Conversations on Postmodernism and Cultural Studies Part 1



part of the problem with post-modernism and the extreme reactions we're getting in our culture today both against whatever it means and for it is that nobody wants to define it and part of the problem is I don't think it can be defined in a very quick way certainly when it started it began in architectures you know and it was a form of architecture that saw the disadvantages both social and architectural of modernist architecture didn't deny that modernist architecture existed but it did try to return to things like the sense of the street the history of our lived relation to space and to restore things like ornament that had been destroyed with with modernism when you take that which was the first definition of it in cultural terms to other art forms what I think you get is a form of very historical art this is literature or or painting which would cause a history of other art this is where parody comes in because it doesn't always recall it with reverence there's often a kind of ironic relationship with that past but also a kind of self reflexivity an awareness of a self-consciousness about the act of being fiction or or painting or photography so the combination of an ironic relationship to the past a distanced relationship to the past but a recalling and I said there was not the modern looked forward but I look back combined with this self-consciousness as I think what characterizes the postmodern difference between modernist and postmodernist is not at the time but in the conceptualization one of the things that characterizes post-modernism is that I didn't mention is an interest in the different the local the particular rather than the universal which is a centered humanist concept that we work with universals that have eternal value this is quite the opposite where when it's interested in the local in the particular and the way post-modernism was made possible by the civil rights movement in the United States in the 60s by feminism which in some ways was enabled by the and by subsequent other groups that have made us aware of difference within that universal culture that I certainly had been taught as an undergraduate than I was studying to a certain extent postmodern theory follows McLuhan that the media is the message the famil effects of a media have the determinative role in the impact of the media on culture this seems half right for myself you know the two Canadians have probably been most influential in my own thinking would be McLuhan on the one hand because of my clones wonderful understanding of Technology which i think is just correct and it's like the beginning of boria's Worth where workers work when the clone says that tell you how there's been a radical change in how technology's function is powers as power that in fact they perform it kind of did Kubla MA or they switch your whole being gets exterior you're holding gets exteriorized and the technology comes from within so that technology is no longer an object which he can hold outside of yourself that in fact becomes your identity your mind gets externalized you have sort of mutant eardrums to the extent that your nerves get played by the media escape or you have kind of spectral vision to the extent that you're even eyesight is something which is taken over by the media scape itself in your position to see certain things and to understand certain things so I think McLean more than anyone understood the really grisly notion of technologies as resulting in the externalization of the human mind itself what extent is contemporary culture smarter right the main insight of postmodern theory is that our contemporary society is an image producing and proliferating society this was one of every yards early insights the radical semi energy the production the proliferation of images characterizes the very essence as it were of our society it used to be the case that in modernity on beggary yards model industrial production was what the society was all about the production of commodities binds consumption etc but even consumption Baudrillard saw was more and more structure around image what he called sign value you bought a product you exhibited a product for its prestige moreover the media do nothing but produce images so we have these images machines that are saturating our culture with images this is creating new modes of experience new consciousness in which literacy the word verbal discursive culture is on the decline an image culture is on the rise so this is one essential insight of postmodern theory that helps us understand our current situation I think the middle baudrillard also had many insights into simulation hyper reality the way that models and codes are coming to constitute our experience of the world for instance Reagan being a simulated president he's not a real president he doesn't really know politics he acts he follows a script there's a model of what the president should be looked like etc that he acts out on cue with his teleprompter etc so he's basically simulating the presidency and more and more of our culture is being determined by these simulation models so these are some real insights that postmodern theory has what they do is a race very often such things as ideology class oppression manipulation etc they're more of a descriptive theory about images and codes and hyper reality and less of a critical theory the way that say Marxism and feminism and other theories are that analyze the ideologies the messages that are being conveyed the political end of it and this is what interested me and post-modernism from the start was I couldn't figure out why both the right the political right in the political left rejected post-modernism this is something funny about this and I think what's funny about it and it comes back to how ironing works generally is that post-modernism appears to be art that is critical of dominant cultural forces so I think in things like capitalism or