What Comes After Postmodernism?

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An article in Prospect Magazine (UK) declares “Postmodernism is dead,” and then attempts to discern what cultural trend, or philosophical modes comes after.

This topic is of particular interest to me, the question of what comes next was largely the impetus for starting this blog. It is very clear that postmodernism isn’t dead, just like modernism or classicism aren’t dead either. People will continue to produce postmodern works or take postmodern approaches to understanding culture, just like they continue to do in the mode of modernism or any other -ism.

What is changing is that postmodernism will no longer be the dominant form. The new dominant form is emerging.

But what has happened over the past decade is that postmodernism became, well, obvious. Irony saturated everything, the questioning of all beliefs and narratives became the default posture. We all came to accept that identity is something constructed, and we even embrace new tools like blogs, Facebook, and the internet that allow us not only to construct that identity with great ease efficiency but also to project it to the world in ever more refined iterations.

At some point, however, it stopped working. It stopped being relevant. Or maybe people just got tired of it. At some point the response to the postmodern itself became “Whatever…” Maybe we saw that everyone could do it, or because we felt at some level it was superficial semiotic play. Postmodern works became almost self-deconstructing, and appreciation of culture devolved into nothing more than solving puzzles by following clues left deliberately by authors. Or maybe it was a heightened sense of reality after 9-11, or maybe the Great Recession makes the cultural pastiche central to postmodern culture seem trite. Or maybe it’s simply exhausted.

Postmodernism isn’t dead, but it is no longer the vanguard. Then what is? What comes next? What are it’s characteristics, its defining features? What does it conspicuously lack, and conspicuously have?

The answer is usually a variation of the one in this article. What comes next is something more authentic, more sincere, more earnest, less ironic, less sarcastic. Those are characteristics of it, but to define it as generally as that seems incomplete.

The best way I can describe what I think comes next, in light of postmodernism, is the death of cool. The detachment and aloofness that defined cool are no longer palatable to younger generations. “Whatever,” followed by some glib deconstruction of motives, intent, and meaning, is no longer an acceptable response to an idea or question. Deconstruction is no longer an excuse for inaction or withdrawal.

Now the preferred response seems to be “I know you can’t trust it, I know you can’t be sure, but still…

Postmodernism began in architecture, or perhaps a better way to say it is that the postmodern attack on modernism began in architecture. From there it spread throughout society until making its way into politics during the Generation X’s political awakening. But the current social condition, namely the recession and the uninspiring future it portends, is felt most acutely by younger generations for whom the well-worn life paths walked by older generations are no longer reliable, or even exist. In light of this, it makes more sense to look to the cultural output they themselves produce, consume or are influenced by.

After giving this some thought, I think whatever comes next is going to start in music. And it is in music that we find a very succinct response to postmodernism:

Now the kids are all standing with their arms folded tight
Kids are all standing with their arms folded tight
Well, some things are pure and some things are right
But the kids are still standing with their arms folded tight
I said some things are pure, and some things are right
But the kids are still standing with their arms folded tight

So young, so young
So much pain for someone so young
Well, I know it’s heavy, I know it ain’t light
But how you gonna lift it with your arms folded tight?

-“Month of May” by Arcade Fire

What matters is not that the lyrics themselves directly question the hipster/GenX detachment, messages like that have been around for decades. But they were presented as alternatives to the postmodern worldview, consequently never very popular (certainly not as popular as the ones from a postmodern point of view). But now that has changed. Messages like those expressed in the lyrics of this Arcade Fire song are becoming much more popular and much more common. And unlike the past, this worldview is not presented as alternative to postmodernism, but as a response to it.

In the new cultural environment, postmodernism with all its detachment and deconstruction, are taken as the default condition to which it responds. “Well, some things are pure and some things are right.” That reads like a rejection of postmodernism’s rejection of grand narratives. And the response of the new generation to that default condition is similar to the response their grandfather would give: “How are you going to lift it with your arms folded tight?” You have to lift it, for all values of “you” and “it”, because no one else will. It’s a cliche that the younger generation rejects it’s parents’ generation, but rarely do they reach back to their grandparents or great-grandparents generation for inspiration.

I think this message, of becoming engaged in something requiring effort, patience and skill; of pulling together in hard times; and of making attachments to others rather than affecting a cool detachment from them are all hallmarks of the Next Big “-ism”. It is impossible to say what shape it will take because it is now in flux, but these kinds of messages seem to be the ones that resonate with the public.

