Saturday, July 5, 2008

Postmodernism Essay/Musings.

Postmodernism is old art done in a new way. In order to explore the aesthetic and social issues of postmodernism, the resulting schools of thought in the art world can be divided into a 'postmodernism of resistance [and] a postmodernism of reaction' as proposed by the group around the journal, October. (Hopkins).
Dividing postmodernism is like splitting a plate of spaghetti into two halves with a spoon. It can be done, but it is neither clean nor exact, and it is hard to differentiate one pile from the other, at first glance. However, this contrast is an important distinction in art because in order to keep a fresh edge on new artistic pursuits, old ideas should not stagnate, but be reinvigorated through the practice of new artists. This can be done in two ways: a postmodernism of resistance is the appropriation of imagery, demonstrated by Cindy Sherman; and the postmodernism of reaction, which is the amalgamating of the old and new, as in the work of Yasumasa Morimura. Both of these artists are photographers who are using the visual language of what has come before them to say something on their own terms, with their own self-portraits but are approaching it in these two different postmodern ways.
Postmodernism is a term that describes the paradigm shift happening in the world after modernism. Postmodernism is the change from the tenets of modernism that occurred not just in art, but also architecture, literature, and other disciplines. This shift takes place from shortly after 1945 and World War II, until contemporary times (Bertens, 162). In the art world, this meant moving away from the modernism canonized in institutions like New York's Museum of Modern Art. (Connor, 5) and this movement can be divided into the postmodernism of resistance and the postmodernism of reaction. According to Usher, a postmodernism of resistance and a postmodernism of reaction play off each other.
The postmodernism of resistance is esoteric, self-referential work, which appropriates the imagery of other artists and the work of modernism. The postmodernism of resistance is to 'deconstruct modernism and resist the status quo' (Usher, 16). By subverting what has come before it, the work begins to reference itself, becoming more inaccessible for people who are unfamiliar with its allusions.
An example of this is the photography of Cindy Sherman, who counters Hollywood culture with her series “Untitled Film Stills” (Connor, 89). Cindy Sherman is deconstructive; she is not original in her compositions or the way she sets up her props or her body; she appropriates "Hollywood film stills” and so she puts herself into the stereotypical characters that are often present onscreen: the housewife; the sex-pot; the ingĂ©nue.

"The… inscribing is as evident as the subverting challenge in, for example, Cindy Sherman's early self-posed self-portraits modeled on Hollywood film stills… they are hardly innocent or uncompromised.” (Hutcheon, 13)

