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Living in a World of Irony

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In 1993, I published a book about the postmodern condition (Bergquist, 1993). I speculated in this book that there are three ways to interpret this condition. First, postmodernism may be a transitional phase that is setting the stage for another, longer-term societal condition. Second, postmodernism might itself be that longer-term societal condition. Third, all of this categorization of societal forms may be nothing more than semantics. Perhaps, nothing of substance has really changed in our society—in which case we are living in essentially the same kind of community that has existing for many years (or centuries).

In typical postmodern fashion, no conclusions were drawn in 1993 about which of these three scenarios seems most viable. We are now in a much better place to speculate about postmodernism and about what the next societal condition might look like. As a preliminary step in this direction, I propose in the present series of essays that at the other end of postmodernism resides a new societal condition—the ironic condition. Much as a philosopher (Lyotard) helped to define the postmodern era in a book entitled, The Postmodern Condition (Lyotard, 1984), so another philosopher, Richard Rorty (1989), pointed at about the same time to a new era of irony in Contingency, Irony and Solidarity.

The ironist, according to Rorty (1989, p. xv) is the “sort of person who faces up to the contingency of his or her most central beliefs and desires.” By “contingency” Rorty is referring to the contextual and transitory nature of all belief systems—a stance adopted by the postmodernists and constructivists: “[the ironist] is someone sufficiently historist and nominalist to have abandoned the idea that those central beliefs and desires refer back to something beyond the reach of time and chance.” (Rorty, 1989, p. xv)

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