Can anybody please explain what "orthodox" postmodernism is? Does it mean the most prevalent definition of post-modernism, i.e. what most people understand to be post-modernism?

I encountered it in Art and Politics by Claudia Mesch:

This notion suggests that artists who contributed to the widening of communities through their allegiance to given dissident or protesting communities were not so much sharing a social bond as taking part in an unrealizable “dream of redemption” that characterizes social change. This idea of social change as an unrealizable fantasy is drawn from key tenets of orthodox post-modernism, which has rejected as totalizing or quasi-dictatorial any “master narrative” that privileges or “honors” a specific subject of history as an engine for old-fashioned modernist revolutionary change, of the kind that Marx constructed around his subject of history, the “proletariat.”

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    Postmodernism is a very broad movement including philosophers, artists and so on. Thus, to speak of "orhodoxy" is quite silly. Feb 20, 2018 at 14:17
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    It sounds to me like the author is picking out the critique of metanarratives as the "key tenet" of postmodernism. That is how Lyotard characterized postmodernism, so fair enough. "Orthodox postmodern" might not be the most apt term; perhaps something like "postmodernism in the strict sense" would be better.
    – Dan Hicks
    Feb 20, 2018 at 15:27
  • Postmodernism seems as easy to define as existentialism. I have little idea what either word means, and I have tried. . .
    – user20253
    Feb 21, 2018 at 11:43

1 Answer 1


It is used as a label to direct criticism at, alluding to a vague collection of commonalities shared by various postmodern writers, like social constructivism, cultural relativism, anti "tyranny of truth", and indeed anti "all order" as tyrannical, and therefore, as critics point out, none in particular. Think of Baudrillard's "revolt" against the consumer society in an "unforeseeable but certain" form, which comes with no theory of political organization or strategy like the New Left had in 1960-s, or Deleuze-Guattari's rage against the "machine" in Anti-Oedipus, which also goes nowhere. The phrase is particularly popular in pointing out that postmodernist ideology, for all its cultural "rebellion", does little to motivate actual social change in third world countries.

By the way, this is a typical use of "orthodox X" by those opposed to the "orthodoxy", whatever X might be. D'haen (1994), who is widely cited, see e.g. Migrant Cartographies, p.133, is explicit about it:

"I would maintain that "counter-postmodernism" functions as "supplement" to postmodernism in its "orthodox" definitions -- and perhaps here it is useful to insist that every definition only becomes "orthodox" in comparison with its successor. It "counters" orthodox postmodernism in putting its finger on the latter's complicity with what it purports to subvert or problematize, and thus "rewrites" -- in a move that duplicates the actual practice of much postcolonial and feminist literature -- orthodox postmodernism as one more form of the discourse of modernity, rather than as its transcendence.

With the same move, though, counter-postmodernism also "writes" the subjectivity, history, and language of those hitherto suppressed by the discourse of modernity as emanating from western bourgeois society. As such, it makes this discourse also accessible to those traditionally excluded or repressed by western modernity. Ironically, by thus marking the end of modernity as the exclusive property of hegemonic western man, and the advent of modernity also for the hitherto repressed, counter-postmodernism may well be the only truly "post-modern" reading of postmodernism in that it posits the transcendence of orthodox modernity, and the attainment of an-"Other" modernity."

Larsen in Postmodernism and Imperialism used the expression even earlier (1990) for the same purpose:

"Both Jameson and Said -- the former far more openly and forthrightly than the latter -- violate central tenets of postmodernism, of course, insofar as they posit the existence of a marginal consciousness imbued with "presence" and self-identity." That is, they appear to justify an orthodox postmodernist counter-accusation of "essentialism"... Does the move to, as it were, found post-modernism's anti-foundationalism in the rebellious consciousness of those marginalized by modernity alter orthodox postmodernism's reactionary character?

[...] I dwell on this because I think a truly critical assessment of an "anti-imperialist" postmodernism, as of orthodox postmodernism, requires a prior recognition of the essentially parasitical dependence of such thinking on Marxism and particularly on the crisis within Marxism -- a dependence which, as we have repeatedly observed, postmodernism must systematically seek to erase."

  • So, it means something like "hard core and strict postmodernism". Am I right?
    – user127733
    Feb 24, 2018 at 7:48
  • @user127733 I suppose, but more whatever from the "hard core" the author intends to criticize.
    – Conifold
    Feb 26, 2018 at 20:13

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