Le post-modernism explique aux enfent

Postmodernism for Kids or What is POSTmodernISM

In this lucid account of postmodernism DR. ARUP RATAN GHOSH cites examples form our known Indian culture, the day-to-day experiences and from the Indian myths, including the Ramayana and the Mahabharata en route to Jibanananda Das, Uday Shankar School of Dance, the entertainment Hindi films and the hyper-real festivals and the worship of the Goddess Durga- Postmodernism looked through Indian visionary terminals

Postmodernism is a world view. It is very difficult or impossible to define what is postmodernism? We find that philosophy to latest fashion-shoe all are labelled as post-modern. Variety is the spice of postmodernism. Postmodernism takes its breath in differences. So from fashion designers to social philosophers the context of postmodernism comes in contradiction, hybrid and chaos. From global politics including the poverty in the third world to MTV, postmodernism exists everywhere.

In the name of definition or something like definition of postmodernism we may feel ourselves helpless and utterly confused. Denzin tries to define it in this way: ‘Living the post-modern into experience; a set of emotional experiences defined by resentment, anger, alienation, anxiety, poverty, racism, and sexism; the cultural logics of late capitalism’.


Let us display every thing visually as postmodernism appears to us very much visually (though there are differences of opinions) promoting a visual culture. The visual culture which exists at present is very much post-modern indeed.

The Neo-TV with its satellite and cable networks, the flow of video-texts in the sophisticated modes of CD-video or laser-disc and as computer graphics in the World Wide Web of Internet (including the practice of watching pornographic films in the computer or TV monitor, lolling on a sofa or bed in a comfortable room), the neon-shine advertisements, the hoardings, the electronic display boards, the video terminals, the posters (including the semi-pornographic ones — as of the Hindi and American commercial films), expositions (as book fair, tourism fair etc.) and high-tech fairs (as computer fair, industrial fair etc.) and tableaus etc. all attack and arrest our vision in their non-stop motion and motivation.


The primary motivation of them is creation of simulation. The motivation in depth is political and economic (global and local) and there is of course the interplay of cultural logics of Late Capitalism (multinational) which are the output of postmodernism. But now let us enter in simulation. What is simulation? Simulation is a ‘make believe’ of an appearance which has been created or constructed as actual. As for example the multi-channel TV. In one channel we see a fashion show, in another we see the game of glorious uncertainty — the ‘cricket’ which is being played at the ‘Lords’ or in another we see someone who died recently singing Rabindrasangeet . Now what is the ‘actuality’? What is actually going on now? If one just zaps of one after another of the eighty-four channels of world wide television-flow the whole world will appear to him in simulation of multiple reality. The multiple reality through electronic impulses is a post-modern entity. With the use of electronics the sense and sensibilities of multiple reality in the present day world is also strongly and strangely post-modern.


There is some strangeness in simulation because time to time it takes us to a world of the hyper-real. Let us look at the screen of TV. It may be MTV, any other TV channel or a video-text. There are two colours dividing the screen. One is green and the other one is blue which appear as the land and the sky. In the middle there is a man singing vigorously. He looks like a man like any of us. But the background and the violently throbbing music is hyper-real. Actually something like this was in display with an array of sixty TV monitors in the pavilion of ‘France’ in the Calcutta Book Fair in 1996. I along with many others got almost lost into the hyper-real world with French music and images simulated through electronic impulses.


Simulation, hyper-real, visual culture come holding hand in hand to a post-modern voyeur putting him into the ever shifting multiple reality.

A post-modern voyeur looks at the images (be it of electronic or not). Film, TV, video etc. are open to him. He looks at the different shades of life through these and simultaneously constructs his total vision of life. Out of the looked-at-experiences of the audiovisual media he looks at the ‘lived experiences’ of life like a passive voyeur. This passive voyeurism is not always recognised. The people looking at the female body in and outside the screen has been identified as ‘male gaze’ by Laura Maulvey in her paper entitled ‘Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema’ in 1975. Afterwards she is countered why she hadn’t considered the women for the ‘gaze’. Though that is a different context of feminist idea but voyeurism or the post-modern voyeur is seen clearly at the centre.


