Today’s Word of the Week actually came in as a special request…and I admit it’s a word I’ve always just shrugged off too. What, exactly, do people mean when they toss around postmodern or postmodernism in their conversations? Turns out, the word can mean different things depending on what it’s applied to…and hilariously, one of the strictest definitions is probably opposite what the speakers actually mean.
So to understand postmodernism we first have to look at modernism. We all know what modern means, of course. But modernism was actually coined by Jonathan Swift in a letter to fellow-writer Pope in 1737.
I wish you would give orders against the corruption of English by those scribblers who send us over [to Ireland] their trash in prose and verse, with abominable curtailings and quaint modernisms. [Swift to Pope, July 23, 1737]
What he means here as modernism is “a deviation from the classical manner,” in this case of writing. So modernism is the tossing out of convention and its rules and creating whatever you please.
Postmodernism, then? Here’s the funny part. In architecture, it means rejecting that modernism that eschews the classical rules and actually RETURNING to the classical form. But in literature (and philosophy in general), it instead takes it a step further. In postmodern thought, you’re not just rejecting the rules, you’re saying that there can objectively be no rules, because there’s no objective truth. Everything is subjective.
Where do you come down on classical vs. modern vs. postmodern? Me…I’m a classical girl through and through. 😉