Postmodernism Essay Research Paper PostmodernismThe postmodern condition

Postmodernism Essay, Research Paper


The postmodern condition can bee seen and experienced in our everyady lives. Anything from the decor of a room, to societal and economical shifts can be, and are, decribed as postmodern. While modernism looks beyond material truth and searches for abstract truth, postmodernism sees no abstract or universal truth. It attempts to subvert the distincton between “high” and “low” culture; likewise, it carries no distinctions between “good” and “bad.” Unlike modernism, which sees history as something we can learn from for the future, postmodern theory says the future is indeterninate; we cannot learn from the past and we can live only in the present. Works of art and science (as is history) are seen as texts, understood only in themselves and are not, what modern theory suggests, windows to the truth.

Jean-Francois Lyotard views the condition of postmodernism as “marked by a crisis in the status of knowledge in Western societies (174).” He believes that stability and order are maintained in modern societies by what he calls metanarratives. Metanarratives are stories told to explain the belief sysytems that exist within a society . Postmodernism is the critique of these metanarratives, knowing that these stories are told to mask the unavoidable instabilities in any society by categorizing and stating that disorder really is bad and order really is good. Postmodernism rejects these stories and, instead, advocates mini-narratives, which are situational, temporary, and make no claim be universal or the absolute truth. His main focus is on the narrative within the scientific realm. According to Storey, Lyotard feels that science has become less philosphical and based more on perfomability, guided by what the powers demand (175). In viewing popular culture from this angle, the metanarrative of separating the good from the bad must be erased. He sees the postmodern culture as the prerequiset to a new modernism; it must break from one modernism in order to become a new one.

Jean Baudrillard represents an extreem view of postmodernism where our postmodern world is no longer real, but only a simulation of the real. He says that the signs that used to represent things are drained of their meaning, becoming a hyperreality. Our mass society is dominated by the supremacy of signs over things, which develops simulation. Our society is viewed as one that has lost touch with reality and is subject to mediatization. Mediatization is a process where symbols become increasingly mediated by apparatuses of the media industry. The central apparatus in our case is the television. This mediatization leads to lack of real interacton between people. Representations become more important than the real thing. These representations, or signs, become the term he uses, simulacra–they have no relation to reality and are pure simulation. He leaves us with the conclusion that there is no absolute truth or underlying meaning; there are only different versions of things.

Frederic Jameson, a Marxist, says postmodernism corresponds to a phase of late capitalism. He argues that within each society, only one cultural mode will dominate the rest. “Postmodernism is ‘the cultural dominant’ of multinational capitalism, which places emphasis on marketing, selling, and consuming commodities (not producing them). One of his central ideas was that of commodification. In this process, things that were practical parts of everyday life and not normally parts of “culture” now are products to be commodified. This creates the “culture industry”. Another idea is that there is a breakdown in destunguishing culture from the society that produces it. In this light, postmodernism “marks the ‘death of the subject’, the end of individualism (185).” He uses the example of nostalgia films (i.e. Back to the Future) which do not try to recapture the past, but instead are satisfied with cultural myths and stereotypes about the past, offering a “false realism”. He calls the postmodern culture “schitzophrenic” claiming it suffers from “historical amnesia” functioning only in the present. The postmodern culture is seen as hopelessly commercial where culture is economic instead of ideological.

I agree with Storey whan he says that postmodern has become a buzz word; it seems to be the latest trend. But, I agree with Lyotard s reasoning that we have to be postmodern in order to reach a mew modernism. As I look around myself, I can clearly see all the metanarratives he addresses and it becomes very disturbing. Personally, I try to use the mini-narratives he prefers because everything is relative and isn t only black and white. With Baudrillard, however, I do not believe that there is absolutly no underlying meaning, but our society is certainly heading toward that direction. People prefer to live through their computers instead if interacting directly with the world around them. But, can you bame them? There are certainly pleanty of unpleasant things we would rather ingnore than live with in this world (traffic, pollution, crime). Jameson is definetly right that we sell ourselves a false realism of the past. There are certainly facts about the mid-20th century that have been pretty well concealed; for example, nuclear and boilogical testing on our own citizens, which is denied up to this day by classified government documents nobody is allowed to see. Not to mention the false realism about the nuclear arms race with the former Soviet Union; the U.S. dreamed up that they had more weapons than we did only to justify paying for nulcear defenses.


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