The Postmodern Dictionary






Aleatory: undetermined, uncertain. Postmodernism covers the aleatory realm of the aleatory in thought and in art.


Anti-Essentialist: Against a belief that there are universal truths, that anything can be defined as "essential." (Ask about this one!) Essentialists believe in an unchangeable reality which holds true for all cultures in all of history, and thus truths or ideas, (like homosexuality for instance) are an unchangeable "essence" rather than a socially constructed characteristic. Anti-Essentialist is against this belief in unchangeable "essence." Anti-Essentialism is the belief that everything is relative and socially constructed.


Apotheosis: Exaltation, deification, raising (esp. a person) to a high, unparalleled level above others. Postmodernism wouldn't think of doing such a thing.


Atomism: the practice of reducing or breaking down theories or ideas into tiny disconnected pieces and critiquing the parts separately


Atomism: A doctrine that the physical or physical and mental universe is composed of simple indivisible minute particles.


Blankness: Without expression or emotion. Postmodernism is often accused of pervasive blankness, which stems from its embrace of indeterminacy and lack of identifiably central meaning, specific emotional investment, historical placement and core agenda. See definition of "nihilistic" (below).



Bricolage: A miscellany of on-hand materials, ideas, meanings. Postmodernism (e.g. art) is often characterized by such a miscellany of discourse.


Bricolage: Construction or something constructed by using whatever comes to hand.


coded: the systematic association of specific meanings with particular aspects of an object or occurrences of an idea.  in generalized use: "bodies are coded," or in more specific uses: "women's bodies are coded as docile."



Camp: Aesthetically exaggerated, bizarre, ridiculous, self-referential, rude, ostentatious.



Collaging: a piecing together - a bricolage - of cultural artifacts.



Communicative Action: Habermas' term. Communicative action is rational communication for the purpose of cooperative solidarity. Habermas talks about different kinds of communication and the way they work.


Constellation:  collection of concepts or ideas loosely connected to one  another, though not identical; a non-hierarchical form of organization or  classification


Constellation: An array of elements; or, in the celestial context, an arrangement of stars. Postmodern thought is marked by a constellation of elements, ideas, discourses and ways of thinking that have come before it.


Constructivism: Is sometimes contrasted with social constructionism. Constructivism is based on a theory of cognitive perspective. Each individual has a kind of cognitive bias and all happenings in the world are colored by that bias.


deontic deontic dio/enticons/ogon.gif.ntik, sb. and a. Philos. [f. Gr. de/enticons/acute.gifon, deont- (see deontology) + -ic. ]  A. sb.  1. Pl. After ethics, eudemonics, etc. (See quots.) A.

1866 J. Grote Moral Ideals (1876) vii. 102 A science of duty (deontics or deontology).  1906 J. S. Stuart-Glennie in Sociol Pap. II. 250 The second order of ethical sciences..form the contents of three classes of sciences-Economics, Deontics, and Juridics.  1929 Mind XXXVIII. 275 Deontics.., meaning..that which, either perfectly or in a definite degree, is obligatory upon all.  2. sing. (See quot.) 1926 Mind XXXV. 395 Ethical arguments..should be able to exhibit their `deontic' in the same way as inference reveals its `logic'.  B. adj. Of or relating to duty, obligation, etc. 1951 Mind LX. 1 (title) Deontic logic.  1955 A. N. Prior Formal Logic 221 There are `laws of movement' of deontic operators analogous to those of ordinary modal operators.


Diachronic: referring to phenomena as they change over time; i.e. employing a chronological


diachronic: historical time; a sense of time in which time moves forward in a  linear (or a strict cyclical) progression


dialectic: the process of arriving at knowledge or truth (with a  lowercase  „tš) through conversation or tension between opposing ideas


