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Alt.Postmodern FAQ

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See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
Van Piercy
English Dept., Indiana University
Copyr. 1996.  An alt.postmodern FAQ file, Version 1.05

Other places to find this file: 
Anonymous ftp and web sites:


In versions 1.01 through 1.05 most of the changes are cosmetic.  Typos
have been corrected, elements of format have been made more consistent,
the digest streamlined and supplemented, and a few additions made to the
bibliography sections.   Any corrections, errors, bad links, etc., should 
be made known to VPIERCY@INDIANA.EDU.


Some suggestions for changes to this FAQ include: expanding the digest
section to include different threads and voices on the group; a resource
guide for items on the internet that discuss the postmodern; and more
bibliographic sections and short introductory essays on topics closely
associated with ideas about the postmodern, e.g., semiotics,
architecture, fiction, fine arts, etc.  

My gratitude to everyone who has been in e-mail contact with me
discussing this FAQ, its plusses and minuses.  If you'd like to author a
section in this FAQ or have ideas about it contact VPIERCY@INDIANA.EDU.  

1.0  Statement of limited copyright and notice of fair use.
1.01 Latest version changes.
1.02 Future intended changes to this FAQ.
1.1  A discussion of what this FAQ is trying to do and its philosophy for 
	doing it.
2.0  How to find out more about what "postmodern" means.	
2.1  Two basic issues central to many discussions of the postmodern.
2.2  A very short bibliographic essay on Nietzsche, Foucault, Derrida and 
3.0  Three reference work definitions of the postmodern.
4.0  Twenty statements about postmodernism by published authors.
5.0  A short bibliography and note on other bibliographies.  
5.1  Some principal or primary sources.
5.2  General works, anthologies, and secondary sources.
5.3  A list of works on modernity, modernism and the avant-garde.
5.4  A minimal list of writings on postmodernism and its relation to 
	religion, Japan and cyberpunk. 
6.0  A digest of an alt.postmodern newsgroup thread on aestheticism, 
	fascism, futurism, Benjamin, and landscape design.
6.1  Final word.


    This is a "FAQ" (Frequently Asked Questions) file that has few of
the questions in it but tries to enlist many of the various answers. 
It is not exhaustive. 

    A number of users cruising this newsgroup before have asked for a
FAQ file, and while this particular FAQ file cannot hope to be
definitive, it does try to meet that basic, initial need for information
to the most common questions, "What is postmodernism?" "How do I find
out more about it?"

    This FAQ should be of use for research into the question of the
postmodern, and I hope that even experienced students of postmodernism
will find it a serviceable source of reference.  I have tried to include
detailed and accurate information on the bibliographic entries. 

    This file is not meant to be monolithically definitive or singularly
authoritative, nor is it meant to supplant the knowledge or opinions
of others on this group, many of whom might have serious questions or
reservations about elements or assumptions of this file.  This FAQ is
only one person's take on a very broad and evolving field of cultural
dispute, and is offered in a spirit of collegiality and general

    This FAQ can be read at least on three distinct levels each
corresponding to one of its major sections: 1) as a relatively quick
overview of the term "postmodern" as it is found in some standard
reference works; 2) as a bibliography and research aid for the student
of postmodernism, and 3) as an examination of what published and
varyingly "recognized" authorities have to say about the subject in
their own words.  Reading these crystallized statements of what
postmodernism is taken to be by accomplished writers in the field should
introduce a sense of the thematics and semantics, the "language games"
and politics, at play in even attempting to define what the postmodern
is.  For my part, in organizing and selecting the quotations I have
tried to present conservative positions, traditionalist, humanist and
reactionary positions, as well as Nietzschean, progressive, socialist,
feminist and Marxian and neo-Marxian positions on the postmodern.  To my
mind, it is easier for a document of this type to err on the side of
exclusivity and ideological purity than it is to err on the side of
pluralism and report of the variety of serious opinion on the topic. 

    Ideally, there will be future additions to this file, and perhaps
even other FAQ files will be made that compete with this file and
construct the field in different ways.  Imagine a newsgroup with four or
five different, partly overlapping, lengthy FAQ files all ostensibly
covering the same topic (and not just well established or recognized
sub-topics or specialist fields)! I submit that that is a reasonable
possibility in an alt.postmodern newsgroup. 

(Or, "What should I know about this stuff?")

    Either of these is a daunting question.  My answer would
be for you to read this FAQ file, read some of the books listed in this
FAQ file, follow the exchanges on this newsgroup, put questions to the
newsgroup's posters, and, as a productive exercise, find out what
modernism is or is supposed to have been, and what values and
assumptions it championed.  To that end, I've included a bibliographic
section on modernity and the avant-garde to offer some assistance.  Some
especially serious critics of postmodern thought can be found there
(Habermas, Giddens, Taylor, Williams). These writers in particular
insist on the complex and on-going nature of the modernist enterprise
and reject the notion that postmodernism represents any sustained and
substantial break from it.  Readers can further enact for themselves a
similar political and ideological confrontation that can be said to have
occurred in the American context between modernist and postmodernist in
the conjuncture between Lionel Trilling's _The Liberal Imagination_
(Viking 1950) and Susan Sontag's _Against Interpretation_ (Laurel 1969). 

    The opportunity to generate polemic in any discussion of the
postmodern is prodigious.  Keeping an eye on the two following basic
issues can often help orient one to the various politics and agendas
that tend to cloud or obscure different discussions of the postmodern. 
One is the problem of critical distance and the other is a problem of

    1) What is the author's take on the idea that critical distance and
the potential for real objectivity are unattainable?  This question can
be seen at work in both Haraway's comments (see below) about what she
sees as Jameson's main thesis on postmodernism, and in Laclau's mapping
of an "analytic terrain" where the "given" is no longer a viable myth. 
Pejoratively put, this collapse of critical distance is decried as
"aestheticist" or as aestheticizing ideology in many discussions
(Norris).  The usual implication is that the culprits are decadent,
apolitical and dangerously irrational. The historical antecedents
referred to are often Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde's "dandyism" and the
"Art for Art's sake" movement.  Whereas for many differently oriented
commentators those same decriers of aestheticism are often themselves
denounced as totalitarian rationalists, modernists, "mere" moralizers,
reactionaries and unsophisticated know-nothings (Haraway; Giroux). 

    2) The terms postmodern, postmodernity and postmodernism can be seen
to associate or conjure different meanings: the term postmodern is
inclusively ambiguous of what people mean when they talk about issues
that come up in discussions of postmodernity and postmodernism. 
Postmodernity is a sign for contemporary society, for the stage of
technological and economic organization which our society has reached. 
Postmodernism then can be, as Eco says, a "spiritual" category rather
than a discrete period in history; a "style" in the arts and in culture
indebted to ironic and parodic pastiche as well as to a sense of history
now seen less as a story of lineal progression and triumph than as a
story of recurring cycles. 

    Analogously, and only for purposes of illustration, the condition
of modernity is often spoken of as the rapid pace and texture of life
in a society experienced as the result of the industrial revolution
(Berman).  However, modern_ism_ is a movement in culture and the arts
usually identified as a period and style beginning with impressionism as
a break with Realism in the fine arts and in literature.  Prior to
modernism one finds periods and styles associated with other distinct
aesthetic movements, e.g., Romanticism and Realism.  For instance, both
Blake and Balzac, Romantic and Realist representatives respectively,
could be said to have had some experience of modernity, to have lived
during the early stages of the expansion of bourgeois or industrial
capitalism and technology and science, whereas no one thinks of their
respective arts or modes of expression as obviously "modernist."

