Re: Straw Men and The Cow of the World

Fri, 10 Dec 1993 15:07:40 CST

A. Helgason has shown capably that the questions posed by B.
Rodman--What is postmodernism, and who are some postmodernists?--are by
no means as hard as Rodman perhaps assumed. So fine was Helgason's
answer, that I am content, almost, to remain silent. Yet there is a
matter that has not been dealt with that deserves attention. As
Helgason says, postmodernism can be defined as a vague reiteration of
subjectivism and relativism; it can be defined, too, as a light-hearted
rejection of claims to knowledge. The trouble with this variety of
light-heartedness is that it can be taken to reflect on the worth of the
discipline with which the light-hearted postmodernist is associated; and
it can contribute to irresponsibly sending unprepared PhD's into a job m
arket that values people who think they know something, and expects them
to teach or apply what it is they at least think they know. J. Terrell
put the real-life seriousness of postmodernism well:
"1. Anthropology as a profession has got to worry about its intellectual
integrity. It is not doing any of us any good to embrace New Age though
t and go about claiming that all anthropological knowledge is made up
out of semiotic whole cloth, the anthropological facts don't exist, and
that the anthropological construction of knowledge rests on unknowable
foundations. Such talk makes administrators and real scientists such as
botanists, geologists, and zoologists very unhappy. Or happy, if they
want your office space" (Amer. Anth. 93 (1991):152).