“Postmodernism is nothing but modernism without the optimism.”
The relatively new phenomenon of postmodernism is a trend many wish to comprehend. It emerged in the late 20th century as a counter to the ideals of modernism. In order to understand postmodernism, the phenomenon of modernism has to be analysed.
Modernism as a cultural and philosophical movement evolved in the late 19th and early 20th century as a result of major transformations in the western society. With the beginning of the industrial revolution which saw its origin in early modern Europe, the use of new technology and machinery marked a distinct shift from a traditional ways of life which were heavily marked by religion to a life based more on scientific evidence, rationality and Logic. Modernism claimed that “God is dead”. It promised to liberate people from the chains of superstition and tradition, ensuring progress for all through modern medicine, Industry, more capital and innovation. It wanted to completely do away with the fatalistic attitude of people in Europe and the rest of the world.
Looking at it from a post- modernist view, modernism can be looked at as a movement filled with a series of calculated risks, accuracy, predictability, hierarchy and uniformity. The modernist movement also started to have an impact on the social and cultural lives of the people of the time. Modernist architecture emerged along with modern art, poetry and paintings. Some of the most notable modern writers include Virginia Wolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and poets and painters like T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Butler Yeats and Pablo Picasso. Majorly, modernist works were representational. The paintings and architecture marked by conventional entries, classic motifs and Gothic influence.
Modernism as a socio-cultural movement, however, has been criticized by various researchers and authors. Modernization led to an increase in warfare between European nations due to increased military weapons and a consequent intense competition between them in terms of acquiring colonies in the world. The maps of the world were divided and territories distributed. It was now assumed that it was “the white man’s burden” to civilize and modernize the rest of the “uncouth and uncivilized world”. Modernism justified the racial discrimination committed all around the globe. It handed over the whites the moral authority to rule over the Orient for centuries to come. Theories were propagated and published about the Africans, Indians, the people of Middle Eastern dissent and their culture. Modernism turned the English perspective into a reality without questioning it.
Did modernism fulfill its promise for progress for all? It led to two of the world’s most gruesome wars which destroyed cities, killed millions of innocent people, separated families. It marked the beginning of Fascism, oppression and ethnic cleansing through gas chambers. It was now confirmed that modernism was here not for progress and improvement but for destruction and devastation.
So what exactly is postmodernism all about? It becomes difficult to exactly define postmodern because it mainly exists as an intellectual idea. Some just consider it as a mere academic fad made for academicians and researchers to publish their works while some consider it as a concrete movement.
Post modernism stands in complete contrast to modernism. While Modernism is about rationality, predictability, uniformity and order, postmodernism is about being irrational, unpredictable and non- uniform. It is now being seen distinctly seen in our architecture, art and music. We have discarded the orderly fashion in which modern buildings were made. The fusion of classical music with pop or rap music can be called postmodern. Postmodern art focuses more on abstraction rather than representation and symbolism. Postmodern writers like Michel Foucault and John Baudrillard paint a completely different view of the world and make us question about everything we ever believed in and took for granted in the modern world like the culture Industry and consumer culture. An essential component of Post- modernism is Deconstruction of Knowledge systems and theories that were propagated by the westerners to suit their own needs. In this view, Darwin’s theory of Evolution has been termed as a ‘’White Male Science”. In His 1871 book, The Descent of Man, in which Darwin applies his theories of natural selection to humans and introduces the idea of sexual selection. Here his white supremacy is revealed. Over the course of the book, Darwin describes Australians, Mongolians, Africans, Indians, South Americans, Polynesians, and even Eskimos as “savages:” It becomes clear that he considers every population that is not white and European to be savage. In the recent course of time, many feminist movements have emerged as a response to the postmodern train of thought. Women are realizing that they too have their own place in this world. They’re refusing to succumb to male dominance, breaking through the glass ceiling and leaving a mark of influence. If gendered differences hold true, and if women are considered more empathetic and compassionate, shouldn’t they take over the world’s political systems to better handle some of the pressing issues like terrorism that the world is facing today?
Postmodernism is about claiming our own identities rather than accepting the situations that have been given to us. When Jammu and Kashmir wishes to be independent from an India that it doesn’t identify with, it’s a postmodern choice. A Catalonian claim to break away from Spain which doesn’t share a common culture or language with Catalonia is also an effect of post modernity.
The world is becoming more and more sensitive towards race, religion and gender. We’re realising how unreasonably Euro-centric the world had become right from our world maps to standards of beauty that the society has set for us. We’re finally ditching whitening creams. We’re celebrating our skin tone and our curvy bodies. Every time we decide to throw on an Indian Kurta with a pair of ripped jeans, we’re making a postmodern statement. We’re symbolising the meeting of East with West where both are significant and at par with one another.
The present world order is going through some major transformations which is marked by a relative decline of the western powers which is looking inward and is occupied in solving its own internal matters while Asian countries like India and China are reaching out to the world, getting accesses to the latest technology and assets to head the new world order and assume leadership. There is no turning back and this is just the beginning.