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Analysis From Modernism To Postmodernism Cultural Studies Essay

By contrast to the crystal-clear polarization between successive schools, the nexus in the case of modernism and postmodernism is an epitome of inextricability. It is true that as a period postmodernism comes after modernism, but this “from/to” conjecture puts parties involved in a problematic catch-22. The relational debate and disposition of postmodernism as a sovereign movement still addresses the way and extent to which postmodernism contributes to, or refutes modernism. Much of the controversy also takes place in different critics in order to demarcate each of the two mercurial movements and outline their basic – autonomous – features. No matter how fervent are some of the voices that call for postmodernism’s total rupture from the earlier modernism, nevertheless, the latter movement is still in dept to modernism for at least its verbal existence. “The term thus contains its enemy within, as the term romanticism and classicism, baroque and rococo, do not. Moreover, it denotes temporal linearity and connotes belatedness, even decadence, to which postmodernism would admit”. [1] David Harvey admits as well that he once thought postmodernism “would disappear under the weight of its incoherence”. [2] 

Hence, postmodernism demonstrates almost a distinctive case in the realm of the nomenclature of schools by adopting the controversial prefix “post”. Successive movements, usually, are labelled in a way to highlight their unique specificities that almost always refute their predecessors. Although chronologically superseding it and theoretically repudiating it, romanticism is not, for example, postclassicism. But, by designing the “post-” feature in postmodernism, a direct relationship is foregrounded which is both assimilative and dismissive at the same time.

The prefix can be read, therefore, as a negative rejection of the main word it modifies.

Thus, postmodern discourses and practices are frequently characterized as anti-modern interventions which explicitly break with modern ideologies, styles, and practices that many postmodernists see as oppressive or exhausted. [3] 

It is a break to be interpreted, according to Douglas Kellner and Steven Best, either positively or negatively. This rupture might represent arts as emancipated from the old constraints and g=heading towards new forms of and possibilities. On the other hand, it could denote for some “a loss of traditional values, certainties and stabilities”.

“Post-” also gives the impression of continuity, progression and dependence rather than fissure. For some thinkers, postmodernism has developed to crystallise and intensify the issues and problematics that the modern movement unearthed the first decades of the twentieth century. The basis for this assumption could be mainly taken from these shared aspects, like absurd fragmentation, anti-rationalism and iconoclasm that are common in modern and postmodern art in the traditional years of post-war period, which makes critics like Frank Kermode consider these new artistic modes as “blood-cousin[s] to the earlier tendencies”. [4] For Jean Francois Lyotard, postmodernism is a part of the modern as the cycles of challenge and change are so complementary. “Postmodernism thus understood is not modernism at its end but it the nascent state, and this state is constant”. [5] 

It is a point of view that can develop another extreme turn in declaring a state of equality, even affinity, between the two movements as Denis Corish does in an article entitled “Postmodernism as Modernism” published in the Harvard review of Philosiphy.

Postmodernism is modernism. To be modernist is to aspire to be (and to seem to be) modern above all else. This is the urge behind the notion of “a modern sensibility,” which weighed so heavily with Eliot and other modernists. Now there have been of course many revolt against the influence of Eliot, but nothing so far as I can see, against the essential modernist notion that we need above all else “a modern sensibility.” It has been taken somehow as beyond question that we should be preoccupied with our new age. Now, no doubt, we should be even more modern – and hence “postmodernism”. [6] 

Linda Hutcheon believes that the “debate over the definition of both modernism and postmodernism has now been going on for years . . . There is little firm agreement on their limiting dates, their defining characteristics, even the players in the game”. [7] The paradox for Huctheon is inaugurated by the name itself – postmodernism “signals its contradictory dependence upon and independence from the modernism that both historically preceded it and literally made it possible”. [8] This is what Ihab Hassan calls “semantic instability”, the reason of which he claims are postmodernism’s relative youth” – although it is surpassing now its fiftieth anniversary – and its “semantic kinship” to other current unstable terms. [9] Thus, the points that differentiate or link both movements are more diverse than simply to be summarised in a direct chronological correlation.