Of course, the postmodern response to this song (and this article) would be to deconstruct it, to point out that if I’m listening to it, it’s for me (a member of Generation X). A postmodern response would identify the underlying power structures that made the song’s popularity possible, that a record label of older GenX-ers and even Boomers released Arcade Fire’s album, that it was promoted through large corporations, and media companies for the purpose of turning a profit etc. That the band and the album simply capitalize on the economic fear and uncertainty to deliver a message that will make them feel better, or hopeful. The postmodern response would point out that the band’s identity is no less constructed that any from a generation ago, only it is constructed in the hipster, faux-1930’s through 1950’s style.

And my response would be, that’s true, but still…

See also:


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  1. Will future generations understand “The Simpsons”?

87 Responses to What Comes After Postmodernism?

  1. Cythraul says:

    I’m thinking of fandom.

    I’m thinking of the slogans I’ve been seeing batted around of late – “The nerds have won” since the ’90s tech bubble, and “Geek is the new cool” for about the last five years.

    I’m thinking of roleplayers who were originally doomed to mockery regardless of how they positioned their hobby in their overall identity, who then sometimes managed to salvage the “cool” in their overall identity by framing RPGs as “this lame thing I do in secret that I’m embarassed about”, and who these days are openly celebratory about their hobby, and for whom mockery has given way to, at worst, indifference. Dettachment is both less vogue and less necessary than it ever used to be.

    I’m thinking of comics – of the Dark Age of the ’90s, which at its best was characterized by deconstruction (and at its worst by mindless violence), and which has given way to a modern age characterized by a movement that’s being called reconstruction.

    I think it’s useful to specifically look at the TVTropes definitions even where more prestigious sources of comment are available, so we can get a complete set from the same source – Wikipedia doesn’t appear to have an entry on “reconstruction”, and if it goes by another name I’m unaware of it. The TVTropes entry on reconstruction offers the following epitaph:

    “It strikes me that the only reason to take apart a pocket watch, or a car engine, aside from the simple delight of disassembly, is to find out how it works. To understand it, so you can put it back together again better than before, or build a new one that goes beyond what the old one could do. We’ve been taking apart the superhero for ten years or more; it’s time to put it back together and wind it up, time to take it out on the road and floor it, see what it’ll do.”
    — Kurt Busiek, Astro City, on the whole point of Deconstruction.

    • HeXXiiiZ says:

      Cythraul, I totally agree with the direction you are suggesting here. The essential dimension to the discourse of RPGs, and the dimension that I think will in fact become a fundamental part of culture, is the ability to both be inside a discourse and to step outside of it to modify its structure. What lies beyond postmodernism is not a movement that returns to some kind of authenticity our genuineness, as this was only the secret Romantic ideal of postmodernism to begin with.

      Take this Arcade Fire song for instance. As opposed to being something that steps beyond the cynicism of postmodernism in pop-culture, into something “pure” and “true”, the message of this song is far more reactionary, and it reflects the guarded desire within postmodernism, that in spite of no discourse achieving the consistency of Universality that there is an exception; in Lacanian terms this is the masculine sexuation that all discourses are false, but there is one (out there) that is true. Arcade Fire, and other similar bands, are as such not beyond postmodernism but still within it, but a fetishized and disavowed version of it. At its core, postmodernism is a disavowed, defensive form of a return to total belief in an Absolute following Modernisms attempt to undermine it by creating a new Universal. As some have put it, God was dead as Modernism began, but Postmodernism still cannot let go of God’s dead body; God’s dead body is still in the unconscious.

      Postmodernism will finally be over when people are not only ready to accept intellectually the complete absence of an Absolute as an inevitability, but when they are ready to embrace the absence of an Absolute as the ultimate source of freedom within human creativity. Beyond postmodernism is the willful engagement of people in the structure of their own discourse, not for the sake of Universality, but fully accepting a complete absence of teleology. Meaning will become an interminable process that has no ultimate end and is never complete.

      I think the earliest evidence of such a possibility in popular culture has indeed existed in the way that people related to completely virtual spaces such as RPGs, online communities, open source programming, the new culture of crafts, hacking, etc… These are all activities that become ends in themselves as processes, and those who engage in them do so simply to become part of these processes as a form of willful aesthetic commitment to be part of a discourse that they are in part responsible for structuring and shaping.

  2. udimitri says:

    I am reminded of a class of TV advertisements that conceivably evoke the tenets of this post-postmodernism. Think: light colours; background music consisting of soft voices, lighthearted (but never in a campy sense) acoustic guitar, often glockenspiel; youngish-sounding female narrator; the message that what buying the product really gives you is purity, health, and peace of mind. There is an obvious link to environmentalism.

