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|preceded by Modernism|
|Criticism of postmodernism|
Postmodernism is a late-20th-century movement in the arts, architecture, and criticism that was a departure from modernism. Postmodernism includes skeptical interpretations of culture, literature, art, philosophy, history, economics, architecture, fiction, and literary criticism. It is often associated with deconstruction and post-structuralism because its usage as a term gained significant popularity at the same time as twentieth-century post-structural thought.
The term postmodernism has been applied to a host of movements, mainly in art, music, and literature, that reacted against tendencies in modernism, and are typically marked by revival of historical elements and techniques.
The term postmodern was first used around the 1870s. John Watkins Chapman suggested "a Postmodern style of painting" as a way to depart from French Impressionism. J. M. Thompson, in his 1914 article in The Hibbert Journal (a quarterly philosophical review), used it to describe changes in attitudes and beliefs in the critique of religion: "The raison d'etre 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 1921 and 1925, postmodernism had been used to describe new forms of art and music. In 1942 H. R. Hays described it as a new literary form. However, as a general theory for a historical movement it was first used in 1939 by 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 a dissatisfaction with modern architecture, and led to the postmodern architecture movement, perhaps also a response to the modernist architectural movement known as the International Style. Postmodernism in architecture is marked by the re-emergence of surface ornament, reference to surrounding buildings in urban architecture, historical reference in decorative forms (eclecticism), and non-orthogonal angles.
In 1971, in a lecture delivered at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, Mel Bochner described "post-modernism" in art as having started with Jasper Johns, "who first rejected sense-data and the singular point-of-view as the basis for his art, and treated art as a critical investigation."
More recently, Walter Truett Anderson described postmodernism as belonging to one of four typological world views, which he identifies as either (a) Postmodern-ironist, which sees truth as socially constructed, (b) Scientific-rational, in which truth is found through methodical, disciplined inquiry, (c) Social-traditional, in which truth is found in the heritage of American and Western civilization, or (d) 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 Postmodernity, as opposed to Postmodernism, a term referring to an opinion or movement. Postmodernism has also been used interchangeably with the term post-structuralism out of which postmodernism grew, a proper understanding of postmodernism or doing justice to the postmodernist thought demands an understanding of the poststructuralist movement and the ideas of its advocates. Post-structuralism resulted similarly to postmodernism by following a time of structuralism. It is characterized by new ways of thinking through structuralism, contrary to the original form. "Postmodernist" describes part of a movement; "Postmodern" places it in the period of time since the 1950s, making it a part of contemporary history.
The idea of Postmodernism in architecture began as a response to the perceived blandness and failed Utopianism of the Modern movement. Modern Architecture, as established and developed by Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, was focused on the pursuit of a perceived ideal perfection, and attempted harmony of form and function, and dismissal of "frivolous ornament." Critics of modernism argued that the attributes of perfection and minimalism themselves were subjective, and pointed out anachronisms in modern thought and questioned the benefits of its philosophy. Definitive postmodern architecture such as the work of Michael Graves and Robert Venturi rejects the notion of a 'pure' form or 'perfect' architectonic detail, instead conspicuously drawing from all methods, materials, forms and colors available to architects.
Modernist Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is associated with the phrase "less is more"; in contrast Venturi famously said, "Less is a bore." 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 against unity that distinguishes the postmodernism aesthetic. Among writers defining the terms of this discourse is Charles Jencks, described by Architectural Design Magazine as "the definer of Post-Modernism for thirty years" and the "internationally acclaimed critic..., whose name became synonymous with Post-modernism in the 80s".
Postmodernism is a rejection of 'totality', of the notion that planning could be 'comprehensive', widely applied regardless of context, and rational. In this sense, Postmodernism is a rejection of its predecessor: Modernism. From the 1920s onwards, the Modern movement sought to design and plan cities which followed the logic of the new model of industrial mass production; reverting to large-scale solutions, aesthetic standardisation and prefabricated design solutions (Goodchild 1990). Postmodernism also brought a break from the notion that planning and architecture could result in social reform, which was an integral dimension of the plans of Modernism (Simonsen 1990). Furthermore, Modernism eroded urban living by its failure to recognise differences and aim towards homogenous landscapes (Simonsen 1990, 57). Within Modernism, urban planning represented a 20th-century move towards establishing something stable, structured, and rationalised within what had become a world of chaos, flux and change (Irving 1993, 475). The role of planners predating Postmodernism was one of the 'qualified professional' who believed they could find and implement one single 'right way' of planning new urban establishments (Irving 1993). In fact, after 1945, urban planning became one of the methods through which capitalism could be managed and the interests of developers and corporations could be administered (Irving 1993, 479).
