Tom Myron and I had a recent misunderstanding over the term postmodernism. The term is relative at best, which is ironic for many reasons.

I’m curious to know what others have made of this word. My understanding has come mostly from Charles Newman’s analyses of postmodern literature. Newman contrasted postmodernism with modernism in a way that can be summarized as follows:

Characteristics of Modernism

  • It is revolutionary (Virginia Woolf: “On or about December 1910, human nature changed.”)
  • The certitude of despair.
  • The idea that one can have a revolutionary art without an evolutionary society.
  • Art as a sanctuary (perhaps the only one) for the individual.
  • Self-absorption in the grand manner: Elitism
  • The idea of art as a technical, even scientific process.
  • The task of art: its own self-realization.
  • Aesthetic moralism.

Characteristics of Post-modernism

  • license to talk about anything in the context of anything else: after all, international banking is more surreal than surreal art itself.
  • a violent adjacency of pure expressivity and pure accessibility, which reflects more often than not an atmosphere of intense demoralization.
  • the first period that does not idealize a specific past period as an emulative model. Rather, the entire history of art comes under attack through parody.
  • modernism reacting to overinformation.

By the late 20th century, repression of modern art was no longer a problem: the problem was indifference. Art was replaced by mass consumer culture in the hearts of the mainstream audience. Newman saw postmodernism as an assault upon a passive, indifferent mass culture.

Does this contradict or align with your understanding?

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