Negative Consequences of Postmodernism and Poststructuralism upon Non-Western Societies

Anup Joshi

Negative Consequences of Postmodernism and Poststructuralism upon Non-Western Societies


This research paper explores the negative consequences of West based theories Postmodernism and Post-structuralism upon non-Western societies. Emerged during the 1980s as a response to modernity which adhered to beliefs of enlightenment, ideas and reasons, Postmodernism claims to defy the grand narratives and advocates for the local narratives. The domination of tradition, culture and pre-established philosophies is not acceptable to postmodernism. As Lyotard puts it, “I define Postmodern as incredulity towards metanarratives. This incredulity is undoubtly a product of progress in science: but the progress in turn presupposes it” (xvill). Similarly, Poststructuralism which became popular after 1960s also rejects the center and suggests that neither the world nor the ‘self’ possess any progress, unity and meaning. “…the poststructuralists deny the distinctions between the traditional order of discourse(criticism, literature, philosophy, politics) leaving an amorphous universe- a ‘general text’ ”(Selden 73). I do not claim that these two philosophical movements are negative in totality as they have several significances in Western context. But its unhealthy influence in non-Western societies has proven to be problematic. Culture and tradition are the marker of one’s identity. But in the name of progress, liberty and eradicating binary oppositions, postmodernists and poststructuralists have attacked over the very ‘heart’ of culture, religion, family values, and promoted individualism in non-West.
An influential movement of the twentieth century West, the notions of Postmodernism and Poststructuralism spread over non-Western countries too like virus and several writers, critics and philosophers consumed this West formulated idea without considering its effect on their local traditions and cultures. But this influence is proving to be lethal for the non-Western cultural sovereignty. As Sardar claims, Postmodernism “dismembers other cultures by attacking their immune system: eradicating identity, erasing history and tradition, reducing everything that makes sense of life for non-secular cultures into meaninglessness.” (228). Sardar further differentiates between “traditionalism” and “tradition” (225). Postmodernism has established a notion that adhering to tradition and ancient culture is to be regressive.  Postmodernists label non-Western ways as traditionalist and fundamentalist one. But unlike traditionalism which has become pathological factor of Postmodern times and cannot build anew, Tradition is dynamic and changes over time. Sardar suggests non-West should adopt their traditions because it “can actually transform non-Western societies into cultures of resistance” (Sardar 224). Sardar further sees the need of defining non-Western modernity on their own cultural frameworks and based on their own values rather than importing deadly Postmodernism from West. He suggests non-West to go for alternative modernity or trans-modernity.
From the very colonial period, West has been trying to impose its hegemony over orient in the name of civilization by branding non-Western cultures as barbaric and uncivilized. “From at least the end of the eighteenth century until our own day, modern Occidental reactions to Islam have been dominated by a radically simplified type of thinking that may still be called Orientalist…Islam was believed to be a demonic religion of apostasy, blasphemy and obscurity” (Said 188). Through mercenaries and colonial agents, West had wiped out many aboriginal cultures and imposed their own. But by mid twentieth century, colonies have fallen and their hymn of colonialism is crushed by oriental rebellion. As the discourse of colonialism is totally dismissed, monstrous West is now colonizing orients with their brand-new invention, Postmodernism. In influence of postmodernism, we are ourselves attacking our own tradition and eradicating our age old cultural wisdom. For all its vices, Sardar acknowledges Postmodernism as “anti-human” (Sardar 228). For non-West, Poststructuralism and Postmodernism only have negative effect. Non-Western cultures like Nepali and Indian culture have tradition of living in a communal society. Younger ones respect the wisdom of the older people and older ones give the direction to the young. They welcome guests and treat them with hospitality. Similarly, they live in a joint family and accept the authority of the senior members in family. Even if a father is old over eighty years and his son though is a prosperous man than him, accepts the decision of father. Due to such values, there is integration in family, society and nation. Decision are made with careful and sustainable considerations. But Postmodernism is promoting individualism. Children leave parent’s home once they can work for feeding themselves, get married on their own will and do not care about parents. Due to influence of such cultures, non-Western society is also transforming into barren land for wisdom. Extramarital relationships, alienation, prostitution, individualism and other dangerous trends are being imported.
