I just finished Christopher Butler’s “Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction”, and my impression of the philosophy is still that it consists of a half-dozen genuinely useful insights inflated to completely absurd dimensions.
Yes, to a surprisingly large extent the things we take for granted are social and linguistic constructions; yes, the ‘discourse’ of mutually connected and intersecting concepts we deploy throughout our lives can form a gravity well that obnubilates as much as it elucidates.
But the opening chapters of just about any book on General Semantics could tell you *that*. It does not follow from this that we should torpedo the whole enterprise of objectively seeking the truth.
Imagine it’s 1991, in the barbaric days before Google Maps when people had to navigate through the arcane methods of looking around at stuff. Wanting to do some hiking, you ask a friend where you can acquire a good map of the local trails.
“Can you not see the fact that maps are just another means of encoding bourgeois power structures and keeping the lumpenproletariat shackled to the notion that there exists a world outside the text?! NOTHING is outside the text!! A geologist and a hydrologist would both draw *different* maps of the same territory!! WE MUST RISE ABOVE THE MAPS OF OUR MASTERS AND MARCH TOWARDS A TRANSFORMATIVE HERMENEUTICS OF TOPOLOGICAL REPRESENTATION!!!”
while chasing you down the street and hurling copies of “On Grammatology” at your head.
A geologist and a hydrologist would indeed pay attention to different facets of the same reality. What the hydrologist calls a ‘hill’ could be better described as a ‘kuppe’, and the geologist may not even notice the three separate estuaries lying along the coast.
But is there anyone who seriously believes that there isn’t an actual landscape out there, and that there aren’t better and worse ways of mapping its contours?
The sad answer is yes. Postmodernists have spent most of a century trying to convince us all of exactly that.