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Van Piercy
English Dept., Indiana University
Copyr. 1996.  An alt.postmodern FAQ file, Version 1.05

Other places to find this file: 
Anonymous ftp and web sites:


In versions 1.01 through 1.05 most of the changes are cosmetic.  Typos
have been corrected, elements of format have been made more consistent,
the digest streamlined and supplemented, and a few additions made to the
bibliography sections.   Any corrections, errors, bad links, etc., should 
be made known to VPIERCY@INDIANA.EDU.


Some suggestions for changes to this FAQ include: expanding the digest
section to include different threads and voices on the group; a resource
guide for items on the internet that discuss the postmodern; and more
bibliographic sections and short introductory essays on topics closely
associated with ideas about the postmodern, e.g., semiotics,
architecture, fiction, fine arts, etc.  

My gratitude to everyone who has been in e-mail contact with me
discussing this FAQ, its plusses and minuses.  If you'd like to author a
section in this FAQ or have ideas about it contact VPIERCY@INDIANA.EDU.  

1.0  Statement of limited copyright and notice of fair use.
1.01 Latest version changes.
1.02 Future intended changes to this FAQ.
1.1  A discussion of what this FAQ is trying to do and its philosophy for 
	doing it.
2.0  How to find out more about what "postmodern" means.	
2.1  Two basic issues central to many discussions of the postmodern.
2.2  A very short bibliographic essay on Nietzsche, Foucault, Derrida and 
3.0  Three reference work definitions of the postmodern.
4.0  Twenty statements about postmodernism by published authors.
5.0  A short bibliography and note on other bibliographies.  
5.1  Some principal or primary sources.
5.2  General works, anthologies, and secondary sources.
5.3  A list of works on modernity, modernism and the avant-garde.
5.4  A minimal list of writings on postmodernism and its relation to 
	religion, Japan and cyberpunk. 
6.0  A digest of an alt.postmodern newsgroup thread on aestheticism, 
	fascism, futurism, Benjamin, and landscape design.
6.1  Final word.


    This is a "FAQ" (Frequently Asked Questions) file that has few of
the questions in it but tries to enlist many of the various answers. 
It is not exhaustive. 

    A number of users cruising this newsgroup before have asked for a
FAQ file, and while this particular FAQ file cannot hope to be
definitive, it does try to meet that basic, initial need for information
to the most common questions, "What is postmodernism?" "How do I find
out more about it?"

    This FAQ should be of use for research into the question of the
postmodern, and I hope that even experienced students of postmodernism
will find it a serviceable source of reference.  I have tried to include
detailed and accurate information on the bibliographic entries. 

    This file is not meant to be monolithically definitive or singularly
authoritative, nor is it meant to supplant the knowledge or opinions
of others on this group, many of whom might have serious questions or
reservations about elements or assumptions of this file.  This FAQ is
only one person's take on a very broad and evolving field of cultural
dispute, and is offered in a spirit of collegiality and general

    This FAQ can be read at least on three distinct levels each
corresponding to one of its major sections: 1) as a relatively quick
overview of the term "postmodern" as it is found in some standard
reference works; 2) as a bibliography and research aid for the student
of postmodernism, and 3) as an examination of what published and
varyingly "recognized" authorities have to say about the subject in
their own words.  Reading these crystallized statements of what
postmodernism is taken to be by accomplished writers in the field should
introduce a sense of the thematics and semantics, the "language games"
and politics, at play in even attempting to define what the postmodern
is.  For my part, in organizing and selecting the quotations I have
tried to present conservative positions, traditionalist, humanist and
reactionary positions, as well as Nietzschean, progressive, socialist,
feminist and Marxian and neo-Marxian positions on the postmodern.  To my
mind, it is easier for a document of this type to err on the side of
exclusivity and ideological purity than it is to err on the side of
pluralism and report of the variety of serious opinion on the topic. 

    Ideally, there will be future additions to this file, and perhaps
even other FAQ files will be made that compete with this file and
construct the field in different ways.  Imagine a newsgroup with four or
five different, partly overlapping, lengthy FAQ files all ostensibly
covering the same topic (and not just well established or recognized
sub-topics or specialist fields)! I submit that that is a reasonable
possibility in an alt.postmodern newsgroup. 

