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Postmodernism is a term describing a wide-ranging change in thinking beginning in the early 20th century. Although a difficult term to pin down, "postmodern" generally refers to the criticism of absolute truths or identities and "grand narratives." Perhaps the best way to think about postmodernism is to look at modernism, because postmodernism is generally characterized as either emerging from, or in reaction to it. Postmodernism has had large implications in philosophy, art, critical theory, architecture, literature, history, and culture. The adjective postmodern (in slang abbreviated to pomo) can refer to aspects of either postmodernism or postmodernity.

Uses of the term

Historically

The term derives from postmodernity, which postmodern theorist Jean-François Lyotard understood to represent the culmination of the process of modernity and Enlightenment thought, towards an accelerating pace of cultural change, to a point where constant change has in fact become the status quo, leaving the notion of progress obsolete.

As with many other divisions, the use of the term is subject to the lumpers and splitters problem. There are those who use very small and exact definitions, and there are those who deny that there is a postmodernism at all distinct from the modern period, preferring instead to use terms such as "late modernism".

Post-modernism is not counter-this or anti-that. The term does not apply to post-anything aside from following modern thought. Post-modernism is an ideology that cannot be placed into a specific category. Accordingly, post-modernism is a term more relevant to modernists.

The term post-modern can also be viewed as an intentional contradiction.

First Usage

In an essay From Postmodernism to Postmodernity: the Local/Global Context, [1], Ihab Hassan points out a number of instances in which the term "postmodernism" was used before the term became popular:

Postmodernism was first identified as a theoretical discipline in the 1970s. For a thorough historical overview distinguishing the threads of development in different decades, cultural realms, and academic disciplines, see Hans Bertens' The Idea of the Postmodern: A History, (New York: Routledge, 1995).

A general definition

The term postmodernism is also used in a broader pejorative sense to describe attitudes, sometimes part of the general culture, and sometimes specifically aimed at critical theories perceived as relativist, nihilist, counter-Enlightenment or antimodern, particularly in relationship to critiques of rationalism, universalism, foundationalism or science. It is also sometimes used to describe social changes which are held to be antithetical to traditional systems of philosophy, religion, and morality.

The role, proper usage, and meaning of postmodernism remain matters of intense debate and vary widely with context.

The development of postmodernism

Main article: The development of postmodernism

Postmodernism is often used in a larger sense, meaning the entire trend of thought in the late 20th century, and the social and philosophical realities of that period. Writers such as John Ralston Saul among others have argued that postmodernism represents an accumulated disillusionment with the promises of the Enlightenment project and its progress of science, so central to modern thinking.

The existentialists like Nietzsche brought a new nihilism and atheism which influenced culture. Post-colonialism after WW2 contributed to the idea that one cannot have an objectively superior lifestyle or belief. This idea was taken further by the anti-foundationalist philosophers: Heidegger, then Ludwig Wittgenstein, then Derrida, who re-examined the fundamentals of knowledge. They argue that rationality was neither as sure nor as clear as modernists or rationalists assert. Even logic could be biased -- "logocentrism" - the privileging of a system of logic. Psychologists have since gone further in asserting a cognitive bias, which points at a human bias of truth.

Søren Kierkegaard and Karl Barth's important fideist approach to theology and lifestyle, brought an irreverence to reason, and the rise of subjectivity.

Features of postmodern culture begin to arise in the 1920s with the emergence of the Dada movement. Both World Wars (perhaps even the concept of a World War), contributed to postmodernism; it is with the end of the Second World War that recognizably post-modernist attitudes begin to emerge. Some identify the burgeoning anti-establishment movements of the 1960s as an early trend toward postmodernism. The theory gained some of its strongest ground early on in French academia. In 1979 Jean-François Lyotard wrote a short but influential work The Postmodern Condition : a report on knowledge. Also, Richard Rorty wrote "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature"(1979). Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault, and Roland Barthes (in his more post-structural work) are also strongly influential in 1970's postmodern theory.

The book "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature"(1979) by Richard Rorty is a famous postmodern text; its title could also serve as the defining element of postmodernism - that we cannot make sense of the mind mirroring anything outside the mind accurately.

