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Postmodernism literally means 'after the modernist movement'. While "modern" itself refers to something "related to the present", the movement of modernism and the following reaction of postmodernism are defined by a set of perspectives. It 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 history, law, culture and religion in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Postmodernism is an aesthetic, literary, political or social philosophy, which was the basis of the attempt to describe a condition, or a state of being, or something concerned with changes to institutions and conditions (as in Giddens, 1990) as postmodernity. In other words, postmodernism is the "cultural and intellectual phenomenon", especially since the 1920s' new movements in the arts, while postmodernity focuses on social and political outworkings and innovations globally, especially since the 1960s in the West.
The Compact Oxford English Dictionary refers to postmodernism as "a style and concept in the arts characterized by distrust of theories and ideologies and by the drawing of attention to conventions."
The term postmodern is described by Merriam-Webster as meaning 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".
The American Heritage Dictionary describes the meaning of the same term as "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”.
Reaction to modernism
Postmodernism was originally a reaction to modernism. Largely influenced by the Western European disillusionment induced by World War II, postmodernism refers to a cultural, intellectual, or artistic state lacking a clear central hierarchy or organizing principle and embodying extreme complexity, contradiction, ambiguity, diversity, interconnectedness or interreferentiality, in a way that is often indistinguishable from a parody of itself. It has given rise to charges of fraudulence.
Postmodernity is a derivative referring to non-art aspects of history that were influenced by the new movement, namely developments in society, economy and culture since the 1960s. When the idea of a reaction or rejection of modernism was borrowed by other fields, it became synonymous in some contexts with postmodernity. The term is closely linked with poststructuralism (cf. Michel Foucault) and with modernism, in terms of a rejection of its perceived bourgeois, elitist culture.
History of the term
The 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" ('Post-Modernism, J.M.Thompson, The Hibbert Journal Vol XII No.4 July 1914 p. 733).
In 1917 Rudolf Pannwitz used the term to describe a philosophically oriented culture. Pannwitz's idea of post-modernism came from Nietzsche's analysis of modernity and its ends of decadence and nihilism. Overcoming the modern human would be the post-human. But, contrary to Nietzsche, Pannwitz also includes nationalist and mythical elements.
It was used later in 1926 by B.I.Bell in his "Postmodernism & other Ess." In 1925 and 1921 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 it 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 applied to a whole host of movements, many in art, music, and literature, that reacted against modernism, and are typically marked by revival of traditional elements and techniques. Walter Truett Anderson identifies postmodernism as one of four 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 civilisation and the neo-romantic in which truth is found either through attaining harmony with nature and/or spiritual exploration of the inner self.
Influence and distinction from postmodernity
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 1950's 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.
The usage and extent of the concept of ‘postmodernism’
Whether ‘postmodernism’ is seen as a critical concept or merely a buzzword, one cannot deny its range. Dick Hebdige, in his ‘Hiding in the Light’ illustrates this:
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.
Philosophical movements and contributors
Influencer Year Influence Martin Heidegger c.1927 rejected the philosophical grounding of the concepts of "subjectivity" and "objectivity" 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.1967 re-examined the fundamentals of writing and its consequences on philosophy in general; sought to undermine the language of western metaphysics (deconstruction) Michel Foucault c.1975 examined discursive power in Discipline and Punish, with Bentham's panopticon as his model, and also known for saying "language is oppression" (Meaning that language was developed to allow only those who spoke the language not to be oppressed. All other people that don't speak the language would then be oppressed.) Jean-François Lyotard c.1979 opposed universality, meta-narratives, and generality Richard Rorty c.1979 argues philosophy mistakenly imitates scientific methods; advocates dissolving traditional philosophical problems; anti-foundationalism and anti-essentialism Jean Baudrillard c.1981 Simulacra and Simulation - reality disappears underneath the interchangeability of signs
- Main article: Deconstruction
Deconstruction is a term which is used to denote the application of postmodern ideas of criticism, or theory, to a "text" or "artifact", based on architectural deconstructivism. A deconstruction is meant to undermine the frame of reference and assumptions that underpin the text or the artifact.
The term "deconstruction" comes from Martin Heidegger, who calls for the destruction or deconstruction (the German "Destruktion" connotes both English words) of the history of ontology. The point, for Heidegger, was to describe Being prior to its being covered over by Plato and subsequent philosophy. Thus, Heidegger himself engaged in "deconstruction" through a critique of post-Socratic thought (which had forgotten the question of Being) and the study of the pre-Socratics (where Being was still an open question).
In later usage, a "deconstruction" is an important textual "occurrence" described and analyzed by many postmodern authors and philosophers. They argue that aspects in the text itself would undermine its own authority or assumptions and that internal contradictions would erase boundaries or categories which the work relied on or asserted. Poststructuralists 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 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 idea is not isolated to poststructuralists but is related to the idea of hermeneutics in literature; intellectuals as early as Plato asserted it and so did 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 are therefore referred to in academic circles as deconstructive readings.
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 escape successfully from this large web of text and reach that which is "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 may be said to "deconstruct" gender identity, because there is a conflict between the superficial appearance and the "reality" of the person's gender.
Social construction, structuralism, poststructuralism
- Further information: Manifestations of Postmodernism
Often opposed to deconstruction are social constructionists, labeled as such within the analytic tradition, but not usually in the case of the continental tradition. The term was first used in sociologists Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann's book The Social Construction of Reality.
Usually in the continental tradition, the terms structuralism or poststructuralism are used. Maurice Merleau-Ponty is seen as the biggest contributor to structuralism, which is epitomized in the philosophy of Claude Levi-Strauss. Michel Foucault was also a structuralist but then turned to what would be termed poststructuralism, although he himself declined to call his work either poststructuralist or postmodern. Structuralism historically gave way to poststructuralism; often the role of postmodernism within the analytic tradition is played down, although works by major figures of the analytic tradition in the 20th century, including those of Thomas Kuhn and Willard Van Orman Quine, show a similarity with works in the continental tradition for their lack of belief in absolute truth as well as in the pliability of language.
In the continental tradition, most works argue that power dissimulates and that society constructs reality, while its individuals remain powerless or almost powerless. Often, both continental and analytic sources argue for a renewed subjectivity, borrowing heavily from Immanuel Kant, while they largely reject his a priori/a posteriori distinction. They both minimize discussions of practical ethics, instead borrowing heavily from post-Holocaust accounts of the need for an ethics of responsibility, which is very rarely practically defined.
One of the large differences between analytic postmodern sources and continental postmodern sources is that the analytic tradition by and large guards at least some of the tenets of liberalism, while many continental sources flirt with, or completely immerse themselves in, Marxism.
Recently, it is noticeable that some of the ideas found in poststructuralism and postmodernism, as the lack of belief in absolute truth or the idea of a reality constructed, is promoted in a new paradigm within constructivist epistemology.
- Main article: Criticism of postmodernism
The term postmodernism, when used pejoratively, describes 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 Death of Postmodernism?
- Main article: Post-postmodernism
Recently the notion of the "death of postmodernism" has been increasingly widely debated: in 2007 Andrew Hoborek 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 and/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 has so far gained widespread acceptance.
In 1994, the then-President of the Czech Republic and renowned playwright Václav Havel gave a hopeful description of the postmodern world as one based on science, and yet paradoxically “where everything is possible and almost nothing is certain.”
Josh McDowell & Bob Hostetler offer the following definition of postmodernism: “A worldview characterized by the belief that truth doesn’t exist in any objective sense but is created rather than discovered.” Truth is “created by the specific culture and exists only in that culture. Therefore, any system or statement that tries to communicate truth is a power play, an effort to dominate other cultures.”
The Italian medievalist and semiotician Umberto Eco characterised "the postmodern attitude as that of a man who loves a very cultivated woman and knows he cannot say to her, I love you madly, because he knows that she knows (and that she knows that he knows) that these words have already been written by Barbara Cartland."
Culture and politics
- ↑ http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/postmodernism?view=uk
- ↑ Merriam-Webster's definition of postmodernism
- ↑ Ruth Reichl, Cook's November 1989; American Heritage Dictionary's definition of the postmodern
- ↑ Postmodernism. Georgetown university
- ↑ The Sleep of Reason
- ↑ Britannica, 2004
- ↑ Wagner, British, Irish and American Literature, Trier 2002, p. 210-2
- ↑ The Postmodern Turn, Essays in Postmodern Theory and Culture, Ohio University Press, 1987. p12ff
- ↑ Pannwitz: Die Krisis der europäischen Kultur, Nürnberg 1917
- ↑ OED long edition
- ↑ Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2004
- ↑ Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary 2004
- ↑ Walter Truett Anderson (1996). The Fontana Postmodernism Reader.