    But in general this kind of storytelling does exhibit that preliminary: “I know you can’t trust it, I know you can’t be sure, but still…”, even though explicitly it skips to right after the “but still…”, knowing that as postmodern as our times are, we can infer the rest.

  3. FrederickMercury says:

    oh boy, the next cultural trend is going to be driven by bands like arcade fire and the decemberists? forgetting that those two are 100% hipster and “current trend”, if they are what’s coming up then i think i’m going to move to siberia.

    • eqv says:

      what does ‘hipster’ even mean, now? when i see it used now it’s mostly by people eager to prove that they aren’t something. sort of like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissism_of_small_differences

      if by hipster you mean obscure, pretentious etc, then you’re wrong (at least about Arcade Fire, I never really got into the Decemberists). AF are huge, and it seems like almost every single critic loves them, even the old ones like Christgau. They’re a proper band, not trendy obscurantists.

      • cliche says:

        A hipster is someone who overtly brands themselves with things that (they think) aren’t mainstream.

        For example, in countless youtube comments on videos comparing the iPhone to other phones, people say things like “I don’t even know why I want an iPhone, I just have to have one”.
        Unlike most youtube comments, these are posted in total seriousness without any hint of irony.

        “But the iPhone is mainstream.”
        Have you ever seen an Apple commercial?
        Those commercials have convinced several generations of narcissists that any technology other than Apple is boring, complicated and worst of all, too mainstream.

        In effect, Apple is the poster-child of postmodernism.

      • Methossa says:

        It’s definitely an overused word, and for the reason you give.

        But I define it (and this is a personal definition) as someone who circumvents symbols from different sources without regard for their traditional meaning. Fedoras, Pabst Blue Ribbon, flannel, add in what you like. Think about wearing the fedora to a bar in a flannel shirt. A symbol of professional America of the mid-20th century paired with something so informal, and worn inside a building no less. They order a PBR, a drink associated with blue collar factory workers.

        To me, it’s like a faceless hybrid of identities joined together at the seams, a desperate way of crying ‘I’m different!’ And that’s why it personally irritates the hell out of me.

        Side note, as I wrote this I found myself realizing I had to have read something akin to what I was saying elsewhere before. I was able to find it as I finished this up. http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/79/hipster.html

        • eqv says:


          Seems like that adbusters article is the uber-article about hipsters– I see it cited so often in discussions of this kind. I can’t help from getting all pomo on the fact that it’s in adbusters though, because it just seems too delicious: what do they want to be true? who is this article for? Most of the content in Adbusters seems like it would go down fairly well with the people described in that article: liberal, affluent twentysomethings. They read the article on their Macs, think, ‘oh cool, that’s not me’, and go refresh their RSS feed. Again, going back to the link I posted. Most of the people reading that article probably aren’t that different from the people it depicts. Hipster is what you call someone you don’t like who’s the same as you. (paraphrasing whoever it was that said an alcoholic is someone who you don’t like who drinks the same amount as you do)

          But I agree with you w/r/t the rampant and mindless appropriation of important cultural/political symbols, to the point where they mean nothing. It’s irritating as hell, and a shitty excuse for a counterculture. I guess from that perspective, the hipster thing is the ultimate expression of postmodernism, a tangled mashup of styles and ideas. You can drag out Baudrillard on signs referring to a reality that does not really exist: my girlfriend has been putting off getting new glasses for about six months (needs them mostly for reading etc) but is reluctant to because she knows people will constantly ask her if they are actually prescription glasses. That’s bizarre.

  4. whowashere says:

    You’re spot on about the seriousness of this (my) generation- the desire to fix, share and solve. But this is in a radically new context- what we’ve adopted from post-modernism is the rejection of the grand American narrative, to the extent that the world we (or at least, those of my generation who I know and match the description above) want to build is not middle class stability and employment, but something more creative, fungible, flowing.
    It is also more reliant on the sharing of resources: rather than our grandparents’ belief that everyone should earn their own and then share via taxes or other distributive forms of sharing, the internet and communications technology, combined with a general wariness towards old narratives, call for more direct, immediate sharing (peer to peer is a good phrase for this reason)
    This is also developing in a pointedly political way- our generation is accused often of being apolitical, but the organizing we did (foolishly, imho) for Obama in 2008 was just the beginning. We are sick and tired of the ecological, economic and social injustices that are tearing this world apart- in short, we share something of the punk ethos in recognizing and rejecting that there is no future, and that we can do it all ourselves.
    If you’re looking towards the future of ‘culture’ qua ‘culture’ and the role of theory moving forward, I think China Mieville and Evan Calder Williams’ recent talk on the birthgrave of Salvage Punk is a good starting place.

