Metanarratives

I have just finished writing an essay on the shift from modernism to postmodernism and a Christian response to it. I sought to argue that the Christian response to postmodernism ought to be that of being far more consistently post-modern than postmodernism could ever be (as postmodernism is still committed to an economy of immance, to deferral apart from eschatology, death apart from resurrection, the ultimacy of violence as opposed to the ultimacy of peace). The following is one of the points that I made that I thought that I would share, to see if anyone wants to add anything to it or challenge it.

As James Smith points out, the problem with metanarratives for Lyotard and others is not that they are ‘totalizing or exclusionary’, but that they ‘appeal to (illusory) universal human reason as the ground of their legitimation.’ John Milbank observes that for the Christian faith, the economy of difference is not ultimately an economy of violence. The Church is not an inhabited narrative that seeks to abolish difference, but one that seeks to ‘subsume’ difference .

The narratives of modernity were found wanting due to their foundationalist character, but also because they were too small. The Church is a narrative that can include difference apart from violence or indifference. It is by no means obvious that a postmodernism is able to move beyond mere tolerance to embrace of the other, as the Church can. As Kevin Vanhoozer argues, if the postmoderns who claim that the other cannot reside in our categories — so that we are unable to say anything positive about it — are right the other ends up dissolving and being ignored. The Christian faith responds to the other by naming him: ‘neighbour’.

In an economy of violence there is no place for the ‘other’ within the narrative; this is not the case in an economy of love. In an economy of violence the act of knowing is an act of mastery, coercion and invasion. In the economy of love the act of knowing retains the otherness of the one who is known.

Part of the Church’s task is that of continual self-criticism to ensure that its narrative does not silence the other. This is the Church’s alternative to postmodern pluralism. Ultimately postmodern pluralism’s response to difference is one of indifference. The postmodern ‘virtue’ of tolerance is the unwillingness to name the other as ‘neighbour’ and to stand against evil for his good. This ‘tolerance’ comes at a high price. Such tolerance is only possible once one has abandoned the passion of conviction and an ultimate allegiance to a particular metanarrative. Such tolerance is only possible when all narratives have been reduced to the level of ‘mere’ metanarratives. One might argue that this reduces the other to being ‘merely’ different; difference is only really present on the surface.

Of course, such a posture is only possible when a new meta-metanarrative is made to stand behind all other metanarratives (‘the return of narrative as the narrative of the end of narratives’). This is the arrogance of postmodern pluralism. The postmodern only tolerates my difference because he is convinced that he knows the truth that is hidden from me: that my difference is ultimately indifferent.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Philosophy, Theological, What I'm Reading. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Metanarratives

  1. Rick Capezza says:

    So can we read your paper? 🙂

    Via email or blog?

  2. Al says:

    I’m not really satisfied with my paper, so I would rather not share it (sorry!). I ended up editing out most of the best material. The rest was pretty standard stuff that you could find just about anywhere. The question was far too broad to really go into the detail that I would have liked to.

  3. Pingback: alastair.adversaria » Metanarratives 2

  4. Pingback: Ten Years of Blogging: 2005-2006 | Alastair's Adversaria

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