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Key era: 1960s - 1970s - 1980s - 1990s - 2000s

The Carlton Cabinet (1981) by Ettore Sottsass was my de facto first exposure to postmodernism. I was hooked.

“Modern architecture died in St. Louis, Missouri on July 15, 1972 at 3:32 pm when the infamous Pruitt-Igoe scheme, or rather several of its slab blocks, were given the final coup de grace by dynamite.” -- Charles Jencks

"Pop in the broadest sense was the context in which a notion of the postmodern first took shape, and from the beginning until today, the most significant trends within postmodernism have challenged modernism's relentless hostility to mass culture." -- After the Great Divide (1986) - Andreas Huyssen

The postmodernisms have, in fact, been fascinated precisely by this whole “degraded” landscape of schlock and kitsch, of TV series and Reader's Digest, of advertising and motels, of the late show and the grade-B Hollywood film, of so-called paraliterature, with its airport paperback categories of the gothic and the romance, the popular biography, the murder mystery, and the science fiction or fantasy novel: materials they no longer simply “quote” as a Joyce or a Mahler might have done, but incorporate into their very substance. --Postmodernism, Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1984) - Fredric Jameson * Source: New Left Review 146, 1984, pp. 53—92

Usage note: use postmodernism when referring to stylistic elements and postmodernity when referring to the postmodern condition. [Jan 2006]

By medium: postmodern art - postmodern architecture - postmodern literature - postmodern film - postmodern music

Early theorists: Fredric Jameson - Jean-François Lyotard - Ihab Hassan - Charles Jencks

Critics and connoisseurs: Alan Sokal - Linda Hutcheon - Andreas Huyssen - John McGowan

By field: post-feminism - postmodern philosophy

Techniques: appropriation - collage - deconstruction - death of the avant-garde - eclecticism - fragmentation - intertextuality - montage - nonlinearity - parody - pastiche - playfulness - the techniques of Pop Art - randomness - self referentiality - relativism

Related: consumerism - critical theory - hyperreality - metanarrative - post-industrial society - postmodernity - post-structuralism - semiotics - simulacrum

Preceded by: Modernism

Precursors: Dada - Surrealism

There is no truth, there are only versions


The terms postmodern or postmodernism entered popular consciousness via architecture and design in the early 1980s.

Jahsonic's interest in postmodernism is the "low culture" versus "high culture" and "playfulness" versus "seriousness" discourse that it engendered. [Jan 2006]


Postmodernism is a term applied to a wide-ranging set of developments in critical theory, philosophy, architecture, art, literature, and culture, which are generally characterized as either emerging from, in reaction to, or superseding, modernism.

It can apply to movements in the arts, to mean stylistic developments such as collage, the return of ornament and historical reference, as well as appropriation of popular media. In sociology postmodernism is said to be an economic and cultural change coming from the ubiquity of mass production and mass media. In philosophy it refers to movements surrounding post-structuralism and other critiques of positivism. Postmodernism can also be used as a pejorative term to attack changes in society seen as undesirable as they relate to questioning of absolute value systems and other forms of foundationalism.

As with many other divisions, the use of the term is subject to the lumpers and splitters problem. There are those who use very small and exact definitions, and there are those who deny that there is a postmodernism at all distinct from the modern period, preferring instead to use terms such as "late modernism".--http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism [Aug 2005/Jan 2006]

n : art and literature and especially architecture in reaction against principles and practices of established modernism --WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University

Style and periodization

Discussion during the 1980s of postmodernism in the arts focused on issues of style and of periodization. Critics such as Ihab Hassan, Hal Foster, Charles Jencks, Linda Hutcheon, and Brian McHale attempt to describe the stylistic hallmarks of postmodernism. Artists and critics influenced by Baudrillard show a concern with the images in circulation in the culture and their recoding, reuse, and recycling in art. Unlike the heroic modernist, who created works out of pure imagination, the postmodern artist works with cultural givens, trying to manipulate them in various ways (parody, pastiche, collage, juxtaposition) for various ends. The ultimate aim is to appropriate these materials in such a way as to avoid being utterly dominated by them. The photographer Sherrie Levine's "appropriations" exemplify this art most vividly, but these terms have also proved useful in criticism of such novelists as Salman Rushdie, Gabriel García Márquez, Kathy Acker, and Angela Carter. --John McGowan, Copyright © 1997 The Johns Hopkins University Press. http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/hopkins_guide_to_literary_theory/postmodernism.html [Jun 2004]

