Postmodernism describes a broad movement that developed in the mid to late 20th century across philosophy, the arts, architecture and criticism which marked a departure from modernism. While encompassing a broad range of ideas, postmodernism is typically defined by an attitude of skepticism, irony or distrust toward grand narratives, ideologies and various tenets of Enlightenment rationality, including notions of human nature, social progress, objective reality and morality, absolute truth, and reason. Instead, it asserts that claims to knowledge and truth are products of social, historical or political discourses or interpretations, and are therefore contextual and constructed to varying degrees. Accordingly, postmodern thought is broadly characterized by tendencies to epistemological and moral relativism, pluralism, irreverence and self-referentiality.
The term postmodernism has been applied both to the era following modernity, and to a host of movements within that era (mainly in art, music, and literature) that reacted against tendencies in modernism. Postmodernism includes skeptical critical interpretations of culture, literature, art, philosophy, history, linguistics, economics, architecture, fiction, feminist theory, and literary criticism. Postmodernism is often associated with schools of thought such as deconstruction and post-structuralism, as well as philosophers such as Jean-François Lyotard and Frederic Jameson.
Origins of termEdit
The term postmodern was first used around the 1880s. John Watkins Chapman suggested "a Postmodern style of painting" as a way to depart from French Impressionism. 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 1921 and 1925, postmodernism had been used to describe new forms of art and music. In 1942 H. R. Hays described it as a new literary form. However, as a general theory for a historical movement it was first used in 1939 by 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, and led to the postmodern architecture movement, perhaps also a response to the modernist architectural movement known as the International Style. Postmodernism in architecture is marked by a re-emergence of surface ornament, reference to surrounding buildings in urban architecture, historical reference in decorative forms (eclecticism), and non-orthogonal angles.
Peter Drucker suggested the transformation into a post modern world happened between 1937 and 1957 (when he was writing). He described an as yet "nameless era" which he characterised as a shift to conceptual world based on pattern purpose and process rather than mechanical cause, outlined by four new realities: the emergence of Educated Society, the importance of international development, the decline of the nation state, and the collapse of the viability of non-Western cultures.
In 1971, in a lecture delivered at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, Mel Bochner described "post-modernism" in art as having started with Jasper Johns, "who first rejected sense-data and the singular point-of-view as the basis for his art, and treated art as a critical investigation."
More recently, Walter Truett Anderson described postmodernism as belonging to one of four typological world views, which he identifies as either (a) Postmodern-ironist, which sees truth as socially constructed, (b) Scientific-rational, in which truth is found through methodical, disciplined inquiry, (c) Social-traditional, in which truth is found in the heritage of American and Western civilization, or (d) 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. Postmodernism has also been used interchangeably with the term post-structuralism out of which postmodernism grew; a proper understanding of postmodernism or doing justice to the postmodernist concept demands an understanding of the poststructuralist movement and the ideas of its advocates. Post-structuralism resulted similarly to postmodernism by following a time of structuralism. It is characterized by new ways of thinking through structuralism, contrary to the original form. "Postmodernist" describes part of a movement; "Postmodern" places it in the period of time since the 1950s, making it a part of contemporary history.
Influential postmodernist ideasEdit
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Martin Heidegger 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 immanent 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") Dasein (translated as Being or Being-there) 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 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, a priori 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 discrete, positive, identifiable state, answer, or entity (see also process philosophy, synamism, Instrumentalism, Pragmatism, and Vitalism).
Jacques Derrida 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 Skeptics and the Presocratics, 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.
Michel Foucault introduced concepts such as 'discursive regime', or re-invoked those of older philosophers like 'episteme' and 'genealogy' in order to explain the relationship between 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 Marxist tendencies, proponents of left-libertarianism (such as Noam Chomsky), and supporters of humanism (like Jürgen Habermas), for his rejection of what he deemed to be Enlightenment 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 1970s), 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 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 and 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 thus becomes 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, especially 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 J. L. 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 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 the postmodern strain of conventionalism and relativism, but opposes much of postmodern thinking with his commitment to social liberalism.
Jean Baudrillard, 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. For Baudrillard, “simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or a reality: a hyperreal.
Fredric Jameson 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 Utopia and Utopianism 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.
