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Postmodernism is a broad collection of critical theories, political attitudes and literary and artistic practices that react to what postmodernists feel to be a modernist culture - one defined by belief in scientific knowledge, moral authority, historical progress and a foundationalist view of language and the self. Such ideas, alongside other similar "Western values" are the focus of the postmodernist critique which identifies them as totalizing metanarratives. Metanarratives, according to the postmodernist, are conceptual place-holders for linguistic indeterminacy, conceptual genealogies and, more often then not, oppressive hegemonies. In place of these metanarratives, postmodernists advocate the adoption nonfoundationalist epistemology, moral relativism and pluralist politics. The wider cultural implications of these ideas are reflected in postmodernism's literary and artistic values, which emphasize irony, pastiche, self-reflexivity, repetition and replication alongside a disregard for the traditional divide between "high" and "low" culture. These remarks, however, can only be taken as a general account of postmodernism, seeing as many as those who subscribe to it "resist closed, tightly bounded "totalizing" accounts of such things as the "essence" of the postmodern"[1].

Postmodernism emerged from various strands of critical theory, including poststructuralism and deconstruction, and brought with it a new focus on issues of gender, race and identity (see queer theory, postcolonialism). Jean-François Lyotard's 1979 book The Postmodern Condition popularised the concept which has enjoyed academic relevance and popular currency since the early 1980s. Postmodernism has also been influential in many different disciplines - starting with architecture, but spreading through literature, philosophy, cultural studies, history, the arts (including visual arts, cinema and performance arts), theology and religious studies and even computing[2]. The diversity of these different approaches can suggest that postmodernism is representative of a cultural 'break', separating Western culture today from what went before.


The word postmodernism borders on contradiction - modern is usually understood to mean current, but how can postmodernism be post-now? Postmodernism also has another problem: that in its advocacy of rejecting metanarratives, it is itself creating a metanarrative.


  1. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, "Theology and the condition of postmodernity: a report on knowledge (of God)" in The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology (ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer), ch. 1, p. 3.
  2. Larry Wall, Perl, the first postmodern computer language