Postmodernism Guide: Definition and Characteristics
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


  1. What is Postmodernism?
  2. Postmodernism in Literature
  3. Postmodernism in Architecture
  4. Postmodernism in Art
  5. Characteristics of Postmodernism
  6. Postmodernism Versus Modernism
  7. Influence of Postmodernism
  8. Criticism of Postmodernism

Welcome to a tour of postmodernism, a cultural movement that has shaped many aspects of our world today. From literature, architecture, to art, postmodernism has left its mark in a unique and significant way. If you're wondering about the definition of postmodernism, you're in the right place. Let's dive in!

What is Postmodernism?

Postmodernism is a term that's often thrown around, but what does it really mean? In a nutshell, the definition of postmodernism relates to a period and style that emerged in the mid to late 20th century. This movement was a response to, and a departure from, modernism. Postmodernism is a bit like a rebellious teenager, questioning everything and refusing to accept things at face value.

Here's the fascinating part—postmodernism doesn't trust grand theories or ideologies. It's a bit skeptical. Imagine if you had a friend who constantly questioned everything you said. That's postmodernism for you!

Now, you're probably thinking: "That's all well and good, but what does it look like in practice?" Well, postmodernism has had a significant impact in several fields such as literature, architecture, and art. Let's take a closer look at these areas.

  1. Postmodernism in literature: Postmodern authors love to play with form and narrative structure. They might use a variety of styles in one book, or they might include themselves as a character in their story. If you've ever read a book and thought "Wow, this is different!" - it could be a postmodern work.
  2. Postmodernism in architecture: Here, postmodernism is about mixing different styles and breaking the rules of 'good taste'. You might see a building that combines classical columns with pop art, for example. It's a bit like throwing all your favorite ingredients into a blender and seeing what comes out!
  3. Postmodernism in art: Similarly, postmodern artists like to mix things up. They might use a variety of materials in one piece, or they might blur the line between 'high' and 'low' culture. So, next time you see an artwork that makes you say "Huh?" - it might be postmodern!

So, there you have it. That's the definition of postmodernism in a nutshell. But, as with any broad cultural movement, there's a lot more to discover. So, let's keep going!

Postmodernism in Literature

So, now that we've covered the basic definition of postmodernism, let's delve into its influence on literature. Postmodern literature isn't just about telling a story. It's about questioning the very way we tell stories.

Think of it like this: Traditional novels are like a neatly wrapped gift box. Everything is neatly packed and tied with a bow. Postmodern literature, however, is more like a puzzle box. You have to work to put the pieces together, and there might not be a clear picture at the end.

Here are a few ways postmodernism shakes things up in literature:

  1. Metafiction: This is a fancy word for stories that draw attention to their own artificiality. Ever read a story where the author suddenly starts talking to you, the reader? Or where a character knows they're in a story? That's metafiction, a common feature in postmodern literature.
  2. Intertextuality: This is when a story references or draws on other stories. Think of it as the literary equivalent of an inside joke. You might not get it if you're not familiar with the referenced work, but if you are, it can add a whole new layer of meaning.
  3. Parody and Pastiche: Postmodern authors love to play around with established genres and styles. They might mix high drama with slapstick comedy, for example, or they might write a detective story where the detective is more interested in philosophy than solving crimes.

So, the next time you pick up a book that seems to break all the rules, remember—it might just be a postmodern masterpiece. Happy reading!

Postmodernism in Architecture

If you've ever walked around a city and wondered why some buildings look like they're from another planet, you've probably encountered postmodern architecture. Unlike the severe lines and uniformity of modernist buildings, postmodern architecture isn't afraid to bend the rules.

Let's explore some ways postmodernism comes alive in architecture:

  1. Playfulness: Postmodern architecture often takes a playful approach to design. Where modernist buildings are serious and functional, postmodern buildings might incorporate unusual shapes, bright colors, or even elements that seem to defy gravity. Ever seen a building that looks like a giant pair of binoculars? That's postmodern architecture for you.
  2. Historical References: While modernism rejected the past, postmodernism embraces it. Postmodern buildings often incorporate elements from different architectural styles and periods. A postmodern building might mix the grand arches of Roman architecture with the sleek glass of modernism, for example.
  3. Symbolism: Postmodern architects love using design to tell a story or convey a message. A building might be shaped like a ship to represent the city's maritime history, or it might incorporate designs from local cultures to celebrate diversity.

In other words, postmodern architecture is all about breaking rules and having fun. So the next time you see a building that makes you do a double-take, it could very well be a postmodern masterpiece. And now that you know the definition of postmodernism in architecture, you can appreciate these unique designs even more!

Postmodernism in Art

Ever seen an artwork that left you scratching your head, wondering what on earth the artist was thinking? Welcome to the world of postmodern art! This art form is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle - it's all about piecing together different elements to create something new and unique.

  1. Experimentation: Postmodern artists love to experiment. They're not afraid to mix different styles, techniques, or materials. You might see a painting that combines classic portraiture with graffiti, for example, or a sculpture made from recycled materials. It's all about pushing boundaries and thinking outside the box.
  2. Irony and Parody: Postmodern art often uses irony and parody to challenge traditional ideas and norms. An artist might recreate a famous painting but give it a modern twist, or they might create a sculpture that makes fun of a popular trend or idea.
  3. Deconstruction: Postmodern art often involves deconstructing traditional concepts and ideas. Artists might take apart classic narratives or challenge accepted truths. They want you to question what you think you know about art, society, and even reality itself.

