Update on the book's production: it's gone off now for copy-editing. I don't know really what that entails (!) but I suspect that at some point I'm going to get an email asking me to check certain things in the manuscript or to agree to certain changes. I remember Henry James on accepting a magazine's editor's request to remove two words from a story he had written. He sent the proofs back with a note saying "Yours is a butcher's trade"!
And we're looking for famous people to endorse the book. If you'd like to put your name forward please leave details below! "Famous" here is a very relative word of course. I'm not expecting Brad Pitt to throw his weight behind digimodernism as our new cultural paradigm, but someone heard of by academics in, say, three countries would be fantastic. Having said that, one of Continuum's 33 1/3 books on rock albums was favourably namechecked by James Franco, the Spider-Man actor, on the red carpet before the Oscars last night. Maybe next year The Hobbit will sweep the Academy Awards and its director will approve my stance on contemporary culture having become aware of my praise for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings...? More unlikely things have (very seldom) happened!
I've had a few days off work and during that time I went to the Altermodern exhibition at Tate Britain (not at the Tate Modern, as its name might suggest; it includes plenty of non-British art too). The Tate Triennial showcasing the latest thing(s) in art has come around again; and its curator this year Nicolas Bourriaud believes postmodernism has given way to altermodernism, a new cultural paradigm exemplified by the work of his 28 artists.
The Tate has asked me to use an article I wrote in 2006 on the death of postmodernism and the new digimodernism in a publication they're producing to tie in with their exhibition. I said yes, obviously, but wanted to see what Bourriaud thought altermodernism consisted of in practice. So what did I make of altermodernism? Well, it some places it struggles to differentiate itself from postmodernism. Like Raoul Eshelman's performativism, it seems to have been invented by a mind so immersed in postmodern and indeed poststructuralist theory that it can barely stagger out from their depths into the sun-kissed uplands of the brave new artistic world. Emphasising "trajectories" and "globalities" seems yesterday's "hybridity" and "fluidity" at the service of a new master.
Some of the work on display is very powerful (especially "The Russian Ending") but some of it is rotten. And almost all of it seems to be cursed with a need to be "interesting" which precludes beauty or profundity or scope or really interesting intelligence. There are too many smart-but-pointless video pieces as well.
I don't think of altermodernism as a rival or some kind of competitor in the -ism marketplace. I have a pragmatic view of -isms - they're created to give shape to art, to serve a purpose, and if they don't then jettison them. And digimodernism doesn't have that much to say about art, except in terms of digital art which others like Christiane Paul have written about at length elsewhere. So I went thinking that maybe Bourriaud could fill in some of the gaps in my account. I was wrong about that, but the trip wasn't a complete failure.
All in all, an interesting exhibition which I'm glad to have seen. You should see it too, if you can. Some of the artists in it deserve to go on to much greater success (while others don't, but then dramatic unevenness is the price of this kind of exhibition). But I can't believe in altermodernism and I suspect nobody else can either.
Here's his manifesto anyway:
AltermodernManifesto POSTMODERNISM IS DEAD A new modernity is emerging, reconfigured to an age of globalisation – understood in its economic, political and cultural aspects: an altermodern cultureIncreased communication, travel and migration are affecting the way we live Our daily lives consist of journeys in a chaotic and teeming universeMulticulturalism and identity is being overtaken by creolisation: Artists are now starting from a globalised state of cultureThis new universalism is based on translations, subtitling and generalised dubbingToday’s art explores the bonds that text and image, time and space, weave between themselvesArtists are responding to a new globalised perception. They traverse a cultural landscape saturated with signs and create new pathways between multiple formats of expression and communication.The Tate Triennial 2009 at Tate Britain presents a collective discussion around this premise that postmodernism is coming to an end, and we are experiencing the emergence of a global altermodernity.Nicolas BourriaudAltermodern – Tate Triennial 2009at Tate Britain 4 February – 26 April 2009
For Britons of a certain age events this week have a strange resonance.
(1) Snow everywhere making the roads impassible, closing the schools, sending children out to throw snowballs and toboggan into trees.
(2) Talk everywhere of economic recession, depression; companies laying off workers left, right and centre; an atmosphere of financial crisis and monetary gloom.
(3) Wildcat strikes driven by fear of unemployment and articulated through a xenophobic scapegoating of the socially other.
(4) A Labour government clearly in its dog days, fighting the fires of crisis while inescapably aware of its short life expectancy.
(5) Murmurs of a new paradigm, a new conception of economics, the sense of an ending to thirty years of political wisdom favouring the anarchy of unregulated markets and burgeoning debt-driven consumerism.
In short, it's February 1979 all over again! (And Magazine are going on tour - I'm seeing them next week as it goes.)
It's number five which interests me most, of course. Are we heading for a new way of thinking about the world? A new worldview, new values, new lifestyles? Postmodernism was not born in the wastes of 1978-79, though Thatcherism derived all of its political acceptability from the Winter of Discontent's cocktail of arctic weather, strikes, ungovernability, crisis and fear. And it can be argued - as Terry Eagleton, among others, has - that postmodernism was the intellectual response of 1980s leftists to the reactionary politics of Thatcher and Reagan.
However, there are inchoate signs that a thirty-year political cycle is over. A dominant economic paradigm is discredited and played out, at the highest levels at least. Whether postmodernism was the expression of that paradigm is moot, but there is a sense of gears changing. What does this mean culturally? Put another way: what are the politics and the society of digimodernism?