The role of literary theory

The rise of literary theory, particularly of theory inspired by Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva, and Michel Foucault, brought postmodernism from the streets and from the novel into the academy. At first, these French theorists were not associated with postmodernism, but the publication of Jean-François Lyotard's Postmodern Condition (1979) made the two nearly synonymous. (The accuracy of this labeling is still a matter of dispute.) Lyotard emphasizes the antifoundational and antiholistic aspects of French theory, as well as its hostility to eternal, metaphysical truths or realities and to grand narratives (theories that provide totalizing explanations). "I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives," Lyotard writes (xxiv). He proposes a postmodern world in which decisions are made on the basis of local conditions and are applicable only in that limited context. Individuals participate in a multitude of such localities and the lessons, beliefs, and practices of one site are not transferable to any other. Lyotard celebrates this multiplicity of "language games" (xxiv) and offers ceaseless experimentation in all these games as the highest good. --John McGowan, Copyright © 1997 The Johns Hopkins University Press. http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/hopkins_guide_to_literary_theory/postmodernism.html [Jun 2004]

Hierarchy in the arts

One of the least contestable features of postmodernism is its refusal to accept the hierarchy of value and élitism implied in the distinction between high culture and popular culture. In the genealogies frequently circulated, postmodernism is pictured in opposition to two versions of modernism: a modernism codified and conquered by the academy and museum, incorporated as a high cultural artefact precisely because of its disengagement with the popular or commercial; and a modernism which lost its adversary status and entered mainstream chiefly through its contamination by mass production and culture industry. --Julie Stephens

Postmodernism called for a disruption of the dominance of high culture by popular culture; mixing of popular and high cultures, new valuation of pop culture, hybrid cultural forms cancel "high"/"low" categories. --Julie Stephens, 1998

There is no truth, there are only versions

[...] all our answers are simply constructs, that there is no truth, there are only versions of it. Artists are people who have teetered against the void since they became conscious. Western artists since at least Shakespeare have been trying to juggle the paradox of meaningless existence. When conceptual artists like Marcel Duchamp and John Cage began introducing ordinary life and accident into art, they acknowledged the paradox of the void. The interrupted narrative, the fractured construct, the disorder of everyday life — in art, that's a tip of the hat to the void, to the absence of God, the absence of hierarchy, the absence of order and truth and harmony and hegemony. -- Linda Frye Burnham

The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (1989) - David Harvey

The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (1989) - David Harvey [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

A great deal has been written on what has variously been described as the post-modern condition and on post-modern culture, architecture, art and society. In this new book, David Harvey seeks to determine what is meant by the term in its different contexts and to identify how accurate and useful it is as a description of contemporary experience. But the book is much more than this: in the course of his investigation the author provides a social and semantic history - from the Enlightenment to the present - of modernism and its expression in political and social ideas and movements, as well as in art, literature and architecture. He considers in particular how the meaning and perception of time and space themselves vary over time and space, and shows that this variance affects individual values and social processes of the most fundamental kind. This book will be widely welcomed, not only for its clear and critical account of the arguments surrounding the propositions of modernity and post-modernity, but as an incisive contribution to the history of ideas and their relation to social and political change.

Beginning Postmodernism (Beginnings) (1999) - Tim Woods

In search of "anti-design".

Beginning Postmodernism (Beginnings) (1999) - Tim Woods [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Book Description
"Postmodernism" has become the buzzword of contemporary society. Yet it remains baffling in its variety of definitions, contexts and associations. Beginning Postmodernism aims to offer clear, accessible and step-by-step introductions to postmodernism across a wide range of subjects. It encourages readers to explore how the debates about postmodernism have emerged from basic philosophical and cultural ideas. With its emphasis firmly on "postmodernism in practice," the book contains exercises and questions designed to help readers understand and reflect upon a variety of positions in the following areas of contemporary culture: philosophy and cultural theory; architecture and concepts of space; visual art; sculpture and the design arts; popular culture and music; film, video and television culture; and the social sciences.

Recommended book on Postmodernism. Re-found it when Googling on books.google.com for "anti design" and Superstudio. "Anti-design" is connected with the sixties radical design movement of Italy.

See also: anti-art - Radical Design - Postmodernism

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