(Or, "What should I know about this stuff?")

    Either of these is a daunting question.  My answer would
be for you to read this FAQ file, read some of the books listed in this
FAQ file, follow the exchanges on this newsgroup, put questions to the
newsgroup's posters, and, as a productive exercise, find out what
modernism is or is supposed to have been, and what values and
assumptions it championed.  To that end, I've included a bibliographic
section on modernity and the avant-garde to offer some assistance.  Some
especially serious critics of postmodern thought can be found there
(Habermas, Giddens, Taylor, Williams). These writers in particular
insist on the complex and on-going nature of the modernist enterprise
and reject the notion that postmodernism represents any sustained and
substantial break from it.  Readers can further enact for themselves a
similar political and ideological confrontation that can be said to have
occurred in the American context between modernist and postmodernist in
the conjuncture between Lionel Trilling's _The Liberal Imagination_
(Viking 1950) and Susan Sontag's _Against Interpretation_ (Laurel 1969). 

    The opportunity to generate polemic in any discussion of the
postmodern is prodigious.  Keeping an eye on the two following basic
issues can often help orient one to the various politics and agendas
that tend to cloud or obscure different discussions of the postmodern. 
One is the problem of critical distance and the other is a problem of

    1) What is the author's take on the idea that critical distance and
the potential for real objectivity are unattainable?  This question can
be seen at work in both Haraway's comments (see below) about what she
sees as Jameson's main thesis on postmodernism, and in Laclau's mapping
of an "analytic terrain" where the "given" is no longer a viable myth. 
Pejoratively put, this collapse of critical distance is decried as
"aestheticist" or as aestheticizing ideology in many discussions
(Norris).  The usual implication is that the culprits are decadent,
apolitical and dangerously irrational. The historical antecedents
referred to are often Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde's "dandyism" and the
"Art for Art's sake" movement.  Whereas for many differently oriented
commentators those same decriers of aestheticism are often themselves
denounced as totalitarian rationalists, modernists, "mere" moralizers,
reactionaries and unsophisticated know-nothings (Haraway; Giroux). 

    2) The terms postmodern, postmodernity and postmodernism can be seen
to associate or conjure different meanings: the term postmodern is
inclusively ambiguous of what people mean when they talk about issues
that come up in discussions of postmodernity and postmodernism. 
Postmodernity is a sign for contemporary society, for the stage of
technological and economic organization which our society has reached. 
Postmodernism then can be, as Eco says, a "spiritual" category rather
than a discrete period in history; a "style" in the arts and in culture
indebted to ironic and parodic pastiche as well as to a sense of history
now seen less as a story of lineal progression and triumph than as a
story of recurring cycles. 

    Analogously, and only for purposes of illustration, the condition
of modernity is often spoken of as the rapid pace and texture of life
in a society experienced as the result of the industrial revolution
(Berman).  However, modern_ism_ is a movement in culture and the arts
usually identified as a period and style beginning with impressionism as
a break with Realism in the fine arts and in literature.  Prior to
modernism one finds periods and styles associated with other distinct
aesthetic movements, e.g., Romanticism and Realism.  For instance, both
Blake and Balzac, Romantic and Realist representatives respectively,
could be said to have had some experience of modernity, to have lived
during the early stages of the expansion of bourgeois or industrial
capitalism and technology and science, whereas no one thinks of their
respective arts or modes of expression as obviously "modernist."

    Finally, I must emphasize that certain influential figures who
converge in discussions of the postmodern, themselves rarely use the word
"postmodern" and do not describe their theories or discourses in that way. 
Their theories can't be simply reduced to "postmodernism" without
controversy, and yet their arguments are drawn on and criticized very
often in the name of what goes by the "postmodern." The works of Friedrich
Nietzsche, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze are
prevalent in discussions on the postmodern (and this insistent close
association probably explains the oft-remarked failure to distinguish
between post-structuralism and post- modernism). 

