Monday, August 5, 2013

Troubles Getting Past the Post

Rahul’s rejoinder “what is the 'post' in postcontemporary” raises interesting questions about language, how we use it, and the importance of defining terms.  I am the first to admit I am a stickler for terminology as I think words have the ability to shape consciousness and thus we should exercise caution in all instances of application.  In keeping with Rahul’s mention of Kwame Anthony Appiah’s 1991 article I would like to throw Anne McClintock’s 1992 article “The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the Term "Post-Colonialism" into the mix.[1] These articles resonate with our current discussion because the both deal with issues of language at the moment in which post-colonial theory was being domesticated in the academy by the larger more general designation of post colonialism.  At this critical juncture, McClintock makes an interesting observation about the omnipresence of the prefix ‘post.’  She opines,
I am doubly interested in the term, since the almost ritualistic ubiquity of "post-" words in current culture (post-colonialism, post-modernism, post-structuralism, post-cold war, post-marxism, post-apartheid, post-Soviet, post-Ford, post-feminism, post-national, post-historic, even post-contemporary) signals, I believe, a widespread, epochal crisis in the idea of linear, historical “progress.”[2]
To be sure my use of McClintock here is strategic as it enables me to put a finer, more historical point on my postmodern caveat in “I Feel So Far From Where I am.”  Her veritable laundry list of ‘post’ words suggest that even as early as 1992 the term ‘post’ was slippery.  While post-colonial, post-cold war, post-marxism(lower case m), post-apartheid, post-soviet, and post-Ford, without a doubt, mark historic shifts in time and a break with the past -- post-modernism, post feminism, post national, post historical and arguably post-contemporary mark a reconfiguration of the present.  It is my contention that these latter words do not signal a paradigm shift so much as a critical re-evaluation and, as such, the word ‘post’ is a misnomer.  Rahul observes in his exhibition note, “[A]mong the many developments that mark the term contemporary has been the dominating focus on content that prioritize socially and politically charged subject matters over stylistic experimentation and investigations over Form and Language” and if I understand correctly, the ‘post’ in post- contemporary (or perhaps more specifically post-contemporary art) signals a return to stylistic experimentation and seeks to reclaim the social and political possibilities of form and language.  So then, does artistic form and practice become more deliberately and self-consciously analogical?  But what of language?  Should our language not parallel the practice?  Do we have to remain strapped to the post?  Can we come up with a new term, or is such a suggestion completely untenable?

[1]  “Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?”  Critical Inquiry, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Winter, 1991), 336-357.
[2] “The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the Term "Post-Colonialism" Social Text, No. 31/32, Third World and Post-Colonial Issues (1992), 84.

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