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Friday, September 7, 2018

Ancients, Modernists, and Postmodernists

Many members of the postmodernist movement have emerged from the Marxist and post-Marxist groupings in France. Intellectuals like Jean-François Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard were reacting against the totalitarianism within the Soviet Union and the authoritarianism in the French communist party. Postmodernists can be seen as Marxists who have stopped believing that a better world, or a utopia, can be created by using authoritarian means.

Lloyd Spencer, in his essay, “Postmodernism, Modernity, and The Tradition of Dissent,” (Chapter 19; The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism; edited by Stuart Sim), offers the following perspective on the connection between modernity and postmodernism:
The very term 'postmodern' is a paradox and a provocation. Modernity, in the sense of the 'now' which surrounds us is not something we can be 'post'. But the modernity referred to is not the 'now' of the thoroughly modern. Modernity is a long epoch of historical change, fuelled by scientific and technological development and dominated by the spread — extensively across the world and intensively into every nook and cranny of the soul — of the capitalist market economy. Throughout the modern era, cultural, philosophical and political debate have marked out an intellectual space between the declining authority of the church on the one hand and, on the other, the economic and technical imperatives forcing the pace of change. 
Modernity even in this sense, of a centuries-old tradition of change and debate about change, can hardly be said to have come to an end. In the industrial West the declining role of religion and the pace of economic and technological change are factors that will shape the future as decisively as they have shaped our past. But something has changed in the very nature of tradition and in the way that we relate to the past. Every aspect of the past is made accessible, available. But it is made available, mediated, packaged, presented and re-presented. Postmodernism could be described as that variant of modernism which has given up hope of freeing itself from the ravages of modernity or of mastering the forces unleashed by modernity. 
Spencer points out that even thought the postmodernists have moved away from modernism, they continue to make use of the ideas of modern and even the ancient age. Postmodernism thrives by citing, parodying, pastiching and using the past. He points out that in the 18th century, the modernists were seeped in ancient classics even though they were devoted to developing new standards.
At the start of the eighteenth century a great debate raged between the 'ancients' and 'modems'. The 'ancients' held that the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome were the source of all standards and all literary ideals. The 'modems' contended that new times required new standards and new forms of expression. What we should remember in this context is that this was a debate between men raised on Greek and Latin. Even those who belonged to the 'modem' camp, from whom emerged the leading figures of the Enlightenment, were steeped in the classics. All the participants to the debate were on familiar terms with Aristotle and Aristophanes, with Tacitus and Cicero. 
Postmodernism aspires to be anti-authoritarian. It can be seen as the critical, skeptical, dissenting, and even nihilistic reaction against the authoritarian trends, such as Marxism, in modernity. 

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