Postmodernism is a movement away from the viewpoint of modernism. More specifically it is a tendency in contemporary culture characterized by the problem of objective truth and inherent suspicion towards global cultural narrative or meta-narrative. It involves the belief that many, if not all, apparent realities are only social constructs, as they are subject to change inherent to time and place. It emphasizes the role of language, power relations, and motivations; in particular it attacks the use of sharp classifications such as male versus female, straight versus gay, white versus black, and imperial versus colonial. Rather, it holds realities to be plural and relative, and dependent on who the interested parties are and what their interests consist in. It attempts to problematise modernist overconfidence, by drawing into sharp contrast the difference between how confident speakers are of their positions versus how confident they need to be to serve their supposed purposes. Postmodernism has influenced many cultural fields, including literary criticism, sociology, linguistics, architecture, visual arts, and music.
Postmodernist thought is an intentional departure from modernist approaches that had previously been dominant. The term "postmodernism" comes from its critique of the "modernist" scientific mentality of objectivity and progress associated with the Enlightenment.
These movements, modernism and postmodernism, are understood as cultural projects or as a set of perspectives. "Postmodernism" is used in critical theory to refer to a point of departure for works of literature, drama, architecture, cinema, journalism, and design, as well as in marketing and business and in the interpretation of law, culture, and religion in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Indeed, postmodernism, particularly as an academic movement, can be understood as a reaction to modernism in the Humanities. Whereas modernism was primarily concerned with principles such as identity, unity, authority, and certainty, postmodernism is often associated with difference, plurality, textuality, and skepticism.
Literary critic Fredric Jameson describes postmodernism as the "dominant cultural logic of late capitalism." "Late capitalism" refers to the phase of capitalism after World War II, as described by economist Ernest Mandel; the term refers to the same period sometimes described by "globalization", "multinational capitalism", or "consumer capitalism". Jameson's work studies the postmodern in contexts of aesthetics, politics, philosophy, and economics.
History and emergenceThe term was first used around the 1870s in various areas. For example, John Watkins Chapman avowed "a Postmodern style of painting" to get beyond French Impressionism. Then, J. M. Thompson, in his 1914 article in The Hibbert Journal (a quarterly philosophical review), used it to describe changes in attitudes and beliefs in the critique of religion: "The raison d'etre of Post-Modernism is to escape from the double-mindedness of Modernism by being thorough in its criticism by extending it to religion as well as theology, to Catholic feeling as well as to Catholic tradition."
In 1917 Rudolf Pannwitz used the term to describe a philosophically oriented culture. His idea of post-modernism came from Friedrich Nietzsche's analysis of modernity and its end results of decadence and nihilism. Overcoming the modern human would be the post-human. Contrary to Nietzsche, Pannwitz also includes nationalist and mythical elements.
The term was used later in 1926 by B. I. Bell in his "Postmodernism & other Essays". In 1921 and 1925 it had been used to describe new forms of art and music. In 1942 H. R. Hays used it for a new literary form, but as a general theory of an historical movement it was first used in 1939 by the historian Arnold J. Toynbee: "Our own Post-Modern Age has been inaugurated by the general war of 1914-1918."
In 1949 the term was used to describe a dissatisfaction with modern architecture, leading to the postmodern architecture movement. Postmodernism in architecture is marked by the re-emergence of surface ornament, reference to surrounding buildings in urban architecture, historical reference in decorative forms, and non-orthogonal angles. It may be a response to the modernist architectural movement known as the International Style.
The term was then applied to a whole host of movements, many in art, music, and literature, that reacted against a range of tendencies in the imperialist phase of capitalism called "modernism," and are typically marked by revival of historical elements and techniques. Walter Truett Anderson identifies Postmodernism as one of four typological world views. These four worldviews are the Postmodern-ironist, which sees truth as socially constructed; the scientific-rational, in which truth is found through methodical, disciplined inquiry; the social-traditional, in which truth is found in the heritage of American and Western civilization; and the neo-romantic, in which truth is found through attaining harmony with nature and/or spiritual exploration of the inner self.
