Up for debate: Would I characterize myself as a modernist or postmodernist? Why?
At this risk of sounding like a politician, this question leads me only to more non-committal questions. For instance, must I have produced art, designed architecture, or written literature that falls into one of these categories? If I have, and considering that each category’s definition seems at odds with the other two, would my position change depending on the product I produce? Or, must one merely have an appreciation for one “ism” over another? If there is no rock-solid set of criteria or temporal limit to either term, how do I plunk myself firmly in the center of something wholly indefinable?
Having taken Modern Poetry last semester, many of the terms listed as “postmodern” by American literary critic Ihab Hassan have come to mean “modern” for me. That said, from my perspective, this list is rendered useless. So, for the sake of starting somewhere, I’ll use my opinion based on our first postmodern literary assignment, Barth’s “Lost in the Funhouse.”
As Malpas says in The Postmodern, “postmodernism confronts the reader or viewer with a work that is challenging in terms of both form and content” (30). Although Barth’s subject matter had very disturbing elements dealing with sexuality and the roles assumed automatically throughout the generations, I enjoyed being able to interrogate the seemingly complex construction of form and content (which, with more practice won’t seem so complex and thus will become modern) to reach this conclusion.
For [French philosopher] Lyotard, the role of postmodernism is thus to perform an eminent critique of the day-to-day structures of realism. What this means is that it operates within the realist context of a given culture to shatter its norms and challenge its assumptions, not with a new criteria set drawn from outside of that culture, but rather by showing the contradictions the culture contains, what it represses, refuses to recognize or makes unpresentable. (30)
This is a perfect description of (and why I enjoyed reading) “Lost in the Funhouse.” Ambrose is trapped within and influenced by his culture, one that makes him excited and sick all at once. From the perspective of this 13 year old boy, I could see the message that culture impresses upon us through the workings of gender construction and?that to be unaware of its workings is supposed to allow for enjoyment within the social apparatus. This piece reveals that going along for the ride is not always enjoyable for either prescribed gender, and that understanding the social mechanisms in place doesn’t provide for a good time either. At the same time, traditional presentation of fiction and reality is distorted via Barth’s mechanics of writing, amplifying the theme of being lost. Would I want to read this for fun on my vacation at the Jersey Shore? Not so much… and not just because the story takes place there. But I do enjoy the critical thinking it requires to reach my own understanding of how our culture operates.
On a global level, I turn to Malpas’ introduction where postmodernism displays opposition within its own definition:
Some critics celebrate the postmodern as a period of playful freedom and consumer choice, some see it as a culture that has gone off the rails as communities around the globe have their communities obliterated by the spread of capitalism, and for others its complex theories and outlandish cultural productions mark an abdication from any engagement with the real world at all. (4)
I cannot subscribe to just one critical stance listed above. All seem pertinent. (An example of these mechanisms in motion?comes to mind within the corporate practices of Coca-Cola.) Playful freedom of consumer choice is exactly what causes the obliteration of cultures and communities, and really, no playful freedom of consumerism is necessary for the general survival and well being of human beings. Because I find myself aligned snuggly with all three aspects of postmodernism, I would say that’s “what I am is what I am is what you are… or what?”
But don’t hold me to it.