Top 10 postmodern books

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In 1996 Andrew C Bulhak of Monash University created a machine programme called the Postmodernism Generator, which automatically produces imitations of postmodernist writing. “It is simply a virtually infinite root of randomly generated, syntactically close nonsense, distinguishable from the existent happening lone successful being much amusive to read,” reported Richard Dawkins successful his insubstantial Postmodernism Disrobed.

Here for lawsuit is the existent thing, written by the postmodern psychoanalytic theorist Felix Guattari: “We tin intelligibly spot that determination is nary bi-univocal correspondence betwixt linear signifying links oregon archi-writing, depending connected the author, and this multireferential, multi-dimensional machinic catalysis. The symmetry of scale, the transversality, the pathic non-discursive quality of their expansion: each these dimensions region america from the logic of the excluded mediate and reenforce america successful our dismissal of the ontological binarism we criticised previously.”

I agelong enactment disconnected penning astir postmodernism, the slippery successor to modernism which seems to beryllium an look of neoliberal economics arsenic overmuch arsenic it is an effort to dismantle taste hierarchies. I didn’t privation to walk clip wrong sentences specified arsenic those quoted. Still little did I privation to inhabit its disfigured buildings and formally playful novels. There’s lone truthful overmuch James Stirling and Salman Rushdie a feline tin take. But successful the extremity I gave in, penning my caller publication Everything, All the Time, Everywhere: How We Became Postmodern. Hopefully my publication is about gibberish alternatively than an illustration of it.

Some of the 10 books beneath are chock-full of high-stepping nonsense and I work respective of them, beloved reader, truthful you didn’t person to. But immoderate are terrific pieces of penning that nary Postmodernism Generator could produce.

1. I Love Dick by Chris Kraus
In this heroically unreliable memoir-cum-novel, Kraus follows her prof hubby to California connected sabbatical, falls successful emotion with 1 of his colleagues, Dick, and sends him tons of comic yet unrequited letters. The remainder of the publication is the epistolatory communicative of a woman, “Chris Kraus”, seizing power of the narrative. This is contempt the information that successful existent life, the postmodern professional Dick Hebdige issued Kraus with a cease and desist letter, and compared her intrusion into his beingness to the press’s stalking of Princess Diana. What makes Kraus’s publication revolutionary is not conscionable its reclamation of pistillate subjectivity and sexuality, but its still-shocking consciousness that information and fabrication are not opposites, but locked successful a lubricious lambada.

A satellite   artists could scarcely alteration  … from the Survival Series by Jenny Holzer (1983–85), Times Square, New York.
A satellite artists could scarcely alteration … from the Survival Series by Jenny Holzer (1983–85), Times Square, New York.
Jenny Holzer’s Inflammatory Essays posters are connected show astatine Tate Modern, London.
Photograph: Jenny Holzer/ARS/John Marchael

2. Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism by Fredric Jameson
The Marxist theorist argues that creation has been colonised by commerce. Modernist creation (think: Van Gogh transforming idiosyncratic misery into beauty) sought to redeem the world, helium suggests. Postmodern creation (think: Jenny Holzer putting an physics billboard implicit New York’s Times Square reading, “Protect maine from what I want” oregon Damien Hirst flogging a diamond-encrusted skull for £50m) was made by artists stuck successful a satellite they could scarcely change. “The image,” helium writes, “is the commodity today, and that is wherefore it is vain to expect a negation of the logic of commodity accumulation from it; that is why, finally, each quality is meretricious.” All quality is meretricious – an unthinkable yet plausible assertion for our era.

3. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity by Judith Butler
Is this randomly generated, syntactically close nonsense oregon the publication we request if we are to overturn the heteronormative patriarchy? You decide. Postmodern artists specified arsenic Cindy Sherman, David Bowie and Madonna had already playfully demonstrated the thought that sex is scripted and performed. Butler expanded connected this taxable successful scandalously duff prose, eulogising resistance for challenging “the exclusion of those who neglect to conform to unspoken normative requirements of the subject”. Which is the happening to accidental if idiosyncratic challenges you astir watching Danny La Rue oregon RuPaul.

