What [in the World] was Postmodernism? An Introduction

What [in the World] was Postmodernism? An Introduction

by
David Ciccoricco
2016-12-04

An Introduction to the gathering.

Historicizing Historicizations

Born in the year 1966 or 1973 or sometime in between,Of all the birthdates suggested - and generously substantiated - for postmodernism, 1966 is among the earliest and 1973 is among the latest. The first is put forth by Brian McHale in the mold of Virginia Woolf’s provocation dating (what we would later call) modernism’s onset “on or about December 1910,” though he fully acknowledges the contingent nature of gathering “punctual events” to mark what is essentially a transitional process (The Cambridge Introduction to Postmodernism, 26-37). The second is put forth by Andreas Killen, who revises architect Charles Jencks’ similarly provocative pinpointing of postmodernism’s start up by one year (in the demolition of a major modernist landmark), and enumerates an array of world historical ruptures in support; 1973 is also the favored mark for Fredric Jameson, who, in his self-confessed “Americanocentric” account, similarly cites the “great shock” of a collection of crises all reverberating that in year (xx-xxi). the literary and cultural movement known as postmodernism, after a life of suffering at the hands of contemporary theory, died peacefully in the night, or violently during the day, sometime during the 1990s after the Wall came down and Beckett passed on,Federman meditates on Beckett’s “changing tense” at length in his essay for the Stuttgart seminar. or exactly on the morning of September 11th, 2001.

In June of 2015 at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, the “What [in the World] was Postmodernism?” Symposium brought together scholars, poets, and media artists to reflect on how postmodernism has shaped their respective fields and practices, and how the defining traits of that movement have managed to—or failed to—translate into whatever we decide has superseded it in today’s postcolonial, posthumanist, and digital culture. Scholars interrogated how we might deconstruct or reconstruct the phenomenon of the postmodern—as a style, philosophy, or era, among other possibilities—along 21st century fissures and fault lines. They paid particular attention to the global, regional, and local contexts bracketed by “in the world,” while keeping in mind the ontological implications of the duplicitous and multiplicitous worlds postmodernism so often entails. This gathering of essays for the electronic book review was conceived as a kind of antipodean offshoot of the larger, contemporaneous project of The Cambridge History of Postmodern Literature (2016), and it draws together some of the most compelling responses to the puzzles of postmodernism put forth at the 2015 event.

Plywood mural covering earthquake-damaged building, by Michael Hewson (Christchurch, New Zealand).

There have been many critical-historical attempts to locate postmodernism’s expiry date. And it is perhaps fitting in the context of this collection that one of the early accounts most readily cited emerges from down under, by Australian scholar John Frow. In “What Was Postmodernism?” (first published in 1991), Frow sought to analyze the process of periodization in the linkages between history, memory, and theory (8). For him, postmodernism is an “exacerbation” of modernism’s ethos of rampant renewal, such that a threshold effect demands a new temporality—a new “imagining of time” (4). Frow spends the bulk of his comprehensive essay theorizing what postmodernism is, concluding with its conception as a fusion of crises (political, economic, cultural, and of representation in general) of an “obsolescent modernism.” Postmodernism, he writes, “is the self-fulfilling prophecy of its own impossible autonomy” (63). The attractiveness of the description notwithstanding, it and the essay as a whole suggests that postmodernism may not have changed tense after all. William Spanos appears to be the first one to use that title, “What Was Postmodernism?” one year earlier in his 1990 review of Silvio Gaggi’s book, Modern/Postmodern (1989). Spanos concludes that what we finally learn from Gaggi’s text “is, I’m afraid, that ‘postmodernism’ has become cultural capital—an eminently salable commodity. Isn’t it time, therefore, to ask, What was postmodernism?” (115).

If they were not eager to ask what it was, others were at least eager to end it. At around the same time as Frow and Spanos, “The End of Postmodernism” symposium was held in Stuttgart, Germany in 1991 (with proceedings published in 1993). Convened by Heide Ziegler, the event brought together scholars and novelists Ihab Hassan, Malcolm Bradbury, Raymond Federman, William Gass, and John Barth. Although the mission at the outset steered toward a collective obituary, at least among Ziegler, Hassan, Federman, and Bradbury, no clear consensus emerged on what they were collectively ending (see Clavier 35, and McHale, Cambridge Introduction 135). Nor were they clear on what might have interrupted, ended, or replaced it: with regard to “postmodern fiction,” Federman notes that it “simply came and went like a flock of migratory birds, and we followed its flight across the sky, and watched it disappear over the horizon” (52). According to Bradbury, “if Postmodernism roughly designates a stylistic, cultural and intellectual epoch that we also call Postwar, then I think it is over. If it designates, as critics like Fredric Jameson argue, the cultural life of late capitalism, its triumph and then its crisis may be just beginning” (85).

