Modernity And Postmodernity Essay Help

Modernism vs. Postmodernism Research Paper

Modernism is based on the principles of formalism and autonomy. Greenberg links together the concept of modernism and modernity. He states that development of art, science and philosophy gave push to the development of modernism. (Habermas) Another important characteristic of modernism is its opposition to all traditional forms of art and culture. Generally, modernism is regarded as a kind of avant-garde, which challenges traditional culture. Initially it was regarded as a force, which could oppose the dominant culture. Sometime avant-garde is defined as a part of modernism. Classical examples of modernism in architecture are Lever House and Seagram Building. The architectural works of Frank Lloyd Wright can be also regarded as an example of modernist art. These buildings correspond to all ideals proclaimed by modernistic artists. Individualism and deep quest for inner self makes modernist authors turn to the depths of human conscious. The study of stream of consciousness, so popular in Woolf and Joyce’s works perfectly serve for this purpose. This technique is presented in Woolf’s Kew Gardens and Mrs Dalloway, Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses and Katherine Porter’s Flowering Judas. Very often existential crisis is expressed through anti-heroes, who become the protagonists. This happens in works of Knut Hamsun, Samuel Beckett.

The Appearance of Modernism

Postmodernism in its turn appeared as a critique of modernism. Art and culture are nothing but reflections of the life of the society. So, next turn in the development of the society gave birth to new style in art and culture and postmodernism became this new style which challenged modernism. There are several factors, which influenced the appearance and development of modernism. For European society the 18th century became the century of innovations and technical progress. During this period the very concept of relations between man and nature had changed and this naturally led to changes in the forms of art and culture. During the period of Enlightenment separation between man and nature appeared. This duality was transmitted to many spheres of human life. The development of science made man a more independent creature and let him increase the understanding of human experience and natural forces. Philosophy gave new direction during this period. The accent on thinking and conscious ego made rational aspect of existence as dominating one. Since then the main accent was replaced to rationality. This gave new push to the attempts of rational perception of reality, material and transcendental objects and human. It is during this period, when the man became the center of the Universe. Rationalistic approach and separation man from nature made it possible to make Man the central figure of history. “With this freedom and centrality comes a strong measure of responsibility and the duty to protect and increase the autonomy of every rational human being.” (Kant) All these changes became reflected in contemporary art and modernism became that mean which gave the artists a possibility to find new relations with reality. Originality became one of the main distinctive features of this new trend of art and culture. This accent on originality made artists on the focus of attention. Artistic genius and authenticity became especially appreciated in modernistic art. During this period art became independent realm of human existence and individual freedom of expression became its highest value. Social disorder, the threat of nuclear war and breakdown of spirit after two world wars added new feature to modernism. People started doubted all the truth discovered during the period of Enlightenment. Criticism of all previous values became peculiar for late modernism, which finally turned to postmodernism.

Postmodernism and its features

Postmodernism is a kind of art that appeared in the middle of the 1980s. It’s difficult to define this concept because it is presented in architecture, sociology, art, music, film, technology and some other areas and it’s not always clear when postmodernism begins in this or that area. Defining and analyzing postmodernism we must start from modernism because postmodernism originates exactly from it. Modernism appeared earlier and can be defined from two points of view. According to the first aspect modernism originates from the aesthetic movement of the twentieth century, the ideas of which are similar to Western ideas about art. The founders of modernism of the 20th century are Eliot, Joyce, Stevens, Kafka, Rilke, Proust, Mallarme and others. Modernism is a movement in literature, art, music and drama. It rejects old Victorian standards about different kinds of art. It presents new conception of art and its functions. The period from 1910 to 1930 is the period of “high modernism” and it is characterized by the change of meaning and function of poetry and fiction.

We’ll analyze modernism from the literal point of view. The main characteristics of modernism are the following: no distinction between “high” and “low” kinds of art, every art is aimed to depict the reality; emphasis on inner feelings, subjective side and impression the work makes on the reader, the process of perception is very important. Another characteristic of this movement is rejection of bare objectivity with defined moral and aesthetic positions, third-person narrators and fixed narration. The distinction between genres is very blurred and so prose becomes more poetic and poetry becomes more documentary. Another tendency is “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” (Turner, 115). The process of creation becomes very important and spontaneous works are of great value.

Postmodernism being sequential of modernism follows most of these tendencies and in literature it’s main characteristics are the following: no boundaries between “low” and “high” forms of art, blurred distinctions between genres, emphasis on irony, parody, pastiche. “Postmodern art (and thought) favors reflexivity and self-consciousness, fragmentation and discontinuity (especially in narrative structures), ambiguity, simultaneity, and an emphasis on the destructured, decentered, dehumanized subject” (Barthes, 157).

