The Concept of 'Postmodernism'

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The concept of ‘Postmodernism’- A Theoretical Approach

It is a cliché by now to say that we live in a postmodern world, and it is true that the word ’postmodern’ has become one of the most used, and abused, words in the language. Still, it is striking that not many people can say with assurance what this term actually means and involves. Some theorists suggest that ‘postmodernism’ refers to a mood or an attitude of mind, others define it as a literary, cultural, or philosophic phenomenon. Either way, critics haven’t agreed on a common definition for the concept. “Brian McHale points out that every critic “constructs” postmodernism in his or her own way from different perspectives, none more right or wrong that the others.”[i] In a general sense, postmodernism is to be regarded as a rejection of many, if not most, of cultural certainties on which life in the West has been structured over the past couple of centuries. It has called into question our commitment to cultural ‘progress’ (that national economies must continue to grow, that the quality of life must keep improving indefinitely, etc.), as well as the political systems that have underpinned this belief. Jean-François Lyotard associates this scepticism with the loss of ‘grand recits’. These 'grand narratives' are large-scale theories and philosophies of the world, such as the progress of history, the knowability of everything by science, and the possibility of absolute freedom. Lyotard argues that we have ceased to believe that narratives of this kind are adequate to represent and contain us all. We have become alert to difference, diversity, the incompatibility of our aspirations, beliefs and desires, and for that reason postmodernity is characterised by an abundance of micronarratives: „În societatea şi cultura contemporană, societate postindustrială, cultură postmodernă, problema legitimării cunoaşterii se pune în alţi termeni. Marea povestire şi-a pierdut credibilitatea, oricare ar fi modul de unificare ce-i este atribuit: povestire speculativă, povestire de emancipare.”[ii] Jean Baudrillard is another theorist who has described the post-industrial society in dark colours; in his study Simulacra and Simulation, he introduces the terms hyperreal and hyperrspace:” It is all of metaphysics that is lost. No more mirror of being and appearances, of the real and its concept. No more imaginary coextensivity: it is genetic miniaturization that is the dimension of simulation. The real is produced from miniaturized cells, matrices, and memory banks, models of control— and it can be reproduced an indefinite number of times from these. It no longer needs to be rational, because it no longer measures itself against either an ideal or negative instance. It is no longer anything but operational. In fact, it is no longer really the real, because no imaginary envelops it anymore. It is a hyperreal, produced from a radiating synthesis of combinatory models in a hyperspace without atmosphere.”[iii] Taking into consideration the many different approaches of the phenomenon, it would be necessary to take a look at the history of the concept and its first recorded use. Although the term was used beginning with the 1870s, mostly to express opposition to the past, the 20th century was the one to offer postmodernism its root as a conceptual term.The architectural theorist Charles Jenks has done more than anyone to popularise postmodernism as a theoretical concept, particulary in the series of his book The Language of Postmodern Arhitecture (first edition 1977).” But its roots lie in the sphere in which the term “postmodern” first found general usage: architecture. And there we find a further contradiction. It is one which juxtaposes and gives equal value to the self-reflexive and the historically grounded: to that which is inward-directed and belongs to the world of art (such as parody ) and that which is outward-directed and belongs to “real life” (such...
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