What are contrasting effects of Modernism and Post-Modernism?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Modernism evolved out of the disillusionment that came from the horrors of World War I; therefore, the Modernist sensibility sought to express new forms and use new methods of expression, rejecting traditional modes and reassessing values; for instance, in literature Ezra Pound called for writers to "make it new." Whereas literature had been the attempt to interpret middle-class culture, Modernism broke from this perspective and employed unreliable narrators and the stream-of-consciousness technique, as employed by James Joyce and William Faulkner, a technique which presented a subjective reality. These ideas were paralleled in the art world, as well, with the era of Impressionism and Expressionism. Thus, with Modernism, there were no longer any absolutes as truths were often subjective; this perspective of life was in sharp contrast to the positivism of Victorian society, and it shook the foundations of societies as it concerned itself with society's headlong rush to meaninglessness and destruction. 

Post-Modernism shattered some of these Modernist perspectives. On July 4, 1994, Vaclav Havel, president of the Czech Republic, observed, 

The distinguishing features of such transitional periods are a mixing and blending of cultures and a plurality or parallelism of intellectual and spiritual worlds.

Post-Modernists questioned further traditional norms and values by reacting to the Modernist era that itself had questioned traditional norms and values. Writers such as Kurt Vonnegut satirized some of the progressive ideas of Modernism.

Perhaps, the greatest difference between Modernism and Postmodernism is that there was a sense of an absolute for an ideal with Modernism that Postmodernism broke down. Here are some examples of this contrast:

  • With the industrialization of the post-war era, there was a mass-culture, and mass-production and progress viewed in this production, sharply in contrast to the post-Modernist perspective of anti-technology and new religions. 
  • The sense of the individual of Modernism gave way to fragmentation and conflicting identities in Postmodernism
  • The order of the family as the central unit and the order of the middle-class broke with Postmodernism and its alternative models for the middle-class marriage, such as couples who did not marry, or families who raised other family members' children.
  • Modernist social and cultural unity gave way to social pluralism in Postmodernism.
  • Belief in the real, rather than its representation on the media contrasted with Postmodernist credence of "as seen on TV."
  • With Modernism there was an attempt to master knowledge, in contrast to "information management" and "just-in-time knowledge" of Postmodernism.
  • Centralized organizations of communication changed to multi-media and more unrelible sources such as the Net and the Web.
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