Considering Modernism inclined urban planning to treat buildings and developments as isolated, unrelated parts of the overall urban ecosystems created fragmented, isolated, and homogeneous urban landscapes (Goodchild, 1990). One of the greater problems with Modernist-style of planning was the disregard of resident or public opinion, which resulted in planning being forced upon the majority by a minority consisting of affluent professionals with little to no knowledge of real 'urban' problems characteristic of post-Second World War urban environments: slums, overcrowding, deteriorated infrastructure, pollution and disease, among others (Irving 1993). These were precisely the 'urban ills' Modernism was meant to 'solve', but more often than not, the types of 'comprehensive', 'one size fits all' approaches to planning made things worse., and residents began to show interest in becoming involved in decisions which had once been solely entrusted to professionals of the built environment. Advocacy planning and participatory models of planning emerged in the 1960s to counter these traditional elitist and technocratic approaches to urban planning (Irving 1993; Hatuka & D'Hooghe 2007). Furthermore, an assessment of the 'ills' of Modernism among planners during the 1960s, fuelled development of a participatory model that aimed to expand the range of participants in urban interventions (Hatuka & D'Hooghe 2007, 21).
Jane Jacobs's 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities was a sustained critique of urban planning as it had developed within Modernism and marked a transition from modernity to postmodernity in thinking about urban planning (Irving 1993, 479). However, the transition from Modernism to Postmodernism is often said to have happened at 3:32pm on 15 July in 1972, when Pruitt Igoe; a housing development for low-income people in St. Louis designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki, which had been a prize-winning version of Le Corbusier's 'machine for modern living' was deemed uninhabitable and was torn down (Irving 1993, 480). Since then, Postmodernism has involved theories that embrace and aim to create diversity, and it exalts uncertainty, flexibility and change (Hatuka & D'Hooghe 2007). Postmodern planning aims to accept pluralism and heighten awareness of social differences in order to accept and bring to light the claims of minority and disadvantaged groups (Goodchild 1990). It is important to note that urban planning discourse within Modernity and Postmodernity has developed in different contexts, even though they both grew within a capitalist culture. Modernity was shaped by a capitalist ethic of Fordist-Keynesian paradigm of mass, standardized production and consumption, while postmodernity was created out of a more flexible form of capital accumulation, labor markets and organisations (Irving 1993, 60). Also, there is a distinction between a postmodernism of 'reaction' and one of 'resistance'. A postmodernism of 'reaction' rejects Modernism and seeks to return to the lost traditions and history in order to create a new cultural synthesis, while Postmodernity of 'resistance' seeks to deconstruct Modernism and is a critique of the origins without necessarily returning to them (Irving 1993, 60). As a result of Postmodernism, planners are much less inclined to lay a firm or steady claim to there being one single 'right way' of engaging in urban planning and are more open to different styles and ideas of 'how to plan' (Irving 474).
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.
Jorge Luis Borges's (1939) short story Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, is often considered as predicting postmodernism and conceiving the ideal of the ultimate parody. Samuel Beckett is sometimes seen as an important precursor and influence. Novelists who are commonly connected with postmodern literature include Vladimir Nabokov, William Gaddis,Umberto Eco, John Hawkes, William Burroughs, Giannina Braschi, Kurt Vonnegut, John Barth, Jean Rhys, Donald Barthelme, E.L. Doctorow, Richard Kalich, Jerzy Kosinski, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon (Pynchon's work has also been described as "high modern"), Ishmael Reed, Kathy Acker, Ana Lydia Vega, Jachym Topol 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 and the nouveau roman. In 'Postmodernist Fiction' (1987), Brian McHale details the shift from modernism to postmodernism, arguing that the former is characterized by an epistemological dominant[clarification needed], and that postmodern works have developed out of modernism and are primarily concerned with questions of ontology. In Constructing Postmodernism (1992), McHale's second book, he provides readings of postmodern fiction and of some of the contemporary writers who go under the label of cyberpunk. McHale's "What Was Postmodernism?" (2007), follows Raymond Federman's lead in now using the past tense when discussing postmodernism.
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Postmodern music is either music of the postmodern era, or music that follows aesthetic and philosophical trends of postmodernism. As the name suggests, the postmodernist movement formed partly in reaction to the ideals of the modernist. Because of this, Postmodern music is mostly defined in opposition to modernist music, and a work can either be modernist, or postmodern, but not both. Jonathan Kramer posits the idea (following Umberto Eco and Jean-François Lyotard) that postmodernism (including musical postmodernism) is less a surface style or historical period (i.e., condition) than an attitude.
