One of the defining tenets of posmodernism is "incredulity towards meta narratives". However, with its ubiquitous emphasis on the oppression of power structures and the consequent victim mentality along every line of discrimination imaginable (and then some), along with a systematic rejection of objective truth and reality, it could be said that po-mo itself constitutes a meta narrative, much like Marxism, Islam or classical liberalism of the West.

If we can objectively identify po-mo as a meta narative and it exhorts skepticism or rejection of meta narratives, is it safe to say po-mo refutes itself?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 9:29
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    Pomo self refutes as a corollary. The primary is scepticism. [Who is the classical sceptic who fell into a well and didn't get out because he couldnt be sure it would be better to get out? Name eludes me but you get the idea ] Upto a point scepticism is sine qua non for being clear headed. Beyond it becomes questionable. Still beyond it becomes nonsensical. If I stand before everything and claim I don't believe (this) then it signifies dogmatic absolute belief in my non belief. Pomo sets out to nonsensicalize everything. Basic set theory/predicate calculus ensures it nonsensicalizes itself
    – Rushi
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 17:06
  • @Rusi. I have restored your answer as a comment. As an answer it raises a number of presentational problems. You don't specify the connection between POMO and scepticism. You introduce a reference to an unknown figure and a well without explaining what this has to do with scepticism. I suspect the figure was Thales, who was no sceptic. You provide no evidence for your claim that 'Pomo sets out to nonsensicalize everything'. For these reasons your answer was considered too much in need of clarification and justification to be acceptable as it stood. A revised answer would be welcome.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Feb 28, 2019 at 9:58
  • @Rusi . Modernism itself sets off to 'nonsensicalize' much of the world. It puts the Golden Age in the future, and pursues 'progress' without setting a goal or direction other than ever-increasing freedom. It works primarily through rigorous skepticism, winding up with a sense of empty superiority through excessively abstracting and discarding concrete connections to reality that anchor any sense of deeper meaning. So taking it to its logical extreme, postmodernism is applying modernism to modernity and being skeptical of skepticism - that is why the word itself is internally contradictory.
    – user9166
    Commented Feb 28, 2019 at 11:38
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    @jobermark : Every teacher — scientific, philosophic, or religious — demolishes as much as he builds. Lavoisier demolished phlogiston, Newton demolished the Ptolemaic epicycles, Socrates demolished the sophists and Jesus Christ demolished the Pharisees and their pretensions. They find it necessary to destroy because they stand for something. Po-mo is different. It demolishes without articulating what it stands for. «No metanarrative» is a fancy way of saying «No such thing as Truth». If I declare "I speak not truth" why on earth would you waste your time listening to me?
    – Rushi
    Commented Feb 28, 2019 at 12:10

1 Answer 1


First of all, the skepticism of meta-narratives is not a prescription or a principle, it is an observation Lyotard made of the effect that the broader context of postmodernism has on people. It is not proposed as the appropriate reaction, much less the only one. It is basically impossible for an observation to contradict itself in principle rather than in fact.

Second, you are identifying the most annoying thread of postmodernism 'Critical Theory' as the whole thing. People like Quine and Wittgenstein, who helped break down the relevance of metanarrative by killing off Logical Positivism were not preachy, politically obsessed post-Marxists. But they are clearly part of the move to curtail modernism... Lyotard worked from Wittgenstein, and spawned Habermas, et. al. The loudest aspect of a theory is not generally the most reasonable. But even this theory, since it arises within the context of postmodernism contains principles that try to keep it from being a metanarrative.

Intersectionality, another principle of this and other aspects of modern postmodernism, implies that no single one of these narratives of oppression can be taken independently of all the others. So no, no one of them is a meta-narrative, because individual lived experience, which is actual narrative and not 'meta' is the only fully intersectional application of the notion of oppression. Otherwise, labeling an oppressor is just stereotyping.

(It does not generally succeed well: People who talk about intersectionality often are hypocritical and don't actually act accordingly. Most of them have, for instance, unremediated notions of Evangelical Christians, who have begun, in this era where everyone is influenced by this theory, to see themselves as oppressed as a consequence of being stereotyped as an oppressive influence.)

And intersectionality is not a narrative that amalgamates all those other narratives into a single one. It is a principle. Critical Theory uses it to combine and analyze narratives of oppression, knowing that this must be done casewise and cannot be coordinated into a metanarrative. But in itself, it has no contents, and you can't call it a narrative. Various real scientific facts, like observations about gender heteroschedasticity, are instances of intersectionality, and they undercut the feminist narrative of oppression.

If the only application of Critical Theory including this principle is in concrete terms, it is not at any higher level of abstraction -- it is not 'meta'. That is one reason why people who write about it try to continuously lard in data and end up speaking in convoluted and confusing backtracks. The point isn't that all generalizations are evil, but that generalization must be grounded in a way that admits it is a construct based on individual observations. If it is not grounded, people are not really acting according to the principles they are stating. What's news there?

Besides, if a purposely postmodern theory did not refute itself when viewed at any pointlessly high level of abstraction, wouldn't that be contradiction to the main content of postmodern thought itself? That thread is mostly about how:

  • most ideas are social constructions
  • most powerful social constructions are riddled with internal contradictions,
  • so we need to limit our reliance on abstraction
  • because abstraction and general perspective remain excessive in our modern narrative?

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