Firstly, Lyotard argues against interpreting the ‘post’ in the term ‘postmodernist’ in the sense of simple succession. Modernism and Postmodernism are neither clearly chronologically identifiable periods where the later succeeds the former, nor does Postmodernism indicate any new beginning after a clear and precise break from the past. In fact, the very idea of such a chronology which would allow a new beginning or a complete break from the past is itself typically modern.
Using Freudian psychoanalytic theory, Lyotard argues that this break from the past is actually a repression of the past. Consequently, elements from the past keep reappearing again and again in the form of quotations and repetitions in the work of contemporary artist. Secondly, Lyotard explains the typically postmodern incredulity towards all universalities, especially towards meta-narratives of progress and emancipation which the West has used for centuries in order to proclaim superiority and legitimize numerous inhumanities and oppressions.
As Lyotard points out, the idea of progress ‘was rooted in the certainty that development of the arts, technology, knowledge and liberty would be profitable to mankind as a whole’. However, two centuries of such progress leading us to ‘Auschwitz’ in the name of human emancipation have finally destabilized our faith on the meta-narrative. Even, development of the techno-sciences giving rise to numerous diseases and sophisticated weapons can no longer be called progress.
Furthermore, these developments seem to happen not in accordance to human needs but completely impervious of human needs. The postmodern man seems to be inexorably drawn into a more and more complex condition as a result of these developments. Finally, Lyotard identifies avant-gardism as a movement within modernism that nevertheless functioned to interrogate and analyze modernism. This according to Lyotard is the real function of Postmodernism, the analyzing and reflecting of the presuppositions of all universalities and meta-narratives including those of modernism.
Postmodernism Postmodernism according to Lyotard, is characterized by a suspicion towards the Modernist ideas of progress, rationality and scientific objectivity: “…there is no longer a horizon of universalization, of general emancipation before the eyes of the postmodern man…” In fact, for Lyotard Postmodernism is defined by an opposition to all universals, meta-narratives and generalities. Lyotard also argues against interpreting Postmodernism as a philosophical stance that chronologically succeeds Modernism or is opposed to Modernism.
On the contrary, Lyotard proposes that Postmodernism is embedded within the concept of Modernism and not outside it. Using Freudian Psychoanalytic theory, Lyotard claims that Postmodernism is a review of the extents and limitations of the Modern Movement. It is a Modernism that is conscious of itself and that continuously engages in self-analysis. In the so-called avant-gardist movements usually associated with Modernism, Lyotard locates the seeds of Postmodernism. Bricolage
In the essay under consideration Lyotard develops the idea of ‘bricolage’ to account for the high frequency of quotations of elements from the past in postmodern architecture as noted by the Italian architect Victorio Grigotti. For Lyotard, Bricolage is ‘the multiple quotation of elements taken from earlier styles or periods, classical and modern; disregard for the environment; and so on…” In the essay, ‘bricolage’ is identified by Lyotard as one of the defining characteristics of postmodern art.
Postmodern art and architecture is full of quotations from the past. Elements from past styles, past architectures are continually being repeated or quoted in contemporary works without regard for their fittingness in the environment. These quotations might be done with an air of cynicism and irony, but nevertheless, for the postmodern artist it is a means of analyzing or interrogating various differences in style or period, class or gender within a single work of art. Lyotard employs Freudian psychoanalytic theory to explain ‘bricolage’.
He claims that a new age involves the repression of the past and as in Freudian theory the repressed past appear and reappear through dreams, as it happens in Modernism. In the postmodernist case however, it is rather a conscious working through, an analysis or reflection of the extents and limitations of these past suppositions. The postmodern artist thus produces his art by consciously borrowing from a diverse range of styles or periods that happens to be available without any consideration for their original purpose or the environment in order to interrogate the validity of these styles.