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Reference Library: Postmodernism

'Postmodernism' describes a major movement of intellectual thought or historical period which has had a major impact on philosophy, art, critical theory, literature, architecture, interpretation of history, and culture since the late 20th century. The term defies easy definition, but is generally characterised as:
*A reaction to Modernism - the emphasis of grand, absolute values and establishments. (see Counter-Enlightenment)
*The belief that no communication is devoid of myth, metaphor, cultural bias and political content. (see cultural relativism)
*Feelings regarding the illegitimacy of knowledge and identity.(see nihilism)
*Asserting that experience is personal (cannot be generalized) and that meaning is only for the individual to experience, not for an author to dictate. (see Existentialism)
*Parody, satire, self-reference, wit
*A culturally pluralistic and profoundly interconnected global society lacking any single dominant center of political power, communication, or intellectual production.
*A result of a mass media dominated society in which there are only inter-referential representations with no real original referent. (see late capitalism)

Understanding Postmodernism

Perhaps the best way to understand postmodernism is to understand it as a reaction to modernism. Modernism emphasises purity, honesty, and total truth; for example, in the austerity of modern architecture, or when an artist attempts to express the essence of a whole subject with a single line. In contrast, postmodernism asserts that experience is personal (cannot be generalized) and that meaning is only for the individual to experience, not for someone to dictate. Thus, postmodernists assert the consumer of a cultural product (artwork, piece of writing, user of architecture) is free to deconstruct the meaning of a work, and that different users will come to very different, but equally valid, conclusions of what that meaning is.
Postmodernists tend to emphasize the cultural contingency or relativity of different forms of intellectual production and may be critical of those who attempt "pure," "objective," or "disinterested" intellectual endeavours. One aspect of this is the claim that there is no way for human beings to communicate in a language completely devoid of myth, metaphor, cultural bias or political content. Postmodernist artworks sometimes assert the inherently politicized nature of communication, calling attention to the ideological underpinnings of their own representations through representational play and irony. More typical, however, is self-reference, sometimes termed "meta-", for example, when a movie actor looks directly into the camera and criticises the movie he or she is in. Postmodernist scholarship and artworks, although sometimes meant for a small audience, are frequently understood as merely one reflection of the larger collective culture of postmodernity. Scholars argue that the postmodern era (or "postmodernity") is characterized by a culturally pluralistic and profoundly interconnected global society lacking any single dominant center of political power, communication, or intellectual production. Other scholars understand postmodernism as a product of late capitalism, arguing that the economic and technological conditions of our age have given rise to a media-dominated society in which there are only inter-referential representations with no real original referent. For these scholars, the postmodern emphasis on the lack of any stable or objective referent for communication is often a profoundly negative historical development.
There is also disagreement on whether the postmodern era has ended, with some commentators asserting culture has entered a post-postmodern period.


The term postmodernism can be used in a broad cultural sense, or more specifically for theories perceived as relativist, nihilist, counter-Enlightenment or antimodern; particularly while in opposition to rationalism, universalism, foundationalism or science. It is also sometimes used to describe social changes which are held to be antithetical to traditional systems of philosophy, religion, and morality.
Postmodernism connotes the idea that knowledge has become commodified. With the "computerisation of society" and the dominance of a mass-media, knowledge becomes fluid. The true seat of power then is wherever the knowledge is being controlled. The state becomes less powerful as more agents can wield or control this knowledge. The state itself is subject to that which it controls--the states actions are reported and effectively taught to the masses through them and so they have the definitive decision on what goes in, and therefore what the masses are taught.
Wikipedia, with its open, potentially limitless forum, is an example of the postmodernist fluidity of knowledge. This then brings problems of control, legitimisation and verification.
Postmodernism hypothesises that all knowledge is merely a discourse, that no knowledge is different from any other as they are all legitimised by the same processes. Ipso facto, religion is no more valid than science. Any categorisation of knowledge (for example "Marxist theory" or, ironically "postmodernism" (hence the term, "postmodern irony") and, in fact, the idea of originality, are falsities; all ideas are versions of other discourses (see also inter-textuality) and no idea is better than any other. See Jean Francois Lyotard's seminal text, "The Postmodern Condition: a report on Knowledge".
The book "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature"(1979) by Richard Rorty is a noted postmodern text; its title could also serve as the defining element of postmodernism: That we cannot make sense of the mind mirroring anything outside the mind accurately.
The role, proper usage, and meaning of postmodernism remain matters of intense debate and vary widely with context.