- ↑ Influences on postmodern thought, Paul Lützeler (St. Louis)
- ↑ ’Postmodernism and “the other side”’, in Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A reader, edited by John Storey, London, : Pearson Education .2006
- ↑ Vaclav Havel, "The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World," speech in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, July 4, 1994.
- ↑ Josh McDowell & Bob Hostetler, The New Tolerance (Carol Stream IL: Tyndale House, 1998), p. 208.
- ↑ Umberto Eco, "Postscript to The Name of the Rose, (New York NY: Harcourt, 1984), pgs. 530-1.
- Powell, Jim (1998). "Postmodernism For Beginners" (ISBN 978-1-934389-09-6)
- Alexie, Sherman (2000). "The Toughest Indian in the World" (ISBN 0-8021-3800-4)
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- Ashley, Richard and Walker, R. B. J. (1990) “Speaking the Language of Exile.” International Studies Quarterly v 34, no 3 259-68.
- Bauman, Zygmunt (2000) Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.
- Beck, Ulrich (1986) Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity.
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- Berman, Marshall (1982) All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity (ISBN 0-14-010962-5).
- Bertens, Hans (1995) The Idea of the Postmodern: A History. London: Routledge.(ISBN 0-145-06012-5).
- Bielskis, Andrius (2005) Towards a Postmodern Understanding of the Political: From Genealogy to Hermeneutics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).
- Brass, Tom, Peasants, Populism and Postmodernism (London: Cass, 2000).
- Butler, Judith (1995) 'Contingent Foundations' in (ed. Nicholson) Feminist Contentions: A Philosophical Exchange. New Yotk: Routledge.
- Callinicos, Alex, Against Postmodernism: A Marxist Critique (Cambridge: Polity, 1999).
- Castells, Manuel (1996) The Network Society.
- Coupland, Douglas (1991). "Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture" (ISBN 0-312-05436-X)
- Downing, Crystal L. How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006) ISBN 0-8308-2758-7
- Drabble, M. The Oxford Companion to English Literature, 6 ed., article "Postmodernism".
- Farrell, John. "Paranoia and Postmodernism," the epilogue to Paranoia and Modernity: Cervantes to Rousseau (Cornell UP, 2006), 309-327.
- Featherstone, M. (1991) Consumer culture and postmodernism, London; Newbury Park, Calif., Sage Publications.
- Goulimari, Pelagia (ed.) (2007) Postmodernism. What Moment? Manchester: Manchester University Press (ISBN 978-0-7190-7308-3)
- Giddens, Anthony (1991) Modernity and Self Identity, Cambridge: Polity Press.
- Grebowicz, Margaret (ed.), Gender After Lyotard. NY: Suny Press, 2007. (ISBN 978-0-7914-6956-9)
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- Harvey, David (1989) The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (ISBN 0-631-16294-1)
- Hicks, Stephen R. C. (2004) Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (ISBN 1-59247-646-5)
- Honderich, T., The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, article "Postmodernism".
- Jameson, Fredric (1991) Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (ISBN 0-8223-1090-2)
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- Murphy, Nancey, Anglo-American Postmodernity: Philosophical Perspectives on Science, Religion, and Ethics (Westview Press, 1997).
- Natoli, Joseph (1997) A Primer to Postmodernity (ISBN 1-57718-061-5)
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- Veith Jr., Gene Edward (1994) Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture (ISBN 0-89107-768-5)
- Windshuttle, Keith (1996) The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists are Murdering our Past. New York: The Free Press.
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- Postmodernism Guide from Toronto High School
- “Love and Hatred of ‘French Theory’ in America.” Borderlands e journal. / Rolando Pérez. 4.1. 2005. http://www.borderlandsejournal.adelaide.edu.au/
- A simpler description of Postmodernism
- WSWS philosophy archives - incl. critiques of postmodernist thought
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry on postmodernism
- The Christian Cadre's Postmodernism Page
- 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
- Keith DeRose (Philosophy, Yale): Characterizing a Fogbank: What Is Postmodernism, and Why Do I Take Such a Dim View of it?
- How to Deconstruct Almost Anything--My Postmodern Adventure
- 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 December 19 2006)
- Modernism vs. Postmodernism
- Gaining clarity: after postmodernism, Eretz AcheretMagazine
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