Postmodernism literally means “after modernism.” But the dates don’t work. While modernism is said to have ended, variously, in 1939, 1945, or 1950, postmodernism first emerged in 1870, when English painter John Watkins Chapman applied it to art that (he claimed) was more avant-garde than French impressionism (Storey 2005). Despite its anomalous dating, postmodernism by the 1940s defined a new period in literature or architecture. Though the term gained wider currency in the 1960s, its arrival depended on where you lived. Postmodernism in Japan began somewhere between the late 1970s and mid-1980s and in China and Romania in the 1980s (Shaoyang 2013; Dirlik and Xudong 1997; Schneider 2014). It appears at different times because the onset and nature of postmodernity (the historical condition to which it responds) varies by location. Romanian censors delayed postmodernism’s arrival and changed its flavor; in its precapitalist economics, China’s postmodernism appeared more as “aesthetic expectation” and less as symptom of (or challenge to) late capitalism (Schneider 2014; Dirlik and Xudong 1997, 9). Even more confusingly, postmodern (a stylistic designation) is often conflated with postmodernity (a historical condition or cultural logic).

This essay may be found on page 157 of the printed volume.

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