Although these two movements are rather similar they also have a number of distinctions. For example, modernism presents human life and human subjectivity in fragments and as something tragic and mournful. The idea of fragmentation of the life prevails and this idea is depicted with sadness and grief. According to modernism works of art can present the world in unity, while this unity is lost in the real life. In contrast, postmodernism depict the idea of world fragmentation with enthusiasm and optimism, the world is meaningless and the art can do nothing to change this, the only thing that is left is to depict this world with irony and satire.

Postmodernists define subjectivism of modernism literature as existential crisis and try to avoid it. Narrators deconstruct themselves and they do it consciously. Self-reflection and deconstruction becomes the main themes in the works of Vladimir Nabokov, Vladimir Sorokin,, John Fowles, John Barth and Julian Barnes.

There are several features, peculiar to postmodernism. First of all in postmodernism a priori subject becomes the source of meaning and authority. Abstract reason and truthfulness obtains additional value. Distinctions between high and low culture also become the peculiarities of postmodernism. Postmodernism rejected different oppositions, so popular in modernism. Postmodernism turns to language as one of the means of the realization of the consciousness. Linguistic structures now serves as a way to pass different forms of consciousness. “Thus, “there is no outside-the-text i.e. there is no Archimedian point outside of some conceptual framework, model or form of representation (Derrida). In postmodernism there are no origins of the texts or any references. The notion of discourse becomes extremely popular. All text exists now at the moment it is uttered, read or written and each time the person gets in touch with any kind of text he or she finds its new variant. Accent on personality made in modernism is now replaced by impersonal discourse. “The death of the subject” becomes a distinctive feature of postmodernism, characterized by alienation of subject. Personal style and personal vision, which were the subjects of great concern and appreciation in modernism but become ideological questions in late modernism and fade away in postmodernism. The replacement of accent from an individual and his creative abilities put artists in front of the dilemma. Now they had to find new functions of artists, if they had no creative impulse and could not create anything original. Finally the solution was found and art postmodernist art turned to imitation – recreation of images and forms already created. “The postmodern condition is also characterized by Jameson as a kind of schizophrenia or postmodern temporality. This comes out of a Lacanian (structuralist) analysis of language and its role in the experience of time.” (Derrida, 78) Postmodernists do not believe they can not reach reality directly. Meaning does not appear as a relationship between the word and its meaning in postmodernism. Meaning is realized only in discourse and that is why the meaning of word depends not on its definition, but on other words, which surround it in the discourse. In this way signifier depends on other signifiers. Schizophrenia appears when relationships between these signifiers are broken. This effect is reached by avoiding personal identity and time relations in the discourse. Portalnd Building in Portland and Sony Building in New York are among the earliest examples of postmodern architectures. These buildings still have references to the past and some symbolism, which prove the fact that the influence of modernism still existed. Las Vegas strip is a perfect example of postmodernist architecture.

Frederic Jameson, famous scientist, explains modernism and postmodernism as cultural formations that are characteristics of the particular stages of capitalism. Jameson defines three stages of capitalism which are followed by some particular cultural tendencies. The first stage is called market capitalism and it took place in the 18th-19th century in the United states and Western Europe. This stage is characterized by particular technical innovations, such as steam-driven motor, and domination of realism in cultural sphere. The second phase took place at the end of the 19th century and in the middle of the 20th century and it’s associated with internal and electric motors and modernism in cultural sphere. Nowadays we live during the third stage of capitalism and it’s associated with electronic and nuclear technologies and postmodernism.

Jameson’s definition of postmodernism is correlation with its second possible definition, which is correspondent with history and sociology. This definition doesn’t refer to literature or music very much. According to this approach postmodernism is an entire social formation or even set of historical attitudes. Here words “postmodernity” and “modernity” can be used. Modernism is a cultural movement in the 20th century in Europe and the USA, while modernity is political, ethical and philosophical background for the movement of modernism. The main function of modernity is “to justify and explain virtually all of our social structures and institutions, including democracy, law, science, ethics, and aesthetics.” (Lash, 89) Modernism is based on the main principles of the Enlightenment, which are a bit transformed and adopted to the epoch and social standards.

Conclusion

Modernism is a movement in art, music, architecture, literature and technique in the United states and Europe in the 19th- 20th century, which appeared as a protest to the traditional esthetic culture. Modernism gave people a new way to contact with the reality and man became the master of this reality. Art became more subjective and individual and so artists were in the center of attention. The last half of the 20th century is characterized by the failure of modernist tendencies. Modernism has been replaced by postmodernism.

Postmodernism can be interpreted in different, sometimes even opposite ways, some scientists present postmodernism as anti-modernist movement, while others think that it is revision of modernist values and tendencies. Postmodernism is characterized by the search of new forms to reflect the reality, deeper penetration in the inner world and reflection of the inner thoughts and feelings of rejection. Any movement in literature, art or music is the reflection of social, economic and political sphere of the society and postmodernism is the reflection of our epoch.

