ModernPostmodern and the Twentieth Century

By Calvin Patterson,2014-08-11 22:20
12 views 0
ModernPostmodern and the Twentieth Century

Modern/Postmodern and the Twentieth Century

    Seminar in the Twentieth Century: ENGL 668, Spring 2006

    Brian Norman

    Loose schematic juxtaposition of the conditions, sentiments, concerns, orientations, vocabulary, and structures of feeling of

Modernity/Modernism Postmodernity/Postmodernism (adapted from the work of Marianne DeKoven)

    Desire for synthesis amidst fracturing world Acceptance (embrace) of fragmentation

    Reliance/search for metanarratives/masternarratives Insistence on the local, the particular, the experiential

     (The Big Three: Marxism, Darwinism, Psychoanalysis) (testimony, first person, documentary) Age of Abstraction and Reason, challenged by modernism Valuation of embodiment, affect, belief, positionality (identity politics)

    Authenticity & sincerity in tension with irony pervasive irony (whether playful [Lyotard] or undercutting [Hutcheon]) Nation-state Local, global, transnational (UN, NGOs, transnational organizing, diaspora)

    Counter-politics: revolution, total opposition Resistance-from-within, complicitous critique (Hutcheon), subject politics (DeKoven)

    Search for utopia Post-, anti-, displaced utopia

    Binary hierarchies, challenged in modernism Multiplicity, multi-directional power, scorn of binaristic thinking High culture, avante-garde, writerly culture (Baudrillard) Popular culture, commercial culture, visual culture (Huyssen, Jameson)

    Art as autonomous critique, external opposition Art as embedded within commodity culture, celebration of the mass/popular Representative democracy, totalitarianism egalitarianism, balkanization, identity-based political organizing, self-determination

    White bourgeois male European std., challenged in modernism The Other (Derrida, Spivak, Levinas), minoritarian critique (Hutcheon), ex-centric

    Imperialism, colonialism postcolonialism, globalism

    Depth, directional meaning, earnestness (Habermas, Elliot, Pound) flatness (Jameson), surface (Lyotard), free-play (Lyotard) Realism rejected, celebration of the new The old is new, realism and other forms re-considered, recycled, pastiche Invention, futurity Context, genealogy, epistemology (Foucault)

    Movement into interiority and subconsciousness Movement into subject-politics, social consciousness, and perspectivalism

     (adapted from the work of Thomas Docherty)

    Ideologies of progress ideologies of change (no set direction)

    Certainty, determinacy, objectivity of knowledge as possible Uncertainty, indeterminacy, relativism of knowledge, fluid truth presumed

    Clear self/Other demarcations fluid identity, permeability of self/Other

    Coherent, unified self Fragmented or hybrid self-identities

    Unity, homogeneity, origins sought (though not always found) Diversity, heterogeneity, constructed selves sought (but not always found)

    Normative reason (often racist, sexist, imperialist) Decentering of reason for subjectivity (racism as perspectival, not normative)

    Avante-garde, elitist, individualist Pervasive popular culture

My own notes about movements and breaks across the century:

Early Century Mid Century Late Century

Very Superficial Crib Notes on Some Famous Theorists of Postmodernism:

Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism, Or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991)

     The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (1981)

    Marxist approach that brings together historical and aesthetic analyses of postmodernism as the cultural dominant of late capitalism. Art becomes mere

    commodity embedded within a post-industrial landscape, and therefore can only offer flat, superficial reflections of the surrounding culture. Whereas

    modernity saw the alienation of the subject from her work, community, and world, the postmodern subject is schizophrenic and is a receptacle of a mad

    proliferation of incongruent images, messages, and identities. Instead of valuing the new, engaging in critical analysis of verifiable history on mappable

    spaces in modernism, the postmodern only allows for commodified simulacra that are historicist (not historical), nostalgic, and take place in a

    hyperspace of constructed images and ideas. Jameson is pessimistic about postmodernism’s ability to create a viable, equitable world.

    Jürgen Habermas, Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (1987)

    Political Theory approach that sees postmodernity as an extension of the incomplete project of modernity that democratized power out of birthright

    kings (elite) and toward the masses. Postmodernity’s ability to account for the exceptions to the Enlightenment promises of reason and service to justice,

    equality, and democracy may allow previously untrue metanarratives of the enfranchisement of everyone to become true in practice.

    Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man (1964)

    New Left approach of late modernism that advocated “Total Refusal”: oppose totalitarianism or disenfranchisement under the banner of democracy by

    removing oneself fully from that society. His politics of withdrawal become unfashionable/untenable in postmodernist conception of complicity. Linda Nicholson, Politics (1989) and Poetics (1988) of Postmodernism

    Feminist approach that argues that postmodernism’s reliance on irony and historicism disallow any oppositional space outside society and therefore we

    can only oppose injustice via complicitous critique: from the identities and experiences that are constructed by that social system to be protested. Jean-François Lyotard, Innovation/Renovation (1983)

    Jean Baudrillard, The Evil Demon of Images (1987)

    Semiotics approach that values the avante-garde, which in modernity was by definition not allied with the masses, becomes a part of popular culture.

    The overriding sentiment of postmodernist art for Lyotard is free-play, divorced from earnest political, ideological, or philosophical inquiry. That is, there

    is ultimately no point at the center of art (an offshoot of nihilism, 1950s French existentialists, and the “aporias” of Derrida’s social constructionism: ideas,

    institutions, and identities are arbitrary [constructed], so why not play with/change them?). The location of the postmodern is pure surface for Baudrillard

    because there is no inherent relation between the signified and the signifier, there is no fixed origin of meaning (All is “simulacra.” E.g. The concept of

    the “original” coca-cola can is nonsensical. All there are are copies of copies of copies…) So, avante-garde artists can bring newness into the world by

    detaching meaning from their arbitrary locations. Attack modernist’s assumption of totality and unity as simple and approachable and the presence of

    underlying logical systems, instead they embrace complexity, limitless play, nostalgia for totality, and the ultimately unpresentable (“anamnesis”).

Some notes on theorists of the twentieth century

A Hoberek’s Twentieth Century Studies symposium (2001)

M Bradbury & J McFarlane, Modernisms (1991)

M DeKoven, Utopia, Limited (2004)

TV Reed, The Art of Protest (2005)

G Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera (1986)

WEB DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)

C Wall, Worrying the Line (2005) or “Will to Adorn” (1994)

Report this document

For any questions or suggestions please email