You are on page 1of 8

The End of Postmodernism: Postmodernism is Dead and We have Killed it

Brian G. Toews

In The Gay Science Friedrich Nietzsche wrote:

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the
market-place, and cried incessantly: "I am looking for God! I am looking for God!" As many of those
who did not believe in God were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. Have you
lost him, then? said one. Did he lose his way like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of
us? Has he gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus they shouted and laughed. The madman sprang
into their midst and pierced them with his glances. "Where has God gone?" he cried. "I shall tell you.
We have killed him - you and I. We are his murderers.

A. Vital Signs of Postmodernism

What as post ode is ?, asks Iha Hassa . He lists the follo i g featu es: f ag e ts, h idit ,
relativism, play, parody, pastiche, an ironic, sophistical stance, an ethos bordering on kitsch and camp.1
Or simply put, a o ti uous e e ise i self-self-defi itio , 2 o , a ki d of auto iog aph , a
i te p etatio of ou li es i de eloped so ieties, 3
What has happened to the fathers of postmodernism?
Michael Foucault, died June 25, 1984.
History of Sexuality (1976/78) Discipline and Punish (1975/77)
Jacques Lyotard, died April 21, 1988
The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979)
Jacques Derrida, died October 8, 2004
Of Grammatology (1967, 1978).
Jean Baudrillard, died March 6, 2007

Ihab Hassan, Beyond Postmodernims: toward an esthetic of trust. Angelaki, 8/1 April 2003, 4.
Ibid, 5.

Simulacra and Simulation (1981/83)

The Gulf War Did not Happen

With the death of Jean Baudrillard, should we ask if postmodernism is dead as well. Alan Kirby writes in
the Ne tates a , A o pelli g ase a e ade that post ode is is dead, just looki g at the
ultu al p odu tio of ou ti es. 4
He states that the hallmarks of postmodernism are all but absent from the cultural landscape of 2007
self-conscious reflection on the process of representation and manipulation of inherited artistic
expectation; iro , the asse ted i possi ilit of k o i g ealit ; the i te pla of high a d lo ultu e;
the o st u ted atu e of selfhood, a d so o . .5 He also cites a reading list from a British University
course on Postmodern Fictions. He states that they are not contemporary in any sense, but all but one
as itte efo e
. The post ode lite atu e o es f o the ultu e of the stude ts pa e ts.
Note also that the four seminal works of the postmodern heroes above were all written before 1981.
Any glimpse of the music, movies, and fashion of the 1980s will show how distant it is from our culture
toda . What does the o d Beta a ea to ou? E e the o d post ode
has e o e u hip
a o di g to Ki . The sho te ed e sio po- o al ost has a o king and pejorative sound to it. A
serious and revolutionary set of ideas by great thinkers has been reduced to a nickname thrown out as
linguistic trash.
i ha d I ge soll ope s up his essa titled Postpost ode is
ith this, You do t eed to a o o e
to find out if postmodernist architecture is dead; for over a decade the term and the corresponding
stenographic style have been anathema to archite tu al agazi es. He adds, A e ou o , o ha e
you ever been a postmodernist? One senses currently among architects a stigma associated with the
te to the poi t that it ould e diffi ult to fi d a o e ho ould ide tif the sel es as su h. 6
Although he sees some a hite ts designing in a postmodernist style, the movement died in the 90s.
This is interesting because many see the postmodern era opening with the blowing-up of the
Pruitt-Igoes building in St. Louis in 1972. According to F. R. A ke s it s History and Tropology: The Rise
and Fall of Metaphor (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1994) the new order of the
postmodern began in architecture, as a reaction against the Bauhaus and modernist buildings of Le
Corbusier.7 Does postmodernism end with the destruction of the World Trade Center? Unlike
Baud illa d s ie of the Gulf Wa , o o e ote a ook title / did ot happe .

New Statesman, 19 March 2007, 48.

Postpostmodernism. Richard Ingersoll. Architecture, May 2001, 90/5. 109-112.
Peter Hughes, Last Post: Alternatives to Postmodernism. A Review Article. Contemporary Studies in Society and
History. 38/1 Jan. 1996, 182-188.

The Fall of the World Trade Center

In postmodernism, no historical trust exist. History is a fiction, created by those in power, held together
by desperate people trying to make sense of life.
The fall of the Wo ld T ade Ce te a d the su se ue t a o te o has e ealed the a k upt of
postmodernism for many scholars. If, as postmodernism suggests, there are no objective values and
fa ts, this leads to skepti is a d o al self dou t. Ed i Lo ke ites, If o e takes this se iousl , o e
cannot morally condemn Nazism, totalitarian Communism, the Klu Klux Klan, or the World Trade Center
terrorists This ould i pl that the e is o o je ti e o al diffe e e et ee the te o ists desi e to
kill A e i a s a d A e i a s desi e to li e. 8 The o se ue es of skepti is a e that he skepti s
are confronted by people who do feel certain (e.g., terrorists whose goal is destruction), they are
o all disa ed a d u a le to sta d up fo a thi g. 9 For many the event, the history, the fact of
9/11 was so true and the evil so obvious that postmodernism came crashing down with towers
themselves. We have returned to pre-modern days when the Muslim East was at war with the Christian
West. We have moved beyond good and evil, only to return to the idea of good vs. evil.

The Death of Postmodernism in Literature

Listen to these scholars in literature as they think about the state of affairs in literature.
loa De Villa i The De li e of A e i a Post ode is 10 opens with this
state e t, Post ode is as a lite a
o e e t i the U ited tates is o i its fi al phase of
de ade e. A e i a ultu e o es i to a e a of postlite atu e.
He sees the peak of A e i a
post ode lite atu e i the
s a d s. He otes, As post ode is fades i to the past, the e is
no evidence that any meaningful literary movement will follo it. A e i a ultu e ge e all is
e o i g i easi gl postlite ate a d i the e d of post ode is
e a also e it essi g the
e d of lite atu e as a ode of ultu e.
He sees the p oje t of postlite atu e ill e to etu to
common la guage athe tha a i flated etala guage
. He ites, Ho e e alte ed, it ill
p ese t a e i ed i te est i the possi ilities of a ati e. It ill e a diale ti ea tio agai st e
postmodernism. Postliterature will necessarily evolve outside the academy, correcting the attempt by
universities to institutionalize and control literature. It will rely on new technological forms for
p odu tio a d dist i utio .
Does this sou d like loggi g a d M pa e.?
Da iel O Ha a e p essed his o skepti is
ith ooks la eled post . This e a e
fo hi adi al dou t he he ead a a ou e e t fo a e ook se ies, Post-contemporary
I te e tio s. He states that his p ofessio as egi i g to sou d like its o self-parody, in flight

The Dead End of Postmodernism. Edwin A. Locke. American Psychologist. June/July 2002, 458.


from any presumption to a serious intellectual role beyond maintaining its hierarchy of professional
e a d fo ei g o the latest utti g edge.
Post-Theo , Co te po a Lite atu e, / ,
. This state e t i di ates that, fo O Hara, postmodernism is a shell of what it once was. I am sure
that he all the post ooks a d a ti les e e pu lished that the e e ead ith g eat a ti ipatio
ith hat as de o st u ted, hat o d ga es, the i o , et . B
the p efi post as truly an
empty signifier. It meant nothing; it engendered skepticism and doubt.
In 1995 Carlton Smith11, afte iefl e tio i g De ida a d ola d Ba thes, ites, Needless to sa ,
these commentaries did not produce postmodernism, but rather established an epicenter whose lines of
force continue to resonate across the contemporary cultural experience. Twenty-five years later, we are
still postmodern, or perhaps post/postmodern, for lack of a better name. And although contemporary
literature shares many of the tropes noted by its literary predecessors, we are clearly experiencing a
second way of postmodern confusion a possibility. American fiction, in particular, is a site of the
emergent post-apo al pti se si ilit .
The o lude, As e app oach the millennium these voices form the concert that is post/postmodern
fiction. Bemused, reactive, mock-tragic, and at once somehow transcendent, they (re)(de)construct the
o te po a
o ld. A solute dest u tio is at ha d; the e is o l ti e to si g. What fictions are
possi le afte this o e t? It is this uestio that post/post ode autho s o te plate.
On the other hand, Eric Williamson writes that there is a new generation of writers emerging,
post-postmodern writers who believe that there are still vital stories to tell and a new realism,
emphasizing social and psychological critique. This generation of writers seem to believe that fiction
should i st u t, should sa so ethi g. I Willia so s positio post ode lite atu e has eithe had
nothing to say or has only the un-sayable to say.
In 2004, in an article titled Literary Theory beyond Postmodernism,12 Jens Zimmerman writes,
Be o d post ode is one can almost hear a sign of relief. Finally we can say out loud what a
growing numbe of ooks ad it: post ode is as a o e e t of e e al has u its ou se. The
fact that postmodernism has no new readings, is an indication that it has exhausted its potential. The
predictability of postmode eadi gs sig als its death.

Singing in the (Post-Apo al pti ai : o e high/lo otes o post/post ode is

Smith and Deborah De Barros. American Studies International; Apr. 95, 33/1


a d Ca lto

Quo Vadis?: Literary theory beyond Postmodernism. Jens Zimmerman. Christianity and Literature. 53/4.
(Summer 2004)

What Now?
What lies beyond postmodernism?
No one knows;
we hardly know what postmodernism was.
Ihab Hassan

1. A Return to Truth, Beauty, Goodness - Postmodernity Ihab Hassan

Baud illa d died i Ma h
. Baud illa d s death aises ti el a d i po ta t questions
about the intellectual culture of the early 21st e tu . i pl put, hat o es afte post ode is ? 13
I the Mat i , he Neo is deli e ed f o the a hi es, he a ake s to the dese t of the eal uoti g
Baudrillard). When he becomes conscious of his new reality, he becomes sick and throws up. The
West s e e ge e f o post ode h pe -reality to post 9/11 reality may be like that. What now that
we have a true event in history that demonstrates good and evil. My sense is that the intellectual
communities want to come back to some sense of history, truth, beauty, goodness. In the Spring of
2005 I had a brief conversation with two University of Pennsylvania professors who explained that their
stude ts e e ti ed of po- o a d desired some meaning and truth. This is what I sense in the
scholars that I read.
For example, Ihab Hassan writes that be o d post ode is
e eed to discover new
elatio s et ee sel es a d othe s, a gi s a d e te s, f ag e ts a d holes , hat I all a e ,
p ag ati , a d pla eta i ilit . 14 He puts fo a d o ds a d idea su h as t uth, t ust, spi it, all
u apitalized, i additio to o ds like e ip o it a d espe t, s path , a d e path .
. Hassa
does not hold to an absolute, transcendent, foundatio T uth. Fo hi , truth rests not on
transcendence, but on trust.
u i g th ough the essa a e efe e es to the many injustices of our
da . Hassa eje ts u i e sal t uth, ut pu po ts p ag ati t uth. Without ualified ge e alizatio s,
no appeal to easo , f eedo , o justi e a sta d; o i ti a fi d ed ess, o t a t et i utio .
Trust is self-dispossession or kenosis. For Hassan, trust is the premise of realism. Or for him, a fiduciary
realism is a postmodern aesthetic of truth. Hassan does not want an absolute, all-encompassing truth,
ut he does a t so e ki d of t uth. It is as if he is sa i g, I a ot go a k to ode o p e-modern
otio s of t uth, ut I eed the o d a d idea o else I a t ake se se of the o ld.
But ho is a t uth possi le if the e is o o e suffi ie tl p i ileged to p o lai it
u i e sall ? asks N.J. De e ath i Post o te is fo Post ode is ? 15 (25). Separate groups
want their truth and end up fighting for their version. He adds, In this new scholarly incarnation of

Hassan, 6.
N.J. Demerath, Postmortemism for Postmodernism? Contemporary Society, 25/1, Jan. 1996, 25-27.

Ho e s a e of all agai st all, post ode is

ou se, i e e sa. i id .