Postmodernist ideas in philosophy and the analysis of culture and society expanded the importance of critical theory and has been the point of departure for works of literature, architecture, and design, as well as being visible in marketing/business and the interpretation of history, law and culture, starting in the late 20th century. These developments — re-evaluation of the entire Western value system (love, marriage, popular culture, shift from industrial to service economy) that took place since the 1950s and 1960s, with a peak in the Social Revolution of 1968 — are described with the term Postmodernity, as opposed to Postmodernism, a term referring to an opinion or movement. Whereas something being "Postmodernist" would make it part of the movement, its being "Postmodern" would place it in the period of time since the 1950s, making it a part of contemporary history.
 Overview of ideas (see also Postmodern philosophy)
- Martin Heidegger (1889–1976)
- rejected the philosophical basis of the concepts of "subjectivity" and "objectivity" and asserted that similar grounding oppositions in logic ultimately refer to one another. Instead of resisting the admission of this paradox in the search for understanding, Heidegger requires that we embrace it through an active process of elucidation he called the "Hermeneutic Circle". He stressed the historicity and cultural construction of concepts while simultaneously advocating the necessity of an atemporal and immanentDasein (translated as Being or Being-in-the-World) present in the Presocratic philosophers but normalized, neutered and standardized since Plato. This was to be done, in part, by tracing the record of Dasein's sublimation or forgetfulness through the history of philosophy which meant that we were to ask again what constituted the grounding conditions in ourselves and in the World for the affinity between beings and between the many usages of the term "being" in philosophy. To do this, however, a non-historical and, to a degree, self-referential engagement with whatever set of ideas, feelings or practices would permit (both the non-fixed concept and reality of) such a continuity was required - a continuity permitting the possible experience, possible existence indeed not only of beings but of all differences as they appeared and tended to develop. Such a conclusion led Heidegger to depart from the Phenomenology of his teacher Husserl and prompt instead an (ironically anachronistic) return to the yet-unasked questions of Ontology, a return that in general did not acknowledge an intrinsic distinction between phenomena and noumena or between things in themselves (de re) and things as they appear (see qualia): Being-in-the-world, or rather, the openness to the process of Dasein's/Being's becoming was to bridge the age-old gap between these two. In this latter premise, Heidegger shares an affinity with the late Romantic philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, another principal forerunner of Post-structuralist and Postmodernist thought. Influential to thinkers associated with Postmodernism are Heidegger's critique of the subject-object or sense-knowledge division implicit in Rationalism, Empiricism and Methodological Naturalism, his repudiation of the idea that facts exist outside or separately from the process of thinking and speaking them (however, Heidegger is not specifically a Nominalist), his related admission that the possibilities of philosophical and scientific discourse are wrapped up in the practices and expectations of a society and that concepts and fundamental constructs are the expression of a lived, historical exercise rather than simple derivations of external, apriori conditions independent from historical mind and changing experience (see Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Heinrich von Kleist, Weltanschauung and Social Constructionism), and his Instrumentalist and Negativist notion that Being (and, by extension, reality) is an action, method, tendency, possibility and question rather than a discreet, positive, identifiable state, answer or entity (see also Process Philosophy, Dynamism, Instrumentalism, Pragmatism and Vitalism). apprehension of them. In this vein, he asserted that it was the task of contemporary philosophy to recover the original question of (or "openness to")
- Thomas Samuel Kuhn (1922–1996)
- located the rapid change of the basis of scientific knowledge to a provisional consensus among scientists; coined the term "paradigm shift" in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and in general contributed to the debate over the presumed neutrality and objectivity of empirical methodology in the Natural Sciences from disciplinarian or cultural bias.
