Re: RARA-AVIS: Postmodernism and literature

Date: 22 Mar 2007

I have a college dropout friend who is very smart, but averse to intellecutalism, particularly its jargon. Within his earshot, a kind of pompous guy was telling me how great the movie Swimming Pool was. I hadn't seen that piece of crap yet, but pointed out that my friend had not liked it. The fan said, He probably didn't understand it (as if it was hard to understand that movie; anyone who didn't guess the gimmick early on was not paying attention). I laughed and said, No, I doubt that's it. Needless to say, my friend was not amused by this comment
(but didn't give the guy the satisfaction of responding). I later told him how to put down a guy like this. Randomly place the word postmodern in any sentence about the movie, the more convoluted the sentence the better. The word postmodern is the emperor's new clothes of pseudo-intellectual speech. The guy will be so afraid that he might reveal that he doesn't really understand postmodernism and you do that he will just walk away. So it became something of a game between us, whenever my friend finds something pretentious, he makes up a nonsensical sentence about it using the word postmodern. It's amazing how many of these sentences actually make good sense.

Now I've been fascinated by, though not always in agreement with, what I've read about postmodernism -- Lyotard, a bit of Foucault, some Baudrillard, the Situationists that were his precursors, Frederic Jameson, does Bourdieu count? -- but there's no real there there (to paraphrase another proto-postmodernist). It's not just one theory, but the intersection of a whole bunch of theories (poststructuralism, deconstructionism, discursive analysis, etc) fighting for primacy. In fact, it sometimes seems that much of it comes from infighting between them, as they each claim theirs is the only right way of seeing.

That's not to say I don't feel we are living in a postmodern world, or that I don't feel drawn to artists who engage that world (whether or not they consider themselves postmodernists, whether or not they deal with postmodernism in a postmodernist way, whatever that is), but I thoroughly understand why many find postmodernism to be sheer academicism in the worst ivory tower sense of that word.


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