What is Postmodernism? What is Postmodernism?

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1 What is Postmodernism? Perhaps the clearest and most certain thing that can be said about postmodernism is that it is a very unclear and very much contested concept Richard Shusterman in Aesthetics and Postmodernism What is Postmodernism? Postmodernists themselves, do not consider it to be a comprehensive theory or systematic philosophical approach. They prefer considering it a (social/intellectual) condition a movement a set of attitudes 1

2 What is Postmodernism? Postmodernism: The belief that there is no universally applicable, objective foundation for knowledge. Jean-Francois Lyotarddefines postmodernism as incredulity towards meta-narratives Lyotard on Meta-narratives meta-narratives: grand all encompassing myths about humanity, the world and the cosmos. There is no neutral vantage point from which humans can see the world free from bias. Instead we see the world through the lenses of stories that we tell about ourselves and the world No meta-narrative can be proven to be absolutely true for all times, people, or cultures. 2

3 Lyotard on Meta-narratives Lyotard( ) saw grand meta-narratives (such as Christianity, Enlightenment Rationalism, Marxism) as totalizing, authoritarian and repressive. They are used to silence voices which do not fit or challenge the dominate ideologies. Postmodernism as Anti-modernism Modernism: a set of ideas and practices which trace their intellectual heritage back to the European age of enlightenment Enlightenment Philosophical concepts Objective & universal truths are discoverable through reason and science. Language can represent the world as it really is. All human beings share a common nature The application of reason, science and technology to the ordering of society will bring about greater freedom and social justice. 3

4 Postmodernism as Anti-modernism Enlightenment political concepts: Uniqueness and autonomy of the individual Natural rights/human rights Democracy / Limited Government Capitalism / Economic liberalism Egalitarianism / Equality of interests 4

5 The Frankfurt School In 1923 a group of intellectuals formed the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, Germany. During the rise of the Nazis several Jewish members of the school fled Germany and re-established the school in New York City The Frankfurt School & Critical Theory The Frankfurt School believed modern western society had failed to live up to the promises of the enlightenment and was rapidly deteriorating into multiple totalitarian governments which suppressed human freedom. Critical Theory (a precursor to postmodernism) attempted to stem the tide of totalitarian thinking through criticism of social institutions 5

6 The Frankfurt School & Critical Theory While some members of the school considered themselves enlightenment humanists or neomarxists, others advanced more postmodern ideas.. Jurgen Habermas(1929-) Science is cannot be impartial/ideologically neutral. Science uncritically promotes values which should be challenged (ex. technological domination of nature) The notion of objective reason is oppressive The Frankfurt School & Critical Theory Theodor Adorno( ) Criticized the culture industry Modern art and popular media culture deadens political awareness and promotes passivity. 6

7 Hyper-real and Simulacra Hyper-real Jean Baudrillard Features of Postmodernism 1. Language as the play of signs Language does not point us to the real world but to an internal game of signs and symbols. Language is never neutral. Written and spoken language both depend on interpretation which is influenced by society, history and politics. 2. Anti-realism We cannot know the world as it is Language constructs the world that we mistakenly take as brute reality. 7

8 Features of Postmodernism 3. Anti-rationalism Human rationality is also historically and culturally constructed reject notion of objectivity As such we cannot appeal to reason as a neutral arbiter of disputes regarding human practices or judgments. 4. Rejection of human nature Postmodernists are skeptical of appeals to fixed or innate human capacities which all human beings share. Culture constructs oppressive notions of gender and race which are falsely taken to be universal & immutable. Features of Postmodernism 5. Rejection of the uniqueness of the individual The self is constructed in relation to the other Concepts of uniqueness, originality and genius either deny or trivialize this fact. 6. Rejection of stable, inherit meaning in texts There are no true interpretations of artworks High Art/Low art distinctions 8

9 Postmodern Pluralism in Art In the wake of postmodern ideas the artworld has seen unprecedented diversity Minority/political perspectives in art Collaborative and anonymous art (rejection of genius/individualism) Appropriation / Readymades(rejection of originality) Hybridization (rejecting rigid classification of artforms) Kitsch (rejection of High/low & popular/fine art) Does Postmodernism have a method? There is no single method of analysis shared by all postmodernists. Many, however, employ a loose method of analysis called deconstruction, developed by Jacques Derrida ( ) 9

10 Deconstruction Derrida did not conceive of deconstruction as a fixed method, nevertheless deconstruction usually follows the following pattern 1. Recognize binary oppositions in the texts key ideas Good/evil, us/them, male/female, light/dark, east/west 2. Identify violent hierarchy in these ideas (i.e. one term is treated as superior to the other) Deconstruction 3. Show the hierarchy is reversible reconstruct the narrative as it would be seen from the perspective of the oppressed term. or show that the two terms are not fixed and stable but are ambiguous and subvert eachother in the text s own internal logic. 10

11 Michel Foucault Michel Foucault ( ) contributed two important concepts to deconstruction- Archaeology: historical assumptions underlying ideologies. Genealogy: how an idea transforms over time. Foucault and the death of the author In his essay What is an Author? Foucault deconstructs the idea of authorship. He concludes that the author function is one way in which society limits the diversity of interpretations which are possible in any text. The author is therefore the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning -Michel Foucault 11

12 Importance of the Author to Interpretation In a conversational context disputes over meaning are settled by the speakers intentions. Similarly, many philosophers and critics appeal to the authors intentions to identify the correct interpretation of a text In a conversation, if somebody said something that could be interpreted different ways you you would probably ask them to clarify what they meant Intentionalism and Interpretation Actual Intentionalism: A works meaning, both explicit and implicit is what it s author intended Hypothetical Intentionalism: the works meaning is determined by the intentions the audience is best justified in attributing to the author. Can be used in conjunction with A.I. Gets around intentionalist fallacy (lecture 4) 12

13 Foucault and the death of the author In his essay What is an Author? Foucault deconstructs the idea of authorship. He concludes that the author function is one way in which society limits the diversity of interpretations which are possible in any text. The author is therefore the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning -Michel Foucault Saint Jerome proposes four criteria: (1) If among several books attributed to an author one is inferior to the others, it must be withdrawn from the list of the author's works (the author is therefore defined as a constant level of value) (2) the same should be done if certain texts contradict the doctrine expounded in the author's other works (the author is thus defined as a field of conceptual or theoretical coherence) (3) one must also exclude works that are written in a different style containing words and expressions not ordinarily found in the writer's production (the author is here conceived as a stylistic unity) (4) finally, passages quoting statements that were made, or mentioning events that occurred after the author's death must be regarded as interpolated texts (the author is here seen as a historical figure at the crossroads of a certain number of events) 13

14 A Compromise? Meaning vs. Significance Stephen Davis argues interpretations do not change a works meaning but they can change its significance. Meaning: fixed by semantic, symbolic and other properties of a text. The object of interpretation is unaffected by being interpreted. Significance: how we think about a work and relate to its values and ideas that lie beyond it. 14

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