A Few Attempts at Understanding Postmodernism as a Musical Style

  • Gregor Pompe
Keywords: postmodernism, postmodern (postmodernity), modernism, parallel construction, 20th century music


The article tries to discover the main traits of musical postmodernism by detecting why all the attempts at its understanding have led musicologists to diametrically opposed views in the last twenty years. These have their origins in the writings of the earliest postmodern theorists; whereas J.–F. Lyotard considers postmodernism as a radicalised extension of modernism in which all "great stories die out", J. Habermas exposes the negativistic side of postmodernity as being "neoconservatively" hostile to any modernity. The construction of the term (post+modernism) indicates that there must be an active link between modernism and postmodernism. For this reason, the main theories of modernism and postmodernism (F. Jameson, J. Baudrillard, J.–F. Lyotard, C. Jencks, J. Kos) are presented, the latter in the light of changes in postmodern society (informational interconnectedness, the explosive growth of the media, monopolistic capitalism, globalisation). It becomes clear that the focal point for all theories of postmodernism can be found with B. McHale who is convinced of an ontological dominating feature typical of postmodernism, which turns out to be parallel construction of various worlds. This "parallel constructing" can be noticed also in other theories of postmodernism: in Baudrillard's reflections on simulacra, Jenck's theses on "double coding", Jameson's research in heterogeneous allegories, and in deconstructivistic methods in search of aporias. Moreover, "parallel constructing" is linked with all main postmodern procedures – simulation, imitation, palimpsest, pastiche, quotation, which give postmodern music semantic values. The last part of the article draws attention to terminological inconsistency in Slovenian musicological literature (D. Cvetko, I. Klemenčič, L. Stefanija) in which postmodernism and postmodernity seem to be used nearly synonymously. Therefore, a precise distinction is suggested: between postmodernism as a stylistic period and postmodernity as a historical epoch. Only in this way one can distinguish between those composers who are trying to implement a new "musical grammar" (L. Lebič) against the background of experience coming from modernism and those who, in the light of postmodern demands for communicativeness, simply capitulate to the application of historical, already known models.


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How to Cite
PompeG. (2002). A Few Attempts at Understanding Postmodernism as a Musical Style. Musicological Annual, 38(1), 31-42. https://doi.org/10.4312/mz.38.1.31-42