Saturday, December 31, 2011

I am not a Post-Modern (an essay written in real time on Twitter)

I've never liked the term #PostModern - not because of the styles & Ideologies it is attached to, but because I question the premise. 
#PostModern is founded on the premise that there was a fundamental change made durring the post War Years: a "paradigm shift." 
Thomas Kuhn defined a paradigm shift a fundamental break in understanding between to regimes of understanding - in science.
Late 70s theorist like Jean-François Lyotard & Rosalind Krauss began using the term paradigm shift to describe cultural changes.
Since then, Paradigms have bifurcated historical periods at an exponential rate. Shifts became devalued - obviously meaningless.
Even periodizing modernity, as Early (1500-1800), & Late (1950-?) presumes we are towards the end of modernity,feels premature.
Fredric Jameson periodizes modernity since the late 1800s into fifty year cycles according to technological means of production.
Jameson's 1st boom/bust cycle ends with the 'European Spring' (1848) and is marked by the spread of handcrafted steam engines.
Jameson's 2nd cycle of modernization, marked by the spread of machined steam engines, ends in the 1890s.
Jameson's next boom/bust cycle ends with WWII, and is marked by the spread of electric and combustion engines.
Jameson's final period is the third marked by the spread of machined electronic and nuclear systems. (see Hal Foster, RotR)
Jameson's periodizing presumes a late phase of modernization, & makes no allowance for less material /cultural/ factors.
There are 3 cultural periods that are profound & rise to the level of true paradigm shifts: Prehistoric, Premodern, & Modern.
These 3 paradigms are marked by changes in the human immune system - changes that have to do with population density & wealth.
The most common challenge to spare populations of Prehistoric peoples was/is parasites.
The denser settlements of Premodern life made infectious desease the greatest burden on human immune systems. 
Chronic deseases, like heart disease and cancer, are the major cause of death in modern societies.
These 'epidemiological transition' are truly profound and are accompanied by very different systems of authority. 
We are deeply embedded within a modern moment - Late modernity is a long way off.
The majority of nomadic Prehistoric bands probably toped out at 150 individuals - groups this size require no hierarchy.
Larger Premodern societies of kin groups would have had stable hierarchies - what Francis Fukuyama calls the Tyranny of Cousins.
Later, tribal bonds extended kin group bonds, requiring formalized property & systems of justice.
These orders Prehistoric & Premodern political orders are categorically different from one another - they are true paradigmes.
Likewise, modern State formation, which began in Europe in the late 18th century is a radical break with the past. 
The Shift between the premodern & modern can also be marked by the Columbian Exchange (1492): biologically reunited the globe.
The Columbus Exchange also marks the beging of the spread of the dense urban life pioneered by Europeans.
I can imagine all sorts of ways to further divide the cultures of the Prehistoric, Premodern & Modern - true paradigm shifts. 
The cultural changes of the Cold War - Consumerism, Civil Rights, Feminism, etc - were profound, but not paradigm shifts.
The cultural changes of the Early Modern - the scientific method, the State, secularism, democracy - were just as profound.
Late Modern, High Modern, and most of all #PostModern, are all obviously premature - the last 40 years have made us More Modern, not less.
In 1978 cities, the State, democracy, science - all modern institutions appeared to be failing. All trends appeared negative.
Thanks to trend spotters like Gordon E. Moore, Kevin Kelly, Steven Pinker, Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett, we can see a rise.
That is not to say we don't face problems as profound as the moderns who came before us.
It is only to say that we are moderns, and we are up to the challenge. Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Future of Art: Your Mom is the Product 2

Artificial Companionship: Kitchen phone; Paro 
(Part 1)
Imagine you walked into your mother's kitchen and you found her on the phone. She was gossiping to a friend about family business. She was telling them about your grandparents, your aunts and uncles, your cousins, you and your siblings - no one was spared, and everything from marital status to financial well-being was on the menu. Most of us would give grandma a pass. She and her friend are keeping each other entertained; working things out with one another in a way that is harmless. On balance, most of us would feel it's healthier for mom to talk her worries out with friend than to fret in isolation. But how would you feel if you realized that your mother was speaking to an Artificial Intelligence - an algorithm created to make your mother feel like she was speaking to a friend?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Future of Art: Non-Optical Media 1

Engaging Stares: HAL 9000 (1968); Marina Abramovic (2010)

A while back the New York Times art critic, Roberta Smith, complained against what she called "the New Modern." The current historical narrative being pushed by the MoMA, Smith feels, is a " giddy, even desperate, embrace of the new and the next, of large-scale installation and video art, as well as performance art, and generally of art as entertainment and spectacle." Smith finds the focus of the Modern's curators "a symptom of something more than a little scary about where contemporary art is headed, or where the Modern is taking it. (Hint: Conceptual Art is the new Cubism.)"

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Looking at Modernism with David Brin -6

Sith Architecture: Le Corbusier and Star Wars 
(Return to Part 5)
When I originally sent David the link to my essay, Star Wars: A New Heap I knew he was an unlikely fan of my ideas about Star Wars. I understood what he disliked about the film's plot and the franchises influence on the world of scifi publishing. In no way, shape, or form, did I think I would change David's judgment of the movie (or even wanted to). But because he counts himself a contrarian, I hoped he would enjoy the spirit of my project. I was ecstatic when he replied to my email and have enjoyed the polite sparing of our sporadic correspondence ever since. The subject of our sparing hasn't been Star Wars, however, its been modernity and Modernism. David has made it very clear on a number of occasions that he believed that both art and architecture (but mostly architecture) had gone off the rail some time ago, and has never recovered:
Not the scientists and engineers and science fiction authors, who kept faith with Modernism as a central force for the enlightenment, but by the very communities that you most associate with "Modernism".... the artists and architects, who betrayed the movement absolutely, despicably and almost mortally, at the very level of personality. By preening and flouncing and calling themselves wizard-guru-masters, everyone from Le Corbusier to Wright to Warhol gave in to the old temptations and turned Modernist art and architecture away from the enlightenment's most fundamental notion -- modesty and accountability.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Looking at Do Ho Suh with David Brin - 5

Rachel Whiteread, One Hundred Spaces (1995); David explaining Do Ho Suh's Home Within Home prototype (2011)
(Return to Part 4)
After having seen the Richard Serra and Nick Cave shows, David and Cheryl and I then walked a couple blocks north to see an the two installations of two over-size doll houses colliding in two very different ways by the Korean artist Do Ho Suh at the Lehmann Maupin Gallery. Of the three shows I took the Brins to see, this last one is where I had the most fun, because it was there that David grabbed the reigns from me and his story telling took over. Not long after we had entered the show I was no longer explaining the work to David, he was explaining the work to me and Cheryl and complete strangers; whatever I had hoped might happened when I invited the Brins to look at art with me, this was better.