    I'd suggest that it is important for following discussions of
postmodern theory to study and know Nietzsche's philosophy and espe-
cially his short essay on history, _On the Advantage and Disadvantage
of History for Life_ (transl. Peter Preuss. Indianapolis: Hackett,
1980).  An acquaintance with the writings of Foucault, Derrida and
Deleuze can be useful.  They have all been profound students or readers
of Nietzsche, part of a "return to Nietzsche" or the "New Nietzsche"
movement in France in the 1960s.  There's a nice collection of
Foucault's writings edited by Paul Rabinow titled _The Foucault Reader_
published by Pantheon Books, 1984. For Derrida, to pick a citation for
him almost at random, see the essay "Differance" in _Margins of
Philosophy_ (transl. Alan Bass. Chicago UP, 1982).  On Deleuze, the best
way into his ideas is to dive into one of his texts and keep going.  The
most rewarding introduction to his work that I've seen is by Brian
Massumi, who translated _Milles Plateaux_, titled _A User's Guide to
Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari_
(MIT Press, 1992).  By no means is this group of suggested readings
intended to be limiting or exhaustive.  I am only pointing out what seem
particularly plausible or telling routes of entry into these writers'


Here are three published definitions from "standard" reference
works (cross-references are cited below in the FAQ bibliography section):

(A) "Post-modernism[:] The break away from 19th-century values is often
classified as modernism and carries the connotations of transgression
and rebellion.  However, the last twenty years has seen a change in this
attitude towards focussing upon a series of unresolvable philosophical
and social debates, such as race, gender and class.  Rather than
challenging and destroying cultural definitions, as does modernism,
post-modernism resists the very idea of boundaries.  It regards
distinctions as undesirable and even impossible, so that an almost
Utopian world, free from all constraints, becomes possible. 
    "It must be realized though, that post-modernism has many
interpretations and that no single definition is adequate.  Different
disciplines have participated in the post-modernist movement in
varying ways, for example, in architecture traditional limits have
become indistinguishable, so that what is commonly on the outside of a
building is placed within, and vice versa.  In literature, writers adopt
a self-conscious intertextuality sometimes verging on pastiche, which
denies the formal propriety of authorship and genre.  In commercial
terms post-modernism may be seen as part of the growth of consumer
capitalism into multinational and technological identity. 
    "Its all-embracing nature thus makes post-modernism as relevant to
street events as to the *avant garde*, and as such is one of the major
focal points in the emergence of interdisciplinary and cultural
Marion Wynne-Davies.  First Prentice Hall edition, copyright 1990 by
Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd. 812-13)

(B) "Postmodernism and postmodernity[,] a cultural and ideological
configuration variously defined, with different aspects of the general
phenomenon emphasized by different theorists, postmodernity is seen as
involving an end of the dominance of an overarching belief in scientific
rationality and a unitary theory of PROGRESS, the replacement of
empiricist theories of representation and TRUTH, and increased
emphasis on the importance of the unconscious, on free-floating signs
and images, and a plurality of viewpoints.  Associated also with the
idea of a postindustrial age (compare POSTINDUSTRIAL SOCIETY [Daniel
Bell]), theorists such as BAUDRILLARD (1983) and Lyotard (1984) make
central to postmodernity a shift from a `productive' to a `reproductive'
social order, in which simulations and models--and more generally,
signs--increasingly constitute the world, so that any distinction
between the appearance and the `real' is lost. Lyotard, for example,
speaks especially of the replacement of any *grand narrative* [les
grands recits] by more local `accounts' of reality as distinctive of
postmodernism and postmodernity. Baudrillard talks of the `triumph of
signifying culture.' Capturing the new orientation characteristic of
postmodernism, compared with portrayals of modernity as an era or a
definite period, the advent of postmodernity is often presented as a
`mood' or `state of mind' (see Featherstone, 1988).  If modernism as a
movement in literature and the arts is also distinguished by its
rejection of an emphasis on representation, postmodernism carries this
movement a stage further.  Another feature of postmodernism seen by
some theorists is that the boundaries between `high' and `low' culture
tend to be broken down, for example, motion pictures, jazz, and rock
music (see Lash, 1990).  According to many theorists, postmodernist
cultural movements, which often overlap with new political tendencies
and social movements in contemporary society, are particularly
associated with the increasing importance of new class fractions, for
example, `expressive professions' within the service class (see Lash and
Urry, 1987)." (David Jary and Julia Jary. eds. THE HARPER COLLINS
DICTIONARY OF SOCIOLOGY.  New York: HarperCollins, 1991. 375-6)