Both modernism and postmodernism have a background of radical change and cataclysmic breakthrough. The launch, then, of the two movements fulfils certain historical, cultural and aesthetic needs. Modernism came to revolt against the 10th century literature and the whole of the Victorian frame of mind, and postmodernism riots against that particular modernism. A sense of ending on one hand and of a beginning on the other prevails in these two semicentennial domains. They crystallise the ages of prosperous urbanism, gross manufacturing and dazzling technology.

However, if modernism stands for the age of industrialization, then postmodernism embodies the age of postindustrialization – a phase of consumption. If modernism raps out the lack of communication and irrationality advocated by the avant-grade absurdists and Dadaists, then postmodernist represents the irrational silence brought by the overkilling communication. If modernism practises creating and designing new forms and merging art science, then postmodernism depends on contingent antiform and mixing art with commodity. If modernism is the theory of depth interpretations, then postmodernism canonizes the rhizomatous. If modernism exposes self-fragmentation – the fragmentation of the individual modern character that encounters worldwide wars and tumoural growth of Manhattanised societies, postmodernism nurtures multi-fragmentation – the pluralistic fragmentation of the whole society that faces dispersed local wars and the decline of human figure. While the latter modern societies lived in the shadows of grand political union that are based on the ideology and metanarratives of socioeconomic progress and liberty, the postmodern global village hosts the scattered polymorphous states, which congregate in the process of creating new coalitions more based on economic interest.

Marked as the fin de siècle, modernism witnessed the final years of the long history of the Victorians and the beginning of an age which the modernists wanted to make new with possible means. On the other hand, postmodernism leapt into the 21th century still accompanied by critical controversies and outlooks. A hundred-year span has thus accumulated the fluctuating modern/contemporary evolution of the human thought and has left a scene of much debate and doubt. Questions like “is modernism dead by now?”, “when and how does postmodernism split from modernism?”, “do we need a postmodernism?” or “do we have a postmodern theory now?” are still; therefore, of main significance to trace the trajectory of both trends.

Moreover, the dispute among critics to define modernism is not fully concluded with a unanimous attitude that is able to recognise who the modernist is. A Dadaist is a modernist and so is a futurist. A imagist is also a modernist and so is a surrealist. This is also, not to mention that, these modernists could be Americans, French, German or Russians. “The immense variety of works in all the arts to which the term modernist has been applied constitutes a formidable challenge to any attempt at exactness”. [10] 

Studying modernism, the, should focus initially on the name itself, for modernism is “variously argued to be a period, style, genre, or combination of these; it is first of all a word”. [11] The term according to him can describe either a number of writers and artists at a given period, or a certain attitude towards the modern. This idea conjures up a similar argument by Maclolm Bradbury and James McFarlane, who find two different meaning for the dominant style of the age. It can be a form of thought which affects all the cultural creation of the age or a conscious mannerism acted by some artists. But they maintain that modernism can be hardly understood according to the second notion because of its internationally recognized and domineering status. [12] 

An obfuscating name; therefore, is an issue of modernist debate for Bradbury and McFarlane and causes almost a conflict similar to that of postmodernism. The word “modern”, is generally analogous to the contemporary, an attribute that cannot be applied to postmodernism according to Hutcheon. [13] Marguerite Alexander illustrates Hutcheon’s suggestion by saying:

[F]or many years readers of fiction – the common readers to whm the nineteenth-century novelists addressed their work – the very word carries a suspicious of trickery, for how can anything already acknowledged as existing, postdate the modern, if we can take the ‘modern’ to mean contemporary? [14] 

In this sense, art produced in any era can be considered modern in relation to its age. The contemporary, moreover, changes incessantly. “the notion of the ‘modern’ undergoes semantic shift much faster than similar term of comparable functions, like ‘romantic’ or ‘neo-classical’” [15] , for these terms do not refer directly to a specific time or age but rather to artistic temper.

