How to Speak and Write Postmodern, An Insightful Quote from BJS Reader Henry Bimpage

January 25th, 2010 Post by

(Introduction by Pr. Rossow) An interesting discussion has broken out on Phillip Magness’ post on  the Model Worship Conference. He questioned the use of the term “missional” and that has prompted several helpful comments about the use of post-modern jargon in the synod these days. For example, it prompted reader Henry Bimpage to share  a guide to speaking and writing postmodernese.

There are many reasons to be leary of postmdern-speak. Consider these two. First, it is an indirect and non-specific way of speaking and thus allows for obfuscation and a lack of clarity on doctrine. Secondly, we need to remember history. In the 1960′s and 1970′s LCMS theologians began using the terminology of historical criticism but claimed that they were not buying into the false teaching of this new manner of doing theology. We learned the hard way that this was not the case. Postmodernism rejects absolute truth. To speak in the manner of postmodernism is to open the door to non-Christian relativism.

As I point out in the comment string in the Magness post, Dr. Newton, the President of the California-Nevada-Hawaii District is the king of this manner of speaking in the LCMS.  The LCMS  does not need a load of postmodern jargon and lots of invented words ending in “al” (such as “missional”). Instead we need straight-forward, precise scholastic doctrinal distinctions that help us preserve  teaching of Christ rather than obfuscate it.

Here is Mr. Bimpage’s offering  to that end,  quoting Professor Stephen Katz. You may also want to check out Jim Pierce’s equally revealing comment on how to speak postmodernese. It is on the same comment string.

January 24th, 2010 at 01:35 | #4
How to Speak and Write Postmodern

by Stephen Katz, Associate Professor, Sociology
Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada

….Here is a quick guide, then, to speaking and writing postmodern.

First, you need to remember that plainly expressed language is out of the question. It is too realist, modernist and obvious. Postmodern language requires that one uses play, parody and indeterminacy as critical techniques to point this out. Often this is quite a difficult requirement, so obscurity is a well-acknowledged substitute. For example, let’s imagine you want to say something like, “We should listen to the views of people
outside of Western society in order to learn about the cultural biases that affect us”. This is honest but dull. Take   the word “views”. Postmodernspeak would change that to “voices”, or better, “vocalities”, or even better, “multivocalities”. Add an adjective like “intertextual”, and you’re covered. “People outside” is also too plain. How about “postcolonial others”? To speak postmodern
properly one must master a bevy of biases besides the familiar racism, sexism, ageism, etc. For example, phallogocentricism (male-centredness combined with rationalistic forms of binary logic).

Finally “affect us” sounds like plaid pajamas. Use more obscure verbs and phrases, like “mediate our identities”. So, the final statement should say, “We
should listen to the intertextual, multivocalities of postcolonial others outside of Western culture in order to learn about the phallogocentric biases that mediate our identities”. Now you’re talking postmodern!

Sometimes you might be in a hurry and won’t have the time to muster even the minimum number of postmodern synonyms and neologisms needed
to avoid public disgrace. Remember, saying the wrong thing is acceptable if you say it the right way. This brings me to a second important strategy in speaking postmodern, which is to use as many suffixes, prefixes, hyphens, slashes, underlinings and anything else
your computer (an absolute must to write postmodern) can dish out. You can make a quick reference chart to avoid time delays. Make three columns. In column A put your prefixes; post-, hyper-, pre-, de-, dis-, re-, ex-, and counter-. In column B go your suffixes and
related endings; -ism, -itis, -iality, -ation, -itivity, and
-tricity. In column C add a series of well-respected names that make for impressive adjectives or schools of thought, for example, Barthes (Barthesian), Foucault (Foucauldian, Foucauldianism), Derrida (Derridean, Derrideanism).

Now for the test. You want to say or write something like, “Contemporary buildings are alienating”. This is a good thought, but, of course, a non-starter. You wouldn’t even get offered a second round of crackers and cheese at a conference reception with such a line. In fact, after saying this, you might get asked to stay and clean up the crackers and cheese after the reception. Go
to your three columns. First, the prefix. Pre- is useful, as is post-, or several prefixes at once is terrific. Rather than “contemporary building””, be creative. “The Pre/post/spatialities of counter-architectural hyper-contemporaneity” is promising. You would have to drop the weak and dated term “alienating” with some
well suffixed words from column B. How about “antisociality”, or be more postmodern and introduce ambiguity with the linked phrase, “antisociality/seductivity”.

