You are here:

Literature/post modernity and post colonialism


hello can i ask you what does post modernity and post colonialism mean in terms of films,books and art ..thankyou

Hello again Val,

I am tempted to say that, no, you can't ask me that, because it is an appallingly complex question! A lot of people never gain an understanding of postmodernity/postmodernism, and one can explain about it for hours without it becoming clear. We are talking about an aggregate of trends in art and academia across the last half-century, which ties into previous trends such as modernity, structuralism, etc. For starters, try reading about these things on Wikipedia; it's as good a place as any to start.

Post-colonialism is a bit simpler; it is about the consequences of colonialism. Colonialism is the period (and the attitudes and ideologies that justified it) when Western nations colonized less developed places and cultures, such as Africa and India (mainly in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the first half of the 20th), in the process oppressing and killing the local people, and imposing Western values on them. The reason this was done was to make money on crops and resources and cheap labor, and when the profits were no longer very large, the colonized countries were abandoned and given their independence. You can read about the process in a book like Walter Rodney's "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa" - when I was in high school this book was a big eye-opener for me! Anyway, post-colonialism deals with what happened in those cultures (and Western attitudes to them) after they gained their independence. The local people are obviously conflicted between the values of their old culture and the Western values they have been inculcated with by their colonial overlords, and "post-colonialism" refers to the ongoing cultural and artistic process of dealing with these conflicts; of trying to come to terms with it, and also try to resolve the moral quandaries of what happened during colonialism, and to which extent the Western colonial powers should apologize and make amends to the cultures they disrupted. Issues like these are treated in what is called post-colonialist art, incl. films and books.

Let me also try, just for the hell of it, to provide a simple explanation of the basics of postmodernity/postmodernism as I see them: The ideas underlying postmodernity/postmodernism emerge in the 1960s, and the most influential theoretical thinker in this area would be, as far as I know, Jacques Derrida. He came up with the theory that since language is purely self-referential (i.e. the meaning of words can only be explained by other words), it may not have any provable relation to reality, and therefore not have any meaning. It seems like a silly argument, and I certainly think it *is* silly, but a lot of influential people find it highly interesting. Derrida proceeds to create an apparatus of literary criticism by which he can "deconstruct" any text into total meaninglessness, because the language never ever refers to anything real; it only refers to itself. If this doesn't make sense to you, you're not alone. It doesn't make sense to me, either. But a lot of philosophers love the idea that language cannot tell us anything about what is actually real. And so was born this trend of deconstructing things into meaninglessness. Before this trend, we had modernity, and part of modernity is structuralism, which is the idea that some kind of structure underlies everything. This is also what science assumes, and all the knowledge that science discovers amounts to discoveries of structures underlying the surface world. But with postmodernity/postmodernism also comes post-structuralism, which is the idea that there is *no* structure to anything, or that if there is, we cannot ever identify it because of the limitations on language and sensory perception. In other words, postmodernity is anti-science and tries to make even science meaningless! This will also be its undoing in my opinion, because science and its discoveries are in fact very real. Postmodernity is a school of philosophy, and it will change over time as most philosophies do. But in the meantime, the aggregate of trends called postmodernity/postmodernism spends a lot of energy deconstructing all sorts of ideas and traditional assumptions, which is not entirely a bad thing. It exposes various cultural fallacies (like the lack of legitimacy of oppressive elites and patriarchal authority) and enables us to see through a lot of ideological flotsam that our socio-cultural attitudes have been colored by in the past. In this way, postmodernity/postmodernism helps us rebel against negative and repressive elements of our own parental culture, freeing us to look at the world and ourselves with fresh eyes. A lot of bad old conventions and traditions *need* to be rebelled against; need to be deconstructed, so our culture can progress to better social conditions. In all sorts of areas, from art to architecture, the trends of rebelling against the old for the sake of something new can be attributed to the fact that we live in the age of postmodernity/postmodernism, where these trends and developments are going on.

Hope this helped! :-)
- Tue Sorensen


All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Tue Sorensen


I am an authority on the complete works of Shakespeare, and can answer any questions relating to his plays, poetry and life. I specialize in interpretation, double-meanings and translation into modern language.


I was a top-rated Allexperts expert on this same subject several years ago.

Former member of the Danish Shakespeare Society, as well as an active participant in the scholarly SHAKSPER mailing list.

Three years of studying English literature at the University of Aarhus, Denmark

©2017 All rights reserved.