One of the tenets of postmodernism (if indeed it can be said to have tenets) is the denial of the metanarrative. A metanarrative is “an overarching account or interpretation of events and circumstances that provides a pattern or structure for people’s beliefs and gives meaning to their experiences.” For many, these metanarratives provide a framework for understanding the world. What’s sad is that sometimes these same metanarratives also provide a framework for oppression and hardship, if you happen to be on the wrong side of the narrative.
Postmodernism has it detractors, mostly people who adhere to a different philosophical system (cough ‘Modernism’ cough). One of their complaints is that denying a metanarrative is a metanarrative in and of itself. Apart from being a bit of a copout because it doesn’t seek understanding, this argument misses the point because it presumes that denial is single-stage process.
For example, in the 1970s, a number of Filipinos devoted their lives to overturning the metanarrative that basically denied their place in the world. Zeus Salazar started telling a new history with his Pantayang Pananaw. Virgilio Enriquez started telling a psychology story with his Sikolohiyang Pilipino. Pospero Covar started telling a new anthropology story with his Pilipinolohiya. Jose de Mesa started telling a new theology story with his work on contexualisation. These four men began telling stories that overturned the metanarrative that prioritised the West and saw places like the Philippines as “deviant.” In retelling the story with indigenous languages, using indigenous concepts, and respecting indigenous knowledge, they were able to open up a new chapter to a previously incomplete metanarrative. We have a lot to thank these pioneers for. And people are continuing the process today in ways that include anti-colonialism and post-structuralism.
But the process must necessarily continue past that point because, even though these guys fulfilled an essential service way back when, that service has now led to claims of essentialism among them. Essentialism meaning a specific definition of what ‘Filipino’ is. In their efforts to make the Filipino voice heard, they by necessity saw that voice as one voice. It was the Filipino voice.
What we realise today is that the Filipino voice is perhaps best characterised as “voices.” The Philippines is an archipelago of just over 7,400 islands of varying sizes, shapes, and populations. There are just over 180 languages in use on a daily basis. Filipinos are also present in all the countries of the world and live in both the most populated and least populated areas of the world. Filipinos are both fiercely nationalistic and regionally loyal. The family is the basic building block of society. All of this creates a rich diversity of identities. I like how Dr. Exiomo puts it: “Being can be expressed in many different ways.”
In other words, the metanarrative still needs to be denied because it doesn’t accurately tell everyone’s story in the proper way. It’s a continuous process of editing and revising that will ultimately lead to a fulfilled humanity.
Where do you fit into the metanarrative? Where does the metanarrative fail you? Feel free to let us know in the comments below!
Remember sharing is what friends do.
Image by Jakayla Toney on Unsplash.
The Pope recently apologized for wrongs committed by church leaders to Canadian Indigenous people with regard to the residential school metanarrative. The apology had been formally requested and the apology given was both sincere and heartfelt. It followed numerous other apologies given by others over the years. But the narrative does not appear to have changed. Instead, there is talk of more apologies and restitution, not of resolution. This Canadian metanarrative of harm done is not being edited and revised in response to the apologies. Why not?
This morning I read comments by Ray Pennings—Cardus Insights: Forgiveness and Public Policy—with regard to this story. “Might it be that not only the asking, but also the granting of forgiveness is an essential part of changing the arc of this story? But when it comes to public square issues involving groups, who gets to decide when and how forgiveness is granted?” He goes on to provide a thoughtful discussion of this dilemma. Has forgiveness played a role in helping Filipinos refine their metanarrative? What can we learn from that experience?
Ray Pennings email@example.com via bounce.s10.mc.pd25.com
Thanks for your comment, Helen. You raise an interesting point. The metanarrative doesn’t simply change because one party complains. Rather it changes when both parties dialogue together. Part of dialogue must, I think, include apology and forgiveness. I would love to read Ray Pennings’ thoughts on this but unfortunately the link doesn’t work.
I also like your idea of applying this to the Filipino situation that I described above. It sounds like the basis of an interesting process. I will have to think about this more.