: Postmoderism to Post-Crash: The New Ads in the New York Review of Books :

an excerpt by Bruce Fleming

Commentators agree that the sensibility of the postmodern age was marked by playfulness, irony, and self-reference; some saw, underneath all this relentless fun, a sort of world-weariness indicating that we lacked issues worth addressing, so we could devote ourselves to historical self-reference and mirror-gazing without any fear of distraction by real problems.  And for several decades of economic boom in the last quarter of the twentieth century and for twenty years after the fall of the Wall, when big problems seemed to disappear, this may have seemed a viable attitude. It was especially viable in those protected backwaters of academia and the art world where for many people the proof of the validity of what they did was precisely the fact that people outside weren't doing it. Postmodernism flourished in the cracks. The footsore average viewer in a contemporary art museum still said, “My three-year-old can do better than that!” And academia and museum directors said, “See what we mean? They just don't get it, which means we do.” This, after all, was the intellectual world that prided itself on arming itself with an arsenal of jargon so impenetrable that no one outside the Modern Language Association understood a word, a world that proudly engaged in “theorizing” or “problematizing” a text rather than, yawn, reading and talking about it.


Now, things are different: we have real problems. In 2010 it's almost a decade after 9/11, the U.S.'s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have gone sour, and it's two years after the crash that ushered in the Great Recession.  In the U.S. as well as most of the rest of the West, unemployment, bankruptcies of what had seemed gilt-edged institutions, and a ballooning deficit have taken their toll. And then there's global warming-the last apparently a problem for many years before, if not acknowledged as such. And the number of listings in the job market that the Modern Language Association runs has dropped over 50 percent in the last two years, the largest two-year drop ever. Want to theorize a text? Take a number. Postmodernist irony and self-reference as a reaction to this seems like fiddling while Rome burns, and the endless recycling of other works that was the lifeblood of postmodernism now just seems a sign of the exhaustion we must transcend if we're to have a chance at transcending our woes. Postmodernism is dead.

Like any movement deprived of a reason for being, however, postmodernism will certainly go through at least a decade of zombie existence, apparently alive but in fact a body without a soul-until suddenly one day it just keels over. Postmodernism, after all, provided the vocabulary for a generation, perhaps two. And if that's the vocabulary you're used to, that's the vocabulary you use-until it becomes clear even to you that it's ridiculous. Postmodernism is sometimes shortened for those in the know as “pomo,” so let's call it that. And let's call what follows postmodernism the Post-Crash Age,  PCA. In the interim, before pomo completely gives way to PCA in expression as well as fact, look for situations that seem pomo but are actually PCA