Understanding Postmodernism

Understanding Postmodernism: Philosophy and
Culture of Postmodern

Ria Farhan

Abstract: Though the term postmodernism was first used in the 1870’s, it was not widely used until the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century. People who hold to postmodernism do not like to be classified, and therefore it is unlikely they will use the term to refer to themselves. But since there are now so many
postmodernists in our culture, we should all have a working understanding of their worldview. Postmodernism is the idea that individuals have both the intelligence and the right to decide for themselves what truth is. In the past, truth was a clearly defined fact that was generally accepted by each generation. Postmodern individuals
see the definition of truth as less clear. As postmodern people search for truth, they base their conclusions on their own research, individual experiences, and personal relationships instead of on the truth accepted by their parents, government, or church. This does not mean postmodernists do not believe in truth; it just means
they define truth for themselves.

Keyword: Postmodern; Philosophy; Cultural-sterile; Cultural-liberate; Social Science

Postmodern people are quite comfortable with the concept that different people will come to different conclusions about the same subject and all of them have discovered the truth, even if such truths contradict each other. For most postmodern people, the concept of absolute truth does not exist. It has been replaced with a more personalized sense of truth that may vary from person to person.

It can be difficult to describe how postmodern people think because they do not like to be categorized. However, careful observation of their behaviors, combined with listening to what young people say and write, offer a glimpse of postmodernists’ common characteristics. Dr. Earl Creps is the director of the doctor of ministry program at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri. He writes extensively on postmodernism. He has discovered: “The average person influenced by postmodernism may never have heard a lecture or read a book about it. Nonetheless, the traits that embody the philosophy are all around us: the centrality of community, the primacy of experience, the subjectivity of truth, the complexity of human perception, the fragility of progress, the unreality of absolutes, the enormity of the spiritual [and] the plurality of worldviews.” Other writers have compiled similar lists of postmodern traits that frequently appear in the next generation. If business, government and religious leaders wish to effectively engage postmodern people, they will have to deal with these common traits.

Postmodern people can be any age, but typically, the younger people are, the more likely they are to have a postmodern worldview. Dr. Jan W. van Deth, a political science professor at the University of Mannheim, and Elinor Scarbrough, a senior lecturer in government at the University of Essex and co-director of the Essex Summer School in Data Analysis and Collection, have studied postmodernism extensively. They have presented a number of papers and edited a book on the subject. Based on their studies, they conclude that “postmodern orientations are most common among young people and the well-educated.”

There is no set age at which individuals suddenly decide to become postmodern. Instead, postmodern tendencies are more like a graph in which the younger a person is, the more postmodern his or her worldview is likely to be. This connection between age and postmodernism comes from a past when people had access to a limited amount of information, so it was harder for them to question truth. Because of this, older generations often believed what they were told because they did not have access to information that would lead them to think otherwise.

With the advent of technology, younger generations have become used to collecting information from a wide variety of sources, as have more-educated people. Even though much of the information collected may be inaccurate, it still makes younger generations question the validity of what others have told them. Instead, they want to discover truth for themselves. This desire to discover one’s own truth is the essence of postmodernism. If business, government and religious leaders want to reach the next generation, they are going to have to discover ways to help young people discover truth for themselves. Young people are not going to just accept a government official, business leader, or priest’s word on any particular issue. Young people want to delve deep into their own study of whatever subject is being discussed. Though this may frighten some leaders, many leaders enjoy the discussions that arise from such deep study. For those leaders able to embrace questions, the next generation will be a exciting addition at the cultural table.

Discussion: Philosophy of Postmodernism

Postmodernism marked a radical shift in emphasis from Modernism and it became a visible happening in Literature, Art, Philosophy and Architecture. One of the things that characterize postmodernism is the breaking down of ground between high culture and low culture. Postmodernism is oriented towards the democratization of collective consciousness and also postmodernism signifies the triumph of individuality. There are many writers, thinkers and artists who have expressed the ideals of Postmodernism.

