David Macey describes the postmodern era as; ‘The transition from modernity to postmodernity..is usually assumed to be governed by some form of social or economic change’  (Macey pg.308)

Modernity offered society an economical progression, the development of industrys and technology to the emancipation of human kind. Just as the Enlightenment, the period of modernity is a grand narrative. A period that attempted to enforce a universal knowledge. For Lyotard grand narratives such as the Enlightenment are being abolished by post modern scepticism.

This scepticism Lyotard talks off is evident in Walter Benjamins The Work of Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Benjamin illustrates a change in perception of art in a modern era where he illustrates a mass culture art, reproduction is used to churn out art work. This suggests a movement away from the later elitist high art where ‘artfullness’ was appreciated. Post modern forms of art instead intent to critique the modern, or use archive to reproduce earlier images. This reproduction was evident in this years Frieze Art Fair.

This piece of art work exhibited at Frieze uses the traditional geometric shapes of an islamic carpet to recreate a western skyscraper emerging from the pattern. What differentiates modern art is a sense of its uniqueness or authenticity through its experimentation. Postmodern forms of art offer an intertextuality of mediums and a reflection on the modern, such as pop art. Pop art employs the images of popular culture to create a bricolage. Postmodern art has a tendency to relate back to the modern, which could question the era as a fundamental break. Did it fail to produce an original shift in art?

In an era of postmodernity are perceptions of progress are continually changing, it attempts to critique the modern development yet is in fact a grand narrative itself.


Macey.D. 2000. Dictionary of Critical Theory.

http://www.wired.co.uk/photos/wired-places/2010-10/15/frieze-art-fair-2010#!image-number=15. Accessed 20.12.10.


Sigmund Freud describes psychoanalysis in three manners. The first is the idea of the unconscious, secondly a treatment of neurotic disorder and lastly a broad reasoning of scientific discipline.

Psychoanalysis is evident in early Hitchcock films. Hitchcock uses the theme to portray a love story in Spellbound (1945), the objections shown through the narrative is to create balance and restore mental illness.

Our story deals with psychoanalysis, the method by which modern science treats the emotional problems of the sane. The analyst seeks only to induce the patient to talk about his hidden problems, to open the locked doors of his mind. Once the complexes that have been disturbing the patient are uncovered and interpreted, the illness and confusion disappear…and the evils of unreason are driven from the human soul.’ (spellbound, Hitchcock.)

Spellbound explores themes central to Freudian concepts. One of these is the Oedipus Complex, this theory explains a childs sexual attraction towards his mother and jealously towards the father. Spellbound portrays this through suppressed desire and guilt of the protagonist.

‘the debate between psychoanalysis has been long and often acrimonious. Although it begins with the discussions of the so-called phallic stage of development that took place in the 1920’s and 30’2 it took on a new importance in the 1970’s as question of gender and its reproduction came to the fore and as feminists such as Juliet Mitchell reacted against the anti-psychanalytic stance taken by many of the early spokeswomen for women’s liberation.’ ( Macey. pg.316)

Juliet Mitchell uses psychoanalysis to describe a liberation of penis envy. Penis envy is a freudian concept that a girl recognises her absence of a pensis as a lack. undoubtedly much feminist criticism has evolved around the theory. Mitchell explains that this theory is the root cause to women having a lack of inferiority in society.

Hitchcock’s films often include the concepts of the gaze. A term used by both Sartre and Lacan. In Hitchcock’s film an audience is invited to take a male gaze upon the leading ladies, the women are constructed as objects of desire. Lacan describes the gaze in his theory of the mirror phase where the subject gazes at the object and senses it gazing back, the subject lured into the image of the object. This subject is equally relatable in contemporary media, women are constructed as an object to portray an ideal image for the male to take his gaze. In Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema she uses psychoanalytical framework to depict a gender relationship. She argues that hollywood cinema positions audiences in a male point of view, while they relate to the male protagonist they gaze at a female subject of desire.

‘The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female form which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness…Mainstream film neatly combined spectacle and narrative.’ (Mulvey)

In Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) the audience are positioned in the point of view of Scottie, the lead protagonist. The camera gazes on Madeline yet we never see Scottie from the position of Madeline.




Macey.D.2001.Dictionary of Critical theory.

Mulvey.L. 1975.Visual Pleasures and Narrative Cinema.

