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Problems with defining Postmodernism

June 10, 2013

Jean E Howard once explained: “Perhaps no contemporary concept has been so variously defined, so contested, as postmodernism. Its two parts – post and modernism – seem to indicate postmodernism’s temporal relationship to something – i.e., modernism – prior to it in time. Yet for Lyotard and others, postmodernity sometimes figures as a recurring condition, fixed to no historical time period, which can give rise to modernism, the relationship between the two being something like that between the sublime or the unrepresentable and that condition of representability figured as modernism. For other theorists, such as Fréderic Jameson, [-p.104] postmodernity marks an historical moment; it is the cultural logic of late capitalism linking first and third worlds in new relations of domination and dependency and producing new forms of diffused, affectless subjectivity. For Jameson, postmodernity is not a style that can be assumed, but a constellation of discourses and practices unique to a particular moment in the history of capitalism and the social relations it materially produces.” (pp.103-104)

Howard continues: “Right at the outset, then, postmodernity as a term raises questions of history: is postmodernism a recurrent possibility within all periods and systems of representation? or is it most meaningful as a designation for phenomena arising within a particular set of determinate historical and material conditions?” (p.104)

Ref: (italics in original) Jean E Howard ‘Towards a Postmodern, politically committed, historical practice’ pp.101- 122 in Eds. Francis Barker, Peter Hulme, and Margaret Iversen (c1991) Uses of history : Marxism, postmodernism, and the Renaissance. Manchester, UK; New York, USA: Manchester University Press

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