Bradbury went on from the symposium to take that first step of defining postmodernism second, so to speak, reprising the “What Was Post-Modernism?” title in a 1995 essay. He frames postmodernism more explicitly as coextensive with the Cold War, first as a response to the “global anxiety and absurdity” of the post-war period and the news of the Holocaust (766) then later, from the 1960s, as a mode of new “energetic and affluent experimentalism” as counter-culture mixed inextricably with avant-garde (768). Although it took the French to explain a new postmodern “condition” to them, Americans, Bradbury notes, needed no help commodifying it. That project may have reached its illogical extremes in consumer capitalism, with the notion of the “postmodern,” in turn, becoming so commonplace and so diffuse as to lose any utility for cultural theory and philosophy. But more important for Bradbury was the fact that given so much of postmodernism grew out of Cold War concerns, we now needed to look elsewhere to make sense of our cultural moment (774). Ziegler (also in later work) put forth the notion that postmodernism, as an aesthetic movement or cultural moment, ends because it can no longer differentiate itself from other societal subsystems; it has been subsumed by society at large, which has itself “become postmodern” (see Clavier 36). Her position is reflected in other major commentaries around that time, including that of David Foster Wallace. In his widely-cited “E Unibus Pluram” (1993), Wallace expressed deep-seated ambivalence for pop-culture’s (read, predominantly, TV culture’s) absorption of literary postmodernism’s arsenal, and above all its no-longer-so-secret weapon of irony.

The members of the Stuttgart symposium. From left to right: Heide Ziegler, William Gass, Malcolm Bradbury, Ihab Hassan, Raymond Federman, and John Barth.

Another eulogistic collection, In Memoriam to Postmodernism, emerged in the U.S. in 1995, similarly prompted by the sense that “mainstream media marketeers” have co-opted postmodernism and neutralized its “potentially liberating effects” (2). It was edited by Mark Amerika and Lance Olsen and included many other American (or American-based) artists and scholars in its mix—Larry McCaffery, Ronald Sukenick, Michael Joyce and, again, Federman among them. Amerika and Olsen similarly frame the collection in terms of literary postmodernism’s ambivalence about pop culture, and they explicitly put forth the notion of the “Avant-Pop” as more adequately characterizing literary production that follows on from the postmodernist writing of the 1960s and 70s and which can no longer be described as “postmodernist.” Despite its provocatively politicized intervention, the notion of “Avant-Pop” did not endure, on the whole failing to distinguish itself from cultural practices that were inescapably postmodernist.

In light of the mostly unironic albeit unconvincing attempts to end postmodernism in the 1990s, it was not surprising that the project was newly active over a decade later. For example, in 2007 Andrew Hoberek edited a special journal issue under the title, “After Postmodernism: Form and History in Contemporary American Fiction.” In his introduction, Hoberek begins with another iteration of the “absorption” argument, citing Minsoo Kang’s “wry” claim that postmodernism died with the release of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Last Action Hero (1993), which officially marked the total appropriation of reflexivity, ironic satire, and narrative multiplicity by mass culture (233). Though Hoberek writes that while many of the contributors to his collection make a strong case that contemporary (American) fiction can no longer adequately be “described as postmodern,” (233) he goes on to make his own three-pronged case to suggest that the governing narrative of postmodernism’s demise is itself problematic. First, it “perpetuates a hierarchical view of culture that confuses aesthetic questions about literary form with sociological ones about the constituencies for such form”; second, it enacts a “reproduction of the characteristically modernist investment […] in difficult formal innovation as the defining characteristic of serious literature”; and, finally, it evinces “a modernist understanding of literary change as grounded in periods of sweeping innovation that set aside their now-outmoded predecessors,” a model of literary history that, despite being “carried over and codified” in postmodernism, “in fact obscures the messy circumstances of postmodernism’s own emergence and the parallels between this process and the contemporary state of fiction” (234). Hoberek concludes with a call for more concrete evidence that may, at some point in the future, make a theory of the post-postmodern possible (241-42).