In all the fields of art including the film postmodernism emphasises on the ‘process’ rather than the ‘product’. Its simulated world emits ‘feeling’ as well as the ‘unfeeling’. As the deconstructionists emphasises on the ‘misreadings’ of a text and ‘Foucault accepted the death of author as God’, postmodernism (which has come out of post-structuralism and again which has followed the theory of deconstruction) emphasises on ‘plurality’ in stead of the auteur or ‘authorship’ of modernity. Christian Metz puts the authorship theory of film as ‘modern’. But from the deconstructionist postmodernist point of view it can be said that ‘what the author meant is part of his autobiography’. We, the readers and viewers will interpret the text often creating the ‘misreadings’. ‘Plurality’, ‘multiplicity’ and ‘hybridity’ are a few important characteristics of postmodernism — very specially and clearly visible in post-modern architecture. But before the creation of post-modern architecture some one has died. The name of the dead is ‘Modernity’. In 1901 Nietzsche announced ‘the death of God’ in the book Thus Spake Zarathrustra through Zarathrustra’s uttering in his imaginary revisit to the human beings of the world. ‘Foucault also accepted the death of author as God’ and strikingly Charles Jencks, the pioneering theoretician of post-modern architecture and other post-modernists found the Modern Architecture as dead. ‘Happily, we can date the death of Modern Architecture to a precise moment in time’ Jencks wrote. ‘Unlike the legal death of a person, which is becoming a complex affair of brain waves versus heart beats, Modern Architecture went out with a bang... [It] died in St. Louis Missouri on July 15, 1972 at 3.32 p.m.... The occasion was the blowing up of the prize winning Pruitt Igoe housing scheme. The scheme was classically modern. It was constructed according to the principles of the Congress of International Modern Architects, which put economic and sociological issues above those of style as the imperatives of architectural progress.


POSTMODERN architecture basically considers architecture as a language. It should also be in analysed through the tools like ‘signs’, ‘codes’ and ‘meanings’. As the film theoreticians like Christian Metz and others consider ‘film as a language’ using the concepts of semiotics to decode its meaning. Architecture has also become a language. Semiotics is applied to decode its meaning. We see in wonder the semiotics, the film theory and the post-modern architecture are all deconstructed in the linguistic terms of ‘signifier’ and ‘signified’. The contemporary trend of analysing with the theories of linguistics or semiotics doesn’t spare film and architecture. Even the mad or lunatic people are not spared. Lacan who applies semiotics in the psychoanalysis holds that the schizophrenics get no ‘signified’ counterparts for their ‘signifiers’ creating a collapse in communication. Let us visualize the post-modern architecture theoretically. One of the fundamental characteristics of postmodernism is the ‘presentation of the impossible’. It is evident in post-modern architecture. Think of the new American Centre building on J. N. Road, Calcutta. Wrapped with the black basaltic stone sheets, the building appears to be terribly unbalanced — it may fall down any time. From the engineering point of view it is perfectly balanced but appearance is just the opposite i.e. ‘the presentation of the impossible.’

In every post-modern architecture there is a kind of ornamentation. It may be reminiscence of history or an older style of building-making like placing earthen tiles along with the hybrid of concrete and fibre glass. It also may be a pattern or rhythm with flora and fauna or high-technological suggestions. Remembrance of history in fragmentation or its non-chronological presentation are the basic characteristics of postmodernism. Architecture takes that view in its own post-modern way. The post-modern architecture emphasises on style rather than function, individuality rather than commonness and non-identity, language – like communicativeness rather than mere rationality. We can think of most of the office buildings of New Delhi showing their uniqueness in post-modern way. In Calcutta Nandan (style and language), Akshvani Bhavan (individuality) are also like that.


Now, after witnessing the death of modern architecture, we can look at history. In an invisible board some one has already written ‘end of history’. History has ended its course but world goes on. How is it possible? I don’t know whether history has ended but the post-modernists think, that there is point in marking the ‘end of history’ in the eternal flux of time.

In modernism there are two basic notions. One is about history. That history is like an unwritten agenda on which all the events are happening one after another. Hegel introduced that. And obviously the whites i.e. the Europeans lead the rest of the world towards the conclusion of history. If conclusion comes then the history ends one day. But the world does not end. Moreover we find things are not going according to the hidden agenda of history at all. The outbreak of wars, depression, nihilism, chaotic environment prove that there is nothing as chronological history. Europeans are considered as ‘historical people’ and India and some other countries of third world are put into the category of ‘a-historical’. But this notion of modernism proves futile to the post-modernists. So, to them the value of ‘history as progress’ collapses making an ‘end of history’.

