I recently connected with gnovis Journal contributor Andrew Hare, who had his paper “A Shift Realized: The Banking Crisis as the First Postmodern Event” published this past spring in the journal. He had some interesting insights on his paper and how some of his ideas and assumptions in the paper have evolved since its publication.
Postmodernism seems like a difficult concept to get one’s head around. How do you define postmodernism and where do you see it in practice in the modern world?
Definitions are always good to start with. I understand ‘postmodernism’ as cultural breaks, events and changes that come as a result of the modern ending. More specifically in my paper I define the modern as the cultural and superstructural force in place since the late 19th century. I see modernism as an era defined through grand or metanarratives that serve as ideological claims of absolutes and ultimate truths understood within the cultural logic. Examples of modernism can be found in the rise of Capitalism, Industrialization, World Wars and the Mass Media. It became a largely democratic and socialist dialectic in the second half of the 20th century.
The postmodern is what comes after the modern, but where the modern is always situated between fixed ideological points or binaries, the destination of postmodernism is unknown. It is anti-teleological. It’s marked by a dissolved dialectic or one ripe with new possibilities. We can understand the condition of the last 20 years as defined largely by global free market capitalism as ideal and liberal democracy as eschatology. With the financial crisis we are forced to examine what happens when the dominant Western ideology fails without a window of possibility onto anything else. That’s really at the juncture where this paper begins.
Frederic Jameson points out that postmodernism may amount to not much more than theorizing its own condition of possibility. I see the first moments of the financial crisis as a sort of global modern crisis that instantly changed how we understand and interpret the world. I don’t view the financial crisis as representing an entrance into a new postmodern world, but rather a break that allows for a possibility that the metanarrative of Capitalism is a false one. When the last remaining grand narrative reveals the fictions that constitute capitalism, how do we as a society move forward with this knowledge? That’s the question that drives this paper. Specifically, I think we can read and understand postmodernism in Globalization, the end of the Cold War, the rise of information technology and the banking crisis in the United States.
Why did you choose the banking crisis as a case study for postmodernism? Obviously current events may have dictated the topic, but do you have a personal attachment to the issue?
Yeah, it was a great time to be thinking about issues of modernism/postmodernism. In terms of a personal attachment I think I was witnessing my entire generation open their eyes, realizing that anything was possible. I feel the death of capital was in many ways the 21st century version of witnessing the death of God. The market had become falsified in a startlingly profound way. I’m not sure I would have written this paper if I was 10 or 20 years older. It seems like something of a generational Y issue now more than ever. It does seem ironic however that I’m writing it under the guise of a postmodernist, a theory that was probably much more popular 10 or 20 years ago.
You wrote in your paper “The idea to dissolve and start anew seems absurd. The iconoclastors fight a notion that there is a possibility to live with mass Capital. We are too entrenched historically and ideologically to go back now.” In his joint session speech on healthcare, President Obama said that the healthcare system in the U.S. shouldn’t be overhauled to start over. In your paper, you mention that Obama may very well be the first postmodern president, but still sticks to ideals of modernity. How does Obama’s reluctance to overhaul the existing economic (and for that matter also healthcare) structure relate to his response to the banking crisis?
It is of course directly related and likely linked for the same reasons. I’ve always been wary of Obama’s credo of “Change” because it means far too many things to far too many people, which is also probably why it was so effective in the campaign. I’ve always wondered – “Change” from what and into what exactly? In my paper I was leaving the door open for the possibility that Obama would actually use power, knowledge, capital and technology to help us move past the Grand Narratives of modernity but it appears a naïve and radical notion now. During this time I see Obama’s reluctance to completely overhaul both the financial and health care systems as a fight to reintroduce the modern into a moment of uncertainty and possibility. The first truly postmodern event as evident in the financial crisis could likely also be the last, an impetus back towards the modern. The modern always comes after the postmodern.
Why did you choose the methodological approach used in your paper?
The works of Lyotard and Baudrillard were the first place I went when examining how the financial crisis might be considered postmodernism in action. However, the topic is so broad and multi-disciplinary it would be interesting to see similar themes explored through qualitative, quantitative or more ethnographic work. This paper was really just a jumping off point. It’s the thesis statement, the question and the idea I had.
What part of this research was interesting? What part was frustrating?
A couple of frustrating points first. I think working in terms of “postmodernism” today can be considered passé and as such it presented more problems than solutions at times. I didn’t want to be written off or placed within a certain camp just because I was using such a highly debated nomenclature in my thesis. It was also a continual challenge to make sure that I got the thesis across without being dependent on what would happen with the bailout or other specific policies enacted as a result of the crisis. The paper could literally morph everyday based on what happens in the news. Finally, this isn’t an economics or political science paper, it’s a cultural studies analysis but I wanted it to be a multi-disciplinary look at one possible perspective of the event. That has been a daunting and exciting challenge.
Basically I was really driven with the idea for the paper because ultimately I believed Lyotard’s crisis of legitimation and Baudrillard’s precession of simulacra were obviously apparent in the banking failure. When writing the paper late last year I truly felt that the world historical events happening with the market collapse and presidential election were a perfect time to reintroduce notions of postmodernism.
Where will you go from here with this paper? It is an interesting analysis on a current topic. Do you plan on presenting this paper at research conferences or will you attempt other journal publications?
I presented this at the Critical Themes conference at The New School in April of this year. I’m still looking to present and publish this piece in the short term. In the longer term I’m working to develop this paper into my graduate thesis within the next year or so. I really can’t thank Gnovis and the CCT department at Georgetown enough for the opportunity to publish this work. They’ve been great through the editorial process and I highly encourage other graduate students to take advantage of Gnovis and submit research.
I encourage all of you to read Andrew’s thoughtful analysis of postmodernity and the financial crisis. It is based on a timely topic we still must face in our daily lives from an interesting perspective many have not taken.