What is Postmodernism?

What the hell is postermodernism anyway? I want real-life examples. Even if you don’t really know, like I don’t really know, take this opportunity to tell us what you think it is.

135 Comments

  1. Would a play that is about not being acted and instead is designed to make you wonder if you’re still watching a scripted play at all considered postmodern?

    yeah, I suck at this.

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  2. Trying to explain postmodernism is a sure-fire way to give yourself a migraine, Hon. LOL.
    Go here, for starters: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism
    The thing is, the term means slightly different things when applied to different arenas of society. Art is one, literature is another, philosophy and even architecture yet others. They can cover different time periods as well.
    In literature (the only area I know anything about), it applies to criticism as well. It can often seem that authors are just being ‘weird for the sake of weird’ in order to fit into this category. And I honestly think some are.
    John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, Jorges Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcias Marquez, are some authors who fall into the “Postmodern” category.
    Self-reflective literature, like Tobyjoe was talking about on Spread, is one form it can take.
    The idea behind postmodernism is to change the rules: that society has moved beyond ‘modernism’ and therefore we need to create a new frame of reference. It is an attempt to break the mold of the standard literary form (or whatever the form is, I think, as applied to architecture or something else).

    The main issue is: when does the postmodern period end, then? The answer is, nobody knows. And why would it end…the way it is so loosely defined says to me that it would continually develop. It has become a bit of a joke, to my mind. We crave labels and categorizing things.
    Sorry this is so long. There are good links to more articles in that Wikipedia entry. I guarantee you there is no shortage of things to read that are about ‘postmodernism’!
    ;-)

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  3. okay, im sure im exposing my ignorance here but why stop now?
    i was told that post-modern meant, after the second world war. any works that came afer that time period or event or whatever and focused their themes in on the present, lives, travails, etc.
    the only examples i can think of are writers, like thomas pynchon and don delillo.
    i tried to follow the discussion over at spread but i havent read the book, so i was completely lost.

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  4. in a monotone robot voice
    Post means after, so it would indicate an event which is occuring after an event.. yet modern indicates an event happening now..How can an event take place after it is taking place after it?
    mechanical beeps and boops
    head explodey noise

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  5. Would Sartre be considered Postmodern?

    ::reads Sarahs comment again. slower.::

    I think I need someone to leave a postmodern comment. Can anyone do that for me?

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  6. Oh my god, stupid robot, is postmodern ironic?

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  7. in a monotone robot voice
    I do not know the definition of irony…but I know it when I see it.

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  8. I’ll admit to one thing, I really don’t think I like the term. Postmodern? Isn’t that impossible.

    (I really need to slowly read Sarah’s comment again, methinks.)

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  9. i never liked ‘isms’ anyway.

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  10. “is postmodern ironic?”

    Irony does often play a big part. No, Sartre isn’t pomo. And don’t think of the term as temporal, really. Pomo folks would scoff at the historical metanarrative implicit in seeing it as a point on a timeline.

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  11. smiles smugly in the irony of his original “pomo” comment

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  12. I SCOFF AT POMO FOLKS!

    I gotta say, I’m still not sure what it is.

    Give me an exmple from my every day life. Maybe?

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  13. When I see “postmodern” I tend to substitute “pretentious.” There’s a pretentiousness in addition to any weirdness. Borges doesn’t seem postmodern to me because it lacks that pretentiousness. Same with Umberto Eco. Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon certainly have it. Philip K. Dick and Joseph Heller sometimes have it and sometimes don’t. We’ve got a copy of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas that calls him a “postmodern visionary,” which makes me dread reading it.

    Is “self-reflective” supposed to be “self-referential”?

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  14. here is a somewhat uneducated and simple explanation:

    post modern refers to the era after the modern movement. sarah is correct, that era is different for different disciplines. also, try not to think of it in terms of time (as tobyjoe suggests). certain artists today are modern and certain are postmodern. its more about the ethos of the work.

    for instance, in the architectural realm, the modern architects really hit their stride with clean simple design. think form over function. think frank lloyd wright, le courbousier, etc. think clean and crisp lines. the post modernists react against it. the jumble things up and go for irony and frivolity. think of the new disney opera house in L.A. by Frank Gehry.

    also, don’t confuse “modern” with “contemporary.” an artist is contemporary if she is producing now. thus, there can be a postmodern, but not a post-contemporary.

    oof. i just reread this. i hope it makes some sense.

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  15. There is a group here in New York who come up with “performance art” around the city. one time, they studied a band a week before said band was performing at a venue. The band was a nobody band. Well, the group got as many friends together as possible and filled the venue. They got all into. They knew all the words and sang along. The band was totally freaked out having no idea how and why they had a soldout show in NYC without ever really doing any promotion for it. Turns out, they were duped. The weird part was, the guys doing the duping (if there were such a word) found during the end of the set, they were actually REALLY into it. So it flipped in a way.

    Now, the band found out and was devasted but they sold CDS after the news hit the papers about what had happen.

    Is this even “postmodern”

    I wrote this fast. If it makes no sense, forgive.

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  16. Henry – lemme poke your cynicism for a moment: What are postmodernists pretending to be?

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  17. Michele – depending on the critic, and on their stated goals, they could have been commenting on audiences as they exist alongside the mega-co music industry, of the modes of consumption of music, or of the audience-musician relationship in a time of musicians who often sample from the past and challenge ideas of originality. If so, someone could see their actions as postmodern in some ways.

    I happen to know (because I heard the same episode of This American Life as you) that the group in question were just pranksters, and that there really was nothing in their ‘work’ other than goofing off.

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  18. So by the pranksters realizing that they actually were enjoying the music even after only pretending to do so, while that might be considered ironic, it’s not infact postmodern unless they set out to make a statement about how a crowd can make you enjoy pretty much anything, including Ricky Martin or somethig.

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  19. They’re pretending to be insightful, cynical, and clever. They actually come across as shallow and annoying.

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  20. Sorry, I was answering the question about what postmodernists are pretending to be.

