What exactly is Postmodernism?

It seems nowadays we all know that we live in Postmodernism. But most are at a loss as to what exactly it is. And therein lies the problem. Perhaps it is better not to state what it is, but rather say what it does. While what Postmodernism “does” is not new, simply before the term Postmodernism came along we did not have a name for the combination of things it does. Here are just some of the things Postmodernism does.

Postmodernism is highly reflexive in the (grammar) sense of “reflection” rather than reflex. Before Postmodernism much of Western intellectualism tended to criticize the Other – other ways of thought, etc. It ignored its own failings by shutting out any possibility of internal critique. To borrow a term from late twentieth-century Russian political development Postmodernism ushered in an era of openness.

Actually much of that development in the former Soviet was due to Postmodern thought. Breaking down discourses is something Postmodernism does particularly well. No opinion is free from bias (including Postmodernism) as it is a condition of existence to which we are condemned to. Some discourses intentionally hide their bias. While others subconsciously do so. But either way they must be exposed, they must be open to scrutiny.

Postmodernism also exposes the reality of all claims as artificial constructs, that they are all a matter of choice. What becomes popular or dominant is only a matter of circumstance, sometimes through favourable conditions, and more often through accident. Chance plays more a role than choice. In other words, things are more out of our control than we really want to admit. Often Postmodernism is described as arbitrariness and relativity.

I have thus far avoided any link to Modernism because critics of Postmodernism misunderstand the latter’s intention believing it is no different to the Modernism that came before. But through a commitment to the belief and practice of relativity, arbitrariness, discourse analysis, openness and scrutiny Postmodernism has changed the way think. The intellectual mood is different to our recent past and it is different in a better way. But that does not mean we are living in a better world. This is another feature of Postmodernism – we longer believe in a unidirectional, universal, linear progression of history and development. Because all this talk of Modernism and Postmodernism really only has meaning only as difference to each other, in a form of relativism. There is nothing intrinsic in their definitions. And to think any different is to not understand what Postmodernism is all about. And that being wrong is a possibly that one must keep in mind at all times.

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