Monday, January 7, 2013


There are no eternal facts, as there are no eternal truths.
There are no facts, only interpretations.
-Friedrich Nietzche 1844-1900
German philosopher

Postmodernism: a definition
  • There is no fixed definition
    • Reaction against modernism?
    • Evolution on a path to?
  • Some characteristics
    • General agreement
  • Post WWII
    • Later in North America (1960-1970)
  • Reaction to war and its aftermath
    • Reaction to devastation
  • Modernists
    • Words no longer adequate
    • Continued experiments with form
    • Questioned everything
      • What is going on?
Postmodernism and capitalism
  • Market capitalism
  • 18th-19th centuries
  • Technology
    • Stream driven motor
  • Literature
    • Realism
    • Jane Austen
Second stage...
  • Late 19th century to mid 20th century
  • Monopoly – capitalism
  • Technology
    • Electric and internal combustion engine (car)
  • Literature
    • Modernism
Third stage...
  • Multinational or consumer capitalism
    • Emphasis on marketing, selling and consuming goods
    • Not on producing them
  • Technologies
    • Nuclear and electronic
  • Literature
    • Postmodernism
This is where we are now. No one knows what comes next because there are no rules.

  • Characters
    • Recognizable
    • Stress on character development
  • Plot
    • Structured, conventional, linear
  • Point of view
    • Established techniques
    • Understandable
  • Language
    • Does not question the ability of language to communicate ideas
  • “Grand narratives”
    • Assumes there is meaning in world
    • Interest in political extremes
  • Break with 19th century
  • Key year: 1922
    • Ulysses by James Joyce
    • The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot
    • Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf
      • Joyce and Woolf imploys streams of consciousness in their work
  • Key event: World War I
  • Writers could no longer write realistically because of how the world had changed
  • Traditional literary models
    • Could not adequately represent the post war world
  • The futility and anarchy that followed
    • Britain
    • Russia
  • Often suspicious of science and technology used in war
    • First technical war
  • Writers viewed the world as fragmented and decayed
  • World may be understood
    • But only in small pieces
  • Visual arts:
    • Expressionism
      • Abstract
      • interpretive
    • Surrealism
      • based on dreams
Modernism & literature
  • Literary characters
    • Not as “real”
    • Use of outsiders
  • Fewer traditional heroes
  • Story may not be told from omniscient point of view
  • Multiple points of view in one story
  • Turn from external reality of inner states of consciousness
    • E.g. Stream of consciousness writing
      • Character’s thoughts
  • Plot
    • Less structured or “planned”
    • May be no “neat” conclusion
    • Use of unconventional techniques to advance plot:
      • E.g. Songs, newspaper articles
      • Popular culture elements
Modernism & language
  • Language
    • Skepticism
    • Language’s ability to reflect reality
    • Author’s ability to reflect reality
    • “Language exists to conceal thought” –T. S. Eliot
Postmodernism & literature
  • Develops and extends style of modernist literature
  • Both modernism and postmodernism reject 19th century realism
  • Literature becomes more open-ended, fragmented
  • Aristotle (350 BC)
    • Beginning, middle and end
    • May be no clear cut ending, or,
    • May return to beginning
  • Consciously disorient the reader
  • Not what we expect
    • Not chronological, straightforward storytelling
High versus Low Culture
  • Blurs the line between
    • “high” and “low” culture
      • E.g. Billy The Kid
    • Fiction and non-fiction
      • E.g. film and books
  • Who decides?
    • E.g. postmodern artist: Andy Warhol
      • E.g. photos of Marilyn Monroe
Postmodernism & the interpretation of literature
  • Who decides what a poem/story/novel means?
    • Ask the author?
      • May not be totally aware
    • Ask the reader?
      • Everyone brings their own set of assumptions
    • The text itself?
      • Does reader require knowledge of an external source or event?
Modern thinking vs. Postmodern thinking
Structure  Anarchy 
Theory  Anti-theory
Authoritative interpretation  No final interpretation
Search for underlying meaning No underlying meaning
Encyclopaedic knowledge (contained) Web of understanding

  • Distrust towards universal claims about
    • Truth
    • Ethics
    • beauty
  • Instead
    • Based on individual perception
  • Provisional
  • No fixed knowledge
    • The way you view the world
Modernism & grand narratives
  • Stories on how we see the world define ourselves
  • Every belief system based on “grand narratives”
  • Canada
    • What do we believe about our country?
  • United States
The Grand narrative of Marxism
  • Basic belief
    • Capitalism will collapse on itself
    • A utopian socialist will happen
  • What really happened?
    • Feudal systems collapsed
    • Replaced by totalitarian regimes
  • Narrative fell apart, there was nothing at the core
Post modernism and grand narratives
  • Critiques these stories
    • beliefs
  • Points out that they serve to hide the contradictions
    • Occur in any social organization
  • Every attempt to create “order”
    • Also demands the creation of a equal amount of “disorder”
Grand narratives
  • Rejected by post modernism
  • Replaced with “mini-narratives”
    • About local events
    • Not large scale or global
    • Provisional, based on situation
    • Make not claim to universally true
Modernism & education
  • Why are we educated?
  • What is the purpose of gaining knowledge?
  • To become an “educated” person
  • Ideal:
    • Liberal arts education
Postmodernism & education
  • Knowledge is functional
    • You learn things
      • Not to know them
    • But to use that knowledge
    • Emphasis on skills and training
  • Much more accepting of modern world
  • May use technology to produce art
  • May sample other works of art to produce new work
  • What is an original?
    • E.g. music recordings
Postmodernism & philosophy
  • Desire to return to pre-post modern era
    • Associated with conservative political and religious groups
  • Postmodernism
    • Attracts liberals, radicals, feminists
  • Focus thinking about action/social reforms as local/limited
    • E.g. improved day care centres in your own community
  • Focus on specific local goals
  • “think globally, act locally”
  • Offers an alternative
    • To global culture of consumption
  • Celebrates a variety of voices
  • Interested in differences and diversity

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