BERKELEY – Robert Hass, an award-winning UC Berkeley professor of English and former U.S. poet laureate, has won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for poetry for his latest book, “Time and Materials.”

Hass, who won the National Book Award for poetry in 2007 for the same collection of poems, shares the award with poet Philip Schultz, author of “Failure,” a collection of poetry. The prize, announced today (Monday, April 7) carries a $10,000 award. It is issued for a distinguished volume of original verse by an American author.

Some previous winners include Robert Frost, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Gary Snyder, Sylvia Plath, William Carlos Williams, Archibald Macleish and Gwendolyn Brooks, whose archive is at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library and who was the first African American to win the prize.

Robert Hass

Hass is the fourth current member of the UC Berkeley faculty to win a Pulitzer Prize. The others are Lowell Bergman, a professor of journalism whose New York Times story about American workers and safety rules — written with David Barstow — received the Pulitzer Prize for public service in 2004; Leon Litwack, a professor emeritus of history, who received the Pulitzer Prize for U.S. history in 1980; and Ben Bagdikian, former dean of the Graduate School of Journalism, who won the prize for local reporting in 1953. Work by Richard Ofshe, a UC Berkeley professor emeritus of sociology, contributed to the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for public service won by the Point Reyes Light newspaper.

Hass said he’s very grateful for the prize and “a bit overwhelmed by the generosity of the Cal community, which has flooded me with notes of congratulations.” While he says that his students are pleased, he thinks they “will want me to turn my attention to their work again as soon as possible and I am trying to do that (with summer in my sights).”

Jurors in the 2008 poetry category included Claudia Emerson, a professor of English at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va., poet Wesley McNair of Maine, and Natasha Trethewey, an associate professor of English at Emory University in Atlanta. Emerson won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2006, and Trethewey won it in 2007.

Janet Broughton, dean of arts and humanities at UC Berkeley and a professor of philosophy, expressed appreciation for the latest award for Hass.

“First the National Book Award and now the Pulitzer Prize!” she said. “I’m thrilled by this recognition for Professor Hass’s poetry, which is deeply personal and yet passionately engaged with the great public issues of our time. It seems especially right that Professor Hass should receive this kind of nationwide acclaim; he’s been a longtime champion of poetry as a force in our national life.”

In their announcement, the Pulitzer judges noted the familiar landscapes of Hass’s winning poetry — San Francisco, the Northern California coast, the Sierra high country — “in addition to some of his oft-explored themes: art; the natural world; the nature of desire; the violence of history; the power and limits of language; and, as in his other books, domestic life and the conversation between men and women. New themes emerge as well, perhaps: the essence of memory and of time.”

Hass, 67, has made important contributions to poetry, criticism and translation. In addition to his poetry recognized with the Pulitzer Prize, his books of poetry include “Sun Under Wood,” “Human Wishes,” “Praise” and “Field Guide,” which won the 1973 Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition. His critical essays are assembled in “Twentieth Century Pleasures,” and the poets he has translated include Czeslaw Milosz, Tomas Tranströmer, and masters of Japanese haiku.

He was the U.S. poet laureate from 1995 to 1997. In addition to teaching at UC Berkeley, Hass is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He is co-founder of River of Words, an organization that promotes environmental and arts education in affiliation with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. His wife, Brenda Hillman, also is a poet.

After serving as the host of UC Berkeley’s Lunch Poems series for several years, Hass gave a reading of his own poetry at a Lunch Poems gathering in December 2003; a Webcast recording of the reading is available online.

He will participate in “Poetry Live!,” part of the Walnut Creek Library Foundation’s observance of April as National Poetry Month, on Thursday, April 10. The free program begins at 7 p.m. at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum at 1931 First Ave. in Walnut Creek.

By Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs | 07 April 2008

Source: http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2008/04/07_pulitzer.shtml


The Nineteenth Century as a Song

by Robert Hass

How like a well-kept garden is your soul.”

   John Gray’s translation of Verlaine
& Baudelaire’s butcher in 1861
shorted him four centimes
on a pound of tripe.
He thought himself a clever man
and, wiping the calves’ blood from his beefy hands,
gazed briefly at what Tennyson called
“the sweet blue sky.”