Philos. Scientific knowledge, a system of understanding; spec. Foucault's term for the body of ideas which shape the perception of knowledge at a particular period. Cf. EPISTEMOLOGY.
  [1856 W. E. JELF Note to Aristotle's Ethics II. vi. 39 {Elenis}({pi}greek writing{sigma}){ghacu}{mu}{eta}, here used loosely for 'system', which proceeds on rules, as distinguished from empiricism, which acts without rules. 1907 R. D. HICKS Aristotle's De Anima 307 The student who has a capacity for learning, has only potential knowledge when compared with one who has gone through a course of study. Here {elenis}{pi}{iota}{sigma}{tau}{ghacu}{mu}{eta}is related to {alenisacu}{gamma}{nu}{omicron}{iota}{alpha}as actual to potential. 1961 in WEBSTER. 1966 M. FOUCAULT Mots & Choses 13 Ce qu'on voudrait mettre au jour, c'est le champ épistémologique, l'épistémŹ [sic] oĚ les connaissances, envisagées hors de tout critŹre se référant ą leur valeur rationnelle ou ą leurs formes objectives, enfoncent leur positivité et manifestent ainsi une histoire qui n'est pas celle de leur perfection croissante, mais plutôt celle de leurs conditions de possibilité.] 1967 P. P. HALLIE in Encycl. Philos. VIII. 368/2 There is episteme or science, when all our firmly certain conceptions combine into a system. 1970 tr. M. Foucault's Order of Things x. iii. 365 The 'sciences of man' are part of the modern episteme in the same way as chemistry or medicine or any other such science; or again, in the same way as grammar and natural history were part of the Classical episteme. 1972 A. M. S. SMITH tr. M. Foucault's Archaeol. Knowledge IV. vi. 191 The analysis of discursive formations, of positivities, and knowledge in their relations with epistemological figures and with the sciences is what has been called, to distinguish it from other possible forms of the history of the sciences, the analysis of the episteme. 1979 N. C. GILLESPIE Charles Darwin & Probl. Creation i. 1, I make no claim to embrace all of Foucault's profound, if sometimes extravagant, ideas about 'epistemes',{em}i.e., the communal presuppositions about knowledge and its nature and limits. 1982 M. M. SLAUGHTER Universal Lang. & Sci. Taxon. in 17th Cent. III. 187 (heading) The end of the taxonomic episteme.


Etiological: thinking or philosophizing about an origin or about how something starts.

Postmodernism eschews etiological thinking.



Eurocentric: Focusing in Europe of its people, institutions, and cultures. Sometimes it is used disapprovingly, presuming arrogance.


Excremental: Having to do with bodily waste. Postmodernism embraces the aestheticization of excrement.


Exhaustion: the using up of those resources and means available to a particular theory or form (of expression) to effect a particular change or understanding


Exhaustion: An idea that has become tired or has completely collapsed.


Frankfurt school- The scholars that made up the Frankfurt school were all directly, or indirectly associated with a place called the Institute of Social Research. The nickname of the thinkers, originates in the location of the institute, Frankfurt Germany. The names of the men who made significant contributions to this school of thought are, Theodor W. Adorno (philosopher, sociologist and musicologist), Walter Benjamin (essayist and literary critic), Herbert Marcuse (philosopher), Max Horkheimer (philosopher, sociologist), and later, Jurgen Habermas. Each of these philosophers believed, and shared Karl Marx's theory of Historical Materialism. Each of these individuals observed the beginning of Communism in Russia, and the resulting fascism in Italy. They lived through the first world war, the rise and fall of Hitler, and of course the devastation of the Holocaust. They formed reactions that were attempts to reconcile Marxist theory with the reality of what the people and governments of the world were going through. Each member of the Frankfurt school adjusted Marxism with his additions, or "fix" if you will. They then used the "fixed" Marxist theory as a measure modern society needed to meet. These ideas came to be known as "Critical Theory."


(Note: I admit I copied this, but I thought it was pretty thorough even as a gloss. However, now I am pretty sure whenever people appropriate the term.)


Freeplay: A term used largely by Derrida, it applies to meanings as not fixed, but rather

as subject to flux.



Gynesis: Explained by French postructuralist feminist thinker Jardine, this was a

rethinking about modern constructions of women as directly related to male masternarratives, as a way to resist such constructs.



Gynesis: A term generated by Alice Jardine, it implies a valorization of the feminine or woman as intrinsic to the development of postmodern modes of speaking and writing. This is a process of rethinking brought about by the collapse of the master narratives of the West and a reexamination of the main topics of philosophy: Man, Truth, History. (Barbara Creed)


Iconoclast: against institutions or ideology. Postmodernism is iconoclastic.


Incest prohibition: the infamous example of a social phenomena that fails to be  classifiable as either "natural" (because it is a taboo and therefore societal)  OR "cultural" (because it is universally present in all human societies).  The  nature/culture dichotomy is crucial to po-mo because culture is equated with  signification and nature with biology.


