The Idea of the Postmodern: A History

The Idea of the Postmodern: A History

The Idea of the Postmodern: A History

The Idea of the Postmodern: A History

Synopsis

Everything you ever wanted to know about postmodernism but were too confused to ask is contained in this book. Hans Bertens' Postmodernism is the first introductory overview of postmodernism to succeed in providing a witty and accessible guide for the bemused student. In clear, straightforward and elegant prose, Bertens sets out the interdisciplinary aspects, the critical debates and the key theorists of postmodernism. He also explains the relationship between postmodernism and poststructuralism, and that between modernism and postmodernism. An enjoyable and indispensable text for today's student.

Excerpt

Postmodernism is an exasperating term, and so are postmodern, postmodernist, postmodernity, and whatever else one might come across in the way of derivation. In the avalanche of articles and books that have made use of the term since the late 1950s, postmodernism has been applied at different levels of conceptual abstraction to a wide range of objects and phenomena in what we used to call reality. Postmodernism, then, is several things at once. It refers, first of all, to a complex of anti-modernist artistic strategies which emerged in the 1950s and developed momentum in the course of the 1960s. However, because it was used for diametrically opposed practices in different artistic disciplines, the term was deeply problematical almost right from the start.

Let me offer an example. Clement Greenberg, for more than thirty years easily the most influential art critic on the American scene, defined modernism in terms of a wholly autonomous aesthetic, of a radically anti-representational self-reflexivity. For Greenberg, modernism implied first of all that each artistic discipline sought to free itself from all extraneous influence. Modernist painting had thus purged itself of narrative-the presentation of biblical, classical, historical, and other such scenes-which belonged to the literary sphere, and had turned to a necessarily self-reflexive exploration of that which could be said to be specific to painting alone: its formal possibilities. From this anti-representational, formalist point of view, postmodernism gives up on this project of self-discovery and is a (cowardly) return to pictorial narrative, to representational practices. Architectural postmodernism has clear affinities with this. For Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Charles Jencks and other theorists, modernist architecture is the purist self-referential architecture of the Bauhaus-

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