Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C

Home Whats New Trans State Nation One World Unfolding Consciousness Comments Search
Home > Tamils - a Trans State Nation > Beyond Nations & Nationalisms: One World > Modernism & Post Modernism > Postmodernism FAQ

Post Modernism FAQ

from a posting by Van Piercy, English Department, Indiana University, 1996
Permission to copy and share this file without monetary profit is granted
provided this statement and the author's name appear in the file

Introductory Note
How do I find out about Postmodernism?
What is Postmodernism?
A slide-show of twenty statements on Postmodernism
A Short Bibilography
Some Principal Theorists
General Works, Anthologies, Interventions
On Modernity, Modernism and the Avant-Garde

Introductory Note

This is a "FAQ" (Frequently Asked Questions) file that has few of the questions in it but tries to enlist many of the various answers. It is not exhaustive. While this particular FAQ file cannot hope to be definitive, it does try to meet that basic, initial need for information to the most common questions, "What is postmodernism?" "How do I find out more about it?" This FAQ should be of use for research into the question of the postmodern, and I hope that even experienced students of postmodernism will find it a serviceable source of reference. I have tried to include detailed and accurate information on the bibliographic entries. This file is not meant to be monolithically definitive or singularly authoritative, nor is it meant to supplant the knowledge or opinions of others on this group, many of whom might have serious questions or reservations about elements or assumptions of this file. This FAQ is only one person's take on a very broad and evolving field of cultural dispute, and is offered in a spirit of collegiality and general education. This FAQ can be read at least on three distinct levels each corresponding to one of its major sections:

1) as a relatively quick overview of the term "postmodern" as it is found in some standard reference works;
2) as a bibliography and research aid for the student of postmodernism, and
3) as an examination of what published and varyingly "recognized" authorities have to say about the subject in their own words.

Reading these crystallized statements of what postmodernism is taken to be by accomplished writers in the field should introduce a sense of the thematics and semantics, the "language games" and politics, at play in even attempting to define what the postmodern is. For my part, in organizing and selecting the quotations I have tried to present conservative positions, traditionalist, humanist and reactionary positions, as well as Nietzschean, progressive, socialist, feminist and Marxian and neo-Marxian positions on the postmodern. To my mind, it is easier for a document of this type to err on the side of exclusivity and ideological purity than it is to err on the side of pluralism and report of the variety of serious opinion on the topic. Ideally, there will be future additions to this file, and perhaps even other FAQ files will be made that compete with this file and construct the field in different ways. Imagine a newsgroup with four or five different, partly overlapping, lengthy FAQ files all ostensibly covering the same topic (and not just well established or recognized sub-topics or specialist fields)! I submit that that is a reasonable possibility in an alt.postmodern newsgroup.

How do I find out about Postmodernism? (Or, "What should I know about this stuff?")

Either of these is a daunting question. My answer would be for you to read this FAQ file, read some of the books listed in this FAQ file, follow the exchanges on this newsgroup, put questions to the newsgroup's posters, and, as a productive exercise, find out what modernism is or is supposed to have been, and what values and assumptions it championed. To that end, I've included a bibliographic section on modernity and the avant-garde to offer some assistance. Some especially serious critics of postmodern thought can be found there (Habermas, Giddens, Taylor, Williams). These writers in particular insist on the complex and on-going nature of the modernist enterprise and reject the notion that postmodernism represents any sustained and substantial break from it. Readers can further enact for themselves a similar political and ideological confrontation that can be said to have occurred in the American context between modernist and postmodernist in the conjuncture between Lionel Trilling's 'The Liberal Imagination' (Viking 1950) and Susan Sontag's 'Against Interpretation' (Laurel 1969).

1)The opportunity to generate polemic in any discussion of the postmodern is prodigious. Keeping an eye on the two following basic issues can often help orient one to the various politics and agendas that tend to cloud or obscure different discussions of the postmodern. One is the problem of critical distance and the other is a problem of nomenclature. 1) What is the author's take on the idea that critical distance and the potential for real objectivity are unattainable? This question can be seen at work in both Haraway's comments (see below) about what she sees as Jameson's main thesis on postmodernism, and in Laclau's mapping of an "analytic terrain" where the "given" is no longer a viable myth. Pejoratively put, this collapse of critical distance is decried as "aestheticist" or as aestheticizing ideology in many discussions (Norris). The usual implication is that the culprits are decadent, apolitical and dangerously irrational. The historical antecedents referred to are often Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde's "dandyism" and the "Art for Art's sake" movement. Whereas for many differently oriented commentators those same decriers of aestheticism are often themselves denounced as totalitarian rationalists, modernists, "mere" moralizers, reactionaries and unsophisticated know-nothings (Haraway; Giroux).