Now, go to column C and grab a few names whose work everyone will agree is important and hardly anyone has had the time or the inclination to read. Continental European theorists are best when in doubt. I recommend the sociologist Jean Baudrillard since he has written a great deal of difficult material about postmodern space. Don’t forget to make some mention of gender. Finally, add a few smoothing out words to tie the whole garbled mess together and don’t forget to pack in the hyphens, slashes and parentheses. What do you get? “Pre/post/spacialities of counter-architectural
hyper-contemporaneity (re)commits us to an ambivalent recurrentiality of antisociality/seductivity, one enunciated in a de/gendered-Baudrillardian discourse of granulated subjectivity”. You should be able to hear a postindustrial pin drop on the
retrocultural floor.

At some point someone may actually ask you what you’re talking about. This risk faces all those who would speak postmodern and must be carefully avoided. You must always give the questioner the impression that they have missed the point, and so send another
verbose salvo of postmodernspeak in their direction as a “simplification” or “clarification” of your original statement. If that doesn’t work, you might be left with the terribly modernist thought of, “I don’t know”. Don’t worry, just say, “The instability of your question leaves me with several contradictorily layered responses whose interconnectivity cannot express the logocentric
coherency you seek. I can only say that reality is more uneven and its (mis)representations more untrustworthy than we have time here to explore”. Any more questions? No, then pass the cheese and crackers.


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  1. johannes
    January 25th, 2010 at 10:07 | #1

    Mr. Bimpage’s article has an eerily Orwellian flavor (sorry, but I could not avoid the Orwell reference). I did not see a new department in the BRTFSSG called “Ministry of Truth”, but there’s no doubt that it is alive and well someplace.

    Looks as though Strunk and White have been Bimpaged.

    Johannes, the PostModern-challenged

  2. Darren
    January 25th, 2010 at 14:24 | #2

    Based upon a re-examination of the aforementioned counter-methodological discussion, my post-dissertational conclusion de-articulates my pro-post-feminist understanding that my hyper-opitimal role in the discussion lies in my functionality as the post-consumptional remover of dis-attached particles of post-commercialized baked wafers.

    See, I’m not very good at this, I get stuck in an endless loop of prepositional phrases. I fear I have failed post-modern 101.

  3. FrDaniel
    January 25th, 2010 at 15:08 | #3

    Lutherans always try to retain orthodoxy by teaching. This is only part of the pie. You need fixed, named eucharistic liturgies that do not change every ten to forty years in a major way. Ditto with prayer offices.

    Instead, Let them shape you. But if these are never named, never passed on- the pain will continue. The question is always why must our worship always change, but the real question is why not? No names (such as the Liturgy of Saint James), no fixed entities used in the proper way such as Matins (used as a preparatory service for Divine Liturgy, and not as a subsittute) lends itself to this cycle of chaos whether in a romantic, modern or post-modern periiod.

  4. jim_claybourn
    January 25th, 2010 at 15:33 | #4

    2 observations:

    1) Is this part of the reason for the vague terminology in the BRTFSSG proposals?

    2) This stuff reminds me of the first computer program that I wrote in 1972 – it “wrote poetry”. After inputting a column of nouns, a column of pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, verbs and prepositions, I wrote a program that “wrote poetry”, taking a selection from the columns and assembling them. Most of the poems made about as much sense as some of this stuff. I guess that I was post-modern about 35 years before my time!

  5. Dutch
    January 26th, 2010 at 07:14 | #5

    I know why I can’t speak emergent-eze or church-growthian. It is impossible for me to use the terms, verbage, & language, I used in marketing & sales, applied to theological subjects.
    Reading Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales or Beowulf, is easier than this!

  6. January 26th, 2010 at 13:13 | #6

    Do not forget to use the prefix “meta-”, as in meta-narrative. Postmodernism involves being a critical observer of “grand stories of life” (are you really sure that your type of ‘good’ would triumph over your concept of ‘evil’, like a pulp comic book?) Also, deconstructing (that’s Derrida’s concept) is a good postmodern phrase and method. Here is one software engineer’s take on that: http://www.fudco.com/chip/deconstr.html

  7. January 26th, 2010 at 13:26 | #7

    brilliant.

