Postmodernism cannot be historically pinned to any specific year, however, its ideas crystallized around the mid-1970’s. The concepts of postmodernism affected many disciplines including art, education, literature, film, sociology, and technology. To begin to understand postmodernism, one must first analyze the two movements prior.
Purpose, unity, and totality were all crucial elements to the premodern vision of the world. The vision roots back to the times of myth and rituals. Many believed that the human self was essentially part of a greater and more sacred whole. The body and its senses were thought to be obstacles to the spiritual life. Individuals were overall dominated by tradition and strong solid institutions like the Roman Catholic Church. The Renaissance was also full of superstitious beliefs and mystical powers.
The Enlightenment, during the 17th century, marked a new era. People no longer relied on past obscure traditions. Logic, science, and reason were used to obtain concrete answers about nature and order. Rene Descartes, for example, questioned the blind memorizations imposed on students. He wanted to methodically understand why things were so. People became skeptical about set institutions and old traditions. They understood the overall notion about how the universe functioned and were ready to logically construct the world. Protestants, as well as those involved in the French Revolution, rejected traditional authorities. The modern notion was that each individual was important and each individual had a choice about their position. The beginning of the French Revolution took place in the year 1789. The French questioned their oppression of the crown. People were no longer socially, economically, or politically satisfied with the crown. The modern idea, that one can work to progress, was born. Modernism can be roughly dated from the 1860’s to the 1970’s. Modernism is a movement that explored unbounded possibilities. Although modernist attempted to return to the classical forms, uniqueness and individuality were very much celebrated. There was a great emphasis on determinacy and the expression of emotions. People expressed their feelings and moved away from the established social norms. Nature and symbolism also played a great factor in modernism. Modernists believed in the order, or hierarchy, of things. Depth and creativity in thought, literature, and art were also very important. In literature, for example, there was “a move away from the apparent objectivity provided by omniscient third-person narrators, fixed narrative points of view, and clear-cut moral positions.”( Dr. Mary Klages.) Genres also blurred so that “poetry seems more documentary (as in T.S. Eliot ) and prose seems more poetic (as in Woolf or Joyce.)”( Dr. Mary Klages). Steam of consciousness, introduced by Stein, allowed writers to simply express their emotions through streams of thoughts and words. Although modernism had many positive ideals, it came short to reaching its goal and many lost faith in it.
After some chaotic events, like World War I and World War II, Nazism, and nuclear bomb threats, people did not believe that everything was logical and orderly. Foundations, as well as other definite ideas, were rejected. There was a shift of focus from logic to collective, anonymous, and random experiences. Although somewhat similar, postmodernism had some conflicting differences with modernism. In actuality, there are divisions in theory even within postmodernists. “The seemingly anti-modern stance involves a basic rejection of the tenets of Modernism; that is to say, a rejection of the doctrine of the supremacy of reason, the notion of truth, the belief in the perfectibility of man, and the idea that we could create a better, if not perfect, society. This view has been termed deconstructive postmodernism “(Witcombe,Chris.) Deconstructive postmodernist believe that the world is meaningless and that purpose, truth, and world views are all non-existant. Constructive postmodernists do not entirely reject modernism. The concepts are similar to that of deconstructive postmodernists in that boundaries should not exist. Nonetheless, they reject the idea that only modern natural sciences structure the general worldview. Constructive postmodernists believe in the “unity of scientific, ethical, aesthetic, and religious institutions.”(Witcombe,Chris.)
Although there are some contradictions in ideals within postmodernist, generally they would agree on some key ideas. They would agree on the belief that anybody’s ideas are as good as another’s. Everything is subjective, including “truth.” Truth is subjective to your own individual culture, experiences, and ideas. Who is to say that you are right or wrong? For example, in the phrase:” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, one can derive that beauty is subjective to each individual. Reality is not only perceived by the mind, rather, it is constructed by it. Postmodernists believe that if reality is defined as one certain element, it becomes oppressive. Those that accept a “reality” are conformists. They are anti-foundationalism and anti-worldview because they deny any existence of universal truth. Another idea that Postmodernists agree is that history is subjective because it is not an account of events; rather it is seen as metaphors because it was a person’s subjective interpretation. Postmodernists do not believe in defined standards or symbols. In art, for example, there is no difference between an “original work” and a “copy” because they are both the same. They also have a different outlook on education in comparison to a modernist. Knowledge is not productive and beneficial by itself. It is a functional tool used to produce something else.
Postmodernists celebrate incoherency, anarchy, disorder, and indeterminacy. Unlike modernists who favored “grand narratives” like the Bible and classical stories, postmodernists favor “mini-narratives.” These are small stories in which practices or events are explained with situational elements. They have no claims to universal truth, reason, or stability “Many modernist works try to uphold the idea that works of art can provide the unity, coherence, and meaning which has been lost in most of modern life..”(Dr. Mary Klages.) However, postmodernists celebrate the fact that there is discontinuity and fragmentation in the world and thus reflect it in their work.
Salman Rushdie wrote the Satanic Verses in 1989. Through the work, Rushdie expressed his feelings about Islam and its “religious bigotry.” To a Muslim, Islam is a way of living and not just a faith. For this same reason, Rushdie rejected the structured form of living. There are “..liberal Muslims deplore the fatwa against Rushdie and support his right to publish, or even admire his work..”(Brians,Paul.) Nonetheless, a price was put on his head after he wrote this book and he has not been seen since then.
Judith Butler was another controversial author. She used Freud’s psychoanalysis to support her postmodern views of gender. Butler did not believe it fair to classify a person to a particular group (i.e. male group, or female group) because of a single common element. According to Butler, “women” should be thought of as multiple and discontinuous, not as a category. Judith Butler introduced the queer theory through her book, Gender Trouble, written in 1990. The theory states that it is wrong to collectively identify people with a certain group. There are so many other elements in a person, besides gender, that a fixed identity would be unjust. Madonna is an example of the arguments involved in the queer theory “with her constant image changes, parodies of blonde bombshells such as Marilyn Monroe, her assertion of female power and sexuality, and her appropriation from gay/queer culture..”( Mistry,Reena.)
Postmodernism sets no boundaries. There is no symbol, or worldview that can define what anything is. Reality and truth is subjective. “Hegemony assumes the role of "power" established by the postmodernists, acting as a social construct that promotes the existence of the group.”(Barnhart,Adam.) Although postmodernism is chaotic and many times contradictory, there are those that faithfully believe in its ideals. If one sets aside prejudices and criticism, much can be learned.
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