Modernism vs. Postmodernism


The Self
Modernism: Existence of stable, coherent “self”, independent of culture and society.
Postmodernism: The “self” is a myth and largely a composite of one’s social experiences and cultural contexts. The “self” is an Ideology.

Reason
Modernism: Reason and science provide accurate, objective, reliable foundation of “knowledge”.
Postmodernism: Reason and science are Ideologies in the Marxist sense; myths created by man.

Feminism
Modernism: Women are oppressed by patriarchy and can use Reason to achieve both independence and regain their “authentic selves”.
Postmodernism: The categories male/female, masculine/feminine are themselves culturally constructed and/or Ideology. Gender roles are culturally relative in all cultures and contexts.

Objective Truth
Modernism: Reason transcends and exists independently of our existential, historical, cultural contexts; it is universal and “true”.
Postmodernism: There is no universal, objective means of judging any given concept as “true”; all judgements of truth exist within a cultural context (cultural relativism).

“Modernism had two great wishes. It wanted its audience to be led toward a recognition of the social reality of the sign (away from the comforts of narrative and illusionism, was the claim); but equally it dreamed of turning the sign back to a bedrock of World/Nature/Sensation/Subjectivity which the to and fro of capitalism had all but destroyed.” – T.J. Clark, Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism

Freedom
Modernism: Reason and human independence/freedom are inherently linked; just laws conform to the dictates of Reason.
Postmodernism: The application of pure Reason (predicated Cartesian Radical Skepticism) disproves the universal nature of a priori human freedom. Independence/Freedom are Western Ideologies used to colonize foreign cultures (i.e. Belgian Congo, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan).

Universal Truth
Modernism: Because it is universal, Reason can help us overcome all conflicts. Reason will lead to universal truths all cultures will embrace.
Postmodernism: Reason is no more universal than is any other culture’s definition of “truth”.

Science
Modernism: Science is the paradigm of all true knowledge.
Postmodernism: Science is Ideology.

Language
Modernism: Language is transparent; a one to one relationship between signifier (word) and signified (thing or concept).
Postmodernism: Language is fluid and arbitrary and/or rooted in Power/Knowledge relations. Meaning is fluid and arbitrary. Meaning is “messy”.

Connotations
Modernism: The application of Reason leads to a progressive movement toward civilization, democracy, freedom, scientific advancement. The Enlightenment is prescriptive: a means of building a better society.
Postmodernism: There is no objective means upon which to predicate morality and right/just governance. Postmodern theory is descriptive of the human condition; it describes an impasse in philosophy and social relations.

“There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.” – Harold Pinter

In Sum
Modernism: Truth exists independent of human consciousness and can be known through the application of Reason. All Enlightenment conclusions lead from this assumption.
Postmodernism: Truth may exist independent of human consciousness but there is no objective means of nailing it down. All Postmodern conclusions lead from this assumption.

1 thought on “Modernism vs. Postmodernism

  1. I have just learned that I am not a Postmodernist – a Postmodernist might say I need an anchor, I say I need a foundation.

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