CCTP-725: Fall 2011

Week 2 Discussions


Yizhou Zhang

The first time I saw the word “postmodern” was in a film magazine: Stephen Chow, one of my favorite HongKong actor and film director who has been known as the representative of postmodernism in Chinese cinema, responded to a scholar’s question about his postmodernity by “I don’t know about postmodernism at all” in an academic seminar on his films. It is true that Chow’s films presents a bunch of typical characteristics of postmodernism: dissolution of metanarrative (Lyotard), deconstruction (Derrida), pastiche/parody and nostalgia (Jameson), etc. Ironically, the author doesn’t even know what postmodernism means while his works have been decoded as postmodern masterpieces again and again. I also believe that Chow is not the only one named as postmodern master who has no idea about this term - unlike DJ Spooky, most artists are not philosophers themselves. Are we sometimes over-interpreting many works that were created without the awareness or intention of any “-ism”?

Although this week’s readings contain many abstract concepts, they remind me of numerous real world examples from all kinds of our social and cultural experiences. As the Post-80s generation in mainland China, we’ve been witnessing the whole country stepping into a comprehensively postmodern stage during the last two decades. Media and digital technologies, from TV and film to anime and video game, are producing hyperreality through simulacrum and reshaping our perceptions of the external world as well as the internal identity. The rise of subculture and the development of online community have also created new forms and contents through appropriation or “postproduction” (Bourriaud) of existing ones. More and more teenagers have become Otaku (a Japanese word used to refer to people with obsessive interests in topics that seem strange and niche to others, particularly subcultures related to anime, manga and video game), who are infatuated with two-dimension roles and lack of social networking interests and capabilities in real life.

Postmodernism focuses on social and cultural pluralism and diversity based on multiple identities rather than national/ethnic values, while current tendency has shown that the so-called post-postmodernism is closely linked with globalization. As the third perspective Pieterse introduced about globalization and culture, cultural hybridization/mixing is supposed to be the future of postmodernism or “altermodernism” (Bourriaud). I do find some relations between the post-postmodernism and the network theory in Prof. Garcia’s course, but I need deeper understanding of both theories to figure it out.


Siyang Wu

Why philosophers, historians, artists, and theorists fail to give postmodernism a clear definition? Maybe because postmodernism is against to the condition that the society provides a series of rules, and then develops following the rules it written down. When we use words like destructive, playful and irony, to describe postmodernism, we are trapped in the thinking of Dichotomy. Attempt to compare postmodernism and modernism and make a list that clearly write down the difference between them seems too rational to obey the principle of postmodernism. Postmodernism is not trying to overcome and surpass modernism, but provide a new angle to view and handle the social issues, culture, history, art in new historical environment.

Every individual is a point of social net. I think postmodernism values the ideas of different individuals which are too trivial to be unified. Postmodernism which tries to free people’s mind and thus looks like difficult to be defined and constrained. Rational and unified logical in modernism are corresponding to the logic in science and technology. However postmodernism is more likely to try to involve and remix different individual’s idea into its system. it appreciates the existence of difference, admits and value the bias. Even facing the same issue, different people can gain different sense and capture different truth. That’s why I appreciate Jameson’s method to approach to history, “history is only accessible to us in narrative form”. Just like the films always try to interpret history from the angle of normal people, describe their daily lives and experiences and provide audience the hints to track historical issues and to understand the social and political environment in a specific historical point. The film is a mixture of technology, art, history and etc., it is also the product which is syncretized by history truth(if it exists) and narrater’s perspective.

Postmodern is the era that nothing is definitely “new”, there is no creation but mixture. The selection of the authors, artists and architect, the factors they mix in their work represent who they are, what they appreciate. Postmodern fashion is especially representative. Vivienne Westwood is always cited as punk’s mother, its creator,but punk which is so complex, has different genesis,is also found in England's depressed economic and sociopolitical conditions of the mid-1970s. Vivienne herself breaks the so called principle of punk that it is as much a youthful reaction against older generations, considered oppressive and outdated, as a product of the newly recognized and influential youth culture. In my view, Vivienne Westwood is a model of postmodern fashion, since she is the mixture of old generation spirit and young’s resists. Reflected in her design, she introduced “underwear as outerwear” and revived the corset. Her design breaks the Dichotomy of “inner” and “outer”, and at at the same time it is the mixture of different elements. Also, she always uses nails as decoration. In our daily life, nails is close related to strong men, workers and other male figures. But for Vivienne, nails on her shoes, shirts, and jackets, generate the general sense of beautiful from which different people derive different feelings.
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Also, she always uses nails as decoration. In our daily life, nails is close related to strong men, workers and other male figures. But for Vivienne, nails on her shoes, shirts, and jackets, generate the general sense of beautiful from which different people derive different feelings. For me Vivienne empower to women, for others maybe it means rebellion and struggling.

Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl was one of my most memorable forays into postmodern media. Jackson’s “remix” of Frankenstein disoriented countless traditional conceptions of narrative, from concepts of reader-author-writer to linearity and form, subject and identity. Patchwork Girl is read as a hypertext, allowing the reader to move through a seemingly endless narrative (a “patchwork” of images, literature from third-sources, Shelley’s own narrative and more) in countless pathways – creating an individual experience, narrative and meaning for each reader. Perhaps due to my background in eighteenth century literature, where a larger meta-narrative seemed critical for the meaning of a novel, this postmodern creation lead me to questions on the efficiency of postmodernism also posed by this week’s readings – specifically Hassan’s notion of “indetermanence”.

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Source: readingonline.org

As a fragmented narrative – in form and process – Patchwork Girl seems to assume essential qualities of the postmodern “indeterminacy”, while also deploying the hypertext technology to “project our perceptions to the edge of matter” (Hassan, From Postmodernism to Postmodernity: the Local/Global Context). Engaged in this dizzying experience, the reader finds herself in the clutch of the postmodern dilemma – how does one find a center or a unity to create meaning from? Is this needed? Also relatable to the postmodern society Patchwork Girl was/is written and read it, Jackon’s readers question how to assign meaning to a constantly evolving and participatory social world around us (as Kauffman discusses in relation to Newton’s Chaos Theory). Hassan discusses some of these questions as “conceptual problems” of postmodernism (Hassan, “Toward a Cocept of Postmodernism”). At the same time, I wondered how the new process/form was more productive than the traditional form. Was I more aware of the author or the writing process (18th century authors often interject themselves and the reader in a self-reflexive process, just as Jackson attempts)? Was I more aware of the irony in hierarchal meta-narratives (18th century authors often deploy irony and silences to display anti-narratives)? Then, I realized in many ways, one could argue certain 18th century novels assume postmodern characteristics. As our readings questioned, what then makes something “original” and something postmodern – the framework from which we view/use it as a tool or the contextual “period” in which it was created and meant to be used?

Personally, I felt an instant nostalgia for the closed book form, where the beginning and end narrative, could physically be held between two hands. In a way, my experience of Patchwork Girl felt relative to Jameson’s comparison of Van Gogh’s painting of the peasant shoes and Andy Warhol's Diamond Dust Shoes . While there is a clear exceptional productivity in Warhol’s “return of the repressed” (Jameson, “The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism”), one wonders if there is not also something lost? Perhaps this is where the “new” postmodern, or “Altermodern”, as Bourriaud names this movement, will take us. My hope is the “altermodern” will find what was lost in the pre-modern while retaining the productivity of the postmodern, and finding some sense of missing unity, as Hassan quotes Fiedler to “cross the border and close the gap” (Hassan, “Toward a Concept of Postmodernism”, 4).

-- Jess Steele


Ashley Wei

The table of Modern vs. Postmodern Contrasting Tendencies, although considered as a “modernism way to see things in seemingly obvious, binary and contrasting categories” by its author, did make a lot sense to me to acknowledge the postmodernism. Grew up in a culture and society constructed mostly by modernism concepts (faith in grand theory, master narratives, family, hierarchy, order, centralized control, etc.), it is easier for me to approach the ghost from where I was familiar with.

Besides of the semantic enlightenment of “post”, “-ism”, and “-nity”, one of my take-aways from this week’s reading is the notion of “individual” in postmodernism. Most of the previous “-ism”s defines trends and concepts of a group of artists or scholar, within an institution, a subject, of a period of time. But thanks to the invention of internet, more and more ordinary, non-artists individuals get involved in creative activities, and it is no longer easy to use one word, or one definition to describe what they are doing and what they believe - now it seems that we tend to put anything that we are not sure about where it fits in into the postmodern category (or now it becomes the post postmodernism’s role?) “More than a period, more even than a constellation of artistic trends and styles, postmodernism has become, even after its partial demise, a way we view the world. “ said Ihab Hassan. In the age of postmodernism, people use art beyond the purpose of pure art creation, they are delivering their individual opinions to the rest of the world. Because the cost is cheap: remixing previous art work in a digital form does not require years of art training, or hundreds of dollars spent on pigments and canvas, postmodern arts are mundane, sometimes kitsch, yet very smart and influencing. I enjoy the tons of parodies made by anonymous web users very much. They are smart, humorous, entertaining, and most importantly, delivering an individual view of the world.