The post-enlightenment era abolished public executions and torture however Michel Foucault observes an establishment of the panapticsm ..’In which Foucault sees power as not a matter of repression but of the constant surveillance of a population.’ ( Macey. Pg.134)

In my previous blog i mentioned The Truman show in its relation to postmodern film. Here i can make a connection with Foucault’s concept of the panapticsm. Truman’s life is constantly being observed on television while in panapticsm people’s private lives are being put on public display as a form of punishment, to teach them the correct behaviour. In contrast Truman is not aware he is being watched, untill the final scene which is the link between the film and Foucault’s theory.

‘Also, since Truman is the only inmate here (those whom he interacts with being involved with the surveillance process), the power relation proves dependent on those who exercise it (everyone except for Truman). Were even one person to discontinue their manipulation of Truman, the Panopticon could not continue to exist because Truman would then realize that he had been a prisoner without knowing it, and simply chose to walk away.’

‘Baudrillard now argues that, in the era of postmodernity, signs are replaced by simulacra, and the real by hyperreality..’ (Macey)

Jean Baudrillard suggests that in this era of postmodernity is full or nostalgia for a ‘era of signification’. He attempts to explain his theory of real by illustrating the hyperreality of Disneyland. A constructed ideal place where illusion becomes reality. Baudrillard suggests that Disneyland is presented in this way to make us believe the rest of America is real.


Macey.D.2000. Dictionary of Critical Theory.

http://literaryculturaltheory.blogspot.com/2008/02/panoticism-and-truman-show.html. Accessed 10/12/10

The transition to post modernity has highlighted a significant feeling of an approaching ‘end’. In daily life we are faced with this idea. The progress made during the period of modernity is being reversed, an advance of technology is back firing. So much so we expected it to end the world in Y2K. This dystopic approach is evident in media.

After Grahams lecture i sat down to watch The enigma of Kasper Hauser by Werner Herzog.  I could not help but notice a critic of postmodern thought in the narrative in terms of Graham’s explanation of ‘the end’.   Herzog  tells the story of a foundling that has been apart from all human contact and is released, with just a letter and prayer-book, in Nurnberg city square. While the community teach him and tame him he develops a critic to the ideas forced upon him. Kasper is told not to tell his story if he does not know the end. ‘ ….’ I saw this as a direct critic of postmodern thought, after all why should a story have an ‘end’? In one scene Kasper is tested at a game of logic.

This scene appears to mimic that of a modern civilisations thoughts, it could be seen as a reflection of the logic of capitalism and universal knowledge.

Although herzogs film is much earlier I can make a comparison between The enigma of Kasper Hauser and The Truman Show. This hyperreal film addresses in a number of ways the issues faced in a postmodern era. Using .. It critics our perception of the real. The enigma of Kasper Hauser does similar by undermining a civilisations beliefs of religion and ideology.

A legitimation crisis questions the knowledge that a government produces to the masses. Lyotard illustrates that in an era where the computer and technology is imperative the question of knowledge is more a question of government control. In this fear of technology are we as a postmodern civilisation attempting to go back to the past?

The postmodern retreat to fundamentalist religion certainly suggests this.


youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J79P5-OpQfY. accessed 9/12/10

In this lecture we discussed the idea of a crises of modernity. Odserving Jeremy Bentham’s panoptican prision. In the panoptican prison a gaurd is allowed to watch over all the prisoners while remaining unseen. Focult writes that ‘visability is a trap’, a way of modern society enforcing power and controll. Foucult takes this modern progession and suggests a crisis of legitamisation.

Our Daily Bread (2005) is a documentary by Nikolaus Geyrhalter. It depicts the modern food industry, following the proses from beginning to end. This film displays a crisis of modernity.

‘The crisis of modernity is the sense that modernity is a problem , that traditional ways of life have been replaced with uncontrollable change and unmanageable alternatives. The crisis itself is merely the sense that the present is a transitional point not focussed on a clear goal in the future but simply changing through forces outside our control.’

While watching Our Daily bread i connected with it from a postmodern position. I recently visited an abattoir for a photography project. Already having a negative postmodern attitude to this development in the food industry my experience only justified my outlook. A main text i analysed for this project was John Bergers Why Look At Animals? In which he states that the treatment of animals as manufactured commodities is a 19th century thought.

‘The 19th century, in western Europe and North America, saw the beginning of a process, today being completed by 20th century corporate capitalism, by which every tradition which has previously mediated between man and nature was broken. ‘ (Berger)

Berger goes on to explain that before the industrial revolution animals were treated differently. They were messengers, promises, and together with man at the centre of the earth.

