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About Postmodern Rhetoric

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy, for something to classify as postmodern, it must possess “a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practices employing concepts such as difference, repetition, the trace, the simulacrum, and hyperreality to destabilize other concepts such as presence, identity, historical progress, epistemic certainty, and the univocity of meaning.” In other words, postmodernists believe that pieces of work must be looked at outside the realm of how the general population sees them. Postmodernists believe that there is no such thing as absolute truths or definite conclusions; they believe that there are deeper, more philosophical meanings to what is generally accepted.

There are three main parts to postmodernism:

  1. The conflicted, multi-faceted subjects
  2. Language as a maker, not just a transmitter, of meaning
  3. The questioning of universal truths and overarching narratives


Postmodernism can apply to literature, architecture, cinema, and the interpretation of law, culture, religion, and much more. It is believed to be first used in the late 19th – early 20th century when J.M Thompson used it in an article to describe changes in attitudes and beliefs in his critique of religion: “The raison d’etre of Post-Modernism is to escape from the double-mindedness of Modernism by being thorough in its criticism by extending it to religion as well as theology, to Catholic feeling as well as to Catholic tradition” (‘Post-Modernism, J.M Thompson, The Hilbert Journal Vol XII No.4 July 1914 page 733). It was also used around that time to describe new types of music, art and architecture.

The concept of postmodernism, however, is thought to have originated in the field of philosophy. Two people who had a huge influence on postmodernism developments are Friedrich Nietzsche and Jacques Derrida.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Nietzsche, a German philosopher of the late 19th century, “believed in life, creativity, power, and the realities of the world we live in.” Nietzsche first introduced what would be later known as “postmodernism thought” in his first book The Birth of Tragedy, Out of the Spirit of Music. In the book, he criticized scholars at the time, particularly the ways they understood and talked about the ideals of Greek culture. He proposed an alternative way of thinking about the matter. He continued to write about the importance of thinking and living outside of what is considered modern. His last book was published in 1888, but his thought and ideas did not die with that final publication.

Jacques Derrida wrote about language and how the meanings of words were not connected to the things they represent. Rather, words contain their own meanings based on oppositions with other words. He "deconstructed" human experience as defined by the words we use to discuss it, so his work is referred to as Deconstructionism. He argued that the entire realm of human experience is shaped by our language and that nothing has power outside of letters and words.