rough notes

An enthusiasm for postmodernism

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There is a lesson at hand today, on the nature of post-modernism and its place in society today. It is not 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 appear.]

Criticism of the post-modern aesthetic often begins with arguments based on the apparent relativity of its systems. That is, without any sort of grounded values or feelings, things tend to become “weightless” – a Pollock painting can be as “beautiful” as any impressionist canvas, for instance. Linda Hutcheon, in 1988, explains, however, that Pomo need not be so disdained. In her Poetics of Postmodernism, Hutcheon explains that Pomo may question

centralized, totalized, hierachized, closed systems . . . but does not destroy [them] . . . It acknowledges the human urge to make order, while pointing out that the orders we create are just that: human constructs, not natural or given entities . . . part of its questioning involves an energizing rethinking of margins and edges, of what does not it in the humanly constructed notion of center . . . This is not a rejection of the former values in favor of the latter; it is a rethinking of each in the the light of the others” (41-42)

(italics are mine.)

Hutcheon has always been incredibly open-minded toward postmodernism, perhaps partly because she understands that our society is immersed in such a culture, and it would be ridiculous, if not foolhardy, to try to “make a break for it”. Postmodernism, which is so heavily implicated in, and able to critique our contemporary mass culture (Hutcheon 41) can instead be used as a aid of understanding. Carrying forward with Pomo’s common paradox of both reflecting and rejecting modernism in one stroke, one can use the ethos to understand that “postmodern art is a particularly didactic art: it teaches us about those countercurrents [in our culture], if we are willing to listen” (41). Postmodernism does not have to be a verbose, confusing riddle according to Hutcheon, but instead a tool to help us make sense of ourselves and our culture – so long as we understand this basic premise.

After this, and other recent entries on the subject, it should come as little surprise to the reader that I am a “fan” of Hutcheon’s works. I find her texts to be incredibe ciphers to help translate and contextualize many “traditional” Pomo-theoretical works by Derrida, Lyotard, Jameson et al. A theorist in her own right, Hutcheon does not merely review postmodernism as it stood at the time of publication, but thoughtfully addresses issues in a manner that looks toward the big picture. While Jameson may be forever hung up on his late capitalism, for instance, Hutcheon would rather engage in a critical debate that accepts all arguments on an equal footing before knocking one or another down. Having met her in person, I can also say that the enthusiasm for postmodernism that reads in her texts is also heard in person. Anyone looking for an introductory primer on pomo, or advanced-level discourses in the field, would be well served by picking up her texts once more.


Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics of Postmodernism. New York: Routledge, 1988.

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Written by mitchellirons

August 11, 2007 at 6:11 pm

2 Responses

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  1. […] and excerpts This is an addendum to a post I began last week on the enthusiasm inherent in postmodernism, as explicated by Linda Hutcheon in her Poetics of Postmodernism (1988). In this, another long […]

  2. […] An Enthusiasm for Postmodernism  […]

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