The postmodern impulse in classical music arose in the 1960s with the advent of musical minimalism. Composers such as Terry Riley, Henryk Górecki, Bradley Joseph, John Adams, George Crumb, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Michael Nyman, 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, whilst others, most notably John Cage challenged the prevailing narratives of beauty and objectivity common to Modernism. Some composers have been openly influenced by popular music and world ethnic musical traditions.
Postmodern Classical music as well is not a musical style, but rather refers to music of the postmodern era. It bears the same relationship to postmodernist music that postmodernity bears to postmodernism. Postmodern music, on the other hand, shares characteristics with postmodernist art—that is, art that comes after and reacts against modernism (see Modernism in Music).
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.
Postmodern designers were in the beginning stages of what we now refer to as "graphic design". They created works beginning in the 1970s without any set adherence to rational order and formal organization. They also seemed to entirely pay no attention to traditional conventions such as legibility. Another characteristic of postmodern graphic design is that “retro, techno, punk, grunge, beach, parody, and pastiche were all conspicuous trends. Each had its own sites and venues, detractors and advocates”. Yet, while postmodern design did not consist of one unified graphic style, the movement was an expressive and playful time for designers who searched for more and more ways to go against the system. Key influential postmodern graphic designers include Wolfgang Weingart, April Greiman, Tibor Kalman, and Jamie Reid.
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One of the most well-known postmodernist concerns is "deconstruction," a theory for philosophy, literary criticism, and textual analysis developed by Jacques Derrida. The notion of a "deconstructive" approach implies an analysis that questions the already evident understanding of a text in terms of presuppositions, ideological underpinnings, hierarchical values, and frames of reference. A deconstructive approach further depends on the techniques of close reading without reference to cultural, ideological, moral opinions or information derived from an authority over the text such as the author. At the same time Derrida famously writes: "Il n'y a pas d'hors-texte (there is no such thing as outside-of-the-text)." Derrida implies that the world follows the grammar of a text undergoing its own deconstruction. Derrida's method frequently involves recognizing and spelling out the different, yet similar interpretations of the meaning of a given text and the problematic implications of binary oppositions within the meaning of a text. Derrida's philosophy influenced a postmodern movement called deconstructivism among architects, characterized by the intentional fragmentation, distortion, and dislocation of architectural elements in designing a building. Derrida discontinued his involvement with the movement after the publication of his collaborative project with architect Peter Eisenmann in Chora L Works: Jacques Derrida and Peter Eisenman.
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Structuralism was a philosophical movement developed by French academics in the 1950s, partly in response to French Existentialism. It has been seen variously as an expression of Modernism, High modernism, or postmodernism[by whom?]. "Post-structuralists" were thinkers who moved away from the strict interpretations and applications of structuralist ideas. Many American academics consider post-structuralism to be part of the broader, less well-defined postmodernist movement, even though many post-structuralists insisted it was not. Thinkers who have been called structuralists include the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, and the semiotician Algirdas Greimas. The early writings of the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and the literary theorist Roland Barthes have also been called structuralist. Those who began as structuralists but became post-structuralists include Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Deleuze. Other post-structuralists include Jacques Derrida, Pierre Bourdieu, Jean-François Lyotard, Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous, and Luce Irigaray. The American cultural theorists, critics and intellectuals whom they influenced include Judith Butler, John Fiske, Rosalind Krauss, Avital Ronell, and Hayden White.
Post-structuralism is not defined by a set of shared axioms or methodologies, but by an emphasis on how various aspects of a particular culture, from its most ordinary, everyday material details to its most abstract theories and beliefs, determine one another. Post-structuralist thinkers reject Reductionism and Epiphenomenalism and the idea that cause-and-effect relationships are top-down or bottom-up. Like structuralists, they start from the assumption that people's identities, values and economic conditions determine each other rather than having intrinsic properties that can be understood in isolation. Thus the French structuralists considered themselves to be espousing Relativism and Constructionism. But they nevertheless tended to explore how the subjects of their study might be described, reductively, as a set of essential relationships, schematics, or mathematical symbols. (An example is Claude Lévi-Strauss's algebraic formulation of mythological transformation in "The Structural Study of Myth"). Post-structuralists thinkers went further, questioning the existence of any distinction between the nature of a thing and its relationship to other things.
