Saturday, August 20, 2011

Postmodernism is dead. D'oh! What's next?


aTriFf

I find this piece on the "death" of Postmodernism written by Edward Docx, which speaks of a style of analysis now fashionable in some circles, i.e, that of killing the dead all over again. The writer generalizes certain events as unique of a period (postmodernism), which can easily be found in the preceded period (Modernity). If so, Docx is simply ruling as different what is in fact the same. Predictably, if something comes after something else, it has to be different. 
Well, the best way to begin to understand postmodernism is with reference to what went before: modernism. Unlike, say, the Enlightenment or Romanticism, postmodernism (even as a word) summons up the movement it intends to overturn.
Not so fast. How do you know the dead are "really" dead? Postmodernism is necessarily postmortem just because it has a retrospective at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Next, we should be happy to accept that to generalize is to characterize, i.e., to generalize.
Over time, though, a new difficulty was created: because postmodernism attacks everything, a mood of confusion and uncertainty began to grow and flourish until, in recent years, it became ubiquitous.
Let's leave aside the hyperbole. It's not clear what the writer means by "attack," or whether he is correct in assuming  that postmodernism "attacks everything" (which wouldn't save postmodernism itself from the attack, thus rendering it dead on arrival). Docx is either ignorant or he's talking about a different world. When it comes down to "attacks," Modernity makes postmodernism looks like a peacenik.1 Its history that of constant ideological revolutions: Kepler vs. Ptolemy, Kant vs. metaphysics, Darwin vs. religion, Marx vs. capitalism, Freud vs. Victorian morals, Heidegger vs. the modern Cartesian subject, Wittgenstein vs. logical analycity, Frankfurt School vs. traditional aesthetics and enlightenment, etc, etc.

Either you account for these events as "internal" to Modernity, or they become "external." But if Modernity has "external" events, how do you explain it? Is Modernity a "physical" global epoch engulfing everything, or is it just an epochal discourse prevalent in the West? 2 Is one postmodern by being inside the 1970's-1990's or by defending a particular worldview? Docx seems oblivious to these mounting problems, yet he manages to plow ahead:
Unlike, say, the Enlightenment or Romanticism, postmodernism (even as a word) summons up the movement it intends to overturn. In this way, postmodernism might be seen as the delayed germination of an older seed, planted by artists like Marcel Duchamp, during modernism’s high noon of the 1920s and 1930s.
The underlined metaphor above, taken from the natural sciences, gives this idea of process. If postmodernism is a "delayed germination", then processes can slow down or speed up. But there is an elephant in the room: Process is how we talk about time. That is to say, natural change requires, or perhaps is time. Docx handles time like a ruler:
In the beginning, postmodernism was not merely ironical, merely gesture, some kind of clever sham, a hotchpotch for the sake of it.
What beginning? How do you cut process? Do you simply say: "I know when I see it"? What if what appears as different is just another "delayed germination"? Don't forget you're always in the present, which makes your observation either relative to the past or predictably paradoxical. Why? Because of becoming

Hegel, a modern and a romantic, analyzed time in terms of becoming. But surprise! As that constant exchange of coming-to-being and passing-away, becoming slips through your fingers. That is to say, when you see it, you don't.3 Docx doesn't seem aware of this paradox. He identifies "what is" from "what is-not" -as if he was "outside" the process. Sure, he can always retort: "Oh, but I'm talking about history." I find the whole business predictably circular: The author is in the weird predicament of attending postmodernism's vigil while having  no f**** idea of who is the surviving next-of-kin sitting besides him at the funeral.
_______________
1 My talking of Modernity instead of Modernism doesn't change a thing. What I'm getting at is this: Is Modernity everything there is? Can there be an "other" of Modernity? 2 Isn't it obvious that both the discourse and counter-discourse on Modernity are West-centered? 3 "The being which, in being, is not and in not-being, is." (Philosophy of Nature, §258; Suhrkamp 9).

17 comments:

FacundoRaganato said...

Wow as I read this article it reminded me how philosophy must be "digested" it has many intense parts that I had to eat it slowly to flavor its concept :)

As you wrote, Triff, I guess the best way to know when something ends is when something different begins. From docx article, it's very easy to say 'This ends here, now something else beings' specially in art when is all about 'becoming' through the natural flow of the society, and the individual. I bet we will rightfully define postmodernism, and perhaps even modernism itself, the day we are at the vision of something new and we can look back at our time and say "yeah this was yesterday and we thought like this." But until that day of Awakening comes, we will be defining our own box from inside, desperately labeling the box in searching of that Awakening. Screw the box, get out of it not by counterpointing yesterday, but by learning from it and use it for the aesthetics of art itself; we will know when we are out of the box.

"in the absence of any aesthetic criteria, it became more and more useful to assess the value of works according to the profits they yielded"

Alfredo Triff said...

...in the absence of any aesthetic criteria, it became more and more useful to assess the value of works according to the profits they yielded

Definitely!

Anonymous said...

It is a haphazard article. One gets this idea that postmodernism is more about dance or art than ideas. There is no mention of actual politics or the 2008 crisis. This is what happens when you keep regurgitating the same information without much thinking into it.

Feminista said...

Postmodernism is dead alright, we know it because there is much of the same and it's not enough. But you are right, we don't have to kill it, it died of natural causes. What's next? Sorry to be a pessimist. It will get worse before if gets better (if it does).

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FacundoRaganato said...

Postmodernism can't really be identified with politics, the philosophy is reflected through the cultural aspects of the society, of course, worldly events like the 2008 crisis, but it is mostly identified with the way we think.

"All art is philosophy and all philosophy is political"

It may 'become' political, but the root comes from the creations we do. The day politics identify our age before the humanities, it's the day we stop being humans.

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Anonymous said...

Triff: so, what's next?

FacundoRaganato said...

Next is the Awakening! a new renaissance where art is REdiscovered as a spiritual awareness; a spiritual reflection in trinity: a representation of The Artist, the World and the Nature of the work Itself! Can't explain it clearly through a post but this is next, I bet my life on it ;)

Anonymous said...

Postmodernism. Mmmm. Is it really dead? Interesting topic by Docx but the informative part about it, to me, contradicts many aspects of how something ends or begins. In religious view, it is "hoped" that Christ will come back and raise the dead. So, if the dead can come back alive, was the dead -- dead? Likewise, how can Post-modernism really end? You might say, perhaps, post modernism ends in the west but what about the east, south, north? I agree with Docx on the account of Postmodernism is a reference to what went before but what about what comes after? What about what comes in between? As time advances, things advance as well due to culture, society, and other aspects of life. Docx hit "some" points, that to me, are agreeable, but than again, I'm still lost about the --underlying-- message he's trying to give.

Anonymous said...

Postmodernism. Mmmm. Is it really dead? Interesting topic by Docx but the informative part about it, to me, contradicts many aspects of how something ends or begins. In religious view, it is "hoped" that Christ will come back and raise the dead. So, if the dead can come back alive, was the dead -- dead? Again, how can Post-modernism really end? You might say, perhaps, post modernism ends in the west but what about the east, south, north? I agree with Docx on the account of Postmodernism is a reference to what went before but what about what comes after? What about what comes in between? As time advances, things advance as well due to culture, society, and other aspects of life. Docx hit "some" points, that to me, are agreeable, but then again, I'm still lost about the --underlying-- message he's trying to give.

Alfredo Triff said...

Good point anonymous. I have to try harder. I will.

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