The term

The term appeared first as postmodernity, which describes a social feeling.
As with many other divisions, the use of the term is subject to the lumpers and splitters problem. There are those who use very small and exact definitions, and there are those who deny that there is a postmodernism at all distinct from the modern period, preferring
instead to use terms such as "late modernism".

Postmodernism is not counter-this or anti-that. The term does not apply to post-anything aside from following modern thought. The term post-modern can be viewed as an intentional contradiction, which reflects the spirit of irony or silliness which it is sometimes known for.

First Usage

In an essay From Postmodernism to Postmodernity: the Local/Global Context, , Ihab Hassan points out a number of instances in which the term "postmodernism" was used before the term became popular:
*John Watkins Chapman, an English academic painter, used the term in the 1870s, to mean Post-Impressionism.
*Federico de Onís, in 1934, used the term postmodernismo to mean a reaction against the difficulty and experimentalism of modernist poetry.
*Arnold J. Toynbee, in 1939, used it to mean the end of the "modern," Western bourgeois order dating back to the seventeenth century.
*Bernard Smith, in 1945, used it to mean the movement of socialist realism in painting.
*Charles Olson used the term during the 1950s.
*Irving Howe and Harry Levin, in 1959 and 1960, respectively, used the term to mean a decline in high modernist culture.
*Ihab Hassan in The Dismemberment of Orpheus: Toward a Postmodern Literature (1971), wrote the first comparative description of the differences between modernism and postmodernism.
*Charles Jencks's The Language of Postmodern Architecture (1977) is among the earliest works which shaped the use of the term today.
*Jean-François Lyotard in 1979 wrote a short but influential work: The Postmodern Condition: a report on knowledge.
Postmodernism was first identified as a theoretical discipline in the 1970s. For a thorough historical overview distinguishing the threads of development in different decades, cultural realms, and academic disciplines, see Hans Bertens' The Idea of the Postmodern: A History, (New York: Routledge, 1995).

The development of postmodernism

From modernism

Modernity, is defined as a period or condition loosely identified with the Industrial Revolution, or the Enlightenment. One "project" of modernity is said to have been the fostering of progress, which was thought to be achievable by incorporating principles of rationality and hierarchy into aspects of public and artistic life. (see also post-industrial, Information Age).

Although useful distinctions can be drawn between the modernist and postmodernist eras, this does not erase the many continuities present between them. One of the most significant differences between modernism and postmodernism is the concern for universality or totality. While modernist artists aimed to capture universality or totality in some sense, postmodernists have rejected these ambitions as "metanarratives."

This usage is ascribed to the philosophers Jean-François Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard. Lyotard understood modernity as a cultural condition characterized by constant change in the pursuit of progress, and postmodernity to represent the culmination of this process, where constant change has become a status quo and the notion of progress, obsolete. Following Ludwig Wittgenstein's critique of the possibility of absolute and total knowledge, Lyotard also further argued that the various "master-narratives" of progress, such as positivist science, Marxism, and Structuralism, were defunct as a method of achieving progress.
Writers such as John Ralston Saul among others have argued that postmodernism represents an accumulated disillusionment with the promises of the Enlightenment project and its progress of science, so central to modern thinking.

Notable contributors

The existentialists like Nietzsche brought a new nihilism and atheism which influenced culture. Post-colonialism after World War Two contributed to the idea that one cannot have an objectively superior lifestyle or belief. This idea was taken further by the anti-foundationalist philosophers: Heidegger, then Ludwig Wittgenstein, then Derrida, who re-examined the fundamentals of knowledge; they argue that rationality was neither as sure nor as clear as modernists or rationalists assert. Psychologists also assert a cognitive bias, which points at the human bias of truth.
Søren Kierkegaard and Karl Barth's important fideist approach to theology and lifestyle, brought an irreverence for reason, and the rise of subjectivity.
Features of postmodern culture begin to arise in the 1920s with the emergence of the Dada art movement. Both World Wars (perhaps even the concept of a World War), contributed to postmodernism; it is with the end of the Second World War that recognizably post-modernist attitudes begin to emerge. Some identify the burgeoning anti-establishment movements of the 1960s as an early trend toward postmodernism. The theory gained some of its strongest ground early on in French academia. In 1979 Jean-François Lyotard wrote a short but influential work The Postmodern Condition : a report on knowledge. Also, Richard Rorty wrote "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature" (1979). Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault, and Roland Barthes are also strongly influential in 1970s postmodern theory.
Marxist critics argue that postmodernism is symptomatic of "late capitalism" and the decline of institutions, particularly the nation-state. The literary critic Fredric Jameson and the geographer David Harvey have also identified post-modernity with "late capitalism" or "flexible accumulation". This situation, called finance capitalism, is characterized by a high degree of mobility of labor and capital, and what Harvey called "time and space compression." They suggest that this coincides with the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system which they believe defined the economic order following the Second World War. (See also Consumerism, Critical theory)
Other thinkers assert that post-modernity is the natural reaction to mass broadcasting and a society conditioned to mass production and mass politics.

