Postmodernism is a tendency in contemporary culture characterized by the problematisation 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 dependant 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 a speaker is of their position 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, totality, 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.
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 Hilbert Journal (a quarterly philosophical review), used it to describe changes in attitudes and beliefs in the critique of religion: "The raison dieter 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 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 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 Truest 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 Postmodernist, 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.
Modernism & Postmodernism
Modernism, as a literary style, emerged after WWI, beginning in Europe and then progressing into American literature by the late 1920s. After the First World War many people questioned the chaos and the insanity of it all. The world’s “universal truths” and trust in authority figures began to crumble, and Modernism was a response to the destruction of these beliefs.
As you can see, modernism is more complex than traditional writing, where there is usually one narrator (third person typically) whose job it is to “explain” everything to the reader. Background is just that, background. The writing is in chronological order and all loose ends are tied up for you in the end.
Postmodernism came about around the end of WWII, though not actually studied as a form until the mid 1980s. The characteristics are the same as modernism except postmodernism is more playful or celebratory regarding the world's "insanity." The idea being, okay, the world is chaotic, there are no universal truths, lets see what we can do with that. Examples of postmodern works include: Anais Nin's Under a Glass Bell (1944), William Gass's In the Heart of the Heart of the Country (1968), and Toni Morrison's Beloved (1987).
The term "Postmodernism" is often used to refer to different, sometimes contradictory concepts. Conventional definitions follow:
• 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 dieresis of a film, the construction of a record, or a ‘scratch’ video, a television commercial, or an arts documentary, or the ‘interstitial’ 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-centering’ of the subject, an ‘incredulity towards meta narratives’, 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 miniaturized technologies, broad societal and economic shifts into a ‘media’, ‘consumer’ or ‘multinational’ phase, a sense (depending on who you read) of ‘placeless ness’ or the abandonment of placeless ness (‘critical regionalism’) or (even) a generalized 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 Post modernity', 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 aesthetic
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. 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
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.
Although Jorge Luis Borges and Samuel Beckett are sometimes seen as important influences, novelists who are commonly counted to postmodern literature include 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
Postmodern music and Postmodern classical music
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, 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.
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.