This is a philosophy.
(What’s important to note is that almost every resource I read about postmodernism started with a warning along the lines of, “Post-modernism is really hard to define.” If all of the following seems vague and interpretive, then you just might have a perfect understand of postmodernism.)
“Modernism” was the idea that the world is order and structured. Reason prevails, and there are larger purposes to what humans do – we try to please God, or we build successful societies, or we try to perpetuate our gene pool. Humans are part of a larger cultural and societal structure and legacy.
In some senses, “postmodernism” simply succeeded modernism, inasmuch as every philosophy is eventually succeeded by something else. Society tires of the old, has a reaction to it, and creates something new.
There are a variety of characteristics of postmodernism.
A rejection of any “grand narrative” of culture. Postmodernism rejects that there is much larger truth to anything. Historically, humans have been driven by over-arching constructs that we rarely even acknowledge: religion, reason, capitalism, etc. Postmodernism rejects that there is any larger narrative to human existence.
An embrace of relativism and a rejection of authorities. Everyone is free to develop their own philosophies, and all theories or facts are open for interpretation.
The existence of bias in all communication. Nothing is objective. Everything created by humans represents reality filtered through that humans feelings and history. All that really matters is individual experience.
Everything is socially determined. Humans are a blank slate and are programmed by society to think and act a certain way, rather than having any natural instincts.
I saw the below definition in multiple resources. It wasn’t sourced at all, so I don’t know who created it, but it kept popping up:
Premodernism (up to 1650): God/the supernatural realm furnishes the basis for morality, human dignity, truth, and reason.
Modernism (1650-1950s): Morality, human dignity, truth, and reason rest on foundations other than God (reason, science, race, etc.).
Postmodernism (1960s – present): All metanarratives (systems or grand stories) are suspect – whether religious or not. No universal foundation for truth, morality, human dignity exists.
We often encounter postmodernism in descriptions of media and art. This usually refers to common themes:
Confusion of what’s real what isn’t. We watch a news broadcast, and we think we’re informed and know the “facts,” but we weren’t involved in what happened. All we know is what the media has told us, yet we feel like we know the “truth.”
Acceptance of simulation as reality. We talk of things that happen “on the internet,” ignoring that all of it is simply magnetic impulses on a surface somewhere.
There is so much media, that it’s possible to find any opinion on any subject. Any concept of the media being authoritative has broken down.
Deconstruction of media, meaning techniques like breaking the fourth wall, fractured timelines, untrustworthy narrators, meta-narratives, etc. We can’t even trust that the narrative will be simple anymore – media can jerk us around at the last minute (example: Pulp Fiction)
Media has turned back on itself and refers to itself more often than it refers to reality. Much of today’s media is recreations of past media – tropes or cliches that we think represent reality, but only exist in our minds because we’ve seen it in past media. Art has become a pastiche of prior work.
(Note: I’ll keep updating this entry as my understanding develops…which is kind of a postmodern thought, when you think about it.)
Why I Looked It Up
I had always wondered. I saw a YouTube video claiming to explain it, and I fell down a rabbit hole for several hours.