  5. Comus says:

    I have mused some thoughts about this lately myself. I like to take my path of thinking from literature, as I’m less poorly acquainted with it than with other arts.

    In the late 19th century there can be traced a progression eventually leading to Dostoyevsky and the polyphonic, deep-psychological novel, that arose from an atmosphere of nihilism and political upheaval. After that Europe and Russia were struck by the Great Binge, the October Revolution and two world wars, effectively crushing the humanistic optimist world view and paving way for modernism, existentialism and nihilism redux. We were back to the homophonic novels, which were this time almost stripped to their bare minimum (see anything by Beckett) to unveil the absurdity and futility of man. Such a view of course would be too dreadful to cope, so up nudged postmodernism, which nicely turned the spotlight to You. Everything is individualistic and nothing can be trusted. No wonder there be narcissists. The ultimate folly of postmodernism is that the further down you dig, the more likely you’ll find yourself staring back in awe. Narcissism at large wrecks generations, so the next step must be on then way.

    Now, after this jejune path of thoughts, I propose that we might return to the view held by Dostoyevsky in the 19th century. Even though Dostoyevsky was a religious man, you’d be hard pressed to find a christian ideology from his works. He lets the characters develop a fully personal voice with as much leverage as the next one. We can see this polyphony now in society as a push for solidarity, wanting all to be equal and everybodies stories to be heard. You can find the existential absurdity of Sartre or Camus in Dostoyevsky, but it is always surrounded by a humanistic, meaningful glow. This glow and stillness has been more apparent recently in music, in movies and to some extent also in literature. One can also see (if squinting) the tragedy of the early 20th century been relived as farce in the new age hippie movement (recaptured by yuppies). One can hope for a more pleasant synthesis to be on the way. One of optimistic absurd existentialism.

    Then again, there is also an antithesis to this, and it is the rise of nationalism, anti-immigration and anti-intellectualism.

    I’m of course speaking from a European perspective, so views may wary.

    You could, of course, decosntruct this, which would be, like, so post-modern of you. Like this rather ironic comment. It is a plague it is!

  6. robotslave says:

    It bears mentioning that this cautious backlash to post-modernism (whatever that is) started in The Academy, and only later trickled into products marketed to left-consumers (right-consumers, of course, have been staunchly opposed to the project the entire time).

    The Arcade Fire, and the culture-product assembly-line workers they represent in this discussion, were college students when po-mo in The Academy was furthest down the rabbit hole. At the time, even young and upcoming cultural studies professors were wondering if reading 1000 pages of amphetamine-fueled Doubt was really necessary in order to make use of the central ideas, which could be stated clearly and completely on a napkin*. The Arcade Fire didn’t end the intellectual movement, they were just in the classroom when the teachers started to admit that while po-mo is a box with some really useful tools in it, it’s not actually an answer to anything, and no help at all if you’re trying to figure out how to raise your kids.

    The answer to “what comes after post-structuralism?” is rather clearly “more structuralism.” If some things are pure and some things are right, then you are obliged to write those things down, work out their consequences, and live in the new house you’ve built. What we’re looking at right now is a whole lot of not wanting to do that. Don’t worry, Arcade Fire– someone else will do it for you, if you avoid it long enough.

    * though perhaps without immediately instilling the same sense of vertigo; whether this sensation is part of a full understanding of the implications of the ideas, or merely a brainwashing technique, or both, is in the eye of the beholder (naturally).

  7. Jerboa says:

    My personal hard-on is for the enlightenment. I think we’re still living in it, and the self-defeating urge to be critical of it, to find something new and better, is indicative of how successful it has been.

    My personal bias aside, I think we’re moving towards an intellectual fragmentation. As you said, “It is very clear that postmodernism isn’t dead, just like modernism or classicism aren’t dead either.”. The future will include all these and more, but there will never be enough support for any single idea to dominate the others. The future will be so many things that you won’t be able to point at one and say , “This is what comes next.” That’s what’s coming next.

  8. Guy Fox says:

    this message, of becoming engaged in something requiring effort, patience and skill; of pulling together in hard times; and of making attachments to others rather than affecting a cool detachment from them are all hallmarks of the Next Big “-ism”.

    The sense of solidarity, hope, and optimism in that prediction are heartening. Still, the more strongly people identify with one thing, the more vehement they become. Pursuing authenticity, trying to connect with one’s roots and so on can also lead to atavistic, nativist tendencies. These need not relate to states, but these feelings can attach to a number of political units, even if it’s only the boy scouts. See the rise of far right parties in Europe, the ‘kill ‘em all, let god sort ‘em out’ response (from many quarters) following the London riots, the vehemence and polarity in American politics. Pulling ‘us’ together often leads to erecting fences and directing the pointy agricultural implements outwards.