Sources

1. Mark Jarzombek, “The Disciplinary Dislocations of Architectural History,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 58/3 (September 1999), p. 489.
2. Heinrich Klotz, History of Post-Modern Architecture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998
3. Barthes, R. (1968). Writing degree zero. (A. Lavers and C. Smith, Trans.). New York: Hill and Wang. (Original book published 1953)
4. DeMan, P. (1979). Shelley disfigured. Deconstruction and criticism. New York: Seabury.
5. Derrida, J. (1981a). Positions. (A. Bass, Trans.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
6. Ashley, David (1990) Habermas and the Project of Modernity. In Theories of Modernity and Postmodernity. Bryan Turner (ed). London: SAGE Appignanesi,
7. Richard and Chris Garratt (1995) Introducing Postmodernism. New York: Totem Books.
8. Lash, Scott (1990) Sociology of Postmodernism. London: Routledge.
Turner, Bryan S. (1990) Theories of Modernity and Postmodernity. London: SAGE Publications.
9. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader, New Haven, Yale
10. University Press, 1999, Pages 263-277
11. David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, Pages 1-61
12. Jonathan M. Woodham. Twentieth Century Design, Pages 29-63
13. Georg Simmel. 4Art in Theory (1900-1990) An Anthology of Changing Ideas – , Pages 130-135

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In order to understand what post-modernity is, one has to understand what modernity, or modern society was! Somewhat confusingly ‘modern society’ refers to European society between roughly 1650- 1950 (ish) and post-modern society refers to European and many other ‘advanced’ ‘post-industrial’ societies from around 1950 (ish) onwards.

Post-Modernists argue that post-modern society is different to modern society, so much so that it requires new methods of study and new theoretical frameworks. Essentially, what is different, according to Post-Modernists, is that those stable institutions which used to bind us together have much less influence now, and with the rise of globalisation and New Media technologies, individuals are much more free to construct their culture and identity that they once were. Sociologists disagree as to exactly when post-modernism started. For some, the roots of it lie in early modernity, for others, post-modernism does not properly begin until the 1970s, still others argue (Giddens) that we don’t even live in a post-modern society at all!

Now it’s important for you to get your head around what post-modern society is, because theorists of post-modernity argue that the traditional structuralist theories of Marxism and feminism are no longer relevant and suggest new ways of ‘doing sociology’.

In order to understand what post-modern society is, one has to understand what modern society was

What was (is?) modernity?

Modernity is the term used by sociologists to describe the “modern” period which began in Europe several hundred years ago. Some of the key features of modern societies are:

  • Economic production is industrial and capitalist, with social class as the main form of social division. Social classes are based on people’s social and economic position. Marx’s view for instance, was that industrial society people were divided into two main classes, those who owned businesses and those who sold their labour to them.

    The Fordist Factory – Industrialist and with Clear Social Class Divisions

  • The growth of cities, or urbanisation. During the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries thousands of people moved to cities to find work and make their homes.

    Urbanisation – The growth of cities was a key process of modernity

  • A powerful central government and administration, known as a bureaucratic state. Local and central government have played an ever increasing part in our lives, the development of compulsory education, public housing and the welfare state for example.

    Many of these nations regulated people’s lives and developed welfare systems of some sort during the modern period

  • People’s knowledge is derived from scientific and rational thinking rather than religious faith, magic or superstition. During this period people have looked to science and logical thinking to explain the world. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, for example, have tended to be explained scientifically rather than as an “act of god”.

    The Moon landing – probably the pinnacle of the modernist idea of scientific progress

  • A widely held faith in scientifically based progress. An associated view has been that the more we trust in science and technological progress, the better our society will be.

Most of the “great” sociologists have attempted to find ways of understanding “modernity” and the “great transformation” which created it. Writers such as Marx and Durkheim attempted to create theories and concepts which could help explain the workings of societies and answer basic questions such as “what holds societies together?” and “what makes societies change?”

Post-Modernity refers to the view that the institutions and ways of living characteristic of Modernity have been replaced to such a profound extent that our society is fundamentally different to the ‘modern’ society. In contrast post-modernism is a term that refers to new ways of thinking about thought. Post-modernists believe that knowledge itself needs to be understood in a different way to modernists sociologists such as Functionalists and Marxists. It follows that not all theorists of post-modernity are post-modernists.

Five Key features of the post-modern society

  1. Globalisation

  2. The Media

  3. A world in Fragments (due to Dynamism: Rapid social change)

  4. Consumer society: Individual freedom to choose one’s lifestyle

  5. Cultural diversity and hybridity

  1. Globalisation

A simple definition of Globalisation is the increasing connectedness between societies across the globe. Globalisation means there are more flows of information and ideas, money, and people moving across national boundaries.