Post-structuralists generally reject the notion of formulations of "essential relations" in primitive cultures, languages, or descriptions of psychological phenomena being forms of Aristotelianism, rationalism, or idealism. Another common thread among thinkers associated with the post-structuralist movement is the criticism of the absolutist, quasi-scientific claims of structuralist theorists as more reflective of the mechanistic bias inspired by bureaucratization and industrialization than of the inner-workings of actual primitive cultures, languages or psyches. Generally, post-structuralists emphasize the inter-determination and contingency of social and historical phenomena with each other and with the cultural values and biases of perspective. Such realities were not to be dissected, in the manner of some structuralists, as a system of facts that could exist independently from values and paradigms (either those of the analysts or the subjects themselves), but to be understood as both causes and effects of each other. For this reason, most post-structuralists hold a more open-ended view of function within systems than did Structuralists and were sometimes accused of circularity and ambiguity. Post-structuralists countered that, when closely examined, all formalized claims describing phenomena, reality, or truth, rely on some form of circular reasoning and self-referential logic that is often paradoxical in nature. Thus, it was important to uncover the hidden patterns of circularity, self-reference and paradox within a given set of statements rather than feign objectivity, as such an investigation might allow new perspectives to have influence and new practices to be sanctioned or adopted. In this latter respect, post-structuralists were, as a group, continuing the philosophical project initiated by Martin Heidegger, and saw themselves as extending the implications of Friedrich Nietzsche's work.
Post-structuralist writing tends to connect observations and references from many, widely varying disciplines into a synthetic view of knowledge and its relationship to experience, the body, society and economy—a synthesis in which it sees itself as participating. Structuralists, while also somewhat inter-disciplinary, were more comfortable within departmental boundaries and often maintained the autonomy of their analytical methods over the objects they analyzed. Post-structuralists, unlike structuralists, did not privilege a system of (abstract) "relations" over the specifics to which such relations were applied, but tended to see the notion of "the relation" or of systemization itself as part-and-parcel of any stated conclusion rather than a reflection of reality as an independent, self-contained state or object. If anything, if a part of objective reality, theorization and systemization to Post-structuralists was an exponent of larger, more nebulous patterns of control in social orders—patterns that could not be encapsulated in theory without simultaneously conditioning it. For this reason, certain post-structural thinkers were also criticized by more realist, naturalist or essentialist thinkers of anti-intellectualism or anti-philosophy. Post-structuralists, in contrast to structuralists, tend to place a great deal of skepticism on the independence of theoretical premises from collective bias and the influence of power, and reject the notion of a "pure" or "scientific" methodology in social analysis, semiotics or philosophical speculation. No theory, they said—especially when concerning human society or psychology—was capable of reducing phenomena to elemental systems or abstract patterns, nor could abstract systems be dismissed as secondary derivatives of a fundamental nature: systemization, phenomena, and values were part of each other.
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Recently metamodernism, post-postmodernism and the "death of postmodernism" have been widely debated: in 2007 Andrew Hoborek noted in his introduction to a special issue of the journal Twentieth Century Literature titled "After Postmodernism" that "declarations of postmodernism's demise have become a critical commonplace". A small group of critics has put forth a range of theories that aim to describe culture or society in the alleged aftermath of postmodernism, most notably Raoul Eshelman (performatism), Gilles Lipovetsky (hypermodernity), Nicolas Bourriaud (altermodern), and Alan Kirby (digimodernism, formerly called pseudo-modernism). None of these new theories and labels have so far gained very widespread acceptance. The exhibition Postmodernism - Style and Subversion 1970–1990 at the Victoria and Albert Museum (London, 24 September 2011 – 15 January 2012) was billed as the first show to document postmodernism as a historical movement.
Criticisms of postmodernism are intellectually diverse, including the assertions that postmodernism is meaningless and promotes obscurantism. For example, Noam Chomsky has argued that postmodernism is meaningless because it adds nothing to analytical or empirical knowledge. He asks why postmodernist intellectuals do not respond like people in other fields when asked, "what are the principles of their theories, on what evidence are they based, what do they explain that wasn't already obvious, etc.?...If [these requests] can't be met, then I'd suggest recourse to Hume's advice in similar circumstances: 'to the flames'." Christian philosopher William Lane Craig has noted "The idea that we live in a postmodern culture is a myth. In fact, a postmodern culture is an impossibility; it would be utterly unlivable. People are not relativistic when it comes to matters of science, engineering, and technology; rather, they are relativistic and pluralistic in matters of religion and ethics. But, of course, that's not postmodernism; that's modernism!"
However, as for continental philosophy, American academics have tended to label it "postmodernist", especially practitioners of "French Theory". Such a trend might derive from U.S. departments of Comparative Literature. It is interesting to note that Félix Guattari, often considered a "postmodernist", rejected its theoretical assumptions by arguing that the structuralist and postmodernist visions of the world were not flexible enough to seek explanations in psychological, social and environmental domains at the same time.
Philosopher Daniel Dennett declared, "Postmodernism, the school of 'thought' that proclaimed 'There are no truths, only interpretations' has largely played itself out in absurdity, but it has left behind a generation of academics in the humanities disabled by their distrust of the very idea of truth and their disrespect for evidence, settling for 'conversations' in which nobody is wrong and nothing can be confirmed, only asserted with whatever style you can muster."
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