rough notes

A postmodern generation and a roll call.

with 2 comments

Reading and responding to a recent blog post on post-modernism at Tales From The Reading Room has got me thinking about the current state of post-modern criticism within our own culture. Although some of PoMo’s “big names” such as Jameson and Hutcheon are still alive and well and kicking the theoretical can around the world’s campuses, many have passed away, including Baudrillard just this past spring. Now, I do not want to suggest, or even imply that the concept of post-modernism is on the wane because its first and biggest thinkers have quietly been passing on in recent years, but I do want to note that for the most part, current post-modern discussion and debate, at least at the introductory and intermediate level, holds fast to arguments formulated anywhere between twenty and thirty years ago.

Baudrillard is held in esteem, for instance, for his world on simulacra in the early 1980s. Jameson, that sore old goat, gave us the notion of late capitalism – essentially post-modernism in all rights but its name – in 1984, I believe. Derrida began to really fool with our minds in the 1970s, while Foucault’s History of Sexuality was well ahead of its time in the 1980s. Said and Sontag’s politics by all accounts were a decade ahead of their own respective debate, as well as hooks’. Lyotard had us in the 1970s; Eagleton has been giving us introductory readers since the mid 1980s. And we all still turn back to Roland Barthes and Theodor Adorno in the 1960s, and more often than not even to the grandfather of the them all, Saussure, in the early twentieth century.

These are the people that students read when they first encounter post-modernism in their theory courses at university. Most of the texts are at least twenty years old. Twenty years is, of course, hardly “old” for an aesthetic, but considering the length of the modernist age – an age requisite for the post-modern age – we can see that the immediate reaction to the action occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, and now we are often responding, or reacting, to the reaction itself.

When I read post-modern theory, I often feel like I’ve come in at the end of the game, like a pitch hitter in baseball. Unlike encountering say, Nietzche, Marx, Descartes or Erasmus – definite historical figures – I find myself reading texts by critics that are still incredibly recent and still incredibly applicable to the here and now (that is, where ever and whenever you may be reading this). But at the same time, I wonder what it may have been like to be have been one of the first to respond to Hutcheon or to Jameson in the late 1980s, when PoMo criticism and theory really began to coalesce in many academic circles as a legitmate aesthetic and cultural movement. Instead, I stand here today, twenty years later, responding to things that countless others likely have already responded to.

The flip side to all over this, of course, is the realization that I belong to one of the first postmodern generations (perhaps I should read Coupland’s _Generation X_ after all). I grew up in a culture that was fast becoming aware of itself in a manner that previous generations did not. Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s didn’t just offer my friends and I the glory of the Mini-Pops, Punky Brewster, Blossom and DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince; it offered us a landscape that had already been plotted by the experts for us to explore in further detail in the future. Whereas the characters in Coupland’s text bemoan (I think) the loss of the grand narrative like Lyotard, the characters in the text of my life (be it Gen X.5 or whatever you want to call it) understand already the that narratives have never existed, that there never was a loss but only a fooling of the senses. Its a feeling that is somewhat refreshing, if not liberating.

You are commodified.

2 Responses

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  1. What a fabulous post on the topic! That’s one fine roll call you put together there, and a compelling case for applauding the interest and engagement aroused by the postmodern.


    August 10, 2007 at 3:57 am

  2. […] so much a lecture as it is a reminder of some important words written by Linda Hutcheon in 1988. [Recent talk on pomo has kick-started my summer studies into high gear, it would […]

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