Leading postmodernist and other strange uses of language
'...G. K. Beale attempts vigorously and even-handedly to examine the writings of one leading postmodernist, Peter Enns...' (from the blurb for Beale's new book)
As a few people have noticed the labelling of Enns (it's not clear who is responsible for the blurb) as a 'leading postmodernist' is very bizarre. As NT Wrong put it,
For those who don’t get the joke, Enns is very conservative himself — but hasn’t got quite as big an inerrancy-carrot stuck up his ‘authorized version’ as those ultra-conservative fundie fringers...But what gets me is the “postmodern” label. Hasn’t this just become an empty label fundamentalists apply when they realize they have no idea what’s going on? Does anyone believe that Peter Enns is the new Derrida?
I've come across the completely weird, inaccuarate (at least in terms of how the label is conventionally used in academia) and polemical use of the label 'postmodernist' quite a lot in biblical studies. In a slightly different way, it was used to criticise the 'minimalists' despite the usually named 'minimalists' doing fairly conventional and not typically postmodernist history (on which there is a lot of literature and people like Figes and Schama are seen as examples in practice, though even there there is dispute over labels). In terms of the debates over minimalism and maximalism, wouldn't half of the C19 NT scholars be 'postmodernist' by this definition????
Anyway, I couldn't resist another, but related, use by NT Wright where the misleading polemic remains. Here is Wright on contemporary politics:
'...Post-modernity is assumed to be on the 'left' side of the equation, although it re-inscribes empire rather than undermining it, allowing the bullies and the bosses to create facts on the ground to their own advantage. (All those years of Derrida and we still get George W Bush!)...' - quoted in P. Vallely, ‘Tom Wright: It’s not a question of left and right, says the combative priest who opposes the war in Iraq and gay bishops’, Independent (29 December 2003)
‘...in the real world…the tyrants and bullies (including intellectual and cultural tyrants and bullies) try to rule by force, only to discover that in order do so they have to quash all rumours of resurrection, rumours that would imply that their greatest weapons, death and deconstruction, are not after all omnipotent...' in N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (London: SPCK, 2003), p. 737
I'm not going to defend postmodernism or deconstruction and a case could be made for their various manifestations being much a part of contemporary capitalist problems and intellectual passivity and so on. However, these soundbites (hardly untypical of Wright) are really misleading and would no doubt function in sending out the right signals for a conservative audience and, to be fair, probably for (some) honourable reasons too. But...All those years of Derrida and we get Bush??? Now I know the reasons which led to Bush are many and complex and so on but if we want to use a soundbite why not say all those years of southern conservative Christian fundies and we get Bush? It would be a more accurate generalisation for a start.
And how about those tyrants and bullies, including the intellectual ones, quashing rumours of resurrection with their weapons of death and deconstruction? Are the tyrants of this world really that bothered about, erm, resurrection? It would be interesting to know the views of bullies like Thatcher and Bush and Reagan and Blair who, as Wright agrees, have done some terrible things. Good Christians one and all and do they believe in resurrection? Wright's language is poetic etc but it's content does not work as an argument (one very good reason why content should really come first) and it seems he's making it up. But then should we be surprised when there is this from the beginning of his book on Jesus...?
‘If what I write could help in any way towards the establishment of justice and peace there [Israel and Palestine], or indeed anywhere else, I would be deeply grateful.’ NT Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p. xv
Presumably we need to be flying out copies of Jesus and the Victory of God to Gaza, West Bank, Israel and all war torn parts of our planet...and FAST!