Characteristics of Modernism
Characteristic of modernism was its high regard for man's ability to reason things out without the aid of divine revelation. Man was increasingly seen as autonomous with the ability to create a good society and through science solve all his problems. Another characteristic of modernism was to construct grand ideas and over-arching philosophical systems whereby all of reality could be explained (metanarratives). Each of these successive systems claimed to possess the key to understanding the world and the universe and hence the method to create the ideal society. Also, it was believed that scientific research and experimentation could take place in a neutral environment and in an objective and unbiased manner.
The End of Modernism
Human reason did not bring the "salvation" many expected. Modern science, despite its many accomplishments, failed to meet man's basic needs. By the end of the Second World War, faith in the inevitable progress of humanity had largely vanished. As a result, today's society faces a host of problems, partly as a result of the very technology that was supposed to solve them. Pollution, climate changes, poverty, communicative diseases, social injustice, racism, terrorism, etc., etc. are on the increase. Purposelessness and meaninglessness have replaced optimism and hope.
Essentially postmodernism is a reaction to the failure of modernism, but without replacing it with something better. Many of the thought processes of 21st century man are still very much shaped by modernism. Yet, at the same time, there has emerged a new way of thinking. One could say that modernism and postmodernism continue to live side by side.
Characteristics of Postmodernism
Among the main tenets of postmodernism are the following. It rejects all universal systems or ideologies (ways of explaining reality). Christianity has failed but so have its competing ideologies of communism, Marxism, capitalism and liberalism. There is no absolute truth and authority. Not only faith in God but also faith in science has failed to provide certainty. Scientists are as prejudiced and biased as theologians. All truth is subjective and relative. There are no absolute norms and values. Everyone is free to decide for himself what is "good or bad," "right or wrong." Therefore, all world and life views are to be given equal status. Related to this is the emphasis on feelings and experience. When judging and evaluating things, the question is not whether something is true or false but how it feels. If it feels good it is good and what is experienced must be true.
Postmodernism and "Lowbrow" Culture
Beginning with modernity but greatly accelerated by postmodernity is the break up of culture into what some have called its "highbrow" and "lowbrow" expressions. Examples of highbrow culture are the arts, painting, sculpture, stage plays, classical music, poetry and literature. The mainstay of lowbrow culture is entertainment: television, soap operas, movies, popular music, commercial art and cheap novels. To appreciate highbrow culture one needs some level of education and for that reason it is generally seen as an elitist pursuit for the affluent and sophisticated. Lowbrow culture, however, is accessible to the masses. It is popular culture requiring little or no education or art appreciation. Today "low" or popular culture is definitely the culture of the masses in North America, if not the entire world. Advances in communication technology have made it almost universally accessible.
The word ‘post’ in postmodernism suggests that it comes after modernism, however both postmodernism and modernism both exist together at the same time. Modernism seeks to give meaning and solid definitions to what things are while postmodernism denies the rules laid by modernism.
Postmodernism denies the existance of scientifc, philosophical or religious truths to explain everything for everybody, while modernism seeks to give meaning and solid definitions to what things are while postmodernism denies the rules laid by modernism. It allows for personal interpretation, with personal experience being placed above abstract principles which paradoxically means that postmodernism can not truly be defined.
Postmodernism spans various different disciplines including art, culture, architecture, literature, entertainment, technology ect, and focuses on de-structered humanity meaning that disorder and fragmentation are acceptable represention of reality for postmodernists. Modernists viewed this view of fragmented humanity as bad while postmodernists seems to celebrate this, accepting ambiguity.
There are no final truths or definitions in postmodernism, it is an attempt to give new meanings and interpretations to everything.
Throughout the coming weeks we are going to explore how postmodernism is evident in various different aspects in our society in an attempt to better understand what postmodernism is and how it affects our lives. We will be looking at examples of postmodernism in pop-culture and entertainment, feminism, architecture, and art and design movements.