Her body is the thread that pulls together her series of film stills, which are also self-portraits. However, by copying the visual language of movies, and placing herself in the female roles, she removes the individuality a self-portrait usually carries. This lack of individuality, the appropriation of visual language, and this theft of voice are key components of postmodernism of resistance.
The postmodernism of reaction plays off of the postmodernism of resistance. The postmodern art of reaction is the combination of old and new ideas into an eclectic mode of expression in hopes of shocking or unsettling the jaded postmodern person.
Instead of stealing and subverting, as the postmodernism of resistance does, a postmodernism of reaction is the product of an amalgamation of both old and new ideas. This repudiates Modernism, which was completely about the avant-garde. This amalgamation is a reaction to modernism, as well as a return to old traditions (Buchloh, 40). It is the sudden return to old traditions such as representational painting after the modernist departure from these more traditional modes of artistic production that Buchloh criticizes.
An example of old ideas combined with the new is Yasumasa Morimura, who is a Japanese photographer who inserts himself into art history, using iconic paintings and combining them with his own self-portrait. Unlike Sherman, whose body is a stand-in for the character, Morimura imbrues his presence in his photographs. Instead of trying passively, to pretend to be the character, he remains himself, complete with his Tran sexuality and his Japanese heritage, and this combination creates a rich vocabulary that gives his work a strong voice.
For example, Morimura converts Manet's classic painting Olympia into a photograph titled Portrait (Futago), and mixes himself in, with the postmodernist's ladle. This stirs the subtleties of his own identity in with the art history that the painting Olympia already carries (West, 211).
Buchloh thinks that this return to old ways of thinking also returns value to the male gaze. However, Yasumasa Morimura uses this male gaze for his own purposes. He pretends to be a woman in the same comical fashion as a man dressed up for Halloween- still obviously a man, but self-confidently appearing in the part of a woman.
The appropriation and the amalgamation of postmodernism is a circular process. Since postmodernism uses what has come before it, eventually postmodern art turns into an ouroboros, endlessly referencing itself. For example, Morimura's work, "To my little sister: For Cindy Sherman" (1998) sees Morimura inserting himself into Sherman's appropriations (Balkema, 98). This work is a perfect example of how seemingly opposing postmodernist approaches play off each other and artists recycle each other’s imagery.
Neither form of postmodernism would stand without the history of the work they are appropriating. Postmodernism is nothing and everything: nothing, because by its existence it is unoriginal. Postmodernism is chewing modernism's cud; the difference between resistance and reaction is which of the cow's stomachs this digestive muck is sitting in; it all ends up in the same place.
Essentially, postmodernism in the art world is the manner things, which have already been done, are incorporated into contemporary works. On one hand, there is the postmodernism of resistance and the work of Cindy Sherman, which is the appropriation of the old, and on the other hand is the postmodernism of resistance and the work of Yasumasa Morimura, which is an amalgamation of the old. In the postmodern world, there is really no new way to do things, but there are always new individuals to insert into the big picture.

Stuart Hall

The Stuart Hall reading, Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices is an interesting breakdown of the flow between the concrete world of physicality and experiences, the mental understanding of this, and the subsequent communication between people, especially in regards to cultural experience and language. For the most part, Hall provides plausible arguments about the system that surrounds communication and culture.

Stuart Hall argues that meaning and language are connected to culture through representation. Language carries meaning; either reflective, intentional, or constructionist. These meanings are shared by a culture, through shared representations or cultural maps. Reflective meaning is intrinsic, intentional is intended by the author, and constructionist is the result of language. He says that language constructs meaning: "The main point is that meaning does not inhere in things, in the world. It is constructed, produced. It is the result of a signifying practice- a practice that produces meaning, that makes things mean (Hall, 24)." Essentially, he is writing about the usage of language to construct meaning, while using urban legend and mythological, ethnocentric findings to buttress his argument.

The inaccurate report he cites is the Scott Polar Research Institute in Table 1.1 (Hall, 23), that indicates Inuit use multiple terms for snow and ice. This is a faulty case-study popularized by the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis was a linguistic theory that explored the difference between the way a culture thought and its vocabulary. The example that the Inuit terms for snow show that different languages impart different meanings onto the same physical symbol. In the Inuit language, prefixes and suffixes can be added to a root word to change its meaning, while in English, adjectives and descriptive clauses accomplish the same effect (Harley, 82).

Stewart Hall is making an argument that meaning is affected by the language of the culture. This is called constructivism, and this particular version is set forth in the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Essentially, this means that a culture's thinking is affected by the words it has at its disposal. I don't agree with this, because the meaning of words changes according to the culture's needs. As well, the words available to a culture can be rearranged to form new meanings and abstract thoughts. Hall uses the example of the Inuit's words for snow to illustrate this. This particular example which he is using is an urban legend, which makes his claims unsubstantial.

This reading not only perpetuates this myth, that of the Inuit having a different way of thinking about snow, but also a linguistic hypothesis that is unsubstantial. Hall's choice of linguistic construct negates his whole point. He is using a manipulated version of the Inuit language to prove a point about meaning and language.

