The Idea Of Post Modernism Cultural Studies Essay

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The idea of 'post-modernism' can be defined in one of two ways, firstly as a historical period, encompassing the political, economic, social effects of the present; and secondly as a deliberate movement involving the arts, culture, philosophy, and as a cultural fashion which challenges and subverts the dominance of modernism. Hebdige defines postmodernism as:

As a theoretical framework postmodernism challenges the core values of both modernity in society, and modernism in the arts; which is reflected in the production and reception of the arts, and is highlighted in a new mood or sensibility of the postmodern world. Storey defines this further as:

"…a sensibility in revolt against modernism now canonised as the official culture of the capitalist world order...The postmodern 'new sensibility' rejected the cultural elitism of modernism….The response of the postmodern 'new sensibility' to modernism's canonisation was a re-evaluation of popular culture." (Storey, 1994, p.345)

There are a number of conditions and qualities which have been identified as being postmodern; firstly, there is a suspicion and rejection of 'Master Narratives' for history and culture. Instead there is a preference for local narratives, and an ironic deconstruction of the master narratives, with a positivity for recognitions of 'counter-myths' of origins of thought. Also postmodernism celebrates the differences of historical perspectives presented by multiculturalism, and encompasses the infusion of different identities and ideologies; which in turn cause a further view of multiple perspectives of 'history'.

Jean-François Lyotard was a key thinker of postmodernism and suggested that postmodernism was both a historical and cultural state of being, based on the essential dissolution of master or meta-narratives in society. Barry states Lyotard's position in that:

" 'Grand narratives' of progress and human perfectibility, then, are no longer tenable and the best we can hope for is a series of 'mininarratives', which are provisional, contingent, temporary, and relative and which provide a basis for the actions of specific groups in particular local circumstances. Postmodernity thus 'deconstructs' the basic aim of the Enlightenment, that is the 'idea of a unitary end of history and of a subject." (Barry, 1995, p.83)

For Lyotard the master or grand narratives of movements such as "Christianity, Marxism, and the Enlightenment" (Bennett & Royle, 1995, p.282) are no longer relevant in a postmodern age, as there are a number of cultural and historical movements in play in the postmodern experience:

"Lyotard argues that the contemporary 'world-view', by contrast, is characterized by 'little narratives'. Contemporary Western discourse is characteristically unstable, fragmented, dispersed - not a world-view at all." (Bennett and Royle, 1995, p.282)

This inevitably causes a breakdown in ideology and therefore the idea of 'core' or centralized identities. There is also a rejection of any sort of totalizing theories, with postmodernism there is a pursuit of localizing and contingent theories. Another condition of postmodernism is the desire for social and cultural pluralism, disunity, and the recognition that in a postmodern world there are no definite clear bases for social, national, or ethnic unity. Postmodernism is also sceptical of the idea of progress, and takes an anti-technology reaction to the notion of scientific development, instead preferring the ideas of alternative philosophies and new age religions.

A key aspect of postmodernism is the questioning of identity, cultural representations and historical documentation, raising questions of authenticity in regards to history. Postmodernism questions the value and truth of 'reality', whereby we come to question 'what is reality?', and how much of what is viewed as reality, or history is a representation. The representation of 'reality' is then presented to us as viewers and mediated through other sources. Another key postmodernist thinker was Baudrillard and his ideas of postmodernism are:

"….associated with what is usually known as 'the loss of the real', which is the view that in contemporary life the pervasive influence of images from film, TV, and advertising has led to a loss of the distinctions between these are eroded." (Barry, 1995, p.84)

The history and events of the world are therefore presented to us as a narrative; this is problematic, because all narratives are constructed through ideologically based mediums, such as the media in newspapers and television. Baudrillard's essay "The Gulf War Did Not Take Place" is a key text in postmodernism. Although in the spirit of 'true postmodernism' Baudrillard's ideas are sometimes misconstrued; as Bennett and Royle point out:

