Tim Woods

in British and Irish Literature

ISBN: 9780199846719
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

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“Postmodernism” has been a notoriously difficult term to define, and it has had a complicated history across various disciplines. Nevertheless, the idea largely emerged in the late 1950s in the humanities to indicate a sense that modernism had been superseded by a new cultural, aesthetic, and critical agenda. Some theorists have treated “postmodernism” as an epochal or historical term, while others have regarded it as an aesthetic or formal characteristic that is not limited to a particular era. Initially, it found its principal purchase in cultural philosophy, literature, architecture, art, and cultural theory, but it has subsequently affected and influenced debates across a wide range of disciplines, including international politics, psychology, law, history, sociology, and even town planning and medicine. As its concepts and ideas found purchase within intellectual debates, many saw in postmodernism an emancipation from the institutional straitjacketing of culture, while others in turn regarded postmodernism as an abandonment of social and intellectual responsibility that was symptomatic of a cultural decline with the ascendancy of late capitalism. Despite this wrangle over its political and ideological implications, in broad philosophical terms postmodernism tends to focus on reconceptualizing notions of subjectivity and gender, concepts of temporality, history, space, and place, and the relationships of power between races, ethnicities, and different cultural spheres of influence across global communities. The advent of postmodern thought has been a story of uneven development across various disciplines. This has meant that in certain disciplines where postmodern theory arrived early, there has been little recent theoretical development of postmodern ideas, while some disciplines have seen major theoretical discussions emerging since around 1990. However, since postmodernism has been around in intellectual debates since the 1960s, we have reached a stage where a history of postmodernism can now be written. Furthermore, it would be fair to say that more recently, across disciplines like literature, art, and history, the debate has switched from discussing the opportunities opened up by postmodern ideas, to considerations of whether it has had its day and what its trajectory and future legacy to theoretical and cultural concerns might be.

Article.  11156 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (British and Irish)

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