The idea that thought patterns differ based on grammatical analysis of language is one that was first proposed by Benjamin Whorf and Edward Sapir (Wilton, 51). The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis was based on an analysis of the recorded grammar of the Apache. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis was faulty, because of the difference between thought patterns and written language. Hall himself makes this differentiation through his definitions of intentional, reflective, and constructivist meaning. The only validity of this argument is that it is easier to communicate if one has a succinct word instead of a rambling paragraph.

This problem regarding the way that Inuit languages is so out-dated it is unbelievable that it is still being disseminated in university level texts. A class meant to provide a history of non-western art should avoid using the stereotypes and urban legends that have perpetuated past misconceptions about non-western cultures. As a First Nations student who has not had the opportunity to learn the Th Cree dialect, I am insulted that the only Native American language education I have ever encountered, even in passing, is an urban legend based upon a linguistic theory that only holds merit in its most diluted form.

Jennifer Schecter

an essay for Emily Carr University Spring Semester about Jennifer Schecter of The L Word. Assumes you're familiar with the premise of the show and the characters. Parallel between the coursepack's content.


Where is she?
Jennifer Schecter.


Jennifer Schecter of The L Word lives her life out in metaphor, through stripping, as a cutter, as a romantic, as an author, as a diva. She finds strength when she finds a voice through her writing. Her life is a thread in the book cum film within Showtime's series The L Word, remembered in cinematic vignettes of a repressed, traumatized childhood and then expressed through her sexuality and the writing of Les Girls.

Her thoughts work through the opposition of her ex-husband Tim, of her lover Marina, of her friends, and her financial backers of Les Girls, even of her assistant Adele. Tim gives her a revenge fuck after discovering Jenny's affair with Marina, and leaves her. Marina casually mentions she is already in an open relationship, to Jenny after the fact. Issues with the production of the movie cause Jenny a significant number of problems. Yet Jenny still finds a way to maintain her character, sometimes falling into selfish behavior of a diva, but always keeping her focus on her writing, on her creativity. These conflicts lead to material for her book and ultimately, success.

She deals with the hierarchies of the publishing company. She is the backup plan for Carmen, besotted with Shane. Her childhood is a myth that she remembers in grotesque flashbacks. She orders her world with razor-blades, than with stripping, than with books. Through all this she is coupled, with her husband, her childhood, with the male gaze.



Theory of culture, her deconstruction of lesbian life at The Planet. Theory of society, the strip club atmosphere. Art, her writing, family, her mother's apology, language, her writing- it brings her to light. Yet the destruction of these pairings is necessary- her divorce from Tim, stopping her self-destructive cutting- which makes it able for her to move forward. A war loosed- the dramatic sense necessary for a television sitcom. Death is always at work- Jenny oscillates between a diva's happiness and a pessimist's suicidal thoughts.

Her relationships with authority figures
Monsieur Hallsey/ daughter

Jenny both is objectified by the male gaze as she strips at a country bar. Women existing as entertainment is something that she is familiar with, both as a writer and a performer. Her strip performance borders on performance art, differing dramatically from the pretty girl appearances of the other strippers. Her female body is a source of power that has been repressed by the masculine in her life, Tim, the literary world, and the clown figures in her childhood, by her own repressing mind and memory.

Tim, her husband, leaves her when he discovers that Jenny is bisexual. Although he wanted to hear the fantasy, when the reality was she was not centered around him, with his need to love himself he was unable to stay with her. The fantasy was ideal when it had the male as a privileged viewer, but when he finds himself excluded, as a secondary power in her life, he leaves. The give and take of the relationship was no longer in the male favor.

Jenny's stripping in the bar, gives her the choice of how the male gaze views her. It helps her remember childhood traumas and vague nightmare memories. By using the male gaze she finds a voice to her fears and distrust of people. She speaks with her body, with the cold clinical manner her body language says as she takes her clothes off, and with her eyes. This confusion of body and exhibitionism is a performance that speaks what she herself cannot.

When she can no longer speak with the tongue she expresses herself again with her body, with blood and razors. This is a final cry for help that gets her to a place where she can heal, when Shane discovers her in the bathroom. She deconstructs her flesh, in an attempt to construct her memory.

