Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

The Idea of the Postmodern

Andreas Huyssen ( 1942-) was born in Germany. He taught at the University of Wisconsin, then in 1986 moved to Columbia University, where he is professor of German. Huyssen is an editor of New German Critique, in which the selection first appeared in 1984, and author of After the Great Divide ( 1986) and other books. "Whither Postmodernism?" (from the longer article "Mapping Postmodernism") is one of the more balanced assessments of postmodernism available. Huyssen clearly distinguishes postmodernism from avant-gardism, on the one hand, while acknowledging some of the peculiar extremes of postmodern cultural fads, on the other. The elegance of this text lies in the author's sensitivity to postmodernism as a series of movements in world culture that threaten Western culture's period of dominance; thus, it is a movement with evident links to political and economic changes in world history in the last generation.


Whither Postmodernism?

Andreas Huyssen( 1984)

The cultural history of the 1970s still has to be written, and the various postmodernisms in art, literature, dance, theater, architecture, film, video, and music will have to be discussed separately and in detail. All I want to do now is to offer a framework for relating some recent cultural and political changes to postmodernism, changes which already lie outside the conceptual network of "modernism/avantgardism" and have so far rarely been included in the postmodernism debate.

I would argue that the contemporary arts--in the widest possible sense, 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 neverending 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

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Excerpt from "Mapping the Postmodern", Linda Nicholson, ed., Feminism/Postmodernism ( New York: Routledge, 1990), pp. 267-271.

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