Help me teach my undergraduate students postmodernism?
January 28, 2015 8:37 AM   Subscribe

Please help me with texts, videos or visual guides to postmodernism - something my theatre students struggle to grasp every year.

We struggle to help the students to understand what postmodernism because they have a fear that they should be able to understand it straightforwardly and they can't. No matter how many times we explain it is in fact meant to be confusing, messy, relative, mutiple... they still get frustrated and cross with themselves. I would like to prevent this annual event!

I'm looking for resources in any format that will help them get a sense of what it is, can be, and how it can be used. We already use Post-modernism a graphic guide, to fairly limited success. Again, we're not entirely sure why that doesn't help. The course is theatre focused but any resources from any specialty would be a great help. This is their first major encounter with contemporary theory and practice, though let's not get started on post-post-modernism.

I promise we can usually teach most things, just for some reason, not this.
posted by Augenblick to Education (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
My go-to for quick patch-up jobs on my knowledge of anything is Oxford's Very Short Introductions, and they do have a volume on postmodernism.

However. I have not read it, and I have encountered a few lemons in the series, so YMMV.
posted by thelonius at 8:54 AM on January 28, 2015

Came in to suggest the Very Short Introduction, which was a godsend to many of my English undergrad cohort.

Personally I found I "got" postmodernism most easily when reading some of its texts, so maybe exposing them to some suitable dramatists would give them a grounding before you wheel in the theory.
posted by mymbleth at 9:40 AM on January 28, 2015

I know the feeling. A perspective I've used in recent years: postmodernism is a label that generation gave themselves. It created a common ground for artists and academics which was economically succesful.
When you read the texts through this angle, it makes a little more sense.
posted by mumimor at 9:51 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

This may or may not help
posted by Busoni at 9:57 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I find the Very Short Introductions to actually not fulfill their stated purpose very well, in other words they often offer a particular take by the author on the subject. They do not offer a basic introduction. Maybe I have just been unlucky with the handful of them I've read.

One way would simply be to read Lyotard's What Is Postmodernism?, but that's not very pedagogical.

I've found Peter Barry's Beginning Theory immensely useful for the newcomer. It has a good chapter on postmodernism, including some helpful questions your students could answer by the end of it.
posted by nagoya at 10:00 AM on January 28, 2015

When I did a course on pomo all those years ago, the lecturer started by showing Blade Runner. That was so spot on that everyone in the class got on board immediately.
posted by kariebookish at 10:01 AM on January 28, 2015


Postmodern literature video
posted by SyraCarol at 10:59 AM on January 28, 2015

What are you using to teach them modernism? My suggestions would be things like Joyce's schema for Ulysses, quotes from Clement Greenberg talking about the formal essence of painting, excerpts from Breton talking about Surrealist forms/techniques capturing the play of the unconscious in everyday life, and excerpts from Klee's notebooks showing him playing with form. What I'd want to show with that would be a sense that for many modernists formal experimentation is what seemed to matter most, because form was viewed as the ground for art and representation generally speaking. Postmodernism then is focusing on what form fails to determine (reading against the grain, shifting situations the work appears in, purposes for which formal choices are not a big deal, etc.) or more broadly the inability to secure significance in any bedrock, whether it's form or grand narrative.

In anthropology, the way this played out was that many anthropologists observed a crisis in representation--specifically, problems in how cultural anthropologists wrote about other people and about themselves--and the theoretical works written to address that became identified with postmodernism even though almost all of the folks involved self-identified as modernists, often shared nostalgia for the avant-garde, and mostly just wanted anthropology to capture new realities following some reflection on past practices. But one who did self-identify as a postmodernist in those key texts thought that it was about as fine to pursue traditional ethnographic forms as not, because they were all beside the point, which was to consider everything else and/or work through issues almost like therapy without worrying so much about fixing the representations. That sharp contrast among folks who were called postmodernists--not obvious without knowing them or reading their work very carefully--is actually a pretty crisp illustration of the larger differences between modernism and postmodernism, but I don't think there's a good source that isn't loaded with keywords and problems specific to the discipline.

Incidentally, from that point of view, postmodernity was an almost wholly separate issue--not completely unrelated but accepted and used generally by a different cross-section of folks more or less the way David Harvey used it. I remember his book on The Condition of Postmodernity had some easy-to-grasp tables and comparisons.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:11 AM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

This doesnt seem like it's exactly what you are asking for but when I was a high school senior, my English teacher used the movie 'Moulin Rouge' to walk us through postmodernism. Most Baz Lurhmann would suffice I imagine.
posted by BeeJiddy at 4:32 PM on January 28, 2015

« Older I request the scratchfree-est of wipes   |   Make my Instapaper instantly paper Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.