            In the context of Nepal too, some critics are claiming postmodern domination in Nepali literature. Highly influenced by the Western discourses, group of writers are writing about subaltern’s issues and branding their writings as postmodernist with the preliminary evidences that in their texts they are attacking over the grand narratives of mainstream Hill Brahmin elites and dissimilating age old cultures. Poet Samardarshi Kainla, who advocates for Postmodernist Multicolorism in Nepali Literature writes: “My ‘I’ resents to be confined in Dash Gaja Land/ It revolves outside of the earth/ By destroying pre-trodden narrow roads/ By destroying traditional values/ stirring its signs/ formulating new signs/… I, Amazon flow upward” (49). Kainla, in the pretention of cleansing regressive old values and establishing a co-existential neo-progressive society attacks traditional values, religions and norms. He mostly imports the Western metaphors and philosophies of Amazon river, Jacques Derrida, John Keats, Immanuel Kant and Ferdinand De Saussure in his poem. Similarly, Postmodernist critic Govinda Raj Bhattrai claims, “Postmodernism visited with me in the form of literary principles and writing, of thinking and teaching, and many more…everybody started to realize that the time has changed, our values and beliefs have changed, and the very foundation of existing philosophy is shedding its old leaves.” (par 34) As a result of postmodern fuss, the native cultures of Nepali people are highly jeopardized. All of our wisdom are branded as fundamentalist. They demand for the total removal of our old age religion and tradition. In the name of being modern, critics are attacking the very foundation of our existing values, beliefs and philosophy. Due to such, our good aspects of traditions are also branded regressive and all values are judged by putting in the same basket. Our communal life is verge of being replaced by individualism. The mutual tolerance among different ethnic-religious groups is falling. As Mahesh Paudyal alludes, postmodernism is a theoretical mismatch in Nepali Literature:
In case of Nepali literature—be it in poetry, novel, story or any other genre—the claim is repulsive. . .in the first place, much of such ideas are inspired by the Marxist dialectic of have-verses-have-nots, and are bent on giving the have-nots a voice. There’s nothing new and strictly postmodernists in that. . .postmodernism did not influence Nepali literature in any apparent fashion, and therefore, it will be the best idea to explain it away as something that came in the Western metropolis, and died out there itself. (par 4,10,15)
So, there is no point in glorifying postmodernist attributes in Nepali Literature. Kenzaburō Ōe shows the negative consequences of postmodern influence in Japanese culture through his novel A Personal Matter. The protagonist of the novel, Bird finds his new-born son who is suffering from brain-hernia, an obstacle for his ambition of exploring Africa and being free. He refers the baby by ‘vegetable baby’ and does everything in his power to ‘murder’ him. He deviates from his responsibility, has extramarital sex with his former friend Humiko and vomits in front of his students in a class as a result of alcoholic hangover. He neither has any regard for his prestige nor he cares about his teaching career. Though his son was very alive and hospitalized, he mischievously tells Humiko, “We had a child but it died right away” (71) and approves doctor to feed him ‘sugar-water’ instead of rich-milk so that the baby will weaken and die naturally leaving his hand ‘clean’ in murder. Aspiring to be a postmodern icon, free from burden of parenting and other responsibilities, he becomes an unhuman and anti-social person. He thinks that by raising the deficient baby, who will grow to be abnormal, his whole life, happiness and personal freedom will be jeopardized. Only after realizing postmodernist approach as “nothing! Zero!” (260), he retrieves into his responsibility of parenting and contemplates, “I kept trying to run away. And I almost did. But it seems that reality compels you to live properly when you live in the real in the real world” (265). His rejection of the postmodernism is a triumph for the native Japanese family culture.