Of the names comprising this short and inevitably selective survey chronicling postmodernism’s passing, most are focused on literary postmodernism, which was indeed the focus of the Otago symposium. But I began with Frow, whose historicizing lends itself to extrapolations not only across other artistic and cultural domains but political, economic, and social ones as well—which is to say that his is also a broader history of postmodernity as era. In turn, I end with another scholar whose work lends itself to the same kind of extrapolations. In 2007, Brian McHale published an essay in the electronic book review under what might have been a familiar title, but nearly two decades could do little to dull the relevance of the question: “What Was Postmodernism?” McHale’s end game has September 11, 2001 marking postmodernism’s “changing tense,” and the notion that something about “human character changed”—to borrow Woolf’s phrase—at that time is certainly compelling. Furthermore, in exploring the reciprocal effects of a cultural obsession with catastrophe and apocalypse at the millennial turn, he writes:

long before the actual catastrophes of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, we have been imagining such catastrophes—staging them, rehearsing them in our imaginations and in our art-works: in apocalyptic movies, in paintings, even in works of architecture. As many commentators have observed, what was especially shocking about 9/11 was not so much that it caught us by surprise, but that it didn’t: we had already seen such disasters before, at the movies and on television; in The Day After and Independence Day and The Towering Inferno and, yes, even Planet of the Apes. We had composed scenarios of the end of civilization, and life among the ruins, not only in popular science fiction novels but in demanding literary novels like Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, which is set in London under the rocket blitz and in the war-ruined cities of Germany, but which obviously and self-consciously refers to the projected future ruins that our own cities would be reduced to if the intercontinental ballistic missiles, the heirs of the Nazis’ V-2 rockets, were ever launched. […] Maybe on 9/11 history finally caught up with our postmodern imagination of disaster, and we are now living in the aftermath of postmodernism, in what Raymond Federman calls (maybe jokingly) the New Post-Future.

McHale expands his diachronic account of postmodernism, from its precursors to its new post-future ghosts (and angels) in The Cambridge Introduction to Postmodernism (2015), which was followed a year later by his co-edited The Cambridge History of Postmodern Literature (2016). Hoberek writes the “epilogue” to that collection and focuses on both 2001 and the global financial crisis of 2008 as punctual events for postmodernism: “Indeed, it is tempting to say that if, as McHale has argued, detective fiction provides the generic template for modernism and science fiction for postmodernism, then post-apocalypse does so for post-postmodernism” (499). Turning to fiction, he observes how contemporary writers have moved away from a “fascination with personal and historical traumas as discrete past events that must be worked through in the present to an understanding of everyday existence itself as a sort of slow, ongoing trauma.” For Hoberek, this shift has its impetus in the triumph of neoliberalism (500). As far as historicizing goes, it may have taken a catastrophe of millennial proportions to punctuate postmodernism, at least under Western eyes; either way, it is also arguably safe enough to trust an expiry date stamped by Cambridge University Press.

In groping for what comes now or next, however, I would like to identify a source of internal contradiction and tension that has both divided and dated such theorizing: postmodernism’s relationship to its media environment. In the sundry histories of postmodernism, we typically find monolithic, reductive, and undifferentiated treatments of “media,” “technology,” and, more generally, digital culture. The major players (writing mainly before the Web) exhibit the same tendency: for example, Lyotard distrusted technoscience and its dehumanizing effects and opposed “the hegemony of computers” (Postmodern Condition 4), whereas Baudrillard was of course alarmist on the count of technologies of simulation and their deleterious effects on the social order (Simulation and Simulacra). In short, in conceptualizing what postmodernism is or was, much ink has been spilled in an attempt to negotiate the relationship between cultural and economic production and the tension between so-called literary and popular cultures that grows out of it. But perhaps not enough attention has been given to the extent to which technoculture has transformed these domains over the course of postmodernism’s lifetime. Such a critical gesture, I would suggest, is vital for any postmodernist past or future.

