Understand Postmodernism: A Teach Yourself Guide. Glenn Ward BA in fine art (painting), University of Plymouth, 1990; MA in Visual Culture, Bath Spa University, 1992; PhD in film studies, University of Sussex, 2011. p. XII.

Identity as simulation
The fascination with depthless surfaces translates into a view of personal identity as a loose assemblage of cultural bits and pieces. The modernist self becomes an identity constructed in and fragmented by myriad codes and contexts. This ‘posthumanist’ approach variously presents identity as: hybrid, cyborg-like, fluid, nomadic, in a permanent state of ‘becoming’, or performative and masquerade-like. Existentialist philosophy saw the self as process more than an essence, but sought authenticity: postmodernist ‘subjectivity’ is process with authenticity abandoned. Not as bleak as they sound, postmodernist identities are escape routes from dominant conventions of gender, nationality, ethnicity and sexuality.

Not all of these versions of postmodernism agree with each other. For example, Baudrillard’s view of the society of simulation seems to describe a ‘total system’ at odds with Lyotard’s view of society as a multitude of incompatible ‘language games’. However, all reflect a widespread mood of uncertainty and contradiction. Whether this mood is dissipating or being fended off remains to be seen.

I'm not asking for existentialism to be synopized in one post, but what exactly do these nouns mean (see emboldening) in the context of, and in contradistinction to, postmodernism:

  1. “process”,

  2. “essence”, and

  3. “authenticity”?

  • Tough question. If I didn't know better I'd ask you to define existentialism and post-modernism.
    – user20253
    Sep 8 '18 at 12:24

In a tough nutshell:

"process & essence" go together and you can make sense of them via the classical dualism: being and becoming.

Take "human being" as an example. Anyone on this forum is a human being; anyone on this forum is also different than anyone else. The trick lies in the two different "is".

  • The first "is" is shared; we all have that "one" shared definition. That's the "essence" and you never see it in its raw or physical form. It's metaphysical (beyond physics and time).
  • The second "is" is also shared but it's not unique. There are "many" instances of the "human being." These individual variations distinguish us from one another but what makes us human is that higher order of being, without which we would be different beings and not variations of the same definitions. In technical terms, these variations are not "being" but "becoming." Becoming is a temporal, finite process that comes and goes.

Existentialists and postmoderns are anti-metaphysical thinkers. They don't think that the abstraction is a higher order of reality; they emphasize that to "be" human (for example) is not a predefined "thing" but the process of our life.

Authenticity: very broadly put, for existentialists, authenticity is the coming to terms with the lack of essence. If there is no higher meaning or order in life, then our lives are our own tasks. We are authentic when we accept our finitude and inauthentic when we hide behind some fantasy (like "god") in order to solve the riddle of our existence.

The postmoderns are suspicious of authenticity because they tend to think that it's a leftover metaphysical investment in something lasting, solid, etc.

PS: It should go without saying but still...both "schools of thought" reject their respective label because even that is too much permanence and essential-sounding.

  • Good answer. Would you have references to specific philosophers that the reader could go to for more information on how these terms are used? Welcome to this SE! Sep 27 '18 at 18:52
  • The question was out of a book section and asked for specific clarification of terms. I did not want to go beyond the op's request.
    – farhang
    Sep 27 '18 at 19:36

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