The movement has had diverse political ramifications: its anti-ideological ideas appear conducive to, and strongly associated with, the feminist movement, racial equality movements, gay rights movements, most forms of late 20th century
anarchism, even the peace movement and various hybrids of these in the current anti-globalization movement. Unsurprisingly, none of these institutions entirely embraces all aspects of the postmodern movement in its most concentrated definition, but reflect,
or in true postmodern style, borrow from some of its core ideas.



Deconstruction is a term which is used to denote the application of post-modern ideas of criticism, or theory, to a "text" or "artifact". A deconstruction is meant to undermine the frame of reference and assumptions that underpin the text or the artifact.
In its original use, a "deconstruction" is an important textual "occurrence" described and analyzed by many postmodern authors and philosophers. They argued that aspects in the text itself would undermine its own authority or assumptions, that internal contradictions would erase boundaries or categories which the work relied on or asserted. Post-structuralists beginning with Jacques Derrida, who coined the term, argued that the existence of deconstructions implied that there was no intrinsic essence to a text, merely the contrast of difference. This is analogous to the scientific idea that only the variations are real, that there is no established norm to a genetic population, or the idea that the difference in perception between black and white is the context. A deconstruction is created when the "deeper" substance of text opposes the text's more "superficial" form. This too is not an idea isolated to post-structuralists, but is related to the idea of hermeneutics in literature, and was asserted as early as Plato, and by modern thinkers such as Leo Strauss. Derrida's argument is that deconstruction proves that texts have multiple meanings, and the "violence" between the different meanings of text may be elucidated by close textual analysis.
Popularly, close textual analyses describing deconstruction within a text are often themselves called deconstructions. Derrida argued, however, that deconstruction is not a method or a tool, but an occurrence within the text itself. Writings about deconstruction perhaps are referred to in academic circles as deconstructive readings, in conformance with this view of the word.
Deconstruction is far more important to postmodernism than its seemingly narrow focus on text might imply. According to Derrida, one consequence of deconstruction is that the text may be defined so broadly as to encompass not just written words, but the entire spectrum of symbols and phenomena within Western thought. To Derrida, a result of deconstruction is that no Western philosopher has been able to successfully escape from this large web of text and reach the purely text-free "signified" which they imagined to exist "just beyond" the text.
The more common use of the term is the more general process of pointing to contradictions between the intent and surface of a work, and the assumptions about it. A work then "deconstructs" assumptions when it places them in context. For example, someone who can pass as the opposite sex is said to "deconstruct" gender roles, because there is a conflict between the superficial appearance, and the reality of the person's gender.

Postmodernism's manifestations


As a cultural movement, features that have contributed to
postmodernity include globalization, consumerism, the
fragmentation of authority, and the commodification of knowledge. In
the era of postmodern culture, people have rejected the grand,
supposedly universal stories and paradigms such as religion,
conventional philosophy, capitalism and gender that have defined
culture and behavior in the past, and have instead begun to organize
their cultural life around a variety of more local and
subcultural ideologies, myths and stories.
The result of accepting postmodernism is the view that different
realms of discourse are incommensurable and incapable of judging the
results of other discourse. It is the idea that all such
metanarratives and paradigms are stable only while they fit the
available evidence, and can potentially be overturned when phenomena
occur that the paradigm cannot account for, and a better explanatory
model (itself subject to the same fate) is found.
See: "The Post Modern Condition: A Report on Knowledge" by
Lyotard in 1979