2) The terms postmodern, postmodernity and postmodernism can be seen to associate or conjure different meanings: the term postmodern is inclusively ambiguous of what people mean when they talk about issues that come up in discussions of postmodernity and postmodernism. Postmodernity is a sign for contemporary society, for the stage of technological and economic organization which our society has reached. Postmodernism then can be, as Eco says, a "spiritual" category rather than a discrete period in history; a "style" in the arts and in culture indebted to ironic and parodic pastiche as well as to a sense of history now seen less as a story of lineal progression and triumph than as a story of recurring cycles. Analogously, and only for purposes of illustration, the condition of modernity is often spoken of as the rapid pace and texture of life in a society experienced as the result of the industrial revolution (Berman). However, modern'ism' is a movement in culture and the arts usually identified as a period and style beginning with impressionism as a break with Realism in the fine arts and in literature. Prior to modernism one finds periods and styles associated with other distinct aesthetic movements, e.g., Romanticism and Realism. For instance, both Blake and Balzac, Romantic and Realist representatives respectively, could be said to have had some experience of modernity, to have lived during the early stages of the expansion of bourgeois or industrial capitalism and technology and science, whereas no one thinks of their respective arts or modes of expression as obviously "modernist."

Finally, I must emphasize that certain influential figures who converge in discussions of the postmodern, themselves rarely use the word "postmodern" and do not describe their theories or discourses in that way. Their theories can't be simply reduced to "postmodernism" without controversy, and yet their arguments are drawn on and criticized very often in the name of what goes by the "postmodern." The works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze are prevalent in discussions on the postmodern (and this insistent close association probably explains the oft-remarked failure to distinguish between post-structuralism and postmodernism). I'd suggest that it is important for following discussions of postmodern theory to study and know Nietzsche's philosophy and espe-cially his short essay on history, On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life' (transl. Peter Preuss. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1980).

An acquaintance with the writings of Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze can be useful. They have all been profound students or readers of Nietzsche, part of a "return to Nietzsche" or the "New Nietzsche" movement in France in the 1960s. There's a nice collection of Foucault's writings edited by Paul Rabinow titled 'The Foucault Reader' published by Pantheon Books, 1984. For Derrida, to pick a citation for him almost at random, see the essay "Differance" in 'Margins of Philosophy' (transl. Alan Bass. Chicago UP, 1982). On Deleuze, the best way into his ideas is to dive into one of his texts and keep going. The most rewarding introduction to his work that I've seen is by Brian Massumi, who translated Milles Plateaux, titled 'A User's Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari' (MIT Press, 1992). By no means is this group of suggested readings intended to be limiting or exhaustive. I am only pointing out what seem particularly plausible or telling routes of entry into these writers' ideas.

What is Postmodernism?

Here are three published definitions from "standard" reference works (cross-references are cited below in the FAQ bibliography section):

(A) "Post-modernism[:] The break away from 19th-century values is often classified as modernism and carries the connotations of transgression and rebellion. However, the last twenty years has seen a change in this attitude towards focussing upon a series of unresolvable philosophical and social debates, such as race, gender and class. Rather than challenging and destroying cultural definitions, as does modernism, post-modernism resists the very idea of boundaries. It regards distinctions as undesirable and even impossible, so that an almost Utopian world, free from all constraints, becomes possible. "It must be realized though, that post-modernism has many interpretations and that no single definition is adequate. Different disciplines have participated in the post-modernist movement in varying ways, for example, in architecture traditional limits have become indistinguishable, so that what is commonly on the outside of a building is placed within, and vice versa. In literature, writers adopt a self-conscious intertextuality sometimes verging on pastiche, which denies the formal propriety of authorship and genre. In commercial terms post-modernism may be seen as part of the growth of consumer capitalism into multinational and technological identity. "Its all-embracing nature thus makes post-modernism as relevant to street events as to the *avant garde*, and as such is one of the major focal points in the emergence of interdisciplinary and cultural studies." (The Prentice Hall Guide to English Literature, Ed. Marion Wynne-Davies. First Prentice Hall edition, copyright 1990 by Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd. 812-13)

(B) "Postmodernism and postmodernity[,] a cultural and ideological configuration variously defined, with different aspects of the general phenomenon emphasized by different theorists, postmodernity is seen as involving an end of the dominance of an overarching belief in scientific rationality and a unitary theory of progress, the replacement of empiricist theories of representation and truth, and increased emphasis on the importance of the unconscious, on free-floating signs and images, and a plurality of viewpoints. Associated also with the idea of a post industrial age (compare Post Industrial Society [Daniel Bell]), theorists such as Baudrillard (1983) and Lyotard (1984) make central to postmodernity a shift from a `productive' to a `reproductive' social order, in which simulations and models--and more generally, signs--increasingly constitute the world, so that any distinction between the appearance and the `real' is lost. Lyotard, for example, speaks especially of the replacement of any *grand narrative* [les grands recits] by more local `accounts' of reality as distinctive of postmodernism and postmodernity. Baudrillard talks of the `triumph of signifying culture.'

