1 minute read


The Postmodern Condition, The Condition of Postmodernity, Postmodernism

is a term that was used by the American critic R. P. Blackmur and others as early as the 1950s, but became fashionable, indeed ubiquitous, in the late 1980s. It was employed to describe not only architecture, literature, and music but haircuts, habits, jokes, states of mind. Its general connotations are irony, self-mockery, allusiveness, parody, immersion in popular culture, refusal to believe in or even worry about grand ideas or gestures, amused acceptance of everything that caused anguish to the Modernists. It is not entirely clear that anyone or any thing actually is Post-modernist—perhaps the paintings and films of Andy Warhol are. The condition seems to be a generalized projection of what are felt as scattered but unmistakable tendencies in the West since 1945. There are two quite different ways of thinking about the condition, one broader and more historical than the other. In the first, Post-modernism is the name of what comes after Modernism in the arts, whatever follows Modernism's exhaustion. This might in some areas be post-structuralism, or certain aspects of it, a development of the questioning, disintegrational possibilities of Modernism; or it might be a reaction against Modernism, a return to older values. In the broader sense Post-modernism is the name of the overall cultural climate of late capitalism, the way we think, feel, write, build, play, sing, act in the multinational, high-technology, consumer-directed economic order of the second half of the twentieth century. We are Post-modern whether we know it or not; our art and culture are our reflection, displayed in entertaining but revelatory mirrors. Both usages assume what future historians may doubt: that Modernism is over, that a new mode or period has arrived. Yet another way of thinking of Post-modernism, therefore, is to see it as a particular variety of Modernism rather than its successor: late Modernism rather than beyond Modernism. Interesting discussions of the whole question can be found in J.-F. Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition (1984), D. Harvey's The Condition of Postmodernity (1990), and F. Jameson's Postmodernism (1991). See also Adaptation.

Additional topics

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog to Rabbit Tetralogy