Guide Beyond Modernism and Postmodernism: Essays on the Politics of Culture

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Lenin on imperialism did not quite seem to equal Lenin and the media, and it gradually seemed possible to take his lesson in a different way. For he set the example of identifying a new stage of capitalism that was not explicitly foreseen in Marx: the so-called monopoly stage, or the moment of classical imperialism. That could lead you to believe, either that the new mutation had been named and formulated once and for all; or that one might be authorized to invent yet another one under certain circumstances. The interesting question today is then not why I adopt this perspective, but why so many people are scandalized or have learned to be scandalized by it.

These forms were apparently immediate reactions to the Victorian values such as bourgeois domesticity, duty, work, decorum, referentiality, utilitarianism , industry, and realism. Some of the forms of aesthetic modernism naturally resemble Romanticism , which was rejected in the Victorian period. According to Dino Felluga, the features of modernist aesthetic work include: [4]. In order to grasp an idea of what the "postmodernism" movement in all its variations is reacting against, one must first have an understanding of the definitive elements of "modernism.

Modernism in the second definition can be traced back to the Enlightenment, which was a humanistic reaction in the eighteenth century to the premodern, medieval type of religious dogmatism which could still be found in Lutheran and Calvinist scholasticism, Jesuit scholasticism, and the theory of the divine right of kings in the Church of England in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Of course, against this premodern type of religious dogmatism, there was another, religiously more profound, reaction in the eighteenth century, expressing itself in Pietism and John Wesley 's Methodism.

But the humanistic tradition of the Enlightenment was more influential than that. Since its beginning, this Enlightenment tradition has a long history of philosophical , cultural, social and political development until most of the twentieth century, much longer and older than twentieth-century aesthetic modernism, and it is quite often called "modernity. So, when the limitations of the nineteenth century were felt, "modernity" served as an indirect background against which twentieth-century aesthetic modernism sprang.

When the limitations of "modernity" were more directly felt later in the twentieth century, it issued in a reaction called postmodernism, which, as will be explained below, is of a second kind, i. Clear thinking professor Mary Klages, author of Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed, lists basic features of "modernity" since the Enlightenment as follows: [7]. Corresponding to the two different facets of modernism, there are two distinguishable senses of postmodernism: 1 postmodernism as a reaction to twentieth-century aesthetic modernism ; and 2 postmodernism as a reaction to the "modernity" tradition of the Enlightenment.

In order to be distinguished from the former, the latter is quite often called "postmodernity. Postmodernism as a reaction to twentieth-century aesthetic modernism emerged soon after World War II. It still carried most of the features of twentieth-century aesthetic modernism.

So, some have argued that it is essentially just an outgrowth of modernism, and not a separate movement. But, there is a fundamental difference. It is that while aesthetic modernism had presented fragmentation, for example, as something tragic to be lamented as in Eliots' "The Waste Land" , postmodernism no longer laments it but rather celebrates it. Thus, postmodernism is inclined to stay with meaninglessness, playing with nonsense. Dino Felluga sees this difference and lists some of the things "that distinguish postmodern aesthetic work from modernist work" as follows: [9].

Postmodernism in this sense was much discussed in the s and s by theorists such as Leslie Fielder and Ihab Hassan, [13] although Hassan gradually extended his discussion to a general critique of Western culture , somewhat dealing with postmodernism in the other sense as well. Many other theorists such as Baudrillard, Jameson, and Hutcheson later joined the discussion on postmodernism in the first sense, perhaps having in mind postmodernism in the other sense as well. Up until the s the discussion on postmodernism was generally confined to postmodernism in its first sense.

But, when Habermas was trying to defend modernity as an "unfinished project" we should not abandon yet, it prompted those who were in favor of postmodernity to react. Since then, a large volume of literature has continued to snowball, focusing on postmodernity as the more important facet of postmodernism. Habermas now became the target of criticism especially from Lyotard, who published The Postmodern Condition in English in , his best-known and most influential work. After summarizing modernity in terms of order and rationality, Mary Klages lists some of the basic characteristics of postmodernity over against it, as follows: [16].

What should be added to the list as an important aspect of postmodernity is Jacques Derrida's project of deconstruction as an attempt to criticize what is called logocentrism beyond text. The term "deconstruction," coined by Derrida, came from Heidegger , who called for the destruction or deconstruction the German "Destruktion" connotes both English words of the history of ontology.

In later usage, "deconstruction" became an important textual "occurrence. A deconstruction is created when the "deeper" substance of text opposes the text's more "superficial" form. This idea is not unique to Derrida but is related to the idea of hermeneutics in literature; intellectuals as early as Plato asserted it and so did modern thinkers such as Leo Strauss.

