Blue Monday, Postmodern Tuesday

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.

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3 thoughts on “Blue Monday, Postmodern Tuesday

  1. Martin Palmer January 24, 2013 / 10:50 pm

    Can’t wait! I guess I’ve got to read more pomo stuff after having looked at what pomo-ism actually is, but I have a modernist canon in my head, and works after that – for me – all seem rather satirical. But then I think it’s satirical of culture itself, rather than satirical of pomo-ism which is what you’re talking about.
    At any rate, I got what you meant about it being a big read (I forget whose blog/which post it was you said that one, but at the time I was enjoying it more!). I did like it, but I’m just keen to read more so that I can look at it from a more knowledgable viewpoint such as yours.
    Glad we’ve got some Palahniuk to look at! Already enjoying the totally ludic Lullaby (and noticing his obsession with vaginal bubbles).

    • Neil Schiller January 25, 2013 / 11:00 am

      Not sure I’m more knowledgeable Martin – think it’s more that it’s such a broad topic and everyone has different slants based on different parts of it. That’s what I was trying (and failing) to get across on Monday night when Robert asked if I thought it was a theory or a practice. I think it’s a theory that tries to pull together a lot of different practices and put them under a unified banner. (Which in itself is counter-intuitive when one of its ideas is around the breakdown of meaning and truth – fragmentation rather than cohesion).

      Shit, are we supposed to be reading Lullaby this week? You can take it from that that I’m not (yet). I’m reading Reality Hunger. Sounds like I have 2 days to source, purchase and read the Palahniuk. Oh dear…

      • Martin Palmer January 26, 2013 / 12:22 am

        Yeah that’s true enough.
        Mhmm, I’d say it’s both and more. If I have my literature head on it seems easier to classify it as theory, but it’s a more conscious age compared to modernism, so it has to be practice too. I think it’s unprecedented that the exponents of the age have so consciously defined it as it’s happening.
        Yeah that’s what we got on the sheet, but he’s changing it a bit anyway since we’re supposed to be looking at the Lyn Heijenenejinhdheineken piece too.

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