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Postmodernanybody have a sensible definition?


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#1 Mel Johnson

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Posted 13 November 2003 - 04:45 PM

Does anybody but me wonder what in tunket "postmodern" means? Do you have to use a time machine to see it? Or is this just an artsy version of "New! Improved!"?

#2 drval01

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Posted 13 November 2003 - 06:01 PM

When I was in graduate school -- oh let's say about 15 years ago -- I would wander around with eyes glazed asking anyone who would stop long enough to listen: "What is postmodernism?" In all my years of asking, I never got any answer that made enough of an impression that I could even remember it once I had staggered away. The more knowledgeable would mumble something reverent and point east, in the general direction of Duke University, where the nearest guru of postmodernism, Stanley Fish, took up residence.

In time I stopped asking, because I had settled in my mind (1) that postmodernism was so idiosyncratically used as to defy common definition and (2) that it was a transition term for an age that had not named itself.

I’m not sure where usage of the term stands in the aesthetic world, and even less so in the field of dance. Artistically, the most I can gather is that postmodernism represents the final coup d'état over what I have called "the tyranny of virtuosity." The problem is that postmodernism replaces virtuosity with nothing — or, worse, with the tyranny of self-esteem. But, as noted, these are personal conclusions, and I’m certain the term is more canonized in general artistic use. Still, I would guess nonetheless that even in this context its staying power will be very short indeed.

Finally, I can report that at least in the field of social theory "postmodernism" is very rarely used anymore, for the post-modern age has found an identity: Globalism.

#3 Mel Johnson

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Posted 13 November 2003 - 06:05 PM

Artistically, the most I can gather is that postmodernism represents the final coup d'état over what I have called "the tyranny of virtuosity."  The problem is that postmodernism replaces virtuosity with nothing — or, worse, with the tyranny of self-esteem.

That's sort of what I think. "I have been over into the future, and it don't do squat!" :)

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 13 November 2003 - 06:06 PM

that it was a transition term for an age that had not named itself.


Wow! I agree. Not that transition terms can't be useful, but....

In dance it's usually applied to the experiments of the Judson Church era, I think because people looked at what was happening and realized that it wasn't Graham any more, it wasn't Modern Dance so it had to be something else. I was blissfully unaware that other disciplines used "postmodernism" for years :)

When I encountered it in architecture, I was puzzled, because, while "eclecticism" might be a characteristic of the Judson movement, "whimsy" sure wasn't.

I went to dear old Google and put in postmodernism and this site came up. Looks pretty definitive, for those who want to dive in:

http://carbon.cudenv...postmodern.html

I hope Drew sees this thread, because she'll be able to give a more complete definition -- and a more sympathetic one!

drval01, thank you for that -- I didn't know of "globalism" except in the political sense, but I can see how it applies to what's being programmed today in dance.

#5 dido

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Posted 13 November 2003 - 06:08 PM

Moe, the Homer Simpson's bartender has defined it as Weird for the sake of weird. Currently in graduate school, and a question irritably asked on many an occasion; in the field of classics it seems to mean, Someone who does not have a firm grasp of philology, history or philosophy and yet is required to write things.
As an old school philologist both of these definitions suit me just fine. :rolleyes:

#6 citibob

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Posted 13 November 2003 - 06:13 PM

The modern age started with the Enlightement. The basic idea is that things are knowable, ordered. Knowledge can be broken down, reduced, each part studied separately, and reassembled. There IS a truth, and we will set out to find it. Modernist philosophy is reductionist, plodding, careful, linear. Modernism seeks to resolve tension. It's what gave us science, and we have seen great benefit from that. Clearly, modernist thinking has a lot going for it.

In ballet, you might call the classical narrative ballet modernist. This happens, then that, then that, then she dies and that's the end of the story. A linear plot line can be traced through it all.

Postmodern thinking came about with greater awareness of other cultures. Suddenly you had two people, one saying "A is true" and the other saying "A is false". We see this all the time when you bring any two religions together, for example.

Postmodernism lives in constant tension. You don't live with "either A or B" but "both A and B". It questions the idea of one absolute truth --- replacing it with a truth that is relative to the observer. The postmodernist doesn't seek to resolve tension in his life --- but rather to get the right amount of tension between conflicting goals so life can be lived inbetween. Kind of like winding up a violin on each end until it sounds the right note.

