Rise of Postmodernism

Vincent Kundukulam

The birth of postmodernism can be understood only in the light of the post Second World-War culture, which was highly marked by massive industrialization and communicational revolution in Europe and America. The proliferation of electronic media and replacement of human resources by enhanced technological devices resulted in man losing his place in the world. He could not locate himself in the midst of multinational contracts and decentered communicational network. Those who are in power manipulated media and technology to subdue the less efficient and the less learned. Subsequently people became suspicious of the ideologies and movements that were formed under the disguise of the transcendental legitimacy and thereby claimed to be true, valid and good for the whole mankind.

The anxiety and malaise against the universal narratives was first expressed by the post-war innovatory artists like Stockhausen, Boulez, Robbe-Grillet, Beckett, Coover, Rauschenberg, Beuys, etc. through their creative enterprises and productions. Their cultural demonstrations were followed by the reflections of a group of French intellectuals who analyzed the backdrops of modernism and voiced for a fresh mode of experience within art, literature, philosophy, politics and social life. Among these French philosophers, the names of Louis Althusser, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault are to be specially mentioned. They took the postmodern visions to various branches like linguistics, history, hermeneutics, social sciences and philosophy. Thus the postmodern trend witnessed the dominance of academicians over the artists. In the early 70s, it was fast exported to England, Germany and the United States.

The postmodern thinkers, possibly because of their concern to differ with the views of the modernists, heavily depended on the neologizing jargons and this created tremendous difficulty to the public and to the translators of their works. Even the French thinkers themselves did not understand mutually. It seems that Michel Foucault characterized Derrida’s style as “terrorist obscurantism.” Derrida’s texts were very obscure that we don’t understand exactly what they mean and if we reproach the author about it, he will counter saying, ‘you have falsely understood me and you are an idiot’. The French masters wrote in an absolutely avant-gardist style against the clarity of their predecessors, lest they should fall in line with the bourgeois certainties.

The outcome of the postmodern thinking cannot be easily defined and classified. The artists, intellectuals, academicians, social scientists and philosophers functioned as if they were members of a loosely constituted political party. Their general pattern of thinking was progressive and playful but their doctrines were not unified, and a few even denied membership in the postmodern school. Consequently, the text was open to all sorts of interpretations. It promoted a deep liking for irrationalism, a kind of despair about the achievements of the Enlightenment period. The publishers extravagantly advertised the works of postmodernists not because their thoughts were highly informative but their manner of using a theory, their insights, their way of addressing the questions and their interventions were challenging and provoking. In spite of these misgivings and misunderstandings many believed that the postmodern time has come because one could sense in the culture a break with the traits of modern period.


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