What does the word 'postmodern' mean? What is postmodern literature?
January 18, 2004 2:50 PM   Subscribe

It's a word I've been using for a while in a ... you know ... "ironic postmodern" sort of a way, but really, I've got no idea what it means. The Google results plain confuse me, so I'm throwing this one out to the Ask Metafilter Posse. What does the word "postmodern" mean? What is postmodern literature? And finally, where do I go for examples? And ... please no laughing from the front of the class.
posted by seanyboy to Media & Arts (42 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Weird for the sake of weird" (I'd attribute it but I doubt it's necessary with this crowd).

Wikipedia is right on the money for the long version, as usual.

Note that this is very much a googleable question, your protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. If one result confuses you, try another. Postmodernisms flaw is definately not that there isn't enough in writing about it.
posted by fvw at 3:04 PM on January 18, 2004


Also, see Everything 2's page on the issue, which is quite good.
posted by Jimbob at 3:08 PM on January 18, 2004


My problem isn't the amount of material out there; it's the amount of material & the amount I trust. To paraphrase, the flaw for me is that there's too much writing about it. Also, rather stupidly I guess - I trust you guys.
posted by seanyboy at 3:08 PM on January 18, 2004


To paraphrase, the flaw for me is that there's too much writing about it.

Indeed, a hundred thousand honours theses.
posted by Jimbob at 3:17 PM on January 18, 2004


A postmodern idea/concept/etc is one that recognizes that 'true' objectivity is impossible to obtain, and that any idea/concept/etc must be defined in relation to it's social/political/etc context, and by the biases/experiences/etc of the people(s) doing the defining/creating/etc.

That's as simple as I can make it, perhaps someone else here can do a better job. :)
posted by Jairus at 3:20 PM on January 18, 2004


Having recently taken a course on this very subject, I may be able to offer some insight. Post-modern literature usually contains one or more of the following characteristics:

It is self referential (the characters know they are in a book and speak of it, the author speaks to the reader, etc. an example If on a Winter's Night a Traveler)

It is inter-textual (this one is harder to describe, Mao II is a decent example.

It doesn't fit neatly into categories like Romance (Alexandre Dumas), Modernism (Virginia Woolf), etc.

Post-modernism is largely a nonsense word. Many people claim that the difficulty in defining it comes from our lack of perspective, we're living in the post-modern world, so we can't see it clearly. This is bull. A Midsummer Night's Dream (Shakespeare) feels fairly post-modern to me, as does The Way of the World (Congreve).

Don't worry about what it is or what it means. That has yet to be pinned down.
posted by Grod at 3:24 PM on January 18, 2004


I don't much agree with the "weird for the sake of weird" definition.

A lot of very interesting stuff has been written with ties to postmodernism, and consequently it has different meanings across different fields. Here is how I would explain it from my cultural studies point-of-view, although I'll try to leave my definition vague enough to fit in with my knowledge of 20th century lit. crit, sociology, philosophy, etc.

Postmodernism is a philosophy made up of a few basic concepts:

1) We're in an age made up of empty representations, and can no longer access the 'true' signified (ie, everything we see is mediated by the previous representations of it that we've seen in pictures/ads/movies/tv/books).

2) Points of view are all relative, constructed by society.

3) We are (or should be) self-conscious about all of this meaninglessness/relativism, which leads to the prevalence of irony, nihilism, paranoia, etc. Traditions -- genres, literary form, ideologies, convention, institutions... everything, really -- are scrutinized for what they obscure and what they leave out.

