Postmodernism arose after World War II as a reaction to the perceived failings of modernism, whose radical artistic projects had come to be associated with totalitarianism or had been assimilated into mainstream culture. The basic features of what we now call postmodernism can be found as early as the 1940s, most notably in the work of Jorge Luis Borges. However, most scholars today would agree that postmodernism began to compete with modernism in the late 1950s and gained ascendancy over it in the 1960s. Since then, postmodernism has been a dominant, though not undisputed, force in art, literature, film, music, drama, architecture and philosophy. Salient features of postmodernism are normally thought to include the ironic play with styles, citations and narrative levels, a metaphysical skepticism towards the “grand narratives” of Western culture, a preference for the virtual at the expense of the real, and a “waning of affect” on the part of the subject, who is caught up in the free interplay of virtual, endlessly reproducible signs inducing a state of consciousness similar to schizophrenia.
Since the late 1990s there has been a widespread feeling both in popular culture and in academia that postmodernism "has gone out of fashion. However, there have been few formal attempts to define and name the epoch succeeding postmodernism, and none of the proposed designations has yet become part of mainstream usage.
In 1995, the landscape architect and urban planner Tom Turner issued a book-length call for a post-postmodern turn in urban planning. Turner criticizes the postmodern credo of “anything goes” and suggests that “the built environment professions are witnessing the gradual dawn of a post-Postmodernism that seeks to temper reason with faith.” In particular, Turner argues for the use of timeless organic and geometrical patterns in urban planning. As sources of such patterns he cites, among others, the Taoist-influenced work of the American architect Christopher Alexander, gestalt psychology and the psychoanalyst C.G. Jung’s concept of archetypes. Regarding terminology, he urges us to “embrace post-Postmodernism – and pray for a better name.”
In his 1999 book on Russian postmodernism the Russian-American Slavist Mikhail Epstein suggested that postmodernism “is […] part of a much larger historical formation,” which he calls “postmodernity.” Epstein believes that postmodernist aesthetics will eventually become entirely conventional and provide the foundation for a new, non-ironic kind of poetry, which he describes using the prefix "trans":
“In considering the names that might possibly be used to designate the new era following "postmodernism," one finds that the prefix "trans'" stands out in a special way. The last third of the 20th century developed under the sign of "post," which signalled the demise of such concepts of modernity as "truth" and "objectivity," "soul" and "subjectivity," "utopia" and "ideality," "primary origin" and "originality," "sincerity" and "sentimentality." All of these concepts are now being reborn in the form of "trans-subjectivity," "trans-idealism," "trans-utopianism," "trans-originality," "trans-lyricism," "trans-sentimentality" etc.As an example Epstein cites the work of the contemporary Russian poet Timur Kibirov.
The term post-millennialism was introduced in 2000 by the American cultural theorist Eric Gans to describe the epoch after postmodernism in ethical and socio-political terms. Gans associates postmodernism closely with “victimary thinking,” which he defines as being based on a non-negotiable ethical opposition between perpetrators and victims arising out of the experience of Auschwitz and Hiroshima. In Gans’s view, the ethics of postmodernism is derived from identifying with the peripheral victim and disdaining the utopian center occupied by the perpetrator. Postmodernism in this sense is marked by a victimary politics that is productive in its opposition to modernist utopianism and totalitarianism but unproductive in its resentment of capitalism and liberal democracy, which he sees as the long-term agents of global reconciliation. In contrast to postmodernism, post-millennialism is distinguished by the rejection of victimary thinking and a turn to “non-victimary dialogue” that will “diminish […] the amount of resentment in the world.” Gans has developed the notion of post-millennialism further in many of his internet Chronicles of Love and Resentment and the term is allied closely with his theory of Generative Anthropology and his scenic concept of history.
A systematic attempt to define post-postmodernism in aesthetic terms has been undertaken by the German-American Slavist Raoul Eshelman in his book Performatism, or the End of Postmodernism (Aurora, Colorado: Davies Group 2008, ISBN 978-1-888570-41-0). Eshelman, who coined the term “performatism” in 2000, attempts to show that works in the new epoch are constructed in such a way as to bring about a unified, aesthetically mediated experience of transcendence. Performatism does this by creating closed works of art that force viewers to identify with simple, opaque characters or situations and to experience beauty, love, belief and transcendence under particular, artificial conditions. Eshelman applies this model to literature, movies, architecture, philosophy and art. Examples of performatist works cited by Eshelman include Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi, the movie American Beauty, Sir Norman Foster’s renovation of the Berlin Reichstag, the philosophy of Jean-Luc Marion and Vanessa Beecroft’s performances.
In popular culture, the movement that is loosely called “New Sincerity” displays salient features of post-postmodernism in its opposition to postmodern irony and in its attempt to promote good feeling. One of its most notable proponents is the radio talk-show host Jesse Thorn, who issued a brief “Manifesto for the New Sincerity” on his blog in 2006. He states we should “think of [the New Sincerity] as irony and sincerity combined like Voltron, to form a new movement of astonishing power.” As an example Thorn goes on to cite the late motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel, whose persona is “preposterous” but whose stunts “boggle the mind” and “can’t be taken ironically.” Thorn often promotes “The New Sincerity” on his radio program, The Sound of Young America, which is broadcast on American public radio and is available as podcasts on the show's homepage.
In 2006 the British scholar Alan Kirby formulated an entirely pessimistic socio-cultural assessment of post-postmodernism that he calls “pseudo-modernism.” Kirby associates pseudo-modernism with the triteness and shallowness resulting from the instantaneous, direct, and superficial participation in culture made possible by the internet, mobile phones, interactive television and similar means: “In pseudo-modernism one phones, clicks, presses, surfs, chooses, moves, downloads.” Pseudo-modernism’s “typical intellectual states” are furthermore described as being “ignorance, fanaticism and anxiety” and it is said to produce a “trance-like state” in those participating in it. The net result of this media-induced shallowness and instantaneous participation in trivial events is a “silent autism” superseding “the neurosis of modernism and the narcissism of postmodernism.“ Kirby sees no aesthetically valuable works coming out of “pseudo-modernism.” As examples of its triteness he cites reality TV, interactive news programs, “the drivel found […] on some Wikipedia pages,” docu-soaps, and the essayistic cinema of Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock.