Postmodernism has become the buzzword of contemporary society over the last decade. In Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction, Prof. Christopher Butler penetrates piercing insights into postmodernism and those Postmodernists who cast a critical light upon the way we live now, from the politicizing of museum culture to the cult of the politically correct. In this book Christopher Butler describes postmodernism from five aspects: The rise of postmodernism, new ways of looking at the world, politics and identity, the culture of postmodernism and the postmodern condition, which provide readers with a basic understanding of postmodernism.
The key postmodernist ideas are challenge and skepticism, as they figure in the theory, philosophy, politics, ethics and artwork of the period, and it is shown how they have interacted within a postmodernist culture. Like Descartes’ “ Cartesian doubt”, which doubt everything that he could manage to doubt in order to have a firm basis for his own philosophy, skepticism is perceived as the basic attitude of postmodernists. They suspect the “ Cartesian” clarity of exposition which they said arouse from a suspect reliance upon a “bourgeois” certainties concerning the world order, thus they usually use obscure modes of speech and writing. Like George Orwell, who was suspicious of jargon and of ideology, they also trying to doubt and disrupt a normal way of people seeing things. Also their doubt can be seen in the suspension of imposing political grand narratives which they believe is just attempts to keep some social groups in power, and others out it.
Their doubt towards language itself sometimes forms into deconstruction. For the deconstructionists , the relationship of language to reality is not given, or even reliable, since all language systems are inherently unreliable cultural constructs. And language itself is limited into a system which tries to cover all the concepts but in vain. Also the system which language compose is full of metaphors which made us live not inside reality, but inside our representations of it.
Also they suggest that works should be considered as text, and they conceive that any text, from philosophy to newspaper, involve an repetition or intertextuality of their predecessors. Thus, texts always refer to text, instead of things outside the text, and they mainly become disseminations on previous established concepts or ideas. As for history and science, postmodernists also conceive a suspicion, which they think history and science are influenced by politics and becoming another way of putting things. What’s more, they also are suspicious of art, they question the rules of painting or of narratives as they have learnt from their predecessors. Therefore, their works always be mavericks and test our tolerance as well as the art gallery which bring them to the attention of its public
The most important postmodernist ethical argument concerns the relationship between discourse and power. The language game of discourses expresses and enacts the authority of those who are empowered to use it within a social group, and such powerful discourses are designed to exclude and control people. When we are influenced by such discourses, we are just playing our roles set in the society. And their ideas just echoes Erich Fromm in his The Illusion of Individuality: “When general plot of play is handed out, each actor can act vigorously the role he is assigned anreven make up his lines and certain details of the action by himself. Yet he is only playing a role that has been handed over to him…I have no identity, there is no self excepting the one which is the reflex of what others expect me to be：I am as you desire me.” And this identity crisis is fertile soil for political purposes of Facism.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.” What Charles Dickens wrote hundreds years before, just evokes a image of today’s age. It can be argued that with the rapid development of technology and economy, we can easily escape from one kind of imprisonment and plunge into another one. Although communication becomes more convenient in the era of mass media, we are easily trapped in a media-dominated world which is full of signs, villainously generated by capitalism to synthesize our desire and manipulate our mind. There is as well we shall see a deep despair which postmodernists have about the Enlightenment-derived functions of reasoning. Therefore, in western society, a general loss of confidence with Western democratic culture has aroused and then called forth the postmodern analysis.