    It’s a cliche that the younger generation rejects it’s parents’ generation, but rarely do they reach back to their grandparents or great-grandparents generation for inspiration.

    The problem with most people who subscribe to a dialectical view of history is that they’re closet whigs. It’s almost a truism that every aesthetic, intellectual, scientific and normative movement is eventually met, challenged and possibly overcome by an alternative (not necessarily THE alternative. The dueling ideas probably just feel dichotomous at the time). It would be a mistake, though, to read a linear trajectory, much less a progressive one, into the process. Religiosity, moralism, hedonism, and most other -isms come and go in waves. Kids won’t necessarily raise their grandparents’ flag, but there isn’t really anything stopping them from doing so, and if their grandparents battle-cry feels right, then why not? It doesn’t have to be new; it just has to feel new to you.

    If high culture is coming to an end, it is also the end of you and your paradoxical ideas, because paradox as such belongs to high culture and not to childish prattle. You remind me of the young men who supported the Nazis or communists not out of cowardice or out of opportunism but out of an excess of intelligence. For nothing requires a greater effort of thought than arguments to justify the rule of nonthought… You are the brilliant ally of your own gravediggers.
    … to be absolutely modern is to be the brilliant ally of your own gravediggers.

  9. hanba says:

    My favourite topic and such a nice discussion! Let me start with a few examples from the art world as a response to Pastabagel, udimitri and Camus:

    Udimitri suggests “new idealism related to environmentalism” may be on the rise. Here’s an artwork by an Alter Modernist Pascal Marthine Tayou exemplifying just that.

    Also, in the comment thread Camus is suggesting optimistic absurd existentialism. Erin Hanson can serve
    as an example of this

    PB’s comment about not keeping the arms folded, doing something pure and right suggests idealism, which makes me think of the Alter Modern artist Bob and Roberta Smith. (of course you can see it as irony that the artist is charging for the postcards portraying “things pure and right”)

    I’ve used the term Alter Modern – what’s that? Based on an exhibition in Tate Modern 2009, London called “Alter Modern”, a few trends can be identified: The conflict between the global and local is out of the window. A different relationship to culture and identity is put together from the previously deconstructed pieces – a process called ‘creolization’. We are no longer bound to a place/ nation at a given time. The individual places have lost their concrete meaning due to increased communication, travel and migration. Journey, movement is at focus, across both space and time. Also, personal experiences become art through docu-fiction. Ok, does this sound like general artsy gibberish?
    Agreed, reading the Alter Modern manifesto leaves a lot of questions. Is this not just one form of postmodernism? Just deconstructing things one more notch? Another criticism is that the Alter Modern world suggests that everybody buys into the multicultural condition, which as Camus pointed out, leaves out a huge chunk of the people.

    The question is if this “flip side of multiculturalism” is also post-postmodern? PB: “And the response of the new generation to that default condition is similar to the response their grandfather would give”. Well, the grandfathers fought wars affiliating with a national state. Borders and fronts were in vogue. Perhaps the rise of neo-nationalism and anti-immigration can be seen as an undesired effect of being inspired by the grandparents’ generation?

    Can post-postmodernism mean both alter modern and the negation thereof? Sure this “creolization” is going on, but the anti-immigration narrative is also on the rise (speaking with an European perspective here.) For example, a nationalist anti-immigration party in Finland had a very long art manifesto in its party program, suggesting state funded art grants be given to artists that portray Finnish national values and the Finnish experience.

    Postmodernism started in architecture, and in architecture it has ended for a long time ago. Can we use architecture as a crystal ball to see how the post-postmodern narrative will turn out? Let’s see what’s the fashion in architecture today. The answer is white, plastered, simple lines. Only a few ornaments, lots of light. Bauhaus is as cool as ever. In other words, neo-modernism is in vogue. Neo-Bauhaus is here, suggesting we may well see more influences from the grandparents’ generation.

    Is the rise of the “pure and right” a form of good old modernism rising its head again? Back to idealism, back to the modern project, man on his way to the moon? Can post-postmodernism be a form of neomodernism? Environmentalism, for instance, can be considered an idealistic project. (I guess one difference between modernism and post-postmodernism is that the latter seems to have risen from the grassroots rather than top-down.)

    Time will tell what will happen. I think we’ll see the rise of things “good and pure” , but that it means quite different things to different people.