Eric Hobsbawn, a British marxist historian, discusses this change of agriculture in the industrial revolution. He see’s the industrial revolution as a driving force, a progression towards liberal capitalism.

‘Interpellation is the mechanism that produces subjects in such a way that they recognize their own existence in terms of the dominant ideology of the society in which they live.’ (Macey. pg.203)

Interpellation is a term described by Althusser in his theory of ideology. We subconsciously recognise what is socially correct and incorrect in society by being constituted as a subject. This idea relates to Jeremy Bentham’s prison as it constructs a recognition of internal discipline.



J. Berger. 1980. About Looking.

Macey.D.2000. Dictionary of Critical Theory.

The Frankfurt School

The Frankfurt school refers to a group of neo-marxist social theorists that attempt underline critical theory. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno were two leading theorists. The Frankfurt school would describe critical theory as social emancipation through enlightenment.

Enlightenment: ‘A broad term within European philosophy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries… an important aspect of the enlightenment period is the compilation of the first modern encyclopedias, which claimed to provide a compendium of the whole of human knowledge’ (Macey.D)

Adorno and Horkheimer wrote the Dialectic of Enlightenment, a core text of critical theory that highlights the failures of enlightenment. It explains the self-destructive form of the enlightenment and of western thought by comparing the myth with enlightenment. Their work is grounded on the concept that, ‘Myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to mythology.’

The Frankfurt school were among the first to apply critical theory to mass culture. They explain that magazines, film, radio are all uniform and such control suppresses the individual consciousness.

‘This is the result not of a law of movement in technology as such but of its function in today’s economy. The need which might resist central control has already been suppressed by the control of the individual consciousness. The step from the telephone to the radio has clearly distinguished the roles. The former still allowed the subscriber to play the role of subject, and was liberal. The latter is democratic: it turns all participants into listeners and authoritatively subjects them to broadcast programs which are all exactly the same. No machinery of rejoinder has been devised, and private broadcasters are denied any freedom. They are confined to the apocryphal field of the “amateur,” and also have to accept organisation from above.’ (Horkheime.Adorno)


Macey.D.2000.Critical Theory.

Horkheime.Adorno.1947. Dialectic of Enlightenment.

In this lecture Graham discussed Gender within modern practices. To further this i will also be looking at race and ideology referring to the social movements, Marxism, colonialism and feminism.

Black Skin, White Masks

Franz Fanon’s Black skin white masks (1952) uses psychoanalytical theory to describe isolation and inadequacy black people have in a white society. It uses psychoanalytical analysis to explain colonial relations. Black Skin White Masks was a major influence on civil rights, anti-colonial, and black consciousness movements. Fanon describes how a black man must wear a white mask to escape the collective concious of a society, creating a fault of a black mans conciousness and his body. Fanon presents a much more unsympathetic reflection of women, and many post-colonial feminists dismiss  his words.

“I have no wish to be the victim of the Fraud of a black world.
My life should not be devoted to drawing up the balance sheet of Negro values.
There is no white world, there is no white ethic, any more than there is a white intelligence
There are in every part of the world men who search.
I am not a prisoner of history. I should not seek there for the meaning of my destiny.
I should constantly remind myself that the real leap consists in introduction invention into existence.
In the world through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself.”

Feminism was ‘one of the most important forced in twentieth-century politics and thought, can take many different forms, its common core is the thesis that the relationship between the sexes is one of inequality or oppression’ (Macey.D)

The Beauty Myth

The Beauty Myth (1991) is a book by Naomi Woolf. It examins how modern concepts of beauty in the western word effect women. what Wolf calls ‘beauty pornography’ is the the images of women presented to us in the media that unaccuratly give us an ideology, these images ultimatly oppress us. Wolf explains that there are political and economic forces that mantain this ideological representaion.

“In drawing attention to the physical characteristics of women leaders, they can be dismissed as either too pretty or too ugly. The net effect is to prevent women’s identification with the issues. If the public women is stigmatized as too ‘pretty,’ she’s a threat, a rival–or simply not serious; if derided as too ‘ugly,’ one risks tarring oneself with the same brush by identifying oneself with her agenda.” (Woolf.)

Marxism: ‘ the body of thought associated with and inspired by the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, comprising a system of political economy, a theory of politics and a materialist philosophy of history and nature.’ (Macey.D)

To make Marxist concepts more digestible Graham showed us this RSA animation.


Franz Fanon. 1952. Black skin white masks.

Macey.D. 2000.Dictionary of Critical Theory

Naomi Woolf. 1991.The Beauty Myth.