This examination provides a provocative commentary on, among other bizarre things — including a morbid, erotic letter written by a woman to the singer a year after his death — the phenomenon of Elvis impersonators. This was two hundred years ago. What Was Postmodernism? The particular determinacy and indeterminacy of a judgment is a function of the regime of value that constitutes its condition of possibility. For Frow, the term value does not mean benefit or worthas such.
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An Introduction to the gathering. Historicizing Historicizations Born in the year or or sometime in between,1Of all the birthdates suggested - and generously substantiated - for postmodernism, is among the earliest and is among the latest. Scholars interrogated how we might deconstruct or reconstruct the phenomenon of the postmodern—as a style, philosophy, or era, among other possibilities—along 21st century fissures and fault lines. They paid particular attention to the global, regional, and local contexts bracketed by "in the world," while keeping in mind the ontological implications of the duplicitous and multiplicitous worlds postmodernism so often entails.
This gathering of essays for the electronic book review was conceived as a kind of antipodean offshoot of the larger, contemporaneous project of The Cambridge History of Postmodern Literature , and it draws together some of the most compelling responses to the puzzles of postmodernism put forth at the event. And it is perhaps fitting in the context of this collection that one of the early accounts most readily cited emerges from down under, by Australian scholar John Frow.
In "What Was Postmodernism? Frow spends the bulk of his comprehensive essay theorizing what postmodernism is, concluding with its conception as a fusion of crises political, economic, cultural, and of representation in general of an "obsolescent modernism. The attractiveness of the description notwithstanding, it and the essay as a whole suggests that postmodernism may not have changed tense after all.
William Spanos appears to be the first one to use that title, "What Was Postmodernism? If they were not eager to ask what it was, others were at least eager to end it. At around the same time as Frow and Spanos, "The End of Postmodernism" symposium was held in Stuttgart, Germany in with proceedings published in Although the mission at the outset steered toward a collective obituary, at least among Ziegler, Hassan, Federman, and Bradbury, no clear consensus emerged on what they were collectively ending see Clavier 35, and McHale, Cambridge Introduction Nor were they clear on what might have interrupted, ended, or replaced it: with regard to "postmodern fiction," Federman notes that it "simply came and went like a flock of migratory birds, and we followed its flight across the sky, and watched it disappear over the horizon" According to Bradbury, "if Postmodernism roughly designates a stylistic, cultural and intellectual epoch that we also call Postwar, then I think it is over.
If it designates, as critics like Fredric Jameson argue, the cultural life of late capitalism, its triumph and then its crisis may be just beginning" Bradbury went on from the symposium to take that first step of defining postmodernism second, so to speak, reprising the "What Was Post-Modernism?
He frames postmodernism more explicitly as coextensive with the Cold War, first as a response to the "global anxiety and absurdity" of the post-war period and the news of the Holocaust then later, from the s, as a mode of new "energetic and affluent experimentalism" as counter-culture mixed inextricably with avant-garde Although it took the French to explain a new postmodern "condition" to them, Americans, Bradbury notes, needed no help commodifying it.
That project may have reached its illogical extremes in consumer capitalism, with the notion of the "postmodern," in turn, becoming so commonplace and so diffuse as to lose any utility for cultural theory and philosophy.
But more important for Bradbury was the fact that given so much of postmodernism grew out of Cold War concerns, we now needed to look elsewhere to make sense of our cultural moment Ziegler also in later work put forth the notion that postmodernism, as an aesthetic movement or cultural moment, ends because it can no longer differentiate itself from other societal subsystems; it has been subsumed by society at large, which has itself "become postmodern" see Clavier Her position is reflected in other major commentaries around that time, including that of David Foster Wallace.
The members of the Stuttgart symposium. Another eulogistic collection, In Memoriam to Postmodernism, emerged in the U. In light of the mostly unironic albeit unconvincing attempts to end postmodernism in the s, it was not surprising that the project was newly active over a decade later.
