external image KingCreole102709.jpegAt first I thought that the theorists for this week were only stating the obvious: of course the world is becoming more multicultural; of course culture is more international than it has ever been in human history, and of course this is largely due to the intertwining of economies, which intertwines politics. But I dug a little deeper when I read this about post-postmodernism on Altermodern: “Multiculturalism and identity is being overtaken by creolisation: Artists are now starting from a globalised state of culture” (link). Why did this strike me? Because it had not yet occurred to me that multiculturalism and ‘creolization’ are two very different things. Multiculturalism is merely the existence of many cultures in one place—their presence. The United States is multicultural. But has the U.S. been creolized? No. What do we commonly say has been creolized? Obviously, the mélange of languages that have come to be known as ‘creole’ in the South. A person, perhaps. It hit me that it is one thing for many cultures to exist, or even coexist; it is another for them to mingle and combine so thoroughly that they become one thing—a new thing.

It was helpful for me to think of postmodernism, post-postmodernism, and postproduction in racial terms, because the term hybridity, as Kraidy points out, refers to cultural fusion but inevitably harkens back to race, ethnicity and language, precisely because these things are so inextricably connected to culture. It’s why the term ‘all-American’ at one time did not simply mean any person standing in front of a red, white and blue flag, but specifically referred to a certain type of person—one who had blond hair, blue eyes, decent muscles and height, and a penis. But remember that show that Margaret Cho conceived and starred in, ‘All-American Girl’? The reason it captivated American audiences (not well enough for it to commercially succeed, but word of mouth-wise) was because it flipped the collective subconscious conception and perception of what an ‘all-American’ person is on its head. It challenged the tradition to justify itself, laugh at itself, and even change itself, because at the end of the 20th century—what Bhabha would call a “moment of historical transformation”—it was becoming clear is no such thing as “a pure, ‘ethnically cleansed’ national identity”. This, says Bhabha, is how minority groups—racial, gender, sexual—undo the master narrative and emerge from the fringes, from “the periphery of authorized power and privilege”, to make their presence known. This is how cultural hybrities are negotiated.

external image kunta-getting-whipped-1.jpgWhen Bhabha spoke of new traditions being made, of cultures being hybridized for the first time when the past is reimagined—or “restaged” as he puts it—I couldn’t help but think of the TV miniseries //Roots//, and what a splash it made in the American subconscious when it premiered in the U.S. in the 1970s. Roots brought the horrors of American black slavery into the living rooms of ordinary people. It was a cultural phenomenon. Both blacks and whites were deeply moved by it. People talked about Roots at work, at school, with friends; it made a downplayed historical trauma contemporary and relevant again (it “confound[ed] our definitions of tradition and modernity’ realign[ed] the customary boundaries between the private and the public, high and low [Bhabha]). It also made the biggest minority group in America finally feel noticed (“The recognition that tradition bestows is a partial form of identification” [Bhabha]).

Roots depicted black people struggling to adjust to white culture—struggling to hybridize their African music and language and ethics to those of their European ‘masters.’ In this vein I believe that ‘Negro spirituals’—Christian hymns set to African-inspired music and language—are a prime example of Kraidy’s point that culturally hybridized media are “‘an iconic continuum’ between homeland and a new country”; just like the modern-day videos used by the Croatian and Macedonian communities in Perth, Australia, Negro spirituals “concretize the tensions between the community and the host society[, creating] a hybrid culture based in the host society but drawing its emotive energy from the native country” (11). In the miniseries’ most famous scene, protagonist Kunta Kinte refuses to call himself ‘Toby’ and is whipped as a result. Kunta rejects the name because it was given to him by his white slavemaster, and thus represents a hybridizing of cultures he does not want. This speaks to the duality of Bhabha’s statement that “the very idea of a pure, 'ethnically cleansed' national identity can only be achieved through the death, literal and figurative, of the complex interweavings of history, and the culturally contingent borderlines of modern nationhood.” It is foolish of the white slavemaster to think that by giving slaves European names they will abandon their Africanness. However, it is also delusional for the slaves to believe their displacement to America will not result in some ‘vanillification’ of their African traditions.

