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September 18, 2011 11:47 AM   Subscribe

The decline of post-modernism- a short(ish) essay.
posted by ClanvidHorse (38 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great article! Seems primarily about design and archtecture but this could apply to many artforms I think:


For many, the events of 11 September signalled the death of postmodernism as an intellectual current. That morning it became clear that "hostility to grand narratives", as Jean-François Lyotard defined it, was a minority pursuit, an intellectual Rubik's cube for a tiny western metropolitan elite. It seemed most of the world still had some use for God, truth and the law, terms which they were using without inverted commas. Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, was widely ridiculed for declaring that the attacks signalled "the end of the age of irony", but his use of the po-mo buzzword proved prescient. If irony didn't vanish (though during the crushing literalism and faux-sincerity of the Bush-Blair war years it seemed like a rare and valuable commodity), postmodernism itself suddenly seemed tired and shopworn.



posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:12 PM on September 18, 2011


my spelling of architecture is post-irony obv
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:13 PM on September 18, 2011


This chart is really remarkable.
But I don't think Postmodernism is dead; rather it seems to be changing scope in perceptible (but not revolutionary) ways.
In architectural history, Modernism is a clear split from the Gothic and Neoclassical traditions that came before it. They are certainly related, and modernism (especially early modernists like Le Corbusier) draw on contemporary first quarter 20th century attitudes towards design, but the inclusive "Black and White and Sometimes Grey" attitude that Venturi proposed in '66 still seems very relevant to the buildings and zeitgeist today.
posted by DeltaZ113 at 12:30 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I haven't seen the word "unheimlich" since grad school. Hello, old friend!
posted by not that girl at 12:32 PM on September 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's an interesting theory. Even if most of the buildings constructed during the boom were postmodern in the sense that they were about appearances and brand-value, as the article says: All avant-gardes are in the business of futurism. They make an attempt to inhabit the space they predict, and in so doing, they bring it into being. Most buildings built during the boom were mainstream, not avant-garde in any sense. Libeskind, Gehry and OMA all became mainstream around 2000. AFAIK, the current avant-garde is about something far less tangible and/or marketable. Also, far less US-centric. an example
posted by mumimor at 12:38 PM on September 18, 2011


caps seem important? http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/graph?content=postmodern%2C+postmodernism%2CInternet%2Cinternet&year_start=1975&year_end=2008&corpus=0&smoothing=3
posted by mary8nne at 1:01 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everything that can be said about postmodernism has already been said, including this sentence.
posted by abcde at 1:36 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are we sure it wasn't pirates?
posted by formless at 2:27 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


The relentless march of money across the cultural landscape of the 1980s, with figures such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring describing brief and tragic arcs, seemed to many a fundamental debasement of the idea of art. To others, it was just fun.

Oh come on. This article seems to imply that because the arts made in the immediate previous generation are no longer hip and fashionable by today's current standards, they are now just an irrelevant curiousity.
posted by ovvl at 3:00 PM on September 18, 2011


The author conflates Modernist and Post-Modern Architecture in his and misses the utopian goals of the Post-Modern movement.

A mere reconceptualiztion of the world -- e.g. Apple Computer's "Think Different." © 1997 -- was the foundation of Post-Modernism and itself supposed to be revolutionary.

As someone who lived through the period and studied many of its controversies I find it an interesting,but flawed essay. I fully expected the author to be writing across a generational divide; sadly, it's only an ocean that divides us.
posted by vhsiv at 3:19 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


...conflates Modernist and Post-Modern Architecture in his essay...
posted by vhsiv at 3:22 PM on September 18, 2011


Postmodernism was (is) always already over (not over).
posted by spitbull at 3:29 PM on September 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I prefer some specificity in the deaths of movements. When it's done it's done, look at the rubble.
posted by Mr Mister at 3:54 PM on September 18, 2011


^ In my college days, the professors often said 'always | already'.
posted by vhsiv at 3:55 PM on September 18, 2011


Interesting -- I had never really thought of the whole "1980s asthetic" as being "post-modern" although the essay really does pin it.