Hoberek concludes with a call for more concrete evidence that may, at some point in the future, make a theory of the post-postmodern possible But I began with Frow, whose historicizing lends itself to extrapolations not only across other artistic and cultural domains but political, economic, and social ones as well—which is to say that his is also a broader history of postmodernity as era.
In turn, I end with another scholar whose work lends itself to the same kind of extrapolations. In , Brian McHale published an essay in the electronic book review under what might have been a familiar title, but nearly two decades could do little to dull the relevance of the question: "What Was Postmodernism?
McHale expands his diachronic account of postmodernism, from its precursors to its new post-future ghosts and angels in The Cambridge Introduction to Postmodernism , which was followed a year later by his co-edited The Cambridge History of Postmodern Literature Hoberek writes the "epilogue" to that collection and focuses on both and the global financial crisis of as punctual events for postmodernism: "Indeed, it is tempting to say that if, as McHale has argued, detective fiction provides the generic template for modernism and science fiction for postmodernism, then post-apocalypse does so for post-postmodernism" Turning to fiction, he observes how contemporary writers have moved away from a "fascination with personal and historical traumas as discrete past events that must be worked through in the present to an understanding of everyday existence itself as a sort of slow, ongoing trauma.
As far as historicizing goes, it may have taken a catastrophe of millennial proportions to punctuate postmodernism, at least under Western eyes; either way, it is also arguably safe enough to trust an expiry date stamped by Cambridge University Press.
In the sundry histories of postmodernism, we typically find monolithic, reductive, and undifferentiated treatments of "media," "technology," and, more generally, digital culture. The major players writing mainly before the Web exhibit the same tendency: for example, Lyotard distrusted technoscience and its dehumanizing effects and opposed "the hegemony of computers" Postmodern Condition 4 , whereas Baudrillard was of course alarmist on the count of technologies of simulation and their deleterious effects on the social order Simulation and Simulacra.
In short, in conceptualizing what postmodernism is or was, much ink has been spilled in an attempt to negotiate the relationship between cultural and economic production and the tension between so-called literary and popular cultures that grows out of it.
Such a critical gesture, I would suggest, is vital for any postmodernist past or future. Postmodernism and Mediascape Revisited The specter of "technology" as an undifferentiated mass hanging over our post-industrial heads has been charted by critics such as Leo Marx, who deftly traces its development from the late s as it came to overshadow an earlier conception of the "mechanic arts" But there are other ways to look at it.
In fact, we can identify four basic positions that have circulated with regard to postmodernism and its media environment. The first position, in which mass media and technologies of reproduction intensify and accelerate elements of modernism to the extent that it transmutes into something new, circulates in some of the earliest accounts.
And in his list of pairs describing the shift from "Fordist modernity" to "flexible postmodernity," David Harvey includes the movement from "mechanical" to "electronic" reproduction Generally, in this conception, computer technology emerges with and correlates to postmodernism given its dramatic reconfiguration of knowledge production.
If these examples suggest a causal relationship, others frame technology more modestly as a constitutive element, one part of the elusive whole of postmodernism. Furthermore, in his historicizing of postmodernism, Frow outlines while not necessarily endorsing accounts centered on mass media rather than high culture. He adds that more recently, the emblematic medium has been the Internet, with hypertext, game software, and virtual identity foreshadowing an utter transformation of the social relations of communication and of the nature of textuality itself […] Here the key focus is on the provisionality of electronic selves and social relations, on the open-ended drift of a rhizomatic mode of reading intensely structured by desire and distraction, and on the transformative potential of an emergent technosocial which is then mapped onto and merged with that epochal structure of the postmodern which it at once prefigures, expresses, and reproduces The idea that technosocial forces both prefigure and perpetuate postmodernism points to the overlap of the first two causal and constitutive positions.