In this article, I would like to develop my own linguistic, and philosophical tools for the analysis of Postmodernism. Using these tools, I would like to embark on the following fields: that is politics, culture, aesthetics and philosophy. How can the analysis of Postmodernism be applied to Politics? Politics is moving towards a situation which can be defined as Geo-Political, ruptures and raptures. First of all I would like to explicate what is Geo-Political-Rupture? Geo-Political-Rupture is caused by the fanatic fringes of society, especially those who want to promote the cause of Jihad-Islam. These people perpetuate Jihadocausts (a new term coined from Jihad and Holocaust) that is indulging in terrorism and murder. If these people succeed in their efforts, civilization would take retrograde step. What is the cause for Geo-Political-Rupture?

Fanatic Muslims have not been weaned and they exist in the state of being afraid of their theocratic-phallic father. Fanatic Muslims or the Jihad is have not mastered their oedipal conflicts and desires and their oedipal fetishes are transformed incongruously by the fear of castration of the Holy Father into instruments of persecution. How can Geo-Political-Rupture be countered politically? Western democracies are using military strategies but a more radical penicillin for the Jihad venom is radical and liberal evangelization of Islam. Liberal evangelization of Islam would save the succeeding generations from taking the sword and becoming Nazis of Islam.

Now what is Geo-Political-Rapture? Geo-Political-Rapture is sustained democratic intervention in the geopolitical climates by democracies of the World. I would like to use some geopolitical examples to illustrate the concept of Geo-Political-Rapture. The case of refugee migration from the Middle East to the shores of Europe is a poignant example. Europe has been magnanimous in accommodating those refugees. Another example of Geo-Political-Rapture would be sorting out environmental issues.

The World is becoming a Global theater from promoting holistic environmentalism. Another example of Geo-Political-Rapture would be the bailing out of the beleaguered Greek Economy by the European Union. Money should attain the LAKSHMI provision (Indian Goddess of Wealth) of creative-cathartopia (from catharsis and utopia). The flow of money should become egalitarian and democratic. When more and more people of the Globe become satiated with Economic self sufficiency, the benefit would directly accrue as tangible material benefits for corporations and business houses.

Culture of Postmodernism

Postmodern culture is a far reaching term describing a range of activities, events, and perspectives relating to art, architecture, the humanities, and the social sciences beginning in the second half of the twentieth century. In contrast to modern culture, with its emphasis on social progress, coherence, and universality, postmodern culture represents instances of dramatic historical and ideological change in which modernist narratives of progress and social holism are viewed as incomplete, elastic, and contradictory. In conjunction with the end of modernist
progress narratives, an insistence on coherence gives way to diversity and the dominance of universality is subverted by difference within a postmodern condition.

Additionally, postmodern culture stands for more than the current state of society. Postmodern culture is characterized by the valuing of activities, events, and perspectives that emphasize the particular over the global or the fragment over the whole. This reversal of a modernist ideology necessitates a valuation of variation and flexibility in the cultural sphere. Primarily through the writings of Jean Francois Lyotard, whose seminal book ‘The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge’ (1984) remains the definitive exposition of the term and its significance to society, postmodern culture has come to be identified with a radical critique of the relationship between the particular and the universal in art, culture, and politics.

The most visible signs of postmodern culture appear in art, architecture, film, music, and literature after the 1950s. The most prominent stylistic features that unite these diverse forums are pastiche, non representationalism, and non linearity. In the art and architecture of postmodern culture, collage and historical eclecticism are emphasized. The American painter Mark Tansey depicts historical scenes and figures in anachronistic situations. His 1982 painting Purity Test positions a group of „„traditional‟‟ Native Americans on horseback over looking Smithson’s 1970 Sprial Jetty, a temporal impossibility.

In architecture, Robert Venturi combines classical and modern architectural features, juxtaposing distinct historical styles. Art and architecture within postmodern culture celebrate collage and do not symbolize historical, thematic, or organic unity. Their postmodern quality can be found in the artist’s or architect’s desire to abandon the constraints of temporal, stylistic, and historical continuity.