patriarchy or even humanism as its represented in the university but at the same time as it's being critical is also complicitous with it in other words there's no self congratulatory subversiveness in this because it's implicated in it so you get art which is bestseller novels which are bestsellers for example which also being taught in post-modernism courses and it's that combination of the complicity in the criticism that interested me in it and what happens I think is that the left sees only the complicity and therefore it wants to reject this the right tends to see only the criticism and reject it without seeing the two rubbing against each other which I think make it into the post-motor well then to feminism and certainly into post colonialism and Marxism is a theory of agency a way we can move to political action but I don't see as part of the post Bronner I see the post moment as deconstructing as laying out the problem and you could argue that that's the first step toward moving to action but I don't think within post-modernism there is that move to action and I think that's why Marxist critics like Fredric Jameson have really had to come down hard in some ways on post-modernism where they've had to say that there is no and they always point to the the modernist ever guard which did have that political impulse as the opposite and I think the right to some extent is no I don't think it's an exhaustion I think it's an ionizing of it I think it's it's not you I mean there are two camps as the campus sees it as a break from modern the campus sees it as a continuation positive or negative of modernism both are true to some extent as with architecture architecture certainly postmodern architecture was a continuation of modernism insofar as it didn't stop using concrete it didn't stop using the material advances structural advances that modernism had brought to architecture on the other hand it did break from it in its politics of representation of built space so there has been a there is a break in some ways but a continuation in others and the same is true in literature where the self reflexivity the self-consciousness we see in postmodern literature isn't new first of all it's not just modernist it goes back to tristram shandy to Don Quixote in the fictional form so that isn't new and yet the the complicity side of it the awareness that one can't get out of the dominance that one is contesting I see as much more a postmodern thing than a modern thing where there was definitely a desire to get out of it and a belief that in a way one could transcend the nightmare of history that Stephen Dedalus talks about what you've got here I think is a way of characterizing metaphorically really what many people feel is this kind of mystical obscurantism of certain kinds of the post modernist discourse as in Danny dot the later work of Ronan Bach to a certain extent in Foucault everyone has complains about the obscurity of the Foucault style and it's it's it's obvious that those three writers while certainly valorising is we used to say nowadays clarity of expression also feel themselves compelled both to celebrate and actually practices or in systematic obscurantism reminding us always you can't say everything right that this course is fragment it gets broken off it's internally inconsistent its undecidable and that abetted but I think you're raising a very fundamental issue of contemporary and apology about whether it's even appropriate or legitimate to pretended to know anything about anybody else but I really disagree deeply with that because it's an end of all inquiry it's a return of the whole project of knowledge back into the individual Enquirer and the ng look ends up with him looking at himself and saying look at me I'm honestly complex and too frustrated I am because of artistic absolutist artistic yes it was really based on a structure but based on a series we haven't got a theory you've got no right to go out but you have to have some theoretical training and then and that can be bad or good and people should argue about that but not about the possibility of knowledge there are being nihilistic about knowledge in my opinion you see the mechanism if you view it from the point of view of authoritative structuring society tolerance and so on it's not so bad as it looks I mean I here it means that our history as a sense the sense is the dissolution of the unitary strong authoritative positive structures of the traditional sort metaphysics ethics politics authoritarian regimes and so on now modernity had already the sense but in a in a certain at a certain extent still wanted to establish strong structures so there was a historicism in modernity the idea of progress for instance which didn't accept completely pluralism progress was a sort of reducing the plurality of human cultures to different grades different stages from our most civilized culture west culture which have named all the other people primitives and the developers and so on they were simply steps towards the human ideal culture which was us now post modernity is a step beyond this point the taking into account of the pluralization as a principle of unitary interpretation of history but which makes impossible that a unitary history the only sense unitary sense of history is the end is the dissolution of the unitary sense of history it looks paradoxical but it is not that I mean we are engaged in an adventure of weakening of the strong structures the very notion of progress and the history as a unity was the last strong structure in our cultural history so we still have a sort of leading thread sort of meaning of what happens but this meaning is the factor the fall of all these allusions of unitary great meanings the narratives as Liat are called them so only that guitar in return doesn't want to recognize that the the falling down of the great narratives great ideologies is a narrative because otherwise it would

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