Alexis Hamann-Nazaroff
Of all the rather overwhelming list of definitions for postmodernism in our readings this week, my favorite is perhaps Ihab Hassan’s idea that postmodernism is trying to write “the equivocal autobiography of an age.”(Hassan) While it could be argued that artistic expression at all times is a form of autobiography for the time period of its production, the key word in thinking about postmodernism is “equivocal” ( definition: allowing the possibility of several different meanings.) Postmodernist art lays no claim to being the only truth; it welcomes other truths on equal footing. For me, the idea that there is no single metanarrative about the truth of history or the human condition, but that every story is part of the larger dialogue on a world scale, is liberating. Each piece of postmodern art is perhaps more humble than any work to come out of modernism, and this makes postmodernism more approachable. By rejecting metanarratives of the human condition, it feels more human.
A contrast for me that comes to mind is between the modernist artwork of Picasso (for example Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, oil on canvas, 1907), and the postmodernist work of Adrian Piper (for example her conceptiual/video artwork Cornered, 1988). Not only is the first obvious distinction between these works, namely their different mediums a typical distinction between modern and postmodern art, the content of the Picasso supposes its own universality and the content of the Piper acknowledges equivocal experiences.
Pablo Picasso. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Paris, June-July 1907
Pablo Picasso. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Paris, June-July 1907
From the NY MOMA website

While Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was part of a tradition of experimentation, and perhaps uncertainty in visual and stylistic form, there is a certainty about the presentation of nude women in a brothel scene. Brothel scenes are repeated again and again in modernist art; it is “universal”. But what goes unsaid, or even un-thought, is that the scene is in fact a single very limited perspective, encompassing at most only the perspective of a Europeanheterosexual male. I, as a woman, am uncomfortable with seeing woman pictured as objects and assuming this is showing a universal truth.
Adrian Piper’s video Cornered, is supposed to make the viewer a bit uncomfortable; she even tells you in her performance that you probably are uncomfortable. Her video is framed from the perspective of a black American female. That is no less limited than Picasso’s perspective. But she neither forgets nor hides the limitedness of her perspective. All the numerous assumptions she makes are acknowledged explicitly as assumptions (allowing for the viewer to dispute them). Her piece is a tiny contribution to the “equivocal autobiography of the age”, that self-reflectively knows how tiny it is. That is a classic example of postmodernism.
On a different thought about the readings: Are we really beyond postmodernism? I think one could make the argument that we’ve incorporated the ideas in something like Piper’s direct discussion of racial identity politics, and are applying them now on a further level, but have we really made a break from the philosophical meanings of postmodernism? Isn’t the ideal of non-universality and equivocal meaning still central to society’s thinking?

Jen Lennon

While reading about postmodernism and its semi schizophrenic definitions, the thought that kept popping in my head was, “This sounds an awful lot like my generation.” This is a theory that has to contend with huge leaps in technological and societal advancements; it has to consider the internet and the idea of networks while also noting that although technology growth is rampant, nothing is altogether “new” anymore. Sounds familiar.

Both Jameson and Taylor noted that modernist thinking was an obsession with doing things in new ways. While this manifested itself as more structured settings in architecture, city planning and even the planning of the work day, artists used this construct to make things that referenced the newness of that specific time. Jameson mentioned that the idea of newness essentially died with modernism and the population accepting that there were only a finite number of combinations of original thought, and those had all been taken. So now what? Jameson quoted Marx saying that this notion “weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living” [Jameson, 4].

Hassan clarified this point further by saying, “Perhaps, after all, postmodernism can be ‘defined’ as a continuous inquiry into self-definition.” He continued, “The more interactive the globe, the more populations move, jostle, and grapple –this is the age of diasporas—the more questions of cultural, religious , and personal identity become acute—and sometimes specious. ..You can hear the cry around the world: ‘who are we? Who am I?’” [Hassan].

Image via Washingtonian (Jesse Lenz)

This reminds me of the many articles I’ve read about the Millennials, a generation defined by different birth years depending on who you ask, but basically describing those born between 1980 and the early 2000s. It makes perfect sense that the tenets of postmodernism – networks, globalization, and the internet- would affect the generation born with all of these ideas in motion and recognized from birth. The New York Times article “What is it About Twenty-Somethings?” examines Millennials, now in their 20s, and questions whether this time period should even gain a new sociological label of ‘emerging adulthood’ as a sort of waiting area between adolescence and actual adulthood because twenty-somethings are in a completely different life stage than their parents were at the same age. The networked society leaves a world of possibility and there’s really no reason to conform to a certain timeline of life’s milestones anymore. Instead of going to college, or just entering the work force, and then getting a job, marrying, and having children in swift chronological order, young people have essentially been told they can do what they want. The average age for marriage is older than it was for a Milllennial’s parents. People move back in with their parents after college, or even after graduate school. There are questions of whether all of the opportunity afforded to young people today is actually beneficial or if it leads to a sort of analysis paralysis, but in a less cynical view, it mirrors what theories of postmodernism depict about society. Though it could be argued that some of this has been a part of every generation after the Baby Boomers, the tagline for Millennials may as well be ‘Who am I?’

