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Crystal Downing


Richard Rorty for the Silver Screen

Waking Ned Devine as apologetic for postmodernism.

People were dumbfounded—perhaps more by my audacity than by my intelligence. My point was how an ethic grounded in a Trinitarian God makes more sense than either modernist or postmodern ethics. Other members on my panel included an African American professor talking about the ethics of Afrocentricism and a Queer Studies professor talking about the ethics of gay sex clubs. Since I knew the audience at this national conference would be most suspicious of my position, I outlined the insufficiencies of modernist and postmodern ethical positions before I argued for the legitimacy of Christian ethics. Several came up to me afterward to assure me that "My university has hired a Christian!"

In any case, I came home feeling successful, only to have my hundred-plus hours of research and writing sullied by a cute 90-minute film.

Waking Ned Devine is incredibly enjoyable—and disturbing. Filmed on the gorgeous Isle of Wight in the English Channel, the wonderfully quirky movie, written and directed by Kirk Jones, presents sprightly characters fascinating to watch. But Waking Ned Devine also presents a postmodern ethic with such delight that it seems far more attractive than traditional Christianity.

"Postmodernism" became a household word (at least in academic houses) soon after the publication in 1984 of Jean-Francois Lyotard's The Post-Modern Condition. In this work, Lyotard calls for a dismantling of "metanarratives": those totalizing explanations of existence that demand universal "consensus." Instead, Lyotard advocates "dissensus," wherein groups of people define themselves not by one metanarrative that they insist is the truth for all humans—as Enlightenment rationalism, like Christianity, had done—but instead by their own localized "language games." For Lyotard, then, different "language games" define what is just differently, explaining the pun behind his 1985 work Just Gaming.1

The notion of gaming informs the entire narrative of Waking Ned Devine. The ...

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