Michael Eric Dyson: On Postmodernism

I'm exploring The Michael Eric Dyson Reader, a collection of writings and essays by the academic, author and minister. On postmodernity, Dyson writes:

Postmodernism has enjoyed a thrilling if problematic run as a leading intellectual and cultural movement among some (mostly liberal or progressive) academics. Postmodernism is composed of a complex, even ambiguous, set of ideas and practices, such as blurring the boundaries between "high" and "low" culture, rejecting grand narratives - for instance, "truth" with a capital "T," - embracing pastiche and fragmentation, and emphasizing playfulness and irony in one's intellectual exercises. A major criticism of postmodernism is that some of its advocates avoid concrete history and politics while rhapsodizing about difference, marginality, parody, and provisionality. This may account for the many American postmodernists who have overlooked the homegrown varieties of black postmodernism - and the challenges they may pose to the European imports that have colored our understanding of the concept. (p. 441)

I found this one of the more brief and enjoyable synopses of the postmodern phenomena, "stale" though it may be in this late hour.


pastormack said...

Does he go one to describe what "black postmodernism" is? I know that Dyson is a smart guy, but I find his work suspect. I just can't get excited over any "scholar" who writes books on Tupac. And this isn't a race thing - I wouldn't expect to be taken seriously if I wrote books about George Jones and how deep his work really was. Meh.

He was also part of the black intelligentsia that scorned Bill Cosby for airing dirty laundry, which I thought was unfortunate. Curious to see what you think of the rest of his reader. I find black theology quite interesting, I just never got a taste for Dyson.

Peter said...

I'm sorry to hear that. I really am enjoying "Holler If You Hear Me." But that's partly because Shakur's music brought me to my own epiphanies. He actually was deep.

If academics shouldn't write about hip hop, then they probably shouldn't study William Shakespeare or Jack Kerouac either. Dissident artists rarely achieve validation from the dominant culture in their lifetimes.

I understand your comments on Cosby, but I think it's perilous for whites to support critique of black culture - sort of "jumping on the bandwagon" when we hear something from a black person that sounds reasonable to whites. I think the biggest frustration with Cosby was that he elicited such positive response from whites: "finally someone's saying it..."

That can become dangerous and often turns into tokenism, like the initial Republican hype over Sarah Palin and Michael Steele - Followed by subsequently harsh rhetoric from the orthodox elite when they refused to conform (not advocating for either, here).

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