Wherefore art thou, Po-Mo?
Wherefore art thou, Po-Mo?
A quick aside, more an observation than anything else, really. I should start by saying that I haven’t done my due diligence, that I haven’t gotten around to reading reams of Barthes, Lyotard, Bataille, Kristeva, nor those arch-gurus, Derrida and Foucault. I still intend to – know your enemy and all that.
It’s up for debate as to how much any of the above actually subscribed to the decidedly nebulous term, but it seems uncontroversial that each was taken up in the general milieu of po-mo.
My main point, my question, is to what extent has Postmodernism defined the last several decades – namely, my entire life, and that of my parents’ as well. We are told that we are moving into a stage “beyond” po-mo, that Postmodernism is coming to and end. From whence the prognosticators gather their divinations I know not. But then, I’m not entirely sure that we’d ever moved beyond “Modernism” anyways.
It’s true that the ‘burbs of Toronto are no cultural Mecca – truthfully, no-where in Canada deserves the appellation. That said, one would think that it would be rather more self-evident that the name of our age, the nature of it, the very physicality of our daily lives, should be something that can be accessed with ease, as opposed to being wrapped up, hidden away in the enchiridia of arid University departments. Such is not the case with the Postmodern – you need to go looking to find it. It isn’t draped from the stuff of our buildings, it isn’t sewn in to the pages of our literatures. Unless you knew where to look, you could go your whole life without seeing it – and that’s not to say that it hides in plain sight, not to say that the manifestations of it occur and simply need be provided their umbrella term to exist as a natural assemblage. No, an acrobat is called for to get the right twists in. If ever those concomitant elements of Post Modernism do show up, they only appear as threads, never whole cloth.
“Grand narratives,” whether true or not, still rule our existence. It is on the thrust of Orientalism that we adventure in the Near East, it is held fundamental that work is rewarded and the indigent are morally culpable. Ours is a conservative populace (that is, Anglo-Saxons of any national flavour). This is actually a point that I intend to develop on, though not in this piece. Nothing intrinsic has changed for several centuries, perhaps longer.
If one wants to talk about the locus of a culture, it seems obvious that populism is the territory to explore. The avant-garde advance nothing; they lead themselves down the road of irrelevancy long ago.
Narrative still reigns supreme – no matter how many fractured tales DeLillo or Vonnegut were able to spin, the mainstay of our era has been the Dan Brown’s, the John Grisham’s – linear kitsch untroubled by agency or perspective.
Given the right line of questioning, I imagine you could lead most people into espousing the view that ours is a time of alienation, of faceless bodies of power directing vital elements of our lives, a period of the “dissolution of cultural bodies,” but, contra Negri, this is not descriptive of Postmodernism, but rather of Modernism. The problems that we are facing now are not of a different kind than the ones first articulated during the fin de siècle. If they are of a different magnitude, a greater complexity, it is only because they have followed their own internal logic. Velocity, estrangement, isolation, these are constituent of our age, but they are the same things, the same concepts and lived experiences, people were grappling with in the ‘20s and the 1880’s. We’re not living in a “metamodern” (what a vile neologism that is!) nor a “postmodern” age – we’re still stuck in Modernism, and it’ll likely be our grave.