Hope that's helpful!
posted by Marquis at 3:31 PM on January 18, 2004


A postmodern idea/concept/etc is one that recognizes that 'true' objectivity is impossible to obtain. This may be the source of my problem. Would it be accurate to say that Modernism is literature presented subjectively, yet postmodernism is literature that states / acknowledges that things can ONLY be presented subjectively? And that would be the difference between the two.
posted by seanyboy at 3:33 PM on January 18, 2004


Marquis - Very helpful. Are empty representations the same as intertextuality? Or is there more to it? Should the self-conciousness add to more nihilism or (as wikipedia says) is it a response to the nihilism?
posted by seanyboy at 3:41 PM on January 18, 2004


seanyboy, I'd suggest picking up the very accessible and popular little book Introducing Postmodernism. Not faultless, but a lot of people find it helpful.
posted by stonerose at 4:13 PM on January 18, 2004


"What does the word "postmodern" mean?" - How would you like to proceed in constructing meanings for this "Postmodernism" ?
posted by troutfishing at 4:13 PM on January 18, 2004


This "postmodernism", it vibrates?
Yes, I read Matt's note. I just couldn't resist.

These days, I suspect the term "postmodern" has joined the ranks of "political correctness" as primarily a dismissive negative term defined by some cultural warriors as "everything we hate". Otherwise, any "post-" term ("post-feminist", anyone?) tends toward the pretentiously self-defining "trend of the future" and probably deserves to be redefined by its enemies. File under "Instant Cliche".
posted by wendell at 4:49 PM on January 18, 2004


I was pre-modern, then I was post-modern for awhile.

I'm currently in my post-prefix period now. It's quite nice.
posted by jonmc at 4:51 PM on January 18, 2004


I agree with everyone above, marquis said exactly what I would have said.

Perhaps this will better illustrate everything: A postmodern analysis of Beastie Boy's Shadrach
posted by geoff. at 4:57 PM on January 18, 2004


ok, so what's the difference between postmodern and poststructuralist?
posted by juv3nal at 5:03 PM on January 18, 2004


In literature, postmodernism came in when people started to critique and be aware of "the text" as an entity in itself, distinct from the meaning imbued in it by its author. So, in this way, you could have a children's story -- say the Wizard of Oz -- and it could also have, according to some, an alternate reading whereby it's all about populism. Even if the author was alive and said "Hell no, I didn't write it about Populism, it's a damned kids story!" scholars might still use the text as if it were absent of all value except what they saw in it. See marquis's #1 above -- postmodernists posit that the text has no meaning other than what the reader puts in to it.

Donald Barthelme started writing a bunch of short stories in a postmodern vein and many people think of him as an early postmodern author, at least in terms of contemporary postmodernism. When you read his stories [I recommend maybe The Rise of Capitalism or The School] you can sort of see how he plays with language at the same time as he is using it to tell a story. Postmodernism doesn't have to be all about wonky critique, it can also be a method of explication, storytelling or simply another type of lens to view the world through.
posted by jessamyn at 5:13 PM on January 18, 2004


Postmodernism is a large and varied school of thought, and any explanation is likely to grab only a facet of it and expound on it primarily, rather than trying to describe all of postmodernism at once.

For what it's worth, the particular facet onto which I usually latch is that of abstraction and removal from realit.

To me, debit cards are a perfect example of postmodernism. It's a piece of plastic that represents a numbers in a database that represents a quantity of little pieces of paper that once (but no longer) represent a quanity of gold (of dubious real value anyway) in a vault that you'll never get to see. That's several layers of abstraction between us and what was once actually valuable.

In general, our life is so full of filters, interpreters, parsers, and barriers, that it's amazing we haven't all gone insane. Everytime I see people who have little fake waterfalls in their cubicles, I have to laugh. :-)
posted by oissubke at 6:03 PM on January 18, 2004


Marquis - Very helpful. Are empty representations the same as intertextuality? ... Should the self-conciousness add to more nihilism or ... is it a response to the nihilism?

Glad to be of service - it was useful for clearing my head as well! :)

"Empty representations" are not the same as intertextuality, no. Well, mostly. "Intertextuality" is just the word for when one text (literature/image/movie/music) is linked to another one. For instance, the way that Steve Martin's Roxanne uses Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac as an intertext. Or the way that Freud draws on the Oedipus myth. These intertexts can be explicit or not*, and to most critics (see jessamyn), the author's intention on the issue is wholly irrelevant.

