Postmodernism – Beliefs, Principles, Quotes & Leading Figures

Postmodernism is a complex, multifaceted term that broadly refers to a late 20th-century cultural, artistic, philosophical, and literary movement.

It challenges and critiques the fundamental premises and assumptions of modernism, such as the objective reality, universal truths, grand theories, and ideologies.

Postmodernism Simple Definition

To put it simply, postmodernism is a philosophical approach that questions and scrutinizes the established narratives and ideologies of modernity.

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It is a reaction against the certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality.

Postmodernism Meaning

The meaning of postmodernism can be understood as the critical response to the perceived rigidity and absolutism of Modernist thought.

It embraces ambiguity, relativity, and the multiplicity of perspectives, with a strong emphasis on the constructed nature of knowledge and experience.

Characteristics of Postmodernism

Key characteristics of postmodernism include:

  • skepticism towards meta-narratives and grand theories
  • the collapse of cultural hierarchies
  • an emphasis on the text and interpretation, and
  • the blurring of the boundaries between high culture and popular culture

Beliefs & Principles of Postmodernism

Postmodernism’s central beliefs and principles revolve around the rejection of grand narratives or universal truths.

It embraces relativism, celebrating diversity and difference over homogeneity and universality.

Postmodernism also asserts that reality and truth are subjective and constructed by societal powers.

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Leading Figures of Postmodernism

Some of the leading figures in the realm of postmodern thought include Jean-François Lyotard, Fredric Jameson, and Jacques Derrida, among others.

These scholars have significantly contributed to our understanding of postmodern theory.

Lyotard Postmodernism

Jean-François Lyotard, a French philosopher and sociologist, is best known for his articulation of postmodernism in his seminal work “The Postmodern Condition”.

Here, he criticizes the totalizing nature of ‘meta-narratives’ and argues for the legitimacy of ‘little narratives’.

Jameson Postmodernism

Fredric Jameson, an American literary critic and Marxist political theorist, has written extensively on postmodernism.

His work, “Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism”, posits postmodernism as a cultural dominant marking a new stage of capitalism.

Postmodernism Quotes

There are numerous quotes from leading figures in postmodernism that encapsulate its principles.

For instance, Jean-François Lyotard stated: “Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity towards meta-narratives”.

Postmodernism in Literature

In literature, postmodernism refers to the literary style that emerged after World War II as a reaction against the traditional norms and conventions of the modernist literature.

Postmodern literature often employs techniques such as fragmentation, paradox, unreliable narrators, and non-linear narratives.

Summary of Literature

Postmodernist literature is characterized by a playful and ironic take on language, form, and narrative conventions.

Authors like Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, and Margaret Atwood are notable for their postmodern works, which often employ parody, pastiche, and a focus on the process of storytelling itself.

Postmodernism Art

In art, postmodernism rejects the modernist emphasis on originality, purity, and the distinction between high and low forms of art.

It embraces the use of irony, parody, and pastiche, and it often refers to and borrows from earlier styles.

Postmodernism Architecture

In architecture, postmodernism emerged as a reaction against the perceived sterility and simplicity of modernist architecture.

It championed a return to ornamentation, color, and complexity, often with reference to earlier historical styles.

Architects like Robert Venturi and Charles Moore are associated with this movement.

Postmodernism Sociology

In sociology, postmodernism reflects an awareness of the socially constructed nature of reality.

It challenges the scientific and objective truth claims of modern sociology, emphasizing instead the fragmented, pluralistic, and continually constructed nature of social realities.

Postmodernism Examples

Postmodernism can be observed in various forms of art, literature, architecture, and philosophy.

Examples include Robert Venturi’s Vanna Venturi House in architecture, the novels of Don DeLillo in literature, and the pop art of Andy Warhol.

Modernism vs Postmodernism

While modernism seeks objective truth and favor grand narratives, postmodernism rejects these concepts, embracing instead a skeptical, deconstructed view of reality.

Where modernism emphasizes unity, totality, and bound principles, postmodernism celebrates fragmentation, multiplicity, and fluidity.

Post Postmodernism

Post postmodernism is a term used to describe the cultural and artistic movements and trends emerging after postmodernism.

Although not universally accepted or clearly defined, it is often associated with a return to sincerity, authenticity, and a re-engagement with the grand narratives that postmodernism critiqued.

What Comes After Postmodernism

The concept of what comes after postmodernism is not definitively established, as postmodern thought still permeates much of contemporary culture.

However, concepts like “metamodernism” and “post-postmodernism” have been proposed as potential successors.

When Did Postmodernism Start

The exact start of postmodernism is debated among scholars.

However, it is generally agreed that postmodernism began to emerge as a distinct movement in the mid- to late-20th century, following the end of World War II.


In conclusion, postmodernism represents a complex and multifaceted movement that has influenced a wide array of fields including philosophy, literature, art, and architecture.

While it began as a reaction to modernism, postmodernism has left an indelible mark on our cultural and intellectual landscape.

Its legacy and principles continue to shape contemporary thought and cultural production.