(C) "Postmodernism[:] A portmanteau term encompassing a variety of
developments in intellectual culture, the arts and the fashion industry
in the 1970s and 1980s.  Among the characteristic gestures of
postmodernist thinking is a refusal of the `totalizing' or
`essentialist' tendencies of earlier theoretical systems, especially
classic Marxism, with their claims to referential truth, scientificity,
and belief in progress.  Postmodernism, on the contrary, is committed to
modes of thinking and representation which emphasize fragmentations,
discontinuities and incommensurable aspects of a given object, from
intellectual systems to architecture. 
    "Postmodernist analysis is often marked by forms of writing that are
more literary, certainly more self-reflexive, than is common in critical
writing - the critic as self-conscious creator of new meanings upon the
ground of the object of study, showing that object no special respect. 
It prefers montage to perspective, intertextuality to referentiality,
`bits-as-bits' to unified totalities.  It delights in excess, play,
carnival, asymmetry, even mess, and in the emancipation of meanings
>from  their bondage to mere lumpenreality. 
    Theorists of postmodernism include Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Deleuze
and Felix Guattari, Fredric Jameson, Paul Virilio, Dick Hebdige,
Jean-Francois Lyotard, among others; a list whose maleness has not
gone unnoticed (see Propyn 1987), but which may immediately be countered
by reading the exemplary essay by Meaghan Morris (1988) which moves
easily among postmodernism's sense of multiple mobilities, bodily,
temporal and textual, without ever claiming postmodernist status for
itself." (Tim O'Sullivan, John Hartley, Danny Saunders, Martin
Montgomery and John Fisk. eds. KEY CONCEPTS IN COMMUNICATION AND
CULTURAL STUDIES. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 1994. 234-4)

{4.0} PASSAGES FROM FREQUENTLY (and not so frequently) CITED COM-
statements on the postmodern)


(1) "The case for its [postmodernism's] existence depends on the
hypothesis of some radical break or *coupure*, generally traced
back to the end of the 1950s or the early 1960s.
    "As the word itself suggests, this break is most often related
to notions of the waning or extinction of the hundred-year-old
modern movement (or to its ideological or aesthetic repudiation).
Thus abstract expressionism in painting, existentialism in
philosophy, the final forms of representation in the novel, the
films of the great *auteurs*, or the modernist school of poetry
(as institutionalized and canonized in the works of Wallace
Stevens) all are now seen as the final, extraordinary flowering
of a high-modernist impulse which is spent and exhausted with
them.  The enumeration of what follows, then, at once becomes
empirical, chaotic, and heterogeneous: Andy Warhol and pop art,
but also photorealism, and beyond it, the `new expressionism'; the
moment, in music, of John Cage, but also the synthesis of classi-
cal and `popular' styles found in composers like Phil Glass and
Terry Riley, and also punk and new wave rock (the Beatles and the
Stones now standing as the high-modernist moment of that more
recent and rapidly evolving tradition); in film, Godard, post-
Godard, and experimental cinema and video, but also a whole new
type of commercial film...; Burroughs, Pynchon, or Ishmael Reed,
on the one hand, and the French *nouveau roman* and its succes-
sion, on the other, along with alarming new kinds of literary
criticism based on some new aesthetic of textuality or *ecri-
ture*... The list might be extended indefinitely; but does it
imply any more fundamental change or break than the periodic
style and fashion changes determined by an older high-modernist
imperative of stylistic innovation?" (Jameson 1-2)