It was a warm day.

What clouds there were
were made of sugar tinged with blood.
They shed, faintly, amid the clatter of carriages
new settings of the songs
Moravian virgins sang on wedding days.

  The poet is a monarch of the clouds

& Swinburne on his northern coast

“trod,” he actually wrote, “by no tropic foot,”
composed that lovely elegy
and then found out Baudelaire was still alive
whom he had lodged dreamily
in a “deep division of prodigious breasts.”

   Surely the poet is monarch of the clouds.

   He hovers, like a lemon-colored kite,
   over spring afternoons in the nineteenth century

while Marx in the library gloom

studies the birth rate of the weavers of Tilsit
and that gentle man Bakunin,
home after fingerfucking the countess,
applies his numb hands
to the making of bombs.
Source: Field Guide (1973).

One of the positions taken by post-structuralist theorists is that the author is dead. As is the case with most theoretical positions, the first task of the reader should be to understand as fully as possible what the issues really are. It’s easy to short-circuit a theoretical position if you don’t unfold it, don’t see what the terms and the implications are. We can easily say “of course there was an author and she knew what she was doing—look at the multiple drafts, the letters to her friends, and so forth.” But that response to the possibilities of interrogating, or problematizing, the existence of the author is probably not helpful:

  1. One may take it as read that the person doing the theorizing has probably already thought through the dismissal of her or his proposition, and has something further in mind. It isn’t a difficult thought to have, and it is unlikely that the position ultimately holds that there was not in fact such a person as William Faulkner, say, who sat down and wrote As I Lay Dying
  2. Such quick dismissal overlooks the fact that critics tend to operate as if the author did not know what she was doing, even if she says that she does, and for very good reasons which need to be explored — for instance because she could not be aware of her social or cultural ideological environment, or fully aware of how profoundly she was influenced by her own personal or cultural experiences, or of how her subconscious was seeing and constructing relationships, or of what implications the genre she was writing in had for the eventual meaning of what she had to say. 
  3. Further, this dismissal begs the question of interpretation and meaning pretty entirely. How do we know the author meant to mean what we think we know she meant? How can we guarantee (and should we?) that we are reading the text ‘properly’ as the author would have had us read it? The issues of interpretation and meaning are pretty big issues to beg. If it were clear what Shakespeare ‘meant’ by Hamlet, we wouldn’t have hundreds of articles and books disagreeing with each other about it. As we do have multiple, and differing, interpretations, it should be clear that we do not, in fact, know what he ‘meant’, nor have we agreed on how we could find out. 
  4. We get caught in a fruitless circle: we construct an author out of our reading of her (usually we don’t know her personally, and it’s pretty tough to really know anyone in any case), and then we say we know she knew what she was doing, because she did exactly what we imagine our reconstruction of her ‘predicted’. The author is ‘in’ the text only insofar as we try to read her ‘out’ of it. This is not to say that a knowledge of an author’s life cannot illumine a text, but at the very same time that illumination forecloses the text, cuts off possible meanings which lie inherent in (or, implicit in) the structure of language, images, ideas in the text, and critics have been quite free to decide when an author’s life ‘matters’ and when it doesn’t. One of the strikes against autobiographies and biographies as guides to an author’s thought and meanings is that they themselves are writing, conforming to certain conventions, constructing a plot-line from the intricate and intermingled complexities of an inner and outer life. 
  5. In simple empirical historical terms, we have empirical evidence that authors read their own works differently at different times in their life, and that there are authorial readings which strike all of the readers as just plain dumb, or missing the boat in some way — as Lawrence said, trust the tale, not the teller. 
  6. In fact we don’t fully know what it means to be ‘an author’ — that is, what creativity really is or where it comes from, and whether it is many things or one thing. We do know that the creative process seems often to ‘take over’ the original intentions and meanings of the author, and in past days this phenomenon has been put down to inspiration by divine forces and so forth — the author is ‘possessed’ by a muse, for instance. 
  7. And lastly, even if we knew something of what creativity was, we still need to know what the relation between an ‘individual’s’ meaning and the social meanings which have constructed her life are: how much of someone’s meaning is their culture’s meaning? Where do you mark a difference? 

