The post-postmodern dilemma

I would be more inclined to say that what now ensnares us is a spiralling social and cultural fragmentation and the commercialisation of that fragmentation, even the promotion of fragmentation for the purpose of exploitation: an economic divide-and-conquer that is both designed and opportunistic. A postmodernism accelerated? A hyper-postmodernism? I am loathe to enter the game of name-calling, and, I should mention, “hypermodernism” is one of the contenders for the mantle that one scholar, Gilles Lipovetsky, would see adorn the shoulders of our new era. But, I do observe the reality of homogenised mass culture’s triumph, a triumph that includes the subsuming of difference: identity plundered, and those niche identities otherwise known as subcultures reduced to niche markets. I could put it in terms that conjure another contender for the new era’s title, “digimodernism” (originally “pseudo-modernism”), proposed by Alan Kirby: the binary code of high-tech-mass-production plus high-tech-mass-marketing. The result equals hyper-mass consumption, increasingly the consumption of mass-produced digital content.

In this dystopian present, one that was the promise of postmodernism, we see the mass culture industries have not only subsumed difference, but have integrated consumers as part of, and even as producers of, their products. Reality television and talk-back radio are joined by Facebook, Twitter and a myriad of social networking sites, by networked multiplayer computer gaming, by proliferating blogs and virtual nests of incestuous bloggers and their sycophants, by the seemingly professional online troll and news-site commentator. Most of this, dear reader, is meaningless participation for its own sake (rather like today’s manifestation of democracy, I might add); and, to those in the more advanced stages of delusion, a step on the road to fame, or at least to minor celebrity status or, to those whose bile colours their delusions, to infamy or notoriety.

Ironically, these vacuous participants in the production of vacuous cultural products are, in a way, famous, if only for a few seconds. Andy Warhol’s postmodernist standard mutated years ago to become a new cliché, “on the Web, everyone is famous to fifteen people”. Momentary significance – a significance, at least, in the mind of the deluded – has become a marketable commodity, testimony to a society in the grip of narcissistic neurosis.

Do I now reveal myself as a postmodernist, bitter and flaccid with cynicism and nihilism? Or, something worse, old fashioned? No, otherwise I would not bother with this critique. In fact, I wouldn’t bother writing anything at all; I’d put up my feet and tune in the television to some trivial diversion, such as a soap opera, a talent quest, some big sporting event, Hollywood’s latest, the news… Even the old fashioned indulge in these comforting trivialities, these delusional illusions: it’s one explanation for an apparently rudderless and anchorless society, a society that is so easily manipulated by those who hold the economic and political reins of power. But is any of this new? Bread and circuses, dear reader, together with the stick have been employed by emperors for thousands of years; they only change in form, style, and means of delivery and consumption.

Am I, then, a post-postmodernist? Here we return to the question of what flavour of post-postmodernism. Considering that I press on, regardless, in the hope that words will be as seeds falling upon fertile ground, however hopeless a task it might appear to be, I am reminded of one of the more recent theories of our time, “metamodernism”, advocated by Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker. So I will conclude now on what some may well interpret as a metamodernist note, a note that sounds out a dilemma that goes beyond the scramble to label our post-postmodernist era.

Dear reader, let us rejoice! We are all famous!

Now what?


Additional Info

Victoria and Albert Museum, Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970–1990.

Gilles Lipovetsky & Sébastien Charles, Hypermodern Times.

Alan Kirby, “The death of postmodernism and beyond”.

Timotheus Vermeulen & Robin van den Akker, “Notes on metamodernism”.

Simon Critchley & Nina Power & Timotheus Vermeulen, “Theoretically speaking”.

SDk Latest News review: “Šejla Kameric: continuing a metamodernist sensibility in Berlin?”.

Eugène Satyrisci’s critique piece in SDk01, “Lucifer and the light of passion”.

Eugène Satyrisci’s critique piece in SDk02, “Celebrity, spectacle, and cultural crisis”.