Post Modernism #
As monolithic thinking became replaced by pluralistic ideologies, Europe became more diverse and enlightened.
The 20 (th) C gave us Modernism with its decay in religious faith and moral values, a more naturalistic view of life, mechanisation and mass production (Fordism), atomisation of society from communal stability of rural communities to impersonal Urbanisation. Birth Control reduced family sizes to nuclear families. Fragmentation led to alienation and anxiety increased.
Post Modernism, an extension, emerged from about the 1920’s with James Joyce, built on Existentialism and Absurdism. In Western philosophy, a late 20th-century movement characterized by broad scepticism, subjectivism, or relativism; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power. 1970, is generally accepted as the beginning of Post Modernism. Another tenet is that all interpretations are shaped by our inherited assumptions values and preoccupations. Meanings of texts are subjective, multi-faceted and unstable. Much of literary criticism has the quality of one of those inkblot tests in which everyone sees what they want to see. The process aspires to be objective, however it more often becomes intuitive, imaginative and capricious.
P.M. undermines the idea that despite bias and different life experiences, it is worth the effort to pursue knowledge as a common human exercise. Politics involves group belonging, identity politics, religious dogma, sectarian beliefs, gender identity, racial and cultural divides,subsuming individualism, yet we share a fundamental humanity that unites us all.
Truth becomes untethered from its factual moorings, becoming tribal/religious and instead of discussing or disagreeing in good will, like in warfare, we are content with lobbing grenades into each other’s trenches. Group-think and collegial high-fives, supplants inquiry or reason as we all stay on the same page.
Literature communicates through word associations, symbols, metaphor, images, allusions and sounds that resonate in different ways to different people. Yet extracting meaning from text is aided by tools of intellectual application and formal awareness of these techniques. Naïve readers search for validation of personal identity and impression, rather than new perspectives, knowledge or insights.
Rather than limiting oneself to technical tools and close reading, we are better off embracing an immersive experience of engagement, to escape into an imaginative realm of other possibilities. Affective responses can be just as illuminating as cognitive expertise.
Nasrullah Mambrol declares postmodernism iconoclastic, irreverent and subversive. Post Modernism became a radical experiment for an effete culture, no longer fit for purpose.
It challenges traditional notions of plot, narrative, chronology, character portrayal and development and the need for plausibility. It reacts against realism. It uses both high and low brow allusions. It is self-reflexive or meta fiction, concerned about the nature of composition and how it represents modern life. Joyce’s 1(st) person narrator shatters the realism of the traditional novel.
It attempts to empower the individual. As Margaret Atwood advises: Refuse to be a victim; engage in dialogue with the world. Question assumptions, authority, even historical absolutes, even Aristotle.
The origins of the post modern novel, according to Oscar Wilde maintains, “Life imitates Art” – Art for Art*’s sake, *contrary to Aristotle, who wrote: *“Art should imitate life”. *
Fiction creates its own world, with a conspiracy between artist and responder: both are conscious of the fictive nature of the story but willing to suspend disbelief. The past is an invention of the present and a projection of the future. Margaret Atwood claims “*The writer needs to convince the reader to believe the narrative, even though both know that it is fiction”. *
Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut both struggle with deriving meaning from a senseless World War II. Vonnegut spends twenty years processing the meaningless bombing of Dresden for no practical purpose, yet telling his story, Slaughterhouse Five, to vent his outrage and shame. In doing so he invents a narrative and character that repudiates the traditional heroic war novel.
Heller’s Catch-22 does much the same through an absurdist approach. In both the main characters exist in a period of time, but are not a part or product of that time – they are alienated.
Both question the prevailing orthodoxies of language (cant, euphemism, casuistry). They question the logic of decision making. The novels refuse to follow normative time sequences. Catch 22 is so disjointed and circular in events (da je vu) as to be almost incomprehensible. The past and present become so intermingled in our consciousness. History is not a continuum but a chaotic melange of different periods and sensibilities that co-exist and contradict each other.