Although it does not embody it, the prevalence of intertextuality in postmodern literature/film/etc points to the crisis of representations: nothing is new under the sun, and everything refers to something else. The problem of representations goes much deeper, however - according to critics like Baudrilliard, we're living in a 'hyperreality,' a sort of Disneyland, where [for us,] everything is an imitation of an imitation of an imitation of a real thing. This chain of imitations, however, goes back too far for us to ever find the "real," or even for us to be confident that it exists. This is the sort of abstraction that oissubke is referring to.

Postmodernism's self-consciousness is a response to the potential meaninglessness of existence, and it further feeds this aura of meaninglessness. Some people identify a trend in contemporary literature wherein characters learn to ignore the meaninglessness/hyperreality of life and live as if there was some greater meaning (even though we know there really isn't). This might be post-post-modernism, or neo-modernism, or sumthin'.

Is that tolerably clear? (sorry!)

* You could, for instance, see the Canadian Heritage Minute on Dr. Wilder Penfield as an intertext for Wilder's character and the "burning toast" episodes in Don Delillo's White Noise. This, despite the fact that no reference to the Minute is made in W.N., and that at the time of publication it had not yet, in fact, been made.
posted by Marquis at 6:18 PM on January 18, 2004


In terms of (classic?) postmodern lit, John Barth's The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor is a great tryout of the genre, and a wonderful read too, imo
posted by amberglow at 7:18 PM on January 18, 2004


Anything we can say here is bound to be hopelessly simplified, but I'll play anyway--

One of the defining ideas of Modernism was that everything is subjective (think stream of consciousness in Ulysses or Virginia Woolfe.) Postmodernism takes that idea to its extreme: everything is subjective to a degree where there is no objective point of view left; it's not even possible to be objective any more. Everything is so fragmented and distanced from anything that could be considered "real" that all we can do is play with the bits and pieces we find. That's why postmodern literature is often playful, fragmented, self-reflexive, and collage-like. Parody is one of its main modes. Think Pynchon, Don Barthelme, Barth, DFW.

You mention irony. I think postmodernism trickled down into popular culture mainly as irony: the Simpsons, for instance, are a great example. All those knowing references, the self-reflexive winks at the audience, that's prime pomo. (It's also the main reason that I suspect postmodernism to be played out--irony is a cheap.)

I've had too much Jim Beam to get into poststructuralism, so let's just say that as a school of theory it's much more narrow, but related. I had to promise my wife not to use the phrase "floating signifier" any more, so I'll have to stop here, juv3nal.
posted by muckster at 8:36 PM on January 18, 2004


Lemme see if I can compact poststructuralism into something readable...

Structuralism is a school of linguistic thought based on the ideas of French philosopher-theorists, mainly Ferdinand de Saussure, which is more or less based on the idea of a "sign." The sign is a relationship between a signifier and a signified; for example, the word "tree" would be a signifier and some concept of a tree (note that this is different in every use of the sign and between every agent) would be the signified, while the sign would be the relation between the two. Long story short, a language is made up of signs, and the combined aggregate of the signs is the structure.

Social theorists like Claude Levi-Strauss took this idea and ran with it, applying structuralism to anthropology, archaeology, etc. Strauss in particular applied the idea to myths, while Andre Leroi-Gourhan applied it (not successfully, in retrospect) to paleolithic cave art. All of this is a digression to say that Levi-Strauss introduced an idea of the "center" to the dialogue, which is a somewhat slippery concept but more or less denotes a kind of fixed reference point which is a sort of truth or reality.

