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Sunday, September 26, 2010

What does "postmodernism" mean?

I hear the term "postmodern" here and there. But what does it mean? Can someone help me to understand the flavor of what this term conveys?

I assume that "modern" is like "Progress, Science, and Technology Will Make Life Better And Give Us Hope.". Whereas "postmodern" is like "Um, Hiroshima and Auschwitz. Life is absurd; life has no meaning. I grow old, I grow old; I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled."

I take it that "modern" is like Aaron Copland, Billy Joel, and Pablo Picasso whereas "postmodern" is like Arnold Schoenberg, Lady Gaga, and Jackson Pollock.

Hope in science/progress ("modern") vs. giving in to depression/apathy ("postmodern").

Is that the distinction?

Modern? Pablo Picasso, Three Musicians (1921)

Postmodern? Jackson Pollock, No. 5 (1948)


  • I sure hope Lady Gaga has nothing to do with postmodernism!

    "Postmodernism" means different things, depending on whether the topic is culture, philosophy, or literary criticism. And even in philosophy, it's more accurate to speak of "postmodernisms," because there seems to be more than one (Rorty and Derrida aren't exactly on the same page).

    But for a base generalization, your assessment seems to work okay. However, Picasso seems to me more postmodern than modern, a forerunner, if you will.

    Another way to think of postmodernism is to take the tools of modernism (empiricism, rationalism, cartesianism, etc.) and apply them not to the "world out there," but to modernism itself, its values and assumptions. But that's just another one of the postmodernisms. Nobody said it was easy.

    I think the "post" prefix is a bit overused by now too: post-structural, post-liberal, post-critical...

    By Blogger あじ, at 9/26/2010 10:27 p.m.  

  • In 'Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs' the misanthropic and probably-too-clever-for-his-own-good Chuck Klosterman defines it thus: "any art that is conscious of the fact that it is, in fact, art". Lady Gaga and Jackson Pollock definitely fit the bill here.

    By Blogger Thomas David Baker, at 9/28/2010 11:32 a.m.  

  • It's a big question, one with many definitions. From what I was taught within an art historical perspective, post-modernism is defined by how it emerged from Modernism, the latter being most strongly identified with a movement in architecture, actually.

    Where modernism believed (and believes, because it's still going strong!) that there could be a universal design for populations of the world, where modern materials (concrete being the most popular) could produce scalable, affordable, livable buildings and infrastructure anywhere in the world. It didn't try to re-hash classical forms like the Renaissance: it made entriely new things. Hence "modern". We're talking early 20th Century here.

    Post-modernism came out of this (after, duh), out of some of the failures of modernism (modernism didn't always work for everyone and it could be said to get boring). Post-modernism often looks to the past—to many pasts—and combines them. It can be a jumble of cultural references. It's a building with Roman-style pediments on top of a concrete skyscraper with wooden banisters inside. It doesn't believe in a universal, objective solution or design.

    By Blogger Jeff Werner, at 9/30/2010 8:20 a.m.  

  • What is 'post-modern' even? Wouldn't things either be modern or futuristic?

    By Anonymous RSA Online, at 10/07/2010 8:27 p.m.  

  • Great blog!

    Those terms can be confusing because we use "modern" for so many things besides describing modernism. But postmodernism is generally described as a reaction against the objectivity of modernism, and it is a philosophical/art/aesthetic movement that has characterised both academia and art in the latter part of the 20th century. Wikipedia has a great article on postmodernism.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10/11/2010 1:45 a.m.  

  • あじ, bakert, Jeff, RSA, Anonymous - Thanks for the ideas on the meanings of modernism and postmodernism. I still don't grasp it fully, but, with your comments, I think I'm a bit closer.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 7/21/2011 8:14 p.m.  

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