"Jean Baudrillard offers an analysis of the way that the first Gulf War was as much a function of televisual and other media representations as of anything else. Despite the controversial nature of his title, Baudrillard is not so much suggesting that there was no war as that in an unprecedented way its very actuality was and remains indissoluble from media representations." (Bennett and Royle, 1995, p.282)

Frederic Jameson also looked at the postmodern movement in relation to the arts and cultural artefacts and practices. He saw postmodernism as causing a new wave of arts which were directly affected and founded in the societal changes caused by late capitalism. As Hebdige points out:

"For Jameson, postmodernism is more than just a particular cultural style; it is above all 'the cultural dominant' of late or multinational capitalism. This is capitalism in its purest form, reaching the parts of the social formation that other stages of capitalism were unable to reach. According to Jameson, postmodernism is marked by pastiche, depthless intertextuality, and schizophrenia. It is a culture in which 'real' history is displaced by nostalgia. The result is a discontinuous flow of perpetual presents." (Hebdige,1986, p.347)

Fredric Jameson linked postmodernism with the influx of capitalism in Western societies. Human beings in the postmodern era are therefore more concerned with the fulfilment of desires and placed as consumers in society, rather than being subjects in a society driven by basic needs such as the necessity of hunger, shelter and clothing.

With regards to the arts, postmodernism is a key movement of self-reflexivity in the practice, production and consumption of the arts. In the postmodern era there are no assumptions of how the arts should be consumed or created; there is a move towards irony, contradictions, and juxtapositioning. Postmodern arts embrace the 'confusion' of amalgamating and intertwining 'high' and 'low' culture together, this means that:

"…Postmodernism is often taken to refer to any work of art which knowingly refers to its own status as a work of art, or which otherwise, from the position as elite art form, jokingly addresses the status of the art object through construction from or reference to popular culture, thereby collapsing distinctions between high and low." (Wolfreys, Robbins and Womack, 2002, p.67)

There is a tendency to move away from the categorizing of the arts into such categories. Instead there is a celebration of pop and mass culture. Another key aspect of the postmodern is in the playfulness in which rules and regulations are challenged, there is a tendency to use irony and pastiche in the arts. Postmodern arts and culture are prone to be a mixture of forms and genre, with a tendency to have many instances of hybridity and intertextuality. This is seen as a positive experience because:

"…fragmentation is an exhilarating, liberating phenomenon, symptomatic of our escape from the claustrophobic embrace of fixed systems of belief. In a word, the modernist laments fragmentation while the postmodernist celebrates it." (Barry, 1995, p.81)

In the postmodern world there is a distrust of national political movements and instead a positive focus and investment in micro politics, identity politics, local politics, and institutional power struggles; these aspects tie in with another key idea, in the sense of fragmentation across society and culture. The postmodern world is concerned with the 'de-centered' self, where there is a possibility of multiple, conflicting identities for all.

On a personal level this is reflected even in the way that society is constructed, such as in a recognition of alternative family units, rather than the 'typical' model of heterosexual family units; in postmodern societies there are possibilities of multiple identities for partnerships, couplings and child raising. This is reflected in the attitudes towards sexuality, with the exposure of repressed sexuality and homosexuality as a definite reality in society. All these aspects and ideas contribute to the sense of subverted order, loss of centralized control, and fragmentation which are key to postmodernism. As Brooker and Brooker point out there is a danger in 'defining' postmodernism because:

"…it at the same time raises but does not answer the query of how any philosopher-critic can be in a position to mount a grand, generalising account such as Lyotard's own, about the postmodern condition. Hence a charge of inconsistency is added to the common complaint about postmodernism's generalities, slipperiness and pessimism." (Brooker and Brooker, 1997, p.3)

Therefore postmodernism moves away from the control and power structures of polycentric power sources, and highlight the dispersal, dissemination, and networking of distributed knowledge and power. While at the same time trying to define postmodernism, is in itself contrary to the essential aspects and ideas of 'Postmodernity'.