Hutcheon has also authored texts which synthesize and contextualize these practices with regard to broader debates about postmodernism, such as The Politics of Postmodernism Routledge, , A Poetics of Postmodernism Routledge, , and Rethinking Literary History OUP, Specifically, Hutcheon suggests that postmodernism works through parody to "both legitimize and subvert that which it parodies" Politics, Thus, far from dehistoricizing the present or organizing history into an incoherent and detached pastiche, postmodernism can rethink history and offer new critical capacities. Hutcheon coined the term historiographic metafiction to describe those literary texts that assert an interpretation of the past but are also intensely self-reflexive i.

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Linda Hutcheon. The Politics of PostModernism. Postmodernism is a phenomenon whose mode is resolutely contradictory as well as unavoidably political. Postmodernism manifests itself in many fields of cultural endeavor — architecture, literature, photography, film, painting, video, dance, music, and elsewhere. In general terms it takes the form of self-conscious, self- contradictory, self-undermining.

Others on the left Caute ; Russell have seen, instead, its radical political potential, if not actuality, while feminist artists and theorists have resisted the incorporation of their work into postmodernism for fear of recuperation and the attendant de-fusing of their own political agendas.

While these debates will not be the main focus of this study, they do form its unavoidable background. In saying this, I realize that I am going against a dominant trend in contemporary criticism that asserts that the postmodern is disqualified from political involvement because of its narcissistic and ironic appropriation of existing images and stories and its seemingly limited accessibility.

Yet, it must be admitted from the start that this is a strange kind of critique, one bound up, too, with its own complicity with power and domination, one that acknowledges that it cannot escape implication in that which it nevertheless still wants to analyze and maybe even undermine.

The ambiguities of this kind of position are translated into both the content and the form of postmodern art, which thus at once purveys and challenges ideology — but always self-consciously.

While it may indeed be the case that criticism in the literary and visual arts has traditionally been based on foundations that are expressive artist-oriented , mimetic world-imitative , or formalist art as object , the impact of feminist, gay, Marxist, black, postcolonial, and poststructuralist theory has meant the addition of something else to these historical foundations and has effected a kind of merger of their concerns, but now with a new focus: the investigation of the social and ideological production of meaning.

These studies have been influential in our understanding of postmodern culture. But it is specifically the politics of postmodern representation — the ideological values and interests that inform any representation — that will be the main focus of this book.

And indeed I have chosen to concentrate here on two art forms which most self-consciously foreground precisely this awareness of the discursive and signifying nature of cultural knowledge and they do so by raising the question of the supposed transparency of representation. These are fiction and photography, the two forms whose histories are firmly rooted in realist representation but which, since their reinterpretation in modernist formalist terms, are now in a position to confront both their documentary and formal impulses.

This is the confrontation that I shall be calling postmodernist: where documentary historical actuality meets formalist self-reflexivity and parody. At this conjuncture, a study of representation becomes, not a study of mimetic mirroring or subjective projecting, but an exploration of the way in which narratives and images structure how we see ourselves and how we construct our notions of self, in the present and in the past.

However, if we believe current social scientific theory, there is a paradox involved in this awareness. On the one hand, there is a sense that we can never get out from under the weight of a long tradition of visual and narrative representations and, on the other hand, we also seem to be losing faith in both the inexhaustibility and the power of those existing representations.

And parody is often the postmodern form this particular paradox takes. The only disagreement is over the direction of its politics: is it neoconservatively nostalgic or is it radically revolutionary? Postmodernism aims to be accessible through its overt and self-conscious parodic, historical, and reflexive forms and thus to be an effective force in our culture. Its complicitous critique, then, situates the postmodern squarely within both economic capitalism and cultural humanism — two of the major dominants of much of the western world.

W hat these two dominants have in common, as many have pointed out, are their patriarchal underpinnings. They also share a view of the relation of the individual to the social whole which is rather contradictory, to say the least.

In the context of humanism, the individual is unique and autonomous, yet also partakes of that general human essence, human nature. But I have been arguing that the postmodern involves a paradoxical installing as well as subverting of conventions — including conventions of the representation of the subject. On the one hand, the postmodern obviously was made possible by the self-referentiality, irony, ambiguity, and parody that characterize much of the art of modernism, as well as by its explorations of language and its challenges to the classic realist system of representation; on the other hand, postmodern fiction has come to contest the modernist ideology of artistic autonomy, individual expression, and the deliberate separation of art from mass culture and everyday life Huyssen 53—4.

It is this doubleness that avoids the danger Jameson 52 sees in the subverting or deconstructing impulse operating alone: that is, the danger for the critic of the illusion of critical distance. It is the function of irony in postmodern discourse to posit that critical distance and then undo it. It is also this doubleness that prevents any possible critical urge to ignore or trivialize historical-political questions.

As producers or receivers of postmodern art, we are all implicated in the legitimization of our culture. Postmodern art openly investigates the critical possibilities open to art, without denying that its critique is inevitably in the name of its own contradictory ideology.

To Alan Wilde, irony is a positive and defining characteristic of the postmodern; to Terry Eagleton, irony is what condemns postmodernism to triviality and kitsch. There has been an understandable suspicion of the deconstructing and undermining impulse of postmodernism at a historic moment when construction and support seem more important agendas for women.

This is not to deny the gender blindness of much postmodern writing. The many feminist social agendas demand a theory of agency, but such a theory is visibly lacking in postmodernism, caught as it in a certain negativity that may be inherent in any critique of cultural dominants. It has no theory of positive action on a social level; all feminist positions do. This relation between the feminist and the postmodern is the topic of the final chapter of this study, but it is important to note from the start both the impact of the feminist on the postmodern and their shared deconstructing impulses.

Both try to avoid the bad faith of believing they can stand outside ideology, but both want to reclaim their right to contest the power of a dominant one, even if from a compromised position. Postmodernism may not do that something, but it may at least show what needs undoing first. Nevertheless many do see postmodernity as involving a critique of humanism and positivism, and an investigation of the relation of both to our notions of subjectivity.

In the broadest of terms, these all share a view of discourse as problematic and of ordering systems as suspect and as humanly constructed. Therefore, for Lyotard, postmodernity is characterized by no grand totalizing narrative, but by smaller and multiple narratives which seek no universalizing stabilization or legitimation. Richard Rorty has offered a trenchant critique of both positions, ironically noting that what they share is an almost overblown sense of the role of philosophy today.

But I want to argue that it also critiques those effects, while never pretending to be able to operate outside them. Yet what is confusing is that Jameson retains the word postmodernism for both the socio-economic periodization and the cultural designation. There is a strong sense that postmodernism somehow represents a lowering of standards or that it is the lamentable consequence of the institutionalization and acculturation of the radical potential of modernism.

In other words, it would seem to be difficult to discuss postmodernism without somehow engaging in a debate about the value and even identity of modernism. Opposition between those who believe postmodernism represents a break from modernism, and those who see it in a relation of continuity. This is obviously where the politics of representation enters for, according to the Althusserian view, ideology is a production of representations.

Of course, modernist art, in all its forms, challenged this notion as well, but it deliberately did so to the detriment of the referent, that is, by emphasizing the opacity of the medium and the self-sufficiency of the signifying system.

This is the ambivalent politics of postmodern representation. The borders between high art and mass or popular culture and those between the discourses of art and the discourses of the world especially history are regularly crossed in postmodern theory and practice. But it must be admitted that this crossing is rarely done without considerable border tension. If this is so, the mixing of the reflexively fictional with the verifiably historical might well be doubly upsetting for some critics.

Historiographic metafiction represents not just a world of fiction, however self-consciously presented as a constructed one, but also a world of public experience. The difference between this and the realist logic of reference is that here that public world is rendered specifically as discourse. How do we know the past today? Through its discourses, through its texts — that is, through the traces of its historical events: the archival materials, the documents, the narratives of witnesses.

On one level, then, postmodern fiction merely makes overt the processes of narrative representation — of the real or the fictive and of their interrelations. And is it not the characteristic of system to master it? What then, confronting reality, can one do who rejects mastery? Postmodern representation itself contests mastery and totalization, often by unmasking both their powers and their limitations. But a caveat is in order. Postmodernist critique is always compromised.