Poststructuralism comes from later theorists like the ubiquitous Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, who reform the idea of a center by declaring it to be constantly shifting (the result of "play" in the structure), in essence moving from a truth-and-reality-based epistemology that attempts to reduce play and achieve "knowing" to a relativistic epistemology that accepts play as an integral part of the system and rejects true knowing. I had a really good quote from Derrida that illuminates the shift from structural to post structural, but the article is eluding me at the moment. Curses.
posted by The Michael The at 9:08 PM on January 18, 2004


This all still makes my wee little brain hurt.
posted by jonmc at 9:12 PM on January 18, 2004


Addendum 1: I'd also posit that postmodernity derives at least in part, if not in whole, from the poststructuralism of Derrida and Foucault (though the concept has been retroactively applied, as hinted at above, at writings of authors from James Joyce to Shakespeare).

Addendum 2: Another hotbed of post-X thought has been in later 20th Century architecture, particularly in the deconstructionist movement, spearheaded by Peter Eisenman. I'm not an expert on this, though, so I'll leave it to someone else.
posted by The Michael The at 9:14 PM on January 18, 2004


this is pretty good, for a very very basic overview of pomo architecture. Also look for Venturi and Scott-Brown's works and the book Learning from Las Vegas. (although architecture has always been referential--greek columns in front of a colonial house, all the revival styles, etc--modernist architecture broke from that, so pomo was a reaction to the simple box and utilitarian style that predominated)
posted by amberglow at 9:33 PM on January 18, 2004


The above notes from Tom Hicks, although they could profitably be unpacked at length, are a very useful in-a-nutshell take on postmodern architecture, and accurate as far as they go.

Here's a handy point of departure I point people at whenever I need to.

I think what all too often gets overlooked in any definition of the postmodern is just that: "something that occurred after the collapse or failure of the modernist project, chronologically." As some of us are born-again modernists, I think the time is ripe for post-postmodernity.
posted by adamgreenfield at 9:57 PM on January 18, 2004


So if I were to have a postmodern reaction to postmodernism theory it would go something like this:

"From my view, postmodernism is cheese."

And it would be correct yes?

Postmodernism sounds like it has the same disease relativism has. If everything is relative then so is the definition of the theory, which in turn becomes something without meaning since it means something different to everyone.
posted by jopreacher at 2:02 AM on January 19, 2004


I don't know if I'm right, but I also think of postmodernism (especially in film and literature) as purposely choosing certain "despised" forms as a wrapper - in other words, "cheap fiction" genres such as detective fiction and horror, and even science fiction. The very fact that we are so passionate about science fiction, which not so long ago was considered fairly declasse, is probably very postmodern.
posted by taz at 2:06 AM on January 19, 2004


If everything is relative then so is the definition of the theory, which in turn becomes something without meaning since it means something different to everyone.

I don't see how 10 different people feeling 10 different ways about something makes it meaningless. Care to explain?
posted by Jairus at 2:21 AM on January 19, 2004


I'm with Marquis. Read Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation.
posted by armoured-ant at 3:25 AM on January 19, 2004


Otherwise, any "post-" term ("post-feminist", anyone?) tends toward the pretentiously self-defining "trend of the future" and probably deserves to be redefined by its enemies. File under "Instant Cliche"

I disagree. Any "post-" term tends toward contradiction or refinement of that which came before. As such: don't even tackle postmodernism until you've really got your head around modernism. Just as modern means wildly different things in different fields, so does post-modern. And yes, wikipedia more or less nails it.

You might want to look at deconstruction too.
posted by nthdegx at 3:30 AM on January 19, 2004


Er, except where post is literally "after" of course. Post-war etc...
posted by nthdegx at 3:33 AM on January 19, 2004


All this brings back horrible memories of my college days. I was OH SO ALONE. In lit classes, we'd read some novel, like "The Great Gatsby," and the prof and all the students would start talking about how it was "meaningless" or how its "meaning" shifted or how its "meaning" could only be interpreted via cultural context.

