Proceedings of the XXII World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 1, 2008

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Arts

Van Dan Nguyen
Pages 169-189

Postmodernism, or an Abuse of Concepts

There exist at present many conceptions of postmodern(ism). But there is a certain number of differences between the conceptions of postmodernism in the arts and the conceptions of postmodernism in various spheres of social activities. In arts, people pay much attention to the significant attributes of the concept, but in spheres of social life, the term is often used as a criterion to marking time in the periodization of history. That is, while in arts the significant attributes will make the criteria to define the postmodernism, in social life the concept of postmodern(ism) exists a priori and does not depend on social characteristics. That is for many people, the postmodern era is simply taken for granted as the period after the Second World War. At the same time, we have to recognize that the arbitrary and easy use of this term in the social life has spread contagiously to the artistic field. Many people simply attribute the label of “postmodern” to all creations outside the traditional realism in the second half of the 20th century, only because in their opinion, those creations appeared in the age that they called “postmodern era” for granted. Thus, in this way, “postmodern” may have too many different and indefinite meanings, but just thereby, it has also no meaning at all. This situation has brought ambiguity to defining the status of contemporary arts. I can only state that, in the field of arts, despite different conceptions of “postmodern(ism)” among many persons, we may conclude that it is more exactly to use this concept only to designate the summit or the “paroxysm” of modernism; and it still bears a temporal character to designating the second half of the 20th century. With the meaning of “paroxysm”, the term of “postmodern” can be entirely replaced with the term “modern”, or more precisely, with the term “meta-modern” or “ultra-modern”. Besides, we should be vigilant against the abuse of the concept “postmodern” which is being used fairly popularly in the current socio-political life, and most of these cases of abuse only want to make impressions of the “ultra-new” (or “ultra-modern”) character of the events. Just because of this abuse, the concept “postmodern” runs the risk of becoming platitudinous, leads to becoming meaningless because of bearing too many different and indefinite meanings, and thereby loses its effectiveness and usability. For my own part, I think that we should use the concept “postmodern(ism)” only for architecture and painting. As for other fields, especially for literature, we should not use it, and instead, we shall make use of the concept “modern(ism)” or at the most, we shall use the concept “ultra- or meta-modern(ism)” which will be precise and very appropriate. It is not necessary that, whenever to make impressions of the newest, one should have to recourse to the term “postmodern(ism)”, and then to be at a loss in making efforts to find the characteristics in order to ascribe them to the term to demonstrate its legitimate existence, but in fact, these characteristics are not of its own.