I have been reading preparing for the 2007 Emergent Village Theological Conversation. Entering the world of postmodern talk and ideas can be very challenging. Aside from the very dense language used to describe things it is the social location of much of the discourse. Most of it is dominated by the dominant culture. One of the voices that has helped me navigate through postmodernity has been author, professor, cultural artist, bell hooks. Here’s an excellent essay written by her. Its a bit dated but she provides me with a cautionary note as I swim more deeply into the waters of postmodernity. Her caution for me, as an African-American Christian, is that there are at least two types of postmodernity.
1. A postmodernity of complicity-
Normally this postmodernity leaves the conversation in the realm of the abstract. There is a constant regard for epistemology and other things philosophical. There is little connection of these philosophical issues with redemptive and emancipatory projects. This is evidenced by many in the emerging church who grab onto postmodern language but fail to look inward to their goods and practices to see their own complicity with injustice. These would normally be ‘relevants’ as some have described different elements of the emerging church.
2. A postmodernity of protest and revolution
This is the postmodernity I like. The kind that deconstructs and apocalypses (reveals) how interested and connected to power relations of our Christian language and power. It helps reveals how we are more like the Romans that crucified Jesus than his band of followers.
bell hooks has written a great essay pointing these things out. Not within a explicitly Christian context but as an African-American loving elements of postmodernity but wary of other elements. I share her suspicions.
Postmodernist discourses are often exclusionary even when, having been accused of lacking concrete relevance, they call attention to and appropriate the experience of “difference” and “otherness” in order to provide themselves with oppositional political meaning, legitimacy, and immediacy. Very few African-American intellectuals have talked or written about postmodernism. Recently at a dinner party, I talked about trying to grapple with the significance of postmodernism for contemporary black experience. It was one of those social gatherings where only one other black person was present. The setting quickly became a field of contestation. I was told by the other black person that I was wasting my time, that “this stuff does not relate in any way to what’s happening with black people.” Speaking in the presence of a group of white onlookers, staring at us as though this encounter was staged for their benefit, we engaged in a passionate discussion about black experience. Apparently, no one sympathized with my insistence that racism is perpetuated when blackness is associated solely with concrete gut level experience conceived either as opposing or having no connection to abstract thinking and the production of critical theory. The idea that there is no meaningful connection between black experience and critical thinking about aesthetics or culture must be continually interrogated. more