The Far-Reaching Ripples of Postmodernism

Every generation has its stereotype- the industrious gentleman of the 1910s, the degenerate flapper of the ‘20s, the family-centered husband of the ‘50s, the free-love hippies of the ‘60s, and so on.

The layman historian naturally embraces such distillations because it makes his job that much easier, and we naturally sympathize with his generalities because it makes for easy conversation pieces. The problem is that stereotypes skew or at least introduce biases into our perception of what life really was like ‘back then.’ Not everything in the 1920s roared, and not everyone in the Middle Ages was religious.

We cast a backwards glance with blithe detachment. Partly because in them we don’t see the most recent moral tumble of Jack and Jill which our generation has experienced. Partly because life seemed simpler then. There was rational consensus, unified theories, continual progress, and general optimism.

Defining Our Generation

What is the characteristic stereotype that will be applied to this generation 50 years from now? It’s hard to pin one down. The techies? The global warmers? The financial flakes? The wi-fis?

With continuous news coverage, instant internet access to information, ubiquitous connections to friends, tweets, and status updates, it’s difficult to view our day as a linear progression. Our daily planner no longer operates in Euclidean space. Time really does seem to bend when encountering Facebook or an iPhone- two ponderous spatial objects for any teenager.

Lewis H. Lapham called these sites, “the accelerating data-streams out of which we’ve learned to draw the breath of life.”

One effect of this plurality is relativity, aka any stance you take on an issue will inevitably be considered unkind, not PC, or ignorant by the ever present world audience. Who’s to say how you see the situation is right? Aren’t you just being shaped by your cultural frame of reference? To say the world is more connected than ever is an understatement. The availability of information has given us so many different ways to understand issues. There are layers of complexity and contradiction. The definiteness of any world outlook seems shaky.

Postmodernism is in full swing.

Defining Postmodernism

Postmodernism holds realities to be plural and relative, and dependent on who the interested parties are and what their interests consist of. It upholds the belief that there is no absolute truth and the way in which different people perceive the world is subjective.

-Postmodernism article, Wikipedia

The initial impetus of postmodernism really came with Hermann Minkowski and Albert Einstein’s conception of a four-dimensional space-time continuum. What began in theoretical physics was soon picked up by the cubist and futurist painters. Cubism challenged the long-standing tradition of Renaissance perspective that viewed objects in three dimensions from a fixed vantage. Cubism dissects an object and sees it simultaneously from all sides. The fractured planes were emotionally charged- advancing, retreating, interpenetrating, hovering. The basic tenet of this new conception captures the gist of postmodern life- simultaneity and movement.

Technology and Postmodernism

Technology pulls us in multiple directions at the same time. We experience the same fractured simultaneity of the Cubist paintings. We may be riding the bus, intermittently chatting with a fellow commuter, posting news of our latest annoyance on Facebook, receiving texts from an out of town friend, all the while listening with one ear to the latest soundtrack of our life.

We rarely experience life in the short-sentenced simplicity that Ernest Hemingway described.

I was noticing how many people on the bus the other day were carrying their smart phone in their hand. Not an uncommon sight. But it dawned on me that they were expecting to be interrupted. When you welcome it though, it’s not interruption anymore.

If art is a reflection of the current situation then maybe this generation’s stereotype is fractured, ambiguous, up for interpretation, no clear direction.

11 thoughts on “The Far-Reaching Ripples of Postmodernism

  1. In response to your last post’s reply and your most current post:

    I agree. Philosophy seems to be more reductive in nature, questioning the infrastructure of development itself. Yet it doesn’t make any sense because there has always been some kind of progress. Now your description of our progress to becoming a seemingly Cubist generation is the other side of the story. It reminds me of a quote “If we do not contain God and know God as our content, we are a senseless contradiction” (The Economy of God, ch. 5). “Fractured, ambiguous, up for interpretation, and no clear direction” sounds like either ‘chaos’ or a ‘senseless contradiction’ to me.

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    • Katherine,
      I’ve always loved a footnote on Exodus 7:11 in the Recovery Version Bible. The story is when Aaron throws down his staff and it becomes a serpent. The Egyptian magicians proceed to do the same. But then Aaron’s staff swallows up theirs.

      The footnote reads: “The magicians of Egypt can be compared to the philosophers of the world. The worldly philosophers may teach things similar to what is preached in the gospel and may also expose that life in the world issues in death, but they are not able to remove the death; only the gospel can do this. Just as Aaron’s staff swallowed up the magicians’ staffs, the gospel swallows up all the philosophies of the world.”

      We have Aaron’s staff- the gospel of God.

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    • Thanks Lauren I’d love to hear more from an art historian’s perspective. Postmodernism in architecture doesn’t really translate the way postmodernism does in other mediums like painting, literature, and culture at large. It’s the duck and decorated shed in architecture.

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  3. From a historiographical standpoint, “stereotypes” used can show what concepts people operate under at a specific point in time to interpret the past and can consequently tell more about the present than the past. Marxist histories were popular in the 20th century because people saw things in Marxist colored glasses. It’s interesting also to note that lately many of the popular historical books are starting to interpret things from a technological/scientific perspective that wasn’t so prevalent in past historiography, as you also mention in your post. Thanks for the though-provoking post!

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  4. Pingback: Postmodern Theology – Who’s got the power? « Earthpages.org

  5. John 5:39 “You search the Scriptures because you think…”
    John 5:40 “come to Me that you may have life”
    John 8:32 “the truth shall set you free”, 8:36 “the Son sets you free”
    2 Cor. 3:16-17 “But whenever their heart turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. And the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

    Apart from the Son of God being the truth (reality), everything, even in the Christian life, is just relative. Unless “truth” is experienced both personally and universally, it’s just relative. To be honest, atheists are absolutely right in their criticisms of religion (and many Christians). We don’t need to preach (and live) merely the Bible as the gospel. We need to preach (and live) Christ! For truth is a wonderful Person!

    I really appreciate an analogy a brother once shared with me: If music were playing to a couple of people, one of which is deaf; how relevant is it to the deaf person that the music is ‘loud’? Loudness, without the ability to hear is just relative (subjective), and therefore irrelevant to the deaf person. Even trying to talk to them about how many watts are pumping through the amplifier, or who is playing the music, or what kind of music they are playing are all the same to them. Now, if they were able to be given the ability to hear, now such things become immediately relevant! You can ask them, “was it too loud?”, “did you enjoy the music?” The gospel begins and ends with Christ Himself. They can’t hear the beautiful music He is playing to mankind without the ability to “hear” it.

    “There was love all around, but I never heard it singing. No, I never heard it at all, till there was you!”
    – from “The Music Man”

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    • To the armchair postmodernist, the gospel is just another theory that can be talked about, even pleasantly, and cross-examined in the comfort of intellectual security. To the committed postmodernist, who has truly embraced the relativity and thereby exposed himself to meaninglessness, the gospel is a welcomed stability of truth and purpose.

      Since we live, generally, in a postmodern world, I usually take the “meaning of life” approach when I share the gospel with people. To the postmodernist, meaning and reality are the central tenets that are questioned.

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