    Finally, I must emphasize that certain influential figures who
converge in discussions of the postmodern, themselves rarely use the word
"postmodern" and do not describe their theories or discourses in that way. 
Their theories can't be simply reduced to "postmodernism" without
controversy, and yet their arguments are drawn on and criticized very
often in the name of what goes by the "postmodern." The works of Friedrich
Nietzsche, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze are
prevalent in discussions on the postmodern (and this insistent close
association probably explains the oft-remarked failure to distinguish
between post-structuralism and post- modernism). 

    I'd suggest that it is important for following discussions of
postmodern theory to study and know Nietzsche's philosophy and espe-
cially his short essay on history, _On the Advantage and Disadvantage
of History for Life_ (transl. Peter Preuss. Indianapolis: Hackett,
1980).  An acquaintance with the writings of Foucault, Derrida and
Deleuze can be useful.  They have all been profound students or readers
of Nietzsche, part of a "return to Nietzsche" or the "New Nietzsche"
movement in France in the 1960s.  There's a nice collection of
Foucault's writings edited by Paul Rabinow titled _The Foucault Reader_
published by Pantheon Books, 1984. For Derrida, to pick a citation for
him almost at random, see the essay "Differance" in _Margins of
Philosophy_ (transl. Alan Bass. Chicago UP, 1982).  On Deleuze, the best
way into his ideas is to dive into one of his texts and keep going.  The
most rewarding introduction to his work that I've seen is by Brian
Massumi, who translated _Milles Plateaux_, titled _A User's Guide to
Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari_
(MIT Press, 1992).  By no means is this group of suggested readings
intended to be limiting or exhaustive.  I am only pointing out what seem
particularly plausible or telling routes of entry into these writers'


Here are three published definitions from "standard" reference
works (cross-references are cited below in the FAQ bibliography section):

(A) "Post-modernism[:] The break away from 19th-century values is often
classified as modernism and carries the connotations of transgression
and rebellion.  However, the last twenty years has seen a change in this
attitude towards focussing upon a series of unresolvable philosophical
and social debates, such as race, gender and class.  Rather than
challenging and destroying cultural definitions, as does modernism,
post-modernism resists the very idea of boundaries.  It regards
distinctions as undesirable and even impossible, so that an almost
Utopian world, free from all constraints, becomes possible. 
    "It must be realized though, that post-modernism has many
interpretations and that no single definition is adequate.  Different
disciplines have participated in the post-modernist movement in
varying ways, for example, in architecture traditional limits have
become indistinguishable, so that what is commonly on the outside of a
building is placed within, and vice versa.  In literature, writers adopt
a self-conscious intertextuality sometimes verging on pastiche, which
denies the formal propriety of authorship and genre.  In commercial
terms post-modernism may be seen as part of the growth of consumer
capitalism into multinational and technological identity. 
    "Its all-embracing nature thus makes post-modernism as relevant to
street events as to the *avant garde*, and as such is one of the major
focal points in the emergence of interdisciplinary and cultural
Marion Wynne-Davies.  First Prentice Hall edition, copyright 1990 by
Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd. 812-13)

(B) "Postmodernism and postmodernity[,] a cultural and ideological
configuration variously defined, with different aspects of the general
phenomenon emphasized by different theorists, postmodernity is seen as
involving an end of the dominance of an overarching belief in scientific
rationality and a unitary theory of PROGRESS, the replacement of
empiricist theories of representation and TRUTH, and increased
emphasis on the importance of the unconscious, on free-floating signs
and images, and a plurality of viewpoints.  Associated also with the
idea of a postindustrial age (compare POSTINDUSTRIAL SOCIETY [Daniel
Bell]), theorists such as BAUDRILLARD (1983) and Lyotard (1984) make
central to postmodernity a shift from a `productive' to a `reproductive'
social order, in which simulations and models--and more generally,
signs--increasingly constitute the world, so that any distinction
between the appearance and the `real' is lost. Lyotard, for example,
speaks especially of the replacement of any *grand narrative* [les
grands recits] by more local `accounts' of reality as distinctive of
postmodernism and postmodernity. Baudrillard talks of the `triumph of
signifying culture.' Capturing the new orientation characteristic of
postmodernism, compared with portrayals of modernity as an era or a
definite period, the advent of postmodernity is often presented as a
`mood' or `state of mind' (see Featherstone, 1988).  If modernism as a
movement in literature and the arts is also distinguished by its
rejection of an emphasis on representation, postmodernism carries this
movement a stage further.  Another feature of postmodernism seen by
some theorists is that the boundaries between `high' and `low' culture
tend to be broken down, for example, motion pictures, jazz, and rock
music (see Lash, 1990).  According to many theorists, postmodernist
cultural movements, which often overlap with new political tendencies
and social movements in contemporary society, are particularly
associated with the increasing importance of new class fractions, for
example, `expressive professions' within the service class (see Lash and
Urry, 1987)." (David Jary and Julia Jary. eds. THE HARPER COLLINS
DICTIONARY OF SOCIOLOGY.  New York: HarperCollins, 1991. 375-6)

(C) "Postmodernism[:] A portmanteau term encompassing a variety of
developments in intellectual culture, the arts and the fashion industry
in the 1970s and 1980s.  Among the characteristic gestures of
postmodernist thinking is a refusal of the `totalizing' or
`essentialist' tendencies of earlier theoretical systems, especially
classic Marxism, with their claims to referential truth, scientificity,
and belief in progress.  Postmodernism, on the contrary, is committed to
modes of thinking and representation which emphasize fragmentations,
discontinuities and incommensurable aspects of a given object, from
intellectual systems to architecture. 
    "Postmodernist analysis is often marked by forms of writing that are
more literary, certainly more self-reflexive, than is common in critical
writing - the critic as self-conscious creator of new meanings upon the
ground of the object of study, showing that object no special respect. 
It prefers montage to perspective, intertextuality to referentiality,
`bits-as-bits' to unified totalities.  It delights in excess, play,
carnival, asymmetry, even mess, and in the emancipation of meanings
>from  their bondage to mere lumpenreality. 
    Theorists of postmodernism include Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Deleuze
and Felix Guattari, Fredric Jameson, Paul Virilio, Dick Hebdige,
Jean-Francois Lyotard, among others; a list whose maleness has not
gone unnoticed (see Propyn 1987), but which may immediately be countered
by reading the exemplary essay by Meaghan Morris (1988) which moves
easily among postmodernism's sense of multiple mobilities, bodily,
temporal and textual, without ever claiming postmodernist status for
itself." (Tim O'Sullivan, John Hartley, Danny Saunders, Martin
Montgomery and John Fisk. eds. KEY CONCEPTS IN COMMUNICATION AND
CULTURAL STUDIES. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 1994. 234-4)

{4.0} PASSAGES FROM FREQUENTLY (and not so frequently) CITED COM-
statements on the postmodern)


(1) "The case for its [postmodernism's] existence depends on the
hypothesis of some radical break or *coupure*, generally traced
back to the end of the 1950s or the early 1960s.
    "As the word itself suggests, this break is most often related
to notions of the waning or extinction of the hundred-year-old
modern movement (or to its ideological or aesthetic repudiation).
Thus abstract expressionism in painting, existentialism in
philosophy, the final forms of representation in the novel, the
films of the great *auteurs*, or the modernist school of poetry
(as institutionalized and canonized in the works of Wallace
Stevens) all are now seen as the final, extraordinary flowering
of a high-modernist impulse which is spent and exhausted with
them.  The enumeration of what follows, then, at once becomes
empirical, chaotic, and heterogeneous: Andy Warhol and pop art,
but also photorealism, and beyond it, the `new expressionism'; the
moment, in music, of John Cage, but also the synthesis of classi-
cal and `popular' styles found in composers like Phil Glass and
Terry Riley, and also punk and new wave rock (the Beatles and the
Stones now standing as the high-modernist moment of that more
recent and rapidly evolving tradition); in film, Godard, post-
Godard, and experimental cinema and video, but also a whole new
type of commercial film...; Burroughs, Pynchon, or Ishmael Reed,
on the one hand, and the French *nouveau roman* and its succes-
sion, on the other, along with alarming new kinds of literary
criticism based on some new aesthetic of textuality or *ecri-
ture*... The list might be extended indefinitely; but does it
imply any more fundamental change or break than the periodic
style and fashion changes determined by an older high-modernist
imperative of stylistic innovation?" (Jameson 1-2)