Capturing the new orientation characteristic of postmodernism, compared with portrayals of modernity as an era or a definite period, the advent of postmodernity is often presented as a `mood' or `state of mind' (see Featherstone, 1988). If modernism as a movement in literature and the arts is also distinguished by its rejection of an emphasis on representation, postmodernism carries this movement a stage further. Another feature of postmodernism seen by some theorists is that the boundaries between `high' and `low' culture tend to be broken down, for example, motion pictures, jazz, and rock music (see Lash, 1990). According to many theorists, postmodernist cultural movements, which often overlap with new political tendencies and social movements in contemporary society, are particularly associated with the increasing importance of new class fractions, for example, `expressive professions' within the service class (see Lash and Urry, 1987)." (David Jary and Julia Jary. eds. The Harper Collins Dictionary of Sociology. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. 375-6)

(C) "Postmodernism[:] A portmanteau term encompassing a variety of developments in intellectual culture, the arts and the fashion industry in the 1970s and 1980s. Among the characteristic gestures of postmodernist thinking is a refusal of the `totalizing' or `essentialist' tendencies of earlier theoretical systems, especially classic Marxism, with their claims to referential truth, scientificity, and belief in progress. Postmodernism, on the contrary, is committed to modes of thinking and representation which emphasize fragmentations, discontinuities and incommensurable aspects of a given object, from intellectual systems to architecture.

"Postmodernist analysis is often marked by forms of writing that are more literary, certainly more self-reflexive, than is common in critical writing - the critic as self-conscious creator of new meanings upon the ground of the object of study, showing that object no special respect. It prefers montage to perspective, intertextuality to referentiality, `bits-as-bits' to unified totalities. It delights in excess, play, carnival, asymmetry, even mess, and in the emancipation of meanings from their bondage to mere lumpenreality. Theorists of postmodernism include Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Fredric Jameson, Paul Virilio, Dick Hebdige, Jean-Francois Lyotard, among others; a list whose maleness has not gone unnoticed (see Propyn 1987), but which may immediately be countered by reading the exemplary essay by Meaghan Morris (1988) which moves easily among postmodernism's sense of multiple mobilities, bodily, temporal and textual, without ever claiming postmodernist status for itself." (Tim O'Sullivan, John Hartley, Danny Saunders, Martin Montgomery and John Fisk. eds. Key Concepts in Communication and Cultural Studies. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 1994. 234-4)

Passages from frequently (and not so frequently) cited Commentators and Postmodernist Theory Theorists
(Or, a slide-show of twenty statements on the postmodern)

(1) "The case for its [postmodernism's] existence depends on the hypothesis of some radical break or *coupure*, generally traced back to the end of the 1950s or the early 1960s. "As the word itself suggests, this break is most often related to notions of the waning or extinction of the hundred-year-old modern movement (or to its ideological or aesthetic repudiation). Thus abstract expressionism in painting, existentialism in philosophy, the final forms of representation in the novel, the films of the great *auteurs*, or the modernist school of poetry (as institutionalized and canonized in the works of Wallace Stevens) all are now seen as the final, extraordinary flowering of a high-modernist impulse which is spent and exhausted with them. The enumeration of what follows, then, at once becomes empirical, chaotic, and heterogeneous: Andy Warhol and pop art, but also photorealism, and beyond it, the `new expressionism'; the moment, in music, of John Cage, but also the synthesis of classical and `popular' styles found in composers like Phil Glass and Terry Riley, and also punk and new wave rock (the Beatles and the Stones now standing as the high-modernist moment of that more recent and rapidly evolving tradition); in film, Godard, post- Godard, and experimental cinema and video, but also a whole new type of commercial film...; Burroughs, Pynchon, or Ishmael Reed, on the one hand, and the French *nouveau roman* and its succession, on the other, along with alarming new kinds of literary criticism based on some new aesthetic of textuality or *ecriture*... The list might be extended indefinitely; but does it imply any more fundamental change or break than the periodic style and fashion changes determined by an older high-modernist imperative of stylistic innovation?" (Jameson 1-2)

(2) "For many theorists occupying various positions on the political spectrum, the current historical moment signals less a need to come to grips with the new forms of knowledge, experiences, and conditions that constitute postmodernism than the necessity to write its obituary. The signs of exhaustion are in part measured by the fact that postmodernism has gripped two generations of intellectuals who have pondered endlessly over its meaning and implications as a `social condition and cultural movement' (Jencks 10).