Marxist critics argue that postmodernism is symptomatic of "late capitalism" and the decline of institutions, particularly the nation-state. Other thinkers assert that post-modernity is the natural reaction to mass broadcasting and a society conditioned to mass production and mass politics.

The movement has had diverse political ramifications: its anti-ideological ideas appear conducive to, and strongly associated with, the feminist movement, racial equality movements, gay rights movements, most forms of late 20th century anarchism, even the peace movement and various hybrids of these in the current anti-globalization movement. Unsurprisingly, none of these institutions entirely embraces all aspects of the postmodern movement in its most concentrated definition, but reflect, or in true postmodern style, borrow from some of its core ideas.


Influencer Year Influence
Søren Kierkegaard c.1843 "Truth is subjectivity" One aspect of Postmodernism that is almost impossible to debate: its language is inextricably linked to modernism.
Nietzsche c.1880 no fixed values, god is dead
Dada movement c.1920 a focus on the framing of objects and discourse as being as important, or more important, than the work itself
Wittgenstein c.1950 anti-foundationalism, no certainty, a philosophy of language
Thomas Samuel Kuhn c.1962 posited the rapid change of the basis of scientific knowledge to a provisional consensus of scientists, coined the term "paradigm shift"
Jacques Derrida c.1970 re-examining the fundamentals of knowledge, deconstruction
Jean Baudrillard c.1981 Simulacra and Simulation - reality created by media

Deconstruction

Main article: Deconstruction

Deconstruction is a term which is used to denote the application of post-modern ideas of criticism, or theory, to a "text" or "artifact". A deconstruction is meant to undermine the frame of reference and assumptions that underpin the text or the artifact.

In its original use, a "deconstruction" is an important textual "occurrence" described and analyzed by many postmodern authors and philosophers. They argued that aspects in the text itself would undermine its own authority or assumptions, that internal contradictions would erase boundaries or categories which the work relied on or asserted. Post-structuralists beginning with Jacques Derrida, who coined the term, argued that the existence of deconstructions implied that there was no intrinsic essence to a text, merely the contrast of difference. This is analogous to the scientific idea that only the variations are real, that there is no established norm to a genetic population, or the idea that the difference in perception between black and white is the context. A deconstruction is created when the "deeper" substance of text opposes the text's more "superficial" form. This too is not an idea isolated to post-structuralists, but is related to the idea of hermeneutics in literature, and was asserted as early as Plato, and by modern thinkers such as Leo Strauss. Derrida's argument is that deconstruction proves that texts have multiple meanings, and the "violence" between the different meanings of text may be elucidated by close textual analysis.

Popularly, close textual analyses describing deconstruction within a text are often themselves called deconstructions. Derrida argued, however, that deconstruction is not a method or a tool, but an occurrence within the text itself. Writings about deconstruction perhaps are referred to in academic circles as deconstructive readings, in conformance with this view of the word.

Deconstruction is far more important to postmodernism than its seemingly narrow focus on text might imply. According to Derrida, one consequence of deconstruction is that the text may be defined so broadly as to encompass not just written words, but the entire spectrum of symbols and phenomena within Western thought. To Derrida, a result of deconstruction is that no Western philosopher has been able to successfully escape from this large web of text and reach the purely text-free "signified" which they imagined to exist "just beyond" the text.

The more common use of the term is the more general process of pointing to contradictions between the intent and surface of a work, and the assumptions about it. A work then "deconstructs" assumptions when it places them in context. For example, someone who can pass as the opposite sex is said to "deconstruct" gender roles, because there is a conflict between the superficial appearance, and the reality of the person's gender.

Postmodernism's manifestations

Lifestyle

As a cultural movement, features that have contributed to postmodernity include globalization, consumerism, the fragmentation of authority, and the commodification of knowledge. In the era of postmodern culture, people have rejected the grand, supposedly universal stories and paradigms such as religion, conventional philosophy, capitalism and gender that have defined culture and behavior in the past, and have instead begun to organize their cultural life around a variety of more local and subcultural ideologies, myths and stories.

