Re: virus: Simulacrum

Bill Godby (
Fri, 17 May 1996 02:19:29 -0400

At 03:41 PM 5/15/96 -0600, David McFadzean wrote:

>Could you elaborate a bit on what is meant by postmodern, deconstructionism
>and semeiotics (or perhaps point to some relevant sources). I have had a
>suspicion for years now that there must be something to it.

Here goes, you asked for it (It's still not to late to delete). I think
there are two humongous memes here that are very busy, one is relativism
(understanding a culture, an idea, a painting, etc. from the perspective of
a relative set of circumstances) and the other is hermeneutics (the
intellectual act of interpretation), each are fundamental to post modernism,
deconstruction and semeiotics. The study of language, linguistics, I
believe, is the beginning of a particular era of philosophical investigation
that characterizes 20th philosophy and postmodernism itself. Meaning and
interpretation are central to the entire program, at stake is a great deal
beyond intellectual entertainment, as I'll point out. Critical Cultural
Theory and Literary Criticism are the largest perpetrators of these memes
and are the realm where a great deal of activity is centered on redefining
the paradigm of social science. Much of the focus is upon narratives, text
or discourse, this is a defining feature of postmodern literature. The
analysis involves the critical examination of language and meaning through
hermeneutics, proceeding on the premise that meaning is constructed and that
to understand it one has to understand as much as possible the world in
which it is used, as well as how it is used, and for what means (see
Wittgenstein). Power and control (often you see the word hegemony in pomo
literature) as manifested socially are focal points of postmodern discourse.
Deconstruction is the actual process in which texts, discourse, and
narratives (think of these as works of art, literature, historical texts,
etc. that represent a position, a particular perspective, such as the
"Western Canon") are analysed and pulled apart, examined within the relative
context of their production (again a key word, the *production* of texts,
culture, identity, meaning, etc. is commonly used in postmodern
anthropological literature). Many groups such as the feminists, gays rights
advocates (see Queer theory), minorities, etc. all have intellectual
advocates who would certainly fall within the postmodernist camp. There is
also quite a cadre of postmodern theorists who are not affilates of any
group but find the methodology very satisfying for there goals. Much of the
literature emerging from this realm has been very unsettling to the status
quo since it often calls trashing what has been accepted as *knowledge*, or
what has been accepted as *truth*. Again a fundamental aspect of
postmodernism is that is denies that there is *truth* rather there are many
truths, thus the relativism. It's the response to logical positivism. It
certainly seems historically that anytime that there has been a period where
things seemingly could be explained by a particular paradigm along comes a
response that says no you can't. This centuries flavor of that is
postmodernism, it denies ultimate truths and explanations, as I've said. And
it is very disturbing, people want universal truths, they make life much
easier. However as we get more and more information about other cultures and
other ways of thinking (more memes) we must confront our own foundations of
knowledge, this is both fun and scary, and why I'm doing anthropology.

Hopefully this clarifies to some extent the workings and relationship of
semeiotics and deconstruction to postmodernism, and I hope that a defintion
of postmodern has emerged from this, combined with the previous post
regarding simulacrum.

Bill Godby