    I found this while trying to come up with a concise (I know, how non emergent of me) term to describe the way someone like Doug Pagitt speaks:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logorrhoea_(linguistics)

    There’s also a psychological version that people do in response to stress… but that might be going a bit too far. :-}

  8. jim_claybourn
    January 26th, 2010 at 15:27 | #8

    Paula :
    brilliant.
    I found this while trying to come up with a concise (I know, how non emergent of me) term to describe the way someone like Doug Pagitt speaks:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logorrhoea_(linguistics)

    Speaking of Doug Pagitt, if you haven’t already done so, check out Chris Rosebrough’s interview with Mr Pagitt on the origins of the emergent church movement. It is fascinating!
    Pagitt was in on the groundfloor of a movement call the Leadership Network that set the agenda for many of the “Evangelical” and non-denom practices that are now considered “mainstream”. They are also creeping into the LCMS. There was no, I repeat NO concern for doctrine! Simply looking for what was “effective” (another of these terms).

    http://www.fightingforthefaith.com/2010/01/the-real-story-about-the-birth-of-the-emergent-church-movement.html

  9. mames
    January 27th, 2010 at 15:10 | #9

    This approach to speaking came from the world of Human Organizational Development and HR. Having worked around this crap for many years I have developed a highly honed nose for knowing crap when I hear it. In fact one of my cohorts actualy develped a bingo game around it. It consisted of a list of smoke screen buzz words that you would check off as they were uttered in a meeting setting. As sooon as you had checked off the appropriate numbers of words you are to jump up and say very loundly Bulls…t!

    One of things I respected most about Luther was that he said what he meant and knew crap when he heard it and had no porblem saying it was crap. No more “clever” double speak. One is not deselected, one is fired, one is down sized one is shrinking, one is not vertically challenged, one is short, emergent, EPIC and contemporay worship are American Evangelicalism not just another adiophric choice. Bulls…T!

  10. Johannes
    January 27th, 2010 at 16:01 | #10

    @mames #9
    Ah the days in the corporate womb! Can’t say I miss them, but I’d love to see the bingo game. At the risk of going down another rabbit trail, our specialty was collecting malapropisms, like the time our president said, “The dirty linen is on their side of the aisle!” Or the accounting supervisor admonishing us to “Get our act in gear.” Naturally, after you’ve been around this kind of corporate double speak, you can “smell the handwriting on the wall.” I used to give presentations to the high management group and would throw in a few of my favorites. Nobody, but nobody, ever once caught on, except a trusted co-conspirator, who would look knowingly at me and smile while keeping count.

    Now, for that bingo game…

    Johannes, Mrs. Malaprop’s boy

  11. jim_claybourn
    January 29th, 2010 at 16:45 | #11

    Johannes,

    My boss had one of those several years ago that I’ve never forgotten, and a couple of us who are still around like to spout when the occasion calls for it.

    On a year-end wrap up after a loudly trumpeted marketing effort fell on its face, we received a report that decried that “in spite of our best efforts, we achieved the desired results”.

    Whenever we have one of those bad periods, this phrase is dredged up, or murmured, anyway.

    Speaking of malaprops one of the best, Norm Crosby, passed away just a few months ago.

  12. Dutch
    January 29th, 2010 at 20:36 | #12

    Johannes,
    My boys have been sick (keep our oldest, Pastoral hatchling you your prayers) I just checked this. I think I can trump your “corporate womb” memory.

    The aircraft parts industry, is well, rather corupt. I was once, told,

    to my face by one of the head muck-ity-muck’s,

    “Sometimes, a lie is worth a million dollars”. My response, to his face, was & I quote, “not to me it’s not”. I was transfered & demoted, two days later. Best thing that ever happened to me! Wish many in the LCMS felt the same way. It isn’t hard or scary, it is rather, well, encouraging.

    Just because I remember HOW to “speak the speak”, doesn’t mean I ever did or submitted to the vile twisting of truth. And yes, my livelyhood depended on the answer I gave at that moment. And yes, Christ’s Promises are sure, He honored all I knew & more I did not that day!!!

    The use of so many words, to manipulate another, by false points or outright falsehoods, that is what I was taught was deceit.

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