(2) "For many theorists occupying various positions on the
political spectrum, the current historical moment signals less a
need to come to grips with the new forms of knowledge, experi-
ences, and conditions that constitute postmodernism than the
necessity to write its obituary. The signs of exhaustion are in
part measured by the fact that postmodernism has gripped two gen-
erations of intellectuals who have pondered endlessly over its
meaning and implications as a `social condition and cultural
movement' (Jencks 10). The `postmodern debate' has spurned little
consensus and a great deal of confusion and animosity. The themes
are, by now, well known: master narratives and traditions of
knowledge grounded in first principles are spurned; philosophical
principles of canonicity and the notion of the sacred have become
suspect; epistemic certainty and the fixed boundaries of
academic knowledge have been challenged by a `war on totality'
and a disavowal of all-encompassing, single, world-views; rigid
distinctions between high and low culture have been rejected by
insistence that the products of the so-called mass culture, popu-
lar, and folk art forms are proper objects of study; the
Enlightenment correspondence between history and progress and the
modernist faith in rationality, science, and freedom have
incurred a deep-rooted skepticism; the fixed and unified identity
of the humanist subject has been replaced by a call for narrative
space that is pluralized and fluid; and, finally, though far from
complete, history is spurned as a unilinear process that moves
the West progressively toward a final realization of freedom.
While these and other issues have become central to the post-
modern debate, they are connected through the challenges and
provocations they provide to modernity's conception of history,
agency, representation, culture, and the responsibility of
intellectuals. The postmodern challenge constitutes not only a
diverse body of cultural criticism, it must also be seen as a
contextual discourse that has challenged specific disciplinary
boundaries in such fields as literary studies, geography, educa-
tion, architecture, feminism, performance art, anthropology,
sociology, and many other areas.  Given its broad theoretical
reach, its political anarchism, and its challenge to `legislat-
ing' intellectuals, it is not surprising that there has been a
growing movement on the part of diverse critics to distance them-
selves from postmodernism." (Giroux 1-2)


(3) "A provocative, comprehensive argument about the politics and
theories of `postmodernism' is made by Fredric Jameson (1984),
who argues that postmodernism is not an option, a style among
others, but a cultural dominant requiring radical reinvention of
left politics from within; there is no longer any place from
without that gives meaning to the comforting fiction of critical
distance.  Jameson also makes clear why one cannot be for or
against postmodernism, an essentially moralist move.  My position
is that feminists (and others) need continuous cultural reinven-
tion, postmodernist critique, and historical materialsm; only a
cyborg would have a chance.  The old dominations of white capi-
talist patriarchy seem nostalgically innocent now: they normal-
ized heterogeneity, into man and woman, white and black, for
example.  `Advanced capitalism' and postmodernism release
heterogeneity without a norm, and we are flattened, without sub-
jectivity, which requires depth, even unfriendly and drowning
depths." (Donna Haraway. _Simians, Cyborgs, and Women_. New York:
Routledge, 1991. 244-5, n4.)


(4) "The spectacle is the moment when the commodity has attained
the *total occupation* of social life.  Not only is the relation
to the commodity visible but it is all one sees: the world one
sees is its world.  Modern economic production extends the dic-
tatorship extensively and intensively.  In the least industri-
alized places, its reign is already attested by a few star com-
modities and by the imperialist domination imposed by regions
which are ahead in the development of productivity.  In the
advanced regions, social space is invaded by a continuous super-
imposition of geological layers of commodities.  At this point in
the `second industrial revolution,' alienated consumption becomes
for the masses a duty supplementary to alienated production.  It
is *all the sold labor* of a society which globally becomes the
*total commodity* for which the cycle must be continued.  For
this to be done, the total commodity has to return as a fragment
to the fragmented individual, absolutely separated from the pro-
ductive forces operating as a whole.  Thus it is here that the
specialized science of domination must in turn specialize: it
fragments itself into sociology, psycho-technics, cybernetics,
semiology, etc., watching over the self-regulation of every level
of the process." (Debord 1977, paragraph 42)


(5) "The frenzied expansion of the mass media [is a mark of our
postmodernity and] has political consequences which are not so
wholly negative.  This becomes most apparent when we look at rep-
resentations of the Third World.  No longer can this be confined
to the realist documentary, or the exotic televisual voyage.  The
Third World refuses now, to `us,' in the West, to be reassuringly
out of sight.  It is as adept at using the global media as the
old colonialist powers." (Angela McRobbie, "Postmodernism and
Popular Culture," in _Postmodernism: ICA documents_. Ed. Lisa
Appignanesi.  London: FAB, 1989.  169.)


