Post Modernism and Individualism and Responsibility
Introduction and Postmodern Definition
Understanding the postmodern paradigm is a little like looking in to a bowl of spaghetti, and without using any utensils, trying to determine how many individual pieces of spaghetti are present, and what is their average length. The postmodern thought process which now dominates our culture is inter-twining, complex philosophy which is the combination of failed modern thought, along with the new demands of individuals who seek to find personal meaning in an increasingly high speed, individualized, yet meaningless and impersonal digital world.
The term postmodernism has its original understanding in architecture, and art. The postmodern artist grew tired of the traditional means which were accepted as means to produce and express art. The artist evolved to the view that all values and boundaries are baseless, that nothing is knowable or can be communicated beyond the experience of life itself. Extreme postmodern artists accepted the premise that life itself was meaningless.
Postmodernism artists did not reject Modernism, but sought to revise its premises and traditional concepts. Postmodernism attempted to erase all boundaries, to undermine traditional legitimacy, and to dislodge the logic of the modernist, 'establishment' state. In it's disassociation from the traditional, postmodernism claimed to offer a new unity of ethical, and aesthetic intuitions. As a theory, it did not reject science as such, but only decided that scientific approach, in which only the data of the modern natural sciences are allowed to contribute to the construction of our worldview, were inadequate to the understanding and experience of life. Artists who grew tired of the classical ways of painting, and constructing paintings choose to take elements of one period, and interject them into a work which was drawn in the style of another period. The strikingly unique combination of elements defied description of the modern critics, so the term postmodern was created to describe the intents of the artists.
In the same way, postmodern sociology, and postmodern culture has arisen from the after effects of modern thought. In the same way values clarification and situational ethics were watch words of the 1980's, postmodernism has become the self identification moniker of the 21st century. The postmodern ideologue has, in many ways, rewritten the paradigm of personal selfhood. The individual is now defined in terms which are important to the individual, rather than in terms of his relationship to the surrounding culture. As a result the concept of the individual is changing, as are the premises of personal responsibility within the social order.
As this world view has ascends to center stage, postmodern thought has affected the overall national conscious, and become a new means by which to critique and understand ourselves, and others. We no longer view ourselves from the paradigm of our previous generations, or that our identity has been formed by the experiences of previous generations. Postmodernism has attempted to cut the ties between social influences and the forces which shape the identify of self, which anthropologist and sociologists have painstakingly built over the past decades.
Postmodern sociology, and the resulting Contradictions
Previous generations have sought to bring order and organization to the understanding of self, individualism and personal identify. The postmodernist revels in disorder, and a lack of consistent structure. The postmodern thought system has tired of looking for consistency and meaning in everyday life. Through disappointments with society, and with self, postmodern critical thinkers look to self for guidelines for life. No longer is the goal of a unified culture held as a workable, or even desirable goal. Because too many people groups have varied desires and experiences of that same culture, the idea of a homogeneous self-identify within the larger social order has been disguarded. The upper middle class business person can never have the same experiences of life as the inner city child growing up on welfare. The disjointed, self indulgent teen can never understand the paradigm of older generations who fought and won wars in order to secure the freedom the teen enjoys. So culture, in its ever-flowing conscious trek toward meaning and purpose has thrown off those elements which create disjunction just as the postmodern are was a potpourri collection of disjointed elements. As a result, Postmodern thought looks to find meaning by celebrating the lack of the same.
According to Schneekloth, (1998) "The trend to engage in critical work without proposition for what may become is a characteristic of postmodern criticism. The power of this standpoint is that it has profoundly uncovered the modernist utopian fantasy. The impotence of the postmodern perspective is related to its unwillingness to offer any other standpoint from which to create culture. Rushing and Frentz echo the critical evaluation of postmodern thought "If postmodernism offers no way out of our current condition, we must now ask why. Why is postmodernism unable to get beyond the fragmentation it critiques so compellingly?" (Rushing and Frentz, 1995: 23). Rushing and Frentz suggest that the answer is that postmodern writers endorse many of the foundational beliefs of modernism and therefore, cannot "see through" to an alternative vision.
As a dominant cultural understanding, postmodernism is also a reaction to modernity, (and hence derives its name from the same). The modern era, ushered into the American dream through the scientific process and critical thinking constructs of the 60's and 70's, carried the promise of a better life through scientific progress.
By breaking down problems into their basic components, and engineering those individual pieces, culture, the economy, and business could be improved. The advances in business through this practice brought success and economic expansion. Because of the economic progress, culture was also able to expand and grow. We traveled, dined out, and created an entire entertainment industry through the economic expansion, and increased disposable income. While the social times were good, what happened to the person? Did the engineered expansion in business, economy and culture change the person, and usher in the utopia which was anticipated? During the 80's, the latent cynical rebelliousness from the 60's reappeared. The economy was roaring, and money was thick for some people, but what about those in the city who could not enjoy the baby boomer lifestyle? They were no less important and their experience of American culture no less valid just because they did not have their hands in the economic prosperity, and as such their experiences also contributed to shaping postmodern America.
So the utopia which was expected through the hands of modern thought and modern methods did not only become a reality for the masses. In response, the majority of society, refusing to be overlooked in a media driven age, made their voices heard. Clothing styles, music, attitudes and images that were previously part of a fringe of disenfranchised citizens forced their way into the main stream Rebellious and angry messages that were previously limited to grassy fields such as Woodstock, NY were carried across the country on modern music stations. The counter-cultural music of the 60s became the counter-cultural culture in the 90's. With disenfranchisement, the promised of modernity were called into question, and replaced with a more cynical, and chaotic way of understanding life. This is the heart of what has been termed post-modern thought. In the same way that postmodern artists grew tired of snobbish evaluations of their paintings by outdated standards, postmodern thought has risen as a reaction to the outdated modernism which promised utopia through universalism and micro-engineering of social order.
Postmodernism, as a reaction against failed modern thought, without a clear goal for future direction, is a complicated term, or set of ideas. Having emerged as an area of academic study since the mid-1980s, postmodernism is hard to define because it is a concept that appears in all areas of study, including art, architecture, music, film, literature, sociology, communications, fashion, and technology and life in general. It's hard to locate a temporal initiation because it's not clear exactly when postmodernism begins. Perhaps the easiest way to understand postmodernism is by thinking about modernism, the movement from which postmodernism emerged. Modernism has the following facets which are relevant to understanding postmodernism. From a literary perspective, the main characteristics of modernism included:
1. An emphasis on impressionism and subjectivity (in writing, and visual arts); an emphasis on HOW seeing (or reading or perception itself) takes place, rather than on WHAT is perceived.
2. A movement away from the objectivity provided by omniscient third-person narrators, or fixed narrative points-of-view, and clear-cut moral positions.
3. A blurring of distinctions between genres, so that poetry seems more documentary recounting of experiences, rather than personal interpretations from specific poets.
4. An emphasis on fragmented forms, discontinuous narratives, and random collages of different materials.
5. A rejection of the distinction between "high" and "low" in popular culture, both in choice of materials used to produce art and in methods of displaying, distributing, and consuming art.
Postmodernism, like modernism, follows most of these same ideas, rejecting boundaries between high and low forms of art, rejecting rigid…