Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Talking About Postmodernism

It always kind of bothers me when I read about someone trying to define postmodernism. This is especially true if they are doing so in a non-scholarly environment. The problem is that I don't think that we yet have a coherent idea of postmodernism that can be communicated to any layperson. When you describe the split between modern and medieval periods, it's easy to do it in a way that pretty much anyone can grasp. You can point to a few important things and draw contrasts from them. For the sake of example: printing presses, The Reformation, cogito ergo sum, Don Quixote, Gallileo. In the span of a couple centuries you can point to a few changes that precipitated a wholesale change in European and ultimately global culture. Of course these changes didn't all happen at once. Feudalism made to the 18th Century in France and to the 1860s in Russia to cite a couple examples.

So where does that leave us with postmodernism? I think we haven't gotten to the point where we can say that we've seen many of the fundamental develops that will define it. The very fact that we call it "postmodernism" indicates that we only know what it is in relation to something else. None of this is terribly new to anyone familiar with this kind of territory. But it's funny that we can't stop talking about postmodernity. Even though I don't think we know what it is. By "we" I mean society at large. I think that in many scholarly circles there is some understanding this phenomenon, but the average person doesn't have a clue. It's a just a catchall term for artworks that they cannot understand. I propose that we put a moratorium on using this word unless can give a definition of it that's worthy of the OED.