February 21, 2020

Postmodernism: A Postmodern Approach

“What was Postmodernism? In the 35 years since Fredric Jameson’s New Left Review essay “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” — and the 40 years since the publication of Jean-François Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition — it’s fair to say that no other idea from the academic humanities has had so vast, if murky, an influence on the broader culture. (Often assumed to be a proponent of postmodernism, Jameson is rather its diagnostician.) Seinfeld was said to be “postmodern,” and so was the architecture of Frank Gehry. So, too, was the “fashionable nonsense” targeted by Alan Sokal in his infamous 1996 Social Text hoax. As the recent “Sokal Squared” hoaxes showed, the specter of postmodernism continues to be a useful cudgel wielded against the university.

Debates about postmodernism have returned, in both vulgar and sophisticated forms — from Jordan Peterson’s crusade against “postmodern neo-Marxism” to Bruno Latour’s defense of climate science to Rita Felski’s probing of “the limits of critique.” And the accelerating media bombardment enabled by our proliferating devices has only intensified what Jameson, all those years ago, called the “transformation of the ‘real’ into so many pseudo-events.”

In that spirit, we asked 10 contributors to reflect on the continuing relevance — or irrelevance — of postmodernism to the academy and the larger culture.”

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