(6) "Postmodernism questions the efficacy of strategies of trans-
formation associated with autonomy, declaring that modernism
inexorably reaches a dead end.  The modernist hope and belief
that intellectuals can occupy a space outside capitalist society
is not only illusionary but also artistically and politically
sterile.  The purity of the alienated artist forecloses his [sic]
access to the energies and disputes that are lived within the
culture, while also severing his connection to any audience
beyond the purlieu of the artistic elite.  The modernist places
himself high and dry.  Mass or popular culture inevitably springs
up to fill the vacuum created by the elitist artists' divorce
>from  a wide audience.  By following the path of its own aesthetic
revolution and its fetishistically precious values, modern art
distances itself from any social group large enough, central
enough, or powerful enough to effect a social revolution.  Post-
modernism must entirely rethink the relation of intellectuals to
the rest of society.  A model of engagement must replace the
model of alienation...." (McGowan 25)


(7) "What I want to call postmodernism in fiction paradoxically
uses and abuses the conventions of both realism and modernism,
and does so in order to challenge their transparency, in order to
prevent glossing over the contradictions that make the postmodern
what it is: historical and metafictional, contextual and self-
reflexive, ever aware of its status as discourse, as a human con-
struct." (Hutcheon 1988, 53)


(8) "Postmodernism is the somewhat weasel word now being used to
describe the garbled situation of art in the '80s.  It is a term
which nobody quite fully understands, because no clear-cut
definition of it has yet been put forward.  Its use arose
synonymously with that of pluralism toward the end of the '70s,
and at that point it referred to the loss of faith in a stylistic
mainstream, as if the whole history of styles had suddenly come
unstuck.  Since then, under the more recent umbrella of Neo-
expressionism, the old stylistic divisions now mix, blend, and
alternate interchangeably with each other: dogmatism and exclu-
sivity have given way to openness and coexistence.  Pluralism
abolishes controls; it gives the impression that everything is
permitted.  Meeting with no limitation, the artist is free to
express himself in whatever way he wishes.
    "If modernism was ideological at heart--full of strenuous dic-
tates about what art could, and could not, be--postmodernism is
much more eclectic, able to assimilate, and even plunder, all
forms of style and genre and circumstance, and tolerant of multi-
plicity and conflicting values." (Gablik 73)


(9) "Simplifying to the extreme, I define *postmodern* as
incredulity toward metanarratives." (Lyotard 1984, xxiv)


(10) "Lyotard explains the necessity of thinking in `open
systems' without internal unity on the basis of the disintegra-
tion of the possibility of maintaining a universal metalanguage.
This possibility presupposes that the individual language games
through which we perspectively live our Being-in-the-world can be
gone beyond by some sort of speech that itself is not relative.
Such nonrelative speech, for its part, presupposes an authority
that modern metaphysics conceives as `the Absolute.'  If it can
be demonstrated--and Derrida has shown this more clearly than
Lyotard--that the thought of the Absolute itself cannot escape
the `structurality of structure,' then one can no longer lay
claim to a transhistorical frame of orientation beyond linguistic
differentiality.  Systems without internal unity and without
absolute center become the inescapable condition of our *Dasein*
and our orientation in the world." (Manfred Frank. _What is
Neostructuralism?_. Trans. Sabine Wilke and Richard Gray. Min-
neapolis: U of Minn. Press, 1989.  Transl. of _Was ist Neostruk-
turalismus?_. 1984.)


(11) "The postmodern would be that which, in the modern, puts
forward the unpresentable in presentation itself; that which
denies itself the solace of good forms, the consensus of taste
which would make it possible to share collectively the nostalgia
for the unattainable; that which searches for new presentations,
not in order to enjoy them but in order to impart a stronger
sense of the unpresentable.  A postmodern artist or writer is in
the position of a philosopher: the text he writes, the work he
produces are not in principle governed by preestablished rules,
and they cannot be judged according to a determining judgment, by
applying familiar categories to the text or to the work.  Those
rules and categories are what the work of art itself is looking
for.  The artist and the writer, then, are working without rules
in order to formulate the rules of what *will have been done*.
Hence the fact that work and text have the characters of an
*event*; hence also, they always come too late for their author,
or, what amounts to the same thing, their being put into work,
their realization (*mise en oeuvre*) always begin too soon.
*Post modern* would have to be understood according to the
paradox of the future (*post*) anterior (*modo*)." (Lyotard 1984,


(12) "The unity of all that allows itself to be attempted today
through the most diverse concepts of science and of writing, is,

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