That said, I think the whole "9/11" thing is a bit much if you find this video disturbing because of it. (Interestingly, I can't find the 'original' video on youtube because there are so many different versions on there)
posted by delmoi at 4:10 PM on September 18, 2011


^ In my college days, the professors often said 'always | already'.

Why yes, I was referring to that very expression in an arch manner. I believe it comes from Derrida, although I couldn't be bothered to check.
posted by spitbull at 4:21 PM on September 18, 2011


It's not that hard, critics. First, there's postmodernism and the postmodern era. Different things. All postmodern means is that we can do whatever we want regarding art. We don't have to be (but can be) constrained by rules of aesthetics, utility, convention, or anything at all.

Of course the postmodern era will shift into something else. It was pretty exciting for a while when artists realized this. They went nuts, living with coyotes and flinging lead and shit. It was great. Cutting edge art was primarily about this crazy idea, but the thing is, the idea that all rules and ideas are to be utilized or broken at will is itself a rule and idea to be utilized or broken at will.

My prediction is more stylistic specialization by artists and a return by individuals to more rule-based styles, like art deco. In fact, it's already happening in cinema. Scorcese no longer breaks the rules of genre film like he did in Raging Bull or The Last Temptation of Christ, but follows genre to its logical extension like in The Departed, Gangs of New York, and Shutter Island.
posted by cmoj at 4:29 PM on September 18, 2011


I believe it comes from Derrida, although I couldn't be bothered to check.

Heidegger's your man, I believe.
posted by Wolof at 5:27 PM on September 18, 2011


Compare the Denver skyline to the Minneapolis skyline. The latter is more interesting because Denver's building boom predated Minneapolis's by five or ten years and was Modern, not Postmodern. Slight difference, but significant if you visit the two cities.

Michael Graves, despite some of his stoopid Target objects, designed a really nice Postmodern library for downtown Denver. The mixture of styles, textures and colors is so much more fun than the sleekness of Modern architecture.

My field is really literature, but I'm not going to step into that arena. I mean: Post-post-modernism? Please.
posted by kozad at 5:31 PM on September 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Kant, actually:

"Through this I or he or it (the thing) which thinks, nothing further is represented than a transcendental subject of the thoughts = X. It is known only through the thoughts which are its predicates, and of it, apart from them, we cannot have any concept whatsoever, but can only revolve in a perpetual circle, since any judgment upon it has always already made use of its representation."
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:54 PM on September 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Bravo anotherpanacea. How's it expressed in German?

I suppose I should have said I Kant be bothered to check.

In any case, as a verbal tic of the 1980s and 90s, it was sourced in Derrida, who of course practically reinvented Heidegger.
posted by spitbull at 6:09 PM on September 18, 2011


Always already (Wikipedia)

I'm a once and future painter (an always-already painter?) and I'd argue for a return to rule-based styles (Genre Painting, Historical Narratives, etc.) if only because the Modernists burnt down the Library as they sought to escape it's influence. At this stage in the game, I recognize the continuities between different art forms and I'd like to celebrate them, rather than run away from the idea of Historical Influence.

Not to be Joseph Campbell -- or, for that matter, Robert McKee -- the forms may change, but the value of our Classical narratives remain consistent. The intrigues of Picasso, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jwff Koons and Andres Serrano only matter for one socially-networked moment. The real question is whether any of their trend-induced work will survive past the generation in which they created it. I suppose the same could be said of writers and filmmakers.
posted by vhsiv at 6:13 PM on September 18, 2011


Kant, actually

Thanks, appreciate it.
posted by Wolof at 6:18 PM on September 18, 2011


All avant-gardes are in the business of futurism.

I wouldn't mind seeing a return to Futurism. Minus the fascism.


For many, the events of 11 September signalled the death of postmodernism as an intellectual current. That morning it became clear that "hostility to grand narratives", as Jean-François Lyotard defined it, was a minority pursuit, an intellectual Rubik's cube for a tiny western metropolitan elite.

I find architecture and art post-Baroque to be pretty uncomfortable (with the exception of surrealism). If everything's a joke than what's the point?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:27 PM on September 18, 2011


I really enjoyed this essay, although I feel compelled to add that there are plenty of people on the blue who find it hard to let go of modernism, let alone postmodernism. I ranted, inarticulately, upon this subject here.

