This article is from the Postmodern FAQ, by Van Piercy firstname.lastname@example.org with numerous contributions by others.
The opportunity to generate polemic in any discussion of the
postmodern is prodigious. Keeping an eye on the two following basic
issues can often help orient one to the various politics and agendas
that tend to cloud or obscure different discussions of the postmodern.
One is the problem of critical distance and the other is a problem of
1) What is the author's take on the idea that critical distance and
the potential for real objectivity are unattainable? This question can
be seen at work in both Haraway's comments (see below) about what she
sees as Jameson's main thesis on postmodernism, and in Laclau's mapping
of an "analytic terrain" where the "given" is no longer a viable myth.
Pejoratively put, this collapse of critical distance is decried as
"aestheticist" or as aestheticizing ideology in many discussions
(Norris). The usual implication is that the culprits are decadent,
apolitical and dangerously irrational. The historical antecedents
referred to are often Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde's "dandyism" and the
"Art for Art's sake" movement. Whereas for many differently oriented
commentators those same decriers of aestheticism are often themselves
denounced as totalitarian rationalists, modernists, "mere" moralizers,
reactionaries and unsophisticated know-nothings (Haraway; Giroux).
2) The terms postmodern, postmodernity and postmodernism can be seen
to associate or conjure different meanings: the term postmodern is
inclusively ambiguous of what people mean when they talk about issues
that come up in discussions of postmodernity and postmodernism.
Postmodernity is a sign for contemporary society, for the stage of
technological and economic organization which our society has reached.
Postmodernism then can be, as Eco says, a "spiritual" category rather
than a discrete period in history; a "style" in the arts and in culture
indebted to ironic and parodic pastiche as well as to a sense of history
now seen less as a story of lineal progression and triumph than as a
story of recurring cycles.
Analogously, and only for purposes of illustration, the condition
of modernity is often spoken of as the rapid pace and texture of life
in a society experienced as the result of the industrial revolution
(Berman). However, modern_ism_ is a movement in culture and the arts
usually identified as a period and style beginning with impressionism as
a break with Realism in the fine arts and in literature. Prior to
modernism one finds periods and styles associated with other distinct
aesthetic movements, e.g., Romanticism and Realism. For instance, both
Blake and Balzac, Romantic and Realist representatives respectively,
could be said to have had some experience of modernity, to have lived
during the early stages of the expansion of bourgeois or industrial
capitalism and technology and science, whereas no one thinks of their
respective arts or modes of expression as obviously "modernist."