What is Postmodernism? It must first be stated that the very term “Postmodernism” in itself is a highly debated topic.There exists much debate about whether the conditions described as Postmodern are at all unique and new, or if said conditions even exist…
(UN/)FORTUNATELY…For us, the very debate surrounding the termis evidence enough that as educated people we must consider the ideas associated with the term. And what’s more, the term has become an indispensable name for a way of thinkingabout literature, which clearly concerns us.
On the left we have On the right is a seminalModernist architect instance ofMinoru Yamasaki’s 1954 PostmodernPruitt-Igoe housing Architecture.projects in St. Louis. It is The Portland Buildingan example of Moderniststyle called: in Portland was designed by MichaelInternational Style. Graves and completed in 1982.
Modernism vs. PostmodernismWe started here with architecture becausecontained within each of these two buildings isthe respective ideologies of Modernism andPostmodernism.The suggestion here is that Postmodernismcomes after and out of Modernism. And asarchitect Charles Jencks suggested, themoment of transition from Modernism toPostmodernism happened July 15, 1972at 3.32 pm with the demolition of Pruitt-Igoe.
Now the exact date here is somewhatirrelevant, as Jencks means more to make afirm point about the death of modernism ingeneral than he has any concern for theexact time.And we have chosen architecture as alaunch point for 2 reasons:first, architecture provides a clear exampleof the visual aesthetics associated with eachmovement; and second…
…our first contrast was architecturebecause architecture is a concretereflection of the cultural and economicconditions from which it arises.So, then, we should begin to see thatPostmodernism is not purely an aestheticstyle, but something more. This somethingmore includes cultural and economicconditions. More precisely, Postmodernismnames a change in the cultural andeconomic conditions that help to constitutethe western world.
Literary ModernismBut what are these changes? How doesPostmodernism differ from Modernism?Well if we recall our thinking aboutmodernism in terms of our study of literature,we might find ourselves at a dead halt.Literary Modernism and general Postmodernthought share a lot of the samepresumptions. But we’ll come back to this.
Cultural Modernism However, if we (briefly) recall, cultural Modernism had its origin in Enlightenment thought. I.e. …Immanuel Kant G.W.F. Hegel Karl Marx 1724-1804 1770-1831 1818-1883
EnlightenmentKant: thought science would usher in humanprogress by uniting experience and reason…Hegel: thought history was driving towardutopia (History’s end) by way of a dialecticalresolution of all conflict…Marx: thought all industrial societies resolvedconflict by moving through stages of economicsystems, such that the end of history was thelogical progression from capitalism tocommunism…
From Enlightenment to ModernismKant, Hegel, and Marx all shared a belief inthe progress of human kind. That the world’speoples were in constant motion toward abetter future.Each thinker shared the belief that UniversalReason was the means by which suchprogress would happen.
ModernismKant, Hegel, and Marx helped to lay thefoundation for our “Modern” way of thinking.As moderns, we ourselves believed that scienceand reason could show an objective truth thatwould free all of mankind from the irrationalityof the past.In modernity, the Industrial Revolution andCapitalism are the manifestations of thisUniversal Reason.
Post-Modernism?So if science and capitalism are forms ofuniversal truth that Modernism has employedin the name of progress, then what is Post-Modernism?And further, if we still practice science andcapitalism, then how have we movedbeyond modernism?
Postmodernism.This now is the moment where we can startto get a sense of just what Postmodernism is.Postmodernism is the name often attributedto the cultural changes that have occurredsince Modernism took hold during the 19thcentury.These changes can be understood in 3registers:
The 3 registers of Postmodernism1. Postmodernity: names the broad changesoccurring in the cultural and economic conditions ofthe Western World since the 19th century.2. Postmodernism: is the thought that attempts toaccount for, determine the origin of, and criticizethese conditions.3. Postmodern: can be seen as the name for theindividuals living within these conditions, and so alsoname the art, literature, music, and other culturalactivity that we Postmoderns engage in.
Postmodern ThoughtIn understanding Postmodernism it isessential that we get a sense of just whatPostmoderns think. The easiest way to dothis is compare and contrast Modernism withPostmodernism.So we’ll start with some terms common toeach that oppose each other.
MO vs. POMO-Progress -Change-The West - Global-Universal Truth -Relative Truth-objectivity -Perspectivism-Identity -Difference-Freedom -Choice-Hierarchy -non-Hierarchical-Unity -Diversity
DifferenceWhat we see in our loose table here is a shiftin thinking. Where the Modernists believedin Universal Truth and Reason as key to theprogress of a unified human race,Postmoderns question the validity of theassumptions that the Modernist insistence onprogress is based on.
Linguistic DifferenceThe Postmoderns place a huge stock in theidea that language produces our reality. Asa consequence of this, any attempt atuniversalizing thought is seen as totalitarianor hegemonic. Where the moderns use toolslike science, math, symbolic logic, or someother language to communicate ideas andtruths clearly, the Postmoderns feel thatthese truths are being constructed by thevery language that structures the method ofinvestigation.
What?To simplify, Postmoderns believe thatfavoring any one way of thinking overanother leads to the destruction ofalternative ways of thinking about theworld, thereby destroying diversity and thepossibility of different ways of thinking.After all, if science is the only truth, whatgood is literature?
