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Born in the year or or sometime in between, 1 Of all the birthdates suggested - and generously substantiated - for postmodernism, is among the earliest and is among the latest. The first is put forth by Brian McHale in the mold of Virginia Woolf's provocation dating what we would later call modernism's onset "on or about December ," though he fully acknowledges the contingent nature of gathering "punctual events" to mark what is essentially a transitional process The Cambridge Introduction to Postmodernism , The second is put forth by Andreas Killen, who revises architect Charles Jencks' similarly provocative pinpointing of postmodernism's start up by one year in the demolition of a major modernist landmark , and enumerates an array of world historical ruptures in support; is also the favored mark for Fredric Jameson, who, in his self-confessed "Americanocentric" account, similarly cites the "great shock" of a collection of crises all reverberating that in year xx-xxi.
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.
There have been many critical-historical attempts to locate postmodernism's expiry date. 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? For him, postmodernism is an "exacerbation" of modernism's ethos of rampant renewal, such that a threshold effect demands a new temporality—a new "imagining of time" 4. 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? Isn't it time, therefore, to ask, 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.
In his widely-cited "E Unibus Pluram" , Wallace expressed deep-seated ambivalence for pop-culture's read, predominantly, TV culture's absorption of literary postmodernism's arsenal, and above all its no-longer-so-secret weapon of irony. The members of the Stuttgart symposium. Another eulogistic collection, In Memoriam to Postmodernism , emerged in the U.
Amerika and Olsen similarly frame the collection in terms of literary postmodernism's ambivalence about pop culture, and they explicitly put forth the notion of the "Avant-Pop" as more adequately characterizing literary production that follows on from the postmodernist writing of the s and 70s and which can no longer be described as "postmodernist.
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. Though Hoberek writes that while many of the contributors to his collection make a strong case that contemporary American fiction can no longer adequately be "described as postmodern," he goes on to make his own three-pronged case to suggest that the governing narrative of postmodernism's demise is itself problematic.
First, it "perpetuates a hierarchical view of culture that confuses aesthetic questions about literary form with sociological ones about the constituencies for such form"; second, it enacts a "reproduction of the characteristically modernist investment […] in difficult formal innovation as the defining characteristic of serious literature"; and, finally, it evinces "a modernist understanding of literary change as grounded in periods of sweeping innovation that set aside their now-outmoded predecessors," a model of literary history that, despite being "carried over and codified" in postmodernism, "in fact obscures the messy circumstances of postmodernism's own emergence and the parallels between this process and the contemporary state of fiction" 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 Of the names comprising this short and inevitably selective survey chronicling postmodernism's passing, most are focused on literary postmodernism, which was indeed the focus of the Otago symposium.
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?
Furthermore, in exploring the reciprocal effects of a cultural obsession with catastrophe and apocalypse at the millennial turn, he writes:. We had composed scenarios of the end of civilization, and life among the ruins, not only in popular science fiction novels but in demanding literary novels like Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow , which is set in London under the rocket blitz and in the war-ruined cities of Germany, but which obviously and self-consciously refers to the projected future ruins that our own cities would be reduced to if the intercontinental ballistic missiles, the heirs of the Nazis' V-2 rockets, were ever launched.
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 groping for what comes now or next, however, I would like to identify a source of internal contradiction and tension that has both divided and dated such theorizing: postmodernism's relationship to its media environment. 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. But perhaps not enough attention has been given to the extent to which technoculture has transformed these domains over the course of postmodernism's lifetime.
Such a critical gesture, I would suggest, is vital for any postmodernist past or future. 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" Marx's concern is primarily with the link between this nebulous conception of technology and the "pessimism" that grows out of the postmodern era, and the relationship he frames is, for the most part, an adversarial one.
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.
The notion that technological modes of production moved us from a modern society to a postmodern one is central to Jameson's economically-driven model.
Integral to Frow's account of postmodernism as an "exacerbated" modernism is the way in which technologies irrevocably increase the "speed of commodification" in terms of both information and human subjectivity 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. Jameson's deliberations on "video art" would also fall under the same constituent category Furthermore, in his historicizing of postmodernism, Frow outlines while not necessarily endorsing accounts centered on mass media rather than high culture.
He adds that. The idea that technosocial forces both prefigure and perpetuate postmodernism points to the overlap of the first two causal and constitutive positions. We can locate a similar kind of overlap in some of the most foundational and recognizable accounts, as in Baudrillard's take on mass media such as television and technologies of simulation more generally.
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.
For a plain example, we can return to David Foster Wallace's lament that mass media has co-opted the counter-cultural and literary force of irony and flooded the consumer market with it.
Wallace's essay contains some fair-minded and by no means reactionary analysis of the effects of television: for instance, the notion that television "engages without demanding" and that one can "rest while undergoing stimulation" 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.
In fact, in a glancing blow with the Web culture that would come to dominate the decade, Wallace spends a considerable amount of time discussing "media futurologist" George Gilder's Life After Television 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" In Bradbury's work, moreover, we can identify an overlap between the second and third positions, a merging of technology as both a constituent element and something to be wary of for writers of contemporary fiction in particular.
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. In fact, despite their ostensible objective of reclaiming postmodernism's energies from pop-cultural appropriation, the main thesis of Olsen and Amerika's project effectively hinged on the claim that postmodernism ended because it failed to contend with digital culture and the Web.
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… 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.
At the same time, Joyce's place in the collection pointed to the inherent incongruity of their framing of Avant-Pop, which claimed everything from Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five to Joyce's hypertext fiction afternoon in its list of representative works. But as Joyce's own critical writing demonstrates, a digital fiction cannot be Avant-Pop by virtue of its medium, much in the same way that it cannot be postmodernist for the same reason see Othermindedness Nonetheless, Olsen and Amerika made a significant gesture toward a mature recognition and reconciliation of postmodernism's media environment.
There are indeed exceptions, from Frow's comprehensive survey of postmodernism's technological complexion to Bradbury's nuanced engagement with media's transformative impact on contemporary fiction to Olsen and Amerika's direct appeal to Web culture in clearing space for a new kind of avant-garde. 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.
Late Postmodernism and the Literary Field
Let me begin by quoting from a novel written by a friend of mine, Raymond Federman. Raymond will turn 80 in Though his name is much less recognizable today than it once was, back in the '70s Federman was relatively famous, or notorious, at least in some literary circles, as a member of the first generation of American postmodernists. By a great irony of history, Federman's writing is better known today in Europe, especially in Germany, than it is in the States. Though I call Federman a postmodernist, Raymond himself preferred to call the kind of writing he did surfiction, a coinage that never really caught on. Let me quote from his novel, Aunt Rachel's Fur
What Was Postmodernism?
Late Postmodernism pp Cite as. In recent years, a number of critics have announced the demise of postmodernism. The death notices issue from all points of the critical compass. For some on the left, postmodernism has been primarily an academic ideology that grew out of the despair of the post generation, a failure of political nerve, and an immense evasion of the continued depredations of late capitalism. Everything that such a theoretical trend ruled out of court—history, capital, the subject—can now be brought back to the table, and not before time. Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.