical world view of Hans Kung, the eco-feminism of Charlene Spretnak and the double-coding or multi-coding of Charles Jencks. There is here an overriding concern for pluralism and diversity along with the desire to cut across the different `taste cultures' which currently fracture society.

The reconstructive postmodern enterprise searches for a more integrating and humane cultural articulation which combines the reputed best of all past achievements with an open, all-holds-barred approach toward experimentation, innovation, otherness, world re-enchantment, jouissance, and holistic/organic ecology. As with the postmodern of resistance, affirmative postmodernity does not seek a meta-narrative; it too is not a totalizing discourse. Moreover, both schools of the postmodern are united in their search for identity out of otherness and difference.

Coupling this similarity with the study of Derrida by Bill Martin (1992:124) in which the objective is presented as "the possibility of a different differential inhabitation on the border lines of language, where community is never finally secure and thus must be carefully attended to, where community must remain awake to the possibility of the non-existence which it already exists within," the two branches of the postmodern are drawn even closer together. Martin's interpretation of Derrida's deconstructive project, in which the Western philosophical canon is sought to be rewritten from the inside out in order to let the other speak, he calls `intertextual ontological materialism'. The `new religiosity' understood in New Age, Neo-paganism, Goddess Spirituality and Human Potential finds a legitimating dialectic in Martin and other articulations of the postmodern which, after science succeeded in the disenchantment of the pagan and Christian worlds, conceive of re-enchanting the world through a `postsecular socialism'.




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[1] Malise Ruthven, `Muhammad for our times', The Guardian Weekly 147.3; 19 July 1992:28.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Deyan Sudjic, `In the steps of Hawksmoor', Guardian Weekly 147.1 (5 July 1992):5.

[4] For Fredric Jameson, however, the negation of modernism through a nostalgic yearning for the past is considered as pastiche - a refusal to engage with the present. Pastiche is the wish to be recalled to a time less complicated and difficult than our own. The imitation of dead styles replaces stylistic innovation. It becomes, in fact, a masking for the contemporary `inability' to think historically - one which Jameson regards as symptomatic of living in a perpetual present: the schizophrenia of consumer society. The resultant series of perpetual presents yields a fragmentation of time, a timelessness, which Jameson sees as characteristic of postmodern society. For the pessimistic celebration of the depthless icon, the simulacrum, the flat `screen' image, see the work of Jean Baudrillard.

[5] This ascription to postmodernism is not shared by all, however. Hughes (1980:34) refers to "the relentless kitsch-modernism of le style Pompidou.

[6] Charles Jencks (1987) identifies post-modernism as `New Classicism' and, accordingly, considers five major trends: Metaphysical Classicism (Carlo Maria Mariani, Gérard Garouste and Malcolm Morley), Narrative Classicism (David Hockney, Ron Kitai), Allegorical Classical (Stone Roberts, Bruno Civitico and Lincoln Perry), Realist Classicism (John De Andrea, Ben Johnson) and Classical Sensibility (Avigdor Arikha, Michael Andrews and Milet Andrejevic).

[7] Jameson, of course, would view the loss of history as a loss of a necessary epistemological category. He rejects Lyotard's rejection of history and all meta-narratives. But for Lyotard, the postmodern condition is one in which the master narratives of modernity have lost their credibility. History is seen as the narrative of human mastery over nature.

[8] For Foucault and Lyotard's emphasis on the local, the particular, the `micro-revolt' of new social movements, and the petit récit as `the quintessential form of imaginative invention’, see Lyotard (1984:37f, 60) and Sarup (1989:91, 133).

[9] On the insecurity of modern social life and the inherent liberating consequences of this realization and condition, see Berger (1961). Berger also stresses the role the social sciences have played in producing this sense of precariousness as well as the freedom of alternation which can develop from it. Berger cites that for some people "we are now living at the beginning of the `post-Christian era'"(p. 19).

[10] Derrida established deconstructionism in 1967 with the publication of three works: Of Grammatology; Speech and Phenomena; and Writing and Difference.