Agnar Sturla Helgason (agnar@RHI.HI.IS)
Fri, 10 Dec 1993 12:27:56 GMT

Just a very brief response to the critics of the annual exorcism of
'pomo'. And I must say that the questions raised were both valid and

1. What is postmodernism? In my view, a vague and sometimes incomprehensible
reiteration of relativism and subjectivism.
Born of skepticism, amplified to new heights. Questioning concepts of
objectivity, truth, representation, reality, authority..... See
Gellner's Postmodernism, Reason and Religion (1992) for a tour de
force exorcism.

2. Who are postmodernists? I do not claim to have an encyclopaedic
knowledge of practicing postmodernists. I do know a few, though (indeed
some of my best friends are postmodernists ;-). These are some of the
more well known (vociferous even) postmodernists I have come across:
Clifford, Marcus, Fischer, Rabinow, Tyler, Geertz and Strathern. People
like Sanjek do quite a bit of dabbling. Said, Foucault,
Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, Derrida and others are inspirational
forefathers (and mothers). There are doubtless many more, others
can append this list.

3. Would these people admit to having practised postmodernism? I don't
know, you'll have to ask them. Postmodernism is like culture, everyone
has his or her own definition. Some would perhaps call what they do
reflexive anthropology or something else. I think that what they have
in common is an unhealthy obsession with the questions mentioned above
(see 1).

3. Have the postmodernists taken over? No. I never said that, I just said
that there were too many of them and I should hasten to add, that
they are (or were, at least) way too loud. The problem, as I see it,
is one of recruitment. This loud and somewhat influential voice in
anthropology has had a deep effect on 'overpopulated' new generations
of anthropologists, at least in my experience. The skepticism and doubts
that lie at the root of postmodernism should be voiced and discussed,
and should always be kept in mind (somewhere in the back). But I just
don't see the point of having them upfront as an anthropological
manifesto - preaching that anthropology is fiction, and analysis is
deconstruction. Where I come from many students (and some teachers),
embrace postmodernism as a way of elevating anthropology above other,
harder, disciplines; of saying like Socrates: We are the most
knowledgable because we, at least, know that we can know nothing. I
do not think that this is healthy. There must be other ways of
elevating anthropology from its current state of depression.

4. The question of postmodernism and research voiced by someone was
pertinent. Not all postmodernists sit in the 'armchair'. My point,
though admittedly not clear, was that when maintaining that
anthropology is fiction, one is maintaining that research is
unnecessary. Thus the armchair becomes the natural place for
postmodernists to write their novels.

Finally, it is interesting to speculate on our reasons for exorcising
postmodernism. Perhaps it is a way of dealing with one's own skepticism?
But why do people refer to postmodernism as 'pomo'? Is it to make it
sound cute and less harmful? or is it just a way one refers to old

Sorry for being so longwinded.

| Agnar Helgason |
| University of Iceland |
| E-mail: |