(2) "For many theorists occupying various positions on the
political spectrum, the current historical moment signals less a
need to come to grips with the new forms of knowledge, experi-
ences, and conditions that constitute postmodernism than the
necessity to write its obituary. The signs of exhaustion are in
part measured by the fact that postmodernism has gripped two gen-
erations of intellectuals who have pondered endlessly over its
meaning and implications as a `social condition and cultural
movement' (Jencks 10). The `postmodern debate' has spurned little
consensus and a great deal of confusion and animosity. The themes
are, by now, well known: master narratives and traditions of
knowledge grounded in first principles are spurned; philosophical
principles of canonicity and the notion of the sacred have become
suspect; epistemic certainty and the fixed boundaries of
academic knowledge have been challenged by a `war on totality'
and a disavowal of all-encompassing, single, world-views; rigid
distinctions between high and low culture have been rejected by
insistence that the products of the so-called mass culture, popu-
lar, and folk art forms are proper objects of study; the
Enlightenment correspondence between history and progress and the
modernist faith in rationality, science, and freedom have
incurred a deep-rooted skepticism; the fixed and unified identity
of the humanist subject has been replaced by a call for narrative
space that is pluralized and fluid; and, finally, though far from
complete, history is spurned as a unilinear process that moves
the West progressively toward a final realization of freedom.
While these and other issues have become central to the post-
modern debate, they are connected through the challenges and
provocations they provide to modernity's conception of history,
agency, representation, culture, and the responsibility of
intellectuals. The postmodern challenge constitutes not only a
diverse body of cultural criticism, it must also be seen as a
contextual discourse that has challenged specific disciplinary
boundaries in such fields as literary studies, geography, educa-
tion, architecture, feminism, performance art, anthropology,
sociology, and many other areas.  Given its broad theoretical
reach, its political anarchism, and its challenge to `legislat-
ing' intellectuals, it is not surprising that there has been a
growing movement on the part of diverse critics to distance them-
selves from postmodernism." (Giroux 1-2)


(3) "A provocative, comprehensive argument about the politics and
theories of `postmodernism' is made by Fredric Jameson (1984),
who argues that postmodernism is not an option, a style among
others, but a cultural dominant requiring radical reinvention of
left politics from within; there is no longer any place from
without that gives meaning to the comforting fiction of critical
distance.  Jameson also makes clear why one cannot be for or
against postmodernism, an essentially moralist move.  My position
is that feminists (and others) need continuous cultural reinven-
tion, postmodernist critique, and historical materialsm; only a
cyborg would have a chance.  The old dominations of white capi-
talist patriarchy seem nostalgically innocent now: they normal-
ized heterogeneity, into man and woman, white and black, for
example.  `Advanced capitalism' and postmodernism release
heterogeneity without a norm, and we are flattened, without sub-
jectivity, which requires depth, even unfriendly and drowning
depths." (Donna Haraway. _Simians, Cyborgs, and Women_. New York:
Routledge, 1991. 244-5, n4.)


(4) "The spectacle is the moment when the commodity has attained
the *total occupation* of social life.  Not only is the relation
to the commodity visible but it is all one sees: the world one
sees is its world.  Modern economic production extends the dic-
tatorship extensively and intensively.  In the least industri-
alized places, its reign is already attested by a few star com-
modities and by the imperialist domination imposed by regions
which are ahead in the development of productivity.  In the
advanced regions, social space is invaded by a continuous super-
imposition of geological layers of commodities.  At this point in
the `second industrial revolution,' alienated consumption becomes
for the masses a duty supplementary to alienated production.  It
is *all the sold labor* of a society which globally becomes the
*total commodity* for which the cycle must be continued.  For
this to be done, the total commodity has to return as a fragment
to the fragmented individual, absolutely separated from the pro-
ductive forces operating as a whole.  Thus it is here that the
specialized science of domination must in turn specialize: it
fragments itself into sociology, psycho-technics, cybernetics,
semiology, etc., watching over the self-regulation of every level
of the process." (Debord 1977, paragraph 42)


(5) "The frenzied expansion of the mass media [is a mark of our
postmodernity and] has political consequences which are not so
wholly negative.  This becomes most apparent when we look at rep-
resentations of the Third World.  No longer can this be confined
to the realist documentary, or the exotic televisual voyage.  The
Third World refuses now, to `us,' in the West, to be reassuringly
out of sight.  It is as adept at using the global media as the
old colonialist powers." (Angela McRobbie, "Postmodernism and
Popular Culture," in _Postmodernism: ICA documents_. Ed. Lisa
Appignanesi.  London: FAB, 1989.  169.)


(6) "Postmodernism questions the efficacy of strategies of trans-
formation associated with autonomy, declaring that modernism
inexorably reaches a dead end.  The modernist hope and belief
that intellectuals can occupy a space outside capitalist society
is not only illusionary but also artistically and politically
sterile.  The purity of the alienated artist forecloses his [sic]
access to the energies and disputes that are lived within the
culture, while also severing his connection to any audience
beyond the purlieu of the artistic elite.  The modernist places
himself high and dry.  Mass or popular culture inevitably springs
up to fill the vacuum created by the elitist artists' divorce
>from  a wide audience.  By following the path of its own aesthetic
revolution and its fetishistically precious values, modern art
distances itself from any social group large enough, central
enough, or powerful enough to effect a social revolution.  Post-
modernism must entirely rethink the relation of intellectuals to
the rest of society.  A model of engagement must replace the
model of alienation...." (McGowan 25)


(7) "What I want to call postmodernism in fiction paradoxically
uses and abuses the conventions of both realism and modernism,
and does so in order to challenge their transparency, in order to
prevent glossing over the contradictions that make the postmodern
what it is: historical and metafictional, contextual and self-
reflexive, ever aware of its status as discourse, as a human con-
struct." (Hutcheon 1988, 53)


(8) "Postmodernism is the somewhat weasel word now being used to
describe the garbled situation of art in the '80s.  It is a term
which nobody quite fully understands, because no clear-cut
definition of it has yet been put forward.  Its use arose
synonymously with that of pluralism toward the end of the '70s,
and at that point it referred to the loss of faith in a stylistic
mainstream, as if the whole history of styles had suddenly come
unstuck.  Since then, under the more recent umbrella of Neo-
expressionism, the old stylistic divisions now mix, blend, and
alternate interchangeably with each other: dogmatism and exclu-
sivity have given way to openness and coexistence.  Pluralism
abolishes controls; it gives the impression that everything is
permitted.  Meeting with no limitation, the artist is free to
express himself in whatever way he wishes.
    "If modernism was ideological at heart--full of strenuous dic-
tates about what art could, and could not, be--postmodernism is
much more eclectic, able to assimilate, and even plunder, all
forms of style and genre and circumstance, and tolerant of multi-
plicity and conflicting values." (Gablik 73)


(9) "Simplifying to the extreme, I define *postmodern* as
incredulity toward metanarratives." (Lyotard 1984, xxiv)


(10) "Lyotard explains the necessity of thinking in `open
systems' without internal unity on the basis of the disintegra-
tion of the possibility of maintaining a universal metalanguage.
This possibility presupposes that the individual language games
through which we perspectively live our Being-in-the-world can be
gone beyond by some sort of speech that itself is not relative.
Such nonrelative speech, for its part, presupposes an authority
that modern metaphysics conceives as `the Absolute.'  If it can
be demonstrated--and Derrida has shown this more clearly than
Lyotard--that the thought of the Absolute itself cannot escape
the `structurality of structure,' then one can no longer lay
claim to a transhistorical frame of orientation beyond linguistic
differentiality.  Systems without internal unity and without
absolute center become the inescapable condition of our *Dasein*
and our orientation in the world." (Manfred Frank. _What is
Neostructuralism?_. Trans. Sabine Wilke and Richard Gray. Min-
neapolis: U of Minn. Press, 1989.  Transl. of _Was ist Neostruk-
turalismus?_. 1984.)


