Yep, yesterday was Blue Monday. In time honoured tradition I celebrated it by having a thoroughly shit day. Today is the day after and because of the novel we covered at uni last night (White Noise by Don DeLillo) I’ve been thinking about postmodernism all day.
The DeLillo book irritated me a bit, probably because I was expecting a postmodern classic and what I got was a satire of postmodernism presented in a fairly conventional structural form. Don’t get me wrong, in parts it was amusing and I’m always up for a bit of satire. But at times it seemed like he was really denigrating postmodernism, reducing it to the absurd and illustrating how it’s useless as a mechanism in approaching existence in the phsyical world. Although I don’t really use any of its techniques in my writing, I still think postmodernism is one of, if not THE most viable aesthetic approach of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Not just in literary terms, but in art, in cinema, in music even. The appropriation of existing cultural themes and reconstitution of them into something new is, for me, the most honest approach an artist can take. Everyone is influenced by what has gone before them, so why not highlight that? Why not make the audience aware that they’re reading a novel or watching a film? Narrative isn’t reality, so why pretend it is? Once you free the work from that constraint it’s then able to provoke all manner of responses to it – on it’s quality, it’s cultural purpose, it’s position within the evolving framework of cognitive connections that form in the mind of those engaging with it.
For my PhD I read a lot of postmodern criticism and took exception to some of the conclusions drawn. This is probably up somewhere else on the blog, but for context I’ve included it again here – my argument against Frederic Jameson (an approach which irritated my supervisors no end, but I refused to take it out):
“A common charge levelled at postmodernism in general, not least by Frederic Jameson, is that it is a superficial method of comprehension; that it fails to engage with representations of the past, or indeed of anything conceptual, in a meaningful or insightful manner. Jameson terms it the “pastiche”, the “bravura imitation” (133) of postmodernism, a reduction of authentic images and ideals to a “mass cultural allusion”, a set of stylised signifiers which start to replace the truth of any matter (134). The example he cites in his opus Postmodernism, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism is David Lynch’s Blue Velvet which, he believes, displaces “the 1950s” with “the ‘fifties'” (281), a string of “stereotypes, of ideas of facts and historical realities” (279) rather than those facts and realities themselves. To a certain extent this argument has real validity; however, it seems somewhat misplaced. This process of conceptual displacement is not strictly a fault of postmodernism alone. Representation itself is by very definition a reductionist process. The 1950s do not mean anything as and of themselves; they are merely a collection of years, of months, of revolutions of the earth around the sun. The attachment of significance to them is a revisionist process, an editing of facts into a narrative, a method which raises the same questions of whose narratives have greater authority – those of the historian or those of the “teller [who] constructs that truth and chooses those facts” (Hutcheon 56)?”
Replace David Lynch with Quentin Tarantino. And then tell me that films like Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill don’t resonate with audiences because they play on the same cross-reference of iconic images and cult themes that rattle around in their heads anyway. In any case, I’m rambling now. So I’ll stop. We’re covering postmodernism for the next couple of weeks so expect another rant about it soon.