Postmodernism in visual art

Where modernists hoped to unearth universals or the fundamentals of art, postmodernism aims to unseat them, to embrace diversity and contradiction. A postmodern approach to art thus rejects the distinction between low and high art forms. The postmodern creator, in turn, is free to combine any elements or styles in a work, even in ways that are counter to or irrelevant to the apparent function of the object.
Postmodern style is often characterized by eclecticism, digression, collage, pastiche, irony, the return of ornament and historical reference, and the appropriation of popular media. Some artistic movements commonly called postmodern are pop art, architectural deconstructivism, magical realism in literature, maximalism, and neo-romanticism. It rejects rigid genre boundaries and promotes parody, irony, and playfulness, commonly referred to as jouissance by postmodern theorists. Unlike modern art, postmodern art does not approach this fragmentation as somehow faulty or undesirable, but rather celebrates it. As the gravity of the search for underlying truth is relieved, it is replaced with 'play'. As postmodern icon David Byrne, and his band Talking Heads said: "Stop making sense."
Post-modernity, in attacking the perceived elitist approach of Modernism, sought greater connection with broader audiences. This is often labelled "accessibility" and is a central point of dispute in the question of the value of postmodern art. It has also embraced the mixing of words with art, collage and other movements in modernity, in an attempt to create more multiplicity of medium and message. Much of this centers on a shift of basic subject matter: postmodern artists regard the mass media as a fundamental subject for art, and use forms, tropes, and materials - such as banks of video monitors, found art, and depictions of media objects - as focal points for their art. With his "invention" of "readymade", Marcel Duchamp is often seen as a forerunner on postmodern art. Where Andy Warhol furthered the concept with his appropriation of common popular symbols and "ready-made" cultural artifacts, bringing the previously mundane or trivial onto the previously hallowed ground of high art.
Postmodernism's critical stance is interlinked with presenting new appraisals of previous works. As implied above, the works of the Dada movement received greater attention, as did collagists such as Robert Rauschenberg, whose works were initially considered unimportant in the context of the modernism of the 1950s, but who, by the 1980s, began to be seen as seminal. Post-modernism also elevated the importance of cinema in artistic discussions, placing it on a peer level with the other fine arts. This is both because of the blurring of distinctions between "high" and "low" forms, and because of the recognition that cinema represented the creation of simulacra which was later duplicated in the other arts.
Davor Dzalto, for example, attacks the postmodern positions in art and culture generally, confronting a sustainable personal identity, together with notions of creativity, freedom and communion, to the postmodern deconstruction of any metaphysical identity. But in the critique he stresses a positive role of postmodern views for a further historical, cultural and artistic development.

Postmodernism in music

Postmodern music is both a musical style and a musical condition. As a musical style, postmodern music contains characteristics of postmodern art—that is, art after modernism (see Modernism in Music); eclecticism in musical form and musical genre, combining characteristics from different genres, or employing jump-cut sectionalization (such as blocks). It tends to be self-referential and ironic, and it blurs the boundaries between "high art" and kitsch. Daniel Albright (2004) summarizes the traits of the postmodern style as bricolage, polystylism, and randomness.
As a musical condition, postmodern music is simply the state of music in postmodernity, music after modernity. In this sense, postmodern music does not have any one particular style or characteristic, and is not necessarily postmodern in style or technique. The music of modernity, however, was viewed primarily as a means of expression while the music of postmodernity is valued more as a spectacle, a good for mass consumption, and an indicator of group identity. For example, one significant role of music in postmodern society is to act as a badge by which people can signify their identity as a member of a particular subculture.

Postmodernism in graphic design

Postmodernism in graphic design for the most part has been a visual and decorative movement.
Many designers and design critics contend that postmodernism, in the literary or architectural sense of the term, never really impacted graphic design as it did these other fields.
Alternatively, some argue that it did but took on a different persona. This can be seen in the work produced at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan during the late 1980s to late 1990s and at the MFA program at CalArts in California.
But when all was said and done, the various notions of the postmodern in the various design fields never really stuck to graphic design as it did with architecture. Some argue that the "movement" (if it ever was one) had little to no impact on graphic design.
More likely, it did, but more in the sense of a continuation or re-evaluation of the modern. Some would argue that this continuous re-evaluation is also just a component of the design process - happening for most of the second half of the 20th century in the profession.
Since it was ultimately the work of graphic designers that inspired pop artists like Warhol and Liechtenstein, and architects like Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown, it could be argued that graphic design practice and designs may be the root of Postmodernism.
Graphic design saw a massive popular raising at the end of the seventies in form of Graffiti and Hip Hop culture's rise. Graphic forms of expression became a vast everyday hobby among school kids all around the developed western countries. Along side this 'movement', that took rebellious and even criminal cultural forms, was born the mass hobby of coding computer graphics. This phenomenon worked as a stepping stone towards the graphic infrastructure that is applied in the majority of computer interfaces today.

