Postmodernism is dead. Or so say Avant-Popists. Or so said Avant-Popists close to twenty years ago. So, looking at it today, has Avant-Pop deflated and died as well? Or has it exploded, continuing to combat the fractured yet ironically monolithic technological medium that has us updating Facebook with pictures for our status, while Tweeting about our innermost superficial thoughts, on our way to buy an organic muffin trucked in from out of town, to be washed down with a strong cup of fair-trade coffee from caffeine giant Starbucks, before we head into the nearest stadium-style theater to watch the latest reboot of a multi-million dollar movie franchise based on a TV character made popular in the eighties from a comic book first published in the sixties?
Mark Amerika and Lance Olsen’s In Memoriam to Postmodernism: Essays on the Avant-Pop asked questions in 1995 that we just might be able to answer today. A collection of definitions, essays, and musings, ending with manifestos for the movement, In Memoriam’s organization serves to first explain the measuring tape and then present us with what is to be measured, allowing the reader to move fluidly from the issues of the early nineties to a consideration of what they mean today.
Amerika and Olsen begin the collection with a nod to the neophyte, a slow roll into the twists, turns, and dark alleys of Avant-Pop. Most appealing, and amusing, is the “Avant-Pop Quiz” and “Click Here for More Information” sections, where in the former the editors attempt to frame that which refuses to be hung, while providing a catch-all reading list in the latter.
After the introduction, velocity picks up and celebrated Avant-Pop writers and theorists take over. The table of contents is a media-drunk cavalcade marching in to tear the house down, including such notable names as SDSU’s Larry McCaffery, Harry Polkinhorn, and a wonderfully salacious piece of trans-media “Zipper-Bustin’ ” by Harold Jaffe; the revered (or Avant-Pop Reverend?) Ronald Sukenick; Eurudice; award-winning Japanese scholar Takayuki Tatsumi; and “[a manifesto of sorts]” by “major influence on the avant-set” Raymond Federman.
In Memorium to Postmodernism runs the gamut of topics: Curtis White examines cultural politics, Brooks Landon looks at the hypertextual novel and the future of publishing, Martin Schecter discusses generational divides (an issue swirling around the entire collection and even more poignant in 2012), David Blair dives into film and virtual worlds, and Michael Joyce scrutinizes the tenuous relationship between reading and meaning. A particularly favorite piece from the collection is Steven Shaviro’s “Strategies of Disappearance: or Why I Love Dean Martin.” And damnit, now I love Dino too. So will you.
Lance Olsen brings the collection to a close, and puts forth a challenge to today’s readers, by forcing us to look at the “Alzheimer’s province in the United States of Amnesia…a pioneer consciousness that doesn’t like to look over its shoulder, check out the rearview mirror, environmentally, militarily, culturally, because objects back there are always larger than they appear.”
In the living age of hypertexts, the death of publishing, “Reality” T.V., YouTube, mash-ups (one of the new words now featured in the updated Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary), instantaneous American Idol voting, CNN’s reporters on the street, and political revolutions sparked by social media, Yeats’ beast is no longer slouching towards Bethlehem to be born. It’s already here and indulging itself at the Hyperconsumer Capitalist party (thanks for the image McCaffery…I’m officially frightened fecal-less).
In 1995, In Memoriam to Postmodernism: Essays on the Avant-Pop asked if we were ready to face the technologically fueled cultural Armageddon coming at us. With relationships between writer and reader, consumer and producer shifting and reversing so quickly we can’t tell who is who anymore, it’s time to look back at these questions so we can start answering them. That is, if we’ve got the stones to do it.
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