Jenny does the objectifying herself, as she writes a book about her friends and the lesbian life around her. As they have no input into her book, only discovering it with publication, Jenny's point of view becomes the truth, like the male voice often has. By taking control of her situation, she uses both the masculine and the feminine as a source of power through weakness, exemplifying the bisexual. The title of her book, Sum of her Parts, speaks to Cixous' 'self proper.' Jenny's book is about becoming a whole out of circumstance, out of events and memories, out of the drama and betrayal, out of her life, centering herself like the sun in the world of The Planet. Jenny writes with red ink, and then white, as she holds her friends under a critical eye and absolves herself. Her story becomes constructed with her history.

Jenny's writing is a work that transforms. When Adele appears at The Planet, the book Sum of her Parts is the motivating factor. Both the book and Adele are moments that start small and end up having huge repercussions, in the story line of the Les Girls movie within The L Word television show. The pieces that began small end up having exponential impact.

Shane, as a masculine androgynous character, is her best friend and a source of strength for Jenny. When Shane betrays her by cheating on her, Jenny again finds herself at the mercy of the masculine. She says, "you've broken my heart," speaking from her heart, as the one excluded. Jenny speaks onstage, to a gathering, people who are not her followers but follow the direction she set out for them, that she is madly in love, casting her voice and body out to be heard, only to find that she is the only one there. She sets herself loose only to find herself alone. It is the second torture of speaking aloud.

Jenny, as the director for her movie Les Girls, becomes the male voice telling the woman how to be sexual, a role played by the male. While shooting a scene for Les Girls, she directs , "It might be nice if you looked like you were, you know, actually giving her pleasure rather than moving furniture... That looks like you're sewing up a hole in her jeans." The woman of The L Word know how to use their bodies to give pleasure to themselves and to their lovers, something that the straight woman does not , evidenced by the straight actresses. As sex with woman is not centered around the phallus, woman who live centered around the phallus find themselves at a loss to do anything with a body that is like their own.

Jenny is also on the other side of the coin. When it comes to her own love life, it is the producers who are trying to direct her. They send Nikki to her premier without Jenny. When she no longer has a say in what is happening in her relationship, again her body speaks for her with tears and angry gestures. Her girlfriend sleeps with a man, and Jenny finds that her relationship is threatened by the male phallus, the 'dumb-shit actor boy' who shows off Nikki at the premier. Jenny gives Nikki a second chance, she gives without reservation. But there is never something given for nothing, and this affects the relationship later on, when Nikki again cheats on Jenny.

Nikki is a bisexual, who, regrettably, is required by her agent and her contract to be heterosexual, or to be portrayed as heterosexual. Despite the fact she was chosen to play the bisexual lead in Les Girls, the heat behind her stardom is driven by her centerfold appearance, catering to the male audience, instead of being allowed to speak honestly with her body and her choices. Again, the gender of the couple playing a role in the dynamic of the relationship, dictated by cultural norms and expectations. On one hand it is empowering for Nikki and Jenny, on the other, it causes them both to loose credibility.

When Jenny rejects the perspective of the mainstream for the end of her movie, she looses her voice as her movie is taken over by her assistant, Adele, who is more than willing to sell out for a major distributor. By returning the character Jesse to her male lover, Adele allows the male power to dominate, and in return Adele is able to gain more power, breaking into the film industry. She functions within man's discourse, while Jenny's ending choice functioned apart from it- making it 'too gay.'

But ultimately, "too gay" is simply when the female/male balance becomes tipped in the feminine favour. Jennifer Schecter is a bisexual who struggles through the opposition of a male-dominated society to find her voice to speak with her words and her body, a struggle that she wins and, at time, fails in a heartbreaking way. She is a complex character embodying the sum of the female and the masculine in the thread of her life that she writes in her book and bodily expressed in the movie within the television show The L Word.