The Post-Utopian Imagination: American Culture in the Long 1950s

By M. Keith Booker | Go to book overview

Postscript

In his very useful survey of the historical evolution of the idea of the postmodern, Perry Anderson notes that the term was already being used in the United States in the late 1950s. However, 1950s intellectuals, such as C. Wright Mills and Irving Howe, generally used the term in a pejorative sense to indicate a decline in American culture (from the heights of modernism) brought about by creeping routinization, commodification, and conformity (Anderson 12–13). Anderson notes that the idea of postmodernism as we now know it began to take shape in the 1960s, with the work of figures such as Charles Jencks (on architecture) and Ihab Hassan (on literature). By the end of the 1960s, the term had come into full-blown currency with the theoretical work of thinkers such as Jean-François Lyotard.

As a result of this history, many observers have come to think of postmodernism itself as beginning sometime around the end of the 1960s. As Anderson notes, much of the recent theoretical interest in postmodernism has involved such issues of periodization, especially as this placement of postmodernism as beginning at the end of the 1960s seems to make Jameson's influential vision of postmodernism problematic (78–79). After all, Jameson's vision of postmodernism as the cultural logic of late capitalism would seem to place the beginnings of postmodernism in the late 1940s, while Jameson himself seems to locate the real rise of postmodernist culture in the early 1970s. Similarly, David Harvey, while employing a slightly different Marxist model that relates postmodernism to a crisis in post-Fordist capital accumulation, sees postmodernism as a cultural phenomenon that began in the early 1960s and “asserted itself as hegemonic in the early 1970s” (63). Harvey also sees the political unrest of 1968 as a “harbinger” of the coming of postmodernity (38). Meanwhile, Alex Callinicos, who doubts that postmodernism even

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