The `postmodern debate' has spurned little consensus and a great deal of confusion and animosity. The themes are, by now, well known: master narratives and traditions of knowledge grounded in first principles are spurned; philosophical principles of canonicity and the notion of the sacred have become suspect; epistemic certainty and the fixed boundaries of academic knowledge have been challenged by a `war on totality' and a disavowal of all-encompassing, single, world-views; rigid distinctions between high and low culture have been rejected by insistence that the products of the so-called mass culture, popular, and folk art forms are proper objects of study; the Enlightenment correspondence between history and progress and the modernist faith in rationality, science, and freedom have incurred a deep-rooted skepticism; the fixed and unified identity of the humanist subject has been replaced by a call for narrative space that is pluralized and fluid; and, finally, though far from complete, history is spurned as a unilinear process that moves the West progressively toward a final realization of freedom.

While these and other issues have become central to the postmodern debate, they are connected through the challenges and provocations they provide to modernity's conception of history, agency, representation, culture, and the responsibility of intellectuals. The postmodern challenge constitutes not only a diverse body of cultural criticism, it must also be seen as a contextual discourse that has challenged specific disciplinary boundaries in such fields as literary studies, geography, education, architecture, feminism, performance art, anthropology, sociology, and many other areas. Given its broad theoretical reach, its political anarchism, and its challenge to `legislating' intellectuals, it is not surprising that there has been a growing movement on the part of diverse critics to distance themselves from postmodernism." (Giroux 1-2)

(3) "A provocative, comprehensive argument about the politics and theories of `postmodernism' is made by Fredric Jameson (1984), who argues that postmodernism is not an option, a style among others, but a cultural dominant requiring radical reinvention of left politics from within; there is no longer any place from without that gives meaning to the comforting fiction of critical distance. Jameson also makes clear why one cannot be for or against postmodernism, an essentially moralist move. My position is that feminists (and others) need continuous cultural reinvention, postmodernist critique, and historical materialsm; only a cyborg would have a chance. The old dominations of white capitalist patriarchy seem nostalgically innocent now: they normalized heterogeneity, into man and woman, white and black, for example. 'Advanced capitalism' and postmodernism release heterogeneity without a norm, and we are flattened, without subjectivity, which requires depth, even unfriendly and drowning depths." (Donna Haraway. 'Simians, Cyborgs, and Women'. New York: Routledge, 1991. 244-5, n4.)

(4) "The spectacle is the moment when the commodity has attained the *total occupation* of social life. Not only is the relation to the commodity visible but it is all one sees: the world one sees is its world. Modern economic production extends the dictatorship extensively and intensively. In the least industrialized places, its reign is already attested by a few star commodities and by the imperialist domination imposed by regions which are ahead in the development of productivity. In the advanced regions, social space is invaded by a continuous super- imposition of geological layers of commodities. At this point in the `second industrial revolution,' alienated consumption becomes for the masses a duty supplementary to alienated production. It is *all the sold labor* of a society which globally becomes the *total commodity* for which the cycle must be continued. For this to be done, the total commodity has to return as a fragment to the fragmented individual, absolutely separated from the productive forces operating as a whole. Thus it is here that the specialized science of domination must in turn specialize: it fragments itself into sociology, psycho-technics, cybernetics, semiology, etc., watching over the self-regulation of every level of the process." (Debord 1977, paragraph 42)

(5) "The frenzied expansion of the mass media [is a mark of our postmodernity and] has political consequences which are not so wholly negative. This becomes most apparent when we look at representations of the Third World. No longer can this be confined to the realist documentary, or the exotic televisual voyage. The Third World refuses now, to `us,' in the West, to be reassuringly out of sight. It is as adept at using the global media as the old colonialist powers." (Angela McRobbie, "Postmodernism and Popular Culture," in 'Postmodernism: ICA documents'. Ed. Lisa Appignanesi. London: FAB, 1989. 169.)

(6) "Postmodernism questions the efficacy of strategies of transformation associated with autonomy, declaring that modernism inexorably reaches a dead end. The modernist hope and belief that intellectuals can occupy a space outside capitalist society is not only illusionary but also artistically and politically sterile. The purity of the alienated artist forecloses his [sic] access to the energies and disputes that are lived within the culture, while also severing his connection to any audience beyond the purlieu of the artistic elite. The modernist places himself high and dry. Mass or popular culture inevitably springs up to fill the vacuum created by the elitist artists' divorce from a wide audience. By following the path of its own aesthetic revolution and its fetishistically precious values, modern art distances itself from any social group large enough, central enough, or powerful enough to effect a social revolution. Postmodernism must entirely rethink the relation of intellectuals to the rest of society. A model of engagement must replace the model of alienation...." (McGowan 25)

(7) "What I want to call postmodernism in fiction paradoxically uses and abuses the conventions of both realism and modernism, and does so in order to challenge their transparency, in order to prevent glossing over the contradictions that make the postmodern what it is: historical and metafictional, contextual and self- reflexive, ever aware of its status as discourse, as a human construct." (Hutcheon 1988, 53)