Postmodernism and Mediascape Revisited

The specter of “technology” as an undifferentiated mass hanging over our post-industrial heads has been charted by critics such as Leo Marx, who deftly traces its development from the late 1800s as it came to overshadow an earlier conception of the “mechanic arts” (16-19). In the late 20th century, he writes, we find that “[b]y virtue of its relative abstractness and inclusiveness, its capacity to evoke the inextricable interpenetration of, for example, the powers of the computer with the bureaucratic practices within large modern institutions, ‘technology’ (with no specifying adjective) invites endless reification” (18). Marx’s concern is primarily with the link between this nebulous conception of technology and the “pessimism” that grows out of the postmodern era, and the relationship he frames is, for the most part, an adversarial one. But there are other ways to look at it.

In fact, we can identify four basic positions that have circulated with regard to postmodernism and its media environment. “Technology” is either: a cause of postmodernism; a constituent of postmodernism; an antagonist of postmodernism; or something that marks the culmination of postmodernism. The first position, in which mass media and technologies of reproduction intensify and accelerate elements of modernism to the extent that it transmutes into something new, circulates in some of the earliest accounts. The notion that technological modes of production moved us from a modern society to a postmodern one is central to Jameson’s economically-driven model. Integral to Frow’s account of postmodernism as an “exacerbated” modernism is the way in which technologies irrevocably increase the “speed of commodification” in terms of both information and human subjectivity (3-4). And in his list of pairs describing the shift from “Fordist modernity” to “flexible postmodernity,” David Harvey includes the movement from “mechanical” to “electronic” reproduction (341). Generally, in this conception, computer technology emerges with and correlates to postmodernism given its dramatic reconfiguration of knowledge production.

If these examples suggest a causal relationship, others frame technology more modestly as a constitutive element, one part of the elusive whole of postmodernism. In an often cited cult-classical enumeration of roughly 30 disparate and incommensurable items (paradoxically) comprising postmodernism, Dick Hebdige includes “the functioning and effects of the new miniaturised technologies” and “broad societal and economic shifts into a ‘media,’ ‘consumer’ or ‘multinational’ phase” (cited in Frow, 18). Jameson’s deliberations on “video art” would also fall under the same constituent category (68). Furthermore, in his historicizing of postmodernism, Frow outlines (while not necessarily endorsing) accounts centered on mass media rather than high culture. He adds that

more recently, the emblematic medium has been the Internet, with hypertext, game software, and virtual identity foreshadowing an utter transformation of the social relations of communication and of the nature of textuality itself […] Here the key focus is on the provisionality of electronic selves and social relations, on the open-ended drift of a rhizomatic mode of reading intensely structured by desire and distraction, and on the transformative potential of an emergent technosocial which is then mapped onto and merged with that epochal structure of the postmodern which it at once prefigures, expresses, and reproduces (19-20).

The idea that technosocial forces both prefigure and perpetuate postmodernism points to the overlap of the first two causal and constitutive positions. We can locate a similar kind of overlap in some of the most foundational and recognizable accounts, as in Baudrillard’s take on mass media such as television and technologies of simulation more generally.

A focus on television allows for an obvious segue to the third, antagonistic position, for that medium prompted an internal division in the cultural sphere, with a number of writers and artists acting as guardians of an aesthetic movement now under threat from media technologies that were “mass” instruments—in both the journalistic and pop-cultural sense. While the first two cases can be said to frame postmodernity in relation to its media environment, this case moves us more directly into literary postmodernism and postmodernist fiction. For a plain example, we can return to David Foster Wallace’s lament that mass media has co-opted the counter-cultural and literary force of irony and flooded the consumer market with it. Wallace’s essay contains some fair-minded and by no means reactionary analysis of the effects of television: for instance, the notion that television “engages without demanding” and that one can “rest while undergoing stimulation” (163). But ultimately his concern is with the now outmoded scenario of a lone viewer (for an average of six hours per day) at the face of a monolithic mass media. In fact, in a glancing blow with the Web culture that would come to dominate the decade, Wallace spends a considerable amount of time discussing “media futurologist” George Gilder’s Life After Television (1994). The book interests him not only for its grand predictions of a globally networked society sharing videos through personal computers via fiber-optic threads—a kind of democratized form of television—but also for its inclusion of “commercials” (in the form of full page ads for its sponsor, Federal Express) (185). But he ultimately retreats into sardonic dismissal, however, confessing that he is (reflexively) trapped “in the aura” of the “televisual” irony that is the very object of his critique (189).