     2. Linguistics and Lit. Theory. Language or text which is either intermediate, as between different language forms (cf. *INTERLANGUAGE n. 2), or an intermediary (between the reader and the text) such as a commentary or exegesis.
  1986 Austral. Rev. Applied Linguistics IX. II. 130 The mixed pieces could be understood as a form of 'interlanguage'.., not merely as deviations from the target, but as transitional approximations of text... I have called these forms 'intertext'. 1988 Times Lit. Suppl. 4 Nov. 1227/3 Laforgue is using an intertext he expects his contemporary readers to recognize. 1989 Whole Earth Rev. Summer 80/2 I'm thinking of writing an intertext for Neuromancer for Foundation..a little annotated bit saying this came from that.


 intertext, n.  1. Lit. Theory. [Back-formation f. *INTERTEXTUALITY n.] A text considered in the light of its relation (esp. in terms of allusion) to other texts; a body of such texts considered together.
  1974 Romanic Rev. LXV. 280 A text can realize the poetic model either in conformity with or contrary to the expectations raised. Such expectations are the awareness of an intertext. 1981 M. RIFFATERRE in New Lit. Hist. XII. 228 The text refers not to objects outside of itself, but to an intertext. The words of the text signify not by referring to things, but by presupposing other texts. 1988 Times Lit. Suppl. 16 Dec. 1401/2 At the other extreme, texts may be cut loose altogether from their historical moorings and considered synchronically as forming one vast intertext, irrespective of such considerations as authorship, date, or audience. 1992 Times 13 May II. 1/3 For the deconstructionists, the proposition has nothing but a fragment of a larger polysemic text, part of the global intertext that encompassed everything and everyone.


Intertextuality: Interdependence of literary texts, the interdependence of any one literary text with all those that have gone before it. A text is not an isolated phenomenon but is made up of a mosaic of quotations, and as Julia Kristeva said in 1966, that any text is the "absorption and transformation of another."


Kitsch: A pejorative word for a work which is of little merit, or lacks any significant intellectual depth. From the German "kitschen" (to throw together), the term implies a work or performance that was "thrown together" to gratify popular taste.


Legitimation: To make or comply with recognized rules, standards, or traditions, or to argue or prove that a position is lawful or reasonable.


Meta-narrative: Lyotard's term. It means a story or narrative that is presumed to have great generality and represents a final and apodictic truth. Modernists, Lyotard tells us, believe in metanarratives whereas postmodems are incredulous ofmetanarratives. Postmoderns, in this sense of the term, are eclectic and gather their beliefs from a variety of sources while treating the resulting compilation as tentative.


Multi-valent: Having various meanings or values: subtle, multivalent allegory.


multivalent multivalent m/enticons/, , a. and sb. Chem. [See multi- 1. ]  A. adj.  1.  a. Having many degrees of valency. 

