Monday, 28 September 2009

No, not "Postpostmodernism"

A review has appeared in the the latest issue of New Left Review of Nicolas Bourriaud's book The Radicant, where the Frenchman argues that art has shifted towards the new paradigm of the "altermodern". The review's not freely available, but here it is in brief:

I so dislike the word (widespread on the Internet and even consecrated by its own Wikipedia page) which the reviewer uses, with a question mark, as his title: "postpostmodernism". Very obviously, it's ugly as sin. Worse, it's highly misleading, since it implicitly defines what comes after postmodernism in terms determined by postmodernism, i.e. it reinforces the authority of that which it is supposedly tracing the overthrow. "Postmodernism" sees itself in linear terms as that which comes after modernism, a contention which it assumes and never demonstrates, although various objections could be levelled at this piece of intellectual and cultural historiography, e.g. that something distinctive and important happened between high modernism (c. 1920) and high postmodernism (early 1970s on), or that philosophically postmodernism positions itself more as a form of counter-modernism, as a naysayer, than as its successor.

"Postpostmodernism" perpetuates this error by implying that we are due to have more of pretty much the same thing. As coincidence would have it, this unimaginativeness reflects the shortcomings of Bourriaud's theory, which simply prunes back and reissues postmodernism for the 21st century (though admittedly he is using some rather uninteresting work as the jumping-off point for his thoughts about contemporary art). "PoMo" insists by definition on coming-after, on its posteriority, its successor state; "PoPoMo" supposes that something will come after "PoMo" which insists on its doubly coming-after, its reiterated posteriority, its successor state to a successor state.

This is neither true nor plausible. Whatever the merits of the theory of digimodernism, the cultural dominant which succeeds postmodernism will stand by itself; it will be marked by a level of conceptual autonomy. Its definition will not be created, either directly or indirectly, under the aegis of the definition of postmodernism. Postmodernism, then, will really be over; it will be over when we no longer need its limits and tendencies to define what comes after it.


  1. Hi Alan,
    This is the kind of double-speak that's been rampant in the art world over the last 10 years or so. It is about reinforcing the cultural power of Postmodern institutions while maintaining a false idea of stylistic progress. A lot of art theorists and critics engage in this rhetoric of the "New new" - which basically amounts to nothing more than old refurbished and customized ideas presented as new things without changing the underlying logic of the original idea. It's time for a complete break with the 20th century.