The result of accepting postmodernism is the view that different realms of discourse are incommensurable and incapable of judging the results of other discourse. It is the idea that all such metanarratives and paradigms are stable only while they fit the available evidence, and can potentially be overturned when phenomena occur that the paradigm cannot account for, and a better explanatory model (itself subject to the same fate) is found.

See: "The Post Modern Condition: A Report on Knowledge" by Lyotard in 1979

Postmodernism in language

Main article: Postmodernism in language

Important to postmodernism's role in language is the focus on the implied meaning of words and forms the power structures that are accepted as part of the way words are used, from the use of the word "Man" with a capital "M" to refer to the collective humanity, to the default of the word "he" in English as a pronoun for a person of gender unknown to the speaker, or as a casual replacement for the word "one". This, however, is merely the most obvious example of the changing relationship between diction and discourse which postmodernism presents.

An important concept in postmodernism's view of language is the idea of "play" text. In the context of postmodernism, play means changing the framework which connects ideas, and thus allows the troping, or turning, of a metaphor or word from one context to another, or from one frame of reference to another. Since, in postmodern thought, the "text" is a series of "markings" whose meaning is imputed by the reader, and not by the author, this play is the means by which the reader constructs or interprets the text, and the means by which the author gains a presence in the reader's mind. Play then involves invoking words in a manner which undermines their authority, by mocking their assumptions or style, or by layers of misdirection as to the intention of the author. Roland Barthes argued this concept, and coined it 'Death of the Author'; this allows for 'freedom of the reader'. Barthes is well known for having stated, "It is language that speaks, not the author". Another key concept is the view that people are, essentially, blank slated linguistically, and that social acclimation, cultural factors, habituation and images are the primary ways of shaping the structure of how people speak. This view of writing is not without harsh detractors, who regard it as needlessly difficult and obscure, and a violation of the implicit contract of lucidity between author and reader: that an author has something to communicate, and shall choose words which transmit the idea as transparently as possible to the reader. Thus postmodernism in language has often been identified with poor writing and communication skills. The term pomobabble came to be within pop culture to illustrate this trend.

Postmodernism in art

Main article: Postmodern art

Where modernists hoped to unearth universals or the fundamentals of art, postmodernism aims to unseat them, to embrace diversity and contradiction. A postmodern approach to art thus rejects the distinction between low and high art forms. Postmodern style is often characterized by eclecticism, digression, collage, pastiche, irony, the return of ornament and historical reference, and the appropriation of popular media. Some artistic movements commonly called postmodern are pop art, architectural deconstructivism, magical realism in literature, maximalism, and neo-romanticism. It rejects rigid genre boundaries and promotes parody, irony, and playfulness, commonly referred to as jouissance by postmodern theorists. Unlike modern art, postmodern art does not approach this fragmentation as somehow faulty or undesirable, but rather celebrates it. As the gravity of the search for underlying truth is relieved, it is replaced with 'play'. As postmodern icon David Byrne, and his band Talking Heads said: "Stop making sense."

Post-modernity, in attacking the perceived elitist approach of Modernism, sought greater connection with broader audiences. This is often labelled "accessibility" and is a central point of dispute in the question of the value of postmodern art. It has also embraced the mixing of words with art, collage and other movements in modernity, in an attempt to create more multiplicity of medium and message. Much of this centers on a shift of basic subject matter: postmodern artists regard the mass media as a fundamental subject for art, and use forms, tropes, and materials - such as banks of video monitors, found art, and depictions of media objects - as focal points for their art. With his "invention" of "readymade", Marcel Duchamp is often seen as a forerunner on postmodern art. Where Andy Warhol furthered the concept with his appropriation of common popular symbols and "ready-made" cultural artifacts, bringing the previously mundane or trivial onto the previously hallowed ground of high art.

Postmodernism's critical stance is interlinked with presenting new appraisals of previous works. As implied above, the works of the Dada movement received greater attention, as did collagists such as Robert Rauschenberg, whose works were initially considered unimportant in the context of the modernism of the 1950s, but who, by the 1980s, began to be seen as seminal. Post-modernism also elevated the importance of cinema in artistic discussions, placing it on a peer level with the other fine arts. This is both because of the blurring of distinctions between "high" and "low" forms, and because of the recognition that cinema represented the creation of simulacra which was later duplicated in the other arts.