The idea of the author’s disappearance has a long history in the century — it isn’t a newfangled concept. Among the people who advocated the disappearance of the author from the text was James Joyce, but modernism in general has stressed that the text stands apart from and is different from the author, and modernism has endorsed the idea that literature is an intertextual phenomenon, that texts mean in relation to other texts, not in relation to the lives of the author. One of the chief theorizations of modernism, New Criticism, speaks of attempting to find the author in the work or the work through the author as the ‘Intentional Fallacy’. It is not a long step from the modernist position of the retreat or disappearance of the author to the idea that the concept of the author as a concept through which to read and understand literature has lost its salience and validity and is more likely to mislead than to illumine.


A quite different tradition, that of phenomenological hermeneutics, suggested that the author is radically disengaged from the interpretive process, that “the book divides the act of writing and the act of reading into two sides, between which there is no communication” (Paul Ricoeur, “What Is a Text?”) This tradition is a main support of one of the most influential of the Reader-Response theories. As Ricoeur, commenting on the fact that writing separates the writer from the reader, remarked, “Sometimes I like to say that to read a book is to consider its author as already dead and the book as posthumous.”

Contemporary theorists have a number of reasons further to those above for thinking that the concept of ‘the author’ is not a profitable concept. Here are some of the reasons for that, based loosely, in part, on the Roland Barthes’ essay “The Death of the Author” in his collection of essays Image, Music, Text, and on other sources.

  1. There are a number of theories of language and grammar which militate against a text (note the shift from ‘a work’) being written by an intentional individual in possession of his meanings.

    • Following the work of Emile Beneviste, the idea that the “I” of a sentence such as “I went to the store” is a different entity from the subject who speaks the sentence. The “I” within the sentence is an ’empty’ marker — anyone could say the sentence, and it would ‘mean’ them. The subject who enunciates isn’t the same as the subject of enunciation (the “I” in the sentence), doesn’t, as it were, get in to the sentence except as an accident of propinquity. 
    • Following the work of Ferdinand de Saussure, the idea that meaning does not belong to words but to i) the field of meaning in which it occurs and the differences from other words in that meaning-field, so that meaning is by difference, not by identity: this is the ‘paradigmatic’ placement of language; and ii) to the placement of the word in the grammar of a sentence: the ‘syntactic’ placement of language. iii) A third placement was added, for instance by Umberto Eco, the placement of context, in that words change according to their context: this is the ‘pragmatic’ placement. For the purposes of the death of the author, the functionality of language which is most important is the first mentioned, the idea that meaning is created through difference, not through identity. The effect is to place any language use within a broad frame of language-use, in which language is an independent system. 
    • This has led to the idea, articulated by the philosopher Heidegger and others, that humans do not speak language, language speaks us. As we acquire language we enter a flow of meaning which has several at least two broad configurations: i) language as an independent system of differentiations; ii) language as as a storehouse of cultural meaning, so that Foucault can speak of stepping into the flow of meaning, Lacan of our entering, through language, into the Law of the Father, the rule of the governing conceptions of our culture. The ‘intended’ meanings of an ‘author’ are subsumed under languages’ real ways of meaning, and the centrality of pre-existing fields of meaning to our very being as (inevitably, culturally-formed) ‘individuals’. It can be argued that there is no such thing as ‘personal’ meaning (there can be personal experiences, but when we assign meaning to those experiences, that meaning is only shared, only cultural), it can be argued that any subject who enunciates is only a creation of language itself, it can be argued that meaning belongs to the play of language itself and is far beyond our control. All these things militate against the privileging of an ‘author’ in reference to a text.