Here comes Bradbury and McFarlane’s regret for “the inappropriateness of applying so semantically mobile and indeed febrile a term to historically phenomenon we now wish to root in time”. [16] Although they believe it is the only art appropriate for the 20th century, “it is the one art that responds to the scenario of our chaos”. [17] In this turn, Randall Stevenson considers the term “modernism” and “modernist” quite applicable to those artists who thought that modernity was the only solution to break away from the hefty traditions of the Victorian and reshape the new art of the new century. [18] 

Nevertheless, an assortment of terminology is adopted and expressionism like modernism, modernity, modernization, and the modern circulate and address the various aspects of the era roughly declaring a settlement for the issue of the name. However, the history, the essence and main characteristics of this body of thought called modernism needs further inspection. Bradbury and McFarlane, like most modernist researches, periodise the movement from 1890 to 1930 – the crucial years of reaping the Enlightenment scientific and technological findings and the economic welfare of the turn of the century, as Alan Bullock suggests, [19] along with the artists’ deep rejection of the “outdated” cultural form and social styles of the 19th century.

[I]t can be said that the world of 1910 was felt to be much more complex that the world as it had been before, and especially more complex than the orderly world that had been presented to the reader in Victorian Literature. The war of 1914-1918 dramatically crystallized and hastened the change. The sense of complexity was to be the modernist writer’s fundamental recognition. [20] 

This was the age when reason and science had a Messianic mission in modernising the world. These traditional years witnessed the rapid growth of the European central cities and the initiation of the metropolis built by emergent bourgeoisie (as compared and juxtaposed to the postmodern metropolis). “This was the shape of the twentieth-century European and American society: urbanized, industrialized, mechanized, its life shaped to the routine of factory or office”. [21] Capitalism and imperialism became the social ideology that made people rejoice following the announcement of war.

In the wake of the shattering World War I, artistic and social views and consciousness changed towards a more rebellious yet domineering avant-gardism. It was hard in any case for European societies, witnessing the atrocities of war, to keep the strict Victorian morals and social systems. The urgency of change grew significantly for modernism.

Instead of the one period of modernism, it might be more accurate to speak of a number in which there have been preoccupations with modernity, and even . . . of a doomed and paradoxical need to reject the past that is an aspect of all writing. [22] 

The avant-grade campaign of total denunciation and revolution can be considered, therefore, as the official mission statement of the modern movement. For Terry Eagleton, it is this avant-gardism that postmodern art and culture parody. Aggressive as he always is, he pronounces postmodernism as “among other things a sick joke at the expense of such revolutionary avant-gardism”. [23] Eagleton, according to David Lodge in his introduction to Eagleton’s article in The Modern Literary Theory: A Reader, rejects postmodernism art because he is nostalgic to the achievements of the classical modernist art. [24] These achievements came in response to the social and cultural upheavals the years of the 19th century and the first years of the 20th century witnessed. “What is parodied is not one of which it could be said to be particularly conscious. What is parodied by postmodernism, culture is nothing less than the revolutionary art of the twentieth century avant-garde”. [25] 

The pace of life changed dramatically. Concepts of time and space started to take new forms while shrinking faster almost every day. A synchronized time was of a major importance during the war both in battle grounds and factories. “The regulative apparatus bound to each wrist began to dictate the organization and timing not only of work and leisure, but of death”. [26] Greenwich Mean Time was introduced and it helped to set the parameters for an internationally scheduled repositioning of region and objects. Mechanical life produced stress and demanded thus a new life style. “The defining characteristic of Modernism was its insistence that the mind be subjected to this wholly new kind of stress”. [27] The ordered life of the European civilised societies was soon to collapse during the war leaving modernists with the awareness of all the confusion, emptiness and nihilism lying beneath the shiny surface. All remains for some writers like Ernest Hemingway is to pray for “nada”. [28] 

The alternative attempt for other writers was to create the new solid art in all the possible domains of life and culture that could defy contemporary void, chaos, havoc and the mechanised unification of the aspects of human society. Art came to replace religion, beliefs, ethical codes and ultimate faith in science and reason.

