What is Postmodernism?

The concept of postmodernism along with Jean-François Lyotard’s views on the subject is a hard mountain to conquer. A simple definition of postmodernism would be the Google dictionary’s, “a late-20th-century style and concept in the arts, architecture, and criticism that represents a departure from modernism and has at its heart a general distrust of grand theories and ideologies as well as a problematical relationship with any notion of “art.” At first this definition doesn’t seem so bad, although postmodernism can be a little more complex than the summarised definition, it still makes some sense. The real struggle with postmodernism is understanding the different views, forms, and definitions it is given by different people, including Lyotard.

When reading Lyotard’s “Answering the Question: What is Post-Modern?” the concept of postmodernism is transformed from the simple Google dictionary definition, into what seems like a never ending tornado of thought. In Alex Wyatt’s “The Post-Modernist Appeal of Donald Trump”, Lyotard’s complex ideals are reflected through the critique of the current political agenda of the now President of the United States, Donald Trump. To summarise Wyatt’s take on Lyotard and Trump’s connection to postmodernism, (although in his work Lyotard discussed how art and literature are results of post-modernism), Wyatt suggest people can also be products of postmodernism. In her article Wyatt writes, “Unlike the Head, the Gut relies on past experience and knowledge, and the more common or easily-recalled that knowledge is, the more likely it is to stick.” Wyatt uses the human gut as a way to explain how people use their history and past experiences, along with their cultural past to make judgements and shape their mindsets, allowing them to become a product of postmodernism. By the end of her piece, Wyatt creates a new type of definition for postmodernism as the study of how art and literature of mainstream cultures can be products of postmodernism, but also that people who grow up in cultures that support postmodernism and ideals can also become the products of their surroundings and history.

The definition of postmodernism takes on a new form in Elora Sinnott’s “An American Meta-Narrative”. Sinnott defines postmodernism as, “an intricate theory of concepts and ideas in relation to culture, the economy, politics, and society as a whole.” In fewer words, the idea that culture, the economy, politics, and society are all connected and results of postmodernism. Sinnott also brings up the term meta-narrative using a definition from the Oxford Dictionary which defines it as, “an overarching account or interpretation of events and circumstances that provide a pattern or structure for people’s beliefs and gives meaning to their experiences.” Or the idea that stories told to us throughout history effect our cultural views, opinions, and become a platform for our lives and society as a whole. Sinnott continues to explore Lyotard’s view on postmodernism along with met-narratives which he believes can sometimes have a negative impact on a society. Sinnott uses Donald Trump as an example of a current use of a meta-narrative having a negative impact on a society. She refers to his slogan, “Make America Great Again”, suggesting this is Trumps meta-narrative, but that the ideas and history attached to his meta-narrative will have a negative impact.

Although the concept of postmodernism can be confusing and seems to change with each new opinion of those who try to define it, the idea that the past becomes a base for our present and future, is a strong one. Jean-François Lyotard agreed with the theory of postmodernism along with the concept of meta-narratives, believing that these ideologies were especially present in current art and literature. Alex Wyatt took Lyotard’s views further by proving that people can also be products of postmodernism such as Donald Trump and his post-modern ideals. Elora Sinnott further explored Wyatt’s idea by connecting Lyotard’s ideas on meta-narratives to the famous Trump slogan, “Make America Great Again”, suggesting that this slogan was Trump’s way of using a meta-narrative to gain power and reach out to American citizens. In the end although these are confusing definitions, ideas, and concepts, Loytard might agree that postmodernism now has one clear example to help create clarity on the concept and that is Donald Trump, the poster boy of the misuse of meta-narratives and one bad product of postmodernism.

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