Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Post post

There's a lively discussion going on at Larvatus Prodeo about the term 'postmodernism', which in spite of its derailment in various directions by a handful of usual suspects is galloping along vigorously and providing some thought-provoking ideas and information.

For example: for someone like me whose (fairly limited) exposure to the work of French feminist cultural critic Luce Irigaray has been strictly within the context of feminist psychoanalytic theory, it's been an eye-opener to discover her being denounced under the banner of postmodernism -- not least because both feminism and psychoanalysis are even more irresistible targets for Loud Denunciation from the anti-intellectual brigade than postmodernism itself.

It all began when The Australian, fearlessly pursuing an agenda it has had for some time, published yet another rant about postmodernism by someone who clearly hadn't bothered to do his own research about what it actually is. (This surprised me, actually, as I know the culprit a bit from way back and he is no fool -- although, thinking about it, his form has always been to spray first and negotiate later, which is how I first encountered him, in an intemperate letter to the editor of Australian Book Review, who was, at the time, moi.)

What I wish people would do (apart from the reading. Do the reading) in these debates is remember what, in these sorts of constructions, the prefix 'post' actually means. It doesn't mean 'after the end of'. It means 'in the wake of', as in Post-Impressionism: a development that could not possibly have taken place without being based on the thing it names. The concept of post-feminism, for example, makes no sense at all unless you see it as a consequence and development of feminism. 'Post-' implicitly attempts to answer the question 'What now?'

All of which is to say that I think people ought to pass a test and get a licence before they're allowed to talk about postmodernism at all. And one of the things you'd have to do to pass the test would be to demonstrate some knowledge and understanding of modernism. Without which, etc.


Fyodor said...

"All of which is to say that I think people ought to pass a test and get a licence before they're allowed to talk about postmodernism at all. And one of the things you'd have to do to pass the test would be to demonstrate some knowledge and understanding of modernism."

Yah, I can see it now: PoMo7 - Licence to Nihil.

Personally, I think a lipsnigering licence would be more useful, if not more entertaining.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Fyodor: no no no no no.

People ought to be free to lipsnig* when and where they choose, with one or more lipsnigees of their choice.

*Note for the bewildered: this beautiful verb has vague but smutty connotations not unconnected with Missy Higgins. It evolved -- rather than being intelligently created; au contraire -- during a thread about Ms Higgins at Larvatus Prodeo in which some rogue commenter who did not understand that the contemporary expression for what we who are middle-aged used to call miming is 'lip-synch' was instead using the magnificent eggcorn 'lip-sing', which you have to admit makes a lot of sense even if it is WRONG, and then compounded the felony by making a typing error. Thus was born a new idiolexical item, the verb 'to lipsnig'.

Mindy said...

If one were to 'do the reading' where would you suggest they start?

Elsewhere007 said...

I can't believe they're still running those anti-postmodernist rants.

What did you think about Louis Nowra on love being the province of male writers? (I've been thinking of blogging about it but haven't had time.)

Pavlov's Cat said...

Mindy, Mark B makes some good suggestions here at #95.

Elsewhere, good lord, did he really? Where?

Wow, 3+ centuries of female novelists and poets down the toilet, just like that. I wonder what his wife (novelist and memoirist Mandy Sayer) thinks.

And think how much easier it'll be to write the curricula!

Francis Xavier Holden said...

It's difficult. I struggle with questions like: are Kraftwerk modern or post-modern or just old skool these days.

I never see anything described as modern now. The last modern period was the 60s AFAICS.

Francis Xavier Holden said...

elsie - i only skipped through it - i thought he was saying guys can't write about it only ladies can. oh the perils of speed reading

Mindy said...

Thanks PC.

Pavlov's Cat said...

MIndy -- if you don't have sufficient time/energy/money/dedication for the heavy stuff, I can also heartily recommend this.

Elsewhere007 said...

In the review section of the Weekend Australian.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Tx E -- I'll try to find it. It's thesis marking season, so no weekend newspaper reading for this worker bee.

lucy tartan said...

I agree with the licence requirement - much more useful and fun than swotting up for the citizenship test, surely.

For starters everyone should be forced to read Mrs Dalloway.

klaus k said...

The 'post means after' thing is prevalent in how the term 'post-colonial' is understood, also. But in the case of most postcolonial theory or postcolonial studies work, it is very much an 'in the wake of' situation.

Part of this comes down to how you read history. I'm interested in continuities more than I am rupture, so I like 'in the wake of' better.

'tirke' - the word verifier has been to Guyana

Peter said...

Ms Cat, I have read through the summary you heartily recommended (thanks), and have come to a few conclusions:
1. "Postmodern" means totally different things in different areas of thought - as does "modern" itself. (Random thought - do we now have "Hymns Postmodern"?)
2. Without yet having read the articles or discussion in question, I am confident that in this case "postmodern" is just something on which to hang ones angst.
3. Ancient retired engineers should just get back into the garden and stop stressing their few remaining braincells with such matters.
Nevertheless, I will now move on to LP.

Fyodor said...


That is all.

Helen said...

A postmodernism licence? Heck I ain't even managed to get my poetic licence yet.

David Thornby said...

Given all this, I can't help but feel we've entered (and/or engendered) postpostpostmodernism -- hopefully, a time in which we can all begin to reflect on postmodernism's responses to modernism and post-postmodernisms's (typically pejorative) responses to postmodernism's responses to modernism. With any luck we'll be able to do it without post-postmodernism's populist sneering at the idea that there are such things as ideas, and indeed concurrently avoiding postmodernism's intellectualist sneering at the idea that there's anything else other than ideas (however delicious that might be).

But I doubt it.