(11) "The postmodern would be that which, in the modern, puts
forward the unpresentable in presentation itself; that which
denies itself the solace of good forms, the consensus of taste
which would make it possible to share collectively the nostalgia
for the unattainable; that which searches for new presentations,
not in order to enjoy them but in order to impart a stronger
sense of the unpresentable.  A postmodern artist or writer is in
the position of a philosopher: the text he writes, the work he
produces are not in principle governed by preestablished rules,
and they cannot be judged according to a determining judgment, by
applying familiar categories to the text or to the work.  Those
rules and categories are what the work of art itself is looking
for.  The artist and the writer, then, are working without rules
in order to formulate the rules of what *will have been done*.
Hence the fact that work and text have the characters of an
*event*; hence also, they always come too late for their author,
or, what amounts to the same thing, their being put into work,
their realization (*mise en oeuvre*) always begin too soon.
*Post modern* would have to be understood according to the
paradox of the future (*post*) anterior (*modo*)." (Lyotard 1984,


(12) "The unity of all that allows itself to be attempted today
through the most diverse concepts of science and of writing, is,
in principle, more or less covertly yet always, determined by an
historico-metaphysical epoch of which we merely glimpse the
*closure*.  I do not say the *end*. [...]
    "Perhaps patient meditation and painstaking investigation on
and around what is still provisionally called writing, far from
falling short of a science of writing or of hastily dismissing it
by some obscurantist reaction, letting it rather develop its
positivity as far as possible, are the wanderings of a way of
thinking that is faithful and attentive to the ineluctable world
of the future which proclaims itself at present, beyond the
closure of knowledge.
    "The future can only be anticipated in the form of an absolute
danger.  It is that which breaks absolutely with constituted
normality and can only be proclaimed, *presented*, as a sort of
monstrosity.  For that future world and for that within it which
will have put into question the values of sign, word, and writ-
ing, for that which guides our future anterior, there is as yet
no exergue." (Jacques Derrida, from the "Exergue" to _Of Gram-
matology_. Trans. G. C. Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1974,
1976. 4-5. Transl. of _De la Grammatologie_. 1967.)  (Note:
"Exergue (ig-zurg), n. the small space beneath the principal
design on a coin or medal for the insertion of a date, etc."
_Websters_, Pocket Books-Simon & Schuster, 1990.)


(13) "Postmodernity does not imply a *change* in the values of
Enlightenment modernity but rather a particular weakening of
their absolutist character.  It is therefore necessary to delimit
an analytic terrain from whose standpoint this weakening is
thinkable and definable.  This terrain is neither arbitrary nor
freely accessible to the imagination, but on the contrary it is
the historical sedimentation of a set of traditions whose common
denominator is the collapse of the immediacy of the *given*.  We
may thus propose that the intellectual history of the twentieth
century was constituted on the basis of three illusions of
immediacy (the referent, the phenomenon, and the sign) that gave
rise to the three intellectual traditions of analytical
philosophy, phenomenology, and structuralism.  The crisis of that
illusion of immediacy did not, however, result solely from the
abandonment of those categories but rather from a weakening of
their aspirations to constitute full presences and from the ensu-
ing proliferation of language-games which it was possible to
develop around them.  This crisis of the absolutist pretensions
of `the immediate' is a fitting starting point for engaging those
intellectual operations that characterize the specific
`weakening' we call postmodernity." (Ernesto Laclau, "Politics
and the Limits of Modernity," in Docherty, op cit., 332).


(14) "Perhaps the clearest formulation of the difference of post-
modern invention from modernist innovation comes in _The Post-
modern Condition_, where Lyotard distinguishes the *paralogism*
that characterizes pagan or postmodern aesthetic invention from
the merely *innovative* function of art that is characteristic of
the modernist understanding of the avant-garde.  Innovation seeks
to make a new move with the rules of the language game `art', so
as to revivify the truth of art.  Paralogism seeks the move that
will displace the rules of the game, the `impossible' or
unforeseeable move.  Innovation refines the efficiency of the
system, whereas the paralogical move changes the rules in the
pragmatics of knowledge.  It may well be the fate of a paralogi-
cal move to be reduced to innovation as the system adapts itself
(one can read Picasso this way), but this is not the necessary
outcome.  The invention may produce more inventions.  Roughly
speaking, the condition of art is postmodern or paralogical when
it both is and is not art at the same time (e.g., Sherri Levine's
appropriative rephotographings of `art photography')." (Bill
Readings. _Introducing Lyotard: Art and Politics_. New York:
Routledge, 1991. 73-4)


(15) "Postmodern architecture finds itself condemned to undertake
a series of minor modifications in a space inherited from modern-
ity, condemned to abandon a global reconstruction of the space of
human habitation.  The perspective then opens onto a vast
landscape, in the sense that there is no longer any horizon of
universality, universalization, or general emancipation to greet
the eye of postmodern man, least of all the eye of the architect.
The disappearance of the Idea that rationality and freedom are
progressing would explain a `tone,' style, or mode specific to
postmodern architecture.  I would say it is a sort of
`bricolage': the multiple quotation of elements taken from ear-
lier styles or periods, classical and modern; disregard for the
environment; and so on." (Lyotard 1993, 76)


(16) "There is ... a wholesale espousal of aesthetic ideology in
the name of `postmodernism' and its claim to have moved way
beyond the old dispensation of truth, critique, and suchlike
enlightenment values.  Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this
current intellectual scene is the extent to which fashionable
`left' alternatives (like the ideas canvassed in MARXISM TODAY)
have set about incorporating large chunks of the Thatcherite
cultural and socio-political agenda while talking portentously of
`New Times' and claiming support from postmodernist gurus like
Baudrillard.  For we have now lived on - so these thinkers urge -
into an epoch of pervasive `hyperreality', an age of mass-media
simulation, opinion-poll feedback, total publicity and so forth,
with the result that it is no longer possible (if indeed it ever
was) to distinguish truth from falsehood, or to cling to those
old `enlightenment' values of reason, critique, and adequate
ideas.  Reality just *is* what we are currently given to make of
it by these various forms of seductive illusion. In fact we might
as well give up using such terms, since they tend to suggest that
there is still some genuine distinction to be drawn between truth
and untruth, `science' and `ideology', knowledge and what is pre-
sently `good in the way of belief'.  On the contrary, says
Baudrillard: if there is one thing we should have learned by now
it is the total obsolescence of all such ideas, along with the
enlightenment meta-narrative myths - whether Kantian-liberal,
Hegelian, Marxist or whatever - that once underwrote their
delusive claims.  What confronts us now is an order of pure
`simulacra' which no longer needs to disguise or dissimulate the
absence of any final truth-behind-appearances." (Norris 1990;


(17) "I begin with what appears to be the most startling fact
about postmodernism: its total acceptance of the ephemerality,
fragmentation, discontinuity, and the chaotic that formed the one
half of Baudelaire's conception of modernity.  But postmodernism
responds to the fact of that in a very particular way.  It does
not try to transcend it, counteract it, or even to define the
`eternal and immutable' elements that lie within it.  Post-
modernism swims, even wallows, in the fragmentary and the chaotic
currents of change as if that is all there is.  Foucault [in the
"Preface" to Deleuze and Guattari's _Anti-Oedipus_ (U of Minn.
Press, 1983. xiii)] instructs us, for example, to `develop
actions, thought, and desires by proliferation, juxtaposition,
and disjunction,' and `to prefer what is positive and multiple,
difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrange-
ments over systems.  Believe that what is productive is not
sedentary but nomadic.'  To the degree that it does try to legit-
imate itself by reference to the past, therefore, postmodernism
typically harks back to that wing of thought, Nietzsche in par-
ticular, that emphasizes the deep chaos of modern life and its
intractability before rational thought.  This does not imply,
however, that postmodernism is simply a version of modernism;
real revolutions in sensibility can occur when latent and
dominated ideas in one period become explicit and dominant in
another.  Nevertheless, the continuity of the condition of frag-
mentation, ephemerality, discontinuity, and chaotic change in
both modernist and postmodernist thought is important." (Harvey


(18) "Postmodernism, then, is a mode of consciousness (and *not*,
it should be emphasized, a historical period) that is highly
suspicious of the belief in shared speech, shared values, and
shared perceptions that some would like to believe form our cul-
ture but which in fact may be no more than empty, if necessary,
fictions." (Olsen 143)


(19) "The point is that there *are* new standards, new standards
of beauty and style and taste.  The new sensibility is defiantly
pluralistic; it is dedicated both to an excruciating seriousness
and to fun and wit and nostalgia.  It is also extremely history-
conscious; and the voracity of its enthusiasms (and of the super-
cession of these enthusiasms) is very high-speed and hectic.
>From  the vantage point of this new sensibility, the beauty of the
machine or of the solution to a mathematical problem, of a paint-
ing by Jasper Johns, of a film by Jean-Luc Godard, and of the
personalities and music of the Beatles is equally accessible."
(Sontag 304)


(20) "All my life I have worked to establish distinctions with
the areas covered by umbrella-terms such as iconism, code,
presupposition, etc.  Naturally I am intrigued by the term
`postmodern.'  It is my impression that it is applied these days
to everything the speaker approves of.  On the other hand, there
seems to be an attempt to move it backwards in time; first it
seemed to suit writers or artists active in the last twenty
years, then gradually it was moved back to the beginning of the
century, then even further back, and the march goes on; before
long Homer himself will be considered postmodern.
    But I believe that this tendency is to some extent justified.
I agree with those who consider postmodern not a chronologically
circumscribed tendency but a spiritual category, or better yet a
*Kunstwollen* (a Will-to-Art), perhaps a stylistic device and/or
a world view.  We could say that every age has its own post-
modern, just as every age has its own form of mannerism (in fact,
I wonder if postmodern is not simply the modern name for
*Manierismus*...).  I believe that every age reaches moments of
crisis like those described by Nietzsche in the second of the
_Untimely Considerations_, on the harmfulness of the study of
history.  The sense that the past is restricting, smothering,
blackmailing us." (Umberto Eco, "A Correspondence on Post-
modernism" with Stefano Rosso in Hoesterey, op cit., pp. 242-3)


    Note: There is a huge and growing literature on postmodernism.  This
bibliography is selective and reflects the author's own interests and
background.  It is more devoted to cultural theory and philosophy than
to fiction and the arts generally, though see Ferguson and Gablik for
extended interviews and discussions on the fine arts and performance
arts, and see Venturi and Portoghesi on architecture.  For the relations
between postmodernism and science, I suggest that there are worse places
to start than the works of Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, Bruno Latour,
Michel Serres, Katherine Hayles, Gregory Bateson and Donna Haraway.  For
a good review of Latour see especially an essay by Robert Koch, "The
Case of Latour" in _Configurations_ V. 3 No. 3, Fall 1995.
      One of the most extensive bibliographies on postmodernism
available, though only for material published prior to 1989, is in
Connor (cited below).  Other useful bibliographies are in Hutcheon
(1989; see especially the "Concluding Note: Some Directed Reading,"
169-70) and Docherty, which offers more recent information (1993). 
	Some people have asked for a section on performance theory and
I'd be glad to oblige anyone who wants to put one together and have it
attributed to them in this FAQ.  If you're waiting for me to do it, it
will be some time.  It will require coverage of popular culture studies,
media studies, video art, drama and music--you get the picture.  


Baudrillard, Jean. _Simulations_. New York: Semiotext(e), 1983.

Debord, Guy. _Society of the Spectacle_. English Transl. 1970.
Rev. Transl. Detroit: Black & Red, 1977.  Rpt. 1983. Transl. of
_La societe du spectacle_. 1967.

---. _Comments on the Society of the Spectacle_.  Transl. Malcolm
Imrie.  London: Verso, 1990.  Transl. of _La Societe du spec-
tacle_. 1988.

Jameson, Fredric. _Postmodernism or, The Cultural Logic of Late
Capitalism_. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1991.

Lyotard, Jean-Francois.  _The Postmodern Condition: A Report on
Knowledge_.  Transl. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Foreword
by Fredric Jameson. Minneapolis: U of Minn. Press, 1984. Transl.
of _La Condition postmoderne: rapport sur le savoir_. 1979.

---. _The Postmodern Explained: Correspondence 1982-1985_. Ed.
Julian Pefanis and Morgan Thomas. Transls. by Don Barry,
Bernadette Maher, Julian Pefanis, Virginia Spate, and Morgan
Thomas. Afterword by Wlad Gozich.  Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota
Press, 1993. Transl. of _Le Postmoderne explique aux enfants_.

Portoghesi, Pier Paolo. _Aftern Modern Architecture_. New York:
Rizzoli, 1982.

Vattimo, Gianni.  _The Transparent Society_. Transl. David Webb.
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1992. Transl. of _La societa
trasparente_. 1989.

Venturi, Robert, and Denise Scott and Steven Izenor. _Learning
>from  Las Vegas_. 1972. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1977.


Appignanesi, Lisa, ed. _Postmodernism: ICA documents_. London:
Free Association Books, 1989.

Best, Steven, and Douglas Kellner.  _Postmodern Theory: Critical
Interrogations_.  New York: Guilford Press, 1991.

Connor, Steven. _Postmodernist Culture: An Introduction to
Theories of the Contemporary_. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989.

Docherty, Thomas. ed. _Postmodernism: a reader_. New York: Colum-
bia UP, 1993.

Elam, Diane. _Romancing the Postmodern_. New York: Routledge,

Featherston, M., ed. _Postmodernism_ London: SAGE, 1988.

Ferguson, Russell, et al., eds.  _Discourses: Conversations in
Postmodern Art and Culture_.  Cambridge: MIT Press; New York: The
New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1990.

Foster, Hal, ed. _The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern
Culture_. Seatle, WA: Bay Press, 1985.

Foster, Hal. _Recodings: Art, Spectacle, Cultural Politics_.
Seatle, WA: Bay Press, 1985.

Foster, Stephen William. "Symbolism and the Problematics of Postmodern
Representation," _Victor Turner and the Construction of Cultural
Criticism_. Ed. Kathleen M. Ashley. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990. 

Giroux, Henry A. "Slacking Off: Border Youth and Postmodern
Education." JAC ISSUE 14.2 FALL 1994.

Harvey, David. _The Condition of Postmodernity_.  Oxford: Basil
Blackwell, 1989.

Hoesterey, Ingeborg, ed. _Zeitgeist in Babel: The Postmodernist
Controversy_. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1991.

Hutcheon, Linda. _The Politics of Postmodernism_. New York: Rout-
ledge, 1989.

---.  _A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction_.
New York: Routledge, 1988.

Huyssen, Andreas. _After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Cul-
ture, Postmodernism_. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press,

Jencks, Charles. "The Postmodern Agenda," in _The Postmodern
Reader_. Ed. Charles Jencks.  New York: St. Martin's, 1992. 10-

Lash, Scott. _The Sociology of Postmodernism._ New York: Rout-
ledge, 1990.