  10. Lopt says:

    Postmodernism was supposed to be the apotheosis of deconstruction, suspicion, meta-textuality and irony[1], so obviously the next stage in cultural development will involve taking things “seriously”, the way we imagine our grandparents must’ve way back when. False nostalgia aside, I think that it’s probably a good thing, because there’s stuff that needs doing, and we may actually end up in such a state of economic dishabille that the stuff that will get done might have real tangible benefits. When 1/10th of the populace is unemployed and 1/4th is in poverty, “having a cause” might become something more than a pose, since at that point you’re organizing “cause” the things at stake really matter.

    From a cultural perspective though I think it’s all more of the same dressed up differently; there’ll still be cool people, they’ll just be cool in a different way. “Cool” was always just a slang word referring to someone or something with good qualities/social appeal. Rather than seeming more connected/closer to the zeitgeist/composed, these new cool people will be inspiring, powerful, or intelligent– the sort of people who can get the aforementioned things to be done did. We’ll just sort of collectively and organically decide what behaviors to lionize and what behaviors to punish, and pretty soon it’s no more irony, deconstruction or apathy. One day you’ll try to win some argument using the old tools to shut them down, but they’ll counter your po-mo-fu with a cognitive kill switch of their own, effectively saying “that’s nihilistic bullshit”– and for some reason, that will work, and you will lose.

    It wouldn’t succeed at the moment, because as Milton Friedman probably said, “we’re all Baudrillardians now”. But trust me, sooner or later people are going to get tired of postmodernism and then we’ll all have to identify what the new cool is and pretend to be someone else in order to fit in.

    1. Although I’d argue that postmodernism is a poor stand in for schizophrenia, where there’s all those qualities and more expressed to a higher degree. But you’ll find few people whose interpretation of reality diverges in such a way as to render their life seriously un-fun; leave that to those with a real chemical imbalance and let everyone else have faux-retro “nerdy” pre-faded T-Shirts. The people who are really good at the whole po-mo thing know where to draw the line.

  11. My understanding of postmodernism is mostly limited to that of psychological theories and philosophy of science, and from that angle, I don’t think it’s even caught on yet. People still believe that science is an objective magic and they still regard “experts” as authorities. One thing that’s eroding that at a mass scale is the collective “truther” (yes, the term’s ironic in this context)/alternative research movement which has picked up significantly due to the internet — which messes with the social norms when you can see PhD’s speaking out against vaccine safety on YouTube etc. (And to which 9/11 is really important, a topic which I just covered on my blog.)

    So I have a hard time understanding what it means to say that po-mo is dead. From my standpoint, it hasn’t caught on in any substantial sense, and won’t for a while — because of how shattering that is, since you do have to take response ability for co-constructing your life (purpose) and how to navigate the world when you deconstruct the script given to you.

    I’m not trying to negate the effects of po-mo art/music/architecture/lit etc. on culture (though I do think they can even reinforce modernism in its viewers/consumers/audience), but it seems like the general apathy or lack of satisfaction is due to the increasingly sorry state of the world, which we are increasingly aware of over time. Where consumerism still “takes over” our 9-5 and our relationships, where virtually all of our social systems are hierarchical and thus reinforce the authority/expert construct, and where the public school system (can’t really speak for private schools, but if religion is mixed in, it’s probably worse) programs young minds with a “this is how the world is” mentality.

    • Coffeemate says:

      For me, it’s really shaped what I think psychology is (although I suppose I’m talking mainly about a clinical perspective rather than wider psychological theory). From looking at cultural differences and the cultural narratives of symptomology, feminist psychology the surge in BME research to people like David Smail and discourse on power, which are symbolic of the good things that post modernism had to offer. Social constructionism vs social constructivism is probably something I’m more familiar with though than post modernism per se.

      On a different note, my feeling was whilst changes might be evident in lyrics, it’s also apparent in the way we consume music. I think there’s a bigger emphasis on the experience, so on the gig or the festival and it was this line of thinking that saved the postmodern car crash that was the Millenium Dome.

  12. iamagelightbulb says:

    The ‘answer’ is implicit in Strauss and Howe’s “Generations” and more concisely in “Millennials Rising” and “Millennials and the Pop Culture”:


    I would’ve guessed they inspired this post given the intersection of your observations with their research and predictions; cribbed from Amazon:

    “…[Gen Y] is poised to become the next great generation, one that will provide a more positive, group-oriented, can-do ethos. Huge in size as well as future impact, they’re making a sharp break from Gen-X trends and a direct reversal of boomer youth behavior.”

    “They will rebel against the culture by cleaning it up, rebel against political cynicism by touting trust, rebel against individualism by stressing teamwork, rebel against adult pessimism by being upbeat, and rebel against social ennui by actually going out and getting a few things done.”

