Introduction: Modernism and Postmodernism are two of the movements, which dragged the world to a vast diversion. These are philosophical movements, indeed, and are with a drastic change to almost every sphere of society, particularly of the Western arena. These enhanced the world view by its new mode of interpretation; an interpretation that shows both the positive and negative psyche of the ‘changing men’ as well as of the ‘changing society’.
The application of the ‘new’ term- ‘modernism’, differs from the phrase of the time, but, at the same time, it is consistently used particularly in the field of literature written during the First World War. It is also being applied to the changing philosophical approach to society, religion, logic, psychology, the human body, and so on.
The term is also applied, much wider, to identify new and distinctive and salient, of course, features in the subjects, forms, concepts, and styles of literature and other forms of art including – Cubism, impressionism, realism, in the early decades of the twentieth century.
The specific characteristics signified by the term ‘modernism’ or by ‘modernist’ differs from one individual or user to another. Many critics interpret that this particular movement involves a quite deliberate, quintessential break with some of the traditional bases not only of the Western art but broadly of Western Culture. It questioned the certainties that had supported traditional aspects of social institutions as well as morality and also the conventional approach to the human ‘self’. It is the collapse of the old structures.
Thinkers like Nietzsche, Freud, James G. Frazer as well as Marx are some of the figures who have practiced this philosophy in their writings though some of them also wrote or perpetuated their theories in the Postmodern era. Whereas, Ihab Hassan, the Arab-American literary theorist,
Simply speaking, it is a break from the ‘past’; a break but which carries the ‘modified’ bygone days with it, by-
- By recasting the past symbols;
- By rejecting the reproduction of tradition; or
- By absorbing the Past.
It is the collapse of the old structures.
Thus, it is the philosophy behind being modern.
On the other hand, Post-modernism is applied to the aftermath of World War II in the field of literature as well as of art. It is the time when the effects on Western morale of the previous World War was radically worsened by the influence of the Nazi totalitarianism as well as the extermination of the mass, the fear of the complete destruction of the world by the atomic bomb, the consistent devastation of the bio-diversity and, of course, overpopulation.
It is a continuation of modernism. It is also an extreme, counter-traditional experiment of modernism. But, it also tries to break up with the modernist forms, which had turned conventional as well as to overthrow the elitism of modernist ‘high art’ by turning its wheel towards the models of ‘mass culture’ in television, popular music, film, and newspaper cartoons. Most of the Post Modernist writers- Samuel Beckett, Roland Barthes, Jorge Luis Borges, Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Pynchon, and many more, blend literary genres and resist the classification according to the traditional literary rubrics or canons.
In general, it is a wide-ranging term, which is applied to literature, art, architecture, philosophy, criticism, fiction, culture, so on and so forth.
If, on one hand, Modernism is a break from the past, caring its traces and on the other hand, Post-modernism is again a break from the modern cannons, caring its nuances.
Modernism or Post-Modernism: To change is a universal truth and hence the society has been changing in due course of time. Every aspect of society is signified by change.
These two modes come through this process of consistent change. Modernism comes by breaking the past rigid traditions and wanted to update it through responding to the changing atmosphere but it has again formed a ‘modernist’ convention that is hampering the ‘individual talent’. There is a clash between tradition and the individual talent that “the new poets still quoted/ the old poets, but no one spoke/ in verse/of the pregnant women/ drowned, with perhaps twins in her, / kicking at black walls/ even before birth.” ( A River, A.K. Ramanujan).
As per as the preference is concerned, mine goes to the Modernist trend rather than the Post-modern, though it is the same question- whom to choose between Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.
Modernism is more constant than the latter as Ihab Hassan has found out in his table of differences between modernism and Post-Modernism. He said that- Modernism is all about Hierarchy (thematic), whereas, Post-Modernism is more of an anarchical kind. The literary works of modernism are comparatively easy to comprehend than the others. These are more orderly. The Post-modern era produces more anti-formal texts that are not so easy to interpret, but the modernist texts limit themselves to a particular boundary.
Modern writers cope with modern society and its ‘trauma’. The modern texts are full of such well-expressive examples. For example- many of the modernist poets have represents the ‘pre-war’ and ‘on-war’ situation as well as the psyche of the ‘modern men’ quite explicitly. T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” is a masterpiece in this context. Using a vast number of myths, Eliot plotted the modern world and its ‘paranoia’ (Ihab Hassan).
Modernism is quite able to respond to the changing time, to catch the feel when- “Things falling apart/ centre cannot hold.”
Modernism does not give much freedom to the characters of a text, but it is preferable in the context that it possesses a definite boundary a fixed genre, which makes the text interpretable. It is obvious that, Post-Modernism has a broader range and much freedom but it always leads to a state of more obscurity than Modernism.
Every philosophy and literature is used to reflect the aura of contemporary time and so is Modernism. Modern poetry, modern fiction, or modern essay, are able to get a hold of the modern-day ‘Neurosis’ (“seized with immeasurable neurotic dread”- Auden, ‘Consider this and in Our Time’).
There is a form present in the modernist texts, which turned into anti-form in the post-modern texts. The presence of form makes a text able to have a well-defined interpenetration. Whereas, though matches the temptation of time, the anti-form tendency of the post-modern texts leads to a chaotic and indefinite interpretation that makes the ordinary reader quite puzzled. There is a design in Modernism but Post-Modernism takes everything either by chance or leaves to chance. We cannot have a complete text in Post-modernism but in Modernism.
The use of ‘idiolect’ (Ihab Hassan’s difference table) makes Post-Modernism complex to the reader, but Modernism deals with a ‘master- code’ that is somewhat common code to be able to make an effective reading. It catches the minds of the reader more fluently than the later trend.
Thus, Modernism is more preferable to Post-modernism as per as its trends are concerned. To some extent, Modernism is more flexible, comprehensible, and stable than Post-Modernism. So, as a reader, Modernism is preferable to me; it is more available to entertain the approach of the readers.