1874 J. P. Cooke New Chem. 278 Hydrates of multivalent radicals.  b. Med. Of an antigen or antibody: having several sites at which it can become attached to an antibody or antigen, respectively.  1934 Harvey Lect. XXVIII. 198 In this way it has been possible to show that antigen and antibody in this system, too, are multivalent with respect to each other-that is, that the composition of the precipitate varies according to the relative proportions of the reactants.  1948 Kabat & Mayer Exper. Immunochem. iii. 67 The immunochemist..has found it more useful to..consider the visible agglutination as an indication that the antigen particles are linked together by antibody molecules to form aggregates as a result of the combination of multivalent antibody with multivalent antigen on the particle surface.  1963 Humphrey & White Immunol. for Students of Med. vi. 185 The combination in multiple proportions depends upon the fact that both antigen and antibody are multivalent. Antibody valencies are restricted to two per molecule but antigen valencies may exceed 200, although they are more usually around 5 to 10 per molecule.  2. Cytology. That is (part of) a multivalent. 1929 Jrnl. Genetics XXI. 41 The whole process by which multivalent combinations arise has been followed only in the tulips.  1937 C. D. Darlington Recent Adv. Cytol. (ed. 2) iv. 129 The result seems to depend on..the distribution of the chiasmata in the multivalent chromosome.  1967 Biol. Abstr. XLVIII. 983/1 (heading) Multivalent associations in oocytes of Triturus helveticus helveticus.  3. gen. Having many applications, meanings, or values. 1933 Mind XLII. 484, I propose to call words which can enter sentences in more than one sense multivalent words.  1952 Essays in Crit. II. 99 It is unnecessary to heap up detailed parallels for the reader..; our object is to indicate their multivalent mode of functioning.  1963 Listener 31 Jan. 213/2 Spenser's allegory is sometimes naēve, often multivalent, and often, indeed, non-existent;  1971 Archivum Linguisticum II. 59 Interrogative form considered in the abstract is as multivalent as the flection -s and is variously used..for suggestions.., exclamations.., and so on.  B. sb. Cytology. An association of three or more completely or partly homologous chromosomes during the first division of meiosis. 1929 Jrnl. Genetics XXI. 12 At post-diplotene stages associations of three, four and five chromosomes are found, clearly the forerunners of the metaphase multivalents.  1937 M. J. D. White Chromosomes v. 82 The frequency of formation of multivalents in polyploids varies a great deal and apparently depends in part on the length of the chromosomes and in part on the rapidity of zygotene pairing.  1959 Biol. Abstr. XXXIV. 12/1 Multivalent formation and `secondary association' in the meiotic stages of autotetraploid races of Lycopersicon Mill.  1971 Nature 9 Apr. 390/1 Though most of the chromosomes are associated as bivalents, a few multivalents are present.  Hence mul'tivalence, -'valency the state or condition of being multivalent; also (after ambivalence), the property of having many meanings or interpretations.  A. 1881 Barratt Phys. Metempiric (1883) 64 Multi-valency of atoms.  1882 Ogilvie Suppl., Multivalence.  1933 Mind XLII. 49 The solution of these paradoxes lies in the ambiguity... Multivalence would be better. Because it is a multiplicity of use not of meaning.  1937 Jrnl. Immunol. XXXII. 119 (heading) On the mutual multivalence of toxin and antitoxin.  1940 Jrnl. Amer. Chem. Soc. LXII. 2646/1 (heading) The bivalence of antibodies and the multivalence of antigens.  1963 Humphrey & White Immunol. for Students of Med. vi. 218 The so-called `sandwich' technique for the detection of antibody..employs a primary layer of a dilute solution of unlabelled antigen. After reacting for 30 minutes or so, this is rinsed off..and then exposed to specific fluorescein-labelled antibody. Such a method depends upon the multivalency of the antigen.  1965 English Studies XLVI. 28 This very the crux of a mythological interpretation, by which such a general mother-goddess may be associated with almost anything on earth and sea.


New historicism: historical method; interested in researching contexts of literary texts' production, consumption, and status.


Nihilistic: Holding a skepticism that anything can be proven or foundationally based on evidence, or believing that nothing "truly" or "really" exists. Postmodernism is often viewed as nihilistic, adhering to no pre-established ideologies, and in fact tossing them out altogether.



Noetic: purely intellectual or abstract; pertaining to the act of thinking or perceiving


Noetic: adjective form of the word "noesis." Noesis (Greek for "understanding") simply means the cognitive process or cognition.


Noetic: Typical of, or understood by, the human mind. An idea capable of being comprehended.


normative: exemplifying a particular view, theory, or attitude while asserting  its position as normal and the position of all other views, theories, or  attitudes as deviant


Normative: Of, relating to, or prescribing a norm or standard: normative grammar.


Ontology: technically, the branch of metaphysics that addresses the nature of  being and existence.  Used in "theoryspeak" usually to refer to the conditions  and/or experience of one's existence.


Palimpsest (dictionary): A manuscript, typically of papyrus or parchment, that has been written on more than once, with the earlier writing incompletely erased and often legible.


Palimpsest: Literally, a piece of parchment onto which something has been rewritten, but which still reveals some of that which was written on it before (but insufficiently erased). In the context of postmodernism, repetition, recycling and rechuming of ideas seems to suggest an ongoing stream of meaning, without neither a complete erasure of that which came before, nor a certainty of an original idea.


Palimpsest: something altered yet bearing traces of its original form.


Panopotic: including everything one sees; assuming or embracing all. Postmodernism maintains a panoptic view of art and the bricolage of all aesthetic artifacts, even excremental, with no distinction between high and low.


Pastiche: A literary, artistic, or architectural work that imitates the style of previous work; also: such stylistic imitation.


Performative: a word that describes an activity that is constructed and creates an effect. Beyond purely theatrical settings, performativity can be observed in other cultural locations and in everyday life.


