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You’re not “post-” anything, so shut the hell up!

If there was one term I could actually effect a moratorium on I think it would have to be the phrase “post-”. But, since I can’t effect a moratorium, allow me to propose an axiom instead:

Any conceptual position (theological, philosophical, etc.) that describes itself using the modifier “post-” is never actually “post-” anything in anything other than a temporal sense (and usually that’s not the case either).

Postmetaphysical? No. Postfoundationalist? No, you were never foundationalist to start with. Postliberal? No, you’re still liberal. Postmodern? Shut the fuck up, that’s just stupid. Post-postmodern? Kneecaps, meet baseball bat.

The only possible places where I can think of the term “post-” having any real usefulness are in the realms of architecture and art history. Insofar as it gets used by philosophers and theologians its just an attempt to short circuit an argument by pretending that the views you are attacking were a developmental stage you  went through when you were young and not quite as well read as you obviously are now. To call any view “post-” anything is just a masquerade alloying one to define your adversary as wrong, arcane, and naive from the outset.

In short, adopting the language of “post-” is unforgivably cheap and masks a lack of ability to actually make good arguments against things you want to criticize.

33 Comments

  1. WenatcheeTheHatchet wrote:

    “post” in the arts also is only permissable when it applies to works that were created in transitional periods before dominant styles developed. I.e. anything after J.S. Bach but before Haydn could be loosely called “post-Baroque” and “pre-Classical” if you don’t know about style gallant or roccoco, et al. Post-Impressionism is tolerable for both art and music. But overall, yes, “post” is way over-used and should hereby only be used in reference to a really great album by Bjork.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 4:27 pm | Permalink
  2. Auggie Webster wrote:

    Halden,

    Unfortunately, you have now become “post-Post”.

    “Every time I try to get out, they keep pulling me back in!!!”-Michael Corleone in Godfather Part Shit

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 4:35 pm | Permalink
  3. Halden wrote:

    No, I’m “ex-Post.” Big difference, I daresay.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 4:38 pm | Permalink
  4. Auggie Webster wrote:

    Touche’!!! How very ex post facto of you.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 4:47 pm | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    Actually this leads me to find another use of “post’” that may be useful, the realm of romance and marriage. An Ex can now easily become someone whom you are “post.” “Oh, I am definitely post-Keri, thank God!”

    Then you can start referring to yourself as “post-Keri Auggie” etc. Its an instant declaration of personal superiority and availability. Perfection.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 4:56 pm | Permalink
  6. Aric Clark wrote:

    Meh. Words are tools. I agree that “post” as a prefix is overused, but it has a purpose in a variety of cases that goes beyond your assertion that it is merely a cheap way of demeaning your opponents. “Postmodernism” for example while painfully vague came about as an attempt to describe an observable shift in thought and expression in the 10th century. The problem is that it got overused to describe just about everything until it became difficult to say what exactly it means any longer. But the word wasn’t coined by philosophers and theologians looking for a shortcut. It was coined by critics and observers that needed a word to describe what they were seeing.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 4:58 pm | Permalink
  7. Aric Clark wrote:

    lol. obviously that is supposed to read “20th century”

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 4:59 pm | Permalink
  8. Halden wrote:

    Be that as it may, I must say I have trouble finding a theologian using the term in a helpful way. Especially evangelical or, ehem, postevangelical theologians.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 5:01 pm | Permalink
  9. Aric Clark wrote:

    I can’t think of an example where someone used it in a helpful way to describe their own thoughts. True. I think it should probably be left to the province of historians, critics and such who can use designations like “post-” to help clarify streams of thought and the connections between various movements. The kind of observation that is basically impossible without the benefit of time and distance.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 5:09 pm | Permalink
  10. Brad E. wrote:

    Where do we stand on “after”? I appreciate “after” much more than “post,” because it is generally attempting to name a temporal movement, even if that temporal transition is endorsed implicitly (or explicitly). For example, Bryan Stone’s Evangelism After Christendom (playing, of course, off Hauerwas’ earlier book) is a helpful heuristic and descriptive tool, naming the time we find ourselves in. But do we toss it in with the blasphemy of “post”?

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 5:26 pm | Permalink
  11. Auggie Webster wrote:

    Halden’s right on here. I think that “post” or “new” folks are usually using the term to denote a loose connection to movement, paradigm, etc. coupled with an implied superiority to thoughts/people/events within that movement while gifting themselves a lack of strict responsibility to that story and community. Thus, these “post/new” people are usually born of insecurity with both their former or present state of affairs.

    For example, I’m former Southern Baptist Catholic convert. Now, it would be easier, cooler, more intriguing and progressive to call myself “post-Southern Baptist”, which is certainly true, than simply “Roman Catholic” with all of its responsibility and negative associations.

    In another fine example, although he is the apotheosis of the latent misogyny/homosexuality present in some or most evangelical streams of thought, Marc Driscoll would much rather use the term “New Calvinist” than “he-man woman-hating asshole Calvinist”. The former designation is slippery and cool and frees him of association with all of those other backward Calvinists, while the latter, although absolutely true, would pigeonhole him and make him responsible to he-man woman-hating asshole Calvinists which are a dime-a-dozen hereabouts.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 5:41 pm | Permalink
  12. adhunt wrote:

    It is not useless at all when the “thing” which one is hoping to be “post” is clearly defined even if said definition is specific to the dialogue taking place within the author’s world.

    So, for instance, to say one is “post modern” means something when there is a definition and critique offered of “modern.” etc… Words have the meanings which we give them. I wonder if you are living properly in a post-Wittgenstein’ian world?