And I thought MEANING??? When called on, I would say that I thought it was sad that George Wilson shot Gatsby, or that I sort of liked Daisy at first but eventually found her to be horrible. I didn't see -- given that this was a work of FICTION -- whether or not it mattered if the book had a lot of meaning, shifting meaning, or no meaning at all. The important thing, surely, is that the book gave me certain powerful FEELINGS. Generally, this was met with silence or scorn.

Now I know that some people do write "idea" novels and that one can, if one chooses, focus on thematic issues in even the most emotive prose. But (in general), isn't fiction painted on more of an emotional palette than an intellectual one?

As far as I could tell, postmodernism/deconstructionism/etc. seems to view literature as a collection of ideas that are faulty or need to be debunked. What about plot? character? mood? When Antonio says, "In sooth I know not why I am so sad," doesn't this have "meaning?" Isn't it's meaning that Antonio is sad (and doesn't know why)? Sure, one could say that there IS NO Antonio. But there IS one -- in my mind. And this mental structure has been evoked by Shakespeare's words. And in my mind, he is sad.

Maybe my problem wasn't so much with pomo, but with academia. I assume that throughout the history of lit crit, reading for emotive purposes is considered unimportant. Consideration of themes/ideas/etc (even if the consideration leaves you with the notion that they are shifting or meaningless) is what a scholar SHOULD spend his time on. Which, to my mind, ignore what fiction does best.

This isn't just an off-topic rant: could someone explain pomo's stance on "how stories make you feel?" Maybe I was wrong to blame pomo (or lit crit) for being all head and no heart. Maybe that was just general undergraduate discomfort with displays of emotion coming from my peers.
posted by grumblebee at 5:34 AM on January 19, 2004


I'm not at all an expert on this, but my impression was that postmodernism's influence contributed to a consensus among anthropologists that all emotions were learned behavior that are culturally determined. If emotions just reflect cultural biases, then they aren't a very useful basis for analysing a text.

The only problem was that the pomo-friendly consensus turned out to be demonstrably false. Paul Ekman, trying to provide scientific evidence for this hypothesis by studying the emotional reactions of New Guinean peoples who were isolated from outside cultural influences, wound up proving the contrary, discovering that there are at least six universal emotions with recognizable facial expressions.

Maybe someone with more expertise can confirm or refute my impression that modern behavioral and cognitive sciences are finding evidence that mitigates postmodernism's insistence on the nonexistence of universal human truths?
posted by fuzz at 7:42 AM on January 19, 2004


fuzz, that impression is justifiable, although I'll get hammered if I say it's "correct" per se.

As I understand it, the idea that there is such a thing as objective, external, eternal "human nature" was one of the first things to be problematized by poststructuralism. Not only does this fly in the face of several thousand years' commonsense observations, but it's in some ways an untenable position. As you note with your example, there are strong and definite behavioral tendencies in human beings that arise again and again, independent of cultural context, and asserting that these tendencies are not universal (or finding one or two counterexamples) is not the same thing as proving that they do not exist.

So while it's important to note that "human nature" is always heavily politicized, frequently deployed to justify hegemonic systems, etc., as far as I'm concerned it's also increasingly inarguable that there are certain underlying tropes of human nature that we deny or ignore at our peril.

In other words, "postmodern" positions can be useful analytical or explicatory tools, but we should never mistake them for gospel.
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:09 AM on January 19, 2004


grumblebee, This is because an individual's feelings about a particular work aren't considered open to criticism or debate. However, talking about a theory about individual responses to work in social/political contexts gives a convincing illusion of having something objective to talk about.
posted by wobh at 8:29 AM on January 19, 2004


wobh, I note your use of "convincing illusion," and I agree with that (at least with the "illusion" part). Here's what has always befuddled me:

I read a book at it promps me to have feeling A and idea B. (Many) academics have told me that the feeling has no place in discussion, because it's subjective. But so is the idea. BOTH are in my head.

All we have is the text itself and whatever impressions it happens to make within the mind of an individual reader.