See also: Contemporary art

Postmodernism in music

Main article: Postmodern music

Postmodern music is both a musical style and a musical condition. As a musical style, postmodern music contains characteristics of postmodern art—that is, art after modernism (see Modernism in Music); eclecticism in musical form and musical genre, combining characteristics from different genres, or employing jump-cut sectionalization (such as blocks). It tends to be self-referential and ironic, and it blurs the boundaries between "high art" and kitsch. Daniel Albright (2004) summarizes the traits of the postmodern style as bricolage, polystylism, and randomness.

As a musical condition, postmodern music is simply the state of music in postmodernity, music after modernity. In this sense, postmodern music does not have any one particular style or characteristic, and is not necessarily postmodern in style or technique. The music of modernity, however, was viewed primarily as a means of expression while the music of postmodernity is valued more as a spectacle, a good for mass consumption, and an indicator of group identity. For example, one significant role of music in postmodern society is to act as a badge by which people can signify their identity as a member of a particular subculture

Postmodernism in graphic design

Main article: graphic design

Postmodernism in graphic design for the most part has been mainly a visual and decorative movement. Many designers and design critics contend that postmodernism, in the sense of literary or architectural understanding of the term, never really impacted graphic design as it did in these other fields. Alternatively, some argue that it did but took on a different persona. This can be seen in the work produced at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan during the late 1980s to late 1990s and at the MFA program at CalArts in California. But when all was said and done, the various notions of the postmodern in the various design fields never really stuck to graphic design as it did with architecture. Some argue that the "movement" (if it ever was one) had little to no impact on graphic design. More likely, it did, but more in the sense of a continuation or re-evaluation of the modern. Some would argue that this continuous re-evaluation is also just a component of the design process - happening for most of the second half of the 20th C. in the profession. Since it was ultimately the work of graphic designers that inspired pop artists like Warhol, Liechtenstein, and architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown, it could be argued that graphic design practice and designs may be be the root of Postmodernism.

Graphic design saw a massive popular raising at the end of the seventies in form of Graffiti and Hip Hop culture's rise. Graphic form of expression became a vast everyday hobby among school kids all around the developed western countries. Along side this 'movement' that took rebellious and even criminal cultural forms was born the mass hobby of coding computer graphics. This phenomena worked as a stepping stone towards the graphic infrastructure that is applied in majority of computer interfaces today.

Postmodernism in literature

Main article: Postmodern literature

Postmodern literature argues for expansion, the return of reference, the celebration of fragmentation rather than the fear of it, and the role of reference itself in literature. While drawing on the experimental tendencies of authors such as Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner in English, and Jorge Luis Borges in Spanish - writers who were taken as influences by American postmodern authors such as Norman Mailer, Thomas Pynchon, Robert Lowell, Don DeLillo, John Barth, William Gaddis, David Foster Wallace, and Paul Auster - the advocates of postmodern literature argue that the present is fundamentally different from the modern period, and therefore requires a new literary sensibility.

Postmodernism in architecture

Main article: Postmodern architecture

As with many cultural movements, one of postmodernism's most pronounced and visible ideas can be seen in architecture. The functional, and formalized, shapes and spaces of the modernist movement are replaced by unapologetically diverse aesthetics; styles collide, form is adopted for its own sake, and new ways of viewing familiar styles and space abound.

Architects generally considered postmodern include: Peter Eisenman, Philip Johnson (later works), John Burgee, Robert Venturi, Ricardo Bofill, James Stirling, Charles Willard Moore, and Frank Gehry.

Postmodernism, planning & urban design

Post modern landscapes in contemporary cities can be understood better in the context of globalization which can be described as a variant form of capitalism where a growing proportion of all economic activity is being progressively organised at the international rather than the national, spatial scale. [2] This international scope not only influences economic patterns, but also induces a multicultural ambience to metropolitan cities, effectively blending cultures into an altered context. David Harvey, in his seminal work, The Condition of Postmodernity argues that postmodernism, by way of contrasts, privileges heterogeneity and difference as liberative forces in the redefinition of cultural discourse and rejects metanarratives and overarching theories.[3] It purports an existence of multi-visionary thinking within the mosaic of the contemporary metropolis. It heralded the shift from modernism to a "perspectivism that questions how radically different realities may co-exist, collide and interpenetrate." [4]

