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Postmodernism

 

I.  Suspicion of (sometimes):

            Any idea that could conceivably be pressed into the service of Fascism

"grand narratives"

Presumptuous claims of all sorts

Rationalism, and "totalizing" projects of total comprehension of any realm or person.

All traditional rules of art

beauty

The aura of an irreproducible work of art

Traditional religion

Traditional humanistic conceptions of the individual personality

Traditional presuppositions generally

The idea of the subject

The idea of the author: "readers create their own meanings, regardless of the author's intentions: the texts they use to do so are thus ever-shifting, unstable and open to question" (summary of a 1967 writing of Roland Barthes, 1915-1980, IP 74).

Religion

Patriarchy

patriotism

Capitalism

The West

Dead white European males

Truth, at least in the idea that the mind, a mirror of reality, can truly represent the ways things are objectively.

Certainty

Rules

Even what is most recent

"Tradition in the West is constituted and indeed energized by what is in combat with it."  (Introducing Postmodernism [IP] p. 9)  What ever is most recent is included

 

In favor of (sometimes)

            The infinitely great, the sublime, which is unrepresentable.

            Non-Western cultures

            Dada—which "means nothing . . . a meaningful nothing when nothing has any meaning"—nihilist protest to the vast mechanized assembly-line slaughter of World War One . . . [exploiting] modern technology—machine-guns, poison gas, tanks and airplanes" (IP 32)

            The aura of . . . an artist or an event, an installation (e.g., a ready-made), the power of critics, museums, art dealers and consumers to establish what will count as art.

            The other

            Earth art

            Anti-art scandal

            Images of a "reality" that has been eclipsed in our consumerist society

            "a realization that the problems of representation, reproduction  and legitimation are far more complex than were ever imagined by their predecessors" (IP 53). [cf. truth, beauty, and goodness?] 

 

            Except for some of the preceding lists, the quotations and summaries derive from Richard Appignanesi and Chris Garratt with Ziauddin Sardar and Patrick Curry: Introduction to Postmodernism (Cambridge: UK Icon Books, 2004).  The book highlights three issues as central: representation, reproduction, legitimation [cf. truth, beauty, and goodness?]

 

            French sociologist Jean Baudrillard: four stages: art (1) is the reflection of a basic reality, (2) masks and perverts a basic reality, (3) marks the absence of a basic reality, (4) bears no relation to any reality whatever—it is its own pure simulacrum.  "Reality becomes redundant and we have reached hyper-reality in which images breed incestuously with each other without reference to reality or meaning" (IP 54-55).  In other words, "the border between art and reality [vanishes] as the two collapse into the universal simulacrum.  A collapse into total semblance." (IP 72)

            Ludwig Wittgenstein and Martin Heidegger and others represented a turn to language (rather than ideas in the mind) to explicate meaning. 

Swiss linguistics professor Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) studied the structure of language:

 

For Saussure, meaning arises out of a system that arbitrarily—according to convention—associates a sounds (signifiers) with concepts (signifieds), thus forming signs.  A ("syntactic") sequence of words, for example, is formed by selecting among alternative candidates for each element (subject, verb, object, and so on).  Binary oppositions are the keys to language, logic, thinking, and culture.

            "Reflexivity doesn't mean simply to "reflect on" (which u sually comes later, or too late) but is an immediate critical consciousness of what one is doing, thinking or writing.  However, since it is impossible to do anything innocently in our age of lost innocence, reflexivity can easily slide into ironic self-consciousness, cynicism and politically correct hypocrisy" (IP 73).

Roland Barthes (1915-1980) The death of the author (1967), summarized: "Readers create their own meanings, regardless of the author's intentions: the texts they use to do so are thus ever-shifting, unstable and open to question" (IP 74).  In the end, a text leaves you with an impenetrable enigmatic sense: "a closure, a retreat and a suspension of meaning" (IP 75). 