FAQs – Postmodernism

1. What is postmodernism?

Postmodernism is a broad movement that developed in the mid-to-late 20th century across philosophy, the arts, architecture, and criticism, marking a departure from modernism.

It is generally characterized by skepticism toward grand theories and ideologies as well as a rejection of absolutes and objective reality.

It emphasizes the role of language, power relations, and motivations, and advocates for the exploration of multiple truths and perspectives.

2. What are the main tenets of postmodernism?

The main tenets of postmodernism include a suspicion of meta-narratives, an emphasis on the instability of meaning, the idea that knowledge and truth are socially constructed, the view that reality is fragmented and multiple, and a focus on the marginal and the local over the universal.

3. How did postmodernism emerge?

Postmodernism emerged from a reaction to modernism, a movement characterized by an optimistic belief in the power of science, reason, and human progress.

Postmodernists felt that modernist principles failed to fully account for the complexities and contradictions of the human experience, leading them to challenge many of modernism’s foundational assumptions.

4. What is the impact of postmodernism on arts and culture?

Postmodernism has profoundly impacted the arts and culture by encouraging experimentation, complexity, and diversity.

It has promoted the blurring of boundaries between high and low forms of art, and the mixing of different styles and genres.

It also emphasizes the role of the reader or viewer in interpreting the meaning of a work, reflecting the postmodern view that meaning is unstable and context-dependent.

5. What is a “meta-narrative” in the context of postmodernism?

A “meta-narrative” in the context of postmodernism refers to a grand, overarching theory or story that seeks to explain and give meaning to the world.

Postmodernists are suspicious of such narratives, believing them to be overly simplistic, reductive, and potentially oppressive, and argue instead for a multiplicity of small, local narratives.

6. What is the relationship between postmodernism and post-structuralism?

Postmodernism and post-structuralism are closely related intellectual movements that both emerged in the mid-to-late 20th century as critiques of existing theories and structures.

While there is considerable overlap between them, one could say that post-structuralism is more specifically focused on critiquing structuralist theories of language, culture, and the mind, while postmodernism applies similar principles of critique and deconstruction more broadly to philosophy, art, and society.

7. What are some criticisms of postmodernism?

Criticisms of postmodernism include the view that its extreme skepticism and relativism can lead to nihilism or apathy, that it fails to provide a positive or constructive alternative to the grand theories it critiques, and that its emphasis on deconstruction and critique can be overly negative and unproductive.

Additionally, some argue that postmodernism’s focus on language and discourse overlooks material realities and social inequalities.

8. How does postmodernism affect our understanding of history?

Postmodernism affects our understanding of history by challenging the idea that history is an objective, linear narrative.

Instead, it views history as a complex, multi-dimensional, and interpretive construct.

It emphasizes the role of perspective and power relations in shaping historical narratives and encourages the inclusion of marginalized or neglected voices.

9. How does postmodernism influence architecture?

In architecture, postmodernism has been characterized by a return to ornamentation, historical references, and an emphasis on the building’s context and function.

It represents a reaction to the austerity and formal purity of modernist architecture, and embraces complexity, contradiction, and irony.

One of the key influences of postmodernism on architecture is the incorporation of historical elements and references.

Postmodern architects often draw inspiration from various architectural styles of the past, such as neoclassical, Gothic, or even vernacular architecture.

These historical references can be seen in the use of decorative elements, traditional motifs, and the reinterpretation of architectural forms.

Postmodern architecture seeks to break away from the strict functionalism of modernism and instead celebrates the historical and cultural diversity of a particular place.

Another important aspect of postmodern architecture is the emphasis on context and the relationship between the building and its surroundings.

Unlike the modernist approach, which often aimed to create isolated, autonomous structures, postmodern architects strive to create buildings that respond to their environment and engage with the surrounding urban fabric.

This can be achieved through the use of materials, colors, and forms that harmonize or contrast with the existing context.

Postmodern architecture seeks to create a dialogue between the new and the old, blurring the boundaries between past and present.

Postmodernism in architecture also embraces complexity and contradiction. Architects often incorporate diverse elements, styles, and forms within a single building, challenging the notion of a singular, unified aesthetic.

This can be seen in the juxtaposition of different materials, the use of eclectic ornamentation, or the incorporation of unexpected elements.

By embracing contradiction, postmodern architecture questions the notion of a single “correct” way of designing and instead encourages a more inclusive and diverse approach.

Furthermore, postmodernism in architecture often employs irony and humor as design strategies.

Architects may incorporate playful or tongue-in-cheek elements into their designs, challenging the seriousness and rigidity associated with modernist architecture.

This can be seen in the use of exaggerated proportions, whimsical details, or the subversion of traditional architectural conventions.

Irony allows architects to engage with the cultural and social aspects of architecture, sparking conversations and critical thinking about the built environment.

Overall, postmodernism has had a profound influence on architecture by reintroducing historical references, emphasizing context, embracing complexity and contradiction, and employing irony.

It has expanded the possibilities of architectural expression and challenged the prevailing norms of modernism, leading to a more diverse and inclusive architectural landscape.

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