Postmodernism in political science

Main article: Postmodernism in political science

Many situations which are considered political in nature can not be adequately discussed in traditional realist and liberal approaches to political science. Brief examples include the situation of a “draft-age youth whose identity is claimed in national narratives of ‘national security’ and the universalizing narratives of the ‘rights of man,’” of “the woman whose very womb is claimed by the irresolvable contesting narratives of ‘church,’ ‘paternity,’ ‘economy,’ and ‘liberal polity.’ In these cases, there are no fixed categories, stable sets of values, or common sense meanings to be understood in their scholarly exploration. Liberal approaches do not aid in understanding these types of situations; there is no individual or social or institutional structure whose values can impose a meaning or interpretive narrative.

Meaning and interpretation in these types of situations is always uncertain; arbitrary in fact. The power in effect here is not that of oppression, but that of the cultural and social implications around them, which creates the framework within which they see themselves, which creates the boundaries of their possible courses of action.

Postmodern political scientists, such as Richard Ashley, claim that in these marginal sites it is impossible to construct a coherent narrative, or story, about what is really taking place without including contesting and contradicting narratives, and still have a “true” story from the perspective of a “sovereign subject,” who can dictate the values pertinent to the “meaning” of the situation. By regarding them in this way, deconstructive readings attempt to uncover evidence of ancient cultural biases, conflicts, lies, tyrannies, and power structures, such as the tensions and ambiguity between peace and war, lord and subject, male and female, which serve as further examples of Derrida's binary oppositions in which the first element is privileged, or considered prior to and more authentic, in relation to the second. Examples of postmodern political scientists include post-colonial writers such as Frantz Fanon, feminist writers such as Cynthia Enloe, and postpositive theorists such as Ashley and James Der Derian.

Postmodernism in Sociology

In sociology, postmodernism is described as being the result of economic, cultural and demographic changes (related terms in this context include post-industrial society and late capitalism) and it is attributed to factors such as the rise of the service economy, the importance and ubiquity of the mass media and the rise of an increasingly interdependent world economy. Generation Y is the most heterogenious generation in terms of social groups and values. See also postmodern, information age, globalization, global village, media theory.

Postmodernism in philosophy

Main article: Postmodern philosophy

Postmodern philosophy is a radical criticism of Western philosophy, because it rejects the universalizing tendencies of philosophy. It applies to movements that include post-structuralism, deconstruction, multiculturalism, neo-relativism, neo-marxism, gender studies and literary theory. It emerged beginning in the 1950s as a rejection of doctrines such as positivism, Darwinism, materialism and objective idealism.

Postmodern philosophy emphasizes the importance of power relationships, personalization and discourse in the "construction" of truth and world views. In this context it has been used by critical theorists to assert that postmodernism is a break with the artistic and philosophical tradition of the Enlightenment, which they characterize as a quest for an ever-grander and more universal system of aesthetics, ethics, and knowledge. Postmodern philosophy draws on a number of approaches to criticize Western thought, including historicism, and psychoanalytic theory.

Many figures in the 20th century philosophy of mathematics are identified as "postmodern" due to their rejection of mathematics as a strictly neutral point of view. Some figures in the philosophy of science, especially Thomas Samuel Kuhn and David Bohm, are also so viewed. Some see the ultimate expression of postmodernism in science and mathematics in the cognitive science of mathematics, which seeks to characterize the habit of mathematics itself as strictly human, and based in human cognitive bias.

Postmodern philosophy is criticised for prizing irony over knowledge, and giving the irrational equal footing with the rational. [5]

The term "Neo-liberalism" has been used in a theological sense as a drive to deliberately modify the beliefs and practices of the church (especially evangelical) to conform to postmodernism. (See also emergent church)

Postmodernism and post-structuralism

In terms of frequently cited works, postmodernism and post-structuralism overlap quite significantly. Some philosophers, such as Jean-François Lyotard, can legitimately be classified into both groups. This is partly due to the fact that both modernism and structuralism owe much to the Enlightenment project.