Now, we can have an interesting discussion (about feelings OR ideas) if we poll the class about their reactions to a specific event in the text. If it turns out that 80% of the class had a similar reaction (feeling or idea), we can discuss what aspects of the book evoked it. We can also speculate about why the other 10% didn't share the majority reaction. Maybe that 10% happens to be workin-class people or black people or women. Interesting. We can also read criticism of the book at the time it's written. If 90% of the class thought event A was funny, but 90% of critics at the time thought it was tragic, we can speculate about why the passage of time changed most people's reactions.

Since ALL of this stuff is about reactions, I don't see how intellectual reactions have any superiority to emotional ones. In fact, given that fiction TENDS to evoke emotions, it seems odd to tread stories as if they were essays dressed up in frilly clothes.

So I'm still left pondering why feeling are ignored in pomo (general academic?) discussions of fiction. I know this is using really crude pop-psychology, but it's hard for me to shake the suspicion that it's merely fear of emotion in the academic community. It's a community made up of people who, in general, are trying to play it cool.

The only way I can imagine meaningful OBJECTIVE discussion of a novel's ideas is to say: Novel X says that "all wealth should be distributed equally." I guess we could then take that "thesis statement," extract it from the novel, and simply talk about whether it's true or not. (I agree with the author's idea! I disagree with it! Here's a book on economics that proves it's a bad idea! Etc.)

There are several problems with this. How do we KNOW that the book's thesis statement is what we think it is. Isn't that subjective? And even if the book seems to have a very strong, obvious moral or thematic idea, how do we know that this idea is really nothing more than a device to allow the author to explore a certain type of plot, character or mood. In other words, I'm pro-choice, but I might write a novel that SEEMS, from a thematic point-of-view, to be anti-abortion, because that allows me to do certain character work that I couldn't do otherwise.

Of course, someone could STILL call my novel an anti-abortion novel. That just means that they choose to focus on the them. That choice is SUBJECTIVE.

This conflict played out in a very real sense when I was in school. No one seems to care about this much any more, but at that time, there was a lot of anger directed towards John Updike because he was, supposedly, writing stories that were, thematically, sexist. However, in interviews, Updike said he was simply trying to truthfully capture the way a lot of men think & feel. He claimed he was using a sexist "theme" to explore character and feeling. Was he right or wrong? It's subjective!
posted by grumblebee at 10:28 AM on January 19, 2004


Personally I found that the dictionary definition summed up my prior conception of the word. What are the chances of that?

The Darkness are postmodern ironic.
posted by Blue Stone at 10:33 AM on January 19, 2004


also, grumblebee--emotional responses to certain works and genres can be "read" the same pomo way and are taken as a starting point--studies on Shelley's Frankenstein and Gothic Lit in general have been using them (i'm sure others, too).
posted by amberglow at 10:33 AM on January 19, 2004


In the last century and a half, the teaching of the humanities has been spun in opposite directions by contradictory forces. The resulting vortex is both modernism and post-modernism.

Generations of humanities teachers suffered under a prior generations which held fast to single interpretations of a given work and were close minded and suspicious about the independent thinking in their students. Alternative ideas were intolerable heresy and punished with ridicule. During the dark nights, when they had to write exegeses espousing a tradition they despised, many young students made secret vows that, when they became teachers and professors, Things Would Be Different.

But for those who stole their way into the Halls of Tenure it was found to be not so easy. There was a rising tide of Rational Materialists from the Sciences to be dealt with. Under previous generations these would have easily yielded to dogma and tradition and the rigor that came with it. They were used to being humble before experts in a field outside of their own. But before them now comes a teacher, supposedly a respected authority and expert, who tells them their feelings are important, as good as anyone else's. You need not imagine the contempt on which the study of the arts and humanities was then greeted with.

Under attack from entrenched traditionalists behind, and from practical minded, sensible people before them, many brave and well-intentioned teachers fell. There are heroes and martyrs whose names we shall never know. They died of ridicule, selflessly defending the right of all men to come to their own conclusions with regard to books and paintings. If you tell a peasant that he is as good a man as his lord, you can expect to by scorned by the peasant (now your equal) and hung by the lord.