The second notion – which the modernism bears is that the advanced countries of the west will lead the rest of the world. But the various global events from World War II to Vietnam War show the collapse of this notion too. Today the west is not leading the rest of the world. One can think of the emergence of Japanism and others like that.

So with the breakdown of the two modernist notions, people have two ways to go. One is towards the pre-modern and the other is towards the post-modern directly. The pre-modern approaches include the revival of matriarchy, Green movement etc. The pre-modern approaches are in a way post-modern reactions towards the world. And the direct approach towards the postmodernism is what we see today as post-modern.

Is postmodernism radically different from modernism or is it a continuation of modernism? There are opinions on both the sides. Some think it is counter to the modernism. Some think it is very much different. Arnold Toynbee found beginning of the post-modern era from the seventh cycle of the nineteenth century and somewhere he emphasised the beginning of the post-modern time since 1939 (after the World War II). All these he wrote in the different volumes of his famous book The Study of History. But to many of us it is not the time only but the mood of the world view in altogether the Zeitgeist i.e. the post-modern.


In all the fields of post-modern art, we find the use of three elements like kitsch, pastiche and hybrid. Let us take a fine example of hybrid-ity. I find it in some of the compositions of Uday Shankar School of Dance. Even in the same stage at the same time they show two groups are performing Kathak dance. One group dance after the traditional Indian music, the other group dance after a sort of western music. It is a hybrid presentation of dance.

If one fixes a picture of Monalisa on a bath tub then it is an example of Kitsch. In Hindi entertainment films often we find the use of Kitsch. As a dancer dances in an exciting way, the close up of a Hellenistic sculpture or a glimpse of the Ajanta cave paintings come intermittently. The dignified, high serious objects of art mix with the cheap and popular culture, forming examples of Kitsch (originally a German word).

Pastiche also has the hybrid nature. In the puja pandal we see in astonishment that the famous temple of Dakshineshwar has been erected at Howrah. The pandal looks like the original one (even more brighter and more real) creating a pastiche. In the book fair, the created pastiche of Eiffel Tower or Notredame church are clear enough to understand what pastiche is like. Pastiche some times becomes the harbinger of hyper-reality. The enormously big idol of Jagatdhatri of Chandannagar is a concrete example of pastiche-hyper-reality.

Kitsch, pastiche and parody are evident in TV, film, architecture, popular culture including fashion designing and the beauty contests and in almost everywhere in the post-modern world.

In the context of pastiche an example from the Third Cinema comes in mind. It is The Journey by Fernando Solanas. It becomes controversial for its political implications. Once we see the president of America is present in a ridiculous form. He is wearing a pair of skintight stockings - cum - trousers and his feet are abnormally big — look a almost like webbed-feet swan in an abnormal enlargement. His feet suggest security and stability in a humorous way. Moreover he is introduced as Mr. Fox, the president of America. To raise our surprise in his peculiar make up he begins to play tennis with the president of Argentina. Creating pastiche, the whole sequence has become very much post-modern indeed. ‘Presentation of the impossible’ the other characteristics of postmodernism is also presented here. In the appearance and disappearance of the pleasant momentary sight of a beautiful girl, as the essence and spirit of Argentina time to time comes throughout the film. The opposite and uncomfortable example of it is the scene where we find the ‘sheets’ are floating in the water and ignoring which the people are going by a boat. This ‘unpresentable’ sight of Argentina is also presented in this never ending odyssey The Journey.


Nostalgia is also a post-modern characteristics. In the post-modern film and literature we often find nostalgia for the past, presented in a manner so that the past ‘re-creates’ the present. In the use of flexible time sequence or non-chronological time or the fragmentary use of time we often face a kind of post-modern nostalgia.


Photography may be considered today as very much post-modern. As in postmodernism, specially in the postmodernist art, the use of the ‘past recreating the present’ and the ‘sense of the perpetual present’ is much reflected in photographs. A photograph transfers the ‘past’ into the ‘present’ instantly at the time of the viewers’ interaction. This kind of visual interaction as the viewer finds it is neither totally ‘past’ nor it is absolutely ‘present’. This re-creation of the ‘present’ engineering the ‘past’ is an important post-modern characteristics.


The sense of ‘presentation of the unpresentable’ in the vein of cathartic visual pleasure comes through most of the Hindi commercial films especially in the films of the eighties and the nineties and more specifically in the sequences of song picturisation. Just think of any of them this flow of post-modernity inundates your mind.