Postmodernism in literature

Postmodern literature argues for expansion, the return of reference, the celebration of fragmentation rather than the fear of it, and the role of reference itself in literature. While drawing on the experimental tendencies of authors such as Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner in English, and Jorge Luis Borges in Spanish - writers who were taken as influences by American postmodern authors such as Norman Mailer, Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, Don DeLillo, John Barth, William Gaddis, David Foster Wallace, and Paul Auster - the advocates of postmodern literature argue that the present is fundamentally different from the modern period, and therefore requires a new literary sensibility.

Post Modernism in Cinema

Post modernism in film can loosely be used to describe a film in which the audience's suspension of disbelief is destroyed, or at the very least toyed with, in order to free the audience's appreciation of the work, and the creator's means with which to express it. The cornerstones of conventional narrative structure and characterisation are changed and even turned on their head in order to create a work whose internal logic forms its means of expression.
Though a popular movement in theatre, particularly with Bertolt Brecht's epic theatre and verfremdungseffekt, post modernist film didn't break into the mainstream until the advent of the French New Wave in the 1950's and 60's, with such films as Jean-Luc Godard's À bout de souffle. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí's 1928 surrealist short Un Chien Andalou could be argued as a post modernist film however it's extreme deconstruction of structure and character make it's meaning almost entirely arbitrary, and thus to still convey some desired meaning post modernist films still maintain some conventional elements in order for the audience to grasp them. Two such examples are Jane Campion's Two Friends, in which the story of two school girls is showed in episodic segments arranged in reverse order; and Karel Reisz's The French Lieutenant's Woman, in which the story being played out on the screen is mirrored in the private lives of the actors playing it, which we also see. By making small but significant changes to the conventions of cinema the artificiality of the experience and the world presented is emphasised in the audience's mind, in order to remove them from the conventional emotional bonds they have to the subject matter, and to give them a new view of it.

Postmodernism in architecture

As with many cultural movements, one of postmodernism's most pronounced and visible ideas can be seen in architecture. The functional, and formalized, shapes and spaces of the modernist movement are replaced by unapologetically diverse aesthetics; styles collide, form is adopted for its own sake, and new ways of viewing familiar styles and space abound.
Architects generally considered postmodern include: Peter Eisenman, Philip Johnson (later works), John Burgee, Robert Venturi, Ricardo Bofill, James Stirling, Charles Willard Moore, and Frank Gehry.

Postmodernism in planning and urban design

Post modern landscapes in contemporary cities can be understood better in the context of globalization which can be described as a variant form of capitalism where a growing proportion of all economic activity is being progressively organised at the international rather than the national, spatial scale. This international scope not only influences economic patterns, but also induces a multicultural ambience to metropolitan cities, effectively blending cultures into an altered context. David Harvey, in his seminal work, The Condition of Postmodernity argues that postmodernism, by way of contrasts, privileges heterogeneity and difference as liberative forces in the redefinition of cultural discourse and rejects metanarratives and overarching theories. It purports an existence of multi-visionary thinking within the mosaic of the contemporary metropolis. It heralded the shift from modernism to a "perspectivism that questions how radically different realities may co-exist, collide and interpenetrate."

Postmodernism in landscape and garden design

Modernist landscape and garden design, like modernist architecture, was characterised by the use of modern materials (eg concrete, steel and glass), an adherence to functionalism and the avoidance of ornaments, meanings and historic styles. Postmodern landscape and garden design turns away from these principles, relishing in meaning, ornament and high style. Charles Jencks wrote a pioneering book on The language of postmodern architecture and went on to become a notable practitioner of postmodern garden and landscape design. In City as landscape: a post-postmodern view of design and planning, Tom Turner wrote essays on 'Revolutions in the garden' and 'Gardening with ideas' arguing that 'Structuralism can infuse gardens with post-postmodern ideas and beliefs' (p.225).

Postmodernism in society

In sociology, postmodernity is described as being the result of economic, cultural and demographic changes (related terms in this context include post-industrial society and late capitalism) and it is attributed to factors such as the rise of the service economy, the importance and ubiquity of the mass media (and the subsequent uniformity of social behavior), and the rise of an increasingly interdependent world economy. Some early evidence of this is Generation Y, the most heterogeneous generation in terms of social groups and values. See also postmodern, information age, globalization, global village, media theory.