  1. The increasing importance of the mass media

The post-modern era has witnessed a huge expansion in media technology. The rise of digital media, especially the internet, has lead to a massive and unprecedented increase in the number of people using the media; a huge increase in the diversity of media products both factual and fictional; an increase in the number of people creating their own music, videos, profile sites and uploading them for public consumption, greater interactivity, more flexibility. All of this results in much more complex patterns of media usage, more picking and mixing

One consequence of this is that our society has an increased reliance on the media to tell us what is going on in the world. Some sociologists argue that the media creates something called ‘hyper reality’ where what we see in the media is different yet more real than reality. Baudrillard argues that the media coverage of war for example is different to reality, yet is the only reality most of us know.

New networks also emerge through the use of media, most obviously through profile sites such as Facebook. One consequence of this is the breakdown of local communities, as people increasingly network online in the privacy of their own homes, and don’t communicate with their next door neighbours.

Hyperreality – Is the virtual world more real than reality?

  1. A world in fragments

In post-modern society, the pace of change is much more rapid than in modern society. Post-modern society is thus more dynamic, more fluid if you like. The post-modern society doesn’t sit still, it is like a fidgeting child, and as a result, it lacks any coherent, stable social structure. This can be evidenced in the following areas:

Work: Gone are the days of a ‘Job for Life’, today is the era of the ‘portfolio worker’ who is much more likely to move jobs and change career several times throughout his or her working life. Working life is also characterised by much more uncertainty as businesses are quick to move to other regions or countries if they can find cheaper labour abroad. One very good illustrative example of this is Dyson, which recently closed down a factory in South Wales to seek cheaper labour in China. From the perspective of the South Wales workers, Dyson came and went in a very short time frame. Also, companies are now increasingly likely to employ workers through recruitment agencies which can fire at short notice, and much work is temporary, part time and characterised by flexible working hours. There are of course good sides and bad sides to all of this, but the upshot is that working life is much less stable than it used to be. See Richard Sennet: The Corrossion of Character chapter 1 and Polly Toynbe: Hard Work for an insight into the post-modern world of work.

Fashion and Music: Two of the most visible examples of the fast pace of change lies in the fashion and music industries, which are constantly evolving with new styles and musical forms constantly emerging, and with many artists having to continually reinvent themselves to stay in the spotlight. At the extreme end of this, the pop-idol genre of shows demonstrates how individuals are made stars for a month and then forgotten.

The breakdown of local communities: The increased flexibility of labour associated with the world of work means people move more often in their lifetimes, meaning that people are much less able to put down sable roots in their local communities. This has lead to a decline in ‘social capital’ (pretty much like trust) according to Robert Putnam. Look him up on Google, go on, you know you want to. Do something different instead of wasting your time surfing for information on…

Postmodern society is a network society, with a complex ‘structure’, if any structure at all!

4. The Consumer society

According to post-modernists one Fundamental difference between the post-modern society and modern society is that our society is consumer oriented, rather than work oriented. This means that consuming things, and leisure activities are more important today than work. The image of the post-modern society is thus one of a shopping mall, rather than a factory.

Post modernists argue that we live in a ‘Pick and mix’ society. Individuals today are free to pick their lifestyle and life course, from a wider range of options than ever before, just as if they were picking and choosing products in a super market! Importantly, post modernists argue that individuals are much less shaped by their class, gender and ethnic backgrounds today. Women, for example, are not expected to become housewives and mothers, just because they are women and work is much less gendered than it used to be. Society is no longer divided along class lines, or gender lines, or even ethnic lines. Being born working class, being born a woman, or being born black, does not, according to post-modernists, pre-determine one’s future, or shape one’s consciousness (identity) as it did in modernity (and the extent to which it did was often exaggerated by the classical sociologists).

Postmodern society – a society of consumers

5. Cultural diversity and hybridity

The ever increasing pace of globalisation has lead to an increase in cultural diversity and ‘hybridity’, which refers to the mixing of different cultural traditions. If we compare society today to that of 100 or even 50 years ago we see a bewildering increase in the diversity of social and cultural forms. Some of the more obvious examples include:

  • Goods and services: A simple trip to the supermarket or shopping mall reveals a huge range of products one can buy, and the same is true of services.

  • Fashion and Music: Once again, one can spend several hours in a week simply choosing what to buy or wear, or sorting MP3s on one’s MP3 player (once you’ve chosen one of those course!)

  • Pretty much every other sphere of life is more diverse than it was 50 years ago: Education, work, family life…..

The result of all of the above = a lack of clear direction, and an abandonment of the possibility of progress

Review Questions

In a post-modern society, we have much more consumerism choice, what are the consequences of this for individuals?

Briefly explain two key features of the modern society

What is ‘Globalisation’?

What is meant by the term ‘hyperreality’?

Briefly explain what is meant by the fragmented society

What is cultural hybridity, illustrate with an example

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