Actually, that center is not so much empty as called into question, interrogated as to its power and its politics. Postmodern historiographic metafiction asks us to question how we represent — how we construct — our view of reality and of our selves. Along with the photographic practices of Martha Rosler, Hans Haacke, and Silvia Kolbowski, as we shall see, these novels ask us to acknowledge that representation has a politics.

Photography today is one of the major forms of discourse through which we are seen and see ourselves. Frequently what I want to call postmodern photography foregrounds the notion of ideology as representation by appropriating recognizable images from that omnipresent visual discourse, almost as an act of retaliation for its unacknowledged political nature or its unacknowledged constructing of those images of ourselves and our world.

In most cases, this reliance does not necessarily lead to elitist exclusion, because the convention being evoked hasusuallybecomepartofthecommonrepresentationalvocabulary of newspapers, magazines, and advertising — even if its history is more extensive. Many video and performance artists have used similar methods to address social and political issues from within the discourse of that larger field of cultural representations that includes television, Hollywood movies, and commercial advertising.

Reappropriating existing representations that are effective precisely because they are loaded with pre-existing meaning and putting them into new and ironic contexts is a typical form of postmodern photographic complicitous critique: while exploiting the power of familiar images, it also de-naturalizes them, makes visible the concealed mechanisms which work to make them seem transparent, and brings to the fore their politics, that is to say, the interests in which they operate and the power they wield Folland All representations have a politics; they also have a history.

The conjunction of these two concerns in what has been called the New Art History has meant that issues like gender, class, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation are now part of the discourse of the visual arts, as they are of the literary ones.

Social history cannot be separated from the history of art; there is no value-neutral, much less value-free, place from which to represent in any art form. And there never was. We may no longer have recourse to the grand narratives that once made sense of life for us, but we still have recourse to narrative representations of some kind in most of our verbal discourses, and one of the reasons may be political.

This misconception shows the danger of defining the postmodern in terms of French or American anti- representational late modernism, as so many do. In these novels, there is no dissolution or repudiation of representation; but there is a problematizing of it. Historiographic metafiction is written today in the context of a serious contemporary interrogating of the nature of representation in historiography.

The past is something with which we must come to terms and such a confrontation involves an acknowledgement of limitation as well as power. We only have access to the past today through its traces — its documents, the testimony of witnesses, and other archival materials. In other words, we only have representations of the past from which to construct our narratives or explanations. In a very real sense, postmodernism reveals a desire to understand present culture as the product of previous representations.

The representation of history becomes the history of representation. What this means is that postmodern art acknowledges and accepts the challenge of tradition: the history of representation cannot be escaped but it can be both exploited and commented on critically through irony and parody, as we shall see in more detail in chapter 4. Totalizing narrative representation has also, of course, been considered by some critics as the defining characteristic of the novel as a genre, ever since its beginnings in the overt controlling and ordering and fictionalizing of Cervantes and Sterne.

Instead of seeking common denominators and homogeneous networks of causality and analogy, historians have been freed, Foucault argues, to note the dispersing interplay of different, heterogeneous discourses that acknowledge the undecidable in both the past and our knowledge of the past. These are among the issues raised by postmodern fiction in its paradoxical confrontation of self-consciously fictive and resolutely historical representation.

But the resulting postmodern relativity and provisionality are not causes for despair; they are to be acknowledged as perhaps the very conditions of historical knowledge. Historical meaning may thus be seen today as unstable, contextual, relational, and provisional, but postmodernism argues that, in fact, it has always been so.

Rather than seeing this paradoxical use and abuse as a sign of decadence or as a cause for despair, it might be possible to postulate a less negative interpretation that would allow for at least the potential for radical critical possibilities.

Perhaps we need a rethinking of the social and political as well as the literary and historical representations by which we understand our world. Maybe we need to stop trying to find totalizing narratives which dissolve difference and contradiction into, for instance, either humanist eternal Truth or Marxist dialectic.

What it does is de-naturalize that temporal relationship. In both historiographic theory and postmodern fiction, there is an intense self-consciousness both theoretical and textual about the act of narrating in the present the events of the past, about the conjunction of present action and the past absent object of that agency.

In both historical and literary postmodern representation, the doubleness remains; there is no sense of either historian or novelist reducing the strange past to verisimilar present.


Linda Hutcheon



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