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“Above All Earthly Pow’rs” by David Wells – A Review by John Beeson (Part 2)

October 3, 2007

Foucault and MTV

Review #2: Chapter 2

In Chapter 1, Wells described who the postmodern self is. In Chapter 2 he describes what postmodernity is. He first distinguishes between postmodernism and postmodernity. Postmodernism, Wells says “is the intellectual formulation of postmodern ideas on the high end of culture.” On the other hand, postmodernity is “the popular, social expression of the same assumptions but in ways that may be unselfconscious and often not intellectual at all, making this a diffuse, unshaped kind of expression.”

How does postmodernism turn into postmodernity? At the center of both, Wells asserts, is the autonomous self. As worldviews have become privatized they have also become more and more controlled by the media and its promulgation of a simplified postmodernism.

Postmodernity has taken on the qualities of postmodernism with literary theory leading the way. There are no embedded truths in the story, but rather insights created by the reader in their interaction with the story. The world only becomes the world through interpretation. In doing so, not only is the text undone (to paraphrase Kevin Vanhoozer), but so is the reader.

I read tension in the postmodernism-postmodernity relationship Wells doesn’t draw out. On the one hand postmodernism pushes toward each individual having his or her own petite histoire, “a story that is no more compelling than anyone else’s and no more true.” On the other hand, postmodernity reduces postmodernism’s critique of absolute truth to relativism. Relativism then, ironically, acts as a sort of metanarrative in postmodernity. We all like to think of ourselves as having a “radical perspectivalism,” but in reality, the scope of differing opinions in the public square is rather narrow and defined by a rigid set of preconceptions.

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