  2. Following on the ideas of language and meaning, contemporary theorists suggest that any piece of writing is in fact a complex web of cultural meanings, a texture of them, a text. A text only means because there are strands of meaning leading to all sorts of areas of experience and language use: particularly to the conventions of writing (e.g. how things are expressed in writing, what is expressed, how different topics are written about), to previous writing, to the archive of cultural meanings and instances of their use, to the way we speak about various aspects of our lives and experience. Any text is necessarily intertextual, it does not have boundaries but has filiations, connections, instead. An ‘author’ exists as a cultural process, what Barthes calls a scriptor, Foucault an author-function. Foucault writes that “[a text] indicates itself, constructs itself, only on the basis of a complex field of discourse.” and as Barthes writes,

    “In the multiplicity of writing, everything is disentangled, nothing deciphered; the structure can be followed, ‘run’ (like the thread of a stocking*) at every point and at every level, but there is nothing beneath: the space of writing is to be ranged over, not pierced….” — see also Barthes’ “From Work to Text”, in the same volume.*[Women’s transparent silk or synthetic stockings used to ‘run’, a line of thread unthreaded: why women’s dis/appareled legs should appear in this text is an interesting question, and an illustration of the unruliness of language — “ranged over,” indeed!]

  3. Contemporary theories of narrative suggest that a narrative is an ‘intransitive’ function, that is, it does not set out to do anything; as such it, like the “I” as subject of enunciation, is separated from the particular circumstances of its articulation, exists as meaning-potential, the potential to be actualized within the meaning-realm of the reader. Insofar as any meaning is to be made, it is made by the reader, not by the ‘author’. 
  4. The very concept of the stable ego has itself been challenged — it has been suggested that our ‘selves’ as entities, as discrete and identifiable beings, is a cultural concept, that ‘we’ are in fact processes of symbolization, not stable beings. We ‘occupy’ different realms of meaning (this is known as the de-centered ego); we are produced by language, or by symbolization in various forms (the focus of much post-structural thought on language as the sole means of and process of symbolization may be a limitation) and as such exist as unstable vortices of meaningfulness; much of what we may mean or be is generated by forces which have been repressed and are experiences in displaced ways, so that Lacan has suggested that who we really are in our unconscious, not our highly modulated and culturally controlled conscious selves. 
  5. The very idea of, and the centrality to our culture of, ‘the individual’, has been seen as an ideological conception, a product of the capitalist revolution in the late seventeenth century. In support of this idea one might note that the “rights of the individual” were not theorized until the eighteenth century, and wonder whether humankind just hadn’t been bright enough to think of them until then, or if the centrality of the concept ‘the individual’ is an historical phenomenon. There are various claims that the idea of “the author” was not a significant concept before this time. In partial support of this it might be noted that the use of the word “original” in a positive sense to refer to ‘authored’ texts, paintings, etc., did not occur until the late eighteenth century, not long after, for instance, the emergence of the idea that individual actors might give their own interpretations of roles.


It is still possible for many people to write off all these questions, to dismiss them. It isn’t very helpful to do so. ‘Common sense’ may say that of course there is a unitary author who arrived at his own meanings and put them into highly communicable form in a poem and sent them to us. But anyone who has thought for a minute about what common sense has told people throughout human civilization should be very wary of common sense, because it’s probably your learned, unexamined patterns of thought talking to you. And in any case in a university we are responsible for more than common sense. We are responsible for the charted and uncharted implications of human thought and action, and so we must proceed with openness and care. And no one should be satisfied with that ‘common sense’ response who has thought very carefully about the nature of authorship, the construction of meaning, creativity, the nature of art, the relation between meaning and interpretation, or the problems of hermeneutics, that is, interpreting over time, class and region. Ultimately it doesn’t explain enough of what happens and most importantly doesn’t open up (indeed tends to close off) the problems that the concept of authorship raises.

I hope by now it is clear that I do not mean, and the theorists do not mean, that there was not a person who thought, felt, planned and wrote. What is in question is what is meant by authorship, and the assumption that the meaning of a work is the product of a single self-determining author, in control of his meanings, who fulfills his intentions and only his intentions. In the jargon of contemporary theory the concept of the author is a ‘contested’ concept, and our first task is to ‘problematize’ it, to see what the issues are which have led it to be contested. To contest something is to question its common usage and to scrutinize it for its full but often obscured meanings and implications.