McGowan, John.  _Postmodernism and Its Critics_.  Ithaca: Cornell
UP, 1991.

Morris, Meaghan. "At Henry Parkes Motel," _Cultural Studies_
(1988) 2:1-47

Norris, Christopher. _What's Wrong with Postmodernism?_.
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1990.

---. _The Truth about Postmodernism_. London: Blackwell, 1993.

Palmer, Richard.  "The Postmodernity of Heidegger," _Martin Heidegger and
the Question of Literature: Toward a Postmodern Literary Hermeneutics_. 
Ed. William V. Spanos.  Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1979.  71-92. 

Probyn, E. "Bodies and anti-bodies: feminism and postmodernism,"
_Cultural Studies_ (1987) 1:3, 349-60.

Rowe, John Carlos.  "Postmodernist Studies," _Redrawing the Boundaries_.
Eds. Stephen Greenblatt and Giles Gunn. New York: Modern Language
Association, 1992.  179-208.  Contains a short annotated bibliography. 

Squires, Judith. _Principled Positions: Postmodernism and the
Rediscovery of Value_.  London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1993.

Zavarzadeh, Mas'ud and Donald Morton.  _Theory, (Post)Modernity,
Opposition: An "Other" Introduction to Literary and Cultural
Theory_. Washington, D.C.: Masionneuve Press, 1991.


Berman, Marshall.  _All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experi-
ence of Modernity_.  NY: Viking-Penguin, 1982. New Pref. 1988.

Bradbury, Malcolm, and James McFarlane, eds. _Modernism: A Guide
to European Literature, 1890-1930_.  1976.  New Preface. New
York: Penguin Books, 1991.

Burger, Peter. _The Theory of the Avant-Garde_. Transl. Michael
Shaw. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1984.  Transl. of
_Theorie der Avantgarde_. 1974.

Calinescu, Matei. _Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-
Garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism_. 1977. Rev. ed. Durham,
NC: Duke UP, 1987.

Eysteinsson, Astradur. _The Concept of Modernism_. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1990.

Faulkner, Peter. _Modernism_. London: Methuen, 1977.

Gablik, Susan.  _Has Modernism Failed?_.  London: Thames and Hudson,

Giddens, Anthony. _Modernity and Self Identity_.  Oxford: Polity Press,

Habermas, Jurgen. _The Philosphical Discourse of Modernity:
Twelve Lectures_.  Transl. Frederick G. Lawrence. Cambridge, MA:
MIT Press, 1987.  Transl. of _Der philosophische Diskurs der Moderne: 
Zwolf Vorlesungen_. 1985.

Naremore, James, and Patrick Brantlinger. _Modernity and Mass
Culture_. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1991.

Perloff, Margorie.  "Modernist Studies," _Redrawing the Boundaries_. 
Eds. Stephen Greenblatt and Giles Gunn.  New York: Modern Language
Association, 1992.  154-78.  Contains a short annotated bibliography. 

Taylor, Charles. _Sources of the Self_. Cambridge: Harvard UP,

Williams, Raymond. _The Politics of Modernism: Against the New
Conformists_. London: Verso, 1989.


Smith, Huston. _Beyond the Post-Modern Mind_. 1982. New York:
Crossroad Publishing; Wheaton, IL: Quest-Theosophical Publishing
House, 1984.


Miyoshi, Masao and H. D. Harootunian, eds. _Postmodernism and
Japan_.  Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1989.


Olsen, Lance.  "Cyberpunk and the Crisis of Postmodernity," in
_Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of Narrative_. Eds.
George Slusser and Tom Shippey. Athens, GA: U of Georgia Press,
1992. 142-152.


(Contributors: Omar Haneef, Mark Weinles, Gordon Fitch, David F. Black,
Michael McGee, N.S. "Cris" Brown, PRJHC@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU, Andy Perry, 
Allan Liska and Gene Angelcyk)



From: (Omar Haneef
Re: aesthetics and contemporary culture
Date: Thu Feb 09 01:02:31 EST 1995

david black f ( wrote:
>       An unfortunate condition of contemporary culture is the
> aestheticization of experience--where images and aesthetic
criteria for
> interpreting those images come to dominate public life. This
> has a history.

        Unfortunate? What you proncounce the "aestheticization of
experience" is really the end of logocentricism. The word is
dead, long live the image. The reasons probably have a lot to do
with saturation of information and the way pictures carry more
information than words. The written word became very important
when the printing press was estabilished because monks carried
around the medieval equivelant of powerbooks with more informa-
tion then anyone could carry in their heads and the elite proba-
bly enjoyed their exclusive ability to read. Now everybody reads,
there is more information "in the ether" then we can handle and
images are cheaply and easily recreated just like words. Welcome
to the era of the image. Why is this unfortunate? This might be
slightly more democratic since we all decode images at roughly
the same rate and the word is so huge and pretentious that it,
perhaps, deserves to die. The "kill your TV" anxiety that you
seemed to be faced with is a hiccup of Leavisism and his mass
cultural fear which probably dates back to the French Revolu-
tion's fear of the masses. You are not alone, there are proabably
plenty of others who agree with you "Amusing Ourselves to Death"
- Neil Postman is a recent example of this line of thinking.

>       If modernity meant that the aesthetic category was sepa-
rated from
> moral (ethics) and practical (logic) reason (the breakdown of
the unified
> sensibility that T.S. Eliot mourned), the postmodern has seen
the revenge
> of the aesthetic, as a culture of images, spectacle and simula-
tion has
> subsumed the other two fundamental elements in human
sensibility. The
> aesthetic has become the dominant element in contemporary cul-
ture, and the
> difficult business of making value choices reduced to who or
what looks
> good.

        But postmodernity called me up yesterday and explained to
me that it has collapsed these distinctions. The moral, the
aesthetic and the practical are ONE. Pomo does not revel in the
aesthetic, it revels in all three.

>       The revenge of the aesthetic can be dated at least to
> of the early 20th century artistic modernisms. The example of
> Futurists--under their leader and muse, Marinetti--is instruc-
tive. In
> offering this example, of course, I am indebted to Walter Ben-
> famous analysis of fascist aesthetics in his essay "Art in the
Age of
> Mechanical Reproduction." Susan Sontag has also written on the
> topic--with reference to Hitler's filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl--
in her
> Under the Sign of Saturn, an essay entitled "Fascinating Fas-
>       Not for nothing did Futurism enjoy special patronage in
> Mussolini's fascism regime. For although direct collaboration
> Futurism and Fascism was limited, Futurism offered an ideology
of use to
> Fascism.  Notably, it allowed politics--normally the place
where ethics
> and logic are brought to bear on human reality--to be
aestheticized. In
> celebrating speed, machines, the annihilation of history,
danger and
> energy, the group of Italian artists, writers, and thespians
> as "Futurists" offered myths, images, slogans and other
ideological props
> for a fledgling Italian Fascist system.
>       The Futurists' oft-quoted slogan from Marinetti's 1909
> Manifesto of Futurism"--"We will glorify war--the world's only
> hygiene--militarism, patriotism, the destructive gestures of
> bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for
> have been written by any one of the contemporary New Right.
> politicians today have been especially adept at taking
advantage of po-mo
> aestheticization; witness Reagan's mastery of the TV medium,
> Gingrich's information society utopianism (with debts to fellow
> Daniel Bell and Alvin Toffler).

    Whoah! Postmodernism is aesthetic and relies on images. The
fascists relied on images. Pomos are fascists? Uh-uh. This is a
huge stretch.  Everyone has always employed images: the com-
munists, the american, the christians, the muslims, the hindus,
the nazis, the lesbians, the jews, the academics, the media, the
law. Notice how an image may pop into your head when I mention
these "movements" : hammer and sickle, apple pie, the cross, the
crescent, that swastika looking symbol, the swastika, the pink
triangle (or more specificall, black), star of david, pen and
book?, the camera, the balance etc. This hardly means they are
all postmodern.
        On the contrary, postmodernity is concerned with a
PROLIFERATION of images so that no one image stands out. It is
concerned with the multiplicity of images, a mass of images. It
is anti-fascist in that sense.

