PoMo: A clarification

Alex LoCascio alexlocascio at juno.com
Wed Feb 10 08:33:43 PST 1999

I'm not going to flog this horsey anymore than it needs to, so I think I'll recuse myself from the whole "Is Butler Useful?/Does Theory matter?" argument. However, I do want to set things straight about the much misused word "Postmodernism."

"Postmodernism" seems to be a term of abuse employed by more orthodox Marxists to denounce Post-Structuralist philosophy, the practice of Deconstruction in literary criticism, Western Marxism, Cultural Studies, science studies, multiculturalism, feminism, Rortyite pragmatism, and a whole lotta other things.

This is an incorrect usage. While all of those things may be elements of the Postmodern condition, none of them are synonymous with "Postmodernism."

When I first encountered the word "postmodernism," it was used mainly in reference to a movement in the arts. Writers like Robbe-Grillet and Pynchon, the "cyberpunk" school of writers in SF, architects like Frank Gehry and architecture like the Westin Bonaventura, composers like John Cage, Philip Glass and even certain movements in rock like punk, filmmakers like the French New Wave directors (Godard, Truffaut, etc.) and individual films like Ridley Scott's Bladerunner and Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire. I believe Fredric Jameson was the first one to take a look at all this "Postmodern" culture and try to explain it by linking it to a particular stage in the developement of Capitalism. Schools of thought like Post-Structuralism and Deconstruction also got thrown into the mix as being symptomatic of the "postmodern condition."

I find it ironic that Sokal groupies chastise certain theorists for not fully understanding certain scientific concepts, while critics of "pomo" aren't even sure what it is. This can be quite comical sometimes, like when Michael Albert spent a few issues worth of Z Magazine attacking "postmodernism" even though by his own admission he has no idea what the hell it is.

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