Postmodernity and digital communications

Technological utopianism is a common trait in Western history — from the 1700s when Adam Smith essentially labelled technological progress as the source of the Wealth of Nations, through the novels of Jules Verne in the late 1800s (with the notable exception of his then-unpublished Paris in the 20th Century), through Winston Churchill's belief that there was little an inventor could not achieve. Its manifestation in post-modernity was first through the explosion of analog mass broadcasting of television. Strongly associated with the work of Marshall McLuhan who argued that "the medium is the message", the ability of mass broadcasting to create visual symbols and mass action was seen as a liberating force in human affairs, even though at the same time Newton N. Minow was calling television "a vast wasteland".
The second wave of technological utopianism associated with postmodern thought came with the introduction of digital internetworking, and became identified with Esther Dyson and such popular outlets as Wired Magazine. According to this view digital communications makes the fragmentation of modern society a positive feature, since individuals can seek out those artistic, cultural and community experiences which they regard as being correct for themselves.
The common thread is that the fragmentation of society and communication gives the individual more autonomy to create their own environment and narrative. This links into the postmodern novel, which deals with the experience of structuring "truth" from fragments.

Postmodernism in political science

According to postmodernist political theorists, there are many situations which are considered political in nature that can not be adequately discussed in traditional realist and liberal approaches to political science. Some examples they cite include the situation of a “draft-age youth whose identity is claimed in national narratives of ‘national security’ and the universalizing narratives of the ‘rights of man,’” of “the woman whose very womb is claimed by the irresolvable contesting narratives of ‘church,’ ‘paternity,’ ‘economy,’ and ‘liberal polity.’ They argue that in these cases, there are no fixed categories, stable sets of values, or common sense meanings to be understood in their scholarly exploration. They contend that liberal approaches do not aid in understanding these types of situations; arguing that there is no individual or social or institutional structure whose values can impose a meaning or interpretive narrative.
Postmodernists argue that meaning and interpretation in these types of situations is always uncertain and arbitrary. They contend that the power in effect here is not that of oppression, but that of the cultural and social implications around them, which they say creates the framework within which they see themselves, which creates the boundaries of their possible courses of action.
Postmodern political scientists, such as Richard Ashley, claim that in these marginal sites it is impossible to construct a coherent narrative, or story, about what is really taking place without including contesting and contradicting narratives, and still have a “true” story from the perspective of a “sovereign subject,” who can dictate the values pertinent to the “meaning” of the situation. By regarding them in this way, deconstructive readings attempt to uncover evidence of ancient cultural biases, conflicts, lies, tyrannies, and power structures, such as the tensions and ambiguity between peace and war, lord and subject, male and female, which serve as further examples of Derrida's binary oppositions in which the first element is privileged, or considered prior to and more authentic, in relation to the second. Examples of postmodern political scientists include post-colonial writers such as Frantz Fanon, feminist writers such as Cynthia Enloe, and postpositive theorists such as Ashley and James Der Derian.

Postmodernism in language

Important to postmodernism's view of language is the focus on the implied meaning of words and the power structures that are accepted as part of the way words are used, from the use of the word "Man" with a capital "M" to refer to humanity collectively, to the default of the word "he" in English as a pronoun for a person of gender unknown to the speaker. However, this is merely the most obvious example of the changing relationship between diction and discourse which postmodernism presents.
An important concept in postmodernism's view of language is the idea of "play" text. In the context of postmodernism, play means changing the framework which connects ideas, and thus allows the troping, or turning, of a metaphor or word from one context to another, or from one frame of reference to another. Since, in postmodern thought, the "text" is a series of "markings" whose meaning is imputed by the reader, and not by the author, this play is the means by which the reader constructs or interprets the text, and the means by which the author gains a presence in the reader's mind. Play then involves invoking words in a manner which undermines their authority, by mocking their assumptions or style, or by layers of misdirection as to the intention of the author. Roland Barthes argued this concept, and coined it 'Death of the Author'; this allows for 'freedom of the reader'. Barthes is well known for having stated, "It is language that speaks, not the author". Another key concept is the view that people are, essentially, blank slated linguistically, and that social acclimation, cultural factors, habituation and images are the primary ways of shaping the structure of how people speak.
This view of writing is criticised by some {{citeneeded}}, who regard it as needlessly difficult and obscure, and a violation of the implicit contract of lucidity between author and reader: that an author has something to communicate, and shall choose words which transmit the idea as transparently as possible to the reader.