Postmodern ThinkersIt might be helpful now to take a jauntthrough some of the big names inPostmodern thinking. These thinkers rangefrom philosophers and literary critics toeconomists, psychologists, and linguists.And with each name, we’ll briefly try togather how they think about the world. Feelfree to peruse their ideas or just glance attheir names…
Postmodern Thinkers: Foundations Friedrich Nietzsche, 1844 – 1900, is a German philosopher considered by many to be the progenitor of Postmodern thought. He is famous for questioning the foundations of western rationality suggesting that the perspective from which one investigates reality shapes his or results. His essay “On Truth and Lies in the Extra-Moral Sense” is considered by many to be the manifesto of Postmodern thought.
Postmodern Thinkers: Foundations Martin Heidegger, 1889-1976, a German philosopher whose book opus, Being and Time, is considered one of the most influential works of philosophy in history. Heidegger, like Nietzsche, questioned the foundations of Western thought, while providing an alternative way of thinking about humanity’s relation to the world. Heidegger is often considered the father of existentialism, though he rejected French existentialism on the grounds of its Humanism.
Postmodern Thinkers of the 60’s Jacques Lacan Jean-Francois Michel Foucault Jacques Derrida 1901-1982 Lyotard 1926-1984 1930-2004 Pioneering French 1924-1981 French Sociologist French philosopherPsychoanalyst who French philosopher who analyzed &literary critic who showed how who wrote The history to show the showed how culture and Postmodern way political knowledge andlanguage construct Condition: A power has been truth subjectivity Report on wielded to “deconstruct” Knowledge construct truth themselves through language
Postmodern ArtNow that we know who some of the thinkers ofPostmodernity are, we would do well to look atsome example of Postmodern art.And to aid in recognizing the change fromModern Art to the Postmodern, we’ll view thestyles side by side (as like with Pruitt-Igoe andthe Portland Building).
Modern Postmodern In Painting… < Guernica (1937) Picasso (Modern) Girl with a Tear III (1977)Roy Lichtenstein (Postmodern)>
Modern Postmodern In Sculpture… Something Pacific Nam June Paik (1986) (below)Unique Forms of Continuity in SpaceUmberto Boccioni (1913)^
Modern Postmodern In Architecture…Seagram Building in New York Piazza dItalia in New OrleansLudwig Mies van der Rohe Charles Moore (1978)& Phillip Johnson (1958)
Modern Postmodern In Classical Music…Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky Phillip Glass 1882-1971 1937-(Alive) Russian Composer American Composer
Modern Postmodern In Pop Music…Francis Albert "Frank" Sinatra Devo 1915-1998 1972-Present American Singer American Punk/New Wave
Modern Postmodern In Film…The Searchers Blue Velvet 1956 1986 John Ford David Lynch
Literary Modernism and PostmodernismNow finally, and as most relevant to our course of study,we should clarify the subtle, if existing, differencesbetween modern and postmodern literature.As we have seen in our studies of literary modernism sofar there is the tendency to be highly self-reflective(Proust), to show the break down or dysfunction ofsocial norms (Pirandello), as well as the fragmentationof narrative, questions of identity, the validity ofuniversal truth, etc.All these things sound very postmodern…
Literary PomoWhat should become (un/)clear is the relationshipbetween literary modernism and postmodernismseems vexed. This is partly because the expressionof postmodern thought finds a lot of its basis in theideas of modern literature. That is Modernistliterature has been a sort of trailblazer for culturalthinking, ahead of its time.We can, however, sort out at least 3 distinctdifferences between literary modernism andpostmodernism we should attempt to recognize.
3 Characteristics of Lit. Pomo1. Lit. POMO recognizes diversity by attempting to give culturalothers their own voice. In modern novel’s like Conrad’s Heart ofDarkness non-westerner’s are merely described.2. Reference and Allusion in Modernist lit. is high brow makingreferences to high culture, like in James Joyce’s Ulysses which hasHomer’s The Odyssey as its implied backdrop. Pomo lit. (andarchitecture esp.) makes references to pop culture, things low-brow, think the Simpsons.3. Last, the fragmentation persistent in modernist lit. usually hassome coherence about it, i.e. the fragmentation ultimately makes apoint, has a narrative arch. Pomo lit. wields fragmentation with nocoherence, no resolve, no purpose. The narrative arch is gone, norise and fall. This places the burden of meaning on the reader, he orshe must decide for him/herself what is meaningful, if anything atall.
So Modern Postmodern In Literature… Heart of Darkness Waiting for Godot 1899 1953 Joseph Conrad Samuel Beckett Ulysses Gravity’s Rainbow 1922 1973James Joyce Thomas Pynchon Mrs. Dalloway White Noise 1925 1985 Virginia Woolf Don DeLillo
Works CitedHabib, Rafey. "The Era of Poststructuralism (II): Postmodernism, Modern Feminism, Gender Studies."Modern Literary Criticism and Theory: A History. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2008. 113- 145. Print.Jencks, Charles. The New Paradigm in Architecture: The Language of Post-modern Architecture. 7th ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002. Print. All images have been taken from sources bearing the Creative Commons License (i.e. Wikipedia) or are otherwise not copyrighted.