15 Pages

Introduction: From Postmodern Culture to Postmodern City

Zeitgeist, constituted by the ideas and practices (scientifi c, philosophical, aesthetic, political, or still other) that defi ne postmodern culture. The term “postmodern” has been and remains controversial. There are several reasons for this controversy, beginning with the negative reaction to anything labeled as “postmodern” by the majority of mainstream culture, public and academic, even though the contemporary academy is often seen by public culture as being dominated by threatening postmodernist ideas and teaching practices. Also, by now, after nearly half a century of postmodernity and postmodernism, there are so many ways of understanding both terms, and they are used by so many people in so many disparate ways, that they seem almost to mean or describe everything, and therefore some of the critics of postmodernism would say they mean nothing. While it is true that as these terms proliferate they acquire new meanings (hardly an uncommon situation), it is not true that they describe everything, and it is especially not true that they mean nothing. For, insofar as postmodernism affects so much of the world we inhabit, and the ways in which we (some of us) see the world, it designates a particular, and hence specifi able, set of ways of living in, perceiving, and understanding the world. Thus, while this specifi cation is not immediate or easy and may not ever be exhaustive, and while the term does mean many things, it does not mean everything. Indeed, such “criticisms” often mask attempts to avoid confronting the real meaning and impact of postmodernist ideas and cultural practices-philosophical, aesthetic, ethical, and political. Admittedly, some uses of the term are superfi cial and discountable, and some may even be seen as abuses of it. Others, however, are effective and productive, and by now diffi cult to dispense with. For, however negatively one may feel or think about postmodern phenomena and the language of the “postmodern,” they have long been parts of our life and culture, and it may, by now, be too late to avoid them. One might, however, do well to specify how one uses this language and how one understands postmodernity and postmodernism, and I shall do so in this section of my introduction. I shall discuss postmodern spaces, subjects, and cities themselves in the next section.