Postmodernism in philosophy

Postmodern philosophy is a radical criticism of Western philosophy, because it rejects the universalizing tendencies of philosophy. It applies to movements that include post-structuralism, deconstruction, multiculturalism, neo-relativism, neo-marxism, gender studies and literary theory. It emerged beginning in the 1950s as a rejection of doctrines such as positivism, Darwinism, materialism and objective idealism.
Postmodern philosophy emphasizes the importance of power relationships, personalization and discourse in the "construction" of truth and world views. In this context it has been used by critical theorists to assert that postmodernism is a break with the artistic and philosophical tradition of the Enlightenment, which they characterize as a quest for an ever-grander and more universal system of aesthetics, ethics, and knowledge. Postmodern philosophy draws on a number of approaches to criticize Western thought, including historicism, and psychoanalytic theory.
Many figures in the 20th century philosophy of mathematics are identified as "postmodern" due to their rejection of mathematics as a strictly neutral point of view. Some figures in the philosophy of science, especially Thomas Samuel Kuhn and David Bohm, are also so viewed. Some see the ultimate expression of postmodernism in science and mathematics in the cognitive science of mathematics, which seeks to characterize the habit of mathematics itself as strictly human, and based in human cognitive bias.
Postmodern philosophy is criticised for prizing irony over knowledge, and giving the irrational equal footing with the rational.
The term "Neo-liberalism" has been used in a theological sense as a drive to deliberately modify the beliefs and practices of the church (especially evangelical) to conform to postmodernism. (See also emergent church)

Postmodernism and post-structuralism

In terms of frequently cited works, postmodernism and post-structuralism overlap quite significantly. Some philosophers, such as Jean-François Lyotard, can legitimately be classified into both groups. This is partly due to the fact that both modernism and structuralism owe much to the Enlightenment project.
Structuralism has a strong tendency to be scientific in seeking out stable patterns in observed phenomena — an epistemological attitude which is quite compatible with Enlightenment thinking, and incompatible with postmodernists. At the same time, findings from structuralist analysis carried a somewhat anti-Enlightenment message, revealing that rationality can be found in the minds of "savage" people, just in forms differing from those that people from "civilized" societies are used to seeing. Implicit here is a critique of the practice of colonialism, which was partly justified as a "civilizing" process by which wealthier societies bring knowledge, manners, and reason to less "civilized" ones.
Post-structuralism, emerging as a response to the structuralists' scientific orientation, has kept the cultural relativism in structuralism, while discarding the scientific orientations.
One clear difference between postmodernism and poststructuralism is found in their respective attitudes towards the demise of the project of the Enlightenment: post-structuralism is fundamentally ambivalent, while postmodernism is decidedly celebratory.
Another difference is the nature of the two positions. While post-structuralism is a position in philosophy, encompassing views on human beings, language, body, society, and many other issues, it is not a name of an era. Post-modernism, on the other hand, is closely associated with "post-modern" era, a period in the history coming after the modern age.

Postmodernism in Psychology/Therapy

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The term post-modernism is often used pejoratively to describe tendencies perceived as Relativist, Counter-enlightenment or antimodern, particularly in relation to critiques of Rationalism, Universalism or Science. It is also sometimes used to describe tendencies in a society that are held to be antithetical to traditional systems of morality. The criticisms of postmodernism are often made complex by the still fluid nature of the term, in many cases the criticisms are clearly directed at poststructuralism and the philosophical and academic movements that it has spawned rather than the broader term postmodernism.


The most prominent recent criticism of postmodern art is that of John Gardner. Gardner wrote that the classification "post-modern" / "modern" applied to the art of his time was an evasion, a stab at nothing - i.e., a move to elude the basic function of criticism, which, according to Gardner, is to judge art's moral value.
The Stuckist art movement have issued a series of manifestos denouncing postmodernism for what they see as its "scientific materialism, nihilism and spiritual bankruptcy"


Charles Murray, a critic of postmodernism, defines the term:
Central to the debate is the role of the concept of "objectivity" and what it means. In the broadest sense, denial of the practical possibility of objectivity is held to be the postmodern position, and a hostility towards claims advanced on the basis of objectivity its defining feature. It is this underlying hostility toward the concept of objectivity, evident in many contemporary critical theorists, that is the common point of attack for critics of postmodernism. Many critics characterise postmodernism as an ephemeral phenomenon that cannot be adequately defined simply because, as a philosophy at least, it represents nothing more substantial than a series of disparate conjectures allied only in their distrust of modernism.

