Intro to Postmodernism- Eleanor Heartney



Annelysse Eggold

Richard Feynman, renowned physicist at Cal Tech appropriately stated, “Anyone who says they understand Quantum Mechanics…does not understand Quantum Mechanics.”

The same might be said of those who define Postmodernism.

In Jnana Hinduism there is a chant or mantra of Neti Neti which assists the meditator in conceptualizing something by clearly defining what it is not.

We could easily begin to define Postmodernism by using the textual phrase, Neti Neti, which means “Neither this, nor that.”


We might begin by saying it is something that follows Modernism but that is evading the issue…if there is one.

Eleanor Heartney defines the experience of postmodernism as “the removal from a reality whose absence is not even felt…which supports the postmodern tenet that our understanding of the world is based, first and foremost, on mediated images, each affirming the notion that we live within the sway of a mythology conjured for us by the mass media, movies, and advertisements.”

This mythology is unconsciously due to the way in which a human being utilizes language; verbal, literary and artistic, to construct a particular system, or paradigm, of meaning which we then call the truth or reality.

Here, Heartney is citing an example of the reproduction of the Caves of Lascaux, which hold visitors sway while the real caves absence is not even felt.

What is the post modern world attempting to approach within the dimensions of time and space?  Heartney offers us a historical approach beginning with Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions wherein Kuhn illuminates the human need for, and illusion of, continuity.  Those who lived with the Aristotelian scientific paradigm for over 1000 years had the illusion of continuity and truth, yet this was subsumed by the subsequent Newtonian paradigm, in turn subsumed by relativity, and then by quantum theory. Without digressing into the objections to Kuhn’s hypothesis, Heartney uses his thesis to assist in the parallel development of art, particularly from modernism to postmodernism, in which previous artistic paradigms are subsumed by postmodernisms refutation of existing concepts of reality, universality, artistic progress, shared meaning , quality, authorship, aesthetics, creativity and individualism which expressed itself in minimalism, postminimalism, Body art, Land art, performance, Neo-expressionism, feminism, and multiculturalism.

However, it appears to me that the Postmodernist deconstructionist is, once again, just as so many before him, setting himself up as a judge of truth and knowledge.

Perhaps we all need a little dose of humility to end this digression into postmodernism:

“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.”  (Albert Einstein)

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