Don’t Start Here
I’m not going to define postmodernism or ‘locate’ it (to use the postmodernist term) because the joy of postmodernism (if there is any) lies in the journey of discovery that each of us must make to gain entry to its shadowy towers.
Don’t Read This
Jean Baudrillard, one of the seers of postmodernism, showed us how reality had been syphoned off into a hyper-real space where events only exist on television, as if television were merely a rehearsal, a low-budget warm-up, for the panopticism of Facebook et al. “[T]oday,” says Baudrillard in The Ecstacy of Communication (1987),
one’s private living space is conceived of as a receiving and operating area, as a monitoring screen endowed with telematic power, that is to say, with the capacity to regulate everything by remote control. Including the work process, within the prospects of telematic work performed at home, as well as consumption, play, social relations, leisure. One could conceive of simulating leisure or vacation situations in the same way flight is simulated for pilots. Is this science fiction?
Techno-driven fabrications of reality are no longer science fiction, or barely, as in Jaron Lanier’s seagull story. “Picture this: It’s sometime later in the 21st-century, and you’re at the beach. A neuro-interfaced seagull perches and seems to speak, telling you that you might want to know that nanobots are repairing your heart valve at the moment…”
Don’t Go There
This notion of regulating everything by remote control extends, with multiple caveats, beyond personal and social relations to public relations. Telematic PR is now commonplace (or ‘a commonplace’ in Foucauldian terms), as our febrile online activities generate “data banks of hitherto unimaginable proportions” as Frederic Jameson put it in his introduction to one of postmodernism’s canonical (sic) texts, Jean-Francois Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979). How right Jameson was to identify the control and ownership of this data as “one of the crucial political issues of our own time” (emphasis in the original). Lanier is painfully funny about the economic issues, as the recipient of the nanobot heart repair dies of thirst in a world where water is prohibitively expensive but you can get free access to every movie ever made to watch online while you die.
Don’t Buy That
Public relations scholars are now engaging with an emerging object of study that is stimulating the reanimated corpse of postmodernism as she heads blankly towards us with no other intention than to be one of the weasels that rips our flesh. For example, for just sixty-eight British pounds you can become the (non)owner of a virtual copy of The Public Relations of Everything: The Ancient, Modern and Postmodern Dramatic History of an Idea. I do not doubt the reviews that describe the book as ‘wise’ and ‘humanistic’, I just wonder why it’s so Foucaulting expensive.
Don’t Believe Me
No less an authority than the Victoria and Albert Museum put the official stamp on postmodernism’s demise with a retrospective exhibition at the end of 2011. I missed the show because I was recovering from a bone marrow transplant, yet I baulk at the term ‘movement’ to describe postmodernism because shoe-horning the multifarious endeavours of something that is so hard to pin down into anything resembling a planned or purposeful group advancing a shared set of values is, well, a bit too modernist.
Don’t Give Up on Us, I Know…. We Can Still Come Through
Postmodernism has no Soul, and in that terrifying blankness lies its attraction. We loved modernity, modernism, the modern, being mods, all mod cons, and look where that got us. It’s the act of looking that postmodernism most engenders (pun intended), its (in)famous ‘gaze’, and if postmodernism is needed, now more than ever, it’s because we so badly need to lift our gaze from the iPadization of Everything and bring an authentically* social turn to bear on our relations; private, public or otherwise.
*The asterisk is acknowledging the problematic nature of ‘authenticity’. Thanks, asterisk.