Saturday, February 13, 2021

Everyone Has a Grand Narrative

After explaining my faith in Jesus as the way, Truth, and Life, the young "progressive Christian" said, "Well, that's your narrative. My narrative is different." When they responded to me this way I immediately smelled the spirit of postmodernism.

As a philosopher, I am uninterested in your narrative. I am interested in you, in understanding you. But the philosophical view is one that concerns Grand Narratives, or metanarratives, and whether or not one of them is true. And everyone has a Grand Narrative.

Postmodern theorists such as Jean Francois Lyotard reject the idea of Master Narratives, or Grand Narratives (metanarratives). Here's an explicative quote from Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge:

Modernity is "any science that legitimates itself with reference to a metadiscourse of this kind [i.e., philosophy] making an explicit appeal to some grand narrative, such as the dialectics of Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth." 

Postmodernism, in turn, is ". . .incredulity toward metanarratives."

Philosopher Charles Taylor says, on the other hand, that "people always tend to understand themselves in terms of some big-scale narrative. The only remedy for a bad Master Narrative is a better Master Narrative." (And not, as postmodern philosophers think, scrapping them as, as if one could.)

Everyone has a Grand Narrative, which is mostly pre-thematic (i.e., unreflected on). 

See, e.g., Jurgen Habermas's devastating critique of postmodernism. (Explained here - scroll down to #9.) In their incredulity towards metanarratives, the postmodern thinker employs the metanarrative they dismiss in the critique of metanarratives. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains it this way:

"Habermas also criticizes Derrida for leveling the distinction between philosophy and literature in a textualism that brings logic and argumentative reason into the domain of rhetoric. In this way, he says, Derrida hopes to avoid the logical problem of self-reference in his critique of reason. However, as Habermas remarks: “Whoever transposes the radical critique of reason into the domain of rhetoric in order to blunt the paradox of self-referentiality, also dulls the sword of the critique of reason itself” (Habermas 1987 [1985], 210). In similar fashion, he criticizes Foucault for not subjecting his own genealogical method to genealogical unmasking, which would reveal Foucault's re-installation of a modern subject able to critically gaze at its own history. Thus, he says, “Foucault cannot adequately deal with the persistent problems that come up in connection with an interpretive approach to the object domain, a self-referential denial of universal validity claims, and a normative justification of critique” (Habermas 1987 [1985], 286)."