A focus on television allows for an obvious segue to the third, antagonistic position, for that medium prompted an internal division in the cultural sphere, with a number of writers and artists acting as guardians of an aesthetic movement now under threat from media technologies that were "mass" instruments—in both the journalistic and pop-cultural sense. While the first two cases can be said to frame postmodernity in relation to its media environment, this case moves us more directly into literary postmodernism and postmodernist fiction.
But ultimately his concern is with the now outmoded scenario of a lone viewer for an average of six hours per day at the face of a monolithic mass media. The book interests him not only for its grand predictions of a globally networked society sharing videos through personal computers via fiber-optic threads—a kind of democratized form of television—but also for its inclusion of "commercials" in the form of full page ads for its sponsor, Federal Express But he ultimately retreats into sardonic dismissal, however, confessing that he is reflexively trapped "in the aura" of the "televisual" irony that is the very object of his critique Contributors to the Stuttgart symposium also espoused an antagonistic model to varying degrees.
Although Barth acknowledged that "every medium of art has its particular assets and limitations," he could not conceal a sharp bias against "visual media and even oral narrative," which are "meals fed to us regardless of our individual appetites and digestive capacities; the printed word we savor at our own pace" Bradbury contributed a two-part essay framed, as his title suggested, specifically around "Postmodernism, the Novel, and the TV Medium," in which he made reference to his own experience writing television scripts in order to weigh up the challenges of new "technological media—film, and especially television—on our notion of the novel and fictional narrative, and also on our late modern notions of art, the literary, and the cultural" After all, for him, postmodernism is "a technological condition, the expression of an age of screens, depthlessness, and hyper-reality" Bradbury productively notes that the term "postmodern" was in fact first employed in the s and s by historian Arnold Toynbee as an attempt to describe sociotechnical structures of late industry and capitalism .
Of course, the antagonistic position is not confined to novelists; from philosophers to activists, so-called anti-foundationalists across the board were intent on political action against technocratic systems given that "technology" served as a master narrative in itself. In the fourth possible position, the effects of even newer new media technologies of personal and micro-computing, along with the digital culture that arises from them, have proven so dramatic and pervasive that it supersedes the conception of a postmodern era and a postmodernist culture.
The most direct advocates of this position can be found in the likes of Alan Kirby, who goes so far to rename the era "digimodernism" see Digimodernism: How New Technologies Dismantle the Postmodern and Reconfigure Our Culture.
Arguably, his account may suffer from its own reductive form of technological determinism, but it at least laudably proposes a new cultural paradigm that better reflects the contemporary media milieu, in which individual customization, configuration, and two-way connectivity replaces the one-way transmissions of mass media.
Other major critical-historical interventions made a similar move in advancing the culmination position. Their vision involved a new legion of artists not only at home in a media-saturated society, but also able to recognize and actualize the creative potential of those media technologies: By actively engaging themselves in the continuous exchange and proliferation of collectively generated electronic publications, individually designed creative works, manifestos, live on-line readings, multi-media interactive hypertexts, conferences, and so forth, Avant-Popsters and the alternative networks they are part of will eat away at the conventional relics of a bygone era… 20 That "Avant-Popsters welcome[d] the new Electronic Age with open arms" 20 made sense, especially given the profile of some of the contributors.
Amerika was one of the first celebrated Internet artists, and among the first to create ambitious, digitally-hyperlinked works of narrative for the Web see, for example, Grammatron. Olsen, a writer primarily working in print, collaborated with graphic artist Tim Guthrie to produce a Web-based multi-linear digital fiction in The collection also featured Michael Joyce, widely-recognized as one of the trailblazers in the field of literary hypertext and creative media.
Nevertheless, when technology is admitted into critical-historical conceptions of postmodernism, it is often in terms of either a mass media or a popular culture vernacular.
If only for historical pre-Web reasons, the fixation on the mass of media in many foundational accounts leaves out too much of the story that has personalized, miniaturized, and networked our media; in addition, the association of media technologies with popular culture elides the artistic and literary potential of digital environments. As I have suggested elsewhere, the logic that has digital culture leaving postmodernism behind might be further justified in terms of subjectivity—that is, how we see ourselves in light of digital technology and its discourse.