Periphery: the place where people of color, women, third-world peoples, etc. are confined. It is the outward bounds of something as distinguished from its internal regions or center, but it is also an area lying beyond the strict limits of a thing.


perspective (cf. synchronic).


Position: an acknowledgement of one's place in the world in relation to others. Recognizing one's position can bring about an awareness to the impossibility of objectivity. In PoMo terms, one cannot "be objective," subjectivity is all.


Post-colonialism: Stephen Slemon suggests it is a specifically anti- or post-colonial discursive purchase in a culture, which begins in a moment that colonial power inscribes itself onto the body and space of its Others and which continues as an occulted tradition into the modem theatre of neocolonialist international relations (so not necessarily post-independence historical period in a once-colonized nation, but actually can be during the colonial culture as well). Simon During suggests that it is located in "the survival of residual forms of economic life" in colonial societies, the "need for an identity granted not in terms of the colonial power, but in terms of themselves." It can also exist in literary activity, etc, where a reiterative quotation or intertextual citation, in relation to colonialist "textuality" figures.


Privilege: person or concept perceived to have an advantage over other people or concepts. A privileged person is usually called so as a result of their socio- economic status. A privileged concept applies to those ideas which help constitute normative standards.


 (re): a prefix that acknowledges the (re)cycled nature of the word it is attached to. Rarely are things "original" or "created." Most things in a PoMo world are borrowed from a past and often presented in ways that seem astoundingly unique, but still a (re)creation.


reification: to treat an abstract or metaphorical concept as if it were an underlying stable unit of reality, for example to treat love-sickness as a disease or to treat the abstract concept of "color" as something existing apart from any colored object.


REIFY - reification (from OED) reification ri/enticons/macr.gif,ifike/enticons/macr.gifi./enticons/ipa134.gif/enticons/ipa322.gifn, . [f. L. re/enticons/macr.gif-s a thing (cf. real a.2) + -ification. ] The mental conversion of a person or abstract concept into a thing. Also, depersonalization, esp. such as Marx thought was due to capitalist industrialization in which the worker is considered as the quantifiable labour factor in production or as a commodity. 

1846 Grote Greece (1851) I. 467 note, Boiocalus would have had some trouble to make his tribe comprehend the re-ification of the god Hźlios;  1854 Fraser's Mag. XLIX. 74 A process of what may be called reification, or the conscious conversion of what had hitherto been regarded as living beings into impersonal substances.  1882 J. B. Stallo Concepts & Th. Mod; Physics 269 The existence, or possibility, of transcendental space is another flagrant instance of the reification of concepts.  1937 T. Parsons Struct. Soc. Action xiii. 476 Positivistic empiricism has been predominantly a matter of the `reification' of theoretical systems.  1941 H. Marcuse Reason & Revol; ii. i. 279 Marx's early writings are the first explicit statement of the process of reification (Verdinglichung) through which capitalist society makes all personal relations between men take the form of objective relations between things.  1954 H. J. Eysenck Psychol. Politics viii. 262 Freud's reification of mental mechanisms is a literary rather than a scientific device.  1962 Macquarrie & Robinson tr; Heidegger's Being & Time i. i. 72 The Thinghood itself which such reification implies must have its ontological origin demonstrated.  1971 J. J. Shapiro tr. Habermas's Toward Rational Soc. iii. 39 The active assault upon culture is based on the same reification as the fetishism of those students who believe that by occupying university classrooms they are taking possession of science as a productive force.  1976 G. Therborn Sci., Class & Soc; i. 26 The ugly consequences, in Friedrich's view, result from a `reification' of the current epistemological stance of science.  1979 E. H. Gombrich Sense of Order v. 143 To see the [wavy] line as water, mountains or, perhaps, a fluttering ribbon might be described as `reification', to see it as a living serpent as `animation'.


Rupture: (Derrida) When modernist notions of center collapsed and were  replaced by discourse; the onset of postmodernism, of "play."


 rupture rupture r/enticons/ipa313.gif.ptiu/enticons/breve.gif/enticons/ipa151.gif, v. [f. prec. ] c. To affect (a person) with hernia.

1818 [see ruptured ppl. a. 2].  1907 Westm. Gaz. 15 July 3/2 A printer stated that he had been put in irons and had been thereby ruptured.


synchronic: ritual time; a sense of time in which time links events or  experiences in a non-linear or non-progressive way


Teleological: moving towards a single goal; with an end goal in mind; heading  somewhere.  Hegel's theory of thesis + antithesis = synthesis is teleological  because it is moving toward synthesis.  the traditional male definition of  "sex" is teleological because it is moving toward an orgasm.