(When one talks of the postmodern aesthetic, I can only think of

>       I find in Cultural Studies a means to engage and decode
> aestheticization of experience, and a way to talk about values
> admitting that such discussion has now to take place with
reference to a
> world we know largely in picture form.

        The world has ALWAYS been "largely in picture form". With
postmodernity DISCOURSE ITSELF is "largely in picture form."
Cultural studies is concerned, partly, with looking at this pic-
toral DISCOURSE while the rest of Lit Crit remains logocentric
examining the written word (even after Derrida pretty much killed

> But a clinical separation of
> moral, practical and aesthetic reason I find impractical.

Then why do you do it?

        -Omar Haneef

Re: aesthetics and contemporary culture
Date: Sun Feb 12 09:20:27 EST 1995

In article <3hcb5n$>, (Omar Haneef '96) says:
>david black f ( wrote:
>>       The Futurists' oft-quoted slogan from Marinetti's 1909
>> Manifesto of Futurism"--"We will glorify war--the world's only
>> hygiene--militarism, patriotism, the destructive gestures of
>> bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for
>> have been written by any one of the contemporary New Right.

The futurists glorified war because they thought it would gener-
ate class struggle which would lead to revolution. (see Perloff's
The Futurist Moment.)  Perhaps their mistake was being naive
enough to assume they could somehow use the fascists to their own
ends... but then again, who could have anticipated the
holocaust....?  Especially if you were a futurist with positivist
leanings and associated technical progress with civilized behav-
    I think it is the luxury of your position, looking backwards
at the futurists through the holocaust, that enables you to
accuse them of supporting crimes they didn't even believe were
possible.  There were many circumstances in which the Futurists
DIRECTLY confronted fascist  policy. See Robert Motherwell's
anthology Dada. An excerpt from the diary of Mohol-Nagy's wife
(whose name I can't remember) describes a Nazi dinner party in
which Manaretti made a mockery of the occasion by reading
phonetic poetry and tipping the contents of the entire banquet
table onto the laps of the Nazi brass... including Goering him-
    I'm not sure what this anecdote really demonstrates besides
an equally valid reading of Futurism as a form of proto-
deconstruction perhaps. I would avoid statements such as
futurism=fascism. Everything the Nazi's touched didn't turn into
fascism... that is giving them far too much credit.

>        On the contrary, postmodernity is concerned with a
>images so that no one image stands out. It is concerned with the
>multiplicity of images, a mass of images. It is anti-fascist in
that sense.

On the other hand, Adorno describes fascism (In Freudian Theory
and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda) as relying on the
proliferation of images. It is the tactic of fascism to repeat an
image endlessly and everywhere in order to generate an atmosphere
which will not only make it seem true, but restrict the range of
possible readings.

MTV, it might be added, is radically different than fascism
because it depends on the ability to posture as anti-
establishment.  MTV is more concerned with encapsulating rebel-
lion. It is liberal. Fascist propaganda overtly rationalized mass
movements as normative...which means different things if you
really think about it.

From: (Gordon Fitch)
Date: Sun Feb 12 18:51:17 EST 1995

| ...
| On the other hand, Adorno describes fascism (In Freudian Theory
and the
| Pattern of Fascist Propaganda) as relying on the proliferation
of images.

I think this is a tactic of all forms of totalitarianism,
including, of course, our own, as a glance at a newsstand or
the supermarket shelves will tell you.  The industrialism of
Authority, I suppose.  What i[s] the cyberneticization of

-- ><  Gordon Fitch  ><  ><

[1] Re: aesthetics and contemporary culture
Date: Tue Feb 14 08:37:24 EST 1995 (Gordon Fitch) says:

>| > I think this is a tactic of all forms of totalitarianism,
>| > including, of course, our own, as a glance at a newsstand or
>| > the supermarket shelves will tell you.  The industrialism of
>| > Authority, I suppose.  What it the cyberneticization of
>| > Authority?

In terms of aesthetic, I imagine it is much "faster" than facsist
propaganda. Jameson, in Late Capitalism, says something about how
the postmodern aesthetic can only be flawed by an interuption of
its ceaseless transformations... this makes me think of a liq-
uid... perhaps able to flow around everything. Fascist
propaganda, which I've seen, was rarely aqueous however.

> (Andy Perry):
>|  I
>| would assume that the proliferation of images would expand,
rather than
>| restrict, the range of possible readings, since each image
would be
>| disseminated through more disparate interpretive contexts...

The spewing of propaganda excites and directs... and generates a
sort of backdrop for the leader which not only reinforces
validity, but encourages individualism and narcissism through
identification, which, in turn, limits interpretation. The group,
then, becomes a fragmented collection of little dictators
undermining any kind of interaction which might lead to critical
thinking. The presence of the dictator is a bit like the author
function for all propaganda as well as an author/model for ones
own behavior...which, of course, comes into play when interpret-
ing the propaganda.  Advertising functions in a similar way by
making commodities for "you alone" and by appealing to standards
of normalcy... but it is not quite as centralized... I don't

From: (Mark Weinles)
Re: aesthetics and contemporary culture
Date: Thu Feb 09 05:24:22 EST 1995

In article <D3n8yI.GJ4@info.uucp> (david
black f) writes:

        "An unfortunate condition of contemporary culture is the
general aestheticization of experience--where images and
aesthetic criteria for interpreting those images come to dominate
public life. This phenomenon has a history. [...] The aesthetic
has become the dominant element in contemporary culture, and the
difficult business of making value choices reduced to who or what
looks good. [...]"

        Much as I admire Benjamin, I find his suggestion that
fascism is "the aestheticization of politics" to be one of the
least illuminating ideas that he ever set down.  It may offer a
handy way to analyze Futurism, but I'd like to know why you
believe that it has a larger value, or, to put it another way,
why you consider that "the aesthetizing of experience" is neces-
sarily a misfortune.  What about the other possibility that
"existence and the world are justified _only_ as an aesthetic
phenomenon"?  (Emphasis mine.)  And what do you think of the
criticism that your position derives from an animosity to

-- Mark Weinles

From: (NS Brown)
Re: aesthetics and contemporary culture
Date: Sat Feb 11 18:38:40 EST 1995

Cris here. :)

[In response to David Black's post on the aestheticization of
politics and Futurism (essentially bemoaning the rise of style
over substance), Mark Weinless wrote:]

:       Much as I admire Benjamin, I find his suggestion that
: is "the aestheticization of politics" to be one of the least
: ing ideas that he ever set down.  It may offer a handy way to
: Futurism, but I'd like to know why you believe that it has a
: value, or, to put it another way, why you consider that "the
: ing of experience" is necessarily a misfortune.  

Mark, I don't know what David will have to say to your assertion
that "existence and the world are justified _only_ as an
aesthetic phenomenon," but I concur wholeheartedly.  I even end
up arguing that we've constructed the "laws of science" the way
we have more because of *us* and our need for order, rather than
because of anything "writ large on the cosmos."  The Universe, if
it can be said to exist as an "it," is a canvas upon which we
paint our experience.


From: (NS Brown)
Date: Mon Feb 13 08:29:21 EST 1995

Cris here. :)

[I wrote to Mark Weinles:]
: > Mark, I don't know what David will have to say to your asser-
: > that "existence and the world are justified _only_ as an
: > phenomenon," but I concur wholeheartedly.  I even end up
: > that we've constructed the "laws of science" the way we have
: > because of *us* and our need for order, rather than because
: > anything "writ large on the cosmos."  The Universe, if it can
: > said to exist as an "it," is a canvas upon which we paint our
: > experience.

