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Pseudo-modernism and the absence of narrative

The neomodern trap is thinking that there’s a need for a new alternative narrative, a unifying tale, a future to believe in, a teleology to give in to. That’s what declinists do — for example, through the idea of the “big catastrophe” (whether environmental, energy, or socioeconomic). But as the ideology of catastrophe demonstrates, everything that points to the “inevitability” of these ideas does nothing but feed banalization and passivity.

It’s part of the very nature of postmodernism that every so often, announcements are made that it is dead. In most cases, they just represent the affirmation of some new artistic-identitary development or a new sample of the senile reactionaryism from the Vargas-Llosa or Eco of the day. But the critical line that Alan Kirby walks is different, and to the extent that he coincides on the idea of a world without heuristics, he sheds a lot of light on certain issues that have concerned us these last few months.

The background idea underlying Juan’s texts and Kirby’s is that the world continues to be postmodern, but its narrative, rather than blossoming into the narrational and identitary multiplicity foreseen at the beginning of the century, has converged in the mass media (TV, books of faces, etc.) into a sort of banal and nebulous non-narrative that demands activity from the spectator-participant, epistemologically prioritizes the tool over the content or its creator, and forgets, rather than criticizes, existing political and cultural baggage. With its homogenization and recentralization, this non-narrative has a lot of a “return” to Modernism in it (with good reason, Kirby gives the example of Wikipedia), but to the extent that its system of heirarchy and values is generally corrosive to the old Modern order, it’s something else. Kirby calls it pseudo-modern, a cultural setting in which the neo-modern Wikipedia would be an exception, a mere forerunner to the books of faces and the obsessive use of text messages by television programs.

Some of you will say that Kirby is arriving a little late to something we’ve been saying for a while now: the cultural effect of the model promoted by books of faces was going to produce an erosion of the social capacity to generate new, autonomous narratives, reducing capacity to respond to decomposition, both in social movements and in industrial P2P movements and even the Academy. In a way, recentralization — the media and techie face of decompostion — leaves those “alternative and simultaneous futures” of a postmodern world a little further off, a little more unnoticed.

Psuedo-modernism could be defined as the interpretation in terms of a social narrative of decomposition: it is the vacuum, the non-narrative, banal and corrosive to all real fraternity, which became hegemonic when the pluralist mono-narrative of the decentralized world before the Internet couldn’t be sustained any longer, but the boom of the narratives, communities, and identities of a distributed world is put in check by the recentralization of power born of the generalized capture of rents (by the media, by Big Capital on the Internet, by the intellectual property industry, by state-privileged groups, etc.).

Win a myriad of futures to come


The neomodern trap is thinking that there’s a need for a new alternative narrative, a unifying tale, a future to believe in, a teleology to give in to. That’s what declinists do — for example, through the idea of the “big catastrophe” (whether environmental, energy, or socioeconomic). But as the ideology of catastrophe demonstrates, everything that points to the “inevitability” of these ideas does nothing but feed banalization and passivity.

It’s also tempting to create a narrative of a unifying future out of whatever is least decomposed around us, whether that’s the transition to the P2P mode of production or grassroots democracy… but what emerges then is that sort of showy and assistential reformism, which is self-justifying and always reactive, and where the “Occupy” discussion seems to be stuck.

The trap is the universalism hidden behind every generalizing storyline. Oneness is not coming back. The world remains structurally and powerfully postmodern and everything that looks backward can only become a soldier in the army of decomposition, if not a bandit in search of a sweet little private rent.

We know that only fraternity and its frank way of speaking can be a starting point because its setting is, by definition, the real community, the node found in a personal, customized future. Empowering them and developing them is the only vector that multiplies diversity and narratives, that builds personalized futures and thereby real freedom and cohesion.

Of course, there’s a time to talk about the transition to the P2P mode of production… but not as a unifying storyline, but rather, from and for a local interpretation — distinct in each place, in each network — of the New Industrial Revolution… only to then let those storylines burst forth from every community in its surroundings, because without communities writing their own stories, building their own autonomy, there will be no subjects capable of rolling back decomposition in every setting. That’s why the thing to do with the established state of things is not to whisper sweet nothings, but to speak briefly, to articulate values without trying to make them universal, without referring to a their inevitability or a common future… and concentrate on setting acheivable consequences in motion from different, and even opposing, contexts.

It’s all about ignoring any imaginary collective subject, making faces at the mention of its name, and pointing towards creating the real thing and encouraging its first utterances, because the empty space where a storyline should go needs to be filled in with a mosaic, not a painting.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

«Pseudo-modernism and the absence of narrative» recibió 1 y , desde que se publicó el May 6th, 2012 . Si te ha gustado este post quizá te gusten otros posts escritos por David de Ugarte

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  1. Are Video Game Narratives Postmodern? | Alluvium

    [...] Despite this subtle flow even within a single series of games, efforts to hegemonise the medium in general persist. Recently, in order to deal with the rise of interactive culture, and in an essay which declares postmodernism dead as a consequence of it, Alan Kirby has suggested that we should develop the idea of the pseudo-modern: [...]

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