First, let me say where I am coming from and what I mean by ‘postmodern’. I’m working from Lyotard’s simple “definition” of the term: “incredulity toward metanarratives” (from the introduction to The Postmodern Condition). One interesting question that arises from this definition is the scope of this incredulity — what counts, in other words, as a metanarrative?
Lyotard also distinguishes between what he calls ‘grand’ narratives and ‘little stories’ (les petits récits). Importantly, either a grand narrative or a little story can make the ‘meta’ move, which basically consists in telling a story about stories (where ‘story’ is understood broadly). Put differently, it is not the ‘meta’ toward which the postmodern reacts with incredulity. It is, rather, the totalizing character of the grand narrative that evinces doubt. By its very nature, the claim to have achieved certainty, to have told the whole story, undermines itself — at least from the postmodern perspective.
Of course, the grand narrative is always at pains to seek legitmation from outside itself, to demand recognition, to assert its own justice. Often, this takes the form of appeal to consensus — especially to a consensus of experts and authorities. The irony of the little stories is that they legitimate themselves precisely in not seeking hegemony over all the other stories. Not seeking jurisdiction over the whole, the little stories have the status — a venerable one — of ‘fables’. The little stories are told. We are told to accept the grand narrative.
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