In its own way art also provided a kind of substitute faith or system of values at the time. Especially in the 1890s – and in the life and work of Oscar Wild in particular – aestheticism and the doctrine of art for art’s sake offered a kind of alternative code of conduct, a substitute for conventional morality. [29] 

Modernist poets and novelists became, thus, the Nietzschean Supermen who could elevate art to the highest peaks of lofty aesthetics “ensuring that a work of art should be nothing but a work of art”. [30] In this respect, one of the most notable manifestoes of the age is Oscar Wilde’s preface to his masterpiece, The Picture of Dorian Gray, in which Wilde declares that the mission of art is merely creating art. Furthermore, the artist according to wild is a creator of Beauty which masks the artist and the background leaving the work of art as an established entity. This is what Bradbury and McFarlane call “Flaubertian dream” of writing “a book about nothing, a book without external attachments, which would hold itself together by itself through the internal force of its style”. [31] Except for representing its own craft and style “in pursuit of a deeper penetration of life” and consciousness [32] “art is quite useless”. [33] 

The modernists’ mission, was t produce fresh ways of perception through the representation of their inner comprehension of it. All the streams of consciousness, impressionists, and cubist painting thus helped modernists to subjectively sketch how they see the surrounding world and its objects rather than merely depict what they see.

One of the word’s [modernism] associated with is the coming of a new era of high aesthetic self-consciousness and non-representationalism, in which art turns from realism and humanistic representation towards style, technique, and spatial form in pursuit of a deeper penetration of life. ‘No artist tolerate reality’, Nietzsche tells us; the task is its own self-realization. [34] 

In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce paints a gradually maturing portrait for his self-conscious character, Stephen Dedalus. This artistic bildungsroman traces fragments of Stephen’s intimate feelings, memories and thoughts through different stages of his life from his early childhood to his adulthood. Form “Once upon a time” [35] , the most conventional beginning of a story narrative, Joyce suddenly breaks into the most unconventional narrative of an infant gibbering thoughts and sensations that seem like “a pure nonsense”. [36] Words like “botheth”, “moocow”, “nicens” or “tuckoo” [37] definitely cannot be found in English dictionary but it is absolutely possible to find them in the mind of a small child “who, rather than trying to make order out of the world, presents the way he is besieged by numerous sensations and impulses. Thus, the first page of the novel is an attempt to reproduce faithfully a child’s experience”. [38] 

A revolution, hence, in the concept and the role of language engulfs modernism from Wilde’s epigrammatic language to Joyce’s enigmatic discourses and makes “language a central issue” for modernist writers. [39] 

Language, for some of the modernists, was resented in certain aspects . . . another until of the ‘mechanical . . . materio-static’ forces restricting or ravishing rather than truely representing life. In this way, words and language – the very medium of their art – became for some of the modernists, as Eugene Jolas suggests, a real problem. [40] 

A dichotomy between the world and the word and between the individual, the surrounding and the language he/she uses developed and problematized the age and its artistic production. Luigie Pirandello in a highly modernist work, Six characteristics in Search of an Author, exposes this condition with an illuminating comment on the nature of language:

But isn’t that the cause of all trouble? Words! We all have a world of things inside ourselves and each one of us has his own private world. How can we understand each other if the words I use have the sense and value that expects them to have, but whoever is listening to me inevitably thinks those same words have a different sense and value, because of the private world he has inside himself too. We think we understand each other; but we never do. [41] 

By acquiring this subjectivised identity, language was influenced by two influential figures in the debate – Ferdinand de Saussure and Sigmund Freud. Saussure directed the attention towards the arbitrariness of language as a system of signs – words and concepts – that connect haphazardly to each other in individual’s mind, while Freud “encouraged the kind of deeper attention to invidual consciousness that appears in modernism”. [42] Thus, modernists sought what Bradbury and McFarlane call “self-signature” [43] in creating what Jose Ortega y Gasset identifies as “an artistic art”. [44] In this respect, they differ from posmodernist artists who promote common experiences and products within popular contexts and styles. Modernists, like James Joyce and T.S. Eliot, to name but two of the most celebrated modernists, refused mush of the preconceived lexicon and strove to create new words, as in A Portrait of the Artist as a Yong Man and Ulysses, or heighten the levels of linguistic tension and paradoxicality, as in The Waste Land.