(the) transcendental signified: that thing that by being represented in a sign  or symbol transcends or exceeds the difference between itself and the symbol  (and, thus, transcends or exceeds the system of signification); possible  candidates are the „Iš or, in religious systems, the name of God.  Derrida  claims that no transcendental signified can exist.


Transgression: Violation, breaking of rules, exceeding limits, subverting authority or

constructed law. Giroux states that “postmodernism is a culture and politics of transgression.”



Under erasure: (or "erasure" or "putting [something] under erasure"). This is Den-Ida's term It means presenting our ideas as though they were undeconstructable but with awareness that they can be deconstructed. One might say, "I say [such and such], but I am putting it under erasure." One might also speak of "keeping [something] under erasure, or ask if something is "under erasure" and so forth


Universalizing agenda: (as used by bell hooks). Characteristically Modernist, a move in

racial politics toward a collective of identity.












Postmodernism is an amalgamation of cultures and genres, which mixes and matches art forms idiosyncratically and at random. The Postmodern Aesthetic relishes in nonsequitors. This cultural stew self-consciously imparts politico- social statements on to its viewer.




The sense of something being borrowed that is transformed into something else in which the original can no longer be recognized. PoMo's fascination with pastiche might be an example (i.e. the pasting together of many divergent things that blurs the original separate parts).




Like Kurt Vonnegut's fictitious RAMJAC Corporation, Postmodernism has spread to encompass all art and culture existing in the modern world. By absorbing high and low culture equally inside its web, Postmodernism revels in diversity and discord. It also seems to be the culture of negation. By dissecting and demolishing previous terms and movements of their meaning. Postmodernism can absorb the past in its cynical wake. Generation X is Postmodern.




Collection of attitudes/theories and the created works that come  from them that take as their foundations 1) the failure of boundaries between  genres and styles, 2) the impossibility of universal meaning, and 3) the denial  of the opacity of fiction and rhetoric, and so process in the quest for local,  multiple truths through metaphor, simulation, distortion, and irony




Collective body of works that self-consciously blend genres and  styles with a degree of critical and ironic distance that draws attention to  the process of producing the work




Collective body of works, theories, and attitudes that  acknowledge the overlap of genres and styles with a degree of critical and  ironic distance that exposes the processes of creation




Collection of theories, created works, and attitudes that assume  the failure of distinct genres and styles and self-consciously deny the opacity  of fictions




Ways of seeing and constructing the world that proceed in looking for multiple, local truths through metaphor, simulation, distortion, irony, blending, and transparency



A theoretical movement, or "rupture," that demonstrates a rejection of modernism's ideology (autonomy of the artist, separation of high and low culture, unity, continuity, centrality of meaning and of the self), and asserts (by way of art, architecture, morality, literature, etc.) a disregard for continuity and centrality, collapsing of notions of real into simulacra and imagination, reserving infinite and contested space for the blurring of cultures, forms and genres. A combination of play, indifference and cynicism, conflation and recycling, the perspective allows for the constant reshaping of subjectivity, always politically charged, never fixed in a single gaze or selfhood, never with a certain start or finish, always fragmented, incessantly in flux. Despite postmodernism's "rejection" of modernism, however, it encompasses both the modem and the avant-garde, constantly posing challenges to the fixedness of each. Postmodernism is often criticized for its contradictory dedication to the discussion of how one defines it, despite its rejection of certainty of representation that comes with defining terms. In other words, the circularity and reflexivity of postmodernism irritates anti-postmodernists. Others might argue that this "logic of contradiction" is what postmodernism entails.


A theoretical movement, or "rupture," that demonstrates a rejection of modernism's ideology (autonomy of the artist, separation of high and low culture, unity, continuity, centrality of meaning and of the self), and asserts epistemologically (by way of art, architecture, morality, literature, etc.) a disregard for centrality, reserving infinite and contested space for the blurring of cultures, forms and genres, and the simulacra of representation. The perspective allows for the constant reshaping of subjectivity, always politically charged, never fixed in a single gaze or selfhood, never with a certain origin or exhaustion, always fragmented, incessantly in flux.

