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I must confess that I didn’t really notice postmodernism at its peak in the early 1990’s, and perhaps I shouldn’t write about it, but it provides thecontext for Michel Foucault, who I am very interested in. Although Foucault died in 1984, he remains the most influential figure (debatably) along with Baudrillard, Derrida and Lyotard – the roots of the ‘movement’ are generally French. It interests me that he is almost unknown to the ‘new age’ people, and that, though the two movements have their similarities, they generally ignore each other. By this I mean that they are both vague movements which people ‘enlist in’ – mostly middle class people in the case of the new age, generally young intellectuals, aesthetes, radicals (and gays?) in the case of postmodernism.

I can only give a few quotes from the book I read, “Beginning Postmodernism”, by Tim Woods, Manchester University Press, 1999 :-

The origins of postmodernism appear to be completely confused and underdetermined; and perhaps appropriately so, since postmodernism denies the idea of knowable origins. Postmodernism has acquired a semantic instability or a shifting meaning that shadows and echoes its notes of indeterminacy and insecurity. The establishment of its relativistic cultural policies as a new orthodoxy, coupled with the complexity of grasping all the philosophical discourses and terminology, means it has the potential for discursive ambiguity and metaphoric appropriation …… (p. 3)

…..have described postmodernism using the metaphor of the rhizome. This is the lateral root structure of certain plants, and the metaphor describes how all social and cultural activities in postmodernism are dispersed, divergent, and acentred systems or structures. This contrasts with the organised, hierarchical, ‘trunk-and-branch’ structure of modernism. Others talk about the ‘doubleness’ of postmodernism, meaning its ironic, self-reflexive or parodic, imitative action. In all definitions, postmodernism has proved to be a snake-like concept whose twists and turns are difficult to pin down. (p. 6)

Postmodernism pits reasons in the plural – fragmented and incommensurable – against the universality of modernism and the long-standing conception of the self as a subject with a single, unified reason. (p. 9)

…….postmodernism seems to appeal to societies in which the demise of their former economic, cultural and political superiority has led to a responsiveness to nostalgia and frustration. ………. “Beginning Postmodernism” embraces the works, ideas and concepts from these disciplines both within and outside the humanities, where the impact of ‘postmodernism’ has manifested itself and influenced the discourse of these subjects. These cover such subjects as literature, film, visual and plastic art, ‘classical’ and popular music, cultural theory, sociology, law, anthropology, psychology, feminism, architecture and geography, …….. (p. 11)

But it is not all academic …… one of the shortest statements of what postmodernism is taken from Lyotard (The Differend, Manchester UP), where his most important conceptualisations are summarised (by Woods, p. 23) as:-

  1. It is first and foremost ‘an incredulity towards metanarratives’ and an anti-foundationalism
  2. Although it presents the unpresentable, it does not do so nostalgically, nor does it seek to offer solace in so doing
  3. It contains pleasure and pain, in a reintroduction of the sublime
  4. It does not seek to give reality but to invent allusions to the conceivable which cannot be presented. In this respect there is something theological in his concept of representational art
  5. It actively searches out heterogeneity, pluralism, constant innovation
  6. It is to be thought of not as a historical epoch, but rather as an aesthetic practice
  7. It challenges the legitimation of positivist science

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