If language stands for what Ortega y Gasset considers the glass that separates reality and spectator, then, for modernists, this glass should be as thick, scratched and opaque as possible in order to block reality and display art because the “clearer the glass, the less we see it”. [45] Whereas this kind of writing is preferable for the Victorian novelists, who considered language a s a neutral or transparent medium that leads to the rich content of morals, struggle, misery and relationships, modernists wanted to draw the attention rather to the language itself not to its message, so that “language sees ceases to be what we see through, and becomes what we see”. [46] It is the “sovereignty of language”. [47] Therefore, in the Victorian age, language used to transfer and convey meanings and it gave the illusion of an outward “real” world with all its familiar objects. This is why it “should have been so popular, since it was appreciated by the majority in proportion to its not being art, but extract from life”. [48] 

However, what happens when art grows tired of meaningful contents and discovers the nothingness that haunts the verbal communication is total loss of meaning. Consequently, art and literature should no more rummage for global principles and moral lessons or strive to expose social ills and explore historical struggles. Art, or meta-art, should be rather preoccupied “with the complexities of its own form”. [49] 

There is no such a thing as moral or an immoral book.

Books are well written, or badly written. That is all. . . .

No artist desires to prove a thing. . . .

No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style. . . .

Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art. [50] 

Literature, therefore, regained its aesthetic character during the modernist era. For modernists, novels are artefacts of art, beauty and creation. The writing of the novel, an addition, is a sufficient purpose for a novel. Poetry is a body of imagery and a battlefield of conflicting met-language not of winds that change socio-political conditions, because “[l]ife is one thing, poetry another”. [51] 

There may be a poverty in the universe and a trauma in man, but the artist has the means to transcend both history and reality by the disposition of his technique, creating Joyce’s ‘luminous silent stasis of aesthetic pleasure. [52] 

To achieve the desired uniqueness, modernist artists went self-consciously inwards to explore the possibilities of art and language and to “search for a style in a highly individualistic sense”. [53] Writing became about the art itself and language itself as the content of the work. Form is “not simply an enabling means for handling the content, but in some essential sense bring the content”. [54] This is a reversal from the languageless message to the messageless language which distinguishes the twentieth century.

In the realm of visual arts, many painters revealed much of their inner conflicts and feelings by heavy strokes of the brush and spaces of colours, shades and lights. “Modern painting was about painting – self- absorbed, self-possessed, exploring its own primary possibilities: all possible interactions between perception, memory, identity”. [55] Modernists, unlike postmodernists, sought a complete work of art. “The movements towards sophistication and mannerism, towards introversion, technical display, internal self-scepticism, has often been taken as a common base for a definition of modernism”. [56] They strived to design new centres and fill them up with their robust aesthetic achievements, unlike postmodernist artists who pile up as many diverse little stories and miscellaneous goods as possible in a playful contingent process. Modernists, on the other hand, had “an awareness of contingency as a disaster in the world of time”. [57] 

This art is what John Fletcher and Malcolm Bradbury call the introverted novel, which should be “distinguished from something familiar in the entire history of fiction and somewhat analogous, the mood of self conscious narration”. [58] Accordingly, there have been always what can be called self-aware meta-novels that draw the attention to process and techniques of narration especially in the eighteenth century. Yet, modernist novels take another step forward. While the earlier novels, through their adoption of self-conscious methods, authorised the narrator to autonomously parody the genre, the modernist introverted narration “drew attention to the autonomy of the fictive structure itself”. [59] 

Thus, the modernist novelists went to build up “an entire writerly career” that challenges the realistic world of the nineteenth century’s fiction in order to construct “an art that does not report the world, but creates it”. [60] Fletcher and Bradbury and Stevenson, by adopting Ronald Barthes’s terminology of the readerly (lisible) and writierly (scriptble) texts [61] , agree on considering modernist fiction as a writerly one which engages the reader in a partnership with the novelist. Thus, the readers of the modernist fiction are “forced to become writers themselves ­– or at least enter into an active collaboration with the author, who obliges them to construe meanings and develop the text’s significance for themselves”. [62] However, the modernist scriptibility becomes mere lisibility, as Hassan confirms when comparing to the writerly postmodernism.

Almost all critics agree that modernists, in creating a grandiose fortress of aesthetics, rejected the former standards of realism and the outside world and navigate the maze of the human mind instead. For modernists the material reality is dull and flat when judged by the criteria of rich art and torrid psyche.

