UNIVERSIDAD CENTRAL DE VENEZUELA
Facultad de Humanidades y Educaci?n
Escuela de Idiomas Modernos
Departamento de Ingl?s
Cultura, Temas y Textos 2
2do lapso ? 2009-2010
Profesor: Reygar Bernal

POSTMODERNISM


By ROBERT B.RAY

Because in common usage the word ?modern? simply means ?contemporary?, the term ?postmodernism? has seemed, from the start, like the vocabulary of science fiction. How, after all, can something which exists now be said to come after the present? The word?s apocalyptic tone, its connotations of nihilistic rejection, issue from this oxymoronic aspect which seems to provide a way of speaking about the impossible. To say ?I am postmodern? would be, for most people, something like saying ?I am asleep??it can be done, but what does it mean? Of course, the confusion vanishes when we replace ?modern? with ?modernism? and explain that the latter refers less to historical time than to a specific movement in the arts. Even with this refinement, however, the words ?postmodern? and ?postmodernism? have not yet lost their fundamental strangeness?a strangeness corresponding perhaps to the radical break with traditional assumptions about meaning which the postmodern situation has effected. As we grow used to the word ?postmodernism?, we may also get used to its implications.
In 1924, two years after the annus mirabilis of Ulysses and The Waste Land, Virginia Woolf suggested that modernism, or at least ?the modern world?, had begun ?on or about December 1910? when ?human character changed? (Woolf, [1924] 1950, p. 96). In 1977, with a mock seriousness typical of postmodernism, Charles Jencks, offered that modernism had ended on 15 July 1972 at 3.32 p.m. (Jencks, 1984, p. 9). For Jencks, the symbolism of this moment derived from a specific architectural event, the demolition of modernist Minouru Yamasaki?s Pruitt-Igoe housing project, deemed obsolete by St Louis city planners. The term ?postmodernism? did indeed find its first widespread circulation in architecture, but it migrated rapidly until it now seems to designate simultaneously an aesthetic style, a cultural situation, a critical practice, an economic condition, and a political attitude. Thus, depending on one?s definition, different dates present themselves as the start of what counts as ?post?:
Did, for example, postmodernism begin in 1984 when the US Supreme Court ruled that copyright laws did not prohibit home off-the-air video taping? In 1972, when the percentage of Americans employed in service industries reached twice that in manufacturing?
In 1971, when Barry Commoner?s The Closing Circle formulated the First Two Laws of Ecology, ?Everything is connected to everything else?, and ?Everything must go somewhere??
In 1968, when European and American student strikes demonstrated the wide appeal of the anti-war, feminist and minority rights movements?
In 1962, when Andy Warhol, taking his friends? advice to suppress all traces of abstract expressionism, produced his first Campbell Soup Cans?
In 1954, when for the first time, more than half of American homes had television?
In 1952, when the Lettrist International (the prototype of the Situationists) disrupted Charlie Chaplin?s Ritz Hotel press conference, explaining that ?We believe that the most urgent expression of freedom is the destruction of idols, especially when they present themselves in the name of freedom? (Marcus, 1982, p. 15)?
In 1946, when Arnold Toynbee referred to a ?Post-Modern? historical age (Toynbee, 1965), and Randall Jarrell described Robert Lowell as ?post- or anti-modernist? (Calinescu, 1987, p. 267)?
In 1913, when Marcel Duchamp mounted an upside-down bicycle wheel to a kitchen stool, thereby ?producing? the first ?readymade? (Duchamp?s own term for an everyday object, named, signed and offered as ?art?)?
In 1863, when the dandies that Baudelaire described strolled in Haussmann?s rebuilt Paris, using their clothes as an emblem of ambivalent revolt?
In 1855, when the Parisian World Exhibition became the first to have an exhibit called ?Photography??
In 1852, when the Bon March?, the first department store, opened in Paris, one year after the Crystal Palace and three years before the Louvre (Williams,
1982, p. 66)?
In 1850, when Flaubert began his Dictionary of Received Ideas, a deadpan citation of everyday life?
In 1836, when the Parisian La Presse became the first commercial daily newspaper, ?arguably the first consumer commodity: made to be perishable, purchased to be thrown away? (Terdiman, 1985, p. 120)?
That any of these dates (and a dozen others) could legitimately mark the decisive break suggests the single most important thing about postmodernism: unlike impressionism, cubism, expressionism, and even modernism, it cannot best be understood as simply another movement in the arts. Thus, the standard typological moves of literary criticism do not work very well to distinguish postmodernism from its predecessors.