Contributors to the Stuttgart symposium also espoused an antagonistic model to varying degrees. Although Barth acknowledged that “every medium of art has its particular assets and limitations,” he could not conceal a sharp bias against “visual media and even oral narrative,” which are “meals fed to us regardless of our individual appetites and digestive capacities; the printed word we savor at our own pace” (186-87). Bradbury contributed a two-part essay framed, as his title suggested, specifically around “Postmodernism, the Novel, and the TV Medium,” in which he made reference to his own experience writing television scripts in order to weigh up the challenges of new “technological media—film, and especially television—on our notion of the novel and fictional narrative, and also on our late modern notions of art, the literary, and the cultural” (116). In Bradbury’s work, moreover, we can identify an overlap between the second and third positions, a merging of technology as both a constituent element and something to be wary of for writers of contemporary fiction in particular. After all, for him, postmodernism is “a technological condition, the expression of an age of screens, depthlessness, and hyper-reality” (97). (Bradbury productively notes that the term “postmodern” was in fact first employed in the 1930s and 1940s by historian Arnold Toynbee as an attempt to describe sociotechnical structures of late industry and capitalism [95].) Of course, the antagonistic position is not confined to novelists; from philosophers to activists, so-called anti-foundationalists across the board were intent on political action against technocratic systems given that “technology” served as a master narrative in itself.

In the fourth possible position, the effects of even newer new media technologies of personal and micro-computing, along with the digital culture that arises from them, have proven so dramatic and pervasive that it supersedes the conception of a postmodern era and a postmodernist culture. The most direct advocates of this position can be found in the likes of Alan Kirby, who goes so far to rename the era “digimodernism” (see Digimodernism: How New Technologies Dismantle the Postmodern and Reconfigure Our Culture). Arguably, his account may suffer from its own reductive form of technological determinism, but it at least laudably proposes a new cultural paradigm that better reflects the contemporary media milieu, in which individual customization, configuration, and two-way connectivity replaces the one-way transmissions of mass media. Other major critical-historical interventions made a similar move in advancing the culmination position. In fact, despite their ostensible objective of reclaiming postmodernism’s energies from pop-cultural appropriation, the main thesis of Olsen and Amerika’s project effectively hinged on the claim that postmodernism ended because it failed to contend with digital culture and the Web. Their vision involved a new legion of artists not only at home in a media-saturated society, but also able to recognize and actualize the creative potential of those media technologies:

By actively engaging themselves in the continuous exchange and proliferation of collectively generated electronic publications, individually designed creative works, manifestos, live on-line readings, multi-media interactive hypertexts, conferences, and so forth, Avant-Popsters and the alternative networks they are part of will eat away at the conventional relics of a bygone era… (20)

That “Avant-Popsters welcome[d] the new Electronic Age with open arms” (20) made sense, especially given the profile of some of the contributors. Amerika was one of the first celebrated Internet artists, and among the first to create ambitious, digitally-hyperlinked works of narrative for the Web (see, for example, Grammatron). Olsen, a writer primarily working in print, collaborated with graphic artist Tim Guthrie to produce a Web-based multi-linear digital fiction in 10:01. The collection also featured Michael Joyce, widely-recognized as one of the trailblazers in the field of literary hypertext and creative media. At the same time, Joyce’s place in the collection pointed to the inherent incongruity of their framing of Avant-Pop, which claimed everything from Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five (1969) to Joyce’s hypertext fiction afternoon (1987) in its list of representative works. But as Joyce’s own critical writing demonstrates, a digital fiction cannot be Avant-Pop by virtue of its medium, much in the same way that it cannot be postmodernist for the same reason (see Othermindedness 127). Nonetheless, Olsen and Amerika made a significant gesture toward a mature recognition and reconciliation of postmodernism’s media environment.

There are indeed exceptions, from Frow’s comprehensive survey of postmodernism’s technological complexion to Bradbury’s nuanced engagement with media’s transformative impact on contemporary fiction to Olsen and Amerika’s direct appeal to Web culture in clearing space for a new kind of avant-garde. Nevertheless, when technology is admitted into critical-historical conceptions of postmodernism, it is often in terms of either a mass media or a popular culture vernacular. If only for historical (pre-Web) reasons, the fixation on the mass of media in many foundational accounts leaves out too much of the story that has personalized, miniaturized, and networked our media; in addition, the association of media technologies with popular culture elides the artistic and literary potential of digital environments.