A networked culture means access to the world at the drop of a dime. If nothing is completely new and we’re referencing the past, in pastiche as Jameson clarifies, trying on a bunch of masks of the past to see what works best leaves a lot of space for experimentation and remix. I would argue that though postmodernism is too late for anything truly new, the innovation of the computer age proves that the remix of all that the past has to offer can be even more unique. But again, this leaves a lot of possibilities and about a million different ways to study both the Millennials and postmodernism. In the recent Washingtonian article “Are Twentysomethings Expecting Too Much?” Hannah Seligson suggests that Millennials have gotten too picky and expect the world from a job: good salary, flexible hours, and a higher feeling of purpose. And while I know my parents scoff at that, it’s worth questioning if this is where postmodern society is heading. With a networked society, we can allow for more flexibility. Certainly the Ford model of the average 9 to 5 and society as a grid that Taylor described is not as evident these days. Perhaps the Millennials are the poster children of postmodernist thought; why can’t we take the best of all of the past models and make something that works for us as individuals? Why can’t we use the benefits of the networks we’re rooted in and use that to answer the “Who am I?” question that Hassan asked?

Jasmine Wee

Art as Life: Postmodernism and Proto-Pop Art

Postmodernism and its related/alternate names—such as “post-postmodernism”, “post-colonialism” and “altermodernity”—are difficult to define, because there is simply no consensus as to what the formal definition of the terms are. Theorists such as Jameson, Kraidy and Hassan offer their definition(s) of postmodernism but are wary to assert their definition as the only correct one. The concept of postmodernism is difficult to grasp, but one trait of postmodernism identified by all theorists is that it is ever shifting yet all-encompassing, “a continuous inquiry into self-definition” (Hassan). Even though we cannot concretely define postmodernism, its imprint is all around us, and is ever more apparent in our contemporary age of globalization. One of the many indicators of a postmodernism age is “the erosion of the older distinction between high culture and so-called mass or popular culture…to the point where the line between high art and commercial forms seems increasingly difficult to draw” (Jameson 14). It is to this point that I will make my inquiry.

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917.

Since the end of World War II, the increasingly consumerist society of America and conflicting theories of Greenbergian Modernism lead to a reaction from the first proto-Pop Artists such as Rauschenberg: reaction against the lofty, “art for art’s sake” ideal of the Abstract Expressionists, and a complete acceptance and embodiment of America’s new-and-shiny yet vulgar, mass-consumer mainstream. Even if the proto-Pop and Pop Artists did not believe in this post-World War America, their works embodied it and, by essentially criticizing and poking fun at themselves, provided ironic commentary on mainstream American culture of the late 1940s to 1960s. Marcel Duchamp, of whom Jameson credits as one of the earliest postmodernist artists, greatly influenced proto-Pop artists in his ‘creation’ of the readymade. By claiming to have created a piece of high art simply by proclaiming it to be so, Duchamp broke centuries of Western art practice, where art had to be produced by the artist himself and had to reflect some qualities of artistic creation. Duchamp made it so that even a mass-produced, machine-manufactured latrine (Fountain, 1917) could be worthy of a museum pedestal. Rauschenberg’s combines are similar to Duchamp’s readymades in that the material was not created by the artist himself but was merely adjusted, juxtaposed and assembled to form the final product. The combines themselves featured any material that interested Rauschenberg, be it Coke bottles, tattered cloth or, in the case of Monogram (1959), a stuffed angora goat girdled with an automobile tire. Jasper Johns’ Painted Bronze (1960) elevated the common beer can into high art by sculpting and painting two beer cans, by hand, in bronze. In contrast to the readymade and combine, even though Painted Bronze was handmade, the subject matter made the artwork controversial. If beer cans can constitute as “art”, how far will the corruption of high art go? (This is a rhetorical question—one just has to look at any Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons to get an idea.) What is important with Rauschenberg’s combines, Johns’ sculptures and other Pop artworks is that they reflected the postmodern mentality: that is, “the stuff of life and the stuff of art are ultimately one and the same” (Kimmelman). Pop Art embraced the mundane and the striking, the cheap and the expensive, the ugly and the beautiful. Pop embraced everything; it embraced life. And in our increasingly “affluent, high-tech, consumer, media-driven societies” (Hassan), it is perhaps only a natural reaction from artists to create works which no longer reflected ideals, but are instead fundamentally rooted in reality itself.

Robert Rauschenberg, Monogram, 1959.
Jasper Johns, Painted Bronze, 1960.


Lin Lu

How to define postmodernism clearly? That’s a question that I come up with after finish readings. Most of the time, we fail to articulate all characteristics of postmodernism but we can sense and experience postmodern phenomenon, postmodern arts, and etc… This common phenomenon is caused by at least two reasons. First, postmodernism, as Hassan depicted, was dedicated to reject master narratives. Rather than consensus with rules and social unity, postmodernism pursued the goal of fragmentation and become more skeptical to convention norms of society, cultures, individualism, and etc… As a result, postmodernism can be recognized as something that is avoiding traditions in some extent and has various presences. The second reason is underlying the first one. Because postmodern productions look quite different from modern ones, we can easily distinguish postmodernism from modernism in some extent. More than that, postmodern productions likely receive more criticism and debates than modern ones. Take postmodern architectures as examples. Harran concluded the definition of postmodern architectures as “mixing aesthetic and historical elements, flirting with fragments, fantasy, and even kitsch.” The new building of Chinese Central Television Station (CCTV), named China Central Television Headquarters, is one of disputed postmodern architectures in China. Unlike conventional architectures, the building used non-orthogonal angles. As Wikipedia described, the building was with “a loop of six horizontal and vertical sections covering 473,000 m (1,552,000 ft) of floor space, creating an irregular grid on the building's facade with an open center.” Because of its unique presence, the building received many critics. For example, some Chinese give it a nickkname dà kùchǎ (大裤衩), roughly translated as, "big boxer shorts”.


How did postmodernism emerge after modernism? I don’t know but I would say that technology plays an important role in accelerating the process of birth of postmodernism. Take photography as an example. Historically, photographer was dedicated to improve techniques in order to enable themselves to better reflect and record the reality. For example, Niépce produced a permanent photograph from nature in 1825. More than that, photographs shifted from black and white to color, which also enhanced abilities to capture a real world. At that time, photography was considered as a empirical way to record reality and most photographs were narrative images. However, things changed in the era of postmodernism. Philippe Halsman was one of the famous postmodern photographers. His photographs showed his proficiency in darkroom and multiple exposures. Rather than depict reality, his photographs seemed to explore inner world of human beings and use techniques to express his creativity and imaginations. For example, Dali Women Skull creatively adopted unique elements to construct an innovative theme. In this photograph, Dali was dressed well and stared somewhere. Halsman put Dali at the bottom left-hand corner. At the top right-hand corner, there was a skull consisted of 7 naked women. What does the photography refer to? Apparently, it does not intend to depict the reality. It tended to provoke people to think about life, death, love, and etc…


Although technology should receive credits for postmodernism, technology also created problems in nowadays pop cultures. As DJ spooky mentioned, digital techniques can be used by anyone who is familiar with computers and software. Songs and melodies are less different than ever before. Everything is remix. Any form of arts including architecture, music, photography, literature, and etc… is not without examples of this phenomenon, called cryptomnesia. “Plagiarized” elements can be found in cultural productions. And I started to think about what would be the next era after postmodernism. .

Yvonne Junya Yuan

When I reminisce about how did the cool sexy and mad term ‘postmodernism’ ever pop out into my life, I am definitely surprised it was at the age of seventeen. The film named The Postmodern Life of My Aunt, starred by Siqin Gaowa and Chow yunfat. In the summer of year 2006, I was immersed in a fantastic, somewhat pathetic and introspective atmosphere after watching this movie. At that time, postmodern or postmodernism is just an obscure phrase in the textbook of History of Western Art in the fading memory. I never expected one's life could be as postmodern as the one Aunt has. Excuse me for not explaining the word into other more plain texts, I have to admit that its definition is never gonna be accurately defined or concluded, even taken for the fact that I’ve meet and studied this term later in my undergraduate courses several times.

Firexternal image 20081215040301937.jpgstly, postmodernism is not a concept about style or tone. Because no matter what kind of style phrase is used to define modernism and postmodernism, people will find it really difficult to tell apart, there is very subtle difference or distinction between them. In other words, the latter is only the intensification or modulation of certain existing features in the former one. Those distinguishing traits raised by Ihab Hassan, such as indetermanence [indeterminacy+immanence] are being casted on doubts nowadays. An production might face the ridiculous fate to be part of modern and part of postmodernism. Take, the literature masterpiece Ulises,for insance, its stream of consciousness section is fallen into the category of modernism, however, its parodies belong to postmodernism. As C.B.Chabot once says, “we lack an adequate and universally accepted understanding of modernism, leading all the debate about the postmodernism become specious and many things in postmodernism’s name are directly derived from modernism.”

Secondly, postmodernism is not a concept referring to a certain time period or an art movement. The culture is not suddenly changing into another status as certain time point, and the postmodernism culture is not disappearing at some fixed date. We are perceiving postmodernism in every aspect of our life, and in different manner, in various stages.

Thirdly, postmodernism is not the social reality of the Western.
I wouldn’t agree that we are stepping into the epoch-making postmodernism era and everything in this time is postmodernized. We could not sentence the death to modernism. As a more neutral human being, I would like to ask question like “ Is the modernism announced a failure?” “ Is everything not defined as modernism belongs to postmodernism?”

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