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The story of Modernism

Modernity came into being with the Renaissance;

fundamentally about ORDER: rationality and
rationalization, creating order out of chaos.
Basic ideas of humanism (Enlightment):
1) There is a stable, coherent, knowable self. This self is
conscious, rational, autonomous, and universal
2) This self knows itslef and the world through reason
(rationality) as the highest form of mental
functioning and the only objective form
The story of Modernism
3) The mode of knowledge produced by the objective
rational self is SCIENCE, which can provide universal
truths about the world, regardless of the individual
status of the knower
4) Knowledge such produced is TRUTH, and is eternal.
5) Knowledge/truth produced by science will always
lead towards progress and perfection; any and all
human institutions and activities can be analyzed by
science (reason/objectivity) and improved
6) Reason is the ultimate judge of what is true, and
therefore of what is right and what is good

The story of Modernism
7) In a world governed by reason, the true will always be
the same as the good and the right (and the
beautiful); there can be no conflict between what is
true and what is right
8) Science is the paradigmof all socially forms of
knowledge. Science is neutral and objective;
scientists must be free to follow the laws of reason.
9) Language must be also rational; in order to be
rational, it must be transparent; it must function
only to represent the real/perceivable world which
the rational mind observes
The story of Modernism
There must be a firm and objective connection between
the objects of perception and the words used to name
them (between signifier and signified)
Modern societies have created categories labeled as
ORDER or DISORDER (binary oppositions). Why?

The story of Modernism
Stability = TOTALITY (or a totalized system) Derrida
(totality = the wholeness, or completeness of a
Totality, stability and order are maintained in modern
societies though the means of grand narratives /
master narratives = stories a culture tells itself about
its practices and beliefs
Literary responses to
Modernism in the 20
1) Sense of loss on ontological ground (a loss of
confidence that there is a reliable, knowable ground
of value and identity). WHY?
2) A sense that our culture has lost its bearings, that
there is no center, no cogency, collapse/bankruptcy
of values
3) Loss of faith in a moral center and moral direction
due to the recognition of failure for traditional
values: industrialization, breakdown of the
traditional rural society, wars, colonialism, society
built on power and greed
Modernism in the 20
Shift in paradigms from the closed, finite, measurable
cause-and-effect universe of the 19
century science to
an open, relativistic, strange universe and a shift from
and evolutionary, development-based model to a
structural, surface-depth-based model
Consensus, social authority and textual authority are
replaced with individual judgement and
phenomenological validation. Meaning = individual

Modernism in the 20
Studies/disciplines focused on the individual:
psychology, psychotherapy, political science
(democratization); in aesthetics, movements such as
impressionism and cubism, focused on the process of
Forces governing behaviour, particularly the most
powerful and formative ones, are hidden: Marx, Freud,
Nietzsche. This led to the search for underlying,
hidden structures, operational laws which motivate
behaviour and govern phenomena =
Modernism in the 20
A move to the mystical ad symbolic as ways of
recovering a sense of the holy in experience and of
recreating a sustainable ontological ground:
development of symbolic thought, the concept of
universal archetypes, nature of the sacred, creative
Modernism vs.
Main features of Modernism:
1) Emphasis on impressionism and subjectivity: HOW
is more important than WHAT (stream of
2) A movement away from the apparent objectivity
provided by omniscient third-person narrators, fixed
narrative points of view, clear-cut moral positions.
3) Blurring distinctions between genres.
4) Emphasis on fragmented forms, discontinuous
narratives, collages of different materials.
Modernism re-visited
5) Tendency towards reflexivity, self-consciousness,
focus on the production of the work of art
6) Rejection of elaborate formal aesthetics in favor of
minimalist designs; favours spontaneity and discovery
7) Rejection of the HIGH and LOW distinction in
What is Post-Modernism?
Jean Francois Lyotard The Postmodern Condition: A
Report on Knowledge 1979
Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern
as incredulity towards meta-narratives[. ..] The
narrative function is losing its functors, its great hero,
its great dangers, its great voyages, its great goal. It is
being dispersed in clouds of narrative language[...]
Where, after the metanarratives, can legitimacy

M. vs. PM
Master Narratives/Meta-narratives of history, culture
and national identity; myths of cultural and ethnic
origin VS. suspicion and rejection; local narratives;
ironic deconstruction of master narratives.
Faith in Grand Theory (totalizing explanations in
history science and culture) VS. rejection of such
theories; attempt to localize
Faith in myths of social and cultural unity, hierarchies of
social class and ethnic/national values VS. social and
cultural pluralism, dis-unity
M. vs. PM
Master narrative of progress through science and
technology VS. Skepticism of progress; new age
religions; anti-technology reactions
Unified, centered self; individualism, unified identity
VS. sense of fragementation; multiple, conflicting
Social order based on family; middle-class, nuclear
pattern VS. alternative family units, multiple identities
for couplings and child raising
Hierarchy, order, centralized control VS. subverted
order, loss of centralized control, fragmentation
M. vs. PM
Faith in big politics (National state, national parties) VS.
micro-politics, local politics
Faith in DEPTH (meaning values, content, the signified)
over SURFACE (appearances, the superficial, the
signifier) VS. atttention to play of surfaces, images,
signifiers; no concern for DEPTH
Faith in reality beyond media and representations;
authenticity of ORIGINALS vs. Hyper-reality, image
saturation; images and texts without any prior original
Dichotomy of HIGH and LOW culture; imposed
M. vs. PM
Dichotomy of HIGH and LOW culture; imposed
consensus that high or official culture is normative
and authoratitative VS. disruption o the dominance of
high culture by popular culture; mix of popular and
high cultures, new valuation of pop culture; hybrid
cultural forms which cancel the HIGH/LOW categories
Mass culture, mass consumption, mass marketing VS.
de-massified culture, niche products and marketing,
smaller group identities

M. vs. PM
Art as unique object and finished work authenticated by
artist and agreed upon standards VS. art as process,
performance, production, intertextuality, art as
recycling of culture
Knowledge mastery, ENCYCLOPEDIA vs. navigation,
information management, WWW
Broadcast media, centralized one-to-many
communications VS. interactive, client-server,
distributed, many-to-many media (the Internet)
Centering/centeredeness, centralized knowledge VS.
dispersal, dissemination, networked, distributed

M. vs. PM
Determinancy vs. contingency, indeterminancy
Serriousness of intention and purpose VS. play, irony,
challenge of official seriousness, subversion of
Clear generic boundaries (in music, literature, art) VS.
hybridity, promiscuous genres, intertextuality,
Clear dichotomy between organic and inorganic VS.
cyborgian mix, human and machine
M. vs. PM
Ordering of sexual differences, unified sexualities,
exclusion/bracketing of pornography VS. androgyny,
queer sexual identities, polymorphous sexuality, mass
marketing of pornography
Bearer of words THE BOOK, THE LIBRARY (system for
printed knowledge) VS. hypermedia transcending
physical limits of media; information system
represented by the Internet

Modernism vs. Post-M
Symbolism Dadaism
Form Antiform
Purpose Play
Design Chance
Hierarchy Anarchy
Art Object Performance/Happening
Distance Participation
Creation/Totalization Decreation/Deconstruction
Modernism vs. Post-M
Synthesis Antithesis
Presence Absence
Centering Dispersal
Genre text/intertext
Semantics Rhetorics
Selection Combination
Narrative (grande) Anti-narrative (petit histoire)
Type Mutant
Phallic Androgynous
Metaphysics Irony