Stuart Jeffries: Everything, All the Time, Everywhere – How We Became Post-Modern Criticism – An Entertaining Origin Story for Today’s World

He pulls from the same rich source a handsome thief and a chastity belt, places the thief in the chastity belt and lays him tenderly under the azalea, not neglecting to wind up the gold pocket watch so that its ticking finally awakens the now asleep. thief. “Then, continues Barthelme,” he borrows a pair of seniors, Jacqueline and Jemima, and puts them to sleep near the azalea bush and the handsome and chaste thief. “

In her willingness to ‘take’ and ‘borrow’, the fictionalized author of Barthelme resembles Lance Taylor, better known as Afrika Bambaataa, founder of the Zulu Nation. Inspired by the 1964 film Zulu, Bambaataa started out as a DJ in New York’s Bronx, sampling “Caribbean soca, African music, and even German electronics” as he sought to give his neighborhood parties an eclectic edge. Bambaataa, according to Stuart Jeffries’ latest book, Everything, all the time, everywhere: how we became post-modern, was a purveyor of ‘postmodern pastiche’, producing new music from ‘trash cans, rubble, spray cans and old records’, or whatever was lying around, turning the old and the simple into something again, subversive, and originally non-original. In doing so, Bambaataa displayed an attitude towards music close to that which Robert Venturi, with his wife and partner Denise Scott Brown, brought to architecture: “a resource to plunder, a supermarket of styles” from which the couple returned. “With carts full of material to push back the modernist aesthetic”. The artist’s task, for Brown and Venturi, was to free art from the shackles of one mode, a philosophy fully exposed in their design for the Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery in London.

“The world enters the work as it enters our ordinary lives, not as a worldview or system, but in a sharp particularity,” Barthelme wrote in Not-Knowing. It is with such particularity that Jeffries proceeds. Bambaataa and Venturi are unlikely partners; their lecture here is symptomatic of Allthe tinkering of a conventionally “high” and “low” culture that is itself postmodern. Each of Jeffries’ chapters selects three more examples from the diverse portfolio of postmodernism as the journalist and author concoct a sort of chronological origin story for the world today, resulting in juxtapositions as intriguing as Margaret. Thatcher and Sid Vicious, or Chris Kraus and Grand Theft Auto. It’s a story that begins in 1972, with the collapse of the Bretton Woods system. Called the ‘Nixon shock’, the political decisions taken by the US president eradicated the foundations of the Keynesian economy, precipitating the ‘globalized and hyperconnected world’ we know today and, in the privilege accorded to transnational capital flows. , says Jeffries, “destroy the social democratic egalitarianism of advanced industrial nations.”

In his previous book, Grand Hotel Abyss: the life of the Frankfurt school, Jeffries shone the spotlight on the human side of some of the 20e most obscure intellectuals of the century, and in doing so, made their concepts readable. Here he faces the opposite task: holding a mirror of a familiar world, All seeks to reveal hidden complexities. The economic paradigm inspired by Nixon is as integral to Jeffries’ postmodern analysis as that of Madonna. Like a virgin (1984) or that of Jeff Koons Rabbit (1986). Ours is a ‘schizophrenic’ era of one-click ordering and instant gratification, of Deliveroo drivers and zero hour contracts. It is also an era, following the work of Barthes, Foucault and Lyotard, of “language games”, where the fixed meaning is absent, and the so-called “meta-narratives” of history and science are refuted, supplanted on the contrary by a plurality. competing and equally valid claims. Another former president, Donald Trump, is not so much a cause of this postmodern dystopia as a symptom: who, in the form of 1980s New York, finds him a city as “auspicious” as that of Bret Easton Ellis. American psychopath (1991) to the violent sexual fantasies of its protagonist, Patrick Bateman. Moving from the real to the virtual, Jeffries demonstrates a natural ease that guarantees All is eminently readable, without evading the difficulties that are at the heart of its plot – whether it is about grappling with the complexity of Derrida’s “metaphysics of presence” or about recounting the debates between queer and feminist theories.

Barthelme, although absent from AllThe postmodernist account of, shows in the distancing effect of his vanity as a writer the irony which is, for Jeffries, the “inescapable rhetorical position” of the movement. But Not-Knowing concludes not without Barthelme first getting rid of this rhetoric, stepping out from behind the veil to extol the “ameliorative” powers of literature, his goal “at last to change the world”. Jeffries also concludes his mediation with an afterword, but titled “Ghost Modernism”, it traces in a different direction, away from the fiction of playful pluralism towards a real world defined by a shrinking state, increased corporate control and technological domination. voluntary. . “What was meant to be a casual antidote to modernist solemnity,” he writes of north London brutalist Highcroft Estate, “has turned sad, like a cake left in the rain.” It is in the sadness of our contemporary world, stripped of its “thoughtfulness and kindness”, that Jeffries finds the defining legacy of postmodernism. All is not a message of hope, only an answer to a question: how did we get there?


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