Saturday, 7 November 2009

Modernism and Postmodernism Compared

This table by Martin Irvine from Georgetown University is invaluable for making comparisons between modernism and postmodernism.

Beware, the willingness to make distinctions between characteristics like this is a modernist trait. Postmoderns tend to blur distinctions.

For our case studies to date: Mad Men and GTA IV, I've coloured the most important comparisons in blue.

What is most important here is how modernism and postmodernism perceives reality.

Master Narratives and meta narratives of history, culture and national identity as accepted before WWII (American-European myths of progress). Myths of cultural and ethnic origin accepted as received.
Suspicion and rejection of Master Narratives for history and culture; local narratives, ironic deconstruction of master narratives: counter-myths of origin.
Faith in "Grand Theory"
(for explanations in history, science and culture) to represent all knowledge and explain everything.
Rejection of grand theories but is prepared to give credit to local theories
Faith in, and myths of, social and cultural unity, hierarchies of social-class and ethnic/national values, seemingly clear bases for unity.
Social and cultural pluralism, disunity, unclear bases for social/national/ ethnic unity.
Master narrative of progress through science and technology.
Skepticism of idea of progress, anti-technology reactions, neo-Luddism; new age religions.
Sense of unified, centered self; "individualism," unified identity.
Sense of fragmentation and de-centered self; multiple, conflicting identities.
Idea of "the family" as central unit of social order: model of the middle-class, nuclear family. Heterosexual norms.
Alternative family units, alternatives to middle-class marriage model, multiple identities for couplings and childraising. Polysexuality, exposure of repressed homosexual and homosocial realities in cultures.
Hierarchy, order, centralized control.
Subverted order, loss of centralized control, fragmentation.
Faith and personal investment in big politics (Nation-State, party).
Trust and investment in micropolitics, identity politics, local politics, institutional power struggles.
Root/Depth tropes.
Faith in "Depth" (meaning, value, content, the signified) over "Surface" (appearances, the superficial, the signifier).
Rhizome/surface tropes.
Attention to play of surfaces, images, signifiers without concern for "Depth". Relational and horizontal differences, differentiations.
Crisis in representation and status of the image after photography and mass media.
Culture adapting to simulation, visual media becoming undifferentiated equivalent forms, simulation and real-time media substituting for the real.
Faith in the "real" beyond media, language, symbols, and representations; authenticity of "originals."
Hyper-reality, image saturation, simulacra seem more powerful than the "real"; images and texts with no prior "original".
"As seen on TV" and "as seen on MTV" are more powerful than unmediated experience.
Dichotomy of high and low culture (official vs. popular culture).
Imposed consensus that high or official culture is normative and authoritative, the ground of value and discrimination.
Disruption of the dominance of high culture by popular culture.
Mixing of popular and high cultures, new valuation of pop culture, hybrid cultural forms cancel "high"/"low" categories.
Mass culture, mass consumption, mass marketing.
Demassified culture; niche products and marketing, smaller group identities.
Art as unique object and finished work authenticated by artist and validated by agreed upon standards.
Art as process, performance, production, intertextuality.
Art as recycling of culture authenticated by audience and validated in subcultures sharing identity with the artist.
Knowledge mastery, attempts to embrace a totality. Quest for interdisciplinary harmony.
The encyclopedia.
Navigation through information overload, information management; fragmented, partial knowledge; just-in-time knowledge.
The Web.
Broadcast media, centralized one-to-many communications. Paradigms: broadcast networks and TV.
Digital, interactive, client-server, distributed, user-motivated, individualised, many-to-many media. Paradigms: Napster and the Web.
Centering/centeredness, centralized knowledge.
Dispersal, dissemination, networked, distributed knowledge
Determinacy, dependence, hierarchy.
Indeterminacy, contingency, polycentric power sources.
Seriousness of intention and purpose, middle-class earnestness.
Play, irony, challenge to official seriousness, subversion of earnestness.
Sense of clear generic boundaries and wholeness (art, music, and literature).
Hybridity, promiscuous genres, recombinant culture, intertextuality, pastiche.
Design and architecture of New York.
Design and architecture of LA and Las Vegas
Clear dichotomy between organic and inorganic, human and machine.
Cyborgian mixing of organic and inorganic, human and machine and electronic.
Phallic ordering of sexual difference, unified sexualities, exclusion/bracketing of pornography.
Androgyny, queer sexual identities, polymorphous sexuality, mass marketing of pornography, porn style mixing with mainstream images.
The book as sufficient bearer of the word.
The library as complete and total system for printed knowledge.
Hypermedia as transcendence of the physical limits of print media.
The Web as infinitely expandable, centerless, inter-connected information system.
Martin Irvine
© 2004-2009
All educational uses permitted with attribution and link to this page.

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