Aesthetic Essays

reviews 167 REVIEWS The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. Ed. and intro. by Hal Foster. Port Townsend, Washington, 1983 159 pp. $8.95 (paper). So what is this thing called postmodernism anyway? The range of responses to that innocent question is dizzying: for something big is at stake—the terrain of Culture itself. Culture is both a site and an object of poUtical struggle, and ever since Louis Althusser defined ideology as a "representation of the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence" (1969), the issue of "representation," whether visual or textual, has stimulated a great outpouring of left theory. Yet the mainstream art world, to whom Hal Foster's 77te Anti-Aesthetic is primarily addressed, by no means accepts the social and political constitution of culture, or even that modernism is pushing up daisies—in certain circles it is not even indisposed. Defining postmodernism is a hot contest: Hilton Krammer's journal The New Criterion, is an example, hovers in the far right field of reactionary morass; The Anti-Aesthetic aims to take up a position on what would seem to be the left. One faction (the business-as-usual school) claims that postmodernism is simply the name for the prevaiUng stylistic "pluralism" (often called "a healthy pluralism") in today's cultural marketplaces of art, Uterature, music and architecture. This position, The AntiAesthetic , as a whole, opposes. Among the definitions of postmodernism offered here instead are: a "break with the aesthetic field of modernism"; the death ofthe autonomous, individual bourgeois subject; an epistemologica] break with modernity (which is taken to include patriarchy and Marxism); or postmodernism as conveying the critique of representation found in poststructuralist theory. The most sweeping definition gives up postmodernism as the very substance of society itself: the cultural expression ofwhat is variously caUed consumer society, "society of the spectacle" (after Guy Debord), or multi-national capitalism. Three components enter all theories of postmodernism. Each necessarily contains I) a position in relation to modernism, the Big Idea in culture ofroughly the last hundred years (postmodernism is a long overdue rebelUon arising from the ashes of a rigid, elitist, moribund modernism; or postmodernism is a neo-conservative retreat from the radical program of modernism), 2) a position is relation to historiography or historical periodization (the transition to postmodernism is a "rupture" or an "epistemologica! break"; it is a mere stylistic difference in the ongoing evolution of Art), and 3) a position in relation to contemporary society (postmodernism is a necessary reassertion oftradition; it is popuUst; it is the collapse of standards; it is schizophrenia). The Anti-Aesthetic is important because it demonstrates that aU theories of postmodernism are implicitly political and ideological; indeed it offers itself as a dispatch from the trenches of cultural poUtics. Hal Foster's introduction deUneates the disentangles two primary strands of postmodernism: a postmodernism ofresistance and a postmodernism of reaction. The first "seeks to deconstruct modernism and resist the status quo," whUe the second wishes to "repudiate the former to celebrate the latter." The nine essays are posted by Foster as roadsigns toward an oppositional postmodernism, the postmodernsim of resistance. The book is clearly not a coherent whole, but a set of clashing voices. The most apparent common ground is the reliance on, or the reference to what is known, generically, as continental theory. The references cited read Uke a map to the stars' homes of contemporary French thought: Barthes, Foucault, Derrida and Lacan of course, but also Paul Ricouer, Jean-François Lyotard, Christian Metz, Luce Irigaray, Hélène Cixous, JuUa Kristeva, Michéle Montrelay, et at. The Anti-Aesthetic does important cultural work by thus mapping the interfaces of postmodernism and poststructuralism, and the book itself refuses a unified position on postmodernism, just as poststructuralism attacks seamless narratives, "master discourses" and all other unities. Two of the voices harken back to our modernist past. Jürgen Habermas holds that the radical, contestatory project ofmodernism has not been fulfilled, and he therefore distrusts attempts to declare it ended. Rosalind Krauss offers a particularly scientist«: and arid piece 168 the minnesota review of structuraüst criticism, "Sculpture in the Expanded Field." Betraying a nostalgia for the verities...

A handsome new edition of the seminal collection of late twentieth-century cultural criticism, The Anti-Aesthetic was named a Best Book of the Year by the Village Voice and considered a bible of contemporary cultural criticism.

For the past twenty years, Hal Foster has pushed the boundaries of cultural criticism, establishing a vantage point from which the seemingly disparate agendas of artists, patrons, and critics have a telling coherence. In The Anti-Aesthetic, preeminent critics such as Jean Baudrillard, Rosalind Krauss, Fredric Jameson, and Edward Said consider the full range of postmodern cultural production, from the writing of John Cage, to Cindy Sherman's film stills, to Barbara Kruger's collages. With a redesigned cover and a new afterword that situates the book in relation to contemporary criticism, The Anti-Aesthetic provides a strong introduction for newcomers and a point of reference for those already engaged in discussions of postmodern art, culture, and criticism.

0 thoughts on “Aesthetic Essays”


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *