English 216: notes for Chapter 9

The Postmodern Condition

Modernism: two phases

High Modernism: utopian drive to fix everything using metanarratives

  • features: allusion, reflexivity, minimalism, formalism, shock
  • metanarratives: stories/theories that explain everything (grand narratives, grand récits)
  • avant garde: artistic experiments from outside of and in opposition to the mainstream
  • anti-authoritarian: rebel against old regimes of art/thought; retain high/low split

Late Modernism: demoralized, metanarratives failed to prevent WWI

  • features: narcissism, bleakness, absurdism

Postmodernism: arguably a third phase of Modernism

  • a highly contested term, it means radically different things to different people…


Postmodernism in the 1960s

  • collapse of high/low: reject Modernism as high culture
  • culture: redefined as anything social (i.e., what we read in Ch 1)
  • pop art (Andy Warhol): “art” is redefined by looking at something as if it were art
    • collapses “high” art and commercial/industrial art
  • counterculture: a different expression of avantgardism


Jean François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition

  • pomo rejects metanarratives (e.g., science, education) as producers of homogeneity
  • critique: Lyotard is merely lamenting the intellectual élite’s loss of privilege


Jean Baudrillard and the Simulacra

  • semiurgic: Western society processes information instead of making things
  • simularcum: copies without originals, process of making simulacra is called simulation
  • hyperreal: when simulacra and the real are equally significant


Frederic Jameson and Late Capitalism (strictly Marxist/neo-Marxist analysis)

  • periodizing concept: PM’s function is to define a period in history
  • cultural dominant (McHale): every period has big ideas that dominate most thought
    • but old/marginal/rebellious ideas are still present
  • pastiche: empty mockery, lacks a thesis or “ulterior motive”
  • culture of quotations: all culture is imitative, all quotations & no content
  • nostalgia films: reassure audiences of “narrative certainties of the past”
  • false realism: historical styles stand in for actual history; style becomes the substance
  • cultural schizophrenia: perpetual present; past hard to remember, future hard to imagine
  • collapses cultural & commercial: nothing is not commercial; culture is an economic activity
  • genericity (Collins): films that quote other films in order to say something
  • array (Collins): PM media has no dominant(s), just collages the past
  • operates on two levels: characters’ adventures & the text’s adventure
  • affirmative culture (Marcuse): just enough pleasure to make life bearable
  • cultural democratization (Laclau/Mouffe): plurality of PM media allows for resistance


Postmodern Pop Music (i.e., in rap)

  • sampling: essentially, one practice of genericity (see above)
  • constitutes a critique, highly aware of history, relies on audience knowledge


Postmodern Television (i.e., “prestige TV”)

  • oscillation: shifting on the fly between styles, tone, modes, and genres
    • marketed to audiences that contain multiple subject positions, not just a “mass”
  • old distinctions are no longer significant: high/low, fiction/reality, history/nostalgia


Postmodernism and the Pluralism of Value (i.e., what’s valuable within culture)

  • canonization: how texts are authorized and legitimized
  • selective tradition: texts are approved by dominant group bc they reflect their values
  • Bordieu: they naturalizes the texts, then hold them up as proof of superiority
    • pomo means we have to evaluate “quality” without just appealing to authority


The Global Postmodern (Marxist economic critique)

  • PM is defined by ubiquitousness of American products: McDonalds, Coca-Cola, etc.
  • critiques:
    • commodities ≠ culture, modes of production don’t determine meaning,
    • it presumes a limited notion of the “foreign”: national only, not class/gender/race/etc.
    • assumes America is a cultural monolith rather than a pluralistic society
    • hegemony better explains globalization/globalism as we know it


Convergence Culture

  • the flow: media companies use tech to increase it, consumers use tech to control it
    • technology has created many new platforms for the flow
    • concentration of media ownership allows for “cross-platform” flow
    • participation is not required from consumers, can’t just turn it on and see what’s there


Afterword: Who Determines Meaning?

  • pessimist/rationalist: capitalist corporations
  • pessimist/irrationalist: nobody, there is none
  • optimist: consumers make meaning using what’s on offer, corporate products
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