(8) "Postmodernism is the somewhat weasel word now being used to describe the garbled situation of art in the '80s. It is a term which nobody quite fully understands, because no clear-cut definition of it has yet been put forward. Its use arose synonymously with that of pluralism toward the end of the '70s, and at that point it referred to the loss of faith in a stylistic mainstream, as if the whole history of styles had suddenly come unstuck. Since then, under the more recent umbrella of Neo- expressionism, the old stylistic divisions now mix, blend, and alternate interchangeably with each other: dogmatism and exclusivity have given way to openness and coexistence. Pluralism abolishes controls; it gives the impression that everything is permitted. Meeting with no limitation, the artist is free to express himself in whatever way he wishes. "If modernism was ideological at heart--full of strenuous dictates about what art could, and could not, be--postmodernism is much more eclectic, able to assimilate, and even plunder, all forms of style and genre and circumstance, and tolerant of multiplicity and conflicting values." (Gablik 73)

(9) "Simplifying to the extreme, I define *postmodern* as incredulity toward metanarratives." (Lyotard 1984, xxiv)

(10) "Lyotard explains the necessity of thinking in `open systems' without internal unity on the basis of the disintegration of the possibility of maintaining a universal metalanguage. This possibility presupposes that the individual language games through which we perspectively live our Being-in-the-world can be gone beyond by some sort of speech that itself is not relative. Such nonrelative speech, for its part, presupposes an authority that modern metaphysics conceives as `the Absolute.' If it can be demonstrated--and Derrida has shown this more clearly than Lyotard--that the thought of the Absolute itself cannot escape the `structurality of structure,' then one can no longer lay claim to a transhistorical frame of orientation beyond linguistic differentiality. Systems without internal unity and without absolute center become the inescapable condition of our *Dasein* and our orientation in the world." (Manfred Frank. 'What is Neostructuralism?'. Trans. Sabine Wilke and Richard Gray. Minneapolis: U of Minn. Press, 1989. Transl. of 'Was ist Neostrukturalismus?'. 1984.)

(11) "The postmodern would be that which, in the modern, puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself; that which denies itself the solace of good forms, the consensus of taste which would make it possible to share collectively the nostalgia for the unattainable; that which searches for new presentations, not in order to enjoy them but in order to impart a stronger sense of the unpresentable. A postmodern artist or writer is in the position of a philosopher: the text he writes, the work he produces are not in principle governed by preestablished rules, and they cannot be judged according to a determining judgment, by applying familiar categories to the text or to the work. Those rules and categories are what the work of art itself is looking for. The artist and the writer, then, are working without rules in order to formulate the rules of what *will have been done*. Hence the fact that work and text have the characters of an *event*; hence also, they always come too late for their author, or, what amounts to the same thing, their being put into work, their realization (*mise en oeuvre*) always begin too soon. *Post modern* would have to be understood according to the paradox of the future (*post*) anterior (*modo*)." (Lyotard 1984, 81)

(12) "The unity of all that allows itself to be attempted today through the most diverse concepts of science and of writing, is, in principle, more or less covertly yet always, determined by an historico-metaphysical epoch of which we merely glimpse the *closure*. I do not say the *end*. [...] "Perhaps patient meditation and painstaking investigation on and around what is still provisionally called writing, far from falling short of a science of writing or of hastily dismissing it by some obscurantist reaction, letting it rather develop its positivity as far as possible, are the wanderings of a way of thinking that is faithful and attentive to the ineluctable world of the future which proclaims itself at present, beyond the closure of knowledge. "The future can only be anticipated in the form of an absolute danger. It is that which breaks absolutely with constituted normality and can only be proclaimed, *presented*, as a sort of monstrosity. For that future world and for that within it which will have put into question the values of sign, word, and writing, for that which guides our future anterior, there is as yet no exergue." (Jacques Derrida, from the "Exergue" to 'Of Grammatology'. Trans. G. C. Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1974, 1976. 4-5. Transl. of 'De la Grammatologie'. 1967.) (Note: "Exergue (ig-zurg), n. the small space beneath the principal design on a coin or medal for the insertion of a date, etc." 'Websters', Pocket Books-Simon & Schuster, 1990.)

(13) "Postmodernity does not imply a *change* in the values of Enlightenment modernity but rather a particular weakening of their absolutist character. It is therefore necessary to delimit an analytic terrain from whose standpoint this weakening is thinkable and definable. This terrain is neither arbitrary nor freely accessible to the imagination, but on the contrary it is the historical sedimentation of a set of traditions whose common denominator is the collapse of the immediacy of the *given*. We may thus propose that the intellectual history of the twentieth century was constituted on the basis of three illusions of immediacy (the referent, the phenomenon, and the sign) that gave rise to the three intellectual traditions of analytical philosophy, phenomenology, and structuralism. The crisis of that illusion of immediacy did not, however, result solely from the abandonment of those categories but rather from a weakening of their aspirations to constitute full presences and from the ensuing proliferation of language-games which it was possible to develop around them. This crisis of the absolutist pretensions of `the immediate' is a fitting starting point for engaging those intellectual operations that characterize the specific `weakening' we call postmodernity." (Ernesto Laclau, "Politics and the Limits of Modernity," in Docherty, op cit., 332).

