Sunday, January 3, 2021


Memphis “Big Sur” sofa by Peter Shire

Judging from what I have read, we already appear to know how the year 2021 will unfold. A new normal is coming, and when it is unlocked, we must be ready to make up for lost time, and to take up new opportunities. As we breathe out, politics and economics can settle, as the United States gains a president that wants to do the job, and the United Kingdom trades from outside the European single market for the first time since 1973. With these long-standing conundrums solved for now, and with shops back open, the indignant heat of social media may simmer down. Why make your own New Year’s resolutions when the whole world is changing?

This year could be the latest chapter of renaissance and progress. Especially after a year blighted by disease, it is natural to embrace this hope - it is the grand narrative we all share. But for someone that has written as much as I have about postmodernism – the broad artistic social and philosophical movement that, among a large number of things, is meant to be distrustful of grand narratives – why am I thinking about the coming year in this way?

Nothing says that someone who deals in scepticism and irony can’t also be an optimist. It pays to have all your discursive tools to hand, and have a full understanding of them, but giving yourself time off from work is also nice. You can try to live your life via philosophical concepts of criticism made to use in cultural and textual analysis – Roland Barthes’ “death of the author” concept is not intended to help you read a book written by someone whose views you don’t like, unless you plan to judge only the text, and nothing else.

However, I plan to spend some time looking further into the concepts of postmodernism, in something I will be calling “Postmodernism 2021.” I have been looking into this rabbit hole for close to twenty years, with time for breaks. There is something attractive to deconstructing ideas to find new connections, or to play with different ideas and smash them together, whether that is by looking at a skyscraper that was built to resemble a grandfather clock, new music that evokes nostalgia for the 1980s, or blending genres together in a science fiction novel.

As I understand it, we are largely supposed to have moved on from postmodernity into a sort of modernity powered by the internet. But when you have people like Jordan Peterson, talking about “postmodern neo-Marxists,” and the UK Government’s Minister of Equalities, Liz Truss, blaming postmodernist thought for dominating debates on equality, in a speech made in December 2020, it is clear that postmodernism, or at least the concepts that exist at one end of a movement that has influenced art, is still very vital.

The most egregious part of Truss’s speech, later removed from the Government’s online record of it, having been placed under the title “The Failed Ideas of the Left,” read: “These ideas have their roots in post-modernist philosophy — pioneered by [Michel] Foucault — that put societal power structures and labels ahead of individuals and their endeavours. In this school of thought, there is no space for evidence, as there is no objective view — truth and morality are all relative.” Foucault’s 1966 book “The Order to Things” looked at how truth is constructed, and how this has differed through history, but that does not mean the same as “nothing is true, everything is permitted.”

With May 2021 marking five years of Leigh Spence is Dancing with the Gatekeepers, I will use the time until then to take stock of what postmodernism means to me, what it means to how I see the world, and how a movement most relevant in the 1980s and 90s continues to be so today.

As I work out where to start, I shall provide links to when I first talked about postmodernism and postmodernity back in January 2017 [link], my first touch upon its being used to blame for “alternative facts” [link], a look at the key concept of nostalgia [link], the fact that poststructuralism means you can’t say what you like [link], my trying to explain the concept of hauntology [link], and my walk around Manchester’s Trafford Centre, a shopping mall engaged entirely in postmodern architecture [link].

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