Architecture in Eastern Germany
The term Postmodernism is a topic that frequently surfaces in contemporary sociopolitical literature, but it is not often used in conversation or in popular media like ‘A Current Affair ‘program. Irrespective of its absenteeism in the direct consciousness of the mass population, it raised curiosities among writers and become a lived practice amongst artistic disciplines. Postmodernism has been described as a sensibility that arises when the credibility of grand narratives are questioned.
These grand narratives or universal truths are linked to the EnIightenment period where there was hegemonic discourse for art, architecture, science and morality. In particular, postmodernism refers to the shift from gradual liberation and evolution predominant in the French Revlolution, to global consumerism in contemporary culture. Postmodernism emerged in many writings in the 1950’s but gained momentum in the sixties and seventies (Kumar 1995). For many, the debate to wether postmodernism is really a lived experience and if it appropriately describes contemporary culture remains to be of interest.
Globalisation issues have dominated sociological discussions and subsequently postmodernism has been obscured or phased out. Its ambiguity lingers on however. The aim of this discussion will be to facilitate an understanding of postmodernism as it is difficult to provide an absolute definition. This briefing will focus on postmodernism by discussing its context with modernism, the key features, and the debates addressed by writers. What is modernism? In order to understand postmodernism, it needs to be explained in relation to its preceding level, modernism.
Modernism as described by Kumar (1995) refers to a set f principles governing behaviour and practice. These incorporate progress, reason, rationality, revolution, emancipation and scientific reason, truth and freedom. Kumar writes that Modernity is often associated with the industrial revolution. For Kumar, these set of principles characterising ‘modernism’ occurred at a specific epoch and names it ‘modernity’. While for Kumar there is a difference between modernity and modernism, other writers write as though they are synonymous. Common Features
Although many writers ambiguously write on Postmodernism, it becomes apparent that there is no absolute definition. However, there are some characteristics common to some of the writers. The following characteristics will be explained with reference to a contemporary example. One important feature includes the abandonment of grand narratives that explain the construction of our world. Some examples of grand narratives are the notion that the world is flat or that science is always right and absolute. Medicine can fall under this category, where medical discoveries are considered absolute and unbiased.
In the Western world, medicine has dominated our understanding of illness. In postmodernism, the breakdown of the notion that western medicine is progressive has allowed increasing space for Eastern or traditional models of medicine. The growing desire for Alternative medicine is proving to be evidence of the movement towards the postmodern condition, where there is growing sensitivity to difference but also lots of uncertainty and scepticism about the old tradition and the new. It is not as Kumar says, the merging of many traditions to form a new one.
It is not a clear break between the old and the new. Medicare’s introduction for medicine rebate of alternative medicine would be symbolic evidence for Baudrillard that modernity is over. Plural realities are another significant feature under postmodernism. Lyon (1999) refers to this as the acceptance of multiple realities and suggests it is the accumulation of diverse cultural experiences. He does not suggest the demise of any of these realities. Kumar however, suggests a more destructive social perspective by explaining that the emerging of plural realities has led to the fragmentation of society.
Some Development workers, prefer to celebrate the coming together of diverse cultures and experiences according to Lyon’s definition instead of Kumar’s pessimist account. However, critics of AID workers and NGO’s transporting cultural imperialism in the name of progress, would side with Kumar in arguing that original cultures and traditions are increasingly facing fragmentation. Here postmodernism is the exhaustion of modernist ‘progress’ and emancipation transported beyond the boundaries of one’s own nation-state.
Saussure’s focus on language and Derrida’s focus on text both demonstrate the significance of semiology and texts to convey how difference is obtained using the same object (or signifier) in another context. Another important characteristic of postmodeernism is the pastiche, of values like beauty and functionality for example. Harvey (1989) describes functional city planning under modernity as high density and centralised, and non-functional city planning as decentralized. Architecture in Eastern Germany for instance adopted rational and functional ways of development compared with West Germany’s focus on progressive aesthetic.