(14) "Perhaps the clearest formulation of the difference of postmodern invention from modernist innovation comes in 'The Postmodern Condition', where Lyotard distinguishes the *paralogism* that characterizes pagan or postmodern aesthetic invention from the merely *innovative* function of art that is characteristic of the modernist understanding of the avant-garde. Innovation seeks to make a new move with the rules of the language game `art', so as to revivify the truth of art. Paralogism seeks the move that will displace the rules of the game, the `impossible' or unforeseeable move. Innovation refines the efficiency of the system, whereas the paralogical move changes the rules in the pragmatics of knowledge. It may well be the fate of a paralogical move to be reduced to innovation as the system adapts itself (one can read Picasso this way), but this is not the necessary outcome. The invention may produce more inventions. Roughly speaking, the condition of art is postmodern or paralogical when it both is and is not art at the same time (e.g., Sherri Levine's appropriative rephotographings of `art photography')." (Bill Readings. 'Introducing Lyotard: Art and Politics'. New York: Routledge, 1991. 73-4)

(15) "Postmodern architecture finds itself condemned to undertake a series of minor modifications in a space inherited from modernity, condemned to abandon a global reconstruction of the space of human habitation. The perspective then opens onto a vast landscape, in the sense that there is no longer any horizon of universality, universalization, or general emancipation to greet the eye of postmodern man, least of all the eye of the architect. The disappearance of the Idea that rationality and freedom are progressing would explain a `tone,' style, or mode specific to postmodern architecture. I would say it is a sort of `bricolage': the multiple quotation of elements taken from earlier styles or periods, classical and modern; disregard for the environment; and so on." (Lyotard 1993, 76)

(16) "There is ... a wholesale espousal of aesthetic ideology in the name of `postmodernism' and its claim to have moved way beyond the old dispensation of truth, critique, and suchlike enlightenment values. Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this current intellectual scene is the extent to which fashionable `left' alternatives (like the ideas canvassed in MARXISM TODAY) have set about incorporating large chunks of the Thatcherite cultural and socio-political agenda while talking portentously of `New Times' and claiming support from postmodernist gurus like Baudrillard. For we have now lived on - so these thinkers urge - into an epoch of pervasive `hyperreality', an age of mass-media simulation, opinion-poll feedback, total publicity and so forth, with the result that it is no longer possible (if indeed it ever was) to distinguish truth from falsehood, or to cling to those old `enlightenment' values of reason, critique, and adequate ideas. Reality just *is* what we are currently given to make of it by these various forms of seductive illusion. In fact we might as well give up using such terms, since they tend to suggest that there is still some genuine distinction to be drawn between truth and untruth, `science' and `ideology', knowledge and what is presently `good in the way of belief'. On the contrary, says Baudrillard: if there is one thing we should have learned by now it is the total obsolescence of all such ideas, along with the enlightenment meta-narrative myths - whether Kantian-liberal, Hegelian, Marxist or whatever - that once underwrote their delusive claims. What confronts us now is an order of pure `simulacra' which no longer needs to disguise or dissimulate the absence of any final truth-behind-appearances." (Norris 1990; 23)

(17) "I begin with what appears to be the most startling fact about postmodernism: its total acceptance of the ephemerality, fragmentation, discontinuity, and the chaotic that formed the one half of Baudelaire's conception of modernity. But postmodernism responds to the fact of that in a very particular way. It does not try to transcend it, counteract it, or even to define the `eternal and immutable' elements that lie within it. Postmodernism swims, even wallows, in the fragmentary and the chaotic currents of change as if that is all there is. Foucault [in the "Preface" to Deleuze and Guattari's 'Anti-Oedipus' (U of Minn. Press, 1983. xiii)] instructs us, for example, to `develop actions, thought, and desires by proliferation, juxtaposition, and disjunction,' and `to prefer what is positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems. Believe that what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic.' To the degree that it does try to legitimate itself by reference to the past, therefore, postmodernism typically harks back to that wing of thought, Nietzsche in particular, that emphasizes the deep chaos of modern life and its intractability before rational thought. This does not imply, however, that postmodernism is simply a version of modernism; real revolutions in sensibility can occur when latent and dominated ideas in one period become explicit and dominant in another. Nevertheless, the continuity of the condition of fragmentation, ephemerality, discontinuity, and chaotic change in both modernist and postmodernist thought is important." (Harvey 44)

