Postmodern Soup

The claim that our models of complex systems cannot be perfect introduces a next layer of problems: what is it then that is described by our models?

Are they merely constructions or instruments, or do they reflect reality in some way? Both claims have had strong support.

One way of naming these two traditions is to say that the attempt to reflect nature (accurately) is a modern approach, and that giving up that attempt is post-modern.

[Paul Cilliers]
'Boundaries, Hierarchies and Networks in Complex Systems', p. 3

All the tricks that artists had used for millennia to please the human palate were cast aside. In painting, realistic depiction gave way to freakish distortions of shape and colour and then to abstract grids, shapes, dribbles, splashes, and [...] blank white canvas.

In poetry, the use of rhyme, meter, verse structure, and clarity were frequently abandoned. In music, conventional rhythm and melody were set aside in favour of atonal, serial, dissonant, and twelve-tone compositions. In architecture, ornamentation, human scale, garden space, and traditional craftsmanship went out the window [...] and buildings were "machines for living" made of industrial materials in boxy shapes.

Why did the artistic elite spearhead a movement that called for such masochism? In part it was touted as a reaction to the complacency of the Victorian era and to the naïve bourgeois belief in certain knowledge, inevitable progress, and the justice of the social order.

Postmodernism was even more aggressively relativistic, insisting that there are many perspectives on the world, none of them privileged. It denied even more vehemently the possibility of meaning, knowledge, progress, and shared cultural values.

It was more Marxist and far more paranoid, asserting that claims to truth and progress were tactics of political domination which privileged the interests of straight white males. According to the doctrine, mass-produced commodities and media-disseminated images and stories were designed to make authentic experience impossible.

The goal of postmodernist art is to help us break out of this prison. The artists try to preempt cultural motifs and representational techniques by taking capitalist icons (such as ads, package designs, and pinup photos) and defacing them, exaggerating them, or presenting them in odd contexts.

In postmodernist literature, authors comment on what they are writing whilst they are writing it. In postmodernist architecture, materials and details from different kinds of buildings and historical periods are thrown together in incongruous ways [...] Postmodernist films contain sly references to the filmmaking process or to earlier films.

[Steven Pinker]
The Blank Slate ('The Arts'), p.409-11