History of postmodernism  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Development of postmodernism.


Origins in architecture

see Postmodern architecture

The movement of Postmodernism began with architecture, as a reactionary movement against the perceived blandness and hostility present in the Modern movement. Modern Architecture as established and developed by masters such as Walter Gropius and Philip Johnson was focused on the pursuit of an ideal perfection, harmony of form and function and dismissal of frivolous ornament. Critics of modernism argued that the attributes of perfection and minimalism themselves were subjective, and pointed out anachronisms in modern thought and questioned the benefits of its philosophy. Definitive postmodern architecture such as the work of Michael Graves rejects the notion of a 'pure' form or 'perfect' architectonic detail, instead conspicuously drawing from all methods, materials, forms and colors available to architects. Postmodern architecture began the reaction against the almost totalitarian qualities of Modernist thought, favoring personal preferences and variety over objective, ultimate truths or principles. It is this atmosphere of criticism, skepticism and subjectivity that defines the postmodern philosophy.

Notable philosophical and literary contributors

see postmodern literature

Thinkers in the mid and late 19th century and early 20th century, like Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, through their argument against objectivity, and emphasis on skepticism (especially concerning social morals and norms), laid the groundwork for the existentialist movement of the 20th century. Other notable precursors of postmodernism include Laurence Sterne's novel Tristram Shandy, Alfred Jarry's 'Pataphysics, and the work of Lewis Carroll. Art and literature of the early part of the 20th century play a significant part in shaping the character of postmodern culture. Dadaism attacked notions of high art in an attempt to break down the distinctions between high and low culture; Surrealism further developed concepts of Dadaism to celebrate the flow of the subconscious with influential techniques such as automatism and nonsensical juxtapositions (evidence of Surrealisms influence on postmodern thought can be seen in Foucault's and Derrida's references to Rene Magritte's experiments with signification). Some other significant contributions to postmodern culture from literary figures include the following: Jorge Luis Borges experimented in metafiction and magical realism; William S. Burroughs wrote the prototypical postmodern novel, Naked Lunch and developed the cut up method (similar to Tristan Tzara's "How to Make a Dadaist Poem") to create other novels such as Nova Express; Samuel Beckett attempted to escape the shadow of James Joyce by focusing on the failure of language and humanity's inability to overcome its condition, themes later to be explored in such works as Waiting for Godot. Writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus drew heavily from Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, and other previous thinkers, and brought about a new sense of subjectivity, and forlornness, which greatly influenced contemporary thinkers, writers, and artists. Karl Barth's fideist approach to theology and lifestyle, brought an irreverence for reason, and the rise of subjectivity. Postcolonialism after World War II contributed to the idea that one cannot have an objectively superior lifestyle or belief. This idea was taken further by the anti-foundationalist philosophers: Heidegger, then Ludwig Wittgenstein, then Derrida, who examined the fundamentals of knowledge; they argued that rationality was neither as sure nor as clear as modernists or rationalists assert. Both World Wars contributed to postmodernism; it is with the end of the Second World War that recognizably postmodernist attitudes begin to emerge. It is possible to identify the burgeoning anti-establishment movements of the 1960s as the constituting event of postmodernism. The theory gained some of its strongest ground early on in French academia. In 1971, the Arab-American Theorist Ihab Hassan was one of the first to use the term in its present form (though it had been used by many others before him, Charles Olson for example, to refer to other literary trends) in his book: The Dismemberment of Orpheus: Toward a Postmodern Literature; in it, Hassan traces the development of what he called "literature of silence" through Marquis de Sade, Franz Kafka, Ernest Hemingway, Beckett, and many others, including developments such as the Theatre of the Absurd and the nouveau roman. In 1979 Jean-François Lyotard wrote a short but influential work The Postmodern Condition: A report on knowledge. Also, Richard Rorty wrote Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979). Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault, and Roland Barthes are also influential in 1970s postmodern theory.

Philosophical Movements and contributors

Influencer Year Influence
Karl Barth c.1930 fideist approach to theology brought a rise in subjectivity
Martin Heidegger c.1930 rejected the philosophical grounding of the concepts of "subjectivity" and "objectivity"
Ludwig Wittgenstein c.1950 anti-foundationalism, on certainty, a philosophy of language
Thomas Samuel Kuhn c.1962 posited the rapid change of the basis of scientific knowledge to a provisional consensus of scientists, popularized the term "paradigm shift"
W.V.O. Quine c. 1962 developed the theses of indeterminacy of translation and ontological relativity, and argued against the possibility of a priori knowledge
Jacques Derrida c.1970 re-examined the fundamentals of writing and its consequences on philosophy in general; sought to undermine the language of western metaphysics (deconstruction)
Michel Foucault c.1975 examined discursive power in Discipline and Punish, with Bentham's panopticon as his model, and also known for saying "language is oppression" (Meaning that language was developed to allow only those who spoke the language not to be oppressed. All other people that don't speak the language would then be oppressed.)
Jean-François Lyotard c.1979 opposed universality, meta-narratives, and generality
Richard Rorty c.1979 philosophy mistakenly imitates scientific methods; argues for dissolving traditional philosophical problems; anti-foundationalism and anti-essentialism
Matthew Barnard c.1980 argues that Postmodernism is merely a state of mind, in comparison to Modernism claiming that both forms don't actually even exist in fundamental terms.
Jean Baudrillard c.1981 Simulacra and Simulation - reality created by media



See also

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