u s i te fe e e fo politi al o e t ess and, of

J. espo se: Post- a d e o d, Mikhail Epstei . The la i a d East Eu opea Journal, 39/3. Autumn
1995. 357-366.
ussia is looki g fo its post-totalitarian identity, even as it attempts to avoid the temptation of pure
elati is .
He ad o ates fo a u it ith di e sit . Multidi e sio al diffe e e ould e the
process of self-differentiation, which gives rise to new, non-violent, non-totalita ia totalities diffe e t
f o diffe e e, the e p o eedi g ot f o a si gle ill o po e , ut f o dialogue a d i te a tio
ithi di e sit . ou ds like the t i-une God.
Other movements which seek for a return to an objective historical event are:
See Critical Realism (Lopez, J. and Potter, G., 2001, After Postmodernism: An Introduction to
Critical Realism, (London, The Athlone Press, 1998).
See The Spiritual Society: What Lurks Beyond Postmodernism? (Frederic W. Baue (Crossway,
1992) Baue sees the New Historicism (Stephen Greenblatt) as a reaction to postmodernism.
2. A Return to a Single Whole
In 2001 UCLA professor Raoul Eshelmann an article titled, 16Performatism, or the End of
Post ode is des i es post ode is as a e e e di g sea h fo ea i g as the su je t d o s
in a flood of ever expanding cross-references. The subject searches for itself only to find itself where it
began in an endless field of links and references.
For Eshelmann the way out of this endless game, is to find a mechanism that is impervious to
post ode is s dispe sal, de onstruction, and defferance. He suggests the notion of performativity.
Performativity preserves the subject, and presents it as a holistic, irreducible unit that makes a binding
i p essio o a eade o o se e . The su je t ust ha e a su fa e that does not offer itself to be
a so ed o dispe sed. The e su je t ust appea as edu ed, solid, as si gle o si ple-minded
a d i a e tai se se ide ti al ith the thi gs it sta ds fo . This losed, si ple hole eates a efuge
in which the telos, the author, belief, love, dogma and more can be maintained.
1. No more endless citing and no authenticity, but rather the framing of things already existing
in order to transcend or radically renew them.
2. Instead of unstable meaning relations, the holistic subject-sign-thing-relation becomes the
basis of all communication and all social interaction
3. From metaphysical pessimism to metaphysical optimism.

Anthropoetics 6/2. Fall2000/Winter 2001

4. Rehabilitation of the phallus

3. Alternatives to Postmodernism: Performative Memesis (Peter Huges)17

Pete Huges, Pe fo ati e i esis akes a ealit , a oste si e a t of gesture that can both rehears
histo a d epeat the t uth ith hi h Augusti e s Co fessio s ope that the first language of
mankind is not made of words but of gestures. And a rehearsal involves not only the repetition of what
has already been written but also the performance to come. The past starts now, but so too does the
futu e. Mi i k su h as da e, la guage of e p essio , the st o gest of hi h is poet .
Wittgenstein emphasized gestural and ostensive powers of language, to develop a performative and
dramatic approach that overrides both traditional and deconstructure notions of causality. His thought
emplies the revaluing of the notions of surface, imitation and mimicry. (186) Postmodern reality is
ade up, ut pe fo ati e ealit is eall a ted out.
E essi e i esis th ough da e Plato s
Laws presens as the strongest kind of mimesis.

4. A Post-Ironic Lull Minsoo Kang

Fo the past t e t ea s the i telle tual o ld has ee i the dold u s a o di g to U i e sit of
St. Louis professor Minsoo Kang.18 As early as 1988 Kang recounts that poststructuralism was in decline
in France. He notes that the younger generation of French intellectuals were more interested in
o ete issues i the politi al a e a as opposed to a st a t iti is of s ste s of k o ledge. 19 As a
professor of history Kang sees that there have been repeated intellectual lulls between one movement
to the next. For him the death of postmodernism in the US is June 18, 1993 with the premiere of Arnold
a ze egge s Last Action Hero. He understands this movie to be thoroughly postmodern and adds,
A d i the US, there s no surer sign of an intellectual ideas final demise than its total appropriation by
ass ultu e. 20
Ka g otes that o atte ho ou a e ou do t de la e ou self to e post ode . He ites, B
convention it s see as po pous a d du . With evangelical churches and theologians intentionally
adopting a postmodern approach it is a sure sign that the culture has moved way beyond it. We are
usually the last outpost of a movement that has passed on.


Last Post: Alternatives to Postmodernism. A Review Article. Peter Hughes. Comparative Studies in Society and
History, Vol. 38, No. 1. (Jan., 1996), pp. 182-188..

The Post-ironic Lull by Minsoo Kang


Kang suggests that this lull between post ode is a d post post ode is ? is a post-ironic lull.
He adds that lulling and waiting are the definition of our age. He describes the postmodern spirit as
ironic, critical, and experimental, whereas he describes the post-ironic lull as suspenseful, tentative, and
anticipatory. We are in a liminal period. Yet there is an anxiety that the next movement may be worse.
Fear that the next phase may be totalitarianism, nationalism, or religious fundamentalism. Kang want to
celebrate this lull between the past grave and the coming dark cave.
For me, there is no sure sign than an intellectual idea is dead than when it is appropriated by
conservative evangelicals. Postmodernism is dead and we have killed it.

Heraclytus and Parmenides: Has the pendulum swing back to Parmenides away from Heraclitean flux.

Let s li e i light of post ode is


s death.

Postmortemism for Postmodernism. N. J. Demarath. Contemporary Sociology, vol. 25, no. 1. (Jan., 1996), pp.