            "A privileged or 'meta'-linguistic position is a mirage created by language itself.  Structuralism, semiology and other forms of metalinguistics which promised liberation from the enigma of meaning only lead back to language, a no exit, and the consequent dangers of a relativist or even nihilistic view of human reason itself." (IP 76)

            Deconstruction (Derrida).  "Any meaning or identity (including our own) is provisional and relative, . . . it can always be traced further back to a prior network of differences, and further back again . . . almost to infinity or the 'zero degree' of sense." IP 79.  Deconstruction is a strategy for revealing the underlayers of meanings "in" a text that were suppressed or assumed in order for it to take its actual form—in particular the assumptions of "presence" (the hidden representations of guaranteed certainty)." (IP 80).  "Texts . . . include resources that run counter to their assertions and/or their authors' intentions."  "Meaning includes identity (what it is) and difference (what it isn't) and it is therefored continuously being "deferred".  Derrida invented a word for this process, combining difference and deferral—différance." (IP 80)

            Michel Foucault (1926-80) studied different historical periods in terms of the prevailing knowledge or "episteme," which was legitimated by power that invalidated certain groups; in the modern the disqualified groups are the mad, the sick, and the criminal." (IP 82).  What we have is "a multiple, overlapping and interactive series of legitimate vs. excluded histories" (IP 83).  "By the mid-70s, Foucault . . . focused more on how power moulds everyone (and not only its victims involved in its exercise.  He showed how power and knowledge fundamentally depend on each other, so that the extention of one is simultaneously the extension of the other.  In so doing, the reason of rationalism requires—even creates—social categories of the mad, criminal and deviant against which to define itself.  It is thus sexist, racist and imperialist in practice" (IP 83).

Art reflects on and defines the limits of the episteme, including what it excludes.  "Theory does not express, translate or serve to apply practice: it is practice.  But it is local and regional . . . not totalizing . . . it is not to 'awaken consciousness' that we struggle but to sap power . . . it is an activity conducted along-side those who struggle for power and not their illumination from a safe distance" (IP 86).  "Power is also productive and enabling."  Sex?  "It is not simply a matter of discovering the 'truth' about our repressed desires by embracing a model of liberation.  The problem is—how do people become subject to a particular kind of sexual experience?" (IP 87)  "Foucault is saying that power isn't what some possess and others don't, but a tactical and resourceful narrative.  Power is in the texture of our lives—we live it rather than have it." (IP 87)

            Note the "Foucaultian" commentary on Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, mentioning eugenics, "measuring the excluded inferior" (IP 85).

            Jacques Lacan (1901-81): "The unconscious is structures as a language"= "the unconscious functions by signs, metaphors, symbols, and in this sense is "like" a language"; "the unconscious only comes to exist after language is acquired" (IP 88-89).  The child's image of himself (as an adult) is a fiction.  The boy's penis as signifier gives access to the realm of power where the symbolic order establishes rules (while the girl remains trapped in the imaginary realm).  A feminist response?  "Remember, structuralism says that meaning is not an independent representation of the real world grasped by an already constituted subject, but part of a system that produces meanings, the world and the possibility of a subject.

            Luce Irigaray (b. Belgium, 1932): women appear as exterior representations of something else—monuments of Justice, Liberty, Peace . . . or as objects of men's desire" (IP 95).  For Irigaray, "Either there is no feminine sexuality except as men imagine it or feminine sexuality is a schizoid duality (a) subordinate to the needs and desires of men [and] (b) autonomous and explorable only within a radically separatist women's movement" (IP 97).

                        Postmodern feminism comes in, not with equalitarian goals nor with separatist communities, but with "a deconstructionist notion of a Subject beyond the fixed categories of gender (100-01).  Skepticism of any claimed "great truths" (Marx, Darwin, Freud) or "metanarratives" that purport to legitimate scientific or political projects (the Human Genome project) to lead humanity toward an alleged liberation (102-04).  Hegel's attempt to unify all knowledge is illustrated by the modern university (105), but the very process of training students is overturned by a new approach to knowledge as a consumer commodity to be used in market exchange—apart from use value [a Marxian critique of fetishized commodities in capitalism] (106).

Some interpretations of selected parts of 20th century physics are used as analogues to substantiate the postmodern vision with ideas of "holism, interconnection and order out of chaos and the idea of an autonomous, self-governing nature" (109); but the aim of science to achieve a total theory of everything is criticized by postmodernists who proclaim that scientific knowledge is manufactured and that a more accurate description of the condition of science, according to Paul Feyerabend, is anarchy [where there is no principle of scientific method that, if followed consistently, would not have prevented some important discovery] (109).  "String Theory might just be wacky "post"-physics but it conforms to the modernist scientific spirit of reducing everything-including our consciousness—to smallest bits in its quest for the Grand Unified Theory of Everything" (188).

 

Part III: The Genealogy of Postmodern History.

