I was asked to explain Jean-François Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition in a brief, simple way. The book is older than I am but it’s still the best and the most concise explanation of postmodernism.
The postmodern era begins after WWII. People are so horrified by what happened that they lose faith in all grand narratives. A grand narrative is a coherent way to explain everything. Religion is a grand narrative. Marxism is another. Feminism, psychoanalysis. These are grand narratives because they purport to explain everything in the world to the believer.
But after WWII, it became clear that the world is so complex and incomprehensible that there is no narrative that can explain everything. It’s useless to look for an explanation. Nothing has any meaning.
Since nothing has any meaning or leads anywhere, all one can do is have fun and follow whatever whim possesses one at any given time.
So that’s the postmodern condition as it was described in the 1970s. Fifty years later, we can see that people are still desperately looking for a grand narrative. The current fad is anti-racism. It’s going to fail because that’s the postmodern condition. They all fail.
Of course, on the level of individual lives each of these grand narratives can be very satisfying. There are people whose grand narrative is raw food dieting, and they are perfectly content with it. But it’s always going to be an individual hobby or, at most, a very small, niche thing.
That’s all there is, really. Postmodern art is the art that expresses this emptiness, cynicism, and lack of depth.
I’m open to questions.