Similarly, Indian writer Balachandra Rajan also portrays the monstrosity of postmodernism upon Indian culture in his novel The Dark Dancer. The protagonist Krishnan alienates his wife Kamala to live with English woman Cynthia. He is attracted by Cynthia’s western vigor and kicks his traditional cultural values. Due to his irresponsible sway for postmodern attributes, he leads into disintegration and destruction of his wife’s life and makes his parents ashamed. Only when the priest of a temple disapproves him and Cynthia to provide blessing, he realizes his mistake and comes back for Kamala. “He came to the priest with the gifts in his hands…he was going to ask for the blessing when he saw the question in the grave eyes and the benevolent yet impassive face, he knew what the question was” (Rajan 166). Later on, Krishnan becomes devotee of Kamala and her non-violent humanistic movement, who is the symbol of Indian wisdom in the novel. The novel clearly reflects how postmodern influence is bringing social problems in non-Western societies.
The values of the non-Western cultures are less similar and more different to that of West. And there is variation within the non-Western cultures too. The culture of middle east is different to that of south Asia and India. There are numerous ethnic and religious groups within a country and they all have their own culture, values and custom. The traditions of such groups are not negative as falsified by Postmodernists. Without ancient wisdom, orient will be directionless. So, it is groundless to always doubt over metanarratives. What will happen to non-Western civilization and achievement if we start destroying everything that is documented from ages? Sardar in his essay “Surviving postmodernism” talks about the Japanese novelist and film director Shintaro Ishihara who suggests his people to ‘Leave the West, turn to Asia’ (Sardar 233) in The Japan That Can Say No. Due to such awakening spirit among Japanese people for the love of their own tradition and culture during end of the twentieth century, they have been able to achieve progress and prosperity. But those who are infected by Postmodernist’s “The Acquired Inhuman Domination Syndrome(AIDS)” (Sardar 228) will lose their source of identity and pride. Donald Keefer furthermore identifies Postmodernism as a disease in his essay “Postmodern Syndrome”. As he defines, Postmodern Syndrome is “a malady of the spirit that knows no political, sexual, gender, racial, intellectual, cultural boundaries. . . individuals, who have fallen prey to the syndrome will be typified by any number of the following: delusions about the future, apocalyptic fantasies, anxiety about the past, cultural paranoia…” (Keefer par 2). Postmodernism, dismantling the boundaries of race, culture, religion and traditions, in turn fuels for Western globalization which is the new face of imperialism. As non-West is deviating from tradition by inclining to the fashion of poststructuralism and post modernism, the people are discarding their festivals, rituals and traditional way of life and in turn, nurturing West based festivals like Christmas and Valentine’s Day. On such occasions, multinational companies are making profits by selling cards and products to the orients. We are paying West for nothing when we have our own tradition and festivals. There is no freedom in being blind devotee of Western propaganda like postmodernism, which in reality is prisoning us to the authority of Western chains. We are being sucked by these neo-imperial theories out of our religion, values, rituals and traditional wisdom.
 To conclude, Postmodernism and Poststructuralism are bringing catastrophes to the non-Western societies. Oriental knowledges and wisdoms are being unauthorized and dismantled. Theories and philosophies should be rooted in own context of religion, culture, landscape and geo-political situations. Postmodernism and Poststructuralism are the theories evolved from Western cultural roots and are intended to colonize non-West with its vigor. It is just the continuation of Western imperialism and cultural encroachment. West had a history of pre-modernity, modernity and now they are in Postmodernism era. But the history of non-Western countries is totally different. The true spirit of non-Western culture cannot be addressed by Western theoretical approaches. In case of Nepal, we have just stepped to the era of modernity and mind it, this is Nepalese model of modernity indifferent to that of Western modernism. We should change as per time and the tradition of non-West should be updated as Sardar suggests, but the change should be culturally driven. Not dictated by any West bound imperial principles. Following the West postulated Postmodernism blindly, only brings chaos to our society and civilization. So, we should develop our own model of alternative modernity and be saved from the Postmodern Syndrome which is very lethal.
Works Cited
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About Anup Joshi TV

Anup Joshi is an emerging young writer searching for space in Nepali literature. He writes poems, stories and lyrics for songs. As a student of English literature he loves reading books. He is also a passionate photographer and enjoys travelling.
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