Feminism, Politics, and Postmodernism
The postmodern reply to the modern consists of recognizing that the past, since it cannot really be destroyed, because its destruction leads to silence, must be revisited: but with irony, not innocently. I think of the postmodern attitude as that of a man who loves a very cultivated woman and knows he cannot say to her, "I love you madly", because he knows that she knows (and that she knows that he knows) that these words have already been written by Barbara Cartland. Still, there is a solution. He can say "As Barbara Cartland would say, I love you madly." At this point, having avoided false innocence, having said clearly that it is no longer possible to speak innocently, he will nevertheless have said what he wanted to say to the woman: that he loves her, but he loves her in an age of lost innocence. If the woman goes along with this, she will have received a declaration of love all the same. Neither of the two speakers will feel innocent, both will have accepted the challenge of the past, of the already said which cannot be eliminated: both will consciously but with pleasure play the game of irony. But both will have succeeded, once again, in speaking of love.
-- Umberto Eco ( 1985: 67-68)
Postmodernism has been summed up by many writers in terms very similar to those employed (more wittily) by Eco as a profoundly sceptical approach to existing theories of society and culture that can be subversive and liberating in its challenge to old dogmas and traditions. To many theorists and writers who have identified with radical politics and movements to reveal and overcome inequalities and oppressions, the "loss of innocence" celebrated by Eco appears to contain a threat rather than a promise, the possibility of losing a clear way of speaking about power and justice.