Archive for May, 2005

Tom Myron and I had a recent misunderstanding over the term postmodernism. The term is relative at best, which is ironic for many reasons.

I’m curious to know what others have made of this word. My understanding has come mostly from Charles Newman’s analyses of postmodern literature. Newman contrasted postmodernism with modernism in a way that can be summarized as follows:

Characteristics of Modernism

  • It is revolutionary (Virginia Woolf: “On or about December 1910, human nature changed.”)
  • The certitude of despair.
  • The idea that one can have a revolutionary art without an evolutionary society.
  • Art as a sanctuary (perhaps the only one) for the individual.
  • Self-absorption in the grand manner: Elitism
  • The idea of art as a technical, even scientific process.
  • The task of art: its own self-realization.
  • Aesthetic moralism.

Characteristics of Post-modernism

  • license to talk about anything in the context of anything else: after all, international banking is more surreal than surreal art itself.
  • a violent adjacency of pure expressivity and pure accessibility, which reflects more often than not an atmosphere of intense demoralization.
  • the first period that does not idealize a specific past period as an emulative model. Rather, the entire history of art comes under attack through parody.
  • modernism reacting to overinformation.

By the late 20th century, repression of modern art was no longer a problem: the problem was indifference. Art was replaced by mass consumer culture in the hearts of the mainstream audience. Newman saw postmodernism as an assault upon a passive, indifferent mass culture.

Does this contradict or align with your understanding?

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Percussionist/composer Michael Udow is here this week for performances, workshops and a recording session. I attended a concert last night that was a joint affair between the Philidor Percussion Group and the NCSA Percussion Ensemble, featuring Udow’s works.

Though it’s not really my cup of tea (I have a hard time getting excited about five minutes of sandpaper scraping, no matter how clever the rhythmic relationships may be), I’m so glad we have him here, so the students can work with a terrific guy who has a lot to share both artistically and professionally. In particular, I like having the students exposed to viewpoints that are very different from mine, which sure beats me trying to cover all the bases myself.

The part of the concert that really grabbed me, though, was the West African and Indian music played by members of Philidor. The tabla, mrdangam and jembe have such a rich range of tones; in the hands of real masters they can be revelatory.

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