How We Became Post-Modern

Jane O’Grady at Literary Review:

We easily and often apply the label ‘postmodern’ to particular artworks, architecture, activities and ideas; it is harder to specify some common quality of postmodernism that they all share. Far more than other historical phases, ‘postmodernity’ seems almost to have been concocted by those who write about it. The term suggests an impossible realm – after the present yet somehow already present itself; the concept, judging by the copious literature on it, is precisely about imprecision and lack of essence, and better defined by what it is not. Jean-François Lyotard’s much-cited The Postmodern Condition (1979) diagnosed in it an absence of ‘grand narratives’ (Christianity, liberalism, Marxism), which have been abandoned due to lack of faith in the march of progress. We are left instead, in a Waste Land way, with fragments we have shored against our ruin. Now that modernism has exhausted outrage and authenticity, and been domesticated and canonised, all postmodern art and architecture can do is pastiche and appropriate earlier styles, blazoning their own lack of originality. A central principle of postmodernism is ‘intertextuality’, the notion that ‘any text is the absorption and transformation of any other’, in the words of Julia Kristeva.

more here.