Hence the novel is implicitly design and deign only, a form of art and joy, a world pleasured by its own making. Reality itself being offensively literal or hideously surreal, the novel has thus tended to become . . . a particular occasion of order – or disorder – to set against all other forms of orders, or disorders. [63] 

Moreover, by setting themselves free from the bonds of the material world, modernist novels “explore the poverty of reality and powers of art”. [64] This is embodies in the difference between the school of facts in Charles Dickens’ Hard Times and the Clongowes Wood Collage in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. “The scene was a plain, bare, monotonous vault of a schoolroom”. [65] In short sentences, Dickens, neutrally, draws a solid study room, but how can a reader know how the students themselves perceive this place. Moreover, what do readers know of Sissy Jupe’s feelings when she is scolded by Thomas Gradgrind? She “would have blushed deeper, if she could have blushed deeper than she had blushed all this time”. [66] The case is opposite when it comes to Stephen’s inner conflict and pain when he is unjustly punished by the perfect of studies. This is one of his stream of consciousness related to this event:

It was wrong: it was unfair and cruel: and, as he sat in the refectory, he suffered time after time in memory the same humiliation until he began to wonder whether it might not really be that there was something in his face which made him look like a schemer and he wished he had a little mirror to see. But there could not be; and it was unjust and cruel and unfair. [67] 

In this sense, it becomes hard not to admit that modernism succeeded in creating an art which is ultimately aesthetic and radically new, yet superiorly elitist and idiosyncratically anti-popular. This represents the era known as “high modernism” which is almost always contrasted with the pop culture of postmodernism. It is when art turned to be the scared object of the elitist artists. Modernist art, according to Ortega y Gasset in “The Dehumanization of Art”, posits itself against the masses who show irritation brought by their lack of comprehension. In this respect, modernism is stylistically differentiated from the popular postmodernism. Gasset claims that

People like a work of art that succeeds in involving them in the human destinies it propounds . . . And they say a work is ‘good’ when it manages to produce the quantity of illusion necessary for the imaginary characters to rate as living persons. In poetry, they look for the loves and the griefs of the man behind the poet. In paintings, they will be attracted only to those pictures where they find men and women who would be interesting to know. . . . In essence, the object which concerns them in art, which serves as the focus of their attention and the rest of their faculties, is the same as in everyday life; human being and their passions. [68] 

As coeval with the apex of modernism, this argument, ahead of time, depicts the forthcoming rebellion of pop art, that of Andy Warhol’s soup cans and shoes which will become the epitome of a postmodern art. The art of commodity and consumerism, which in most cases succeeds in involving the public passionately in experiencing objects that they see and use every day, turns to be galleried art. In this sense, postmodernism stages itself as the revolution of the public against the ivory-towered artists of modernism.

Hence, the time has come for a fundamental change. Modernism went on and succeeded in obtaining much exquisite attention and circulation for a long time, but it grew time worn. According to Bradbury and McFarlane, modernism is something that progresses in company with and at the speed of the years” [69] , and can adapt itself to the developments in theory and practise. Therefore, the “modernist spirit was not to be constructed as a period phenomenon, but as a permanent and irreversible condition of cultural life”. [70] 

What has happened is the decline of high modernism as the official culture of Europe and the States in favour of the advent of pop postmodern cultural diversity. The urgency of the postmodern term comes from the fact that art and culture has not only developed but they have categorically changed. Indeed, people wanted them to change. This was in part due to the transformations that postmodernism itself underwent between the two world wars and after the second one. Definitions according to Bradbury and McFarlane have a strong relationship with the changeable socio-political and cultural situations. Modernism is used today “historically to locate a distinct stylistic phase which ceasing or has ceased (hence the current circulation of counters like Proto-Modernism, Palaeo-Modernism, Neo-Modernism and Post-Modernism). [71] 

It is true that the tremendous artistic, cultural and social upheavals of modernism sought to destroy most of the prevailing status-quo instead of merely revising the old traditions in the light of the emergent trends of modernisation. “The old patterns have been broken up: this time they were not replaced”. [72] However, modernism revolutionary gust started to transform into a nostalgic reiteration of the past’s achievements as Hilton Kramer proclaims. Modernism was converted to be the official culture in museums, universities, conferences, and almost everywhere else. “Thus, through a series of enlightened adjustments and measured increments, the revolte impulses of the avant-garde were absorbed into the cultural mainstream”. [73] 

Modernism became the canon –the sanctified shrine of eminent aesthetics, which produced novels and poems like Ulysses and The Waste Land that only a few people – the elitists – could read. “Whatever modernism’s historical and social ideals at its inception, by the end of the Second World War its innovatory promises had become symbols – and causes – of alienation and dehumanization”. [74] Lyotard demands that art should be popularized again and that artists and writers “must be brought back into the bosom of the community, or at least if the latter is considered to be ill, they must be assigned the task of healing it”. [75] Modernism, hence, lost its revolutionary dimensions and artistic production no longer socks the public as a result of that process of academic canonisation.

