Critical Social Theory (Marxism, neo-Marxism, Hegemony Theory)
Postmodernism is a complicated term which is difficult to define and has been around since the 1980s. The reason it is difficult to define is because it is an idea which is used in lots of different subject areas such as art, technology, sociology, literature, architecture and communications etc and is used in slightly different ways in each area.
As you will have seen from watching the short programme “Culture Fix: Postmodernism”, it all started from Modernism, which was a movement which started largely in architecture but spread to other areas of our culture. Modernism, as a cultural movement, happened largely between 1900 – 1930 and revolved around key literary figures such as authors Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Franz Kafka and T.S Eliot. They rejected the old Victorian ideas of how art (such as novels, poetry) should be made, received by readers and what it should mean. They played around with narrative or story-telling techniques and poetic structures.
The main characteristics of modernism in terms of literature include:
1. an emphasis on HOW seeing (or reading or perception itself) takes place, rather than on WHAT is perceived. An example of this would be stream-of-consciousness writing such as Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs Dalloway” or James Joyce’s “Ulysses”
2. a movement away from the apparent objectivity (lack of bias, based on facts not feelings) provided by all-knowing third-person (he, she, we) narrators, fixed narrative points of view, and clear-cut moral positions. Faulkner's stories told from lots of different characters viewpoints are an example of this aspect of modernism.
3. a blurring of distinctions/dividing lines between genres, so that poetry seems more documentary (as in T.S. Eliot or ee cummings) and prose seems more poetic (as in Woolf or Joyce).
4. an emphasis on disjointed, broken up forms – poetry which breaks patterns and rules of verses etc, discontinuous narratives – stories which just stop or start and forget to have a beginning, middle and end, and random-seeming collages (putting together of lots of pictures or ideas) of different materials.
5. a tendency toward reflexivity, or self-consciousness, about the production of the work of art, so that each piece calls attention to its own status as a production, as something constructed and consumed in particular ways.
7. A rejection of the distinction/differences between "high" and "low" or popular culture, both in choice of materials used to produce art and in methods of displaying, distributing, and consuming art.
Postmodernism, like modernism, follows most of these same ideas, rejecting boundaries between high and low forms of art, rejecting rigid genre distinctions, emphasizing pastiche, parody, bricolage, irony, and playfulness. Postmodern art (and thought) favors reflexivity and self-consciousness, fragmentation and discontinuity
Modernity is fundamentally about order: about rationality and rationalization, creating order out of chaos. The assumption is that creating more rationality is conducive to creating more order, and that the more ordered a society is, the better it will function (the more rationally it will function).
According to Jean Baudrillard, is that in postmodern society there are no originals, only copies--or what he calls "simulacra." You might think, for example, about painting or sculpture, where there is an original work (by Van Gogh, for instance), and there might also be thousands of copies, but the original is the one with the highest value (particularly monetary value). Contrast that with cds or music recordings, where there is no "original," as in painting--no recording that is hung on a wall, or kept in a vault; rather, there are only copies, by the millions, that are all the same, and all sold for (approximately) the same amount of money.
Another version of Baudrillard's "simulacrum" would be the idea of virtual reality, a reality created by simulation, for which there is no original. This is particularly evident in computer games/simulations--think of Sim City, Sim Ant, etc.
Key words explained
Pastiche - a copy of something like a painting or a TV programme which is intended to be a tribute to, or compliment to the original e.g Andy Warhol’s Mona Lisa or this Las Vegas copy of an Eygptian statue from the Pyramids.
Fragmentation and discontinuity – when storylines and characterisation are broken up, disturbed and don’t follow the usual pattern e.g films like “The Butterfly Effect”, “Vanilla Sky” , "Memento" and TV programmes like Twin Peaks etc
Parody – a copy or thinly veiled version of something which makes fun of the original e.g The Simpson’s versions of other films like “Thelma and Louise” or “Terminator”.
Bricolage – A collection or putting together of images, ideas etc to make a new piece of art or literature
Irony – when a piece of art or literature is self-consciously doing the opposite of what it appears to be doing
Reflexivity and self-consciousness – when a TV Programme uses references to itself or to it’s characters to make a point e.g The Simpson’s episode “The Springfield Files” refers to Fox TV (which is the channel The Simpsons is made by).
A Post-modern Artist in Paris - Jeff Koons Exhibition in Versailles
Watch the video report of the Jeff Koons exhibition at the Versailles Palace, in Paris
Jeff Koons (born 1955) is a controversial modern artist who lives and works in New York (USA). He became famous during the 1980 s for a series of inflatable flowers and toys, displays of brand new vacuum cleaners and a life-size ceramic sculpture of ‘Michael Jackson and Bubbles’ (the pop idol's favourite chimpanzee pet).
He is quoted as saying that his work exploits ‘mass culture iconography’ - in other words, that he uses images, materials and ideas from popular culture to make his art, and celebrates the ‘banality of middle-class taste’.
Around 1990 he married Cicciolina, an Italian porn star who got herself elected into the Italian parliament. He has used his marriage to create some of his art - huge photographs of himself and his wife having sex in various positions.
In an interview, Koons explained that his hope is "that viewers will become confident of their own judgment and taste ... I tried to remove bourgeois guilt and shame in responding to banality ... I was telling the bourgeois to embrace the thing that it likes. Don't divorce yourself from your true being, embrace it. Don't try to erase it because you're in some social standing now and you'reambitious and you're trying to become some upper class."
In his rejection of the distinction between low and high art, Koons is a typically ‘post-modern’ artist. ‘Post-modern art’ is a reaction to the ‘consumerism’ that has been made possible by the fact that manufacturing of products, distribution and dissemination have become very cheap. However, instead of criticizing the ordinariness and commonness of all these products, post-modern art just accepts them, and in Koons' case somehow both celebrates and ironicizes them.
Many of the health problems of Europe's richer nations are directly linked to overconsumption. Cigarette smoking is just one boring example, eerily transformed by Koons into a glossy advertisement for a fictitious brand called ‘Merit’. Some of his more recent work plays with the attractiveness of photographs of food, perhaps anticipating the new banality of obesity. Affluence has become an embarrassment to public health, the more so since all these health-damaging lifestyles have become concentrated in the lower classes, particularly in countries like Norway.