  13. Pingback: Post-postmodern stuff | THE HANBABLOG

  14. vprime says:

    As a Gen-Xer I find all this smug earnestness annoying.
    Call me when these authentic Millennials actually change anything.

    • eqv says:

      I’m probably a ‘millenial’ and I agree with you. I don’t know why all these commentators are claiming there’s significant differences between the two. I’m 20 and all I see is the kind of apathy/detached irony popularly associated with gen X. The sense that if you commit yourself sincerely to something, you’re opening yourself up to attack. People my age were all raised on Simpsons reruns, so I guess it’s to be expected…?

      • Fifi says:

        My brother and myself define ourselves as being part of the “Gap Generation” (post-boomer but pre or earlier Gen X, we’re the punk rock generation that straddles the digital divide – we tend to be cynical and satirical rather than “ironic”). We had no choice but to be DIY because the Boomers felt threatened by us and we grew up in a time of high unemployment (the beginning of the neo-con era) so we had to create our own jobs most of the time. Of course, that was just some of us. Generalizations about generations often seem a bit silly to me…but here goes…

        In my experience, the kind of irony being referred to by Pastabagel is more of a Millennial/Gen Y kind of thing. I can’t blame them and some of it’s pretty funny, all that was left in the second hand stores (one of the sources of all fashion trends) for them was Huey Lewis and The News albums and pastel secretary clothes from the 80s. What defense against/explanation for pastel shoes is there other than irony?

        There are people in every generation who are idealists and, in my experience, these people tend to be somewhat transgenerational (it’s not about age but values). All in all, it’s stretching it a bit far to try to claim that Arcade Fire are an example of young people desperate for authenticity (a lot of their audience isn’t that young). Plus the whole post-modernism is dead makes little sense – if only because it’s simply proposing post-modernism is simply one more part of the Modernist linear heroic narrative (complete with artists as saviors). That may well be true of the most facile reading/version of “post modernism”that people promoted as they went for tenure (there’s some pretty weird new agey versions of po-mo floating around out there in academia). However, it’s not actually held up by what’s going on in the real world or even in the more interesting and less commercial parts of culture where ideas are incubated and come to fruition.

        • vprime says:

          I was going to quote the salient part of your comment Fifi, but I think it may just be easier to say I agree with much of it. The notion that “authenticity” exists and is superior to whatever else is so Romantic and even the Modernists couldn’t have disagreed with it.

          If anything, the youths I’ve interacted with are more cynical and pessimistic than people of my age cohort (mid-30s) except when it comes to questioning consumerism and the construction of “cool” as a way to sell things.

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  17. FirstTimothy says:

    I remember when it was “my generation” that was going to bring peace to the world.

    As I ponder “what comes next” my suggestion is to…

    Outdo one another in showing honor

    Bless your critics

    Love like Jesus

    Try not to act like an arrogant jerk…

    Thismis harder than it looks

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  19. TheBoyDetective says:

    The generation for which what their generation is is the question.

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  58. John R says:

    Hmm I may be too late to the party on this one, PastaBagel (sorry, I was out of town), but here are some scattered thoughts.

    I. The most significant event for US culture for the near future will be the experience of those who entered the job market in the last five years. What will they think about government, what it does for them or should do or should have done? What happened to the American dream? What industries will they go into? This is the kind of thing that defines a generation. And yes, those most immediately affected by it are not quite yet the generation you’re hoping might change the world, but what happens to them will deeply affect that upcoming generation. Long-term, the big change is our new digital idiom. As oral culture went to written culture, so written goes to digital. There be changes ahead.

    II. I don’t think the current generation has had the appropriate moral formation for a return to the “authentic”, the end of pomo. The Lingua Franca is composed of Lolcats, porn, and tweeting pidgin. Lady Gaga raged against the pop machine in such amazing ways on her first album, but at the end of the day her only constructive move is the same insipid positive-thinking tripe that every other pop diva spews (and don’t get me started on Katy Perry). News is The Daily Show / Colbert Report, sitcom is mockumentary. The great ideal is that great brushed chrome idol, Apple, a device for dilettantes and consumers, a device that costs more than it’s worth but at least it brands you a “Creative.” Identities are so fluid they can be changed with a few keystrokes on Facebook. The closest thing to entrepreneurship is Etsy. When this is your moral formation you might want to fight it but you won’t have the resources to come up with any constructive solution. You just haven’t developed the necessary virtues.

