Leading into the Future X: Are We Post Post-Modernism?
An Incoherent and Edgy World
The postulation of a fragmented and inconsistent postmodern world, however, seems to be more than just a semantic or intellectual ploy to avoid any disproof of the postmodern perspective. There is ample evidence to suggest that this is a central (if not the central) ingredient of our contemporary world. The postmodern world is filled with fragmented and incoherent images of the future, as well as fragmented images of art, politics and the sciences. This is most concretely and perhaps clearly exemplified in the cavalcade of events that many of us experience as we transact our daily work. Several years ago, for instance, I was walking down a street in an American city and passed a man with a flower in his lapel, who was tap-dancing and encouraging each of us who was passing by to “smile and be happy.” Twenty feet away was a second man with a sandwich board on his back that solemnly declared that humankind and the American government were irredeemably corrupt and that our world is about to come to an end. These two messages were received in a very confusing context.
Wealthy businessmen and businesswomen were walking rapidly past other men, women and children in torn clothes who were begging for money. Newspaper headlines spoke of candidates who no one wants to elect and of gross mismanagement of public and corporate funds. Yet, it was a beautiful day. The air was fresh because pollution control standards were beginning to work, and a group of concerned citizens have successfully restored a nearby park. Should I be happy? Should I be sad? Should I be angry? Is the world (at least as we know it) coming to an end? How did we ever come to a state where there is such a discrepancy in the living conditions of American citizens? These fragmented and contradictory images must either be ignored on a daily basis or somehow comprehended in a manner that makes sense to me and my fellow city-dwellers.
The fragmented and inconsistent image is also exemplified in the emergence of postmodern architecture. Whereas modern architecture tended to stress uniformity and order, the postmodern schools have emphasized diversity and complexity. Postmodern buildings in many cities blend classic, Greco-Roman columns and cornices, with clean modern lines and neo-Baroque decorations. Rough cement slabs are placed next to smooth marble walls and wood-inlaid ceilings. Water spills out over highly abstract brass forms, while tourists and workers on lunch break sit on 19th Century New England-style wrought-iron benches, watching brightly-colored balls roll through plastic tubes in order to set off quarter-hour chimes or bang against Japanese-style resonant wood blocks.