DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N033-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 24, 2024, from

4. Towards postmodernism

Cultural historians and theorists of modernism tend to view what is now called postmodernism in one of two general ways: as part of the original revolutionary gesture in which postmodernism constitutes a late and distinguishable development; or as a new ethos and a new aesthetic (new collection of ‘values’). Preference for one view or the other depends largely on the size of one’s historical canvas, but in either case such discussion proves helpful in defining modernism itself. This is because we can see changes in or departures from the values that constituted modernism, and these changes help to establish their original identities.

In the place of epistemic trauma, postmodernism affirms a denial of prescriptive norms and derogates the value of the normative. Where modernism wrestled with the difficulties caused by the absence of universal temporal, spatial, and ethical coordinates, postmodernism adopts without struggle the surreal, bizarre, and meta-natural. Where modernism negotiated the difficult transition from examination of reality to examination of observation, postmodernism accepts the premise that all values are ‘constructions’ on the model of language – local, contained, self-referential. Where modernism sought depth and abstraction, postmodernism turns toward surface and particularity. For what was in modernism a dominant value of ‘order’, postmodernism substitutes ‘design’ and ‘pattern’. Finally, the reflexivity of modernism, its self-awareness, becomes in postmodernism a more radical and complete self-referentiality moving toward visions of total (and so completely free) self-containment (see Postmodernism).

Citing this article:
Vargish, Thomas. Towards postmodernism. Modernism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N033-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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