Structuralism has a strong tendency to be scientific in seeking out stable patterns in observed phenomena — an epistemological attitude which is quite compatible with Enlightenment thinking, and incompatible with postmodernists. At the same time, findings from structuralist analysis carried a somewhat anti-Enlightenment message, revealing that rationality can be found in the minds of "savage" people, just in forms differing from those that people from "civilized" societies are used to seeing. Implicit here is a critique of the practice of colonialism, which was partly justified as a "civilizing" process by which wealthier societies bring knowledge, manners, and reason to less "civilized" ones.

Post-structuralism, emerging as a response to the structuralists' scientific orientation, has kept the cultural relativism in structuralism, while discarding the scientific orientations.

One clear difference between postmodernism and poststructuralism is found in their respective attitudes towards the demise of the project of the Enlightenment: post-structuralism is fundamentally ambivalent, while postmodernism is decidedly celebratory.

Another difference is the nature of the two positions. While post-structuralism is a position in philosophy, encompassing views on human beings, language, body, society, and many other issues, it is not a name of an era. Post-modernism, on the other hand, is closely associated with "post-modern" era, a period in the history coming after the modern age.

Postmodernity and digital communications

Technological utopianism is a common trait in Western history — from the 1700s when Adam Smith essentially labelled technological progress as the source of the Wealth of Nations, through the novels of Jules Verne in the late 1800s (with the notable exception of his then-unpublished Paris in the 20th Century), through Winston Churchill's belief that there was little an inventor could not achieve. Its manifestation in post-modernity was first through the explosion of analog mass broadcasting of television. Strongly associated with the work of Marshall McLuhan who argued that "the medium is the message", the ability of mass broadcasting to create visual symbols and mass action was seen as a liberating force in human affairs, even at the same time Newton N. Minow was calling television "a vast wasteland".

The second wave of technological utopianism associated with postmodern thought came with the introduction of digital internetworking, and became identified with Esther Dyson and such popular outlets as Wired Magazine. According to this view digital communications makes the fragmentation of modern society a positive feature, since individuals can seek out those artistic, cultural and community experiences which they regard as being correct for themselves.

The common thread is that the fragmentation of society and communication gives the individual more autonomy to create their own environment and narrative. This links into the postmodern novel, which deals with the experience of structuring "truth" from fragments.

Relationship between modernism and postmodernism

The relationship between modernism and postmodernism, can best be examined through the works of several authors, some of whom argue for such a distinction, while others call it into question. Following a methodology common among the authors whose work this article examines, a number of artists and writers commonly described as modernist or postmodernist will be considered, although it is noted that this classification is at times controversial. Although useful distinctions can be drawn between the modernist and postmodernist eras, this does not erase the many continuities present between them.

One of the most significant differences between modernism and postmodernism in the arts is the concern for universality or totality. While modernist artists aimed to capture universality or totality in some sense, postmodernists have rejected these ambitions as "metanarratives."

In comparing postmodernism and modernism as aligning historical philosophies, postmodernism becomes the point in modernism where modernism shows its ability to transform and change.

Criticism

The term post-modernism is often used pejoratively to describe tendencies perceived as Relativist, Counter-enlightenment or antimodern, particularly in relation to critiques of Rationalism, Universalism or Science. It is also sometimes used to describe tendencies in a society that are held to be antithetical to traditional systems of morality. The criticisms of postmodernism are often made complex by the still fluid nature of the term, in many cases the criticisms are clearly directed at poststructuralism and the philosophical and academic movements that it has spawned rather than the broader term postmodernism.

The most prominent recent criticism of postmodern art is that of John Gardner. Gardner wrote that the classification "post-modern" / "modern" applied to the art of his time was an evasion, a stab at nothing - i.e., a move to elude the basic function of criticism, which, according to Gardner, is to judge art's moral value.

Charles Murray, a strong critic of postmodernism, defines the term:

By contemporary intellectual fashion, I am referring to the constellation of views that come to mind when one hears the words multicultural, gender, deconstruct, politically correct, and Dead White Males. In a broader sense, contemporary intellectual fashion encompasses as well the widespread disdain in certain circles for technology and the scientific method. Embedded in this mind-set is hostility to the idea that discriminating judgments are appropriate in assessing art and literature, to the idea that hierarchies of value exist, hostility to the idea that an objective truth exists. Postmodernism is the overarching label that is attached to this perspective.