Despite postmodernism's "rejection" of modernism, it is contingent upon the constructs thereof (as well as those of the avant-garde), in order to constantly challenge the fixedness of each. The circularity and reflexivity of postmodernism irritates anti- postmodernists. Others might argue that this "logic of contradiction" is what postmodernism entails.


A loosely defined political/ideological/artistic/social moment that occurs directly after modernism but is not distinct from it. It rejects earlier meta-narratives of modem logicalism and faith in scientific positivism. But it cannot escape these belief systems either, because it incorporates them, albeit ironically or self-consciously, into an inclusive, subjective (mis)understanding of the world. It embraces its own un-definition. Its openness to "otherness," included in its subjective world-view, has resulted in acceptance of racial, sexual, gender, and class differences. In art, it has resulted in the marriage of high and low art, and mixed genres. It is also concerned with the mediation aspect of technology.



A ménage of genres looking forward and backwards at the same time. A movement that remains critical, reflexive and observant even within its own art work. Postmodernism remains an outsider from within. Postmodernism does not define or categorize the stew of materials it uses, but distorts, reinvents and compresses them into its own.




This week's readings have made the issue of the "Other" a focus in the postmodern debate. Cornel West and bell hooks criticize postmodernists for excluding the African American experience and black individuals. They believe that its treatment of the "other" is problematic, and that it does not illuminate the deep complexities of the third-world experience. Henry Giroux, however, maintains that postmodern thought specifically welcomes the inclusion of diverse experiences and opens an avenue towards non-racist attitudes in pedagogical spaces. I think they are both right.

Postmodernism offers ideology that will de-marginalize blacks, and any other social "other." Postmodernism rejects the idea of a universal or central experience, and therefore accepts or promotes a sense of similarity or totality in a group that shows difference. In rejecting the meta-narratives taken for granted in modernist thought, postmodernists re-present the narrative with an awareness of political positioning and privilege, allowing for the diverse experiences of women, people of color, and those in different classes to have equal validity as those who traditionally hold power. Postmodernism opens the possibility of violating the limits of what was set up in the rational and universalizing modernist period of thought. As Giroux points out, it allows us to pay critical attention to multiple perspectives, which is, in my opinion, ideal.

Of course, it is difficult to put this ideal into practice, and hooks and West make a valid point: how does it actually benefit the black community, women, or the under-classes? The postmodern debate is theoretical, and examined by select individuals who are far removed from this demographic. Can postmodernism's lofty ideals reach the practical realm? I am unsure; but I do think that postmodernism has barely begun: it has only had thirty years or so to develop. It has a great potential to help the under-privileged, more so than any other philosophy in history. And it needs more time to trickle-down from a grand philosophy to a more common social and political understanding.

For now, practical application is partly possible in art, especially in the pop- culture market. I find it interesting that postmodern art not only embraces high and low culture, but also makes little distinction between art and pop culture. Mediums such as rap and television, which are seen outside of a traditional museum or concert hall, have become a possible place of dealing with issues of the "other," and delve deeply into the concept and experience of being othered. This leads me to believe that postmodern thought can treat the issues dealt with by the black community, or other "others," because many create postmodern art by way of pop culture, and many are affected by it. As Huston Baker points out, the black experience of today's youth is narrated by rap, an artistic/political tool that is decidedly postmodern.





A theoretical movement — some have called it a "rupture" (Derrida) or "condition" (Birringer) — that demonstrates a rejection of modernism's ideology (autonomy of the artist, separation of high and low culture, unity, continuity, centrality of meaning and of the self).

Postmodernism asserts epistemologically (by way of art, architecture, morality, literature, etc.) a disregard for centrality, an independence of context, reserving infinite and contested space for the blurring of cultures, forms and genres, and the simulacra of representation. It allows for dialectic, pluralism, ambiguity, incongruity, multiplicity and the constant reshaping of subjectivity, always politically charged, never fixed in a single gaze or selfhood, always fragmented, incessantly in flux. It plays with time, never pinpointing a certain origin or exhaustion, but rather allowing for indeterminable moments to emerge, wane and possibly re-emerge.

Despite postmodernism's "rejection" of modernism, it is contingent upon the constructs thereof (as well as those of the avant-garde), in order to constantly challenge the fixedness of each. The circularity and reflexivity of postmodernism irritates anti-postmodemists. Others might argue that this "logic of contradiction" is what postmodernism entails.





