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Manifestations of Postmodernism

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Manifestations of Postmodernism

This article has examples of the influence of postmodernism on various fields.


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style is often characterized by eclecticism, digression, collage, pastiche, irony, the return of ornament and historical reference, and the appropriation of popular media.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 Džalto, 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.


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.

Postmodernity is also seen as an outgrowth of minimalism, as stated by composer Don Davis. Though it is more likely that it is an outgrowth of early film music of Carl Stalling. Stalling often had no central themes and used abrupt stylistic changes in much the same way as Zorn and Cage would later.

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 Katherine McCoy's program at the 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. Alongside 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.


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 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 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 1950s 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 its extreme deconstruction of structure and character make its 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 applied to film has four main concepts to think about.

Simulation- taking what has been made, and reusing it. -Through pastiche: intentionally replicated style. -Through parody: drawing irony from styles to make new styles

Pre-fabrication- similar to simulation, draws even closer to already existing and noticeable scenes, and simply reuses them, in narrative, dialogue, etc.

Intertextuality- similar to prefabrication, it’s a text that draws upon other texts. The clearest example is the blatant remake.

Bricolage- building a film like a collage of different film styles and genres [1]


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's later works, John Burgee, Robert Venturi, Ricardo Bofill, James Stirling, Charles Willard Moore, and Frank Gehry.

Planning and urban design

Post modern landscapes in contemporary [2] 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.[3] 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."[4]

Digital communications

Technological utopianism is a common trait in Western history — from the 18th century when Adam Smith essentially labelled technological progress as the source of the Wealth of Nations, through the novels of Jules Verne in the late 19th century (with the notable exception of his then-unpublished Paris in the Twentieth 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.

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.


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 , 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.


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, Social 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.

Postmodern philosophy is criticised for prizing irony over knowledge, and giving the irrational equal footing with the rational.[5]

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 because 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.


  1. ^ Hayward, Susan. (1996) “Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts”. Third Edition. New York, NY: Routledge. P. 302-305.
  2. ^ Engels, B. (2000) ‘City Make-overs: the place-marketing of Melbourne during the Kennett years, 1992-1999’, Urban Policy and Research 18(4), p 470
  3. ^ Harvey, D. (1990) The Condition of Postmodernity, Blackwell, UK, p 9
  4. ^ Harvey, D. (1990) The Condition of Postmodernity, Blackwell, UK, p 41
  5. ^ A definition of postmodernism in regards to philosophy.
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