- Jacques Derrida (1930–2004)
- re-examined the fundamentals of writing and its consequences on philosophy in general; sought to undermine the language of 'presence' or metaphysics in an analytical technique which, beginning as a point of departure from Heidegger's notion of Destruktion, came to be known as Deconstruction. Derrida utilized, like Heidegger, references to Greek philosophical notions associated with the SkepticsPresocratics, such as Epoché and Aporia to articulate his notion of implicit circularity between premises and conclusions, origins and manifestations, but - in a manner analogous in certain respects to Gilles Deleuze - presented a radical re-reading of canonical philosophical figures such as Plato, Aristotle and Descartes as themselves being informed by such "destabilizing" notions. and the
- Michel Foucault (1926–1984)
- introduced concepts such as 'discursive regime', or re-invoked those of older philosophers like 'episteme' and 'genealogy' in order to explain the relationship among meaning, power, and social behavior within social orders (see The Order of Things, The Archaeology of Knowledge, Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality). In direct contradiction to what have been typified as Modernist perspectives on epistemology, Foucault asserted that rational judgment, social practice and what he called 'biopower' are not only inseparable but co-determinant. While Foucault himself was deeply involved in a number of progressive political causes and maintained close personal ties with members of the far-Left, he was also controversial with Leftist thinkers of his day, including those associated with various strains of Marxism, proponents of Left libertarianism (e.g. Noam Chomsky) and Humanism (e.g. Jürgen Habermas), for his rejection of what he deemed to be Enlightenment-derived concepts of freedom, liberation, self-determination and human nature. Instead, Foucault focused on the ways in which such constructs can foster cultural hegemony, violence and exclusion. In line with his rejection of such 'positive' tenets of Enlightenment-era Humanism, he was active, with Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, in the Anti-Psychiatry Movement, considering much of institutionalized psychiatry and, in particular, Freud's concept of repression central to Psychoanalysis (which was still very influential in France during the 1960s and 70s), to be both harmful and misplaced. Foucault was known for his controversial aphorisms, such as "language is oppression", meaning that language functions in such a way as to render nonsensical, false or silent tendencies that might otherwise threaten or undermine the distributions of power backing a society's conventions - even when such distributions purport to celebrate liberation and expression or value minority groups and perspectives. His writings have had a major influence on the larger body of Postmodern academic literature.
- Jean-François Lyotard (1924–1998)
- identified in The Postmodern Condition a crisis in the 'discourses of the Human Sciences' latent in Modernism but catapulted to the fore by the advent of the "computerized" or "telematic" era (see Information Revolution). This crisis, insofar as it pertains to academia, concerns both the motivations and justification procedures for making research claims: unstated givens or values that have validated the basic efforts of academic research since the late 18th Century might no longer be valid (particularly, in Social Science & Humanities research, though examples from Mathematics are given by Lyotard as well). As formal conjecture about real-world issues becomes inextricably linked to automated calculation, information storage and retrieval, such knowledge becomes increasingly "exteriorised" from its knowers in the form of information. Knowledge is materialized and made into a commodity exchanged between producers and consumers; it ceases to be either an idealistic end-in-itself or a tool capable of bringing about liberty or social benefit; it is stripped of its humanistic and spiritual associations, its connection with education, teaching and human development, being simply rendered as "data" - omnipresent, material, unending and without any contexts or pre-requisites. Furthermore, the 'diversity' of claims made by various disciplines begins to lack any unifying principle or intuition as objects of study become more and more specialized due to the emphasis on specificity, precision and uniformity of reference that competitive, database-oriented research implies. The value-premises upholding academic research have been maintained by what Lyotard considers to be quasi-mythological beliefs about human purpose, human reason and human progress - large, background constructs he calls "Metanarratives". These Metanarratives still remain in Western society but are now being undermined by rapid Informatization and the commercialization of the University and its functions. The shift of authority from the presence and intuition of knowers - from the good-faith of Reason to seek diverse knowledge integrated for human benefit or truth fidelity - to the automated database and the market had, in Lyotard's view, the power to unravel the very idea of 'justification' or 'legitimation' and, with it, the rationale for research altogether - esp. in disciplines pertaining to human life, society and meaning. We are now controlled not by binding extra-linguistic value paradigms defining notions of collective identity and ultimate purpose, but rather by our automatic responses to different species of "language games" (a concept Lyotard imports from JL Austin's theory of Speech Acts). In his vision of a solution to this "vertigo," Lyotard opposes the assumptions of universality, consensus, and generality that he identified within the thought of Humanistic, Neo-Kantian philosophers like Jürgen Habermas and proposes a continuation of experimentation and diversity to be assessed pragmatically in the context of language games rather than via appeal to a resurrected series of transcendentals and metaphysical unities.
- Richard Rorty (1931–2007)
- argues in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature that contemporary Analytic philosophy mistakenly imitates scientific methods. In addition, he denounces the traditional epistemological perspectives of Representationalism and Correspondence theory that rely upon the independence of knowers and observers from phenomena and the passivity of natural phenomena in relation to consciousness. As a proponent of anti-foundationalism and anti-essentialism within a Pragmatist framework, he echoes Postmodern strains of Conventionalism and Philosophical Relativism, but opposes much Postmodern thinking with his commitment to Social Liberalism.
