[I]n La Condition postmoderne: Rapport sur le savoir (The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge) (1979), [Lyotard] proposes what he calls an extreme simplification of the "postmodern" as an 'incredulity towards meta-narratives'. These meta-narratives - sometimes 'grand narratives' - are grand, large-scale theories and philosophies of the world, such as the progress of history, the knowability of everything by science, and the possibility of absolute freedom. Lyotard argues that we have ceased to believe that narratives of this kind are adequate to represent and contain us all. We have become alert to difference, diversity, the incompatibility of our aspirations, beliefs and desires, and for that reason postmodernity is characterised by an abundance of micronarratives. (Jean-Francois Lyotard).Christopher Norris on postmodernism and deconstruction:
Postmodernism amounts to a generalized scepticism (or cynicism) about the whole idea of disinterested, truth-seeking enquiry; whereas deconstruction is a critical probing and analysis of the presuppositions behind it. ("Two Cheers for Cultural Studies," in Interrogating Cultural Studies:Theory, Politics and Practice, 2003, p. 90).So what does it mean when these two formidable idea-systems collide? What can it mean to deconstruct post-modernism? Is such a thing even possible?
As I see it, Lyotard's original conception makes a great deal of sense. In the 1970's we had reached a point where too many were struggling to produce grand unifying schemes that could account for everything while history was moving in multiple directions at once and such accounts seemed increasingly academic and pointless. Unfortunately, however, what began as a healthy and long overdue "incredulity towards meta-narratives" soon became what can only be described as a ruthlessly puritanical inquisition, and a very nasty one at that.
Somehow, Derrida's extremely sophisticated, far more radical, but at the same time balanced, cautious and circumspect, notion of "deconstruction" became hopelessly confused with an equally misleading and rigid notion of postmodernism, to the point that they became, as far as the academic world was concerned, practically interchangeable synonyms for a relentless process of demystification, i.e., debunking, that has literally taken over and is now smothering the social sciences, from archaeology to anthropology and yes, even ethnomusicology, where it is practically forbidden to generalize about anything but the most trivial aspects of culture, social structure and history -- and comparative research beyond any but the most narrowly conceived boundaries has become almost unthinkable.
What it means to deconstruct such an unfortunate "condition" is, first of all, to remind ourselves that deconstruction itself is not by any means the same as demystification or debunking. So, second of all, we need to distinguish the extremely complex, intricate, and ultimately impossible (Derrida's word, not mine) task of teasing out the presuppositions that have enabled any particular construct to construct itself from the all too easy temptation to simply dismiss such a construct as "essentialist," "reductive," "reified," etc. It may well be all of these things. But it is foolhardy to assume we can purge such problematic elements from any meaningful thought process, even our own.
What is necessary, as I see it, is to put all these things into perspective, to try to understand what sort of demand they are attempting to satisfy, and finally to put our own biases into perspective as well, so we can properly appreciate what can be accomplished by even the most problematically constructed constructs, even as we struggle to deconstruct them, i.e., understand the intellectual infrastructures that precipitated their construction in the first place, along with the traditions that have caused them to be perpetuated even after the original conditions no longer exist.