the definition and meaning of postmodernism.
Many people are confused by the term postmodern. It has become a term that is bandied about in intelligent conversation, while many people use it loosely to mean almost anything new and innovative. This article looks at the meaning of this term
Postmodernism is related to the term "modernism". "Post" means to come after. In other words, postmodern thought is that which comes after or develops from modernistic thought. Firstly one has to understand modernism.
Modernism refers to a certain period of western cultural, artistic and sociological history. This period covers the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Modernism is a vague and general term that refers to a period of great change in the western world. This change refers mainly to an alteration in thinking and a development of different views of reality. There are a number of historical factors that are important in understanding of modernism. One of the main factors that precipitated this radical change in thinking was the First World War. This war was so devastating and, with the introduction of modern technology, tanks and planes, it changed the perception of Europeans towards their authorities and led them to question the powers that be and the "establishment". Something must be wrong, they thought, when almost an entire generation of young Englishmen was exterminated for no real purpose.
Coupled with events like war were discoveries in science and other disciplines which overturned centuries of belief and convention. One needs only think of Einstein and relativity theory and Freud and the theory of the unconscious, in this regard. Freud's theory of the unconscious opened up a new world of previously unimagined human experience and led to anew perception of the self as well as new art and art forms. Carl Jung continued this idea and developed the theory of archetypes that suggests that all humanity, across cultural and racial barriers, share a common memory. There are many other historical, philosophical and scientific changes during this period. The common factor here is that all these events led to a deep and radical questioning of the status quo. The world and the view of reality that had been generally dominant in western society for centuries were questioned and overturned. New disciplines and particularly art forms emerged as a reaction to the old ways of seeing things. Some of the major figures that helped to change and redefine literature were Woolf, Joyce, Eliot, Pound, Stevens, Proust, Mallarme, Kafka, and Rilke.
In order to understand postmodernism we first have to understand what modernism was reacting against. Modernism was a reaction to the perceived world view of the time and the condition of modern civilization. However, many thinkers and philosophers felt that modernism itself had certain restrictions and that modernistic thought still relied on basic foundational concepts that were tied to the past. For example, a central area of concern for many philosophers, like Jacques Derrida, was that modernistic thinking still took place in a linear and rational framework. In other words, people were changing the outer aspects but not the basic precepts and concepts that form the foundations of old thought. Linear thinking is essentially thinking in a cause and effect way- in a straight line. Non-linear thinking, which began to be supported by science and in particular physics, started to gain academic respectability. Theories like Curved Space and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, all led to more questioning of the foundations of modern thinking. Scientists began to question their belief in the possibility of pure objectivity and experiments were undertaken that proved that the experimenter had a direct physical effect on the experiment. In other words, there was no way in which subjectivity could be absolutely separated for objectivity.
One of the main characteristics of postmodern thinking is that the world is seen as a much more complex and uncertain place. Reality is no longer fixed or determined. All truth within a postmodern context is relative to one's viewpoint or stance. The world is a representation. In other words, it is a fiction created from a specific point of view only, and not a final truth. This is an uncomfortable viewpoint for many people and there is a much misunderstanding about this idea of postmodernism. Postmodernism is essentially still in is infancy. It is an attempt to think beyond the confines of the past. Derrida, one of the chief exponents of post-structuralism, coined a term called "deconstruction" which means a philosophical method of looking for weak points in modern thinking and established ways of perception. The "master narratives' or established viewpoints are scrutinized for inconsistencies or "fissures" in the way western think takes place.
As a term Postmodernism is difficult to define as it covers a wide range of disciplines and general areas of thought. These include art, architecture, literature and technology. There are however a number of central characteristics that help us to understand the foundations of the postmodern.
Firstly, like modernism, postmodernism rejects all boundaries. This rejection also includes the boundaries between different forms and genres of art. The art development of bricolage and pastiche are examples of this.
Secondly, there is a concentration on fragmentation and discontinuity as well as ambiguity. The postmodern focuses on a de-structured, de-centered humanity. What this really means is that the idea of disorder and fragmentation, which were previously seen as negative qualities, are seen as an acceptable representation of reality by postmodernists. Modernism considered the fragmented view of human life as bad or tragic, while postmodernists rather celebrate this seemingly meaningless view of the world. It is an acceptance of the chaos that encourages a play with meaning. Postmodernism also accepts the possibility of ambiguity. Things and events can have two different meanings at the same time. A more rigid rational and logocentric or linear approach tries to avoid or reduce ambiguity as much as possible. Postmodern thought sees simultaneous views not as contradictory but as an integral part of the complex patterning of reality.
Beyond all the theory and academic discussion, what is postmodern thought and what is its importance for the modern person? Postmodern thought is, in its very essence, an adventure and an expression of life experience. From its modernist beginnings, Postmodernism is an attempt to question the world that we see around us and especially not to take other people's views as the final truth. Postmodernism puts everything into question and radically interrogates philosophies, strategies and world views. There is no such thing as a definition of the postmodern. It is a mood rather than a strict discipline. Postmodernism, with all its complexity and possible excesses, is an attempt to find new and more truthful versions of the world.