(18) "Postmodernism, then, is a mode of consciousness (and *not*, it should be emphasized, a historical period) that is highly suspicious of the belief in shared speech, shared values, and shared perceptions that some would like to believe form our culture but which in fact may be no more than empty, if necessary, fictions." (Olsen 143)

(19) "The point is that there *are* new standards, new standards of beauty and style and taste. The new sensibility is defiantly pluralistic; it is dedicated both to an excruciating seriousness and to fun and wit and nostalgia. It is also extremely history- conscious; and the voracity of its enthusiasms (and of the supercession of these enthusiasms) is very high-speed and hectic. From the vantage point of this new sensibility, the beauty of the machine or of the solution to a mathematical problem, of a painting by Jasper Johns, of a film by Jean-Luc Godard, and of the personalities and music of the Beatles is equally accessible." (Sontag 304)

(20) "All my life I have worked to establish distinctions with the areas covered by umbrella-terms such as iconism, code, presupposition, etc. Naturally I am intrigued by the term `postmodern.' It is my impression that it is applied these days to everything the speaker approves of. On the other hand, there seems to be an attempt to move it backwards in time; first it seemed to suit writers or artists active in the last twenty years, then gradually it was moved back to the beginning of the century, then even further back, and the march goes on; before long Homer himself will be considered postmodern. But I believe that this tendency is to some extent justified. I agree with those who consider postmodern not a chronologically circumscribed tendency but a spiritual category, or better yet a *Kunstwollen* (a Will-to-Art), perhaps a stylistic device and/or a world view. We could say that every age has its own postmodern, just as every age has its own form of mannerism (in fact, I wonder if postmodern is not simply the modern name for *Manierismus*...). I believe that every age reaches moments of crisis like those described by Nietzsche in the second of the 'Untimely Considerations', on the harmfulness of the study of history. The sense that the past is restricting, smothering, blackmailing us." (Umberto Eco, "A Correspondence on Postmodernism" with Stefano Rosso in Hoesterey, op cit., pp. 242-3)

A Short Bibilography

Note: There is a huge and growing literature on postmodernism. This bibliography is selective and reflects the author's own interests and background. It is more devoted to cultural theory and philosophy than to fiction and the arts generally, though see Ferguson and Gablik for extended interviews and discussions on the fine arts and performance arts, and see Venturi and Portoghesi on architecture.

For the relations between postmodernism and science, I suggest that there are worse places to start than the works of Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, Bruno Latour, Michel Serres, Katherine Hayles, Gregory Bateson and Donna Haraway. For a good review of Latour see especially an essay by Robert Koch, "The Case of Latour" in 'Configurations' V. 3 No. 3, Fall 1995.

One of the most extensive bibliographies on postmodernism available, though only for material published prior to 1989, is in Connor (cited below). Other useful bibliographies are in Hutcheon (1989; see especially the "Concluding Note: Some Directed Reading," 169-70) and Docherty, which offers more recent information (1993).

Some people have asked for a section on performance theory and I'd be glad to oblige anyone who wants to put one together and have it attributed to them in this FAQ. If you're waiting for me to do it, it will be some time. It will require coverage of popular culture studies, media studies, video art, drama and music--you get the picture.

Some Principal Theorists

Baudrillard, Jean. 'Simulations'. New York: Semiotext(e), 1983.
Debord, Guy. 'Society of the Spectacle'. English Transl. 1970. Rev. Transl. Detroit: Black & Red, 1977. Rpt. 1983. Transl. of 'La societe du spectacle'. 1967.
--. 'Comments on the Society of the Spectacle'. Transl. Malcolm Imrie. London: Verso, 1990. Transl. of 'La Societe du spectacle'. 1988.
Jameson, Fredric. 'Postmodernism or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism'. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1991.
Lyotard, Jean-Francois. 'The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge'. Transl. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Foreword by Fredric Jameson. Minneapolis: U of Minn. Press, 1984. Transl. of 'La Condition postmoderne: rapport sur le savoir'. 1979.
---. 'The Postmodern Explained: Correspondence 1982-1985'. Ed. Julian Pefanis and Morgan Thomas. Transls. by Don Barry, Bernadette Maher, Julian Pefanis, Virginia Spate, and Morgan Thomas. Afterword by Wlad Gozich. Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota Press, 1993. Transl. of 'Le Postmoderne explique aux enfants'. 1988.
Portoghesi, Pier Paolo. 'Aftern Modern Architecture'. New York: Rizzoli, 1982.
Vattimo, Gianni. 'The Transparent Society'. Transl. David Webb. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1992. Transl. of 'La societa trasparente'. 1989.
Venturi, Robert, and Denise Scott and Steven Izenor. 'Learning from Las Vegas'. 1972. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1977.

