The Modernday Dictionary of Deceived Ideas offers this definition of postmodernism "This word has no meaning. Use it as often as possible."
Mike Featherstone, who quotes this dictionary, offers a more serious discussion of what postmodernism means when applied to artistic movemements. He gives this summary of the sensibility of modernism: "The basic features of modernism [ie, the high modernism of Joyce, Eliot, Picasso, Stravinsky] can be summarized as: an aesthetic of self-consciousness and reflexiveness; a rejection of narrative structure in favour of simultaneity and montage; an exploration of the paradoxical, ambiguous and uncertain open-ended nature of reality; and a rejection of the notion of an integrated personality in favour of an emphasis upon the de-structured, de-humanized subject." Featherstone understatedly notes that "one of the problems with trying to understand postmodernism in the arts is that many of these features are appropriated into various definitions of postmodernism."
Featherstone cites writers who claim that "the term 'postmodernism' was first used by Federico de Onis in the 1930s to indicate a minor reaction to modernism." "Postmodernity" dates from 1947, when it was used by Toynbee to describe a coming cycle of Western history. Featherstone continues, "The term became popular in the 1960s in New York when it was used by young artists, writers and critics. . . .to refer to a movement beyond the 'exhausted' high modernism which was rejected because of its institutionalization in the museum and the academy. It gained wider usage in architecture, the visual and performing arts, and music in the 1970s and 1980s and then was rapidly transmitted back and forth between Europe and the United States as the search for theoretical explanations and justifications of artistic postmodernism shifted to include wider discussions of postmodernity."
Postmodernism in the arts is characterized, Featherstone suggests, by "the collapse of the hierarchical distinction between high and mass/popular culture; a stylistic promiscuity favouring eclecticism and the mixing of codes; parody, pastische, irony, playfulness and the celebration of the surface 'depthlessness' of culture; the decline of the originality/genius of the artistic producer; and the assumption that art can only be repetition."
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Thursday, February 16, 2006 at 03:34 PM
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