History continues only in an altered sense, since postmodernism subverted any notion of linear history or progress.    "At 3:32 p.m. on 15 July 1972 the Pruitt-Igoe housing development in St. Louis, Missouri, a prize-winning complex designed for low income people, was dynamited as uninhabitable" and taken by postmodernists as the end of the modernist architecture of buildings as "machines for living" (115).  Postmodern architecture "offers the vernacular, an emphasis on the local and particular as opposed to modernist universalism.  This means a return to ornament, with references to the historic past and its symbolism, but in the ironic manner of parody, pastiche and quotation.  Venturi and other postmoderns propose a "comicstrip" architecture—eclectic, ambiguous, humorous.  Unpretentious, in short.  An example of this is Philip Johnson . . . who produced the New York A.T.& T. Building in the shape of a grandfather clock topped off with a Chippendale broken pediment (116-17).  "High modernist visionaries like Le Corbusier believed they could achieve the transformation of social life by transforming architectural space as a substitute for political revolution" (118).  "Modernist experimenters failed to change the world of capitalism—in fact, the utopian purity of their glass towers ended by glorifying the power of banks, airlines and multinational corporations" (119).  Postmodern architects aim to use the computer to "multiply difference" (119).  The protest is that "electronic simulation does not break down uniform standardization but accelerates and morbidly intensifies it" and this architecture is found all around the world and hence is not pluralist and local (120).  Adorno in Prisms: "To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.  And this corrodes even the knowledge of why it has become impossible to write poetry today" (1956).  In hypermodernism (now) artificial foods are manufactured that are indigestible, the financial markets generate continuous e-trading, [the dot.com fiasco, and exotic financial products that are pushing risk to new world heights], which unprecedented economic dislocation and instant millionaires (126-27).  Cyberculture blurs reality (129).  Fetish "sports" shoes become occasions for murder and theft (132).  Baudrillard argued that the first Gulf War was an impossibility and when it happened was a "only a hyperreal representation on our TV screens" (134); he calls intellectuals to "stop legitimizing the notion that there is some "ultimate truth" behind appearances.  Then, maybe, the masses will turn their backs on the media and public opinion management will collapse" (135).  Advertisements for products construct images of interracial cooperation while at the same time giving implications of violence and disturbing images (138-39).  Gangsta rap, condemned by most blacks, is consumed by "white suburban adolescents looking for a cause and style that gives them a sense of identity" and created sometimes by people who actually live that violence they glorify (140-41).  Cyber sex and violence become increasingly extreme.  Postmodern films "magnify a playful mixing of images and reality, a dislocation and erasure of personal history and identity" (146).  Salman Rushdie, a British writer born in India was sentenced to death in 14 February 1989 in a fatwa issued by Iran's leader Ayatollah Khomeni for writing a novel considered blasphemous of the prophet Mohammad.  Rushdie defended himself, and on the day of the fatwa said in an interview, "Doubt, it seems to me, is the central condition of a human being in the 20th century.  One of the things that has happened to us . . . is to learn how certainty crumbles in your hand" (157).  The collapse of European communism brought in the postmodernism of the right.  "Whatever its political colour, postmodernism retains its penchant for hybridity, relativism and heterogeneity, its aesthetic hedonism, its anti-essentialism and its rejection of "Grand Narratives" (of redemption)" (163).  In Muslim countries, in the south Asia, in Latin America, there are diverse appropriations and rejections of postmodernism.  Karlheinz Stockhausen is a German "late modernist" composer.  His works are notoriously mega-Wagnerian in ambition.  For instance, a string quartet premiered in 1995 requires a helicopter for each player.  They fly to patterns laid out in the score and broadcast back to the ground audience.  Stockhausen offensively hailed September 11th as a sublime performance: Those people rehearse fanatically for one concert and then die.  That's the greatest work of art possible in the cosmos.  I couldn't do that" (184).  "Relativism and fundamentalism might indeed be the complicit twins of postmodernity" (189).

 

Comparative Aesthetics of Nature and the Arts

 

Here are some links relating to the Medici chapel, mentioned in class April 13. 

Here are photos of the sculptures: http://www.ktb.net/~bewier/Medici-wp.html

Here's a great essay: http://www.crucifixion.com/visual/theology/johndixon/transfig.htm

Two more, in case you want them: http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-16621/Michelangelo

http://www.kfki.hu/~/arthp/html/m/michelan/1sculptu/medici/0view.html

 


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