- Jean Baudrillard (1929–2007),
- in Simulacra and Simulation, introduced the concept that reality or the principle of the "real" is short-circuited by the interchangeability of signs in an era whose communicative and semantic acts are dominated by electronic media and digital technologies. Baudrillard proposes the notion that, in such a state, where subjects are detached from the outcomes of events (political, literary, artistic, personal or otherwise), events no longer hold any particular sway on the subject nor have any identifiable context; they therefore have the effect of producing widespread indifference, detachment and passivity in industrialized populations. He claimed that a constant stream of appearances and references without any direct consequences to viewers or readers could eventually render the division between appearance and object indiscernible, resulting, ironically, in the "disappearance" of mankind in what is, in effect, a virtual or holographic state, composed only of appearances.
- Fredric Jameson (born 1934)
- set forth one of the first expansive theoretical treatments of Postmodernism as a historical period, intellectual trend and social phenomenon in a series of lectures at the Whitney Museum, later expanded as Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991). Eclectic in his methodology, Jameson has continued a sustained examination of the role that Periodization continues to play as a grounding assumption of critical methodologies in Humanities disciplines. He has contributed extensive effort to explicating the importance of concepts of Utopianism and Utopia as driving forces in the cultural and intellectual movements of Modernity, and outlining the political and existential uncertainties that may result from the decline or suspension of this trend in the theorized state of Postmodernity. Like Susan Sontag, Jameson served to introduce a wide audience of American readers to key figures of the 20th Century Continental European intellectual Left, particularly those associated with the Frankfurt School, Structuralism and Post-Structuralism. Thus, his importance as a 'translator' of their ideas to the common vocabularies of a variety of disciplines in the Anglo-American academic complex is equally as important as his own critical engagement with them.
 Contested definitionsThe term "Postmodernism" is often used to refer to different, sometimes contradictory concepts. Conventional definitions include:
- Compact Oxford English Dictionary: "a style and concept in the arts characterized by distrust of theories and ideologies and by the drawing of attention to conventions."
- Merriam-Webster: Either "of, relating to, or being an era after a modern one", or "of, relating to, or being any of various movements in reaction to modernism that are typically characterized by a return to traditional materials and forms (as in architecture) or by ironic self-reference and absurdity (as in literature)", or, finally "of, relating to, or being a theory that involves a radical reappraisal of modern assumptions about culture, identity, history, or language".
- American Heritage Dictionary: "Of or relating to art, architecture, or literature that reacts against earlier modernist principles, as by reintroducing traditional or classical elements of style or by carrying modernist styles or practices to extremes: 'It [a roadhouse] is so architecturally interesting ... with its postmodern wooden booths and sculptural clock.'"
When it becomes possible for a people to describe as ‘postmodern’ the décor of a room, the design of a building, the diegesis of a film, the construction of a record, or a ‘scratch’ video, a television commercial, or an arts documentary, or the ‘intertextual’ relations between them, the layout of a page in a fashion magazine or critical journal, an anti-teleological tendency within epistemology, the attack on the ‘metaphysics of presence’, a general attenuation of feeling, the collective chagrin and morbid projections of a post-War generation of baby boomers confronting disillusioned middle-age, the ‘predicament’ of reflexivity, a group of rhetorical tropes, a proliferation of surfaces, a new phase in commodity fetishism, a fascination for images, codes and styles, a process of cultural, political or existential fragmentation and/or crisis, the ‘de-centring’ of the subject, an ‘incredulity towards metanarratives’, the replacement of unitary power axes by a plurality of power/discourse formations, the ‘implosion of meaning’, the collapse of cultural hierarchies, the dread engendered by the threat of nuclear self-destruction, the decline of the university, the functioning and effects of the new miniaturised technologies, broad societal and economic shifts into a ‘media’, ‘consumer’ or ‘multinational’ phase, a sense (depending on who you read) of ‘placelessness’ or the abandonment of placelessness (‘critical regionalism’) or (even) a generalised substitution of spatial for temporal coordinates - when it becomes possible to describe all these things as ‘Postmodern’ (or more simply using a current abbreviation as ‘post’ or ‘very post’) then it’s clear we are in the presence of a buzzword.British historian Perry Anderson's history of the term and its understanding, 'The Origins of Postmodernity', explains these apparent contradictions, and demonstrates the importance of "Postmodernism" as a category and a phenomenon in the analysis of contemporary culture.