There is surely one of the most plausible explanations for the emergence of postmodernism, itself, since the younger generation of 1960s will now confront the formerly oppositional modern movement as a set of dead classics, which “weigh like a nightmare on the brains of the living,” as Marx once said in a different context. [76] 

The time has come now to enquire whether modernism has expired and left its place to an emergent (posterior) postmodernism, which started to mature, as most critics agree, around the second half of the twentieth century. This was the time of the “waning or extinction of the hundred-year-old modern movement” as Fredric Jameson describes the “break” that took place. Although Bradbury and McFarlane claim that “the argument around Post-Modernism now add to the abundance of the versions of Modernism” [77] , most theorists think that postmodernism plays a greater role and creates its own overabundance of definitions. Hence, new trends started to arise in 1960s and critics like Ihab Hassan, Leslie Fiedler and Susan Sontag were amongst the emergent voices that theorised the postmodern.

They argued that the work of postmodernism was deliberately less unified, less obviously ‘masterful’, more playful of anarchic, more concerned with the process of our understanding than with the pleasure of artistic finish or unity, less inclined to hold a narrative together, and certainly more resistance to a certain interpretations, than much of the art that had proceeded it. [78] 

Hassan is one of the first thinkers who schematise the relationship that brings together/sets apart the double phases of the twentieth century’s culture. In his highly anthologized article “Towards a Concept of Postmodernism”, he relates most of his decisions to issues of history and change, where he attributes most of the obscurities and separability of the term to historical instability and development of literary terms. Yet, he admits the unfeasibility of splitting modernism and postmodernism by an Iron Curtain “for history is a palimpsest, and culture is permeable to past, time present, and time future”. [79] This brings forth Hassan’s historical view of the postmodern as a revisionary continuation through a sea change, keeping a prospect for revolutionary discontinuation though.

Most of the points discussed earlier in this chapter take presence in one of the most well-known juxtapositional tablurisations of the postmodern debate – Hassan’s Schema. In his chart, he illustrates a list of binary attributes of modernism and postmodernism that highlights its intentional preference for the right-hand column that contains that postmodern terminology. It also puts the two trends in full critical confrontations.

Modernism

Postmodernism

Romanticism / Symbolism

Pataphysics, Dadism

Form (conjunctive, closed)

Antiform (disjunctive, open)

Purpose

Play

Design

Chance

Hierarchy

Anarchy

Mastery / Logos

Exhaustion / Silence

Art Object / Finished Work

Process / Performance / Happening

Distance

Participation

Creation / Totalisation

Decreation / Deconstruction

Synthesis

Antithesis

Presence

Absence

Centring

Dispersal

Genre / Boundary

Text / Intertext

Semantics

Rhetoric

Paradigm

Syntagm

Hypotaxis

Parataxis

Metaphor

Metonymy

Selection

Combination

Root / Depth

Rhizome / Surface

Interpretation / Reading

Against interpretations / Misreading

Signified

Signifier

Lisible (Readerly)

Scriptable (writerly)

Narrative / Grand Histoire

Anti-narrative / Petit Histoire

Master Code

Idiolect

Symptom

Desire

Type

Mutant

Genital / Phallic

Polymorphous / Androgynous

Paranoia

Schizophrenia

Origin / Cause

Difference- Difference / Trace

God The Father

The Holy Ghost

Metaphysics

Irony

Determinacy

Indeterminacy

Transcendence

Immanence [80] 

Hutcheon, on the other hand, advocates a principle of “both/and” rather than one of “either/or”. For her, postmodernism is both a break with and a continuation of modernism.

