Postmodernism

One question for narrative environment design may be to consider whether any particular design might benefit from orienting itself toward the debates generated by the term postmodernism; and whether particular concepts and vocabulary from postmodern debates are adopted to think through and explain the design process. Depending on what decisions are made in this respect, a number of theoretical-practical avenues and horizons may be opened or closed.

As John Protevi (1999) makes clear, in English-language polemics, the term postmodernism is a pejorative used against French or French-inspired thought. As a pejorative, postmodernism is used to imply that certain French intellectuals, perversely bored with reason and unwilling to use it to join the struggle for the freedom of others less privileged than themselves, frivolously embraced the rapid turnover and endless repetition of late, but still modern, capitalism, and named the age postmodern. In this way, the polemic insists, they are simply mirroring the culture industry that they supposedly take ironic pleasure in analysing, by endlessly seeking to be the latest, most fashionable, theorist with the most arcane vocabulary.

The question of postmodernism concerns the specificity of the era unfolding since the end of World War Two (post-1945). The central issue is whether capitalism has moved so far that the conceptual schemes of its early, i.e. modern, period, 1600-1945, are now outdated and in need of replacement; or whether the contemporary post-1945 world just more of the same, perhaps a bit quicker paced and more widespread, but a world nevertheless requiring only modifications of the basic concepts inherited from the modern period.

If not taken as a pejorative, postmodern thinking in France may be said to have developed through two distinct strands. One might be called ‘historical-libidinal materialism’, which developed from the thought of Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. The other might be called a ‘post-phenomenological philosophy of radical difference’, which developed from the work of Kant and Hegel, via the German phenomenologies of Husserl and Heidegger, and the French phenomenologies of Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Simone de Beauvoir.

In the following generation, the thinkers placed under the banner of postmodernism are Jean Baudrillard (thinking about the simulacrum), Jean-Francois Lyotard (thinking about the differend), the feminist thinkers Helene Cixous, Luce Irigary and and Julia Kristeva, and the deconstructionism of Jacques Derrida (thinking about differance). In this litany may be included the genealogy of Michel Foucault (from disciplinarity via discursive practice to the apparatus or dispositif). At the outer edges of this grouping may be placed the Marxism of Louis Althusser and the psychoanalysis of Jacques Lacan. All of these thinkers may also be implicated in the intellectual developments discussed under the headings of structuralism and poststructuralism.

Alone among the most well-known French philosophers of the period since the 1960s, only Jean-Francois Lyotard uses the name postmodernism in his endeavour to define a “Post-modern Condition” in which techno-economic forces drove the West beyond the conditions that birthed the ‘modern’ thought forms of humanism, methodological individualism, rationalism, secular moralism and progressivism.

Tuija Pulkkinen, in contrasting the modernist with the postmodernist view, takes postmodernism to be non-foundational in its orientation in thinking. Thus, unlike the modern, she argues, the postmodern is not concerned to uncover the origin, the basic level, the true essence, or the pure core of the phenomena that it studies. Modern thought may be understood as seeking to expose an authentic level of reality. The postmodern, on the contrary, takes the view that there is no ultimate foundation to be unveiled.

Understood in this way, rather than concentrating on the process and possibility of unveiling, a postmodern thinker pays attention at the constructed nature of the layers in phenomena and the decisive role that action and power plays in the construction (Borren, 2010: 4-5). This approach is sympathetic to notions of emergence, inauguration and instauration in understanding beginnings and renewals, and therefore of potentially great value in understanding narrative propulsion and the emergence of realities through the act of narration.

Sources

Protevi, J. (1999). Some remarks on Modernity and Post-modernism and/or Post-structuralism [Webpage]. Available at: http://www.protevi.com/john/DG/PDF/Remarks_on_Modernity_and_Post-Modernism.pdf [Accessed 24 September 2013].

Borren, M. (2010). Amor mundi: Hannah Arendt’s political phenomenology of world [PhD thesis]. University of Amsterdam. Available from https://pure.uva.nl/ws/files/937172/79478_diss_totaal.pdf [Accessed 15 April 2017].

Pulkkinen, T. (2001), ‘Hannah Arendt zur Identität. Zwischen Moderne und Postmoderne’, in: Kahlert, Heike und Claudia Lenz (eds.) (2001), Die Neubestimmung des Politischen (Königstein: Ulrike Helmer), 47-76.

edited 22 May, 2017 by Allan Parsons