— Charles Murray, [1]

Central to the debate is the role of the concept of "objectivity" and what it means. In the broadest sense, denial of the practical possibility of objectivity is held to be the postmodern position, and a hostility towards claims advanced on the basis of objectivity its defining feature. It is this underlying hostility toward the concept of objectivity, evident in many contemporary critical theorists, that is the common point of attack for critics of postmodernism. Many critics characterise postmodernism as an ephemeral phenomenon that cannot be adequately defined simply because, as a philosophy at least, it represents nothing more substantial than a series of disparate conjectures allied only in their distrust of modernism.

This antipathy of postmodernists towards modernism, and their consequent tendency to define themselves against it, has also attracted criticism. It has been argued that modernity was not actually a lumbering, totalizing monolith at all, but in fact was itself dynamic and ever-changing; the evolution, therefore, between "modern" and "postmodern" should be seen as one of degree, rather than of kind - a continuation rather than a "break." One theorist who takes this view is Marshall Berman, whose book All That is Solid Melts into Air (1982) (a quote from Marx) reflects in its title the fluid nature of "the experience of modernity."

As noted above, some theorists such as Habermas even argue that the supposed distinction between the "modern" and the "postmodern" does not exist at all, but that the latter is really no more than a development within a larger, still-current, "modern" framework. Many who make this argument are left academics with Marxist leanings, such as Seyla Benhabib, Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, and David Harvey (social geographer), who are concerned that postmodernism's undermining of Enlightenment values makes a progressive cultural politics difficult, if not impossible. For instance, "How can 'we' effect any change in people's poor living conditions, in inequality and injustice, if 'we' don't accept the validity of underlying universals such as the 'real world' and 'justice' in the first place?" How is any progress to be made through a philosophy so profoundly skeptical of the very notion of progress, and of unified perspectives? The critics charge that the postmodern vision of a tolerant, pluralist society in which every political ideology is perceived to be as valid, or as redundant, as the other, may ultimately encourage individuals to lead lives of a rather disastrous apathetic quietism. This reasoning leads Habermas to compare postmodernism with conservatism and the preservation of the status quo.

Such critics often argue that, in actual fact, such postmodern premises are rarely, if ever, actually embraced — that if they were, we would be left with nothing more than a crippling radical subjectivism. They point to the continuity of the projects of the Enlightenment and modernity as alive and well, as can be seen in the justice system, in science, in political rights movements, in the very idea of universities, and so on.

To some critics, there seems, indeed, to be a glaring contradiction in maintaining the death of objectivity and privileged position on one hand, while the scientific community continues a project of unprecedented scope to unify various scientific disciplines into a theory of everything, on the other. Hostility toward hierarchies of value and objectivity becomes problematic to them when postmodernity itself attempts to analyse such hierarchies with, apparently, some measure of objectivity and make categorical statements concerning them.

They see postmodernism, then as, essentially, a kind of semantic gamesmanship, more sophistry than substance. Postmodernism's proponents are often criticised for a tendency to indulge in exhausting, verbose stretches of rhetorical gymnastics, which critics feel sound important but are ultimately meaningless. In the Sokal Affair, Alan Sokal, a physicist, wrote a deliberately nonsensical article purportedly about interpreting physics and mathematics in terms of postmodern theory, which was nevertheless published by the Left-leaning Social Text, a journal which he and most of the scientific community considered as postmodernist. Interestingly, Social Text never acknowledged that the article's publication was a mistake, but supported a counter-argument defending the "interpretative validity" of Sokal's false article, despite the author's rebuttal of his own article.