Copyright 1996, 2000 by John Lye. This text may be freely used, with attribution, for non-profit purposes.

URL of this page  http://www.brocku.ca/english/courses/4F70/author.html

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 an Article comparing Modernism & Postmodernism, neatly defining each of them. It is derived from University of Alabama’s Anthropology Department Web Page

 Basic Premises

Postmodernism is highly debated even among postmodernists themselves. For an initial characterization of its basic premises, consider anthropological critic Melford Spiro’s excellent synopsis of the basic tenets of postmodernism:
“The postmodernist critique of science consists of two interrelated arguments, epistemological and ideological. Both are based on subjectivity. First, because of the subjectivity of the human object, anthropology, according to the epistemological argument cannot be a science; and in any event the subjectivity of the human subject precludes the possibility of science discovering objective truth. Second, since objectivity is an illusion, science according to the ideological argument, subverts oppressed groups, females, ethnics, third-world peoples (Spiro 1996).
Modernity Modernity came into being with the Renaissance. Modernity implies “the progressive economic and administrative rationalization and differentiation of the social world” (Sarup 1993). In essence this term emerged in the context of the development of the capitalist state. Anthropologists have been working towards studying modern times, but have now gone past that. The fundamental act of modernity is to question the foundations of past knowledge.
Postmodernity Logically postmodernism literally means “after modernity. It refers to the incipient or actual dissolution of those social forms associated with modernity” (Sarup 1993).
Modernization “This term is often used to refer to the stages of social development which are based upon industrialization. Modernization is a diverse unity of socio-economic changes generated by scientific and technological discoveries and innovations…” (Sarup 1993).
Modernism Modernism is an experiment in finding the inner truths of a situation. It can be characterized by self-consciousness and reflexiveness. This is very closely related to Postmodernism (Sarup 1993).
Postmodernism (For more information see Comments Section)
“There is a sense in which if one sees modernism as the culture of modernity, postmodernism is the culture of postmodernity” (Sarup 1993).
“Modern, overloaded individuals, desperately trying to maintain rootedness and integrity…ultimately are pushed to the point where there is little reason not to believe that all value-orientations are equally well-founded. Therefore, increasingly, choice becomes meaningless. According to Baudrillard (1984: 38-9), we must now come to terms with the second revolution, “that of the Twentieth Century, of postmodernity, which is the immense process of the destruction of meaning equal to the earlier destruction of appearances. Whoever lives by meaning dies by meaning” (Ashley 1990).
Ryan Bishop, in a concise article in the Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology (1996), defines post-modernism as an eclectic movement, originating in aesthetics, architecture and philosophy. Postmodernism espouses a systematic skepticism of grounded theoretical perspectives. Applied to anthropology, this skepticism has shifted focus from the observation of a particular society to the observation of the (anthropological) observer.
Postmodernity concentrates on the tensions of difference and similarity erupting from processes of globalization: the the accelerating circulation of people, the increasingly dense and frequent cross-cultural interactions, and the unavoidable intersections of local and global knowledge.
“Postmodernists are suspicious of authoritative definitions and singular narratives of any trajectory of events.” (Bishop 1996: 993). Post-modern attacks on ethnography are based on the belief that there is no true objectivity. The authentic implementation of the scientific method is impossible.
According to Rosenau, postmodernists can be divided into two very broad camps, Skeptics and Affirmatives.
  • Skeptical Postmodernists– They are extremely critical of the modern subject. They consider the subject to be a “linguistic convention” (Rosenau 1992:43). They also reject any understanding of time because for them the modern understanding of time is oppressive in that it controls and measures individuals. They reject Theory because theories are abundant, and no theory is considered more correct that any other. They feel that “theory conceals, distorts, and obfuscates, it is alienated, disparated, dissonant, it means to exclude, order, and control rival powers” (Rosenau 1992: 81).
  • Affirmative Postmodernists– Affirmatives also reject Theory by denying claims of truth. They do not, however, feel that Theory needs to be abolished but merely transformed. Affirmatives are less rigid than Skeptics. They support movements organized around peace, environment, and feminism (Rosenau 1993: 42).
