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Postmodernism is a movement that appeared as a reaction to modernism. It affects many fields and is very hard to define, and it will remain a vague term throughout my essay. So, since I cannot define postmodernism in my research, I will only be describing it; describing postmodernism through the many fields which it influences, precisely, I will be describing postmodernism through philosophy, critical thinking, architecture and literature, in which I will talk about a postmodern play; Waiting for Godot.
Postmodernism is the movement that can describe the present social, cultural, philosophical and economical state. It has influenced critical thinking, philosophy, architecture, art, literature and culture. There is no clear definition of postmodernism, and defining postmodernism goes against its very essence, that there is no absolute truth or certainty in life. Postmodernism, unlike modernism, does not emphasize on a clear and ultimate objective for humans, nor does it focus on a clear meaning for life. It is highly skeptical of any valid and objective reality; reality is subjective and each person can see it differently. Postmodernism criticizes past philosophies, values and bases and is skeptical about them. A postmodern society always thinks in depth, they believe that under beauty lies misery, and they reject shallow mindedness. Modernism emphasized on principles such as identity, unity and certainty, where postmodernism emphasized on difference, uncertainty and skepticism. Modernism had failed in its quest to find meaning in a chaotic life of wars, economical depressions and such, therefore ending modernism. Postmodernism questions if any meaning in life or any ultimate goal for humans exists.
Postmodernism can be traced towards early novels such as the Arabian Nights, Candide, Decameron, among many others. The movement started as a reaction to modernism since the Second World War, and reached its peak in the 1960s during the decolonization and social revolutions of many countries. It has gone through two phases, one after the cold war and the other is with the explosion of cable television.
Critics of postmodernism can be put into four categories; the first one is the promoters of postmodernism, and goes against modernism. The second one is the ones who believe that postmodernism lacks crucial characteristics that are necessary. The third one is the critics within postmodernism, but wants to change some of its characteristics. And the final one are the ones who believe that postmodernism is not a permanent phase but only a passing phase. One critic, Dick Hebdige, described postmodernism as a buzzword or a "fashion" word. He wrote:
"When it becomes possible for a people to describe as 'postmodern' the décor of a room, the design of a building, the diegesis of a film, the construction of a record, or a 'scratch' video, a television commercial, or an arts documentary, or the 'intertextual' relations between them, the layout of a page in a fashion magazine or critical journal, an anti-teleological tendency within epistemology, the attack on the 'metaphysics of presence', a general attenuation of feeling, the collective chagrin and morbid projections of a post-War generation of baby boomers confronting disillusioned middle-age, the 'predicament' of reflexivity, a group of rhetorical tropes, a proliferation of surfaces, a new phase in commodity fetishism, a fascination for images, codes and styles, a process of cultural, political or existential fragmentation and/or crisis, the 'de-centring' of the subject, an 'incredulity towards 'metanarratives', the replacement of unitary power axes by a plurality of power/discourse formations, the 'implosion of meaning', the collapse of cultural hierarchies, the dread engendered by the threat of nuclear self-destruction, the decline of the university - when it becomes possible to describe all these things as 'Postmodern' (or more simply using a current abbreviation as 'post' or 'very post') then it's clear we are in the presence of a buzzword"
What this quotation implies is that the term Postmodern can be applied to things that are trivial and can also be applied to highly important issues. The term can be used to describe a television commercial or the décor of a room, and also can describe significant matters, such as "the dread engendered by the threat of nuclear self-destruction" or the "collapse of cultural hierarchies".
One of the fields that postmodernism highly influenced is the field of architecture. Modernism believed in "pure" or perfect styles while postmodernist architects used any materials in their reach. For example, modernistic architecture hid concrete, believing that it is an unpleasant sight, so they painted on top of it or covered it in bricks. Postmodern architecture clearly showed every material, style, color and method that was used by the architect. Modernism uses very elegant patterns in architecture, but postmodernism does not care about the "harmony" in these patterns. Postmodern architecture favors variety and personal preference over one "true" way of designing or constructing.
Waiting for Godot is an example of a literary work that can be interpreted as a postmodern text. The play involves two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, who meet at a tree waiting for "Godot". They spend much time waiting for him but he does not appear. A secondary character, Pozzo, tells them that he is a messenger from Godot, and that he will not be able to come today but will surely come tomorrow. So they wait and Godot still does not come the next day, while the messenger insists that he never met the two men. The play ends when Vladimir and Estragon are still waiting for Godot at the tree.
Godot can be interpreted as a powerful or mysterious force or being that could provide meaning or accomplish goals in life. Vladimir and Estragon wait eagerly for him, and they never leave the tree. It is meaning that they are waiting for, and meaning is their salvation, but meaning never appears. Even when they are promised that the "meaning" does exist, and are also promised that if they further wait, they will find "meaning", but Godot does not come. Godot is also referred to as God.
Modernism does believe in a meaning or a purpose for life, but they wait for that purpose without avail. They failed to find that meaning during the world wars, where chaos raged over the world. Vladimir and Estragon's useless waiting for Godot can be a symbol for modernism's quest for meaning. Postmodernism on the other hand doubts if that meaning (Godot) exists in the first place, showing postmodernism's skepticism, disbelief and distrust.
Humans have always believed that there is meaning behind life, and that there is a purpose or goal for living it. In my opinion, we always exaggerate on this, and we try to create meaning even in the midst of chaos. We also sometimes force these objectives onto people and set rules for everyone to follow, in a way such that people can feel trapped. This is what happens in modernism. Postmodernism, however, criticizes the possibility of meaning in life, and does not abide by the rules blindly; it questions these rules and remains skeptical about them, therefore people can break away from these rules, and they are no longer constricted and suppressed. In my opinion, this is the most important feature in postmodernism, and I completely agree with it.