The web is also postmodern. No longer do we sit down and read a whole document --- we jump from hyperlink to hyperlink. There is no longer a single linear narritive thread to it all.

My AD's dances are also postmodern in their narrative. Yes, they are narritive --- but only to a point. The narrative comes in bits and snatches that can be arranged --- or rearranged --- according to the viewer. You cannot sit down and write out a libretto to the action you see happening on stage.

Postmodern architecture shows a similar strand. It borrows from any and all styles it sees fit. You might get a modernist cube sticking out of a wall of classical columns, for example. I can point to several postmodern architectural elements around Boston, but it wouldn't mean much to someone who doesn't know Boston. But we should be glad for it. Postmodern architecture finally put an end to modern architecutre --- and its associated barren concrete walls and brutalist concepts.

We're entering a postmodern age. Generation X and Y are definitely postmodern, the web generation. If you're older than that and you don't have some sense of sympathy to postmodernism, you will lose your grandchildren.

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 13 November 2003 - 06:22 PM

Just one quick amendation -- the modern age historically might be said to begin at several points in western history and the 18th century is one of them, but the Modernism that preceded post-modernism is a 20th century movement and alienation and fragmentation are two of its salient characteristics.

#8 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 13 November 2003 - 06:31 PM

Also, like "Classical", "romantic" and "modern" it's useful to note that dance's use of the term "post-modern" does not entirely overlap with that in other disciplines.

The safest definition in dance is the one Alexandra posted earlier; post-modern dance refers to dance beginning with that of the Judson Church group that comes after the practitioners of Modern Dance.

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 13 November 2003 - 06:37 PM

For further reading, I think that the introduction to the second edition of Sally Banes's "Terpsichore in Sneakers" is a very clear summary of postmodernism in dance.

#10 Mel Johnson

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Posted 13 November 2003 - 07:06 PM

We're entering a postmodern age.  Generation X and Y are definitely postmodern, the web generation.  If you're older than that and you don't have some sense of sympathy to postmodernism, you will lose your grandchildren.

Speaking as one who deals with time professionally, this statement is a tautology.

One is always entering the postmodern as the present advances. The problem is, you can't get ahead of the present unless you prove Einstein wrong. And any thing already done is already past. Next! Furthermore, Gen X and Gen Y are not postmodern, they're here now. A statement like this is nearly as irritating to me as "children are the future of the (whatever)". And? So? What have we done for them lately except lip service?

#11 citibob

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Posted 13 November 2003 - 08:05 PM

Mel, I'm using "postmodern" in its technical, not literal, sense. The postmodern (in the literal sense) is quite modern (in the technical sense). In fact, modernism (in the literal sense) is quickly fading into history.

#12 Arak

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Posted 13 November 2003 - 08:14 PM

I just had a lecture on postmodern dance this morning. Never really got a concrete definition on it though. Then again, assuming the nature of postmodern dance, that probably is the definition...

I would use the term "avant-garde" to describe postmodern dance. It involves the audience in the production prcess as much as, if not more so than, with the finished product. Personally, it doesn't do much for me. Give me a good story ballet any day.

#13 Alexandra

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Posted 13 November 2003 - 08:20 PM

I posted this on the Other Arts forum a couple of weeks ago (where it drew absolutely no comment!!):

--------------------------

A very interesting article in today's ArtsJournal newsletter about a nostalgia for Modernism in the post-9/11 world. For those interested in Po-Mo (postmodernism) or curious about what the heck it is, this article in The Statesman explains a lot:

Ransom exhibit reminds us we are all moderns now

We are all moderns now.

The advent of 9/11 spelled not only the end of irony, but also of irony's close cousin, postmodernism.

That late 20th-century cultural movement, which bounced from the street to the college classroom with the ease of a hip-hop lyric, mixed high art with popular culture, radical politics with rarefied theory, fragments from the known past with a suggestion that there could be no definitive human expression.



#14 carbro

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Posted 14 November 2003 - 01:09 AM

I posted this on the Other Arts forum a couple of weeks ago (where it drew absolutely no comment!!)

Well, that was in the past, Alexandra, and perhaps we weren't ready for it yet!

#15 Kate B

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Posted 14 November 2003 - 01:56 AM

:wink: Carbro!

Also, we can't trust anything that happened in the past.


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