Phenomenology, as generally defined in sociology, refers to the study of how the social world is constructed. We might think of how an architect blueprints a project and then oversees its realization. Phenomenology suggests that we are all, in a sense, collective architects of our identities, actions, communities, and social realities. Patterns of social life appear to exist independently of ourselves, but phenomenology seeks to reveal how people produce an apparently independent world in the course of their daily lives.
I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives. 1
I would argue that the contemporary arts—in the widest possible sense, 2 whether they call themselves postmodernist or reject that label—can no longer be regarded as just another phase in the sequence of modernist and avantgardist movements which began in Paris in the 1850s and 1860s and which maintained an ethos of cultural progress and vanguardism through the 1960s. On this level, postmodernism cannot be regarded simply as a sequel to modernism, as the latest step in the never-ending revolt of modernism against itself. The postmodern sensibility of our time is different from both modernism and avantgardism precisely in that it raises the question of cultural tradition and conservation in the most fundamental way as an aesthetic and a political issue. It doesn’t always do it successfully, and it often does it exploitatively. And yet, my main point about contemporary postmodernism is that it operates in a field of tension between tradition and innovation, conservation and renewal, mass culture and high art, in which the second terms are no longer automatically privileged over the first; a field of tension which can no longer be grasped in categories such as progress vs. reaction, Left vs. Right, present vs. past, modernism vs. realism, abstraction vs. representation, avant-garde vs. Kitsch. The fact that such dichotomies, which after all are central to the classical accounts of modernism, have broken down is part of the shift in the following terms: Modernism and the avant-garde were always closely related to social and industrial modernization. They were related to it as an adversary culture, yes, but they drew their energies, not unlike Poe’s Man of the Crowd, from their proximity to the crises brought about by modernization and progress. Modernization