Derrida's argument is that deconstruction proves that texts have multiple meanings, and that the "violence" between the different meanings of text may be elucidated by close textual analysis. According to Derrida, deconstruction is not a method or a tool but an occurrence within the text itself. Writings about deconstruction are therefore referred to in academic circles as deconstructive readings. Deconstruction is far more important to postmodernism than its seemingly narrow focus on text might imply.


According to Derrida, therefore, one consequence of deconstruction is that the text may be defined so broadly as to encompass not just written words but the entire spectrum of symbols and phenomena within Western thought. To Derrida, a result of deconstruction is that no Western philosophers have been able to escape successfully from this large web of text and reach that which is "signified," which they have imagined to exist "just beyond" the text.

The two different senses of postmodernism are reactions to the two different facets of modernism, respectively. One can observe that the reaction of postmodernity to modernity seems to be more radical than that of aesthetic postmodernism to twentieth-century aesthetic modernism, for whereas postmodernity is a big leap from modernity, aesthetic postmodernism still resembles twentieth-century aesthetic modernism at least in some external ways. Aesthetic modernism was already a very progressive movement in the first half of the twentieth century; so, aesthetic postmodernism, reacting to it, does not have to be a very big leap.

However, it is safe to say that the two different senses of postmodernism cohere and are not separate, even though they are originally two different reactions to the two different facets of modernism, respectively. Timewise, they both started soon after World War II. In terms of content as well, they concur in many respects.

Postmodernism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

They interact, and "the postmodern turn can result from the interaction between" the two "in the postmodern pie. The interaction of the two has resulted in a convergence of them also. Today, as some of the general characteristics of postmodernism as a whole, the following points in more popular terms are mentioned:. Interestingly, postmodernism has invited a wide spectrum of criticisms, not only from conservatives but also from Marxist scholars and other intellectuals. The term "postmodernism" is sometimes used to describe tendencies in society that are held to be antithetical to traditional systems of morality.

Elements of the Christian Right, in particular, have interpreted postmodern society to be synonymous with moral relativism and contributing to deviant behavior. Conservative Christians also criticize postmodernism of being a serious challenge to scripture, creeds and confessions, and ecclesiastical tradition, which they regard as foundations of their faith. Diabate,A Mamani who write for their people. It is often a less fancy literature, but it express very well the "ordinary" African soul.

Evidently, the problem with that literature is that it has not been translated in English! If you are interested, I could send you a list of titles.

I agree with Claire's hesitation about using the term "post-modern" when applied to African literature and many other literatures, for that matter. And, yes, I would be interested in a list of French titles as I am considering doing a translation and need to select an appropriate title. I am terribly confused on this issue of post-modernism. I ask the following out of sheer ignorance and tell you so that you don't mistake ignorance for cleverness.

N'gugi, maybe? Is postmodern critique limited to academics of the last three decades primarily in European and American universities with a few post-independence add ons? Or does postmodern only apply to those whose tarmac is kept in good repair? Mary Lanser raises some good questions.


I have been trying to grapple with similar issues while writing a paper about African philosophy and postcolonialism. My inclination is to think of postmodernism as a mood, rather than a historical phenomenon. If postmodernism is the questioning of modernist values of objectivity, progress, efficiency, structure, and so forth, I think it is possible to see a variety of writers as modernist and postmodern at the same time.

Postmodernism is an interpretive mood that emphasizes the cracks in a grand narrative. I too don't quite know what to do about claims of postmodernism for African thought.

Historicizing Historicizations

If postmodernism is the questioning or problematizing of modernism, what is "postmodern" African thought a questioning or problematizing of? Its own "modernist" past, if it has one at all? Some although not all expressions of postmodernism amount to little more than cultural relativism -- is that what postmodernity means here? Part of my hesitation concerning applying postmodernism to this situation is that a it is imposed as a theoretical structure which does not resonate with African practice, and b that theoretical structure, for some theorists, has a kind of necessity about it the natural outgrowth of modernism.

If African thought was never modernist, it can't be post-modern, either. The wild card, of course, is colonialism, which could be seen as a prime example of modernism rationalization of resources, efficiency, the assumption of the universalizability of European values, rationality, goals, etc. But this is a modernism that was imposed, and resisted by many.

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Does it make sense to talk of a postmodernism when the modernism was never your own? My inclination is to look toward hermeneutic philosophy as being more fruitful, while realizing the possible difficulty of theorizing what Ricoeur calls the hermeneutics of suspicion. African philosophy, at least, is in that process right now. I have never been sure what modernism and postmodernism are, though some of the postmodernists have very real insights on colonialism.

I do however question Bruce Janz' effort to link the colonial and the modern. I stand to be corrected. If however this is true, then one can talk of modernism having existed in Africa before exploding on the European continent. Further, isn't it possible to say that post-colonial postmodernist historical fiction s can become some of the most important ways by which oppressive discourses EuroAmerican?