I was particularly amused to see neotraditionalism described as a postmodern phenomenon. I think there's a good deal of truth in that, although I would argue that, with the rise of movements like new urbanism, we're seeing a kind of post-postmodernism: neotraditionalism used wholly unironically and for the purpose of making things human-scale and livable, rather than abstractly clever.
posted by Dreadnought at 8:19 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, incidentally, I owe a good deal of my thinking on this subject to Metafilter's Own YoungAmerican (subtly shouted-out to in the above linked rant), who would probably be aghast to hear The New Sincerity misused in such a context.
posted by Dreadnought at 8:23 PM on September 18, 2011


That would be YoungAmerican.

sorry, I'm tired
posted by Dreadnought at 8:24 PM on September 18, 2011


It's post-modernism(s).

Duh.
posted by bardic at 9:12 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is the first version I've seen of the "9-11 was the End Of Irony" trope that I've found at all plausible.

Seems like when I've run across it elsewhere it's just been, you know, "Suffering builds character, and we all suffered vicariously, and so now we've built us some damn character and we can quit it with that wishy-washy 'irony' business." Which seems like a pretty silly argument. This article presents it less like some sort of national character-building exercise and more like the intellectual realization that we'd had some sort of blind spot — like, "Oh, hey, it turns out that even if I'm way too clever to take an idea seriously, that idea can still affect me." That feels closer to my experience of what actually happened.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:03 PM on September 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Seems like when I've run across it elsewhere it's just been, you know, "Suffering builds character, and we all suffered vicariously, and so now we've built us some damn character and we can quit it with that wishy-washy 'irony' business." Which seems like a pretty silly argument. This article presents it less like some sort of national character-building exercise and more like the intellectual realization that we'd had some sort of blind spot — like, "Oh, hey, it turns out that even if I'm way too clever to take an idea seriously, that idea can still affect me." That feels closer to my experience of what actually happened.

I think it's more that when you're staring down the barrel of an existential crisis than postmodernism is only going to help you hide for a bit, not fight it. And the televised 9/11 bombings brought death into the living rooms of people who were before immured from it.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:10 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been trying to articulate this clearly for a while now, so just bare with me if I get a little rambly.

It really kind of gets down to the temporal locations of the models that each movement is using. Modernism and Post-Modernism are both looking towards the future, as all avant-garde does, more or less by definition. But once those modes of thought became the mainstream, they continued to draw their models from some sort of imagined future, be it utopian or whatever. I don't neccesarily think that the avant-garde also need take its models from the future; the future that the avant-garde is concerned with is rather more immediate than the ones Modernism and Post-Modernism drew from. The idea of avant-guard is more about pushing the boundries of the status quo. Even the Atelier Bow-Wow work that mumimor links to is squarely rooted in the future-thinking ideas of the Metabolists in Japan. Basically, the only cohesive thread in mainstream architecture right now is the use of the future as their model.

In contrast, you have those who use the past as their model; your Quinlan Terrys and Allan Greenburgs, your Robert A.M. Sterns and David M. Schwartzes. I'd argue that these guys, along with the New Urbanists, are the real avant-garde in architecture. As the article says, all avant-gardes are in the business of futurism. But the nature of the future that the avant-garde is interested is rather different from the one that Modern and Post-Modern architecture is interested in. Rather than a theoretical future, the avant-garde is interested in the immediate, realizable future. Again, the article says that they make an attempt to inhabit the space they predict, and in so doing, they bring it into being. But I think that any future will do, even one rooted in the past. It's the difference, as I brought up before, between future as model and future as temporal designation.