Although Ken Wilber embraces many aspects of post-modernism, he distinguishes between a healthy form and an unhealthy 'extreme' form. Inherent in the extreme version is the irreconcilability of the performative contradiction. Wilber argues postmodernism must take the stance that its view is 'better' than what preceded it (modernity, Enlightenment (concept), metanarratives, positivism, etc.). This intrinsic and silent judgement that postmodernism imposes on its predecessors is in itself not only a value judgement (a thing it often rejects), but a hierarchy in itself (a hierarchy of values). Wilber claims his recent work in integral theory addresses these performative contradictions, while retaining many of the important contributions of postmodernism. Wilber's approach is distinguished from other critiques by asking a different question. It does not ask whether postmodernism, or modernism, or any other system of thought is 'correct' or 'not correct'. Rather, it asks what are the emergent qualities of 'consciousness' that allow all of these systems of thought to arise in the first place? And, what important aspect of truth do they have to contribute? Jorge Ferrer responds to Wilber's criticisms.

In response to the critics of postmodernism, it has been suggested that no "postmodern" ethos or movement has actually taken practical form, and that the term "postmodernism" has been used by traditionalist intellectuals as a catch-all term serving to condemn trends in thought without adequately addressing their content.

Quotes about postmodern

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  • ”A worldview that emphasizes the existence of different worldviews” [6]
  • ”It accepts that reality is fragmented and that personal identity is an unstable quantity transmitted by a variety of cultural factors. Postmodernism advocates an irreverent, playful treatment of one's own identity, and a liberal society.” [7]
  • "Postmodernism is simply a juvenile tantrum about how uncooperative reality is with socialist thought" [8]
  • "A generation raised on channel-surfing has lost the capacity for linear thinking and analytical reasoning." [9]
  • "Enlightenment is totalitarian" [10]
  • "A constitutional inability to adopt a reasonable way to tell the good stuff from the bad stuff" -Chip Morningstar, author and developer of software systems for online entertainment and communication.
  • "Postmodernism is incredulity towards metanarratives" Jean-Francois Lyotard
  • "Postmodernism: the Grande Narrative that denies Grande Narrative" Cedric Watts, University of Sussex (Via Lee Goddard)
  • "There is no single way to define postmodernism, and that is the single most postmodern thing about it." -Mark Williams, chair of film and television studies at Dartmouth College. [11]
  • "Postmodernism can be defined as a procedural rebellion against totalizing systems of thought with an eventual affirmation of no centers of value." - Luca Petryshyn, Concordia university
  • "Postmodernist fiction is defined by its temporal disorder, its disregard of linear narrative, its mingling of fictional forms and its experiments with language." - Barry Lewis, Kazuo Ishiguro
  • "The postmodern challenges our thinking about time, challenges us to see the present in the past, the future in the present, the present in a kind of no time." - Andrew Bennet and Nicholas Royle
  • "a new kind of superficiality" or "depthlessness" - Fredric Jameson

See also

Theoretical postmodernism

Cultural and political postmodernism

Further reading

  • Ashley, Richard and Walker, R. B. J. (1990) “Speaking the Language of Exile.” International Studies Quarterly v 34, no 3 259-68.
  • Berman, Marshall (1982) All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity (ISBN 0140109625).
  • Callinicos, Alex, Against Postmodernism: A Marxist Critique (Cambridge: Polity, 1999).
  • Harvey, David (1989) The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (ISBN 0631162941)
  • Hicks, Stephen R. C. (2004) Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (ISBN 1592476465)
  • Jameson, Fredric (1991) Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (ISBN 0822310902)
  • Lyotard, Jean-François (1984) The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (ISBN 0816611734)
  • Sokal, Alan and Jean Bricmont (1998) Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science (ISBN 0312204078)
  • Norris, Christopher (1990) What's Wrong with Postmodernism: Critical Theory and the Ends of Philosophy (ISBN 0801841372)
  • Veith Jr., Gene Edward (1994) Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture (ISBN 0891077685)

External links and references

  1. ^  Engels, B. (2000) ‘City Make-overs: the place-marketing of Melbourne during the Kennett years, 1992-1999’, Urban Policy and Research 18(4), p 470
  2. ^  Harvey, D. (1990) The Condition of Postmodernity, Blackwell, U.K., p 9
  3. ^  Harvey, D. (1990) The Condition of Postmodernity, Blackwell, U.K., p 41


Notes

  1. ^  From Postmodernism To Postmodernity: The Local/Global Context. URL accessed on December 2, 2005.
  2. ^  A definition of postmodernism in regards to philosophy.

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