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Re:Theosophy and Postmodernism

Dec 22, 1996 04:21 PM
by Maxim Osinovsky


Thanks for your response.

My questioning was motivated by my wish to understand what you
mean by postmodernism and to what extent you are utilising what's
generally known as the postmodern thought.

I touch below upon a couple of issues--sorry, I do not have
enough time for a full response.

> The idea of tolerating and celebrating all perspective is in my
> opinion the very strength and weakness of postmodernism. I have
> always personally questioned whether being devoid of value laden
> viewpoints is even possible. We may explore points of view,
> uncovering the underlying values and structure, but
> implementation, of the end product, in my experience, becomes a
> serious problem. Derrida's deconstruction leads to an abyss of
> texts and misreadings. Therefore, when I mentioned establishing
> "the groundwork for the next step, I had something else in mind."

Yes, it's true that the implementation is a problem.  What you
wrote about the deconstruction, is equally true.  (Browsing
through archives of an electronic discussion group on Derrida and
Deconstruction (1991 and forward) shows it very cleary.)

It's my observation that what's really implemented is not
necessarily the original postmodernist philosophy.  Aside from
such obvious things as postmodern architecture, art, literature,
and uses of the poststructuralism in literary criticism etc., the
postmodernism proliferated into such areas as education,
technology, some sciences (especially cognitive science) etc.  In
the process, the postmodernism, IMO, has changed into something
more positive.


Brent G.  Wilson wrote in "The Postmodern Paradigm"

> This paper suggests that (1) postmodern perspectives about the
> world underlie much constructivist writing, and (2) a postmodern
> stance can offer positive, constructive critiques of ID
> [instructional design] practice.

"Postmodernism: Postmodern philosophy emphasizes contextual
construction of meaning and the validity of multiple
perspectives.  Key ideas include:

% Knowledge is constructed by people and groups of people;
% Reality is multiperspectival;
% Truth is grounded in everyday life and social relations;
% Life is a text; thinking is an interpretive act;
% Facts and values are inseparable;
% Science and all other human activities are value-laden."

> It should also be noted that postmodernist thinking can lead to
> what I consider poisitive or negative outlooks of life.  On the
> down side, some postmodernist theories can lead to despair,
> cynicism, moral indifference, wimpishness, and a kind of myopic
> self-centeredness.  At the same time, other theorists are using
> postmodern ideas to fashion very positive, hopeful--even
> spiritual--approaches to life (Spretnak, 1992; Tarnas, 1991).

The author then proceeds to liost "guidelines for doing
postmodern ID." (Very interesting, IMO.)


This is another example of how researchers in concrete sciences
are trying to overcome the excesses of postmodernism and work out
some positive alternatives afforded by the postmodern
perspective.  The source is: M.  Gutknect, "The 'postmodern
mind': hybrid models of cognition." Connection science, v.4:3/4
(1992), 339-364.

> After postmodern literature, postmodern architecture, the
> postmodern family, the postmodern child and the postmodern dog,
> time has come to introduce adequate postmodern models of the
> originator of all these postmodernisms: the human mind.  Since
> its first widespread use by American literary critics, the label
> 'postmodern' has been attached to so many phenomena that it has
> degenerated to a mere buzzword.  However, there exists an
> elaborated philosophical conception of postmodernism by the
> French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard and the German
> philosopher Wolfgang Welsch.
> "Postmodern philosophy in Lyotard's sense is a philosophy of the
> heterogeneous, a philosophy focussing on the finally irreducible
> diverse structure of the world.
> This conception has been extended by" Welsch, "who has criticized
> Lyotard for overstressing the gap between discourses.  In
> everyday practice we have to and are able to find transitions
> between them.  <...> ..while keeping the pkuralistic base, the
> extended conception of postmodern philosophy by Welsch adds
> differentiation, transition, multy-perspectivity, cross-coding
> and hybridization as central elements.*
> [Endnote] The request for differentiation and qualified
> transitions makes this conception incompatible with a degenerate
> eclectic or 'anything goes' postmodernism as promoted by the mass
> media.

So as you see some postmodern researchers try to discover
constructive uses of the postmodern philosophy.

Now, it's not quite clear to me if you are pursuing the same.
Your interview suggests that postmodernism may serve a means to
uncover abuses of power within the theosophical movement, social
roots of particular theosophical views, undress dogmatic
perspectives, etc.:

> Its purpose is to explore the values and structure that underlies
> every system of thought.

> A postmodern writer would likely be very interested in people who
> claim to have superior truths and use these ideas to the
> detriment of the whole.

> The usefulness of postmodernism is not in its ability to
> determine the existence of transcendent things.  It has no
> ability to do this.  What is useful about postmodernism is its
> ability to observe and show how the belief in such transcendent
> truths can so often bring harm unto ourselves, to others, and to
> sometimes blind us from other truths that are far from evident.

So it seems like you do not see any positive uses of
postmodernism in Theosophy beyond its ability to clean Augean
stables of the Theosophival movement and Theosophy as it evolved
after HPB's death--is it correct? (Elsewhere you write in another
context, "A more constructive and postmodern approach would be to
<...> encourage people to use their own mental and spiritual
resources to explore the causes and social issues that underlie
abortion, homosexuality and prostitution," -- this is the only
mention of a constructive use of postmodernism, but it does not
go far enough: what's next after the exploration?)

> Carl Roger's unconditional positive regard may work in a
> therapeutic setting under a trained and very skilled therapist.
> I recall, that near the end of his life he was using these
> techniques to resolve the Irish/British problem. Krishnamurti's
> approach may also achieve the same ends for an individual in self
> exploration. But in both cases, the revolution begins within--
> not outwards. For instance, it would be asking a bit much of a
> victim of violent racism or sexism to give the attacker the same
> regard as Rogers would if the same person were his client.

"The revolution begins within" -- I like this statement as I
believe in the transforming power of the higher self.

You did not touch upon this issue in your inteview (except for a
mention of using our "own mental and spiritual resources"--see
above) --is it a hint at your positive program?

Now, "within" probably means "within ourselves," which brings us
to the issue of the self.  As far as I know, French
postmodernists generally believe that the self is created by
language and--via language--by society, and all our thinking is
in fact a language game (kind of an inner dialogue between the
self and the other).  So...  what then does it mean to use our
mental and spiritual resources? isn't it essentially activating
the patterns generated by previous games? Please clarify it.



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