As an aside, if you're taking this idea of temporal designation of models to its logical conclusion, the New Urbanists, along with Christopher Alexander and his ilk, are trying to base their work off of a timeless model, one that attempts to break the past/future binary. Its an interesting idea, and one that I'm personally on board with. Rem Koolhaas has spoken about how architecture can no longer keep up with culture; architecture is a slow process and change in culture is accelerating. The only way to win, it seems, is to stop trying to beat culture (with future models).
posted by daniel striped tiger at 10:32 PM on September 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Welcome to the desert of the real.
posted by 3.2.3 at 6:32 AM on September 19, 2011


> For many, the events of 11 September signalled the death of postmodernism as an intellectual current.
> That morning it became clear that "hostility to grand narratives", as Jean-François Lyotard defined it,
> was a minority pursuit, an intellectual Rubik's cube for a tiny western metropolitan elite.

Everybody is trying to foist grand narratives off onto the world, not just artcrit/litcrit essayists. From governments and would-be-governments and corporations with whole armies of foisters hired to push their approved organizational POV to individuals who go "I just totally expressed my awesome grasp of X as a clever demotivator pic or biting 50 char tweet which will go viral and suddenly all those dumbasses out there will SEE AND UNDERSTAND and facepalm over their previous blindness." It's all of a piece, this kind of activity, and I hardly notice that it has lessened since 9/11 even with Jean-François's thumb helpfully on the scales.

> I really enjoyed this essay, although I feel compelled to add that there are plenty of people on the blue
> who find it hard to let go of modernism, let alone postmodernism.

Who needs to let go of either, or indeed of anything? Once a style has been invented it may lose its preeminance (if it had that) and fade into the background noise but it never goes all the way away. The age of egg and dart moulding is still with us.

N.b., Bauhaus-era high Modernism as a style of architecture has an inherent survival advantage because it lent itself so well to cheapness--and cheapness certainly isn't going anywhere. A one story rectangular concrete block building with a flat tar roof looks much more Bauhaus that it does anything else, and because of the impulse to dignify what one has done (which also isn't going anywhere) builders of such will certainly pronounce "Less Is More" with satisfaction as they wait for the building inspector to come sign the occupancy certificate.
posted by jfuller at 6:52 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


The decline of the term "post-modernism" ... I think the "hostility to grand narratives" persists.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:43 AM on September 19, 2011


I wrote that comment last night far too wired to sleep after spending mos of the day mainlining coffee and drawing a 6' long section of the project I'm working on right now in school. It totally reads like it too, so apologies for the comma soup and constant repetition.

I think it's kind of funny that I argued that Classicists are the new avant-garde. Not because I don't believe it's true, but because I don't believe art history and especially architectural history should work that way. They've been taught for years and years as a history of movements and great practitioners, but canonical history is always written by the winners. There is really nothing to be gained by looking at history that way. It's much more useful (as an architecture student/architect/designer/etc) to view history from pluralist stand point, where you take every building as an argument as to how we should live and interact with the built environment, and also as a solution to a specific design problem. Simply viewing history as a succession of dominant styles leaves wide swaths of history unexplored, and is more or less antithetical to the purpose of history and philosophical exploration: the search for truth.
posted by daniel striped tiger at 8:58 AM on September 19, 2011


Offered without comment.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:18 AM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


^ dst: I think that traditionalism is the new avant-garde b/c people who taught it really didn't believe in it, or like the Modernists, they were trapped in an reflex-reaction against the tried-and-true.

Back in the day, I didn't want to wear my Grandpa's pajamas, either. Now that I'm older, I realize that Grandpa had not only worked it out, but he did a really good job of it.
posted by vhsiv at 10:22 AM on September 19, 2011


I am not sure I can figure out how to express this, but: I think the real difference between the modernists and the post-modernists is that the modernists believed (rightly or wrongly) that their work was the logical consequence of a number of complex societal, technical and economical changes, while the post-modernists approached architecture, art and design from a more academic and aesthetic point of view. If this is true, Phillip Johnson was already a postmodernist when he built the glass house in New Canaan, which both makes sense and explains the drunken fight he and Mies got into the only time Mies visited.
In that perspective, it also makes sense that some arch modernists like le Corbusier used vernacular building technologies when they deemed it appropriate, and also, some aspects of New Urbanism would be a natural continuation of the modern project. This is ofcourse a profoundly modernist point of view. I am a neo-Frankfurter
posted by mumimor at 1:39 PM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


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