In film, literature, and music representative of postmodern culture there is an emphasis on non linearity, parody, and pastiche. Post modern film, such as the Coen brothers ‘Blood Simple’ or Fargo, disrupt narrative timelines and emphasize the work of parody. Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, for instance, ‘begins’ at the end and continually recycles crime scene clichés throughout the plot. Similar aesthetic principles are at play in postmodern literature in which the ‘realist mode’ is thwarted in favor of the seemingly nonsensical. The Canadian writer Douglas Coupland epitomizes this departure from realism. All Families Are Psychotic (2001) depicts the surreal life of the Drummond family – a disparate familial group brought together by the daughter’s impending launch into space and the financial woes of the father. In film and fiction the everydayness of life is shown to be complex, parodic, and undetermined. The division between the so called ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ is collapsed and vast excesses of postmodern society are allowed to spiral out of control. Postmodern culture adopts a dedifferentiating approach that will fully subverts boundaries between high and low art, artist and spectator and among different artistic forms and genres’ (Best & Kellner 1997: 132). While postmodern culture can be illuminated by reference to specific cultural products, it is important to keep in mind the underlying philosophical logic driving the phenomenon.
Postmodernity as a reaction against a modernity, as Lyotard observes, is grounded in the Enlightenment, with its confidence in the faculty of reason to ascertain philosophical ‘truths’ and its dedication to the progress of science and technology to enhance and improve the human situation. Taken together, this confidence and dedication to a particular intellectual framework produces monolithic accounts of the nature of reality and human kind’s place within it. The ‘postmodern condition,’ therefore, is a disruption in the claim of totality found in these Enlightenment generated accounts. According to postmodernists, the western worldview, with its commitment to universality in all things related to being human, gives way under the weight of its own contradictions and repressions.

The comprehensive grand theories or grand narratives, as Lyotard describes them, subsequently fails in a postmodern era insofar as the plurality of human existence emerges within a wider cultural space. Postmodern knowledge of the world, as Lyotard explains, must take into account the multiplicity of experience or ‘phrasings’ and the possibility of new, unanticipated experiences or phrasings that will assist in making sense of reality in ways either not permitted or not imagined by a modernist ideology. The content of knowledge we presently possess is continually being transformed by technology and the nature of knowledge cannot survive unchanged within this context of general transformation’. (Lyotard 1984: 4). Culture, as it pertains to postmodernism, is more than a repository of data; it is the activity that shapes and gives meaning to the world, constructing reality rather than presenting it.

Postmodern culture, as a valorization of the multiplicity found in ‘little narratives,’ exhibits anti modernist tendencies, with art and politics rejecting calls to narrative totalization. Jameson (1984), referring to the social theorist Jurgen Habermas, states that ‘postmodernism involves the explicit repudiation of the modernist tradition – the return of the middle class philistine or Spiessburger (bourgeois) rejection of modernist forms and values – and as such the expression of a new social conservatism.’ While an emphasis on the particular over the universal captures the revolutionary impulse found in the political and aesthetic sentiments of Lyotardian postmodernism, it runs counter to a lengthy critique of postmodernism by social theorists, mainly Marxists, who view this turn to the particularity of ‘little narratives’ as a symptom of late capitalism, with its valuation on proliferating commodities and flexible corporate organizational models. The characteristics of multiplicity, pastiche, and non linearity, while viewed as offering new aesthetic, epistemological, and political possibilities by postmodern artists, architects, writers, filmmakers, and theorists, are understood by those who reject postmodernism as examples of the ‘logic of late capitalism’ (Jameson 1984) in which commodities and consumers enter into rapid, undifferentiated exchange in ever increasing and diversified markets.

