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Sound and Technology from the Artist's Perspective



Technology and the Postmodern

The Postmodern

Postmodernism is a collective of several, often overlapping, occasionally conflicting aesthetic stances, each of which critiques aspects of Modernism. Postmodern trends of thought cannot be defined until specific Modernist agendas are first identified. Modernist aesthetics include a century or so of critical thought. One cannot speak of the Postmodern without delimiting areas within that century of Modernist analysis. Disparate views emerge: some view Postmodernism as a re-thinking of tradition in light of the recent past, some understand it as language as art, not as literature (Holzer, Kruger); conversely some view criticism as discursive writing, not as an art form.

With such conflicting views available and defensible, Postmodernism becomes a no-man's land, ready to serve those who lay claim to it. Art in Theory (Harrison & Wood, 1992) attempts to sort out the various streams of Postmodrnist thought by noting three broad areas:

  1. a critique of history that questions the appeal of the continuity of traditions versus the quest for radical change; the recent past is re-interpreted to support the idea that Modernism tried to attain an impossible totality.

    Postmodernism should 'wage a war on totality.' (Jean-François Lyotard)

  2. a critique of the myth of originality, in which Modernism is seen as an idealization; that any meaning is relational and dependent on other meanings: there is no one reality.

    Postmodern artists manipulate the 'hyper-real' surface of our experience to knowingly and ironically work with the power of those simulations. (Jean Baudrillard)

  3. a critique of the grounds of difference; Modernism refers to male, white, bourgeois, capitalist, Western forms, high and popular forms; all of which are available to Modernism; individualism is permitted from these precepts alone.

    Postmodernism is the 'meanings of the dominated.' Marxist, Freudian, Feminist, ethnic/racial and gay/lesbian critiques follow.

Postmodernist concepts typically place themselves outside the threshold of the Modernist realms that they address. By seeking alternative viewpoints they attack Modernism ('wage a war') from beyond its precepts. To further compound the matter semiology, deconstruction and Post-Structuralist thought all may be traced into theories of Postmodern aesthetics. As Modernism had numerous tributaries and so defies codification, so does Postmodernism.

Given the wide range and conflicting theories of Postmodernism we will address thought germane to technology and the arts as becomes apparent. There are certain flavors of Postmodernism that have been singled out, notably in Architecture, Photography, Film and Music. Recognizable attributes abound in these fields. Particular related aspects of Postmodernism, many first codified in Walter Benjamin's landmark 1935 essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, are also related. Additonal commentary will reflect variously on thoughts drawn from the three areas of Postmodernism listed above.

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Copyright © 26 February 2000 Jeff Talman, Saratoga Springs, NY, USA


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