In Analysis of the Journey, a journal birthed from postmodernism, Douglas Kellner insists that the "assumptions and procedures of modern theory" must be forgotten. His terms defined in the depth of postmodernism are based on advancement, innovation, and adaptation. Extensively, Kellner analyzes the terms of this theory in real-life experiences and examples. Kellner used science and technology studies as a major part of his analysis; he urged that the theory is incomplete without it. The scale was larger than just postmodernism alone; it must be interpreted through cultural studies where science and technology studies play a huge role. The reality of the September 11 attacks on the United States of America is the catalyst for his explanation. This catalyst is used as a great representation due to the mere fact of the planned ambush and destruction of "symbols of globalization", insinuating the World Trade Center.
clarification needed] In response, Kellner continues to examine the repercussions of understanding the effects of the September 11 attacks. He questions if the attacks are only able to be understood in a limited form of postmodern theory due to the level of irony. In further studies, he enhances the idea of semiotics in alignment with the theory. Similar to the act of September 11 and the symbols that were interpreted through this postmodern ideal, he continues to even describe this as "semiotic systems" that people use to make sense of their lives and the events that occur in them. Kellner's adamancy that signs are necessary to understand one's culture is what he analyzes from the evidence that most cultures have used signs in place of existence. Finally, he recognizes that many theorists of postmodernism are trapped by their own cogitations. He finds strength in theorist Baudrillard and his idea of Marxism. Kellner acknowledges Marxism's end and lack of importance to his theory.[
The conclusion he depicts is simple: postmodernism, as most utilize it today, will decide what experiences and signs in one's reality will be one's reality as they know it.
One of the most well-known postmodernist concerns is "deconstruction," a theory for philosophy, literary criticism, and textual analysis developed by Jacques Derrida. The notion of a "deconstructive" approach implies an analysis that questions the already evident understanding of a text in terms of presuppositions, ideological underpinnings, hierarchical values, and frames of reference. A deconstructive approach further depends on the techniques of close reading without reference to cultural, ideological, moral opinions or information derived from an authority over the text such as the author. At the same time Derrida famously writes: "Il n'y a pas d'hors-texte (there is no such thing as outside-of-the-text)." Derrida implies that the world follows the grammar of a text undergoing its own deconstruction. Derrida's method frequently involves recognizing and spelling out the different, yet similar interpretations of the meaning of a given text and the problematic implications of binary oppositions within the meaning of a text. Derrida's philosophy inspired a postmodern movement called deconstructivism among architects, characterized by the intentional fragmentation, distortion, and dislocation of architectural elements in designing a building. Derrida discontinued his involvement with the movement after the publication of his collaborative project with architect Peter Eisenmann in Chora L Works: Jacques Derrida and Peter Eisenman.
Postmodernism and structuralismEdit
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Structuralism was a philosophical movement developed by French academics in the 1950s, partly in response to French Existentialism. It has been seen variously as an expression of Modernism, High modernism, or postmodernism[by whom?]. "Post-structuralists" were thinkers who moved away from the strict interpretations and applications of structuralist ideas. Many American academics consider post-structuralism to be part of the broader, less well-defined postmodernist movement, even though many post-structuralists insisted it was not. Thinkers who have been called structuralists include the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, and the semiotician Algirdas Greimas. The early writings of the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and the literary theorist Roland Barthes have also been called structuralist. Those who began as structuralists but became post-structuralists include Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Deleuze. Other post-structuralists include Jacques Derrida, Pierre Bourdieu, Jean-François Lyotard, Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous, and Luce Irigaray. The American cultural theorists, critics and intellectuals whom they influenced include Judith Butler, John Fiske, Rosalind Krauss, Avital Ronell, and Hayden White.
Post-structuralism is not defined by a set of shared axioms or methodologies, but by an emphasis on how various aspects of a particular culture, from its most ordinary, everyday material details to its most abstract theories and beliefs, determine one another. Post-structuralist thinkers reject Reductionism and Epiphenomenalism and the idea that cause-and-effect relationships are top-down or bottom-up. Like structuralists, they start from the assumption that people's identities, values and economic conditions determine each other rather than having intrinsic properties that can be understood in isolation. Thus the French structuralists considered themselves to be espousing Relativism and Constructionism. But they nevertheless tended to explore how the subjects of their study might be described, reductively, as a set of essential relationships, schematics, or mathematical symbols. (An example is Claude Lévi-Strauss's algebraic formulation of mythological transformation in "The Structural Study of Myth"). Post-structuralists thinkers went further, questioning the existence of any distinction between the nature of a thing and its relationship to other things.
The connection between postmodernism, posthumanism, and cyborgism has led to a challenge of postmodernism, for which the terms "postpostmodernism" and "postpoststructuralism" were first coined in 2003:
- "In some sense, we may regard postmodernism, posthumanism, poststructuralism, etc., as being of the 'cyborg age' of mind over body. Deconference was an exploration in post-cyborgism (i.e. what comes after the postcorporeal era), and thus explored issues of postpostmodernism, postpoststructuralism, and the like. To understand this transition from 'pomo' (cyborgism) to 'popo' (postcyborgism) we must first understand the cyborg era itself."