As I have suggested elsewhere, the logic that has digital culture leaving postmodernism behind might be further justified in terms of subjectivity—that is, how we see ourselves in light of digital technology and its discourse. Contrary to prevailing notions of the postmodernist self as an emptying out, or an always already discursive and multiple construction, it is arguably a form of surplus selfhood that takes hold in digital culture. If postmodernism’s subjectivity is constructed foremost in and in relation to language, then the digital self—in this age of the “selfie”—is constructed foremost in and in relation to the machine, which rushes to (over)fill the spaces of the network, and there proliferates. Thus, if finding a satisfying sense of self amid the forces of fragmentation is a uniquely postmodernist predicament, then attempting to lose it might be more aptly a digital one, from innumerable search engine hits that locate us in nanoseconds, to the unknown and unknowable number of databases in which our personal details appear, to our ubiquitous profiles cutting across time and space on social networking software du jour. In any case, with all of the conspicuous reconfigurations of human bodies and minds in light of machines, any model of selfhood we embrace in the digital age would have to account for the unprecedented ability to control, configure, and distribute—indeed, self-publish—our own modes and models of subjectivity.This is an amalgamation of observations that appear in my contribution to The Cambridge History of Postmodern Literature (see Ciccoricco, “Digital Culture and Posthumanism,” 2015: 419-33).

That said, allowing digital culture to define what comes next creates an inevitable problem of periodization. In tracking the movement from modernism to postmodernism, for example, McHale put forth the influential idea of a shifting “cultural dominant,” persuasively aligning epistemological concerns with modernist cultural outputs and ontological concerns with postmodernist ones (“What Was Postmodernism?”). But we can emphasize the fact that his distinction is anchored in what is essentially a conceptual dominant (Cambridge Introduction 20). Can the digital medium be a cultural dominant? Can any medium be so? And can we make this move while still avoiding the technologically deterministic tenor reminiscent of Marshall McLuhan or Friedrich Kittler?

The Collection

Clearly, the exercise of asking what postmodernism is or was or even what replaced it is bound to generate a fractal multiplicity of more questions. Nonetheless, the contributors to the Otago symposium each set about responding to the task of constructing a critical commentary on the cultural and literary history of a phenomenon that has been present in some shape or form for all of our lives as scholars in the field. Their essays range from regional to global contexts, across literary form and medium, and across literary-historical periods.

The first essay, by keynote speaker Simon During, takes on the regionalizing project directly, in asking: what was postmodernism in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australasia? In “The Historical Status of Postmodernism under Neoliberalism,” During begins by acknowledging his own past involvement in forging the critical discourse on postmodernism and postcolonial theory. That history, however (and admirably so), does not prevent him from revisiting and reevaluating earlier positions hammered out in well-known publications in past decades (see “Postmodernism and Postcolonialism”)—that he now understands to be incompatible with a need to situate postmodernism amid an epoch of neoliberalism. With the requisite qualifications of treating postmodernism, in the first place, as “as an event of aesthetic and historical substance,” During concludes with reference to Eleanor Catton’s award-winning The Luminaries, a recent New Zealand novel that reveals the imbrication of postmodernism and neoliberalism through a literary prism. Jacob Edmond, in “The Uses of Postmodernism,” historicizes in a more globalizing manner. In a tour de force of comparative cultural analysis, he negotiates the politics of periodization before assaying the ways in which postmodernism has served cultural and intellectual movements in the United States, New Zealand, China, and Russia. “Tracking the various uses of the term postmodernism and its cognates in other languages,” Edmond suggests, “provides a rich vein for comparative inquiry into the unequal dynamics of the world literary system and the variety of uses to which aesthetic practices and theories are put as they circulate within this system.”

Holly Phillips’ essay does a diachronic two-step, aligning medieval philosophy and Samuel Beckett in “Nominalisms Ancient and Modern: Samuel Beckett, the Pre/Post/Modernist?” Phillips uses the narratives of Beckett as a case study to trace the influence of nominalism on 20th century literary practice, challenging the idea that the anti-universalism of this medieval doctrine finds its apotheosis in postmodernist theory. Her essay offers a detailed and convincing contextualization of a writer commonly regarded to be postmodern in a historically pivotal sense, and she rightfully warns that “even in the non-synchronous world of postmodern history, we must be careful not to read history backwards.” Lynley Edmeades takes us further along a historical line toward the 20th century, albeit in an essay about poets who defy linear conceptions of time. Edmeades bridges modernist and postmodernist poetics in “‘Not Going Where I Was Knowing’: Time and Direction in the Postmodernism of Gertrude Stein and Caroline Bergvall.” With specific focus on “sonicality” in poetry, she examines the way in which these artists mobilize the postmodernist notion of an elusive here-and-now, and asks what their work might in turn “tell us about postmodernism as a moment—or a series of moments—in literary history.”

