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4.0 out of 5 stars Post-modernity: pedantic description?, 19 April 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: What is Post-Modernism? (What Isą?) (Paperback)
CHARLES JENCKS seems convinced that Western societies passage to post-modernism begins at 3:32pm on 15 July, 1972 in his most famous book 'The Language of Post-modern architecture' (1984). With this revised edition of the successor he steps back to actually tell us what post-modernity is, before asserting more intellectual ownership on various 'isms that keep social science students from sleeping at night.
Jencks begins well, rhetorically pondering if post-modernism is of any use to anyone or just pedantic description - many like myself begin the book in agreement with the latter. Quickly though, in the style of a defensive academic who stakes his life (and pride) in his neologism, he sets out on a course to affirm that post-modernism is a real transcendence in how society behaves and thinks - a 'critical overcoming of the paradigm (of modernism)'.
'What is Post-Modernism?' is in four main parts: 'the logic of history' which discusses modernity, 'post-modern culture' looking at architecture, art and literature, 'post-modern society' looking at the cultural and economic sphere and 'the universe as measure' which considers the move from anthropocentrism to a more complex and chaotic faith in the Universe - a new metanarrative. Jencks sees post-modernity's foundations in architecture, a shift from the 'white-international/machines-for-living' style that produced many of Britain's ugliest council blocks and car parks, to a more heterogeneous and eclectic style. This is where geography takes the stage, as this 'pluralism' is reflected in society. Po'Mo' is a shift from mass production to segmented production, of a global-culture to fragmented taste cultures, of few-styles to many genres and of national identification to both local and global consciousness. Jencks also follows the work of many specialists in the area, such as David Harvey and Edward Said, to discuss contemporary ideas of space-time compression and media culture.
Jencks, as grand defender of post-modernity, aims to convince the reader that Po'Mo' really does exist and is more than just an aesthetic movement - it is both an object (or condition) and a way of thinking (an attitude). He asks: 'is it a positive movement, negative condition or just plain description?', by the end of the book the reader is left in little doubt that it is indeed a positive movement.
While Jencks is a very eloquent author, he seems to be hell bent on intimidating the reader by inventing words that mean very little. He loves to discuss the 'cognitariat', his paraclass mix between proletariat and bourgeoisie middleclass - or why not try and swallow his new 'socitalism' - a 'polemical' fusion of socialism and capitalism. When trying to distinguish who the books audience is one could only guess it's Jencks own ego! It is a suitable text for students reading a social science; once the authors bewildering vocabulary is mastered it is actually a very articulate and concise book, at fewer than 100 pages in length the language is a bearable imperfection.
The book is based upon a paper Jencks presented in conferences in 1985, and is as such descriptive in nature. The difficult task and skill Jencks has is to present a varied set of trends and theories in eighty pages - and from a diverse set of disciplines. He is clear to distinguish between late-modernism and post-modernism which makes it a good springboard to more difficult books and papers on more specific aspects of postmodernism. What I most enjoy about the book is Jencks' self-praise, it makes it a hilarious read, but his main skill is to crystallise a concept many fail to understand - and on that basis I would highly recommend it.
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What is Post-Modernism? (What Isą?)
What is Post-Modernism? (What Isà?) by Charles Jencks (Paperback - 13 Jun 1996)
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