T H E W I L D L I L Y I N S T I T U T E
Post-modernism is a school of thought or a tendency in contemporary culture which rejects modernism. It is characterized by the rejection of objective truth and global cultural narrative. It emphasizes the role of language, power relations, and motivations. It attacks the use of sharp classifications such as male versus female, straight versus gay, white versus black, and imperial versus colonial. It has been described by Fredric Jameson as the "dominant cultural logic of late capitalism".
Although the term 'post-modernism' was first used around the 1870s in various areas, as a general theory of an historical movement the term 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". Later in 1949, the term was used to describe dissatisfaction with modern architecture, which led to the post-modern architecture movement that is marked by the re-emergence of surface ornament, reference to surrounding buildings in urban architecture, historical reference in decorative forms, and non-orthogonal angles.
Subsequently, the term 'post-modernism' was applied to a whole host of movements that reacted against modernism many in art, music, and literature and are typically marked by revival of traditional elements and techniques. In critical theory, post-modernism is used 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.
These days, a new term 'post-modernity' is being used to describe post-modernist ideas in philosophy and the analysis of culture and society including re-evaluation of the entire Western value system (love, marriage, popular culture, shift from industrial to service economy, etc.) that took place since the 1950s, with a peak in the Social Revolution of 1968. Since post-modernism refers to an opinion or movement, something being 'post-modernist' would make it part of the movement. On the other hand, something being 'post-modern' would place it in the period of time since the 1950s, making it a part of contemporary history.
Post-modernist thought is an intentional departure from 'modern' scientific mentality developed during the Enlightenment. For postmodernists, 'modernism' began in the seventeenth century and ended sometime between 1945 and the present. Modernism was characterized by the ascendancy of science and reason as means for both understanding and explaining the world.
It was often associated with identity, unity, authority, and certainty, while post-modernism is often associated with difference, separation, textuality, and scepticism. On the other hand, if one associates modernity with the rise and globalization of capitalism, and accepts that this phenomenon is itself a form of cultural and economic imperialism, then post-modernism can be represented as having radical potential in the attempt to formulate a defense of difference.
Post-modernist writers respond to perceived failures of rational and scientific approaches to economics, politics, society, and morality to ensure progress. They especially cite failures of theories like Marxism, utilitarianism, and Freudianism. Post-modernism is open to the charges both of relativism and conservatism. Relativism, because, if all that we have access to are local knowledge’s, practices, and so on, we can have no justifiable reason to judge other localities and their practices.
Conservatism, because if we cannot judge even our own localities (institutions, practices, societies, etc.) in the light of standards or principles external to them, it is unclear what justification we could ever have for changing them. Post-modernism has influenced many cultural fields, including literary criticism, linguistics, architecture, visual arts, and music.
The movement of post-modernism began with architecture, as a response to the perceived blandness, hostility, and utopianism of the modern movement. Modernism was criticised for being focused on the pursuit of a perceived ideal perfection, and an attempted harmony of form and function. The critics of modernism argued that the attributes of perfection and minimalism themselves were subjective, and pointed out anachronisms in modern thought.
Definitive post-modern architecture such as the work of Michael Graves rejects the notion of a 'pure' form or 'perfect' architectonic detail. Instead it conspicuously draws from all methods, materials, forms and colours available to architects. Post-modernist architecture favours personal preferences and variety over objective, ultimate truths or principles. In fact, it is this atmosphere of criticism, scepticism, and emphasis on difference over and against unity that distinguishes many post-modernisms.
Literary post-modernism officially began in the United States with the first issue of boundary 2, subtitled "Journal of Postmodern Literature and Culture", which appeared in 1972. The integral figures in the intellectual and artistic exposition of post-modernism at the time were David Antin, Charles Olson, John Cage, and the Black Mountain College school of poetry and arts.
Even today, boundary 2 remains an influential journal in post-modernist circles. Some other significant contributions to post-modern culture from literary figures include Jorge Luis Borges, William S. Burroughs, and Samuel Beckett.
Jorge Luis Borges experimented in metafiction and magical realism, while William S. Burroughs wrote the prototypical post-modern novel Naked Lunch and developed the cut up method (similar to Tristan Tzara's "How to Make a Dadaist Poem") to create other novels such as Nova Express. Samuel Beckett attempted to escape the shadow of James Joyce by focusing on the failure of language, schizophrenia, and humanity's inability to overcome its condition, themes later to be explored in such works as Waiting for Godot.
Although the term had been used by many others like Charles Olson earlier, the Arab-American theorist Ihab Hassan was one of the first to use the term in its present form in his book The Dismemberment of Orpheus: Toward a Postmodern Literature (1971). In the book, Hassan traces the development of what he called 'literature of silence' through Marquis de Sade, Franz Kafka, Ernest Hemingway, Beckett, and many others, including developments such as the Theatre of the Absurd and the nouveali roman.
Later on, Jean-Francois Lyotard wrote a short but influential work The Postmodern Condition: A report on knowledge (1979) and Richard Rorty wrote Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979). Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault, and Roland Barthes are other influential writers in the 1970s post-modern theory.
In classical music, the advent of musical minimalism in the 1970s paved way for the post-modern impulse. Composers such as Terry Riley, John Adams, Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, and Lou Harrison produced music with simple textures and relatively consonant harmonies. While some composers have been influenced by popular music and world ethnic musical traditions, not all post-modern 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.
The hallmarks of the postmodern influence in musical composition are eclecticism and freedom of expression, in reaction to the rigidity and aesthetic limitations of modernism.