In his introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Postmodernism, Steven Connor suggests that “The most striking difference between modernism and postmodernism is that, though both depend upon forms of publicity, few guides or introductions to modernism appeared until it was felt to be over. Modernism was built out of prophecy rather than retrospect.” Postmodernism is always backed up by the self-reflective gestures of theory.
Connor goes on: “Modernism had shocked sensibilities and assaulted senses with sex, speed, noise, and nonsense. Postmodernist artists have carried on relentlessly shocking and assaulting and provoking, as they had done for nearly a century, but they added to their repertoire the kinds of defensive attack represented by postmodernist theory. Modernist work was shock requiring later analysis. As T. S. Eliot wrote, referring to something else altogether: ‘We had the experience but missed the meaning.’ Postmodernist work attempts to draw experience and meaning, shock, and analysis into synchrony. Being modernist always meant not quite realizing that you were so. Being postmodernist always involved the awareness that you were so” (9-10).
And it’s this stepping-back into theory that gives postmodernism its distinctively ironic tone. A prophet must be a true believer; one who theorizes while prophesying is only a poseur.