December 9, 2009

What Comes After Postmodern?

I was curious the other day about what comes after postmodern, since that’s where we are.

Dr. Alan Kirby, Oxford, U.K., has an interesting take on this. The gist of it ~ if philosophical ideas can and should be broken down into “gists” ~ is that postmodernism is followed by what he terms as “pseudo-modern.” He says, “Postmodernism conceived of contemporary culture as a spectacle before which the individual sat powerless, and within which questions of the real were problematised. It therefore emphasised the television or the cinema screen. Its successor, which I will call pseudo-modernism, makes the individual’s action the necessary condition of the cultural product.” In other words, the reader/viewer/audience is an integral contributor to the “text.”

Examples of this include television programs having viewers text on their cell phones to select favorites or Tivo or being able to comment or add to news via email or comments. A major one is the internet. Texts or entertainment used to be a fixed thing. You read or viewed from beginning to end. But now with the internet the viewer selects what they want to see, essentially creating their own un-repeatable narrative with every click. In that way, it’s like performance art, only the narrative is selected by the viewer from fluid possibilities, rather than the creator. But, like performance art, it’s ephemeral and ever-changing.

Kirby goes on to say that this creates people who are technologically savy but paradoxically helpless: “This technologised cluelessness is utterly contemporary: the pseudo-modernist communicates constantly with the other side of the planet, yet needs to be told to eat vegetables to be healthy, a fact self-evident in the Bronze Age. He or she can direct the course of national television programmes, but does not know how to make him or herself something to eat – a characteristic fusion of the childish and the advanced, the powerful and the helpless.” And, finally, “You are the text, there is no-one else, no ‘author’; there is nowhere else, no other time or place. You are free: you are the text: the text is superseded.”

What I was thinking as I read this is that “kids these days” have never been without the internet. Their conception of the world is totally different than mine in this respect. What also strikes me is, if you believe like I do, that a novel or other text is as close as you can get to another person’s consciousness, then our consciousnesses are getting closer together, melding in a way that they never have before. It’s not that we’re developing a mindless hive-mind but that the potential for understanding and connection is that much greater, and to people not just next door but around the globe. With the “author” actively creating text and the “reader” actively responding and shaping text as well, we’re creating a communal consciousness.

I take this as a very positive and hopeful thing.

What I’m Reading Today: Joy Williams’s Taking Care. I love her work stylistically, though I can’t help feeling sorry for the children who are collateral damage in her stories.

No comments: