Term coined by Jean-Francois Lyotard; refers to that part, period or personage which finds itself following after or in the wake of the Modern era (...which incidentally, according to french philosopher Bruno LaTour, in his We Have Never Been Modern we've never actually gotten around to in the first place...).

Modernity seems to usually be pegged by most historians as the period co-inciding with the rise of Scientific Thought and Rationalism during the Renaissance : this period also led to the secularization of the world, the rise of the nation state as a political entity and the individual with certain rights and responsibilities within the secular order. Sounds all fine and dandy, and things were going 'relatively' well until Modernism culminated in the dark, satanic mills of the Industrial Revolution, which then resulted in some bad poetry and bad art on account of all the alienation (see T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound & Futurism); and then Rationalist efficiency and bureaucracy, which seemed to help along the atrocities of World War II and the Holocaust quite nicely.

The Result: According to the critics, Modernity collapses as a set of aesthetic and philosophical assumptions, and post-modernist chaos and introversion results. The chaos is characterized, at least as far as fiction goes, by the following tropes (see if you can spot these in your own habits):

  1. the over-obtrusive, visibly inventing narrator (...oh, i'm an author, look at me; isn't writing fascinating. ex. John Barth and Robert Coover...)
  2. ostentatious typographies (...and i have word processor. ex. Stephane Malarme...)
  3. explicit dramatization of the reader (...and look at you, the reader, here in my story, and how i address you. ex. Italo Calvino and Donald Barthelme...)
  4. 'Chinese box' structures (...and the i, the alleged author, remember when x, the unreliable narrator, was telling me about the time y the idealized reader. ex. Jorge Luis Borges and Paul Auster...)
  5. 'incantory' or absurd lists and songs (...hated car alarms, loathed barking dogs, despised giggly children. ex. Donald Barthelme, Thomas Pynchon and Kathy Acker...)
  6. infinite regress (...the non-horror of the un-written is the not having the re-written undone. ex. Samuel Beckett, Maurice Blanchot and Edmund Jabes...)
  7. self reflexive images (...oh now there's a symbol for the art of writing, look can you see it, oh it is so good. ex. Vladimir Nabokov...)
  8. critical discussion of the story within the story (...and then x happened. what do you think of that dear reader? oh, it is bad? okay, x didn't happen. ex. David Foster Wallace and Dave Eggers...)
Initial readings:

1. The postmodern urban condition / Michael J. Dear. Oxford ; Malden, Mass. : Blackwell, 2000.
2.Theories of culture in postmodern times / Marvin Harris. Walnut Creek, CA : AltaMira Press, c1999.
3.Toward the postmodern / Jean-Fran├žois Lyotard ; edited by Robert Harvey and Mark S. Roberts. Amherst, N.Y. : Humanity Books, 1999

Post-Modern Humour is also completely post-modern, and completely different to the examples quoted above:

Post-Modern Humour is essentially the making of jokes that are not funny but work on our sub-conscious through what we expect to happen. For example, here are two very good post-modern limericks, the first by Edward Lear, the second of unknown origin (or unknown to me, anyway.)

There was a young man of St. Bees,
Who was horribly stung by a wasp.
When they asked 'Does it hurt?'
He replied 'Not too much.'
It's a good job it wasn't a hornet.


There was once a gasman named Peter,
Who slightly messed up with a heater.
With a resounding 'boom'
He was gone from the room,
And, as anyone who knows anything about poetry can tell you, he completely ruined the metre.

Similar to this are the people who put '68' on a scoreboard. Whilst the childish thrills of putting '69' are obvious, the only thing going for '68' is that it isn't quite what we were expecting. '66' is likewise explicable for its resemblance to 666, but '68' is completely and utterly pointless. And therein lies the wonder of post-modernist humour.

Albus Dumbledore's speech at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is a prime example. He says 'I would like to say a few words: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!', which cannot be deemed a logical train of thought by any but the already-mad. However, it is not my opinion that Ms. Rowling is mad, but possessed of a strong post-modernist sense of humour.

In much the same vein, not for nothing do many Monty Python sketches end abruptly. Likewise many start with the by now infamous words 'And now for something completely different'. This is because non-sequiturs are, by their very nature, confusing and disrupt the mind's train of thought, thus requiring the audience, in much the same way as modern art, to re-evaluate what they expect.


This w/u brought to you by the British Council for Spelling 'Humour' Correctly.

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