No clear definitive definition (depends on the subject). This topic could easily be a semester-long investigation. Think of this as an introduction and not a definitive, exhaustive exploration of postmodernism. (works cited below)
If you want a date, post WWII (circa 1945).
1. History: no monolithic narratives; not necessarily a story of universal human progress; different interests interweave with and question each other (Malpas, p. 99).
- Africana Studies (African Diaspora)
- Queer Theory
- Class Studies
- “historical pluralism” (Malpas, p. 99)
These and others have challenged “traditional” ideas of historical/social narratives. Often those in power write history from their privileged perspective.
2. Architecture: Fredric Jameson sees it as aspiring to “a total space, a complete word, a miniature city” (p. 40).
- Generate multi-layered spaces for inhabitants
- Often structures will help users (consumers) have a totalizing experience. (Mall, Towne Centre, Vegas Casino, etc.)
- Robert Venturi’s Learning from Las Vegas discusses Vegas Casinos’ attempt to be a totalizing experience
- Familiarity across distances (McDonald’s in Charlotte is the same in LA)
While we’re on the subject of architecture, let’s consider an actual edifice from antiquity. Notice the changes to the following:
- Arch of Constantine (1840-1870)
- Arch of Constantine (circa 1945)
- Arch of Constantine (circa 2000)
- Arch of Constantine (25/06/2023)
3. Art: art with no single purpose and no need to change the world; increased democratization of art and increased types of forms and techniques for producing art.
- Attempt to level artificial boundaries such as low and high
- Embraces Markets
- Literature: questions of ontology (the nature of being, of a subject’s existence)
- Textual self awareness: a text is reflexive of itself as a text…
- Fragmented narratives and realities
- Parody: “A literary composition modelled on and imitating another work, esp. a composition in which the characteristic style and themes of a particular author or genre are satirized by being applied to inappropriate or unlikely subjects, or are otherwise exaggerated for comic effect” (From the online OED, which you should have access to on campus).
- Pastiche: “concerned only with the superficial appropriation of different modes and genres for the generation of its own performative style” (Malpas, p. 25).
- Satire: “A poem, or in modern use sometimes a prose composition, in which prevailing vices or follies are held up to ridicule. Sometimes, less correctly, applied to a composition in verse or prose intended to ridicule a particular person or class of persons, a lampoon” (From the online OED, which you should have access to on campus).
4. Politics: economic theories from Baudrillard, consumption and simulation
- We are the sum total of our purchases
- Late-capitalist system—built-in obsolescence (iphone, HDTV, fashion, next-generation this and that)
- Commodification of all that’s possible or that can be conceived
Hyperreality: (Baudrillard) “creation of media, film, and computer technologies have come to be more real for us, and interact more fundamentally with our experiences and desires, than…realities of nature or spiritual life” (Malpas, p. 125).
- What is “real” is simulated or artificial, even on a collective scale; collectively, members of a culture believe in the reality of the simulation
- Media saturation turning events into commodities; infotainment
5. Resistance: (Least recognized, highly debatable) Well, in theory, resistance is a component of the postmodern, but it’s often absorbed by corporate entities or dominant entities.
- Emancipation in the nature of postmodernist art, theory, and culture
- Demonstrates the fractures and silences of grand narratives
- Exposes contemporary false consciousness
- No universal consensus is possible—millions of special interests
Moral relativism critique of postmodernism: if there’s no absolute truth, than one’s “moral” position is relative and can’t be wrong.
Understanding Arguments in the Postmodern
Ways of knowing or, more accurately, ways of arguing often get supported by the following:
- Tastes and convictions
Truth is often defined as facts, so the above list is ranked from more personal knowledge (1) to most socially accepted knowledge (4).
Where might “statistics” go?
Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke UP, 1991.
Malpas, Simon. The Postmodern. London: Routledge, 2005.