Damien Gibson’s essay considers what might lie beyond postmodernism, namely in the form of a critical posthumanism. In “From Master(y) Narratives to Matter Narratives: Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods,” his point of departure is the premise that despite the best efforts of postmodernism’s incredulity toward master narratives, “the 500 hundred-year-old master narrative of Humanism still needs to be contested.” Drawing on ecocritical conceptions of narrative agency situated in and arising from the environment and its matter, Gibson suggests that “critical posthumanism is able to offer myriad readings of humanity’s storied habitat.” Alexandra Dumitrescu proceeds in a similar vein, directly questioning what might come next or, indeed, what is already among us in “What is Metamodernism and Why Bother? Meditations on Metamodernism as a Period Term and as a Mode.” In an essay replete with literary examples, she returns to the regional context of New Zealand fiction and poetry to weigh up the possibility that metamodernism may offer us a more amenable cultural paradigm “whose dominant is the ethical” and whose aesthetic embrace is wide enough to contain an unabashed pursuit of authenticity and sincerity.

Neil Vallelly rounds out the essays with “Practicing Disappearance: A Postmodern Methodology.” Vallelly returns to Baudrillard and puts his theory of “disappearance” in dialogue with cognate theories found in phenomenology and social anthropology, which he then applies to a case study from his own field work on audience experience of light in Renaissance theater. He recognizes that “while postmodernism (and Baudrillard himself) may be in the process of being historicized, its disappearance has left traces” that may inform the way we do research across a number of disciplines. Indeed, Vallelly’s essay opens the possibility that one of the least coherent and comprehensible of literary, artistic, and philosophical movements of the 20th century has left as its legacy an instructive methodology for contemporary critical inquiry. In the spirit of folding and refolding the fabric of ebr, the gathering includes a 2002 contribution by Amy Elias, who follows postmodernism’s sharp turn toward theology and metaphysics in her review of Frederick Ferré. Brian McHale, the closing keynote at the event, also closes the present collection in the form of an Afterword with his own reflections on “What [in the World] was Postmodernism?” It brings me as much pleasure to introduce this collection as it does—in the same breath—to personally bid farewell to postmodernism. It was a good game. Well-played. Goodbye.

Works Cited

Amerika, Mark and Lance Olsen, eds. In Memoriam to Postmodernism: Essays on the Avant-Pop. San Diego: San Diego State University Press, 1995. Print.

Barth, John. “The Novel in the Next Century.” The End of Postmodernism: New Directions. Heide Ziegler, ed. Proceedings of the First Stuttgart Seminar in Cultural Studies. Stuttgart: M&P, 1993: 171-188. Print.

Baudrillard, Jean. Simulation and Simulacra. Sheila Glaser, trans. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994 [1981]. Print.

Bradbury, Malcolm. “Postmodernism, the Novel, and the TV Medium (1).” The End of Postmodernism: New Directions. Heide Ziegler, ed. Proceedings of the First Stuttgart Seminar in Cultural Studies. Stuttgart: M&P, 1993: 81-100. Print.

Bradbury, Malcolm. “Postmodernism, the Novel, and the TV Medium (2).” The End of Postmodernism: New Directions. Heide Ziegler, ed. Proceedings of the First Stuttgart Seminar in Cultural Studies. Stuttgart: M&P, 1993: 115-34. Print.

______. “What Was Post-Modernism? The Arts in and after the Cold War.” International Affairs 71.4 (1995): 763-74. Print.

Ciccoricco, David. “Digital Culture and Posthumanism.” The Cambridge History of Postmodern Literature. McHale, Brian and Len Platt, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015: 419-33. Print.

Clavier, Berndt. John Barth and Postmodernism: Spatiality, Travel, Montage. New York: Peter Lang, 2007. Print.

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