Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Post-Postmodernism Defined: Really Now, John!

Once again I continue the discussion of the possible change from Postmodernism (Po-mo) to Post-postmodernism (Po-pomo). Over the course of the next several weeks I hope to explore a number of the possible components of a Po-pomo orientation. Today I look at Eric Gans’ ideas surrounding the invention of language, and Raoul Eshleman's "Performatism."

But, first, I wonder if the current dissatisfaction with President Obama, and both political parties, The Tea Party, and Populism aren’t all political evidence of the change in culture toward a new (er) vision of the world, even as these things are also evidence of poor judgment and myopic vision. As I’ve stated in earlier journal entries, there must be several things present in order for change in the Arts to be created by individual artists, and these include historical changes in cultural perception, performance of human spirituality, politics, the political map, and society. Thus, I demonstrated quite accidentally what may be the most important over reaching characteristic of what it means to be Post-Postmodern. I showed a personal belief in the ability of individuals to go beyond the postmodern ironic notion that we each are swallowed up by automatic cultural performance even as we participate in that performance.

As I read on and explore the possibilities of such a combination of performative culture versus individual power in creating new performance I have encountered a cluster of people and ideas. In this journal entry I look at Eric Gans’ Generative Anthropology. Gans envisions a singular moment in a hominid group that generated the invention of language through a simultaneously shared spiritual experience counter to each individual’s need for dominance. Thus, the group began to sign to one another a feeling of awe, perhaps reverence for the object of contention, “food” in order to prevent each individual from acting out in order to obtain the food. Gans substitutes the invention of language for Rene Girard’s scapegoat, and Gans sees the Postmodern as associated with the victimization of the individual, though I believe victimization of and decentering of the individual to be two different things. Ultimately, I’m highly skeptical of such a singular moment in the development of language. Rather, I would propose a cluster of such moments among various groups as one of the hominid species reached the point in development where language became possible. Interestingly, Gans’ ideas about the invention of language also demonstrate the notion that spirituality and faith play an important part in the originary semiotic act. Gans also demonstrates a similar idea to my own (above), that the cultural moment and the individual moments are happening simultaneously- in his case, a cultural imperative based in language and the individual need for dominance. * However, both our notions are in the usual Western oppositional form. I know that there must be more possibilities surrounding my own idea than one opposition. And, I have demonstrated that Gans’ notion is grounded in human spirituality and faith, and must also be encapsulated in a multiplicity of similar events. I am certain that if I were an anthropologist I would be able to arrive at a much more complex model for the simultaneous generation of language/signing.

Interestingly, all this points to the cluster of ideas concerning viewer, artist, and art object that I had written about back on September 16th and 21st, 2009. I had been discussing Michael Ann Holly’s book, Past Looking: Historical Imagination and the Rhetoric of the Image in which, ironically Holly immerses the art object in a cultural milieu that gives the individual viewer the upper hand in ascribing meaning to the object, but removes the power of intent from the individual artist/creator. Thus, I have the notion that Holly; writing in 1996 was expressing complex notions that display a Post-Postmodern notion of the transcendence of the individual, though in Holly’s case that transcendence is at the expense of the individual artist’s original intent. However, In “Performatism, or the End of Postmodernism,” Raoul Eshelman stakes the claim that theory, located outside art production, must cease, and that the art object, artist, and viewer are united. Thus all three become “originary,” together, a unity. And, that prompts the following complex questions on my part. Is that originary triumvirate an actual reduction, or rather, is it a complicated interaction of all three? Or is each to be completely separate and independent, allowing no interaction at all? Must the artist’s intent be considered its own universe, and the viewer’s understanding it’s own universe, each having nothing to do with the other? In that case, is there communication? Isn’t the objet d’art left out in the cold? Does the art object even exist? Thus, the questions lead to the strong possibility that Eshelman’s reduction is logically impossible, and I must rely upon faith alone to sustain it.

That reduction and its logical impossibility give rise to an understanding of the return to fundamentalist religion in both the West and East during the second half of the Twentieth Century, as well as the development of international Islamic terrorism, and home grown Christian and Islamic terrorism, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the increase in the various domestic militias and right wing fanatics of the first decade of the Twenty-first Century. *2 There is no logic to any of it. It is all faith-based action generated by conflicting ideologies, politics and religions. And that leads to the question; do the Arts deal with that phenomenon in Twenty-first Century production?

To be continued

* Gans identifies the individual need for dominance with animal instinct. Instead, the secondary needs of the individual may not coincide with the primary life sustaining needs.

*2 It may be politically incorrect, but I do suggest that skinhead and KKK related hate crimes are both related to extreme evangelical Christian fundamentalist beliefs in white supremacy. I also maintain that these are a very few evangelical Christians, just as a very few Islamic extremists believe in jihad against the West. I also believe it is absolutely necessary to have a public discussion about the subject of international and domestic terrorism with this particular position in mind in order to gain control of the problems we face as a culture and civilization.


Eshelman, Raoul. Performatism, or the End of Postmodernism. Aurora, Colorado: Davies Group, 2008.
--------------“Performatism, or the End of Postmodernism,” Anthropoetics 6, no. 2 (Fall 2000 / Winter 2001), Viewed 1:27 EST, Tuesday, March 9, 2010.

Gans, Eric. The Origin of Language: A Formal Theory of Representation. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.

Holly, Michael Ann. Past Looking: Historical Imagination and the Rhetoric of the Image. New York and London: Cornell University Press, 1996.

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