James Joyce and D.H. Lawrence both addressed the issue of sexual perversion representing a refutation of traditional moral values and literary conventions.
By the 1970’s, Post Modernism came into full flower with many other feminists, Marxists, Pan-sexuals and others claiming their own narrative space.
Post Modernism, not so much a reaction, but a trajectory of Modernism, ** emerged from about the 1970’s built on Existentialism and Absurdism. In Western philosophy, a late 20th-century movement characterized by broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power. Britannia.com**
Our views are generally formed in our impressionable and formative years influencing settled opinions. People are encouraged to think for themselves rather accept authoritative or expert advice.
Steve Mizrach writes: When people talk about postmodernism, the problem is that they are referring to something very elusive and slippery. In the academic world, it is best understood as a new Weltanschaung - a new organizing principle in thought, action, and reflection, connected to many changing factors in modern society.
**German philosophers, Heidegger, Nietzsche, and French, Foucault and Derrida were heavy influencers. Post Modernism undermined most of the traditional verities of Christian redemption, Economic utopianism and absolute or core values.. **
**Everything was up for grabs and all assumptions questioned. Michiku Katutari blames it for a downturn in clear critical thinking, clear ethics and the clouding our sense of reality. **
Michael Barnard defines it thus: “*Let’s talk about relativism. This is the philosophical doctrine that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context and are not absolute. Further, for matters of art, literature, culture, and the like, no one actually has a privileged opinion which must be deferred to. *
Cynicism is not the same thing as critical thinking, the post modern movement demonstrates, especially when it merely becomes a sneering excuse for inaction and indifference.
Opinions now count as much as evidence. Christopher Butler warns that science competes with quasi narratives for acceptance justified by Post Modern appeals to the refusal of authority”.
Katutari argues journalists no longer understand the difference balance, thus giving equal time and weight to self serving fabrications and distortions.
Hannah Arendt writes: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction – reality of experience – and the distinction between right and wrong, true and false, no longer exist”.
**The Philosopher John Gray feels **Post modernism perhaps created the most radical disillusionment in history of the world, even greater than existentialism or the literature of the Absurd. In postulating that all values are relative, it advocates an extreme form of nihilism, subverting all core values. This gives today’s authorities the licence to act without compunction. Regardless of how evil Shakespeare’s characters are, most of them have remorse, affecting their conscience. Modern leaders feel at liberty to ignore morality and act unconscionably, resulting in people’s disenchantment.
The Theatre of the Absurd - Martin Esslin
The decline of religious faith, the destruction of the belief in automatic social and biological progress, the discovery of vast areas of irrational and unconscious forces within the human psyche, the loss of a sense of control over human development in an age of totalitarianism, and weapons of mass destruction and mass persuasion, have all eroded a sense of confidence in the future of the world.
In reflecting the world they live in, dramatists no longer enjoy universally accepted dramatic conventions in which the action proceeds within a framework of fixed and self-evident set of accepted values. Faced with this vacuum many artists turned to nihilism, the Da-Da movement, or existentialism or felt the need to fit their work into the frame of values and dogma expressed in contemporary ideologies: Marxism, psychoanalysis, aestheticism, or nature worship.
The Literature of the absurd attempts to depict a grotesque caricature of our world; a world without faith, meaning, direction or freedom of will. Human life is more and more removed from natural; we are alienated from the earth and each other. As human behaviour becomes more conditioned and psychologically manipulated and pre-determined by the conformity of the mass media, it is no longer governed by logic or the rational.
The meaningless and fecklessness (loss of a sense of direction and purpose) of life is depicted as rambling often chaotic structure of the works. Nothing is sequential and nothing follows from that which went before.
The arbitrariness of decision making is indicated in the capricious way the promotions system works in most bureaucracies, especially the army. There seems little rhyme or reason for many decisions that are made- they are whimsical and illogical.