Postmodernism, either with or without the hyphen, has become a one of the most talked about concepts in the last decades. Postmodern is one of the most utilized terms these days, so defining it could prove useful: In a literal sense it means that which comes after the modern, and this is how the term is generally used. One of the most important issues is to correctly evaluate the diversity of postmodernism.
This problem revolves actually around the significance of the term 'modern', since it has very different meanings in art, literature, architecture and philosophy. The postmodern change has been identified as early as the late fifties to as late as the early seventies, but it was the changes in the 1960s that made cultural critics appreciate that we have entered a new historical period. The postmodernist shift has been associated with the full assault of consumer capitalism. Frederick Jameson said that postmodernism was "the culture of late capitalism."
These are the main areas where postmodernism makes its presence felt. Modern designs, according to architects are those inspired by Bauhaus, which were characterized by a strict functionality. Postmodernism refers to the reintroduction of decorative elements, which is a revival of the old conception that architecture is after all an art and that its functional character cannot annihilate the artistic element. Classical elements are bedded in modern techniques, styles and materials. The column, classical motifs and decoration, ornaments and color reappear, in opposition to the unpleasant gray and black boxes of modernist architecture. The postmodernist architect inclines towards pluralism, difference, and eclecticism; he/she admires the past, and tries recycling or parodying it.
As far as visual art is concerned, Kim Levin states that the past is ransacked for clues to the future. The feeling of alienation is remedied by postmodernists by using elements from the past and reviving the cult of the human body, absent from modern art. The artist is tolerant of ambiguity, in a playful mood and full of doubt. The pastiche and the collage are the preferred methods.
In literature, modernism is associated not with function, but with purely aesthetics. Writers were preoccupied with the beauty of writing in itself, and not with defending or attacking political, moral of historical values. T.S. Eliot's poetry is an excellent illustration of this concept. The New Critical claim that texts should be read solely on their own terms, without any reference to the context, broader subjects or biographical sources accompanied the modernism in literature. The purpose of the modernist literature and critique was to create a class of readers with higher education, which could appreciate a text in itself. From this point-of-view, modernism may be considered an elitist trend in literature.
Postmodernism is a response to the triumph of modern technology and science over older or more isolated worldviews. Postmodern fiction writers wander through dark worlds and alternative paradigms, enjoy environments foreign to the modern faith in science and technology, and explore paradigms that are alien to the modern belief in the absolute power of truth, reason and order. Umberto Eco's 'The Name of the Rose', with his exploration of the medieval spirit, or William Gibson's Neuromancer vision of the future of the computer revolution are excellent examples.
Philosophy and political philosophy have attributed the term 'postmodernism' to that which comes after the modern. However, in this area, the modern has an extremely wide scope. It does not imply only the twentieth century, and not even the nineteenth- and twentieth-century styles and developments. The term 'modern' refers to the centuries old philosophical effort starting with Nicollo Machiavelli and Rene Descartes that focused on acquiring and using knowledge to improve human condition. There is a controversy on the limits of modernism in philosophy. Scholars cannot agree whether modernism has a Christian element or whether it is concentrated on seeking power or liberty; however, there is a general consensus that the 'modern' era ends with Nietzsche. The German thinker entitled a collection of essays as Postmodernist: Essays Pro and Contra, which indicates that his thought had exceeded the time of modernism and that future writings will lead into a new direction.
Postmodernism: ideas and personalities
Postmodernism is one of the most discussed and exposed to critique subjects, even from the part of Postmodernists themselves. Postmodernists have been divided, according to one classification, into two camps, Skeptics and Affirmatives, both with a very broad scope.
Skeptical Postmodernists are very critical of the modern subject. The subject is considered a "linguistic convention" (Rosenau). The modern understanding of time is viewed as oppressive as it controls and measures the individual, so the understanding of time is rejected altogether. Theory as a concept is also rejected, since theories are abundant, while no theory is considered better that any other. Rosenau said, "Theory conceals, distorts, and obfuscates, it is alienated, disparated, dissonant, it means to exclude, order, and control rival powers."
The other group, the Affirmative Postmodernists, also rejects the concept of Theory by denying claims of truth. They have however a less radical approach, in that Theory has to be transformed and not abolished. Affirmative are obviously less rigid than skeptics. They tend to support movements organized around ideas such as peace, environment, and feminism (Rosenau 1993).
There are several leading figures that have imposed the concept of Postmodernism. These personalities have often conducted their activity in more than one scientific area. Jean-Francois Lyotard is one of them. He argued "The Postmodern would be that which in the modern invokes the unpresentable in presentation itself, that which refuses the consolation of correct forms, refuses the consensus of taste permitting a common experience of nostalgia for the impossible, and inquires into new presentations -- not to take pleasure in them, but to better produce the feeling that there is something unpresentable."
As an anthropologist, Lyotard focuses his attacks on several modern age traditions, such as the "Grand" Narrative, to which he referred as the Meta (master) narrative (1984). In opposition with the ethnographies of anthropologists from the first half of the 20th Century, Lyotard claimed that an all encompassing account of a culture cannot be fulfilled.
Jean Baudrillard, another great figure of Postmodernism is a sociologist who was initially concerned about the Marxist critique of capitalism. An individual, according to Baudrillard is constantly looking for order within a society of objects. He argues that, "consumer objects constitute a system of signs that differentiate the population." Rosenau includes Baudrillard in the Skeptic Postmodernist camp for statements such as, "everything has already happened.... nothing new can occur, " or "there is no real world." Baudrillard draws a clear limit between modernity and postmodernity, while trying to explain the world as a set of models. Baudrillard believes that we are living in a world of images but only simulations. Many people do not really understand that, "we have now moved into an epoch...where truth is entirely a product of consensus values, and where 'science' itself is just the name we attach to certain modes of explanation."
The French philosopher Jacques Derrida, who has died recently, is considered to be a poststructuralist and a skeptical postmodernist. He was mainly concerned with the deconstruction of texts and the relationship of meaning between texts. He argued, cited by Rosenau, that, "a text employs its own stratagems against it producing a force of dislocation that spreads itself through an entire system." Derrida is not comfortable with the understanding of reason, as it is done by Western philosophers. Reason, according to him, is dominated by "a metaphysics of presence." The concept that meaning is not inherent in signs is accepted by Derrida, but he also states that it is incorrect to draw the conclusion that anything reasoned may be used as a stable and timeless model.
Michel Foucault, a French philosopher, tried to prove that the basic concepts about how people think of permanent truths of human nature and society suffer constant modifications throughout the course of history. In opposition with the teachings of Marx and Freud, Foucault argued that everyday practices allow people to define their identities and acquire knowledge.
One of the fundamental concepts of postmodernism is based on Foucault's study of power and its constantly shifting patterns. Since Foucault replaced conventional understanding of history as a succession of unavoidable facts with underlayers of suppressed and unconscious knowledge in and throughout history, he has earned his place in the gallery of Postmodernists." These underlayers are the codes and assumptions of order, the structures of exclusion that legitimate the epistemes, by which societies achieve identities (http://www.connect.net/ron)."
Nancy Scheper-Hughes, another figure of Postmodernism acted as a professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. The influence of postmodernism on anthropology is important because it makes cultural difference easier to understand. Scheper-Hughes argues in her work, "Primacy of the Ethical," that, "If we cannot begin to think about social institutions and practices in moral or ethical terms, then anthropology strikes me as quite weak and useless." (1995).
According to her, ethnographies may be utilized as instruments…