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Permalink
  13. JBH wrote:

    I think Fr. Neuhaus’ comment is apt:

    the term neoconservative will only be useful so long as other labels-liberal, progressive, traditionalist, restorationist-stay more or less in place. There is always talk about how such labels are no longer meaningful, but such talk, one fears, is usually wishful thinking. Ask people to respond to a list of typically disputed questions, and, with distressing predictability, most everybody ends up in the ideational category where you expected them to end up. Maybe we should not think it distressing. After all, people who pride themselves on being unpredictable in their views usually haven’t thought about things very carefully. Transcending categories, like obsessive open-mindedness, is itself a category that is, more often than not, easily placeable on the left of the ideational spectrum. To be sure, the people who are predictable often haven’t thought about things very carefully, either, although those who have thought about things very carefully usually are, more or less, predictable.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 6:27 pm | Permalink
  14. Drew wrote:

    This is amazing. What are your thoughts on “neo-” or “sub-”?

    *Isn’t everything post-9/11 now?

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 6:57 pm | Permalink
  15. Auggie Webster wrote:

    Perhaps we Christians should all call ourselves “post-Oral” from now on. Of course, that might lead to some confusion with “college” or “home plate”.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 7:23 pm | Permalink
  16. Halden wrote:

    I’m going to start referring to myself as a post-medieval thinker.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 7:27 pm | Permalink
  17. roger flyer wrote:

    I am going post-al with this.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 7:27 pm | Permalink
  18. Halden wrote:

    Roger, I’ve decided that I think of you as basically a cross between a court jester, an iconoclast, and Gandalf.

    Yeah, I think I’ve finally figured it out. : )

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 7:29 pm | Permalink
  19. Nathan Smith wrote:

    Thank you very much for this post. Could you send more of your thoughts via parcel post? I’ll post them on the bulletin board at my church. You are ideally suited to the post of anti-post poster child. In fact, were I to speak metaphorically, I’d say you are a post in the fence which keeps post- at bay.

    Anyway, I’m rather hungry, so I am going to eat some Post cereal.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 8:59 pm | Permalink
  20. Guilty.

    I use ‘post-liberalism’ as a way to express my affinity with certain ideas and authors.

    And it at least sparks a conversation about ‘what does liberal really mean anyways?’

    But, yeah, it’s the old trick where we think newer is better.

    I’m not sure I’m going to be too careful about this. But you’re definitely giving us notice…

    Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 9:48 pm | Permalink
  21. roger flyer wrote:

    You’ve got me!

    You flatter me by seeing a bit of Gandalf in my madness (see beard) Yes, to the iconoclast and court jester, but you also haven’t seen the minstrel in me yet.
    (( will write a Kim Fabricius hymn one day on your blog.)

    Friday, December 18, 2009 at 6:02 am | Permalink
  22. Dave B wrote:

    It seems like the most appropriate strategy in response to these folks is to actually use “post-” in order to characterize them:

    These folks are “sooooo post-yesterday”

    Friday, December 18, 2009 at 7:23 am | Permalink
  23. Dave B wrote:

    I daresay there is hardly anything — if anything — that Neuhaus has said that could be “apt,” let alone worth repeating.

    Friday, December 18, 2009 at 7:24 am | Permalink
  24. Halden wrote:

    Sweet. Consider this a formal offer to post it.

    Friday, December 18, 2009 at 9:15 am | Permalink
  25. erin wrote:

    Nice post, Halden.

    Friday, December 18, 2009 at 11:12 am | Permalink
  26. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    True dat, Dave.

    Friday, December 18, 2009 at 11:40 am | Permalink
  27. Josh Rowley wrote:

    So, the prefix “post-” “short circuit[s] an argument,” but the statement “shut the hell up” doesn’t?

    Friday, December 18, 2009 at 5:35 pm | Permalink
  28. Halden wrote:

    No, it sets up an argument in somewhat jovial and entertaining way.

    Friday, December 18, 2009 at 5:48 pm | Permalink
  29. d. stephen long wrote:

    Halden did someone put castor oil in your post-toasties this morning?

    Friday, December 18, 2009 at 7:08 pm | Permalink
  30. adhunt wrote:

    I wonder if we might throw in other words that “short circuit arguments?”

    1) Reactionary – as in – “Mr. X has a reactionary ecclesiology”
    2) Dependent – as in – “Mr. X’s theology of Y is flawed because it is dependent upon Z”
    3) Constantinian – as in – “X classical dogma I disagree with is obviously wrong because it is Constantinian”
    4) Not Apocalyptically Missional Enough – as in – “That is simply Not Apocalyptically Missionally Yoderian enough for me to respect: Consequently it needs to become Post-Constantinian”

    Saturday, December 19, 2009 at 11:07 am | Permalink
  31. Dan wrote:

    heh, heh,,, “postevangelical”… i like that!

    Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 11:16 pm | Permalink
  32. Dan wrote:

    “post-office” I do my “reading” at the local cool coffee shop and not the office.
    “post toasties” I ALWAYS use sun screen when I go to the beach these days and no longer expose my naked skin to the sun unprotected.
    “postmortem” hmmmmmm

    Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 11:45 pm | Permalink
  33. phil_style wrote:

    the new cool is not “post”, but “alter”…. I think it’s code for “third way”, ala, “I can see through the mess which obviously no-one else can”.

    see the nonsense being promoted by the “altermodern” crowd….. It’s sustance-less marketing at its worst.

    Friday, January 8, 2010 at 3:47 am | Permalink

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