Nick Pitt on Sun, 12 Jul 1998 13:26:58 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> postmodernism


JENNY JONES: Boy, we have a show for you today!  Recently, the University
of Virginia philosopher Richard Rorty made the stunning declaration that
nobody has "the foggiest idea" what postmodernism means.  "It would be nice
to get rid of it," he said. "It isn't exactly an idea; it's a word that
pretends to stand for an idea." This shocking admission that there is no
such thing as postmodernism has produced a firestorm of protest around the
country. Thousands of authors, critics and graduate students who'd
considered themselves postmodernists are outraged at the betrayal.  Today
we have with us a writer-a recovering postmodernist-who believes that his
literary career and personal life have been irreparably damaged by the
theory, and who feels defrauded by the academics who promulgated it. He
wishes to remain anonymous, so we'll call him "Alex."

JENNY JONES TO ALEX: Alex, as an adolescent, before you began experimenting
with postmodernism, you considered yourself-what?

[Close shot of ALEX.  An electronic blob obscures his face. Words appear at
bottom of screen: "Says he was traumatized by postmodernism and blames

ALEX (his voice electronically altered): A high modernist. Y'know, Pound,
Eliot, Georges Braque, Wallace Stevens, Arnold Schoenberg, Mies van der
Rohe. I had all of Schoenberg's 78's.

JENNY JONES: And then you started reading people like Jean-Francois Lyotard
and Jean Baudrillard-how did that change your feelings about your modernist

ALEX: I suddenly felt that they were, like, stifling and canonical.

JENNY JONES: That is so sad, such a waste. How old were you when you first
read Fredric Jameson?

ALEX: Nine, I think.   [The AUDIENCE gasps.]   JENNY JONES: We have some
pictures of young Alex. ...[We see snapshots of 14-year-old ALEX reading
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's "Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and
Schizophrenia." The AUDIENCE oohs and ahs.]

ALEX: We used to go to a friend's house after school-y'know, his parents
were never home-and we'd read, like, Paul Virilio and Julia Kristeva.

JENNY JONES: So you're only 14, and you're already skeptical toward the
"grand narratives" of modernity, you're questioning any belief system that
claims universality or transcendence. Why?

ALEX: I guess-to be cool.   JENNY JONES: So, peer pressure?   ALEX: I
guess.   JENNY JONES: And do you remember how you felt the very first time
you entertained the notion that you and your universe are constituted by
language-that reality is a cultural construct, a "text" whose meaning is
determined by infinite associations with other "texts"?

ALEX: Uh, it felt, like, good. I wanted to do it again.

[The AUDIENCE groans.]

JENNY JONES: You were arrested at about this time?   ALEX: For
spray-painting "The Hermeneutics of Indeterminacy" on an overpass.

JENNY JONES: You're the child of a mixed marriage-right?   ALEX: My father
was a de Stijl Wittgensteinian and my mom was a neo-pre-Raphaelite.

JENNY JONES: Do you think that growing up in a mixed marriage made you more
vulnerable to postmodernism?

ALEX: Absolutely. It's hard when you're a little kid not to be able to just
come right out and say (sniffles), y'know, I'm an Imagist or I'm a
phenomenologist or I'm a post-painterly abstractionist. It's really
hard-especially around the holidays. (He cries.)

JENNY JONES: I hear you. Was your wife a postmodernist?   ALEX: Yes. She
was raised avant-pop, which is a fundamentalist offshoot of postmodernism.

JENNY JONES: How did she react to Rorty's admission that postmodernism was
essentially a hoax?

ALEX: She was devastated. I mean, she's got all the John Zorn albums and
the entire Semiotext(e) series. She was crushed.

[We see ALEX'S WIFE in the audience, weeping softly, her hands covering her
face.]   JENNY JONES: And you were raising your daughter as a
postmodernist?   ALEX: Of course. That's what makes this particularly
tragic.  I mean, how do you explain to a 5-year-old that self-consciously
recycling cultural detritus is suddenly no longer a valid art form?

JENNY JONES: Tell us how you think postmodernism affected your career as a

ALEX: I disavowed writing that contained real ideas or any real passion. My
work became disjunctive, facetious and nihilistic.  It was all metastatic
irony, a pernicious banality palimpsest of media pastiche.  I found myself
indiscriminately incorporating any and all kinds of pop kitsch and shlock.
(He begins to weep again.)

JENNY JONES: And this spilled over into your personal life?   ALEX: It was
impossible for me to experience life with any emotional intensity. I
couldn't control the irony anymore. I perceived my own feelings as if they
were in quotes. I italicized everything and everyone.  It became impossible
for me to appraise the quality of anything. To me everything was
equivalent-the Brandenburg Concertos and the Lysol jingle had the same
value.... (He breaks down, sobbing.)

JENNY JONES: Now, you're involved in a lawsuit, aren't you?  ALEX: Yes. I'm
suing the Modern Language Association.   JENNY JONES: How confident are you
about winning?   ALEX: We need to prove that, while they were actively
propounding it, academics knew all along that postmodernism was a specious
theory.  If we can unearth some intradepartmental memos-y'know, a paper
trail-any corroboration that they knew postmodernism was worthless cant at
the same time they were teaching it, then I think we have an excellent

JENNY JONES wades into audience and proffers microphone to a woman.

WOMAN (with lateral head-bobbing): It's ironic that Barry Scheck is
representing the M.L.A. in this litigation because Scheck is the postmodern
attorney par excellence. This is the guy who's made a career of
volatilizing truth in the simulacrum of exculpation!

VOICE FROM AUDIENCE: You go, girl!   WOMAN: Scheck is the guy who came up
with the quintessentially postmodern re-bleed defense for O.J., which
claims that O.J. merely vigorously shook Ron and Nicole, thereby
re-aggravating pre-existing knife wounds.  I'd just like to say to any
client of Barry-lose that zero and get a hero!

The AUDIENCE cheers wildly.   [Dissolve to message on screen: If you
believe that mathematician Andrew Wiles's proof of Fermat's last theorem
has caused you or a member of your family to dress too provocatively, call

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