More recently metamodernism, post-postmodernism and the "death of postmodernism" have been widely debated: in 2007 Andrew Hoberek noted in his introduction to a special issue of the journal Twentieth Century Literature titled "After Postmodernism" that "declarations of postmodernism's demise have become a critical commonplace". A small group of critics has put forth a range of theories that aim to describe culture or society in the alleged aftermath of postmodernism, most notably Raoul Eshelman (performatism), Gilles Lipovetsky (hypermodernity), Nicolas Bourriaud (altermodern), and Alan Kirby (digimodernism, formerly called pseudo-modernism). None of these new theories and labels have so far gained very widespread acceptance. The exhibition Postmodernism - Style and Subversion 1970–1990 at the Victoria and Albert Museum (London, 24 September 2011 – 15 January 2012) was billed as the first show to document postmodernism as a historical movement.
Influence on artEdit
The idea of Postmodernism in architecture began as a response to the perceived blandness and failed Utopianism of the Modern movement. Modern Architecture, as established and developed by Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, 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 and Robert Venturi rejects the notion of a 'pure' form or 'perfect' architectonic detail, instead conspicuously drawing from all methods, materials, forms and colors available to architects.
Modernist Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is associated with the phrase "less is more"; in contrast Venturi famously said, "Less is a bore." 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.
Postmodernism is a rejection of 'totality', of the notion that planning could be 'comprehensive', widely applied regardless of context, and rational. In this sense, Postmodernism is a rejection of its predecessor: Modernism. From the 1920s onwards, the Modern movement sought to design and plan cities which followed the logic of the new model of industrial mass production; reverting to large-scale solutions, aesthetic standardisation and prefabricated design solutions (Goodchild 1990). Postmodernism also brought a break from the notion that planning and architecture could result in social reform, which was an integral dimension of the plans of Modernism (Simonsen 1990). Furthermore, Modernism eroded urban living by its failure to recognise differences and aim towards homogenous landscapes (Simonsen 1990, 57). Within Modernism, urban planning represented a 20th-century move towards establishing something stable, structured, and rationalised within what had become a world of chaos, flux and change (Irving 1993, 475). The role of planners predating Postmodernism was one of the 'qualified professional' who believed they could find and implement one single 'right way' of planning new urban establishments (Irving 1993). In fact, after 1945, urban planning became one of the methods through which capitalism could be managed and the interests of developers and corporations could be administered (Irving 1993, 479).
Considering Modernism inclined urban planning to treat buildings and developments as isolated, unrelated parts of the overall urban ecosystems created fragmented, isolated, and homogeneous urban landscapes (Goodchild, 1990). One of the greater problems with Modernist-style of planning was the disregard of resident or public opinion, which resulted in planning being forced upon the majority by a minority consisting of affluent professionals with little to no knowledge of real 'urban' problems characteristic of post-Second World War urban environments: slums, overcrowding, deteriorated infrastructure, pollution and disease, among others (Irving 1993). These were precisely the 'urban ills' Modernism was meant to 'solve', but more often than not, the types of 'comprehensive', 'one size fits all' approaches to planning made things worse., and residents began to show interest in becoming involved in decisions which had once been solely entrusted to professionals of the built environment. Advocacy planning and participatory models of planning emerged in the 1960s to counter these traditional elitist and technocratic approaches to urban planning (Irving 1993; Hatuka & D'Hooghe 2007). Furthermore, an assessment of the 'ills' of Modernism among planners during the 1960s, fuelled development of a participatory model that aimed to expand the range of participants in urban interventions (Hatuka & D'Hooghe 2007, 21).
Jane Jacobs' 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities was a sustained critique of urban planning as it had developed within Modernism and marked a transition from modernity to postmodernity in thinking about urban planning (Irving 1993, 479). However, the transition from Modernism to Postmodernism is often said to have happened at 3:32pm on 15 July in 1972, when Pruitt Igoe; a housing development for low-income people in St. Louis designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki, which had been a prize-winning version of Le Corbusier's 'machine for modern living' was deemed uninhabitable and was torn down (Irving 1993, 480). Since then, Postmodernism has involved theories that embrace and aim to create diversity, and it exalts uncertainty, flexibility and change (Hatuka & D'Hooghe 2007). Postmodern planning aims to accept pluralism and heighten awareness of social differences in order to accept and bring to light the claims of minority and disadvantaged groups (Goodchild 1990). It is important to note that urban planning discourse within Modernity and Postmodernity has developed in different contexts, even though they both grew within a capitalist culture. Modernity was shaped by a capitalist ethic of Fordist-Keynesian paradigm of mass, standardized production and consumption, while postmodernity was created out of a more flexible form of capital accumulation, labor markets and organisations (Irving 1993, 60). Also, there is a distinction between a postmodernism of 'reaction' and one of 'resistance'. A postmodernism of 'reaction' rejects Modernism and seeks to return to the lost traditions and history in order to create a new cultural synthesis, while Postmodernity of 'resistance' seeks to deconstruct Modernism and is a critique of the origins without necessarily returning to them (Irving 1993, 60). As a result of Postmodernism, planners are much less inclined to lay a firm or steady claim to there being one single 'right way' of engaging in urban planning and are more open to different styles and ideas of 'how to plan' (Irving 474).
Literary 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.
Jorge Luis Borges' (1939) short story Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, is often considered as predicting postmodernism and conceiving the ideal of the ultimate parody. Samuel Beckett is sometimes seen as an important precursor and influence. Novelists who are commonly connected with postmodern literature include Vladimir Nabokov, William Gaddis, Umberto Eco, John Hawkes, William S. Burroughs, Giannina Braschi, Kurt Vonnegut, John Barth, Jean Rhys, Donald Barthelme, E.L. Doctorow, Richard Kalich, Jerzy Kosinski, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon (Pynchon's work has also been described as "high modern"), Ishmael Reed, Kathy Acker, Ana Lydia Vega, Jachym Topol 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 details the shift from modernism to postmodernism, arguing 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 Raymond Federman's lead in now using the past tense when discussing postmodernism.
Postmodern 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 of the 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 1960s with the advent of musical minimalism. Composers such as Terry Riley, Henryk Górecki, Bradley Joseph, John Adams, Steve Reich, Philip 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, whilst others, most notably John Cage challenged the prevailing narratives of beauty and objectivity common to Modernism. 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.
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.
Author on postmodernism, Dominic Strinati, has noted, it is also important "to include in this category the so-called 'art rock' musical innovations and mixing of styles associated with groups like Talking Heads, and performers like Laurie Anderson, together with the self-conscious 'reinvention of disco' by the Pet Shop Boys".
Postmodern designers were in the beginning stages of what we now refer to as "graphic design". They created works beginning in the 1970s without any set adherence to rational order and formal organization. They also seemed to entirely pay no attention to traditional conventions such as legibility. Another characteristic of postmodern graphic design is that "retro, techno, punk, grunge, beach, parody, and pastiche were all conspicuous trends. Each had its own sites and venues, detractors and advocates". Yet, while postmodern design did not consist of one unified graphic style, the movement was an expressive and playful time for designers who searched for more and more ways to go against the system. Key influential postmodern graphic designers include Wolfgang Weingart, April Greiman, Tibor Kalman, and Jamie Reid.
Criticisms of postmodernism are intellectually diverse, including the assertions that postmodernism is meaningless and promotes obscurantism. For example, Noam Chomsky has argued that postmodernism is meaningless because it adds nothing to analytical or empirical knowledge. He asks why postmodernist intellectuals do not respond like people in other fields when asked, "what are the principles of their theories, on what evidence are they based, what do they explain that wasn't already obvious, etc.?...If [these requests] can't be met, then I'd suggest recourse to Hume's advice in similar circumstances: 'to the flames'."
Christian apologist and philosopher William Lane Craig has noted "The idea that we live in a postmodern culture is a myth. In fact, a postmodern culture is an impossibility; it would be utterly unliveable. People are not relativistic when it comes to matters of science, engineering, and technology; rather, they are relativistic and pluralistic in matters of religion and ethics. But, of course, that's not postmodernism; that's modernism!"
However, as for continental philosophy, American academics have tended to label it "postmodernist", especially practitioners of "French Theory". Such a trend might derive from U.S. departments of Comparative Literature. It is interesting to note that Félix Guattari, often considered a "postmodernist", rejected its theoretical assumptions by arguing that the structuralist and postmodernist visions of the world were not flexible enough to seek explanations in psychological, social and environmental domains at the same time.
Philosopher Daniel Dennett declared, "Postmodernism, the school of 'thought' that proclaimed 'There are no truths, only interpretations' has largely played itself out in absurdity, but it has left behind a generation of academics in the humanities disabled by their distrust of the very idea of truth and their disrespect for evidence, settling for 'conversations' in which nobody is wrong and nothing can be confirmed, only asserted with whatever style you can muster."
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In a very large part of morphology, our essential task lies in the comparison of related forms rather than in the precise definition of each; and the deformation of a complicated figure may be a phenomenon easy of comprehension, though the figure itself has to be left unanalyzed and undefined."
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- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry on postmodernism
- Discourses of Postmodernism. Multilingual Bibliography by Janusz Przychodzen (PDF file)
- Modernity, postmodernism and the tradition of dissent, by Lloyd Spencer (1998)
- Dueling Paradigms: Modernist v. Postmodernist Thought * Characterizing a Fogbank: What Is Postmodernism, and Why Do I Take Such a Dim View of it?
- Postmodernism and truth by philosopher Daniel Dennett
- Postmodernism is the new black: How the shape of modern retailing was both predicted and influenced by some unlikely seers (The Economist 19 December 2006)
- Gaining clarity: after postmodernism, Eretz Acheret magazine