Postmodernism (a blurring between ‘high’ and ‘low’ popular cultures)

(Lecture notes from 12th December, 2006)

The majority of this lecture was based around a chapter in the book:
– ‘Art in Modern Culture: An Anthology of Critical Texts’ (pp331-341)
– edited by Francis Frascina & Jonathan Hams (Phaidon 1992)

The Chapter was reproduced from the book:
– ‘A Report on the Western Front: Postmodernism and the “Politics” of Style’ (pp4-26)
– by Dick Hebdige (1986/8)

Within the text lies Mr. Hebdige’s opinion as to what ‘Postmodernism’ is, he states:

“Postmodernism – we are told – is neither a homogenous entity nor a consciously directed ‘movement’. It is instead a space, ‘condition’, a ‘predicament’, an euphoria’, an ‘unpassable path.” (pp 331)

‘A group of rhetorical tropes, a proliferation of surfaces, a new phase in commodity fetishism, a fascination for images.” (pp331) __i.e. everything is ‘surface’ but has no depth.

“Sometimes this image of contemporary metropolitan existence as a kind of decentred ‘hyperreal’.” (pp332)

“Postmodernism resembles modernism in that it needs to be thought in the plural. Not only do different writers define it differently but a single writer can talk at different times about different posts.” (pp333)

“These fragmentations in their turn are sometimes linked to the erosion of the boundaries between production and consumption.” (pp333)

“Epistemologically, the shift towards these tropes is rooted in deconstructionism, in the abandonment of the pursuit of origins and the post-structuralist attack on the metaphysics of presence. From the Academy One, from Jacques Derrida to Blade Runner, there is the same cultivation of postures of confusion or distress around the undecidability of origins, there is the same blurring of the line(s) between shadows and substances, metaphors and substantive truths, the same questioning of the validity of all such binaries.” (pp334/5)

“For the word ‘postmodernism’, if it signifies at all, announces at the very least a certain degree of scepticism concerning the transformative and critical powers of art, aesthetics, knowledge. In its critical inflections, it announces the end of any simple faith in what have sometimes been called the ‘grand metanarratives’ (mass-produced) – the Great Stories which for thousands of years the cultures of the West have been telling themselves in order to keep the dread prospect of otherness at bay. The word ‘postmodernism’ marks the decline of the Great Stories the West has told itself in order to sustain itself as the West against the Rest, in order to place itself as Master and as Hero at the centre of the stage of world history.” (pp336/7)

“If postmodernism means anything at all, it means an end to a belief in coherence and continuity as givens, an end to the metaphysic of narrative closure (and in this it goes no further than the modernism it claims to supersede). (pp337)

“But if this still sounds too grandiose and pretentious and far too close to the modernist project it claims to displace, we can cut postmodernism down to size by reducing its terms of reference. There are plenty of signs of the Post on the frantic surfaces of style and ‘life style’ in the mid to late 1980’s. (pp338)

“…capitalism these days has absolutely no stake whatsoever in the idea of individuals being tied to fixed and stable identities. The Idea Consumer of the late 1980’s is a bundle of contradictions: monstrous, brindled, hybrid. The Ideal Consumer as deducted from contemporary advertisements is not a ‘he’ or a ‘she’ but an ‘it’.” (pp339)

Various Quotations

‘Hegemonic’ = Order maintaining (dominant power)
‘Counter Hegemonic’ = resistant or order-transforming
‘stylistic pluralism’ = a ‘mish-mash’ of styles
‘We accrue cultural capital’
‘We make a cultural purchase each time we look at something’
‘less is a bore’
‘the commodification of aesthetics’
‘depthlessness’

Overall, to me personally, ‘Postmodernism’ seems to be a very argumentative ‘period’, where nothing is right and nothing is wrong. As long you can put a good, strong and valid point across and back it up, it will be accepted. Something which in my simple ‘black and white’ mind I am finding a little difficult to comprehend, but with further reading I’m sure I’ll make some sense of it…..we’ll see.

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