Harvey (1989) argues that postmodernism is the ideological ally of global capitalism, which is characterized in part by decentered organizational modes, intersecting markets, and hyper consumerism. While social theorists such as Daniel Bell, Philip Cooke, Edward Soja, and Scott Lash see postmodern culture as a symptom of global capitalist ideology, others view it as an extension or completion of the modernist project. Bauman (1992) notes that ‘‘the post modern condition can be therefore described . . . as modernity emancipated from false consciousness [and] as a new type of social condition marked by the overt institutionalization of characteristics which modernity – in its designs and managerial practices – set about to eliminate and, failing that, tried to conceal.’’ In this account, postmodern culture is viewed as having a continuity with modernism and not necessarily an affiliation with a late capitalist mode of production. Although the features of post modern culture are similarly described and agreed upon by social and literary theorists from across the ideological spectrum, the meaning of postmodern culture remains largely in dispute, with its advocates seeing it as a new condition and its detractors seeing it as an accomplice to late capitalism and conservative ideology.

In the few decades since its inception as a critical concept in the arts, architecture, humanities, and social sciences, postmodern culture remains controversial. Artists, architects, writers, philosophers, social theorists, and film makers continue to explore its vast possibilities, however. Whether it is a new condition, an emancipation from modernist false consciousness, a subsidiary of late capitalism, or a indefinable Zeitgeist, the debate over postmodern culture will be a central feature of intellectual life for years to come.

Next I would like to take the role of culture and its performance in Postmodernism. I would like to categorize people into two classes, cultural-sterile and cultural-liberate. Cultural- sterile are people who are conditioned by the religious and cultural mores of the society. They owe their dependence to a higher transcendent power. They are feeble and are unable to take responsibility for the performative strategies of creating the presence of meaning in their being.Culturally-sterile people indulge in what is called by the existential philosopher Sartre as bad faith. I have had an experience with a culturally-sterile on Facebook. When I challenged her edifice of Christian Faith, she posted some rude comments on my timeline and then abruptly cut me off. She did not even give me the democracy to express my views.

Culturally-liberated people are self expressive and creative. The quintessence of liberation in the Postmodern Era is through the Writing. Opportunities for self expression are proliferating through the media on the net like WordPress, Blogspot and Twitter. Writing in the postmodern era has shifted its roots from bourgeoisie-establishment-writers to a theater of mass spectacles. Writing is an art and a therapy. I would like to say that the emergence of writing in the post-modern-era is one of POLLENISSANCE (from Pollen and Renaissance). The pharmacological tools of writing in structuralism-the Signifier and the Signified are being used by the hoi polloi as strategies of liberation.

Now what is the place for Aesthetics in the Philosophy of Postmodernism? Aesthetics from hoary times refers to the beautiful and in Walter Patter’s phrase means: ‘art for art sake’. Within the Philosophy of Postmodernism, there are two conceptions of aesthetics, and they are: Utilitarian Kitsch and Cathartic Sublimation. Utilitarian Kitsch as a conceptuality for aesthetics refers to finding an aesthetic value in ordinary things of life. It could be an erotic foreplay of lovers or it could be admiring a pretty bedspread. Cathartic-sublimation is a higher level of aesthetics and occurs when emotions are elevated to a soul of existence along with transference of understanding from an accepted norm of culture. I would like to use literature as an example. When I read into a metaphor from a literary text, I first dip into the semantics of meaning and then I enjoy the creation as work of art and there I am filled with an emotional intellectualism.


Now what is role of Philosophy in the postmodern movement? Philosophy is moving towards a grandiose ecumenism. What is ecumenism?? Ecumenism is an amalgamation of various meta-narratives of different strands of Philosophical thought. For example Postmodernism marks a fugue fusion of Existentialism, Marxism, Feminism, Deconstruction, Psychoanalysis and Structuralism. For example, I would like use my own conception of Orientation. From a straight orientation, I have shifted my leaning to multiple orientations. I would love to indulge in oedipal fantasies of foreplay, be a Lesbian voyeur and also have a go with straight sex. I have also deconstructed my religious moorings from established religions through a process known as religious-ontological-deconstruction. Thus I consider myself to a Gentile Jew, a Disgruntled Christian, an Atheist Muslim and a Materialist Hindu. A postmodern being has to utilize the structural concepts of language like the Signifier and the Signified and liberate significations to newer modes of existence.


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