TV viewing and its interaction to the tele-viewers is itself a post-modern activity. Unlike cinema, TV has now captive target audience. TV viewers sip in the tea cup, rear babies or do some other household works while viewing the TV. So there creates a mixed atmosphere of communicating images from the TV ‘programming’ flow and as well as a sort of ‘household flow’. These two flows present the electronically simulated images in the dimensions of multiple reality, intertextuality and the differences of activity making the whole experience of TV viewing a post-modern one.


The spontaneous mixing of high culture and low culture or popular culture creating a middle brow culture is a characteristic feature of postmodernism. POST Cyber MODERN punk ISM or Men’s Studies or Post-Feminism are not just some names of chapters in the recently published books on literary theory or postmodernism. They are actually in the fringe area of expanding postmodernism. ‘What is after postmodernism?’ — Charles Jencks, the post-modern architecture-critic questions. Now all the POSTs and ISMs have come at the end of this century enrolling as post-structuralism, post-industrialism, post-Fordism, post-Marxism along with postmodernism. Postmodernism also contains many ramifications or the chain of evolution with pre-modernism, modernism, high-modernism, late-modernism and the non-modern (traditional) and the anti-modern. The labels including the neo-modern and the palaeo-modern (used by Frank Kermade) are enough to cover the course of our whole civilisation.


Postmodernism is a product of Late Capitalism. Fredric Jameson and some others think like that. Late Capitalism is the economics of the multinationals and its consequences. All our cultural currents are due to it. Some think like that. Poverty created by the exploitation of the third world by the first and the second world, the Michael Jackson show (in Bangalore also), the scams and corruptions of global, national and local leaders and politicians, the MTV, the TV serials and the blockbuster films all have come out of the cultural logics of Late Capitalism, creating the plural post-modern world in a single one.


Gone are the days of ideals. There are corruptions, falsehood, pretensions, exigency of sexual activities (as in the film sex, lies and video tape). The study of popular cultures including fashion designing, hotel management, tourism, film making, packaging etc. get the status of academic studies of the university level. English departments expand with the media studies, film etc. A modern couple try to become the double career machine to earn in five digits . People like to wear designer shirts, want to live in the luxury flats, go for expensive holidaying and weekend programmes. In India they like to get their children the English-medium schooling. The growing habit of unnecessary sophisticated means like drinking-habit of mineral water in the branded plastic bottles is just among the all others (mentioned above) creating the post-modern scenario.

It is indeed serious. Think of the days of the Gulf War. Where did the war actually take place? Was it not in the TV monitors of our rooms too? The live CNN telecast of the war showing launching and exploding missiles through the millions of TV monitors all over the world expanding the Gulf War is virtuality and hyper-reality. It covers or uncovers the bloodshed, death, horror and destruction which are normally concealed under the terrain of culture.


In this world man has to go nowhere. Today’s man is also a ‘no where man’ as John Lenon, the Beatles singer used to sing one day. Only dream is the post-modern solution in today’s world. Denzin says so in his discussion on postmodernism and cinema in the ‘Images of Postmodern Society’.


The oriental view of postmodernism can be sketched like this. The concept of multiplicity has its echo in the Jain philosophy of absolute-truthless-ness. Poet Jibanananda Das and his imaginary beloved Banalata Sen meet in fragmentation of history in non-chronological time and somewhere in the placeless geography (of global postmodernism). The quickly changing disguises of the characters of our myth or the characters of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana with their illusions of their virtual reality creating a total hyper-real world of our mythology is post-modern indeed. Then the pre-modern and the post-modern can be seen as the two sides of the same coin of culture. Often the two mix in a kind of post-modern synthesis. So we find the consciousness for the ecological balance, the Green movement and even the hyper-real atmosphere of the worship of the Goddess Durga remembering us of the pre-modern (rituals), the non-modern (traditional) and the post-modern with the automation of electric-decoration, the feeling of or ‘unfeeling’ of virtual reality (of the divine existence), pastiche, the mass fashion show, the recording of the fest in video or TV camera and its telecasting creating simulation in electronic impulses and voyeurism — altogether imagineering* the total post-modernity. (*Walt Disney coined and spelt this word)

- Dr Arup Ratan Ghosh

Note: Just the name of the book Le post-modernism explique aux enfent or Postmodernism explained to the children by Lyotard inspired author to call his essay as ‘Post-modernism for kids or what is post-modernism’

The article was originally published in 2006 in then now defunct e-zine angelfire.
pic source- jewsworldreview


Indian Auteur Issue-4 coming soon.


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