Postmodernism has become an era of remarkable discoveries and unprecedented freedom of self-expression and growth. Under the influence of postmodernism, art and science have acquired a new impetus for evolution, based on the rejection of the fundamental cultural norms. Yet, postmodernism does not mean anarchy. On the contrary, the blurring of cultural boundaries and the rejection of formal aesthetics create a well-structured environment, which fosters self-expression without violating the rules of morality and law. Unfortunately, most people have a very vague idea of postmodernism. Therefore, it is important to consider its meaning in relation to modernism and modernity.

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Mary Klages offers a comprehensive description of postmodernism as compared to modernism and modernity. Postmodernism has a complicated meaning, and it is particularly hard to define (Klages 164). These difficulties are attributed to the fact that postmodernism as a term appears in almost every discipline from art to fashion and technology (Klages 164). Consequently, it is worth to consider postmodernism as a product of modernism. The latter has two different aspects.

On the one hand, modernism is strongly associated with an aesthetic movement that emerged in the 20th century (Klages 164). It was based on the rejection of the earlier norms of Victorian art. Modernism in art and literature promoted the following values and principles. First, it emphasized subjectivity and impressions in the writing process. Second, it was a “movement away from the apparent objectivity provided by omniscient third-person narrators” (Klages 165). Third, it erased the boundaries between literary genres. Fourth, it focused on discontinuous narratives and fragmented forms in art (Klages 165). Fifth, modernism was based on reflexivity as a driver of art work. Sixth, it sacrificed formal aesthetics for the sake of minimalism. Seventh, it blurred the distinction between “high” and “low” cultures (Klages 165). On the other hand, modernism was a product of capitalism, and its emergence was dictated by the unique conditions of cultural performance in the given period of time (Klages 165).

Postmodernism is similar to modernism, since it brings together different ideas and contrasting structures, favoring ambiguity, self-consciousness, reflexivity, and discontinuity in art forms. However, postmodernism differs from modernism in that it does not try to present art as a means of establishing a coherent view of the world. On the contrary, it celebrates the possibility of living in a destructured and decentered reality, which is meaningless to the extent that weakens art in its capacity to reduce fragmentation and eliminate chaos (Klages 165). Citing Aylesworth, postmodernism leads to the emergence of new communication forms. Because it grows from modernism, modernism can be treated as the next stage of capitalist production. It is associated with the centrality of the consumer and the richness of information technologies, which shape the public and individual perceptions of the sophisticated reality (Klages 166).

In distinction from modernism and postmodernism, modernity is essentially about order and structure (Klages 166). By emphasizing the importance of order, modernity actually forces societies into promoting disorder. The superiority of order cannot be adequately established, unless disorder as presented as the reality that needs to be eliminated (Klages 168). Unfortunately, societies do not realize the inherent fallacy of these binary oppositions. Postmodernism intends to address these contradictions, by rejecting the value of grand narratives and offering an alternative view of the world through the prism of mini-stories (Klages 169). More than any other trend in the twentieth century, postmodernism is preoccupied with knowledge, its generation and organization (Klages 169). Knowledge in the era of postmodernism has a distinct functional coloring. Its value depends on its function and utility, and anything that does not meet the criteria of utility should be treated as noise, which does not benefit the entire system (Klages 169).

In conclusion, postmodernism exemplifies a unique combination of ambiguity, self-consciousness, reflexivity, and structured disorder. It does not try to present the reality as a coherent and comprehensive meaning. As a product of modernism and capitalism, postmodernism celebrates the very possibility to live in a decentered, meaningless reality, which uncovers the fallacy of the existing binary oppositions. Unlike modernity, postmodernism does not try to create disorder as an instrument of promoting order. Its reality is based on knowledge and communications, whose value depends on their functional utility in the postmodern system of thinking.

  • Aylesworth, Gary. “Postmodernism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2005. Web. 9 Oct 2014.
  • Klages, Mary. Postmodernism. Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed. By Klages. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006. 164-9. Print.