Another interesting thing about postmodernism is that it sometimes goes against itself: it embraces digital and high-tech creations, yet it performs anti-technology reactions; it lost a centralized control, yet it forms very specific rules and jargon within a particular micro-culture or communities (fan culture for instance); it trusts in local politics, but the influences spread across nations through the internet (the Jasmine Revolution), and so forth. I’m intrigued and fascinated by postmodernism after reading about it because its paradox. In addition, postmodernism is close to me: it’s contemporary, evolving in my life time, and defined by people just like me.

Speaking of one of the materials used in last week’s lecture, there was a copy of Wang Qingsong’s photograph, although that slide just stayed for five seconds or so and professor Irvine didn’t explain it, I was impressed because one of my colleagues interviewed him during my intern in summer. His surprisingly big success in Western world is a phenomenon that I don’t understand. And associated with Ai Weiwei and many other Chinese artists who got attention in Western world, it seems like one of the major themes of their work is criticising Chinese government or Communists. I don’t intend to bring politics here, however, postmodernism obviously involves politics a lot. I look at this issue in a way that how one culture perceives, understands, and accepts arts from and exotic one. Wang Qingxong, as a photographer, is not different from any other photographers in the Western culture, technically, but he brings in a fresh culture from the outside, and his opinions (democracy, human-right and the lack of human-right in China or whatever) catches up with the Western ideology. Honestly, I don’t interpret his work as “Chinese” art, and this raises my thinking of globalization and its results. My question is how do we define “traditional” art in the age of globalization and post modernism: according to the artists’ nationality? the content? the way it was created? or the ideology behind it?

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Wang Qingsong's photograph


In this week’s reading, I found out two interesting thing about the term “Postmodern”. One is its indeterminate feature which makes the term hard to be defined. Ihab Hassan uses numerous words to describe or explain the concept of Postmodernism and still add or revise the words to interpret it as time changes. Hence, I start to think about how the interpretations of Postmodernism will change or transform in our era or in the near future? Or will the neo-Postmodernism appear?

Another thing is the penetration of the concepts or applications of Postmodernism in our daily life. The primary example appears on my mind is the culture of Taiwanese night market. The Night markets gather many marginalized people who have their own stands to sell their snacks or dishes. Those stands generally have no central power to organize them and their brands are established upon words of mouth or on the electronic word of mouth. These features are similar to fragmentation, de-centralization, disintegratation in Postmodernity (Hussan). Moreover, since as a multiethnicsociety, every individual bares its own different culture. This leads the food of every stands has its own cultural cousin style, such as Hakka, Fuken, Aboriginal, Japan, Western or hybridity of different culture. This response to the characteristic of hybridization and pluralism in Postmodernity. I feel so stunning that even our mundane dining life can find the influence of Postmodernity.

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Living in a world with the profusion of the concepts of Postmodernism, I would like to reconsider its core value and how we should react to it, since we seems cannot escape from it. By through the reading, I think the core value of the postmodernity should be the value of individualism and to self-explore our own interest or self-identity.

pic source:
www.flickr.com/ photos/hl-wang/ 2108943452/




Yu-wei Wang


One thing that I found really interesting in this week’s readings is the notion of appropriation in defining art movements. Postmodern appropriates modern, Post-postmodern appropriates postmodern and its appropriation of modern. This is hardly the first place we see this kind of appropriation in the construction of a definition, but it is one of the more innocuous examples. We see instances of this daily, and are generally unaware of its existence. One of the more problematic examples of appropriation is the creation of “the East” in the image of “the West”, a self-serving model that lumped together a huge region of the world despite different civilizations, religions and people. The East was always defined as the opposite of the West, and as such a binary was created that would lead to the modern day wars and destruction we see across that region.

On the flipside, it is interesting to look at the Arab Spring as a response to/consequence of that model. In Globalization and Culture Pieterse poses a question of Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” model, asking why culture would be the fault line for conflict. In analyzing the events this year in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria, it is quite apparent that culture (defined as behavior and beliefs that are learned and shared) serves in many ways as the dividing line between these governments and their people. Perhaps in part because of the social capitalism of our generation, the youth in these Arab countries feel empowered by their hybrid culture to fight for the rights that they are being denied. Most would argue that the existence of Facebook and Twitter fueled the strength of the resistance, permitting the youth to not only reach out beyond their borders, but to mobilize and keep morale high. Whereas imperialistic division of the world led to the model of West vs East, the ever-present globalization of culture allows the people subjugated by that model to fight against the immediate powers and barriers keeping them down. Appropriation was a part of the initial problem, and is also a part of the greater solution.

Serene Al-Kawas
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Here are some of my reactions, comments and questions to what I've read so far.

Generally, as a religion major with a strong interest in music, truth and creativity were the broad conceptual categories that attracted me in this week's readings on postmodernism and post-postmodernism. Also, the political and economic ramifications of postmodern cultural theory as examined by Taylor, Jameson, Bhabha, and others resonated with my interest in the intersection between art and activism. In this post, I want to draw attention to the religious rhetoric through which truth and creativity are examined in the po-mo milieu and attempt to frame some questions that might be helpful for discussion. (Isn't academics all about asking the right questions?) BhaBha seems to recognize the centrality of truth in paradox, which I want to believe is at the heart of post-postmodernism. It is through "gaming for change" or "partying for a purpose" that we can take part in the modern/postmodern dialectic and come out alive on the other side. I'll begin with Taylor to get to BhaBha

(This post ended up rambling more than I expected, so I'm just going to link to my blog here with my notes, comments and (particularly) questions that might be useful for class discussion: http://mindfulmediablog.blogspot.com/2011/09/cultural-hybridity-week-2-notes.html)

Taylor

Taylor makes connections between postmodern thought and religion explicit, exemplified by Hegel, Kierkegaard, and culminating in Derrida as a theological thinker. From these thinkers, he derives two truths:
1) "There is a religious dimension to all/ culture."
2) "Second, religion is inseparable from philosophy, literature, literary criticism, art, and architecture, as well as science, technology, capitalism, and consumerism."
Through Derrida, he makes the connection between religion and deconstruction (post-structuralism). Most importantly, he writes: "According to complexity theorists, all significant change takes place between too much and too little order. When there is too much order, systems are frozen and cannot change, and when there is too little order, systems disintegrate and can no longer function."

This is what BhaBha is getting at through truth in "liminal" cultural production, truth in dialectic, truth in paradox, truth in theory and political practice, etc.

The truth that exists between too much and too little order is central to mystical experience and thought. This delicate balance may be thought of as hybridity itself, and each type of hybridization might be thought of as re-ordering the amount of control and chaos. The result is a liminal truth, a truth that only exists at the limits of knowing and understanding. In religion, this truth is thought of as ineffable (unsayable, unthinkable or unknowable), but people spend a lot of time thinking about it, talking about it and writing about it anyway. WHY? To gain political authority.

Pretty much any time there is a good idea in history, it gets co-opted by those in power and loses its force. This is what happened when Christianity was co-opted by the Roman empire. A wisdom tradition focused on non-vioelence and neighborly love became a tool for violence, conquest and domination. It's tempting to believe that "Eastern" religions were spared this co-opting process, but my study of Buddhism led me to understand that it too was co-opted by political elites to preserve power (see /Zen At War/). I was also tempted to believe there was a strong connection between Buddhism (and later I connected it to other contemplative wisdom traditions, such as certain types of Christian Monasticism or Sufi poetry) and deconstruction (though I didn't know as an undergrad that this ubiquitous term had a strong association with Derrida... I thought it was Foucault). Despite the misguided romanticization of Buddhism (read Orientalism, of which I became painfully aware), I still believe that mystical experience is often co-opted by authority and institutionalized in the form of religion.

Central question:
Is it possible to go "beyond" (in the sense of post- ) the cyclical rise and fall of empires, an implicit part of which is the co-opting of cultural insight that comes from liminal experience?

Now, I see many people finding truth through music. Just as Jazz held/holds profound truth for many in the community surrounding its production, it has been institutionalized and therefore lost much of its creative spark. I worry about the same thing with the electronic music that I view as the jazz of my generation. As it's studied, catalogued, and defined, it loses its creative spark. I think this is what Paul D. Miller is getting at in Rhythm Science - a philosophy of perennial creativity. Even though he's sampling, creating a pastiche from within pastiche, he is looking for a "science" (perhaps heuristic?) of creativity, one which will allow his hybridizations to be truly fresh and original.

Ben King

In Lawerence Lessig’s book “Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in a Hybrid Economy”, he discusses the artist Girl Talk and the genre associated with his music, the “remix” or “mash-up”. Essentially this new genre of music is doing what rappers and hip hop artists have been doing for several decades now, however, they are not asking permission from the original artists. I was particularly struck by Gregg Gillis (Girl Talk)’s feelings about the music industry now. He says “...that everyone is making the music and that most music is derived from previoius ideas. And that almost all pop music is made from other people’s source material. And that’s not a bad thing. It doesn’t mean you can’t make original content.”

This led me to thinking about what “original” means in our current culture and further articulates something that I have personally found problematic with all our readings about post modernism and cultural hybridity. According to these theories, that there is nothing purely “original” in the sense that someone can create in a vaccum and has never been affected by the influence of popular culture at some level. Can anything be original anymore? Can you really have a unique personal perspective that has not been done before? By comparing artists (both in the music industry and the art world) to previous artists, does that enable them to have their own identity or does it by nature of comparison, make them become more autonomous? It makes me wonder, did Girl Talk or any artists of the “remix” genre, really create a new, uniquely personal genre of music?

Katy Schwager