Who? Jean Baudrillard (among many others)
When? 1980’s – 1990’s
Post-Modernism is often seen as a continuation of the ideas developed in Post-Structuralism. Following our realisation that language is not anchored in reality, that there is infinite uncertainty in the words that we use and that our ideas of what is sane, rational and sensible are just something decided by our particular Discourse which could easily be wrong, Post-Modernists tend to be very depressed.
Themes in Post-Modernist writing tend to emphasise pointlessness, exhaustion, impotence and powerlessness. In a sense, nothing has any meaning any more. As a result Post-Modernist writers tend to play around a lot with language and just experiment with words and the connections and links between them. They seem to think: ‘If words can’t be used to tell us truths about the world then we can at least have fun with them.’
Post-Modernist writers also like to upset the conventions of a text, the expectations of the audience and the rules that make a ‘normal’ story. Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ is a good example of Post-Modernist writing. Three characters spend the whole play waiting for Godot to arrive. He never does. To make matters worse no one is sure who he is, why they are waiting or who’s idea it was in the first place. Kiss of the Spiderwoman is also a good example of a Post-Modernist text because of a) the uncertainties that run through the text and b) the mixing together of different text types to do one job. The implication is that no one text type is more reliable than any other and, as such, the formal prison files and police reports get us no closer to the truth than Molina’s half remembered, half invented snatches of old films.
In an idea related to this, Baudrillard suggests that we have lost the ability to tell the difference between the superficial and the real. We live in a world so full of fake images of perfection (the perfect look, perfect body, perfect family, career, holiday, home, etc …) that have been created by the media, that we are no longer able to even have realistic aims or goals. In fact we prefer these fake and unachievable images to the grimness of reality; a state of confusion which Baudrillard calls Hyperreality.
Many modern films develop this theme: in Fight Club, Brad Pitt’s character, Tyler Durden, is intent on disrupting the fake life of Edward Norton’s character through violence in order to bring back some sense of reality. In the film they make fun of male underwear models and ask: ‘Is that what a real man is supposed to look like.’ The Matrix is another obvious example where most of us live in a fake world which is indistinguishable from reality and which only a chosen few, Neo, Morpheus, etc…, can see through.
However, you will be pleased to know that over the past couple of years there has been an increasing move towards a position called Post-Theory. Theorists from this position believe that all these Structuralist, Post-Structuralist and Post-Modern theories have got too complex and are basically just missing the point because they’re not looking at the story anymore. It is tempting to agree with this, but I think we have to be careful not to throw out all of the interesting things that the various theories have told us.