[Andy Perry replies:]
: Note, however, that order does not equal beauty.  There are
many theories
: of perception, truth, etc. which argue that the "laws of
science" are
: constructed based upon human needs for order or prediction,
which have
: nothing to do with aesthetics.  Of course, since I've already
shown my
: Nietzschean colors around here on numerous occasions, you may
: gathered that I too have an occasional sympathy for the
: of life...

I would agree that "order does not equal beauty," if by that
you mean that the two are not equivalent terms.  They're not,
by any means.  I think "beauty" is a superset, and "order"
one of its subsets.  That is to say, I think we find beauty
in order, but we can also find beauty in not-order.

When we pass a carefully manicured lawn, freshly mowed and
edged, many are likely to say "What a beautiful lawn!"  And
they're using the word "beautiful" correctly; for many see
that kind of order as beauty.  (C.f.:  an unkempt lawn with
shin-high grass, garbage lying around and a rusty old car
up on cinderblocks.)

Yet, most of us would find a perfectly conical mountain
"unnatural" and "ugly" compared to the rugged peaks of the
Rockies, and urban planners learned decades ago that
meandering streets have more "charm" than perfect grid-
work designs.  Curiously, the field of fractal geometry
has shown that these seeming non-orders have an order of
their own, but you have to leave integer-dimensionality
to see that order.  Fractal-generated music seems to be
aesthetically pleasing to many listeners; it's modelled
in 1.5 dimensions and if given a bit *more* order in terms
of repeating passages and movements, it's difficult to
distinguish from human-generated music.  (See Peitgen &
Saupe, Eds., _The Science of Fractal Images_, (1988)
at 42-44.)

We rarely find *utter* randomness to be "beautiful."


From: (michael calvin mcgee)
Date: Tue Feb 14 02:24:11 EST 1995
Re: aesthetics and contemporary culture

In article <3hjhq0$>, NS Brown
( writes:

>[In response to David Black's post on the aestheticization of
>politics and Futurism (essentially bemoaning the rise of style
>over substance), Mark Weinless wrote:]
>:      Much as I admire Benjamin, I find his suggestion that
>: is "the aestheticization of politics" to be one of the least
>: ing ideas that he ever set down.  

>Mark, I don't know what David will have to say to your assertion
>that "existence and the world are justified _only_ as an
>aesthetic phenomenon," but I concur wholeheartedly.

Lest we forget, gentlemen, the association of fascism with this
thread of argument is not simply flaming.  Mussolini especially,
and also Hitler, theorized "cultural politics" as the way both
to excite and to control the "experience of the masses."  Insofar
as fascism is characterized by +any+ ideological uniformity, it
would be the firm commitment that politics (and even science) had
to be "aestheticized."  When "existence and the world" are argued
for solely on a construction that they are "aesthetic phenomena,"
nothing is left to give the "artist" pause.  Not only can this be
dangerous politically, but it is also a questionable stance from
an aesthetic viewpoint, because +negation is a necessary posture+
for all artists.  "Pure creativity" cannot be "art," for it has
no means to reject its "false starts."  Without such terms as
"grace," "eloquence," "style," etc. +you can't have an
aesthetic,+ and without an aesthetic, you have no justification
for your experientialism.


From: (NS Brown)
Re: aesthetics and contemporary culture
Date: Wed Feb 15 20:51:52 EST 1995

[Michael Calvin McGee replies:]
: Lest we forget, gentlemen, the association of fascism with this
: thread of argument is not simply flaming.  Mussolini espe-
: and also Hitler, theorized "cultural politics" as the way both
: to excite and to control the "experience of the masses."

Viewing life as an aesthetic (experiential) phenomena is not
at the root of facism.  Indeed, experientialism notes that we
each construct our *own* experiences, and that there is no
Absolute Truth by which we can determine whose experiences are
true or false.  This would *not* fit well in a facist state,
because they *do* believe there is Absolute Truth ... and
they've found it!

Facism is a distinctly *modern* political scheme.  It takes the
notion of a mechanistic universe and applies it to the body
politic.  It claims to have Absolute Truth, and demands that
every aspect of society be subservient to and directed toward
that Absolute Truth.  Art becomes propaganda (rhetoric), yet
another cog in the wheels of politics.  Minorities and unde-
sirables are systematically "Othered" to provide a scapegoat
for the ills that remain.

Notions of certainty are crucial to the formation of facism.
Notions of certainty are notably lacking in the idea that we
construct our own experiences.

: Not only can this be
: dangerous politically, but it is also a questionable stance
: an aesthetic viewpoint, because +negation is a necessary pos-
: for all artists.  "Pure creativity" cannot be "art," for it has
: no means to reject its "false starts."  Without such terms as
: "grace," "eloquence," "style," etc. +you can't have an
: and without an aesthetic, you have no justification for your
: experientialism.

Interesting statement, though it has little to do with exper-
ientialism.  That is, you're arguing against positions that
I don't hold ... swinging at straw men of your own creation.


From: (NS Brown)
Date: Fri Feb 10 22:12:08 EST 1995

Cris here. :)

[David Black wrote:]
: [...]
: politicians today have been especially adept at taking
advantage of po-mo
: aestheticization; witness Reagan's mastery of the TV medium,
: Gingrich's information society utopianism (with debts to fellow
: Daniel Bell and Alvin Toffler).

Sloganeering and image-over-substance are hardly new phenomena.
They are the traditional tools of political minorities, who are
in the fortunate position of being able to make a lot of noise
without having to *do* anything.  Now that the rad-cons are at
the helm, they'll be backing down from their tall talk in short
order.  It's already happening, as clause after clause of the
Contract With (On!) America is being quietly shuffled off to the

It's easy to quote Shakespeare's "Power corrupts; absolute power
corrupts absolutely" when one is one step removed from the
throne.  Once one takes the throne, the truth of the statement
becomes apparent (at least to everyone else).

Just an opinion, worth what you paid for it. :)


From: (Gordon Fitch)
Date: 26 Feb 1996 18:32:13 -0500

gene angelcyk wrote:
>For those who subscribe to the notion that we are living in the postmodern
>age ... wake up!  The word "post" means after and the word "modern" means
>in the present; thus, the term is an oxymoron. (Allan Liska):

|not in this case.  in this case, "modern" refers to an idea that there
|is some sort of grand narrative which is overarching and guiding human
|development along some preset path. 
|very loosely, the post-modern age signals the end of the grand
|narrative, or the realization that there never was a grand
|narrative..but to try and define postmodernity is difficult, because
|each theorist, and each person has a different perspective. 

In my view, the term _postmodern_ came into use because the dominant
school of the plastic arts, and of architecture, in the first half of
the 20th century was called "Modernism." People needed a different
category to put, say, Andy Warhol or Nikki de Saint-Phalle in.  They
might have been called _paramodern_ because, actually, there was a lot
of non-Modernist stuff going on beside Modernism, but since it _seemed_
as if it came after, _post_ was pegged for the prefix.  The other
_modern_ of which something might be post- is modern in the sense of
"from around the Enlightenment on until around the present.  This sense
of postmodern was apparently first used in 1945 (by Lewis Mumford?) and
seems to apply more to lit, lit crit, cult crit, and philosophy, than to
the plastic arts. 

I thought we were going to have a FAQ to answer questions like these,
sparing me from this sort of recitation.
   }"{  Gordon Fitch  }"{  }"{

##END## ##OF## ##DIGEST##


That concludes this FAQ file.  Send comments, complaints, additions,
suggestions, recommendations, ideas to "".
9/30/95; 6/26/96

"The scientist has no unique right to ignore the likely consequences of 
what he does."  --Noam Chomsky. _The Chomsky Reader_. Ed. James Peck. New 
York: Pantheon, 1987. 201.

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