So, the next time you're at an art gallery, don't be afraid to question and explore. Postmodern art is all about challenging expectations and sparking discussion. With this definition of postmodernism in art in mind, you'll be able to appreciate these thought-provoking pieces in a whole new light.

Characteristics of Postmodernism

So, you've learned about postmodernism in art, but what about postmodernism as a whole? Let's break down the key characteristics that make something postmodern.

  1. Rejection of Grand Narratives: This is a biggie. Postmodernism rejects the idea that there's a single, all-encompassing truth or narrative. Instead, it embraces multiple perspectives and truths. It's kind of like looking at a diamond - depending on the angle, you'll see different facets and reflections.
  2. Inter-textuality: Postmodernism loves to reference other texts, ideas, or works. It's like the ultimate game of "spot the reference". This could be a nod to a classic novel in a modern book, or a modern painting that's a riff on a famous masterpiece.
  3. Parody and Irony: Remember the irony and parody we discussed in postmodern art? It's not just there, it's a recurring theme across all postmodern works. It's a way of challenging and critiquing norms and conventions.
  4. Fragmentation and Non-linear narratives: Postmodernism often uses fragmented and non-linear narratives to reflect the complexity of reality. Think of movies that jump back and forth in time, or novels that switch between different characters' perspectives.

These characteristics give postmodernism its unique flavor. And with this definition of postmodernism, you'll be able to spot these traits in different fields, whether it's literature, architecture, or art.

Postmodernism Versus Modernism

Now that we've got a solid handle on the definition of postmodernism, let's put it side by side with its predecessor, modernism. It's like comparing a smartphone to a landline—both have their merits, but they're pretty different, right?

Modernism is all about finding absolute truths. It's like a detective—always searching for the "whodunit" in a world that's black and white. In modernist works, you'll often find a strong sense of direction and clear-cut answers. It's a fan of order, logic, and rationality. Think of it as the guy at the party who's got all his ducks in a row.

Postmodernism, on the other hand, is a different beast. Remember the characteristics we talked about earlier? It's not about absolute truths or clear-cut answers. Instead, postmodernism is like a philosopher, always questioning, always skeptical. It revels in ambiguity and relativity. It's the jester at the party—playful, irreverent, and ready to challenge the status quo.

So, in a nutshell, if modernism is about finding definitive answers, postmodernism is about asking endless questions. And that, my friends, is the crux of the difference between the two.

Influence of Postmodernism

Let's talk about the influence of postmodernism. It's like the wind—you may not see it, but you can certainly feel it! It has subtly shaped the way we perceive and interact with the world around us.

Firstly, postmodernism has influenced how we understand truth. Remember, it's all about questioning. So, instead of accepting facts at face value, we're encouraged to ask, "Is this really true?" or "Whose perspective is this from?"

Secondly, because postmodernism celebrates diversity and difference, it has made us more open to varied perspectives and experiences. It's like opening a window in a stuffy room—we get a breath of fresh air and a new view of the world!

Lastly, postmodernism has made its mark in popular culture. Just think about movies like "The Matrix" or "Inception"—they play with reality and blur the lines between truth and illusion, which is a classic postmodern move. So, the next time you watch a mind-bending movie, remember you have postmodernism to thank (or blame) for the brain workout!

So, there you have it. The influence of postmodernism is far-reaching, affecting everything from our approach to truth, our openness to difference, and even our movie choices. It's like a silent soundtrack—always in the background, shaping our lives in ways we may not even realize.

Criticism of Postmodernism

Now that we've talked about the influence, let's switch gears and discuss some criticisms of postmodernism. Just like a movie, not everyone is a fan of postmodernism and it has its fair share of critics.

One common criticism is that postmodernism can lead to a sort of 'anything goes' attitude. If there's no universal truth, then isn't everything just a matter of opinion? It's like saying all flavors of ice cream are equally good. But let's be honest, some of us might argue that vanilla is just a little bit better than pistachio.

Another criticism is that postmodernism can make it hard to take a stand. If all perspectives are valid, how do you choose which one to support? It's like standing in the middle of a busy intersection—you could go in any direction, but standing still isn't going to get you anywhere.

Lastly, some say postmodernism can lead to a sense of cynicism or nihilism. If there's no objective truth or meaning, then what's the point of anything? It's like being at a party where everyone's speaking a different language—you might start to wonder why you even showed up.

But hey, no idea is perfect and postmodernism is no exception. It's a bit like a wild rollercoaster ride—thrilling for some, nauseating for others. But at least now, you're better equipped to decide for yourself whether it's a ride you want to take.

If you're intrigued by postmodernism and want to explore its impact further, the workshop 'Navigating Life VI' by Rabih Salloum is a great opportunity to dive deeper into this fascinating movement. This workshop will provide you with valuable insights and understanding of postmodernism's characteristics and its influence on various aspects of life and art.