If you want to know what postmodernism is, or just what the word means, you don’t get much help from either its advocates or interpreters. Most words that label theories bear some relation to their content: words like “evolution” or “Communism” give you at least the beginning of an understanding of what they are about. But words, like “modernism,” that refer only to an unspecified time have the drawback not only of omitting any kind of descriptive content, but also of allowing the passage of time to make their meaning increasingly uncertain. “Postmodernism” is doubly uninformative, referring only to an unspecified period that came after a prior time that is just as indeterminate.

How do its advocates meet this difficulty? They are as evasive as the word itself, mostly claiming that it’s hard to define or even undefinable. This equivocation is found even in sources that ought to be definitive. In The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory (2000) author David Macey can only tell us that “[t]he term is applied, quite loosely, to a wide variety of cultural practices and theoretical discourses associated with the practice of postmodernity.” Note the circularity: postmodernism is about postmodernity. For Fredric Jameson, whose bulky volume Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991) earned him the Modern Language Association

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