Oct 24, 2008

Exclamation context

May ‘68: clashes with the police in the streets of Paris.

Postmodernism cannot be understood without reference to modernism. While the ‘post’ prefix might seem to suggest that postmodernism comes after modernism, or that it replaces or rejects it, many commentators point out that postmodernism is a kind of parasite, dependent on its modernist host and displaying many of the same features – except that the meaning has changed. Where postmodernism differs, above all, is in its loss of faith in the progressive ideals that sustained the modernists, who inherited the eighteenth-century Enlightenment’s belief in the possibility of continuous human progress through reason and science. The Enlightenment project, writes David Harvey in The Condition of Postmodernity, took it as axiomatic that there was only one possible answer to any question. From this it followed that the world could be controlled and rationally ordered if we could only picture and represent it rightly. But this presumed a single mode of representation which, if we could uncover it ... would provide the means to Enlightenment ends. For postmodern thinkers, it is no longer possible to believe in absolutes, in ‘totalizing’ systems, in universally applicable values or solutions.
They view with incredulity the claims of grand or metanarratives - as Jean-François Lyotard termed them in The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge — that seek to explain the world and control the individual through religion, science or politics.
The products of postmodern culture may sometimes bear similarities to modernist works, but their inspiration and purpose is fundamentally different. If modernism sought to create a better world, postmodernism – to the horror of many observers - appears to accept the world as it is. Where modernism frequentiy attacked commercial mass culture, claiming from its superior perspective to know what was best for people, postmodernism enters into a complicitous relationship with the dominant culture. In postmodernism, modernism’s hierarchical distinctions between worthwhile ‘high’ culture and trashy ‘low’ culture collapse and the two become equal possibilities on a level field. The erosion of the old boundaries allows new hybrid forms to blossom and many changes seen within design in recent years, as it took on some of art’s self-expressive characteristics, only make sense in these terms.
The dissolution of authoritative standards creates fluid conditions in which all appeals to universality, expertise, set ways of doing things and unbreakable rules look increasingly dubious and untenable, at least in the cultural sphere. As many cultural critics have noted, the products of postmodern culture tend to be distinguished by such characteristics as fragmentation, impurity of form, depthlessness, indeterminacy, intertextuality, pluralism, eclecticism and a return to the vernacular.
Originality, in the imperative modernist sense of ‘making it new’, ceases to be the goal; parody, pastiche and the ironic recycling of earlier forms proliferate. The postmodern object ‘problematizes’ meaning, offers multiple points of access and makes itself as open as possible to interpretation.

POYNOR, Rick (2003), No More Rules – Graphic Design and Postmodernism, London, Laurence King [p.11-12]