Influence on art and aesthetics
The movement of Postmodernism began with architecture, as a response to the perceived blandness, hostility, and Utopianism of the Modern movement. Modern Architecture, as established and developed by people such as Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, and Philip Johnson, was focused on the pursuit of a perceived ideal perfection, and attempted harmony of form and function, and dismissal of "frivolous ornament." Critics of modernism argued that the attributes of perfection and minimalism themselves were subjective, and pointed out anachronisms in modern thought and questioned the benefits of its philosophy. Definitive postmodern architecture such as the work of Michael Graves rejects the notion of a 'pure' form or 'perfect' architectonic detail, instead conspicuously drawing from all methods, materials, forms and colors available to architects. Postmodernist architecture was one of the first aesthetic movements to openly challenge Modernism as antiquated and "totalitarian", favoring personal preferences and variety over objective, ultimate truths or principles. It is this atmosphere of criticism, skepticism, and emphasis on difference over and against unity that distinguishes many
LiteratureLiterary postmodernism was officially inaugurated in the United States with the first issue of boundary 2, subtitled "Journal of Postmodern Literature and Culture", which appeared in 1972. David Antin, Charles Olson, John Cage, and the Black Mountain College school of poetry and the arts were integral figures in the intellectual and artistic exposition of postmodernism at the time. boundary 2 remains an influential journal in postmodernist circles today.
Although Jorge Luis Borges and Samuel Beckett are sometimes seen as important influences, novelists who are commonly counted to postmodern literature include William Gaddis, John Hawkes, William Burroughs, Giannina Braschi, Kurt Vonnegut, John Barth, Donald Barthelme, E.L. Doctorow, Jerzy Kosinski, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Ishmael Reed, Kathy Acker, Ana Lydia Vega, and Paul Auster.
In 1971, the Arab-American scholar Ihab Hassan published The Dismemberment of Orpheus: Toward a Postmodern Literature, an early work of literary criticism from a postmodern perspective, in which the author traces the development of what he calls "literature of silence" through Marquis de Sade, Franz Kafka, Ernest Hemingway, Beckett, and many others, including developments such as the Theatre of the Absurd and the nouveau roman. In 'Postmodernist Fiction' (1987) Brian McHale detail the shift from modernism to postmodernism, showing that the former is characterized by an epistemological dominant, and that postmodern works have developed out of modernism and are primarily concerned with questions of ontology. In Constructing Postmodernism (1992) McHale's second book he provides readings of postmodern fiction and of some of the contemporary writers who go under the label of cyberpunk. McHale's "What Was Postmodernism?" (2007), follows the way Raymond Federman has put it - to change tenses from "What Is Postmodernism?" to "What Was Postmodernism?"
MusicPostmodern music is either music of the postmodern era, or music that follows aesthetic and philosophical trends of postmodernism. As the name suggests, the postmodernist movement formed partly in reaction to the ideals modernist. Because of this, Postmodern music is mostly defined in opposition to modernist music, and a work can either be modernist, or postmodern, but not both. Jonathan Kramer posits the idea (following Umberto Eco and Jean-François Lyotard) that postmodernism (including musical postmodernism) is less a surface style or historical period (i.e., condition) than an attitude.
The postmodern impulse in classical music arose in the 1970s with the advent of musical minimalism. Composers such as Terry Riley, Henryk Górecki, Bradley Joseph, John Adams, Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, Michael Nyman, and Lou Harrison reacted to the perceived elitism and dissonant sound of atonal academic modernism by producing music with simple textures and relatively consonant harmonies. Some composers have been openly influenced by popular music and world ethnic musical traditions.
Postmodern Classical music as well is not a musical style, but rather refers to music of the postmodern era. It bears the same relationship to postmodernist music that postmodernity bears to postmodernism. Postmodern music, on the other hand, shares characteristics with postmodernist art—that is, art that comes after and reacts against modernism (see Modernism in Music).
Though representing a general return to certain notions of music-making that are often considered to be classical or romantic, not all postmodern composers have eschewed the experimentalist or academic tenets of modernism. The works of Dutch composer Louis Andriessen, for example, exhibit experimentalist preoccupation that is decidedly anti-romantic. Eclecticism and freedom of expression, in reaction to the rigidity and aesthetic limitations of modernism, are the hallmarks of the postmodern influence in musical composition.