Those who survived, survived by either succumbing to tradition or to following a new path whose nature is neither hard nor soft. It drew principles from the Sciences, from physics, from biology, from the new studies of the mind and society, psychology and sociology. It drew, as it's object of study, not just the black ink of words but the white page on which they were printed; not just the painting but the frame and lighting, Such is modernism. The principle of this has been extended beyond the traditional fine arts to every expression of humanity whether vulgar or refined. The objects of examination have been extended beyond the immediate context of the work, but to the society which produced the work as well as the society which consumes it. Such is post-modernism.

The new theory (now not so new) is superior to the old tradition. It is highly abstract. This removes it from common understanding giving an aura of expertise to even to those who merely pretend to study it. But the abstraction also frees it from a small canon of 'critical work' once held by traditionalists and beyond which they could not comment. Post-modernism has advanced to the point where it can comment on anything.


It is immune to ridicule from either the old tradition or from the Science Department. It simply absorbs it. So awesome is this power of absorption that spoof articles parroting it's vocabulary and grammar can appear in journals and be taken seriously even after the joke has been revealed. After all, a joke is a text which was produced by a particular cultural context which can be revealed by examination.

Most importantly, it preserves individual interpretation for a given work as experienced by a given individual. No man's opinion, even on post-modernism, is invalid. Consider the popular (and very post-modern) idea that anyone can be a post-modernist if they only know the vocabulary. The theory of post-modernism is like the event horizon of a black hole, forever retreating from those who seek it, forever absorbing those who claim to be beyond it.

It is the last theory we need have about anything.
posted by wobh at 12:41 PM on January 19, 2004


In a slightly more serious note, when I was in school and had to do some reading on postmodern theory I happened to stumble on the zen buddhist classic The Gateless Gate which was a quick read, a hard study, and gave me a nearly visceral understanding of the difference between signifier and signified, as well as other concepts which have long words associated with them.
posted by wobh at 1:05 PM on January 19, 2004


Also note that the terms Modernism and Postmodernism in art are used differently than they are in literature. Modernism in art is more like Postmodernism in lit.
posted by straight at 6:45 PM on January 19, 2004


Postmodernism:

Example to illustrate:

Two postmodern art critics discuss the meaning of "The Mona Lisa."

Guy one says : "THe mona lisa represents the innocence of the people at the time of the painting. The lighting of the mona lisa gives her an angelic innocent appearance and he plainness indicates an unsullied nature.."

Guy two: "No, no, no. It is about the cleverness of the people, look at that smirk!"

Da Vinci standing behind them says:
"Its not about anything, I just wanted to get her in bed!"

Two guys in Unison: "It doesn't matter what YOUR intentions are!"


Another example:

Two philosophers discuss the meaning of "postmodernism" as a philosophical theory.

Guy one: "Postmodernism is a pseudointellectual buzzword created to give critics of modern works an excuse to jabber their academic heads off about the "meaning" of something without having to worry about the creator of said work telling them they are all wrong. It renders the artist irrelevant to the meaning of their own creation and is detrimental to the idea of art as an expression of the human soul."

Guy two: "No, No, No, postmodernism, to me, is fundamentally about cheese."

Creator of postmodern theory: "You are both right."

I guess the reason I have such a problem with postmodernism is that the theory itself allows any and all interpretations of the theory itself. In philosophy you are always looking for truth statements and agreements on definitions. With postmodernism, you don't get any, even if you are trying to talk about the meaning of the theory itself.

In other words, I don't like postmodernism because then everyone gets to argue about everything except philosophers who would say since meaning is relative, then there is no "Truth" to argue over, about anything. Then all philosophers are out of a job. Sniff.
posted by jopreacher at 3:37 AM on January 20, 2004 [1 favorite]


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