Postmodernism is skeptical of theories that speak in grand generalities and that universalize their conclusions. Postmodern sometimes means disillusionment with the standard way of understanding things. By remaining skeptical, postmodernism remains on the periphery of any grand narratives, constantly judging and pushing the boundaries of their own "isms" and questioning the validity of postmodernism as well as any other metanarrative.




What it rejects: Postmodernism is a theoretical movement — some have called it a “rupture” (Derrida) or “condition” (Birringer) — that demonstrates a rejection of modernism’s ideology (move toward universality, autonomy of the artist, separation of high and low culture, argued difference between art and life, unity, continuity, centrality of meaning and of the self).

What it (is): Postmodernism is not about the object or about the specific individual who ‘made’ the object, but it is rather about discourse surrounding the object, a discourse that changes in every moment. It asserts epistemologically (by way of art, architecture, morality, literature, etc.) a disregard for centrality, an independence of context, reserving infinite and contested space for the blurring of cultures, forms and genres, and the simulacra of representation. All is subject to the simultaneous force of utilization and resistance to power. Postmodernism allows for hybridity, dialectic, pluralism, ambiguity, incongruity, multiplicity and the constant reshaping of subjectivity, always politically and powerfully charged, never fixed in a single gaze or selfhood, always fragmented, incessantly in flux. It plays with time, never pinpointing a certain origin or exhaustion, but rather allowing for indeterminable moments to emerge, wane and possibly re-emerge.

Debates: Despite postmodernism’s “rejection” of modernism, it is contingent upon the constructs thereof (as well as those of the avant-garde), in order to constantly challenge the fixedness of each. The circularity and reflexivity of postmodernism irritates anti-postmodernists. Others might argue that this “logic of contradiction” is what postmodernism entails. Some scholars also think that postmodernism, in its attempts to recognize difference and marginalization, further marginalizes groups by pointing out those differences. The question of how postmodernism can be useful to the liberation of oppressed peoples raises some concerns and points even more radically in the direction of a postmodernism of resistance, one that would broaden the intellectual audience and create spaces for community, rather than simply recognizing points where people diverge. In other words, some postmodernists (e.g. bell hooks) argue for a postmodernism that creates community even while it recognizes difference.






the cultural and intellectual consequences of the advance of technology (weapons, surgeries, prosthetics, computers, communication devices, etc.) to the point that previous classifications of what is "natural" and what is not and of what is and what is not within human control are upset






"anything goes."






In determining whether the postmodern debate is useful or even revolutionary, I turn to the issues of feminism, race and sexuality consciousness, and post-colonialism. It would seem there are complications in the way postmodernism discredits totalizing locations of power. It seems convenient that just when the "Othered" have begun to name their oppressors in order to work against them, postmodernists discredit the notion that there is a concentrated or institutionalized system of power at all. According to postmodernists, patriarchy, colonialists, and racist institutions do not exist because power is actually a decentralized, "local and unstable" (Foucault, 334) force. Also conspicuously missing from much of the postmodern debate is the acknowledgement of the "other" outside of a theoretical framework. According to Comell West, black theorists are absent from the cannon, and the issues of African Americans are not directly addressed by the postmodern debate. Barbara'Creed posits that women are generally excluded from the debate itself, and the strict gender definitions are upheld by the "gynesizing" tendencies of postmodern theorists to align postmodernism with the feminine (a very narrow, stereotypical view of femininity). Stephen Slemon goes so far as to suggest that "the "postmodernist" phenomenon—for all its decentering rhetoric—has paradoxically become a centralizing institution" (Slemon, 435) because it excludes the Other and overlooks the cultural specificity of its subjects.

And yet I believe that the postmodern debate can be useful to subjugated parties. It simply needs to include differing viewpoints, and include a greater consciousness of localized institutions of power. Also, it can be useful to acknowledge a non-existent force in a totalizing form in order to better speak on behalf of those who are repressed by the force which retains power by its nebulousness. Ultimately, I believe that postmodernism can exist symbiotically with the concerns of the feminists, post-colonialists, etc. with very little contradiction involved. But that could only happen in an ideal situation, where postmodernist thought, not modernist, inflected most social understanding. Since I don't think this is going to happen in the real world anytime soon, it is still important for postmodernists to realize the limitation of their rhetoric for oppressed peoples, and consider continuing some modernist tools of revolution to better balance the available power.