modernist vs. postmodernist glance

A comparison of the modern and the postmodern way of looking.

“Just as the historical and cultural context of modernity created new kinds of human subjects, we can say that postmodernism and postmodern style speak to new kinds of human subjects” (Sturken & Cartwright 2005: p. 316). This statement indicates the changes in the way of looking on the world from premodernism over modernism to postmodernism.

While this way of looking and thinking in premodern times was based on things said by authorative sources, like church and monarch, who would reveal the one ultimate truth which is not to be questioned, people in modern times (beginning around 1650) started to seek for knowledge and truth through their senses, logical reasoning and science. This way of thinking then was applied to almost all aspects of life and renewed them, assisted by a shift of power away from the church to politics and universities, and by groundbreaking inventions in the course of industrialization, the developement of mass production and the belief in never-ending progress of innovation and increase of material goods (see Hoffman 2005-2008).


Juan Gris: A Man in a Café (1914) [1]

However, although this new era of thinking was characterized by innovation and breaking with old traditions, it was still a time when people relied on so called “metanarratives”, theories that try to cover all aspects of life, try to explain the human society and involve particular goals, like religion, science or psychoanalysis seeking for enlightenment or emancipation (see Sturken & Cartwright 2005: p. 313). This is one of the main points of critique postmodernism accuses modernism of.


Fanz Marc: The Large Blue Horses [2]

In postmodernist time (since around 1950) people began questioning those metanarratives. They broke with the belief in only one truth and allowed for pluralism and multiple opinions. People began to not only try to gain knowledge via science and logical reasoning, but also emphazised the human affectivity and emotions, while the idea of authority always was in question. This left open much more possibilieties and a more free process of developing thoughts and ideas as there were no more boarders of tradition and unquestionnable metanarratives (see ib.: p. 316), but also meant that even science would never be able to find the one and only truth, as it doesn‘t exist.


Bauhaus Dessau [3]

While in modern times the emphasis was on innovations and everything being new and becoming better, people in postmodern times started to criticise this attitude and to look on science more sceptical, not only because of experiences with science being used for bad, like the Holocaust and the nuclear bombing of Japan (see ib.: p. 311), but also because slowly the attitude evolved, that everything has been done before (see ib.: p. 309). This caused a culture of remakes, remixes, parody, pastiches and cross-marketing that called the definition of „original“ in question (see ib.: p. 328).

All these kinds of remakes or references require the viewer to know about the codes, conventions and examples being referred to, in order to understand the new text accodingly. Pastiches, for example, are imitations that reveal themselves as such and combine elements of different sources in a playful way, while parodies adapt to the viewers knowledge of, for example, genre conventions in order to both participate in these codes and also stepping out of them in a self-conscious way at the same time (see ib.: p. 328 et seqq.).


Andy Warhol: Marilyn Monroe [4]

References to things done before have been used in modern times, too, but while the postmodern way of referring was a playful, but often not very meaningful one, references in modern times were used to make viewers aware and stand back in order to be able to understand impied critique and meaning.

A very specific kind of remake that became popular in postmodern time is the simulation. “As we entered into a postmodern era characterized by media and technologies of simulation, we lost sight of ‛the real’” (ib.: p. 308), as they are meant to free us from having to travel for long distances in order to visit real places or to let us dive into another world (see ib.: p. 309).


Der Schuh des Manitu [5]

Apart from the fact, that those simulations are always man-made and therefore subjective, they can still the people’s couriosity in the world and reflect the increasing interest in mobility and globalization in the postmodern world. This results in new real and virtual technologies, new ways of communication, new kinds of communities, an increased flow of goods, money and knowledge, and, eventually, in speeding up of time and compression of space (see ib.: p. 309).

Improving technology also allowed another change in the postmodern way of view: the human‘s identity and body became changeable, adaptable, just like everything

else in the world. What was seen to be stable and fixed in modern times is now seen as something to be transformed easily (see ib.: p. 324 et seqq.). This also reflects the concept of the pluralistic and multifaceted culture we live in today.


World of Warcraft [6]


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