Public Access: Literary Theory and American Cultural Politics

By Michael Bérubé | Go to book overview

grouse voluably about how culture took a fatal turn for the worse precisely ten years before they were born, and how the art of 'our' past can sustain us in these trivial times if only we venerate it sufficiently. What do you think happens to Kramer when pomo points out that his 'classic' modernism and mass culture have something to do with each other? Well, it isn't pretty. All Kramer has to do is walk into the High & Low exhibit, and the popping of his blood vessels becomes downright audible: 'we know straightaway', if we're a we, 'that in "High & Low" we are in the presence of one of the most unconscionable intellectual swindles we have ever seen in a serious museum.' 18

But surely this too is to be expected: as 'classicity' touches everything from Braque to Coke, there will be a growing number of reactionaries who'll resist any historical inspection of The Real Thing. Soon, no doubt, the same curmudgeonly people who complained about pomo's playfulness will be screeching that pomo is Politically Correct. And by then, we can expect two things. Thing one will be that postmodernism's complex and indeterminate projects of cultural critique, wherever on the dial we find them, will have drawn some blood from the vastly complacent culture they inhabit. Thing two is that postmodernism will shortly thereafter be defended by the next century's reactionaries as the scale of classicity in which future generations will once again be weighed and found wanting.

And by then, if memory serves, pomo's institutionalization will look to us like it's déjà vu all over again.


Notes
1.
Andreas Huyssen, After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism ( Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1986), p. 193; hereafter cited in the text as AGD.
2.
Here I originally meant to oppose Cindy Sherman to The Donna Reed Show along high/mass culture lines: the one as an 'avant-garde' artist about whom many academics have written in relation to feminism and postmodernism, the other as a piece of TV schlock whose reruns are brought to you by a tongue-in-cheek cable network claiming to 'preserve our television heritage'. Yet little did I imagine in 1991 (despite this essay's insistence that cultural products circulate too widely and rapidly to allow for the possibility of 'avant-gardism') that Cindy Sherman herself would soon be available in 'mainstream' media; indeed, as I was finishing this book, she appeared in the very newspaper referred to in this essay's opening paragraph as 'the house organ of the uncomprehending masses.' See Cathy Hainer, "'For Cindy Sherman, Art Has Many Guises", USA Today, 18 November 1993, p. 6D. So much for that little joke about postmodernism's destabilization of the high/mass distinction. At this rate, perhaps it will not be long before Cindy Sherman displaces Cindy Crawford on the cover of Rolling Stone.
3.
Kirk Vardenoe and Adam Gopnik, High and Low: Modem Art and Popular Culture ( New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1990), p. 375. According to the authors, Gopnik was the principal author of 'Contemporary Reflections', the chapter in which this passage appears.

-133-

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Public Access: Literary Theory and American Cultural Politics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction American Political Culture and Cultural Politics 1
  • Part I - PC and the Humanities 41
  • 1 - Discipline and Theory 43
  • Notes 58
  • 2 - Winning Hearts and Minds 59
  • 3 - Exigencies of Value 87
  • Notes 112
  • Part II - Critical Theory in the Public Sphere 117
  • 4 - Just the Fax, Ma'Am: Or, Postmodernism's Journey to Decenter 119
  • Notes 133
  • 5 - Pop Goes the Academy: Cult Studs Fight the Power 137
  • Notes 159
  • 6 - Bite Size Theory: Popularizing Academic Criticism 161
  • Part III - At the Closing of the American Century 179
  • 7 - Paranoia in a Vacuum: 2001 and the National Security State 181
  • Notes 200
  • 8 - It's Renaissance Time: New Historicism, American Studies, and American Identity 203
  • Notes 222
  • 9 - Disuniting America Again 225
  • Epilogue 243
  • Notes 266
  • Index 269
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