As a false distinction

This antipathy of postmodernists towards modernism, and their consequent tendency to define themselves against it, has also attracted criticism. It has been argued that modernity was not actually a lumbering, totalizing monolith at all, but in fact was itself dynamic and ever-changing; the evolution, therefore, between "modern" and "postmodern" should be seen as one of degree, rather than of kind - a continuation rather than a "break." One theorist who takes this view is Marshall Berman, whose book All That is Solid Melts into Air (1982) (a quote from Marx) reflects in its title the fluid nature of "the experience of modernity."
As noted above, some theorists such as Habermas even argue that the supposed distinction between the "modern" and the "postmodern" does not exist at all, but that the latter is really no more than a development within a larger, still-current, "modern" framework. Many who make this argument are left academics with Marxist leanings, such as Seyla Benhabib, Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, and David Harvey (social geographer), who are concerned that postmodernism's undermining of Enlightenment values makes a progressive cultural politics difficult, if not impossible. For instance, "How can 'we' effect any change in people's poor living conditions, in inequality and injustice, if 'we' don't accept the validity of underlying universals such as the 'real world' and 'justice' in the first place?" How is any progress to be made through a philosophy so profoundly skeptical of the very notion of progress, and of unified perspectives? The critics charge that the postmodern vision of a tolerant, pluralist society in which every political ideology is perceived to be as valid, or as redundant, as the other, may ultimately encourage individuals to lead lives of a rather disastrous apathetic quietism. This reasoning leads Habermas to compare postmodernism with conservatism and the preservation of the status quo.
Such critics often argue that, in actual fact, such postmodern premises are rarely, if ever, actually embraced — that if they were, we would be left with nothing more than a crippling radical subjectivism. They point to the continuity of the projects of the Enlightenment and modernity as alive and well, as can be seen in science, in political rights movements, in the very idea of universities, and so on.
To some critics, there seems, indeed, to be a glaring contradiction in maintaining the death of objectivity and privileged position on one hand, while the scientific community continues a project of unprecedented scope to unify various scientific disciplines into a theory of everything, on the other. Hostility toward hierarchies of value and objectivity becomes problematic to them when postmodernity itself attempts to analyse such hierarchies with, apparently, some measure of objectivity and make categorical statements concerning them.

As empty rhetoric

Some see postmodernism as essentially a kind of semantic gamesmanship, more sophistry than substance. Postmodernism's proponents are often criticised for a tendency to indulge in exhausting, verbose stretches of rhetorical gymnastics, which critics feel sound important but are ultimately meaningless. In the Sokal Affair, Alan Sokal, a physicist, wrote a deliberately nonsensical article purportedly about interpreting physics and mathematics in terms of postmodern theory, which was nevertheless published by the Left-leaning Social Text, a journal which he and most of the scientific community considered as postmodernist. Interestingly, Social Text never acknowledged that the article's publication was a mistake, but supported a counter-argument defending the "interpretative validity" of Sokal's false article, despite the author's rebuttal of his own article. (see the online [ Postmodernism Generator])
In response to the critics of postmodernism, it has been suggested that no "postmodern" ethos or movement has actually taken practical form, and that the term "postmodernism" has been used by traditionalist intellectuals as a catch-all term serving to condemn trends in thought without adequately addressing their content.

Quotes about postmodernism

*"A generation raised on channel-surfing has lost the capacity for linear thinking and analytical reasoning." --Brian McLaren []
*"A constitutional inability to adopt a reasonable way to tell the good stuff from the bad stuff" -Chip Morningstar, author and developer of software systems for online entertainment and communication. *"Postmodernism is incredulity towards metanarratives" Jean-Francois Lyotard *"Postmodernist fiction is defined by its temporal disorder, its disregard of linear narrative, its mingling of fictional forms and its experiments with language." - Barry Lewis, Kazuo Ishiguro *"a new kind of superficiality" - "depthlessness" - Fredric Jameson *"Weird for the sake of weird." - Moe Szyslak []
*Jacques Derrida attempted to explain postmodernism when he said "il n'y a pas de hors-texte". Roughly translated from French, meaning, "there is not an after-text".
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Postmodernism".