    III. Derrida’s progression is worth following. Early on it’s all deconstruction, all immanent hydraulics, basically an extension of modern critique. But then toward the end of his life he takes a different turn toward the transcendent. Justice can’t be deconstructed. He starts looking at religion seriously. So it’s basically a cry for some apocalyptic irruption into this immanent frame, some reconnection with the transcendent. You’d think that 9/11 would have been irruptive enough, but no dice.

    IV. Ever been to Paris? Ever walked the Champs d’Elysees? What’s on the Axe Historique? I think of the Obelisk, this bizarre intrusion of the ancient world, a foreign object at once breaking into our world and pointing us toward the heavens. L’Arche de Triomphe, this massive testament to glory, to vast, grand empires and ideas. In line but not technically included is Notre-Dame de Paris, this astonishing monument that could only have been built for the presence of something much bigger than we are. And then at the other end, La Grande Arche, the representative from the modern world. It’s still huge and impressive in construction, but what is it a testament to? Transcendence? Glory? Beauty? Mystery? I don’t see it. It looks like a testament to geometry, and in the most negative sense possible: a testament to blunt, brute force. It’s just a big, giant, strong square. Power and will, sheer straightforward geometry, nothing else. The immanent frame. (It’s supposed to be a monument to humanity/humanitarianism but what was it built for? Government offices and tourism. There’s your telos for modern civilization.)

    V. This is what our future looks like. We’ve been overtaken by nothing but sheer power, sheer will. We’ve lost any presence of what’s grand, beautiful, sublime, mystical. The progression of the positivist ideal has seen little pieces of philosophy broken off into scientific (or quasi-/pseudo-scientific) disciplines precisely insofar as they reduce their subjects of study to what is quantifiable, mechanical, immanent. We’re choking out all the transcendent, and Derrida says we want it back. But of course the transcendent can’t be constructed of the immanent, by definition. At the center of this must be our particular configuration of sign vs. signified; it’s not in-sign-ificant that Descartes follows Nominalism. This is why we can only fetishize the authentic, not attain it: Rather than abandon the snowballing self-referential semiotics of postmodernism for “reality” or “authenticity” we’ve got to reunite sign and signified, headline and article, trucker hat and trucker. And you only get that when there’s something at once above and behind both sign and signified, something transcendent.

    VI. This is why recent years have seen so much interest in The Gift and in Levinas — a reintroduction of transcendence into our immanent frame. Crucially, they tend to elide or completely supplant the two things most important since Descartes: the modern conceptions of self and freedom. Levinas directs us not toward the self but toward the other — no longer is everyone else missing a backstory, not hardly! And any affirmative way of parsing the Gift will require an abandonment of self and freedom; Marion, for instance, insists over and over “the gift gives itself.”

    VII. At this point it’s very tenuous to say these things will be more than a passing fad. Even if they’re not, philosophy tends to precede culture by decades, so even if they foreshadow a cultural crisis against the institution of “cool”, it will take at least one more generation to start to come up with constructive answers.

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  61. GMGuille says:

    The question of what succeeds postmodernism has bothered me for quite some time. I am 20 years old and I live in the United States. I feel that I encounter a wide variety of culture everyday. As explained in the article, preceding cultures never die, they just fade out beneath the shadow of the presently dominant paradigm and culture.

    In my recent experiences, “Hipster” has emerged as a dominate culture amongst the many other youth cultures. I believe it to be a reaction to the common population experiencing postmodernism. As the previous poster stated “philosophy tends to precede culture by decades…”. We are currently at the apogee of postmodern experience amongst the general population. The decade preceding ours was the foundational structure necessitated for thus culture to exist.

    Then, what is next? The writer of this article stated “And my response would be, that’s true, but still…” as his/her reaction to postmodern dialectic. It appears to me that this response is simply an alternative personification of postmodern ideology. As in any era, there have been counter-cultures to the dominant culture that is permeating throughout a society. Yet, these counter-cultures were in themselves cultures of a broader ideology dictating the whole system.

    Postmodernism is a philosophy, and like all philosophy, its “subdialectical metanarrative” is in essence manifesting from the mind. We will continue to fall into endless self-regression until we realize that there is something that precedes consciousness. This is the true reality. This which precedes consciousness is the physical systems which dictate all of reality. They behave according to intrinsic laws which hold true in their relative realms, and they do not function from meaning or purpose, they simply behave.

    This is the future. Man embracing the truths of postmodernism, and in essence, transcending them, realizing that we are the outcome of the system from which we exist and we are bound by the rules that compose it. The only way to transcend this limitations is to allow us to evolve, or to take control of this evolution. Understand the limitations of a mind which is functioning heuristically.

    We embrace our machination, and became a better machine. The future is that of science. A man not separate from machine, immersed in his exploration of that which is reality and achieving a mastery of it.

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