[T]his “either/or” suggests a resolution of what I see as the resolvable contradiction within postmodernism. For example I would see it less as a case of postmodern play versus modernist purpose, as Hassan claims, than a case play with purpose. The same is true of all his oppositions: postmodernism is the process of making the product; it is absence within presence, it is dispersal that needs centring in order to be dispersal; it is idiolect that wants to be, but knows it cannot be, the master code; it is immanence denying yet yearning to be transcendence. [81] 

Similarly, Jim Powell believes that postmodernism does not preserve the concept of binary opposition. Instead, postmodernism deconstructs it, especially that “we are all cyborgs”. [82] 

However, Hassan depicts the very differences that postmodernists concur with – the verticality of modernism and the horizontality of postmodernism. Modernism is generally associated with achievements deeply rooted in human consciousness and with the hierarchy of western tree-like thought which goes back to Plato. It is then the determinate language of the phallus. But Hassan claims that postmodernism champions dispersed surfaces and goes for a combination of androgynous words. In a novel like The Crying of Lot 49, for instance, the historical background of Oedipa Mass’ puzzle is not the deep basis of the whole novel, but rather the ironical surface that connects different nodes of the story in a playful intertext. This is the postmodern world where almost all root-like institutions have given way to rhizomatous clubs.

Citing again the great shift of Lyotard’s proposition of rejecting grand narratives, one can highlight, examining the many connotations of this notion, a palpable rupture between the movements. Eliminating the totality of the grand narratives means a breakthrough and a transformation of the previously held ideas on distinct locality, cultural identity, homogenous society and nuclear family to name just a few outcomes. Society and the state have changed in an age of gross capital dominance and multiculturalism. Modernism and postmodernism, therefore,

Would still remain utterly distinct in their meaning and social function, owing to the very different positioning of postmodernism in the economic system of late capital and, beyond that, to the transformation of the very sphere of cultural contemporary society. [83] 

It is because of this immense change that the world needed a concept to express the new situation and this was postmodernism.

The final “buzzword” in the debate will be for Dick Hedbige in his brilliant article “The Bottom Line on Planet One.” In this article, Hedbige carries out a vital comparison between two magazines, two worlds and two movements. The model for his discussion is, consequently, Ten 8, an art and education magazine, and THE FACE, a pop culture and fashion one. The first magazine stands for the textual order of power and knowledge. It represents thus a world of historical and hierarchal evolution.

This world goes on turning, as it turns, its single essence is unfolded by time. Each moment – watched, argued over and recorded by the scripts – is a point on a line that links a past which is either known or potential knowable to a future which is eternally uncertain. Each moment is like a word in a sentence and this sentence is called history. [84] 

THE FACE, stands for a world of image. Truth and depth are not important in this world and language has a mirror role. Knowledge in this world “is assembled and dispensed to the Public by a motley gang of bricoleurs, ironists, designers, publicists, Image consultants, homes et femme fatales, market researchers, pirates, adventures, flaneurs and dandies”. [85] Everything also in this second world is a commodity.

In this second – postmodern – world, called THE FACE by Hebdige, all the artistic, cultural, political and social boundaries and limitations are crossed and subverted. This world is floating on the surface of countless bunches of changing and renewed signifiers.

THE FACE a magazine which goes out of its way every month to blur the line between politics and parody and pastiche; the street, the stage, the screen; between purity and danger; the main stream and the ‘margins’: to flatten out the world. [86] 

This world of constant cruising movement is different from the first world on this particular level of involvement in the depth of things. “And this separation of pleasure/use value from any pledge/commitment to ‘love honour and obey’ the diktats of the text constitute the ‘epistemological break’ which divides Planet 1. from Planet 2.” [87] 

The bottom lines for these two planets are also diverse and keep them apart thematically, theoretically and stylistically. In Planet 2. “nothing adds up to much anything anymore, where you live to be alive. Because flatness is the friend of death and Death is the Great Leveller. That’s the bottom line on Planet Two”. [88] For everything to be flat and smoothened with everything else is the perfect state of affairs in Face World. However,

this earth is round not flat, that there will never be an end to judgement, that the ghosts will go on gathering at the bitter line which separates truth from lies, justice from injustice, Chile, Biafra and all other avoidable disasters from all of us, whose order is built upon their chaos. And that . . . is the bottom line on Planet 1. [89] 


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