The Shift from Modernism to Post Modernism


Post modernism connotes that period in time that captures ideas that rejected modernism. In order to fully comprehend this phenomenon, one needs to understand the ideas that were synonymous to the modernist era, a period that began in the late eighteenth century after the rise of industrialization. In this school of thought, it was held that people are rational and independent. It is a point of view that stresses the autonomy of individuals and explains how Western society constructs its economic, social and political structures. However, this perspective overlooks a number of things, such as the associations and relationships that people form between each other.

Post modernism and modernism

Reason and knowledge are perceived as the path to fulfilment and happiness in modern literature. Discussions often centre on what a person knows rather than how they come to know it. Emphasis is given to stability as well dependability in the order to things. However, modernism ignores certain categories of individuals such as women or minorities because they do not fall within this ordered scheme of things (Lewis 62).

It is because of these deficiencies that post modernism emerged. Instead of dwelling on grand narratives that are presumed to apply to all individuals, post modernists felt that it was necessary to acknowledge the fragmented way in which the world worked. They were highly disillusioned by the promises of the modern era as they realised that progress was not a universal concept. Not all people worked towards achievement of certain objectives like equality or justice.

Therefore, postmodernism was a reaction to the lack of diversity and multiplicity in modernism. The school of thought postulates that change does not occur literally. It may have several connections and interconnections depending on the person’s experiences. Furthermore, postmodernists hold that there can be no objective truth; all knowledge is partial since it comes from biased humans. Unlike modernists, post modernists claim that language cannot describe universal experiences. Furthermore, the line between high and low culture is blurred, yet this was very clear in modernism. Parodying other forms of literature is common; for instance, a person may rewrite Romeo and Juliet in an urban setting.

Authors in the latter school of thought were unhappy with the way seemingly small events were ignored in modernism. Post modernists, therefore, dwell on mini experiences or local situations. Provisions and situational cases are given more importance as is the temporary nature of life. No claim whatsoever is given to truth or even reason. Authors in the new school of thought felt that language was not given as much significance as it should in literature. Modernists believed that language is only a mere representation of ideas and should not be construed as anything other than that. Post modernists disagreed with the notion and felt that language should be interpreted in its own terms rather than as a tool for dealing with other concepts or outcomes.

One of the authors that epitomises the post modern movement is Toni Morrison. The above writer sought to question, critic and even confront the dominant cultural narratives in her society. In her first novel, The Bluest eye, the author opposed white mainstream culture by focusing and portraying the lives of marginalised people; black women. One way in which she does this is by delving into the soulful nature of her subjects. The following is a description of one of her characters in the “Bluest Eye.’

“Misery coloured by the greens and blues in my mother’s voice took all of the grief out of the words and left me with a conviction that pain was not only endurable, it was sweet.” (“Bluest eye” 24).

In the above excerpt, it is evident that language is a powerful medium for the characters and the author herself. This probably emanates from the history of African American people. In a world where economic and social structures were tilted against them, most black people only had language to preserve their heritage. They used song and verbal interplays in order to transmit their points of view. This indicates that language was not just a tool to convey ideas; it was something that reflects the richness of the black race. This was clearly a postmodern point of view.

One may contrast the attention Morrison pays to language with Joseph Conrad’s modernist book “Heart of Darkness.” The language employed in the book is opaque and rather obscure. One can find worlds like gloom and inconceivable throughout the piece (“heart of darkness” 90). Furthermore, the narration style conveys one grand narrative. Although the main character was Kurtz, Marlow was the key narrator. His description was quite holistic and symptomatic of the modernist movement. Language in this book was designed to point towards the signified.