Here are some proposed differences between modern and postmodern thought.
Contrast of Modern and Postmodern Thinking
From foundation upwards
Multiple factors of multiple levels of reasoning. Web-oriented.
Universal Optimism
Realism of Limitations
Parts comprise the whole
The whole is more than the parts
Acts by violating “natural” laws” or by “immanence” in everything that is
Top-Down causation
Meaning in social context through usage
Points of Reaction
“Modernity” takes its Latin origin from “modo,” which means “just now”. The Postmodern,, then literally means “after just now” Appignanesi and Garratt 1995). Points of reaction from within postmodernism are associated with other “posts”: postcolonialism and poststructuralism.
Postcolonialism has been defined as:
1. A description of institutional conditions in formerly colonial societies.
2. An abstract representation of the global situation after the colonial period.
3. A description of discourses informed by psychological and epistemological orientations.
Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism (1993) represents discourse analysis and postcolonial theory as tools for rethinking forms of knowledge and the social identities of postcolonial systems. An important feature of postcolonialist thought is its assertion that modernism and modernity are part of the colonial project of domination.
Debates about Postcolonialism are unresolved, yet issues raised in Said’s Orientalism (1978), a critique of Western descriptions of Non-Euro-American Others, suggest that colonialism as a discourse is based on the ability of Westerners to examine other societies in order to produce knowledge and use it as a form of power deployed against the very subjects of inquiry. As should be readily apparent, the issues of postcolonialism are uncomfortably relevant to contemporary anthropological investigations.
In reaction to the abstraction of cultural data characteristic of model building, cultural relativists argue that model building hindered understanding of thought and action. From this claim arose poststructuralist concepts such as developed in the work of Pierre Bourdieu (1972). He asserts that structural models should not be replaced but enriched. Post structuralist like Bourdieu are concerned with reflexivity and the search for logical practice. By doing so, accounts of the participants’ behavior and meanings are not objectified by the observer. (For definition of reflexivity, see key concepts)
Leading Figures
Jean-Francois Lyotard “The Postmodern would be that which in the modern invokes the unpresentable in presentation itself, that which refuses the consolation of correct forms, refuses the consensus of taste permitting a common experience of nostalgia for the impossible, and inquires into new presentations–not to take pleasure in them, but to better produce the feeling that there is something unpresentable.” Lyotard attacks many of the modern age traditions, such as the “Grand” Narrative or what Lyotard termed the Meta(master) narrative (Lyotard 1984). In contrast to the ethnographies written by anthropologists in the first half of the 20th Century, Lyotard states that an all encompasing account of a culture cannot be accomplished.
Jean Baudrillard Baudrillard is a sociologist who began his career exploring the Marxist critique of capitalism (Sarup 1993: 161). During this phase of his work he argued that, “consumer objects constitute a system of signs that differentiate the population” (Sarup 1993: 162). Eventually, however, Baudrillard felt that Marxist tenets did not effectively evaluate commodities, so he turned to postmodernism. Rosenau labels Baudrillard as a skeptical postmodernist because ofstatements like, “everything has already happened….nothing new can occur, “ or “there is no real world” (Rosenau 1992: 64, 110). Baudrillard breaks down modernity and postmodernity in an effort to explain the world as a set of models. He identifies early modernity as the period between the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution, modernity as the period at the start of the Industrial Revolution, and postmodernity as the period of mass media (cinema and photography). Baudrillard states that we live in a world of images but images that are only simulations. Baudrillard implies that many people fail to understand this concept that, “we have now moved into an epoch…where truth is entirely a product of consensus values, and where ‘science’ itself is just the name we attach to certain modes of explanation,” (Norris 1990: 169).