General Works, Anthologies, Interventions

Appignanesi, Lisa, ed. 'Postmodernism: ICA documents'. London: Free Association Books, 1989.
Best, Steven, and Douglas Kellner. 'Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations'. New York: Guilford Press, 1991.
Connor, Steven. 'Postmodernist Culture: An Introduction to Theories of the Contemporary'. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989.
Docherty, Thomas. ed. 'Postmodernism: a reader'. New York: Columbia UP, 1993.
Elam, Diane. 'Romancing the Postmodern'. New York: Routledge, 1992.
Featherston, M., ed. 'Postmodernism' London: SAGE, 1988.
Ferguson, Russell, et al., eds. 'Discourses: Conversations in Postmodern Art and Culture'. Cambridge: MIT Press; New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1990.
Foster, Hal, ed. 'The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture'. Seatle, WA: Bay Press, 1985.
Foster, Hal. 'Recodings: Art, Spectacle, Cultural Politics'. Seatle, WA: Bay Press, 1985.
Foster, Stephen William. "Symbolism and the Problematics of Postmodern Representation," 'Victor Turner and the Construction of Cultural Criticism'. Ed. Kathleen M. Ashley. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990. 117-37.
Giroux, Henry A. "Slacking Off: Border Youth and Postmodern Education." JAC ISSUE 14.2 FALL 1994.
Harvey, David. 'The Condition of Postmodernity'. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989.
Hoesterey, Ingeborg, ed. 'Zeitgeist in Babel: The Postmodernist Controversy'. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1991.
Hutcheon, Linda. 'The Politics of Postmodernism'. New York: Routledge, 1989. ---. 'A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction'. New York: Routledge, 1988.
Huyssen, Andreas. 'After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism'. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1986.
Jencks, Charles. "The Postmodern Agenda," in 'The Postmodern Reader'. Ed. Charles Jencks. New York: St. Martin's, 1992. 1039.
Lash, Scott. 'The Sociology of Postmodernism.' New York: Routledge, 1990.
McGowan, John. 'Postmodernism and Its Critics'. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1991.
Morris, Meaghan. "At Henry Parkes Motel," 'Cultural Studies' (1988) 2:1-47
Norris, Christopher. 'What's Wrong with Postmodernism?'. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1990. ---. 'The Truth about Postmodernism'. London: Blackwell, 1993.
Palmer, Richard. "The Postmodernity of Heidegger," 'Martin Heidegger and the Question of Literature: Toward a Postmodern Literary Hermeneutics'. Ed. William V. Spanos. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1979. 71-92.
Probyn, E. "Bodies and anti-bodies: feminism and postmodernism," 'Cultural Studies' (1987) 1:3, 349-60.
Rowe, John Carlos. "Postmodernist Studies," 'Redrawing the Boundaries'. Eds. Stephen Greenblatt and Giles Gunn. New York: Modern Language Association, 1992. 179-208. Contains a short annotated bibliography.
Squires, Judith. 'Principled Positions: Postmodernism and the Rediscovery of Value'. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1993.
Zavarzadeh, Mas'ud and Donald Morton. 'Theory, (Post)Modernity, Opposition: An "Other" Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory'. Washington, D.C.: Masionneuve Press, 1991.

On Modernity, Modernism and the Avant-Garde

Berman, Marshall. 'All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity'. NY: Viking-Penguin, 1982. New Pref. 1988.
Bradbury, Malcolm, and James McFarlane, eds. 'Modernism: A Guide to European Literature, 1890-1930'. 1976. New Preface. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.
Burger, Peter. 'The Theory of the Avant-Garde'. Transl. Michael Shaw. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1984. Transl. of 'Theorie der Avantgarde'. 1974.
Calinescu, Matei. 'Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant- Garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism'. 1977. Rev. ed. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1987.
Eysteinsson, Astradur. 'The Concept of Modernism'. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1990.
Faulkner, Peter. 'Modernism'. London: Methuen, 1977.
Gablik, Susan. 'Has Modernism Failed?'. London: Thames and Hudson, 1984.
Giddens, Anthony. 'Modernity and Self Identity'. Oxford: Polity Press, 1991.
Habermas, Jurgen. 'The Philosphical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures'. Transl. Frederick G. Lawrence. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987. Transl. of 'Der philosophische Diskurs der Moderne: Zwolf Vorlesungen'. 1985.
Naremore, James, and Patrick Brantlinger. 'Modernity and Mass Culture'. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1991.
Perloff, Margorie. "Modernist Studies," 'Redrawing the Boundaries'. Eds. Stephen Greenblatt and Giles Gunn. New York: Modern Language Association, 1992. 154-78. Contains a short annotated bibliography.
Taylor, Charles. 'Sources of the Self'. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1989.
Williams, Raymond. 'The Politics of Modernism: Against the New Conformists'. London: Verso, 1989.

Mail Us Copyright 1998/2009 All Rights Reserved Home