Contrary to prevailing notions of the postmodernist self as an emptying out, or an always already discursive and multiple construction, it is arguably a form of surplus selfhood that takes hold in digital culture. Thus, if finding a satisfying sense of self amid the forces of fragmentation is a uniquely postmodernist predicament, then attempting to lose it might be more aptly a digital one, from innumerable search engine hits that locate us in nanoseconds, to the unknown and unknowable number of databases in which our personal details appear, to our ubiquitous profiles cutting across time and space on social networking software du jour.
In any case, with all of the conspicuous reconfigurations of human bodies and minds in light of machines, any model of selfhood we embrace in the digital age would have to account for the unprecedented ability to control, configure, and distribute—indeed, self-publish—our own modes and models of subjectivity. That said, allowing digital culture to define what comes next creates an inevitable problem of periodization. In tracking the movement from modernism to postmodernism, for example, McHale put forth the influential idea of a shifting "cultural dominant," persuasively aligning epistemological concerns with modernist cultural outputs and ontological concerns with postmodernist ones "What Was Postmodernism?
But we can emphasize the fact that his distinction is anchored in what is essentially a conceptual dominant Cambridge Introduction Can the digital medium be a cultural dominant? Can any medium be so? And can we make this move while still avoiding the technologically deterministic tenor reminiscent of Marshall McLuhan or Friedrich Kittler?
The Collection Clearly, the exercise of asking what postmodernism is or was or even what replaced it is bound to generate a fractal multiplicity of more questions. Nonetheless, the contributors to the Otago symposium each set about responding to the task of constructing a critical commentary on the cultural and literary history of a phenomenon that has been present in some shape or form for all of our lives as scholars in the field.
Their essays range from regional to global contexts, across literary form and medium, and across literary-historical periods. The first essay, by keynote speaker Simon During, takes on the regionalizing project directly, in asking: what was postmodernism in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australasia? In " The Historical Status of Postmodernism under Neoliberalism," During begins by acknowledging his own past involvement in forging the critical discourse on postmodernism and postcolonial theory.
That history, however and admirably so , does not prevent him from revisiting and reevaluating earlier positions hammered out in well-known publications in past decades see "Postmodernism and Postcolonialism" —that he now understands to be incompatible with a need to situate postmodernism amid an epoch of neoliberalism.
Jacob Edmond, in "The Uses of Postmodernism," historicizes in a more globalizing manner. In a tour de force of comparative cultural analysis, he negotiates the politics of periodization before assaying the ways in which postmodernism has served cultural and intellectual movements in the United States, New Zealand, China, and Russia.
Her essay offers a detailed and convincing contextualization of a writer commonly regarded to be postmodern in a historically pivotal sense, and she rightfully warns that "even in the non-synchronous world of postmodern history, we must be careful not to read history backwards.
Meditations on Metamodernism as a Period Term and as a Mode. He recognizes that "while postmodernism and Baudrillard himself may be in the process of being historicized, its disappearance has left traces" that may inform the way we do research across a number of disciplines.
Brian McHale, the closing keynote at the event, also closes the present collection in the form of an Afterword with his own reflections on "What [in the World] was Postmodernism? It was a good game. Barth, John.
Heide Ziegler, ed. Baudrillard, Jean. Simulation and Simulacra. Sheila Glaser, trans. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, . Bradbury, Malcolm.
What [in the World] was Postmodernism? An Introduction
Tecage Both Austen and Gothic novelists created fictitious types which, particularly in the case of teenaged girls both then and now, wws in acting as a basis for our expectations of romance, heroism, adventure, and the like. If only we could really talk like that in real life. It is about the ordinary, the banal, information for living our lives. I do not wish to catalogue the well-known jjohn and conflicts joh incorrigible Marxists and the panegyrists of postmodernity. What is interesting to me is that for those who love the show myself includedits frequent and often over-the-top pop-culture and media references are much of what we love about it.