Jacques Derrida (1930 – ) Derrida is identified as a poststructuralist and a skeptical postmodernist. Much of his writing is concerned with the deconstruction of texts and probing the relationship of meaning between texts (Bishop 1996: 1270). He observes that “a text employs its own strategems against it, producing a force of dislocation that spreads itself through an entire system.” (Rosenau 1993: 120). Derrida directly attacks Western philosophy’s understanding of reason. He sees reason as dominated by “a metaphysics of presence.” Derrida agrees with structuralism’s insight, that meaning is not inherent in signs, but he proposes that it is incorrect to infer that anything reasoned can be used as a stable and timeless model (Appignanesi 1995: 77). “He tries to problematize the grounds of reason, truth, and knowledge…he questions the highest point by demanding reasoning for reasoning itself,” (Norris 1990: 199).
Michel Foucault (1926- 1984) Foucault was a French philosopher who attempted to show that what most people think of as the permanent truths of human nature and society actually change throughout the course of history. While challenging the influences of Marx and Freud, Foucault postulated that everyday practices enabled people to define their identities and systemize knowledge. Foucault’s study of power and its shifting patterns is one of the foundations of postmodernism. Foucault is considered a postmodern theorist precisely because his work upsets the conventional understanding of history as a chronology of inevitable facts. Alternatively, he depicts history as underlayers of suppressed and unconscious knowledge in and throughout history. These underlayers are the codes and assumptions of order, the structures of exclusion, that legitimate the epistemes by which societies achieve identities (Appignanesi 1995: 83, http://www.connect.net/ron).
Nancy Scheper-Hughes (1944-) She is a professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. In her work “Primacy of the Ethical” Scheper-Hughes argues that, “If we cannot begin to think about social institutions and practices in moral or ethical terms, then anthropology strikes me as quite weak and useless.” (1995: 410). She advocates that ethnographies be used as tools for critical reflection and human liberation because she feels that “ethics” make culture possible. Since culture is preceded by ethics, therefore ethics cannot be culturally bound as argued by anthropologists in the past. These philosophies are evident in her other works such as, “Death Without Weeping.” The crux of her postmodern perspective is that, “Anthropologists, no less than any other professionals, should be held accountable for how we have used and how we have failed to use anthropology as a critical tool at crucial historical moments. It is the act of “witnessing” that lends our word its moral, at times almost theological, character.” (1995: 419)
Key Works
  • Foucault, Michel (1970) The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Pantheon.
  • Lyotard, Jean-Francois (1984) The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • Marcus, George E. and Michael M. J. Fischer (1986) Anthropology as Cultural Critique. An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Norris, Christopher (1979) Deconstruction: Theory and Practice. New York: Routledge.
  • Tyler, Stephen (1986) Post-Modern Ethnography: From Document of the Occult To Occult Document. In Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, ed. James Clifford and George E. Marcus. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Vattimo, Gianni (1988) The End of Modernity: Nihilism and Hermeneutics. In Post-Modern Critique. London: Polity.
Principal Concepts
Realism “…is the platonic doctrine that universals or abstractions have being independently of mind” (Gellner 1980: 60).
“Realism is a mode of writing that seeks to represent the reality of the whole world or form of life. Realist ethnographies are written to allude to a whole by means of parts or foci of analytical attention which can constantly evoke a social and cultural totality. (Marcus and Fischer 1986, p.23).
Self-Reflexivity Reflexivity can be defined as “The scientific observer’s objectification of structure as well as strategy was seen as placing the actors in a framework not of their own making but one produced by the observer, “ (Bishop 1996: 1270). Self-Reflexivity leads to a consciousness of the process of knowledge creation (Bishop 1996: 995). It emphasizes the point of theoretical and practical questioning changing the ethnographers’ view of themselves and their work. There is an increased awareness of the collection of data and the limitation of methodological systems. This idea underlies the postmodernist affinity for studying the culture of anthropology and ethnography.
Relativism Gellner writes about the relativistic-functionalist view of thought that goes back to the Enlightment: “The (unresolved) dilemma, which the thought of the Enlightenment faced, was between a relativistic-functionalist view of thought, and the absolutist claims of enlightened Reason. Viewing man as part of nature…requires (us) to see cognitive and evaluative activities as part of nature too, and hence varying from organism to organism and context to context. (Clifford & Marcus (eds), 1986, p.147). Anthropological theory of the 1960’s may be best understood as the heir of relativism. Contenporary interpretative anthropology is the essence of relativism as a mode of inquiry about communication in and between cultures (Marcus & Fischer, 1986, p.32).
One of the essential elements of Postmodernism is that it constitutes an attack against theory and methodology. In a sense proponents claim to relinquish all attempts to create new knowledge in a systematic fashion, but substitutes an “anti-rules” fashion of discourse(Rosenau p.117). Despite this claim, however, there are two methodologies characteristic of Postmodernism. These methodologies are interdependent in that Interpretation is inherent in Deconstruction. “Post-modern methodology is post-positivist or anti-positivist. As substitutes for the scientific method the affirmatives look to feelings and personal experience…..the skeptical post modernists most of the substitutes for method because they argue we can never really know anything (Rosenau 1993, p.117).
Deconstruction Deconstruction emphasizes negative critical capacity. Deconstruction involves demystifying a text to reveal internal arbitrary hierarchies and presuppositions. By examining the margins of a text, the effort of deconstruction examines what it represses, what it does not say, and its incongruities. It does not solely unmask error, but redefines the text by undoing and reversing polar opposites. Deconstruction does not resolve inconsistencies, but rather exposes hierarchies involved for the distillation of information .
Rosenau’s Guidelines for Deconstruction Analysis:
  • Find an exception to a generalization in a text and push it to the limit so that this generalization appears absurd. Use the exception to undermine the principle.
  • Interpret the arguments in a text being deconstructed in their most extreme form.
  • Avoid absolute statements and cultivate intellectual excitement by making statements that are both startling and sensational.
  • Deny the legitimacy of dichotomies because there are always a few exceptions.
  • Nothing is to be accepted, nothing is to be rejected. It is extremely difficult to criticize a deconstructive argument if no clear viewpoint is expressed.
  • Write so as to permit the greatest number of interpretations possible…..Obscurity may “protect from serious scrutiny” (Ellis 1989: 148). The idea is “to create a text without finality or completion, one with which the reader can never be finished” (Wellberg, 1985: 234).
  • Employ new and unusual terminology in order that “familiar positions may not seem too familiar and otherwise obvious scholarship may not seem so obviously relevant”(Ellis 1989: 142).
  • “Never consent to a change of terminology and always insist that the wording of the deconstructive argument is sacrosanct.” More familiar formulations undermine any sense that the deconstructive position is unique (Ellis 1989: 145). (Rosenau 1993, p.121)
Intuitive Interpretation “Postmodern interpretation is introspective and anti-objectivist which is a form of individualized understanding. It is more a vision than data observation. In anthropology interpretation gravitates toward narrative and centers on listening to and talking with the other, “(Rosenau 1993, p.119). For postmodernists there are an endless number of interpretations. Foucault argues that everything is interpretation (Dreyfus and Rabinow 1983: 106). “There is no final meaning for any particular sign, no notion of unitary sense of text, no interpretation can be regarded as superior to any other (Latour 1988: 182-3). Anti-positivists defend the notion that every interpretation is false. “Interpretative anthropology is a covering label for a diverse set of reflections upon the practice of ethnography and the concept of culture” (Marcus and Fisher 1986: 60)
Demystification Perhaps the greatest accomplishments of postmodernism is the focus upon uncovering and criticizing the epistemological and ideological motivations in the social sciences.
Critical Examination of Ethnographic Explanation The unrelenting re-examination of the nature of ethnography inevitably leads to a questioning of ethnography itself as a mode of cultural analysis. Postmodernism adamantly insists that anthropologists must consider the role of their own culture in the explanation of the “other” cultures being studied. Postmodernist theory has led to a heightened sensitivity within anthropology to the collection of data.
Schematic Differences between
Modernism and Postmodernism
matery, logos
exhaustion, silence
art object, finished word
process, performance
creation, totalization
genre, boundary
text, intertext
against interpretation
lisible (readerly)
grande histoire
petite histoire
master code
genital, phallic
origin, cause
God the Father
The Holy Ghost
(SOURCE: Hassan “The Culture of Postmodernism” Theory, Culture, and Society, V 2 1985, 123-4.)

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