The Parameters of Postmodernism

The Parameters of Postmodernism

The Parameters of Postmodernism

The Parameters of Postmodernism


In The Parameters of Postmodernism, Nicholas Zurbrugg demonstrates how contemporary artistic creativity discredits popular apocalyptic theories. The Parameters of Postmo dernism offers a highly polemical discussion of the conflict between what Zurbrugg presents as the misleading assumptions of many of the more negative theoretical accounts of postmodern culture and the positive creativity of most leading postmodern artists, writers, and performers. Zurbrugg challenges what he considers the fictions of popular crisis theories by demonstrating that the so-called crises are only theoretical constructs at odds with current artistic practice. Based on Zurbrugg's extensive interviews with a number of the leading postmodern artists, writers, and performers (Anderson, Baudrillard, Beckett, Cage, Glass, Rainer, and Wilson, among them), this book presents a challenging, positive view of postmodern culture.

Zurbrugg names the condition caused by the prevailing negative theories about postmodern culture the B-effect, a term derived from the work of a number of influential European writers and theorists (Brecht, Beckett, Barthes, Baudrillard, Bourdieu, and others) who have insisted on the lack of valid avant-garde innovation, the "death" of artistic creativity, and the lack of a permanent reality. In the first section of The Parameters of Postmodernism, Zurbrugg considers the contradictions in the arguments of the B-effect writers and points to later writings in which they qualify their earlier, most infamous assertions.

In the second section of the book, Zurbrugg introduces the offsetting C-effect of postmodern culture, an effect based on those more positive creative practices and theories best exemplified, he feels, by the work of the late American composer John Cage. Zurbrugg identifies additional aspects of the C-effect in the multimedia experiments of other Americans, such as Anderson, Ashley, Glass, Monk, Rainer, and Wilson, who interweave various postmodern media with confidence and invention and those European artists and writers like Beuys, Carrington, Eco, Grass, Muller, and Wolf who revive, modify, and reanimate mythological, medieval, neoclassical, and folk traditions. Zurbrugg argues that in each case- high-tech or revivalist- postmodern creativity culminates in highly positive syntheses of past, present, and futuristic materials.

The Parameters of Postmodernism will interest scholars and students of postmodern culture, especially those working in English, comparative literature, French, performance studies, art history, and interdisciplinary humanities.


So many books have been written about postmodern culture that it may seem imprudent to add to their number. On the other hand, so many studies of the cultural climate of the last half century narrowly dwell upon the alleged "postmodern crisis" in Europe and America that it is time for the wider parameters of postmodernism to be identified.

This book takes as its starting point the hypothesis that the present tendency to define postmodern culture negatively, in terms of "schizophrenia," "superficiality," and so forth, derives from overliteral and undercritical responses to some of the more seductive overstatements by European theorists such as Benjamin, Barthes, Bürger, Baudrillard, Bonito-Oliva, and Bourdieu. It identifies this tendency with the B-effect mythology or the apocalyptic register informing most European and American writings on postmodernism.

The morbid enthusiasm of B-effect converts obsessed with the apparent neutrality, decline, stagnation, submonumentality, and general obsolescence of creativity in present times is decidedly symptomatic of one facet of the postmodern mentality. So indeed are the pages of National Enquirer, Mad, and Vanity Fair. Flat-earthers have also had their day and may well live to do so once again. Nevertheless, other more rewarding facets of postmodern culture also exist, and if so many cartographers of postmodern creativity fail to perceive them, then, as the American performance artist Laurie Anderson suggests, this is perhaps "because they're looking for it in the wrong place." in Anderson's terms, "for anyone to say that creativity is dead just says that this particular person is creatively dead."

As this book attempts to demonstrate, the literary and artis-

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