postmodern culture

I went to go see Rihanna accept the 2017 Harvard Humanitarian of the Year award and it was every bit the surreal postmodern cultural experience I’d hope it would be.

Highlights include:

-Rihanna somehow makes a light grey sweater dress edgy and sensual. I’m in awe.

-The Dean of Harvard College, visibly starstruck, addresses Rihanna and says “allow me to explain the mission of Harvard College” and then does just that for like 5 minutes. Then, he goes to shake her hand and when she kisses him on the cheek he turns beet red and looks like he’s about to faint.

-3 different Harvard undergrads give speeches about Rihanna and each one sounded more like a paper they wrote for a media studies class than the last.

-Rihanna gives each of the speakers’ cute references to her music a polite laugh and then actually, truly laughs when one of the undergrads recites a litany of her contributions to feminism that ended with a paean to her bejeweled flask.

-Rihanna is presented with a bouquet of roses by an adorable six-year-old who is probably now the coolest kid in his whole school district.

-This was the first Harvard event I’ve been to that didn’t give any stage time to a white man.

  • me: *forgets friends birthdays*
  • me: *confuses memories*
  • me: *forgets own middle name*
  • me, also: The X-Files' implosion of generic boundaries enacts a postmodern subversion of the categories and aesthetic forms of modern media culture; it mixes a heavy style and high seriousness with irony and parody, and its combination of the standard postmodem aesthetic strategies and themes of postmodern culture produces a pop postmodernism that enables us to interrogate both the aesthetics of television and postmodernism.

Byron did not do with the Gothic hero-villains what Blake and Shelley did–infuse them with existential force, ramify them profoundly. Rather, Byron made the Gothic hero-villain into a bourgeois attraction, the merely interesting man. For if Byron is himself the hero-villain–an original enough stroke–he never confronts what’s darkest in himself with a transforming urge.

Byron lacked all capacity for introspection. He had a sharp, mercurial mind, capable of lightning response to events, but he had the analytic ability of a songbird.

And what is darkest in the Byronic hero is not really very dark. He cannot see deeply enough, look with sufficient coldness, to reveal anything truly disturbing. Byron is forever playing at evil. He’s sentimental, shallow, always posturing, never conveying the intensity of precursors like Hamlet, or even of Ambrosio. The Byronic hero is charismatic, but thoroughly conventional and small-scale in all of his crises and woes. He performs the role of alluring aristocrat to the philistine middle classes. Without intellectual capability, without emotional nuance, the wildly popular Byronic figure cheapens the image of the Gothic hero-villain, and makes the serious Gothic-visionary encounter that much less tenable.

Byron had what Freud would call a stunningly mobile libido. He was able to shift commitments of psychic energy with the speed that an accomplished trader can move futures on the floor of the Exchange. Byron never rests where he might be caught out an made to commit himself. He’s always on the move, always changing–in part out of a fear of being confronted for the opportunist that he is. He’s radically attractive, but loves no one but himself.

Byron turns the idiom of the Gothic into the stuff of Hollywood entertainment; his persona influences every cheaply alienated actor from Humphrey Bogart to Jack Nicholson, as well as the femme fatale. In his vision of life as endless irony (for what is irony but the expressed unwillingness to render full investment in one’s beliefs or relations?), he offers a deconstruction of the various modes of mental strife that Blake and Shelley and Emerson practice. He’s a progenitor of everything in the Anglo-American mind that’s attracted to our various postmodernisms, predicting and endorsing the world of parody, cut-up, pastiche, mime, impersonation, repetition, surface flash, and ceaseless movement. (If David Letterman could rhyme, he’d be a second-tier Byron.) Byron saps the potential for Gothic and visionary conjunction, leading culture toward a new age in which wisdom lies in the art of sliding well on surfaces. In the current cultural imagination, one of Gothic’s main alternatives is the skimming mode manifest in the postmodern culture of unabated irony.

—  Mark Edmundson, Nightmare on Main Street: Angels, Sadomasochism, and the Culture of the Gothic [1997]

Fantastic and insightful video that explores the tension between postmodernism and sincerity. It looks at the influence of postmodernism and cynical irony in 90′s and 00′s pop culture (in shows like Seinfeld and Arrested Development) and the recent trend toward sincerity (in shows like Parks and Recreation and Community). Highly recommended.

On the whole, postmodern cultures, despite their fascination with ghouls and vampires, have had little to say of evil. Perhaps this is because the postmodern man or woman— cool, provisional, laid-back and decentred—lacks the depth that true destructiveness requires. For postmodernism, there is nothing really to be redeemed. For high modernists like Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, or the early T. S. Eliot, there is indeed something to be redeemed, but it has become impossible to say quite what. The desolate, devastated landscapes of Beckett have the look of a world crying out for salvation. But salvation presupposes sinfulness, and Beckett’s wasted, eviscerated human figures are too sunk in apathy and inertia even to be mildly immoral. They cannot even muster the strength to hang themselves, let alone set fire to a village of innocent civilians.
—  Terry Eagleton, On Evil (Yale University Press, 2010)

“The human form is sacred for us because it bears the stamp of our embodiment. The wilful desecration of the human form, has become, for many people, a kind of compulsion. And this desecration is also a denial of love. It is an attempt to remake the world as though love were no longer a part of it.  And that, surely, is what is the most important characteristic of the postmodern culture: it is a loveless culture, which is afraid of beauty because it is disturbed by love.”
— Roger Scruton, Beauty