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  21. A good example for you, michele, might be in film. Think of films where there is no goal of a suspension of disbelief and where the ‘man behind the curtain’ is as much a subject of the film as any character. Run Lola Run is a good example of a film where you revisit versions of the narrative in a way that makes it very clear that you aren’t getting lost in some dreamy fantasy. Think of the way some scenes of Fight Club were shot, where it mimics catalog layouts, etc. In re-shooting Psycho, scene by scene, Gus van Sant was performing a very postmodernist exercise by obsessive reference and the role of the viewer is to compare it to the original with the same obsession. A lot of folks have written about Moulin Rouge as a great example of pomo film, but I’ve never seen it. Think of films that give nods to earlier styles and tweak them, films with fragmented narrative structures or polylinear narratives, films like Being John Malkovich or Adaptation that are based on ‘real’ actors and acting, bringing the actor out of the character and displacing the viewer…

    With modernism, in most areas, the snow globe had settled into perfection and sterility. Postmodernists shake it up for the sake of shaking it up.

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  22. So it is kinda like that one-man play we saw a few months back, right?

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  23. “They’re pretending to be insightful, cynical, and clever. They actually come across as shallow and annoying.”

    Or, that’s just your blanket take on subjects labelled as such (which goes as far as to redefine the common criteria to include pretension). I guess it’s a nice pomo exercise on your part to sample and tweak the common definition! Very clever, in fact!

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  24. P.S. I still haven’t ever seen Moulin Rouge or Run Lola Run.

    Does talking to the camera mean Postmodernism? I’m starting to gather that to be a pomo one must state a definitive goal. It’s not necessarily technique which is I think where I get confused.

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  25. No definitive goal. It is about the way things are done, and the idea that the way (the form) is as much of the content as anything else.

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  26. Oh, yes, Ringo you made sense. Sorry, I got carried away on the whole This AMerican Life episode.

    Sarah’s smart too yeah?

    Usually, when I think about shit like this, my head loops. The first time this happen, I was about 7 and I realized that, according to the catholics, once we die we go to heaven where we’ll stay forever. that idea of “forever” scared the shit out of me. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go there anymore.

    Forever.

    Yikes.

    But I was told that it wouldn’t matter because I’d be in a state of bliss.

    Then again, I sure the hell wouldn’t want to have an orgasm forever.

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  27. was “Saved by the Bell” pomo?

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  28. No, that’s not “just [my] blanket take on subjects labelled as such.” It’s a fairly conventional academic interpretation. “Postmodernism” is a very polarizing subject. My MA is in literature, and I’ve seen plenty of postmodernist-vs.-everybody-else stuff. Postmodernists are often the darlings of deconstructionist, who usually, unlike other theorists, disregard conflicting theories, so they frequently wind up sitting with other deconstructionists and nodding knowingly whenever someone manages to find a way to mention Derrida. In the mean time, structuralists and new historicists and such are trading ideas and considering others’ perspectives.

    Yes, I realize there are generalizations and a few prejudices in there, but it’s also pretty accurate.

    “Postmodernism” is not just being self-referential, breaking the fourth wall, or allowing the writer/actor/camera/et al. to intrude into the story. “[Shaking] it up for the sake of shaking it up” sounds accurate though—the shaking usually lacks any deeper meaning beyond, “Hey, look what I can do!”

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  29. And in sticking with the ‘hey, look what i can do!’ interpretation, I’d say there is a way of seeing it as lacking pretense a lot of times. To me, the pretense would be something like David Foster Wallace, who really did seem to think Infinite Jest was the most important text in the history of literature. Kathy Acker or any of the Black Ice/FC2 people were pretty pretentious a LOT of the time, and I back you 100% on those cases. I just cringe at blanket statements, I guess.

    Someone who is just fucking around, sampling, playing with references, injecting irony into otherwise conventional products – someone who is just playing – wouldn’t necessarily qualify as pretentious where they might easily qualify as postmodern. If Borges isn’t pomo because he isn’t pretentious, how do you reconcile the folks who are shaking things up for the sake of doing so as being pomo?

    It’s pretty obvious that there is pretense in some products and not in others, and that should go without saying. I’ll give you one thing: in the cases of pretentious postmodern art or lit, it’s really painful.

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  30. I think people need to differentiate between things that are postmodern by virtue, and those that are postmodern by design.

    I absolutely love works that are postmodern by virtue – those that exemplify the ideals and put the work first and incorporate postmodernism because that is the mindset of the author. I completely loathe works that are postmodern by design.

    Examples? Getty Museum vs Disney Music Hall. Martin Amis vs. Kathy Acker. The first Matrix vs the Sequels (perhaps too pop culture, but the sequels were all about shaking it up and trying to hard. the first one was more about a storyline)

    I won’t even go into academia. Toby knows how much I love railing on that stuff (ie: Postmodern/poststructural/desconstionist academia is pretty much worthless. its little more than a ‘circle jerk’ for academics). Or, Henry is dead on.

    Anyways, I think things are characterized as postmodern / postmodernism encompasses things that challenge the classical norms and the ideolgical hegemony (ie : shake it up’). PostmodenISTs, on the other hand, are those that try to shake it up on purpose, and end up with worthless drivel.

    Toby – regarding the GSV reshoot of Psycho. I personally think that its less about an exercise in obsession, and more about translating a classic american film into a modern and gay cinema. Kind of like a bizzaro world.

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  31. Henry – I wonder who you’re referring to as deconstructionists, and whether you’re mixing the term freely with ‘poststructuralist’ (because you oppose it to structuralists).

    Are you suggesting that, say, Deluze sat around ignoring the rest of theory and nodding at mentions of Derrida?

    I guess I also wonder what the line of flight into characterizations of various theorist ‘types’ has to do with the discussion at hand. Perhaps the ’…darlings of…’ as a point of introduction seems a little weird to me.

    I’m sure that the inherent truth of the first paragraph of that last comment will hit me square in the face once I understand what the hell your qualified take on theory at large (including only a couple of theoretical ‘schools’) has to do with anything.

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  32. Oh – to add. There was something in the NYT last week of Boston Legal being a postmodern exercise. Apparently James Spader and William Shatner constantly hint that they’re characters on a TV show . Stuff like “Sorry, but this is’t your storyline”, “You’re not supposed to be in this episode”, “We should take this case for ratings during sweeps week”. (i made all that up based on what I recalled. i don’t watch that show)

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  33. Yeah, my question at spreadreading didn’t make me look like an idiot after all I guess.

    I have discussed this with the husband and I have decided the Simpsons are post modern.
    Am I on the right track?

    Why can’t get into spread website? have I been barred/

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  34. Jon – yes, I know that your cynicism knows no bounds. Whether or not the relatively neutered cynicism (only targeting abstract groups) you and Henry seem to share on the subject is useful in any way. Sure, it’s easy to point out that a lot of academia is bullshit. Same for computer science, politics, medicine… Perhaps being full of shit is something that crosses disciplines!

    But what is the value, and how does it help answer michele’s question? And how does it strike at your credibility? Cynicism is totally the old black.

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  35. Meghan – I don’t know. I did switch server daemons (to LightTPD, as per Jon’s recommendation) but it seems to work well. Perhaps your pass needs to be changed? Go to the password request page (http://spreadreading.com/readers/new_pass/).

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  36. That line above should say, “Whether or not the relatively neutered cynicism (only targeting abstract groups) you and Henry seem to share on the subject is useful in any way is my question.”

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  37. The “just playing” thing works both ways, though. Monty Python did a lot of messing around, breaking the fourth wall in the credits, adding self-referential bits like “Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Film” and lines like, “This must be the gorge of which the old man spoke in scene twenty-four,” but, barring a few theses or disertations that I’m sure are out there, most people wouldn’t call Holy Grail postmodern.

    Ernest Hemingway, on the other hand, sometimes gets grouped with postmodernists, even though he has little “weirdness” outside of some messing with time in “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”. Hemingway is about as pretentious as they get.

    Perhaps we distinguish between “the folks who are shaking things up for the sake of doing so” and those who are doing it for the sake of drawing attention to themselves. The former would include, in my opinion, writers like Borges, who has a clear purpose and structure in his writing, and the latter would include writers like Pynchon, who leave too many unresolved subplots (and, sometimes, plots!) to be explained away as being “the whole point.” It’s like Pynchon is trying to annoy the reader to draw attention to himself, not to convey any meaning (including the ever-popular “there is no meaning”) to the reader.

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  38. The site won’t even come up. I go to bookmark and the computer ignores me and just stays on the page I am. I am a copmuter retard by the way.

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  39. meghan-
    in college, we decided that the simpsons after season 6 (i think thats the number) were postmodern. thats when the writing became a bit more abstract, and it got more self-referential. before that, they were just a regular sitcom, which wasn’t anything new. The Flintstones though, were considered by many to be the first postmodern cartoon. When they came out, it was a prime time show and delt with many risque issues at the time, cleverly disguised behind cartoons that spoofed the honeymooners as a ‘modern’ stone age family.

    toby-
    Well I’m trying (badly) to differentiate between types and classifications of postmodernism.

    On the one hand you have things that I would argue are truly postmodern – that truly change the current paradigm in pursuit of an artistic goal ( film, play, cinema , art etc).

    On the other you have things that try to change things just to do so. Almost like merry pranksters. Is Derrida postmodern? You and I would think so for different reasons – you might see him as such for challenging norms, while I would think so because of the irony created between his passion for stuff that he really just makes up and doesn’t make any sense outside the ruleset he creates.

    Heny- have you ever read ‘A Void’ ?

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  40. Meghan – most likely, the UAE has blocked the site.

    Just kidding. What URL are you hitting? Can everyone hit http://www.spreadreading.com/ for me and lemme know if it craps out?

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  41. If I hand wrote and scannned each post every day would that be considered postmodern? Or just stupid?

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  42. “I guess I also wonder what the line of flight into characterizations of various theorist ‘types’ has to do with the discussion at hand.” Well, obviously, the discussion is about postmodernism. That is a term from literary theory. How it is approached depends upon the critical technique used. The relationship is pretty obvious.

    Jonathan—Not yet. It sounds like an interesting exercise. I tried writing a story in nothing but monosyllables, and I’m working on a book for which I’m trying to construct a language without front vowels or dental or labial consonants, so when I get to it I’ll be looking carefully for tricks I can use.

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  43. Spread site comes up fine for me, Tobyjoe.

    This discussion is great to read, but I am not adding anything to it right now.
    Only this: yes, michele, that would just be stupid. ;-)

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  44. No worries my-computer-fix for all problems worked. I turned off my computer and turned it back on again. Told you I am computer retarded.

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  45. Henry, whether or not an imaginary group of deconstructionists sits around, yada yada, isn’t obviously related—at least not to a degree that it is in any way useful or meaningful. Who ARE these deconstructionists? Give me names of theorists who ignore others and otherwise fit your description. I feel like I’m trying to read meaning from fog. Let’s get tangible if we’re gonna get shitty.

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  46. That robot feller in Hitchhiker’s Guide, was he postmodern? You know, the feller who felt depressed all the time because no one listened to him?

    If I were to keep a blog and write about how happy I was ALL THE TIME – Tom Cruise style – would that be postmodern? Especially if it were on MySpace?

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  47. Toby—Why so snarky? You want names? Yes, I could give them to you, but I would bet you money they wouldn’t mean anything to you. Why? Your cynicism about academia is one good indicator. You’re discussing postmodernism and acting like you know something about it, so you shouldn’t need to ask. If you want to discuss postmodernism, I’ll discuss postmodernism, which includes discussing literary theory, but which shouldn’t have to include a summary of the history of each approach to literary theory. If you want that, go read Northrop Frye or something. If, on the other hand, you want to get snippy, I’ll go somewhere else and play with the big kids for the rest of the day.

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  48. One thing I really like about my Web site is the fact that no one ever REALLY gets angry and petty and starts real fights. (At least they don’t post their thouhghts. If they feel that way, they are silent and therefore I don’t know about it unless they email me and that can ruin my day but that’s another story entirely).

    If you’re offended by something on here chances are you’re taking someone’s tone the wrong way or your tone is, in fact, bitter/cynical/harsh—whatever.

    Either that, or you’re taking things too personally which I have been known to do as well.

    Don’t. It’s a discussion. That’s all. As long as you didn’t invent postmodernism and the English language, nothing should become personal. Ever.

    I just think things should work properly. heh

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  49. My having studied philosophy has taught me that extrapolating from the specific to the general can be a real problem. Doing so without citing the specific is pointless. That’s my gripe. I can’t discuss generalities. Like I said, meaning from fog… My snippiness is frustration. I’d love to find out what you’re talking about, but without specifics of any sort, it seems really hard to agree with or dispute your sidebar on various types of theorists. If it’s important enough to mention, it should be important enough to expand upon.

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  50. OH, and if you DID come up with the term postmodernism, I kinda have a bone to pick with you.

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  51. Oh, and Toby isn’t the cynic about academia. I am. Especially when it comes to trying to explain something to me (and certain others). I totally glaze over and stop listening to folks who pull out the academic talk. I am really not sure why though. Sometimes, and this is the cynical side of me speaking, I find it to be pretentious, as if the person it trying to prove to people how smart they are instead of just letting the person know the answer.

    I am NOT referring to anyone on here. Please do not think that.

    Tobyjoe actually is fine with academia.

    I’m totally rambling. Forgive.

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  52. I tend to keep my gripes nice and specific. I have taken issue with some people, administrations, thinkers, writers, etc… But I think it’s silly to take that out to the general.

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  53. I am guilty of that sometimes. I realized how much so this past weekend when I was scanning images of people I once knew. I realized how cynical I have become of people and the way they look and dress. And that’s horrible. I was never like that before. Never.

    It’s unfair of me to make comments about people by the way they look on a train or on the streets. And in NYC the streets are filled with ecentric people. I don’t like what I have become in that regard and am going to do everything in my power to undo that change.

    It’s humbling, realizing my judgements are due to aged cynism. When I really get to the meat of the problem, I realize I’m really just upset with how much I have changed and how afraid I am to be as carefree as I once was.

    I am not sure where my cynism came from, but I don’t like it.

    (deep thoughts: by mihow.)

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  54. Toby was demanding, in what came across as a very snippy way, what amounts to a history of casual office conversation about what A said to B about C’s review of D’s book and stuff like that. He also seems to think I was singling out a few particular literary theories by mentioning them as examples. I could make an attempt at rewriting that sentence with a comprehensive list, hauling rather dull books off the shelf to make sure I didn’t miss any, but that would be kind of dull. I have made some statements without exhaustively supporting them, sure, but I already did that in various papers and don’t feel like doing it again. I was under the impression that this was a relatively casual discussion about what postmodernism is or is not, so refrained from flinging around citations to Julian Wolfreys and Gayatri Spivak and Roland Barthes and such.

    I’ve been called cynical by him a couple of times, now, too, and don’t see it.

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  55. I read a Roland Barthes book once. I read A lover’s discourse. I really enjoyed it, actually. I still refer to it from time to time but usually when I’m drunk. Weird, but true.

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  56. It’s certainly casual, but that shouldn’t mean that asking for clarity is a problem. If you were talking about colleagues, it’s fine to only say that much. You spoke about anonymous aggregates, though, and gave zero insight into the scope or composition. It was vague and I wanted clarity. I don’t personally see Spivak or Barthes as fitting your description of deconstructionists at work.

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  57. I just rememberd this:
    Perl, the first postmodern computer language

    that’s more for toby than anyone else. larry wall (perl maintainer’s) speech @ linuxworld ‘99

    for the record, i said some VERY nice things about wallpaper on this blog recently. i’m not all negativity.

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  58. How funny, I just assumed that your comment about the wallpaper was sarcastic. ha ha hahha

    I am still trying to brainstorm a postmodern comment.

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  59. Toby—You are confusing two concepts. Spivak and Barthes were mentioned for their general relevance to literary theory, not as part of my explanation about my statement regarding deconstructionists.

    So—

    My statement about deconstructionists was based on conversations with past or present colleagues, and it did not begin with us. It is an ongoing and discipline-wide discussion.

    My mention of Barthes and Spivak was part of my response to your misunderstanding about my short list of schools of criticism. I never said either of them was a deconstructionist, although they have written about it (Spivak was one of Derrida’s first translators). I mentioned them as part of a statement about the relative academic level of the discussion. I noticed a lack of familiarity with some of the terminology of literary theory, which is why I said I “refrained from flinging around citations to Julian Wolfreys and Gayatri Spivak and Roland Barthes and such,” not, “Barthes is a prominent deconstructionist!”

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  60. With which terms, exactly, did I lack familiarity? Just curious. I’ve not been as dedicated in the past 3-4 years but I do have a long history with this stuff, so I’m curious what I’ve screwed up.

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  61. No, i really like the wallpaper. And I was trying to be more positive here.

    I would have said your friend was purty too, but it would have seemed far too weird if the first nice thing I posted to your blog was “yeah michele your friend is purty”

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  62. I’d also be curious about any work published recently on the discipline-wide discussion on deconstructionists disregarding conflicting theories and sitting around… I mean that genuinely. I didn’t realize there was much in the way of a deconstructionist school these days, and would love to have an entry point into the discussion. I imagine there are lots of recent papers/books on the subject?

    With literary theory in general, my past is admittedly centered around structuralism and poststructuralism, but believe me: I’m familiar enough that you can take off your kid gloves. I wouldn’t be engaging you if I didn’t want specifics. I definitely wouldn’t be declaring, over and over, that I’d like specifics…

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  63. ok, I’m 64 comments in and I am still pretty sure if you were to give me a test on what might be considered postmodern and what is not, I’d fail. But that’s because I suck at taking tests and grasping certain concepts, for me, can be difficult. heh

    However, I went back to read some of the definitions, and something Sarah wrote (I believe) made me think it’s a gimmick, no? What’s the point? To make someone laugh? To make them think? To make sense of something from the past? Methinks postmodern should have branches.

    Also, does one KNOW they’re being postmodern? Is it something sought out? Or is it something the interpreter comes up with after the fact?

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  64. I miss charlie. He has a way of cutting through the cynicism and academia talk and pulling out a poop joke.

    Also, Henry, it seems like you’re kinda saying that some of us aren’t as knowledgable and therefore should be talked down to.

    If that’s even slightly the case, that’s not a very good way to educate someone, no? What’s up?

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  65. Toby—You said, “I wonder who you’re referring to as deconstructionists, and whether you’re mixing the term freely with ‘poststructuralist’ (because you oppose it to structuralists).” I took this to mean you were not especially familiar with them since you thought I was confusing them.

    Do you mean recent papers and books on deconstructionism? There certainly are. Wolfreys has plenty, to start with.

    Do you mean recent papers and books on this behavior among deconstructionists? Not that I know. It’s just what happens. It’s a part of the English department ecosystem. You start talking to someone about Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf translation, for instance, and certain people bring the discussion around to deconstructionism and wedge Derrida into the discussion in a way that fans of other literary theories don’t. Queer theorists, perhaps.

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  66. I haven’t had time to read this entire string, but your last question is more about the ideology of Postmodernism as opposed to its formal qualities, and that’s quite astute. You can’t divorce the form (or lack of traditional form) of the postmodern work from its ideological context.

    Ultimately, postmodernism is supposed to break down/abandon formal structures in a way to call attention not only to itself but the technologies, media, systems, and culture that it is both produces and is a product of.

    Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound are all high modernists, but I suspect many would be tempted to call their revolutionary experimentation with form “postmodern.” Modernism would be Portrait of the Artist, postmodernism is JT Leroy and the whole hoax around the author and work and semi autobiographical fiction.

    One could persuasively argue (as many have) that the textual strategies of the New Critics (modernists one and all) are not too different from Derrida or Paul de Man, but there is a WORLD of difference between the ideological underpinning of both (or so it seems on the surface, but really when you dig into the New Criticism you find a minor neo-confederate, disruptive nomadic subtext that is always already defeated).

    ahhh, the onanistic rhetoric and flourish of academia. How I miss it sometimes. oh well, back to making toys …

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  67. Dont ask me, michele: I don’t know shit, apparently. Ask Henry. He has an MA, published papers, the kindness to condescend, and wilingness to stay within the limits of what you’re capable of knowing. He’ll even bet money that the years a person spent studying these very questions yielded nothing.

    I sent the link to Chandler. As a fellow New School kid and theory lover, he’ll benefit a ton by the tutelage. Perhaps we can start a class action suit against our schools.

    Shittiness aside (though I had to get it out), some of us are far more experienced than you know, Henry, and quite capable of having a discussion that consists of more than condescension, abstract statements, and unsubstantiated name-dropping. Nobody is looking for an exhaustive history of your statements, just ANY point of reference.

    Who, exactly, are the deconstructionists you described? You’ve wasted so many words NOT answering that. I really, geniunely want to know. I’m not disputing that they exist. I’m just wondering who they are.

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  68. “I am still pretty sure if you were to give me a test on what might be considered postmodern and what is not, I’d fail”

    But if you argued adamantly that even the most modern things were indeed postmodern, and found ways to classify them as such, you’d get a big A. Why? Because you’d be interpreting a classical text in a postmodern context. That was HUGE when i was in college.

    “made me think it’s a gimmick, no”
    Some (including me) think many aspects are.

    “Methinks postmodern should have branches”
    Some (including me) classify things into branches. I think postmodernism in academia is a gimmick. I think postmodernism in certain contexts is a gimmick. I think in many others its a legitimate attempt.

    “Also, does one KNOW they’re being postmodern?”
    Yes and no. Think of it like this: the modernist era was a time when people thought like this (). The vanguards of the era pushed towards that mindset. More and more that style of thinking became commonplace as the modernists replace the _. (which i don’t remember what people agree on that period being). In the postmodern era, we’re thinking more like this {}, recontextualizing our approach. And its becoming more and more pervasive and commonplace, as people are socialized into that pattern of thinking.

    So you could be postmodern and consciously know it, you could subconsciously know it, or you could be completely oblivious from the school of thought and have a wholly ‘genuinely yours’ idea.

    “Or is it something the interpreter comes up with after the fact?”
    When discussing literature / film / art , never bring that up. You’ll get in fights. Almost always thats a factor. I got in trouble in a class once over it. I said the professor was reading far too much into the text, and projecting her own beliefs and values , not the author’s. Then I compared her to a therapist and the class as her patient who came from a happy healthy home, and asked her why she’s trying so hard to convince us all that our father raped us as a child and we all want to fuck our mothers.

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  69. Henry – I posted that last one while you were writing. Thanks for the clarification. I thought that perhaps YOU were confusing poststructuralists with deconstructionists because you set up an opposition between structuralists and deconstructionists. I fully understand the difference, but like I said, I don’t see any deconstructionist school today.

    I’m still uncertain how the behavior you described can have a discipline-wide discussion without publication, but I guess there is an IRC room out there for this?

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  70. The sigh wasn’t to what Jonathan wrote, fyi.

    I have to read that now.

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  71. “Henry, it seems like you’re kinda saying that some of us aren’t as knowledgable and therefore should be talked down to.”

    That’s not what I’m trying to say at all! I would LIKE to discuss postmodernism without having to justify every statement with a citation from Stanley-Bloody-Fish or someone, but I feel like that’s what I’m being asked to do anyway even though nobody else is. THAT is what I’m trying to say. There’s a difference between talking down to people and not going into a discussion with a presupposition that they are familiar with some bunch of theorists and theories.

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  72. Would it be postmodern at ALL if we all came together and avoided an online discussion that ends in one firey crash landing?

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  73. Because if that counts, I might like postmodernism after all.

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  74. I do recognize that fans of deconstruction, and fans of Derrida do often try to relate everything to his work. And yes, actually, I’ve known queer theory kids to do that. I’ve seen folks like Avital Ronnell do that, and she’s far from your typical New School undergrad.

    I think I understand the confusion I’d had all along now. You were describing fans of Derrida, not deconstructionists as active thinkers and writers. I’d give a ton more wiggle room on that generalization.

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  75. ::worries Henry is writing a really harsh rebuttle and not reading Toby’s apology hence the silence::

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  76. Toby—You’re post at 04:41:40 was certainly more conescending than anything I’ve said here. Is that the post you meant at 04:44:32?

    As far as IRC goes, I couldn’t tell you. I’m talking about converstions in halls and offices and at conferences.

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  77. My good friend (best man in my wedding) and colleague from grad school up here in snowy buffalo (which was a hotbed of theory and all things “post”), Robert Rebein, explains in his book “Hicks, Tribes and Dirty Realists” that postmodernism is best thought of as an experiment, the result of which has been a revitalization of realism.

    If Henry has issues with pomos (particularly those practicing today), it’s probably because they’re a bit anachronistic. Perhaps you feel that they haven’t gotten the message (or the medium, or whatever).

    There is a time and a place for breaking rules and shattering boundaries. Sometimes the attempts are feeble, hack, or simply irrelevant. Robert points out in his book that a lot of relevant fiction really can only happen in the wake of the pomo experimentation.

    I don’t miss grad school, but I do miss drinking beer, smoking cigarettes and watching KU basketball with Robert.

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  78. anyone up for some ice cream?

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  79. Henry – I wasn’t being condescending there, just shitty and childish.

    I understand the type of person to which you were referring now, and I agree that the type does exist. It still seemed out of place when discussing postmodernism, and the fact that it was related to literary theory doesn’t qualify it, IMO.

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  80. and on a lighter note

    michele, you really need to go back to pre modern to get a better grip on this. it really goes back to the beginnings of science and the victorian era. if i assume the whole history of the world up until science was a world of tradition, fable, religion, and superstition, then the buck starts there. all eras are defined after the fact and really are just a simplification of how the masses “saw” the earth and their place on the earth. science turned the world on its head by creating a parallel way of defining existance on the planet. in the beginning it worked hand in hand with religion, then it broke away. in art, “perspective” became the chic new way of seeing the world, but many didn’t understand that it was a false construct produced by the human mind. but it broke the traditions of the old and ushered in the new “enlightened” era. the “monocular view”….the one that even common folk could understand through this new science and way of using the brain instead of cutting open a lamb liver for the weather forcast or praying to god for a nice rain shower. science was to take the place of meer chance. but their science was still that of a guess, essencially, but it was a start of a new world view and some things fit and some things didn’t. but this was only the beginning as social change was hurried by scientific breakthroughs like the internal combustion engine of the late 1800’s. our new world just didn’t fit with the traditions of the past. so the spring cleaning started and the brain devised new ways of living. the utopia was created and in a short time destroyed because architecturally, it was “the” idea for the ages, but functionally it was crap and nobody wanted to live through their minds (the monocular view on a social scale)….they still want experience and pleasure to guide them. so misplaced and itellectualised forms and ideas were the failing of modern architecture. art lives on without much trouble but it was art that started the next step. the “perspective” became the old and tired and along came picasso and cubism to smash that boring “monocular view point” into an even further intelectualised yet meaning less view of the world. modernists tried to define everything that the victorians learned but on a social level and it crashed. post-modernists defined their terms on a “failed anti-tradition experiment gone awry”(modernism) and it lives through its permiations. neo-classicism is a perfect example of a double negative in action. i see post-modernism as the bell-jar(made by modernism that is sitting on a victoian table in the middle of a egyptian pyramid) holding the vacuum of all the little strange new “isms” tightly and safely inside.

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  81. “Robert points out in his book that a lot of relevant fiction really can only happen in the wake of the pomo experimentation.”

    With the little I know about Postmodernism, I can see how the above is very true.

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  82. I was waiting for an architect to write, greg, but that isn’t what I expected to read ;)

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  83. Is Stryper considred postmodern?

    Ice cream sounds incredible. I had some Tasti-D-Lite last night after I ran. Holy shit I was like a magician, it was gone in seconds flat.

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  84. ::starts to read Greg’s post::

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  85. A Stryper cover band with Momus as the frontman and Wendy/Walter Carlos on keys would be.

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  86. And for a link about what the academy is doing (and its struggle with postmodernism), here is a link by my good friend, Nick Gillespie, editor of the libertarian magazine “Reason”: http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=122905B

    Nick shared my office at Buffalo, and was editor of our literary journal (Robert and I worked with him on it).

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  87. See, I’d classify that as irony. This comes dangerously close to a possibility I wrote about yesterday where I start confusing words. Now, maybe I’ll just start saying, “Are you being postmodern?” instead of “Are you being Ironic?”

    And since a lot of people don’t seem to know EXACTLY what it is some of the time, they’ll just agree with me and I’ll come off as being really knowledgable on postmodernism.

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  88. Sorry, my above comment was directed to Toby Joe

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  89. “Postmodernists are often the darlings of deconstructionist [sic], who usually, unlike other theorists, disregard conflicting theories”

    Toby is right on in asking for specific references here. Unless you are talking about friends of yours who consider themselves deconstructionists. But i challenge you to provide evidence that derrida, de man, lyotard, butler, jameson, etc etc etc come anywhere remotely close to disregarding conflicting theories.

    “Well, obviously, the discussion is about postmodernism. That is a term from literary theory.”
    This is not technically correct, although the term was later usurped by litcrit, it’s origins are unquestionably in architecture (Jenck’s The Language of Post-modernism in 1977).

    In general it would be nice if you didn’t wear your literature degree on your sleeve and maybe even expected more of your interlocutors. If people REALLY don’t understand what your saying, they will say so and you can clarify. But believe it or not, most people are smart (especially in the present context) and some of the rest of us also have advanced degrees and enjoy shooting the shit with like minds.

    Back on topic, a non-cynical view of postmodernism, and remember I come more from the perspective of philosophy, would be a unrelenting distrust of the notion of a single Truth. From this core idea you can derive many of thoughts seen in this thread. Questioning “grand narratives”, the centrality of a theme or character in a story, breaking the 4th wall in film (self-referential, looking at the camera) which questions the authority of the filmmaker and the traditional approach of film-as-suspension-of-disbelief.

    Another way to think of it is as a critique of the split between the real and the “mere appearance”. Anytime you notice yourself thinking “that’s not the way things ‘really are’” or the notoriously nihilistic idea that pain is the real truth of life and happiness is an illusion, you are getting into a realm where the postmodern could provide useful new ways to approach the situation (alas i betray my pragmatist heart).

    Now the bad part is that this often comes out as irony and/or relativism. The questioning of a single Truth is taken to mean that there is no truth (which is a different argument) or the distrust of grand narratives and the authority of the subject leads you to irony. But more often than not (always?) reintroduces the appearance/reality distinction. You can’t be wrong if you don’t “really” mean it!

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  90. toby, what did you expect? i’m curious you say that. perception is key to understanding and yet i think we are all too close to this one to make an objective opinion becaus we are both living in a post-modern world and we are also not living in a post-modern world and to compound the problem even further, there is no such thing as an objective anything….so acuracy is already impossible.

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  91. As a note to Chandler’s mention of irony as a safety mechanism (well, sort of), Eco described this in his essays on the Name of the Rose by pointing out that knowing that, because history is always there, you can never be original (this is my own paraphrasing, and it does lack grace), you have to sample from history—but not innocently. You have to do it with irony. The kids with porn mustaches on Bedford are probably the same kids that would have had a mustache had mustaches not become symbols of porn. They choose the ironic version so they can have their mustache while showing how aware they are that mustaches are considered corny and unoriginal and a little skeevy in general these days.

    Take that to the fetishization of certain brands, styles, etc (basically, anything in Williamsburg) and you have the answer to my question, “Why are you turning your entire body into a joke?”

    They invariably answer, “I’m a postmodernist attempting to scratch a particular neurotic itch for a distinct symbol and the only safe way to do so is by way of irony.”

    I’d still like to kick their asses, of course.

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  92. Greg – I expected comments on modern vs. postmodern architecture, possibly with a Yale-tinged sidetrack into deconstruction. Just the topic you chose, I guess.

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  93. I apologize to anyone with a mustache, and to Lacanians for simplifying so drastically the vector at which semiotics and psychoanalysis meet.

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  94. Chandler—“i challenge you to provide evidence that derrida, de man, lyotard, butler, jameson, etc etc etc come anywhere remotely close to disregarding conflicting theories” [sic throughout].
    I could, especially with Derrida. Your attitude doesn’t incline me to do so.

    “although the term was later usurped by litcrit, it’s origins are unquestionably in architecture”
    Sorry, I thought the discussion came up because of a book and was being used in that context. My mistake.

    “In general it would be nice if you didn’t wear your literature degree on your sleeve”
    I mentioned it by way of stating my credentials and saying, yes, I have studied this crap and I’m not pulling these statements out of Reader’s Digest or something. For your benefit, next time I have experience with something, I’ll wait until you ask. Are you going to accuse me of wearing my egg salad recipe on my sleeve now?

    Michele—This is all too much like that attitude we discussed in the e-mail. I don’t want to get into it. If you would, please, delete me from Spread, since I don’t see how that would turn out differently.

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  95. Does anyone have their own opinion on what postmodern means? It seems like this post is one big pissing contest that got out of control. I may have missed something, but aren’t these all “theories” that you guys are passionately arguing about? I think if you were able to give an example instead of definitions…like
    “Dancing with Celebrities” is…
    but “Skating with the Stars” isn’t

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  96. Henry, I will delete you.

    I’ll have Toby Joe do so today

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  97. zac, I have no idea what happen.

    (I almost didn’t leave the below comment but given where this has gone, screw it.)

    I was watching CSI the other night and mr. Grisham was saying something to the guy that deals with the dead bodies. The dead body guy said he wasn’t competitive. To which Grisham replied, “Then how did you get to become chief medical examiner?”

    HE then went on a Grisham like tirade explaining that we’re all competitive it’s merely an outlet we created (consciously or not) because we no longer kill for our meals, fight for land, etc.

    Why am I bringing this up? Because I was thinking, “Why don’t women tend to do this online?” And then I thought about what Grisham said. You guys have argued and you’ve argued well, but I can’t say that it’s made any more sense of postmodernism (for me).

    Now, that’s not to say women don’t have their fair share of Internet spats. We’re catty. We call each other fat and say we’re stupid and we flaunt knowing someone in front of someone who doesn’t know said someone.

    This is EXACTLY the kind of discussion I DO NOT want on spread. But I refuse to play God either.

    I guess, what I’m saying is some people could benefit from beating the shit out of a punching bag before talking online. Or go eat something bloody. Fuck if know.

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  98. What I’m saying is, the answer to my original question got lost in a pissing contest. Not that the pissing contest wasn’t fun to watch, but come on now. This is just goofy. The hell?

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  99. i’m just defending what i saw as a number of reasonable questions. I don’t question your credentials in the slightest and i’m asking that you don’t do the same to the rest of us. comments like “You want names? Yes, I could give them to you, but I would bet you money they wouldn’t mean anything to you” didn’t do much to endear you either.

    But i would much rather talk about the topic at hand than waste time fighting. (although i would like a good egg salad recipe.) That said, i’m sorry lets start over. Where in derrida do you find that he disregards conflicting theories? I am no derrida apologist (except for that wonderful head of hair) but i’m just not sure where in the texts you are talking about.

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  100. zac, i wasn’t presenting theories, just what i see as the heart of postmodernism. I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear.

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  101. michele, i think the question is just quite involved and since postmodernism covers the arts and architecture and lit., it’s hard to define what is and is not postmodern. i would hazzard a guess that post-modern is………..”a simplified reaction to X…..x being something not studied in depth by the masses and only taken as face value by the educated to make a point about the non-issue that X has upon society.” you can throw it out if you want. but i see cynisim in post-modern work as an observer of it, but i seriously doubt the existance of the cynicism in the intent of X. once the masses get ahold of something, the sarcasm errupt and i don’t want to call it post-modern anymore because it has morphed into a reaction of postmodernism.

    toby, i think the problem with architecture is it’s common thread of human neccesity, shelter. that removes it from any real discourse. looking at modernism and postmodernism is not exactly a waist of time other than the formal acceptance of one over the other because architecture is an addative profession, not a reductive one. sure you may say modernism was reductive but that is not true. it was formally differnt, but far from reduced in the aspect of experience of the refined materials in the construction. modernism was full of layers of meaning and interpretation. the unfortunate attempt of post-modern architecture was their insistance to look at a meer piece of modern architecture(reducing it to the simple lines/form) and counter that by creating a hollow one liner of existance/substance. post-modern achitecture isn’t useless because it still maintains the common thread of “shelter” but it just looks wierd at times and i feel “meaning” is the reason there have been so many off-shoots of “styles”….this is because post-modernism lacked the “beef” that modernism hid under the surface. hence the structuralist and the post structuralists and now that you mention it, the decons and the new york 5 losers. people used to find “meaning” in their architecture, in the “experience” of architecture. what i love about art is its defined uselessness since the origins of science. it’s funny that science killed god and it killed art and it altered human existance plus it F’d up architecture a little too. now all of these disciplines are struggling to replace meaning to their fields by stabbing at the dark and creating “new” versions of something that is busted at the core(post-modernism) and they can’t even see it. “art is useless but useless in not always art.”

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  102. I can’t believe I just quoted a fake character from CSI. IT wasn’t even a new show, it was a rerun.

    I want an example of postmodernism that doesn’t involve cynism or humor or doesn’t emply a “punchline” type of mentality.

    I guess I’d have to look to fine art, no?

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  103. Think of Richard Serra, or Naim June Pak, or any installation artist. Think of Tim Hawkinson, whose installations we saw this time last year.

    Think of Jocko Weyland’s photographs of album covers…

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  104. Hell, Cindy Sherman is perfect.

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  105. I think it’s really strange that a discussion about “what is postmodernism” has engendered more activity and passion on here than anything else I’ve ever seen. Why is that?

    I think there is one thing that we can ALL agree on: say what you want about Derrida, Spivak, Gasche, Foucault, Lyotard and Deleuze, but those Lacanians are just plain weird.

    And I should know. I married one!

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  106. I KNOW A POMO NAME JOCKO!

    New bumper sticker.

    Charlie, always a pleasure.

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  107. They’re just like cats, charlie. They speak their own language and operate on another plane. They sure are cute, though (ask Bataille’s ex-wife!)

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  108. Postmodernists write Java. Realists work in .Net!

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  109. Kerry wants to name our next cat Pavlov.

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  110. Cats are postmodern. Dogs are facist.

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  111. hahahhahahahha

    Now, you’re speakin-a-mah language.

    (say that like that guy from “I come from a land down under)

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  112. Pragmatists use Rails.

    And I think dogs might be more communist. They have that sort of imperialist side of em.

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  113. Charlie – Which cats are postmodern? You have to back that up with names!

    (joke stolen from chandler)

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  114. cuz that’s the way it sounded in my head.

    Where women glow and men plunder?

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  115. Michele-

    you’re seeing the male academic version of “i must, i must, i must increase my bust”

    toby: add to that

    gerard richter , damian hirst , andres serrano

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  116. Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?

    You better run, you better take cover.

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  117. I thought of hirst and serrano, but richter is good!

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  118. “Pragmatists use Rails.”

    Trendwhores use Rails.
    Pragmatists use the best tool for the job, regardless of hype. They might use Rails. They might not.

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  119. He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich

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  120. What do you call the ones who self-consciously choose their tools based on what their mentor and ex-slavedriver says and purposefully rewrite and prematurely optimize all day and all night in order to avoid the dreaded “NIH” (not invented here) syndrome?

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  121. sounds like Steven Wolfram.

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  122. Best compliment Jon has ever gotten!
    ;)

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  123. i guess the “who’s who”

    tschumi
    eisman
    venturi
    meier
    libeskind

    but NOT
    NOX
    Koolhaas
    Ito
    Sejima

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  124. no best one was “holy shit, you’re going to break me in half with that”

    pretty much everyone said “dont use perl” and lighttpd sucks when i started this project. now i’ve got something that is super light, amazingly easy to develop with ( somewhere between ‘classic’ programming and hotNewFrameworks , but highly intuitive ) and scales exceedingly well

    if only i can get this one damn piece of logic done i can launch :/

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  125. sorry chandler….i was answering toby’s question about but with some hesitation………”What do you call the ones who self-consciously choose their tools based on what their mentor and ex-slavedriver says and purposefully rewrite and prematurely optimize all day and all night in order to avoid the dreaded “NIH” (not invented here) syndrome?”

    not a bad start though, but IMHO,minus meier, eisenman and definitely not libeskind tschumi’s on the fence and again this is all up for the “postmodernesque-denial-of-making-a-stand-about-anything” thing. i’d add i.m.PEI to the list and that phil johnson character too

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  126. question: was it postmodern of me to contrast a story relating to the immense , immaculate, size of my penis with long thread of who’sTheBetterAcademic ? or was that just ironic?

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  127. oh yeah, gehry….”the leggo kid” he’s post-something alright, but i’m not sure what! : )

    personally, they’re all modernists when it comes to architecture but were born too late. the postmodern architects were really just modernist who wanted to set themselves apart in name, but their ideas are completely rooted in the modern movement. this is why postmodern architecture as a “type” died within a few years. then the architectural art historians got ahold of the calandar and said “this started here and ended there and all you guys can’t be in the club since you aren’t on the list!!!!”

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  128. haha i see.
    you don’t think eisenman is pomo? he’s got all that derrida collaboration stuff though.

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  129. as a postmodern blanket….eisenman…yes…as a structural or decon guy…..yes. as an architect making reference to a singular building type or technique…no. his design is still based within modernist values and questions and his text floats outside as sortof a footnote to his methodology. the problem with architecture is always between the Design Process and the Built Environment. eisenman can talk all day long about this and that and how he devised a method, but at the end of the day, his building is still grounded in materiality and contextuality that was the basis for modern architecture. interestingly enough those were also parts of the design process of the realist before modernism. once again the bleed through. architecture is a strange bird…not art and not science and not social helper.

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