4. The Postmodernist Always Rings Twice by Gilbert Adair
In the aboriginal 1990s, the Guardian’s arts exertion had a superb idea. Let’s get a clever professional steeped successful postmodern French mentation to meditate connected the week’s taste commodity production. Adair obliged with essays connected theatre, homosexuality, Umberto Eco and more, the champion of which are collected here. The rubric unsocial is worthy the screen price. Somebody erstwhile asked him if helium was the Texas oilman Red Adair. No, Unread Adair, helium replied sadly. Let’s marque him work again.

The Fatwa Boys … Salman Rushdie and Larry David (in disguise) successful  Curb Your Enthusiasm.
The Fatwa Boys … Salman Rushdie and Larry David (in disguise) successful Curb Your Enthusiasm. Photograph: HBO

5. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
The tempest that resulted from this book’s work typified the clash of civilisations Samuel Huntington would aboriginal reason was arising successful the aftermath of the acold war. On the 1 side, a pre-modern Islamic faithful believing successful the implicit information of the Qur’an. On the other, a blase godless novelist seemingly betraying his practice and sneering astatine the Muslim sanctities. Even if you’re not convinced that The Satanic Verses is postmodern, past you volition I anticipation admit that the occurrence of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm astir the matter is pure po-mo. There Larry produces a Broadway philharmonic called Fatwa! that, earlier passing done countless veils of irony and pastiche, culminates successful Rushdie and Ayatollah Khomeini duetting astir their clashing worldviews.

6. The Language of Postmodern Architecture by Charles Jencks
“Boom, boom, boom,” wrote Jencks, the Basil Brush of postmodern theory. He was penning astir the infinitesimal that the modern satellite died – astatine 3.32pm successful St Louis, Missouri, connected 15 July 1972. The dynamiting of the notorious Pruit-Igoe lodging scheme was a sound that resonated astir the world. His 1977 publication describes what arose from its dust.

7. Learning from Las Vegas by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour
This 1972 publication hymned the architecture of the Vegas strip, that ostensibly antiauthoritarian conflagration of signs successful the desert, that metropolis bankrolled by means of quality stupidity and cupidity, that is to accidental gambling. The authors looked connected this postmodern Sodom and Gomorrah and saw it arsenic a popular, commercial, amusive retort to the patrician, mostly socialist and utterly funless architecture of modernism.

8. A Thousand Plateaus by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari
Though adjacent much unrepentantly incomprehensible than its companion publication Anti-Oedipus, A Thousand Plateaus is invaluable due to the fact that it contains 1 of the cardinal notions of postmodern theory. “It is odd,” the authors write, “how the histrion has dominated occidental world and each of occidental thought, from botany to anatomy, but besides gnosiology, theology, each of philosophy: … the root-foundation, Grund, racine, fondement.” They suggest different web structure, the rhizome, to substitute for that of the histrion arsenic a exemplary for culture. “The rhizome resists the organisational operation of the root-tree strategy which charts causality on chronological lines and looks for the archetypal root of ‘things’ and looks towards the pinnacle oregon decision of those ‘things.’” There’s more, truthful overmuch more, of this and each of it successful the Bloomsbury translation printed successful a fittingly yucky font arsenic if they intended to marque the substance adjacent much inscrutable. Enjoy!

9. The Condition of Postmodernity by David Harvey
The British Marxist geographer argues that neoliberalism is either a utopian task to reorganise planetary capitalism, oregon a governmental programme to reconstruct the powerfulness of economical elites. He suggests that it is the latter, and that the relation of postmodernism is to beryllium taste handmaiden to the governmental aims of Thatcher, Reagan and others. He demonstrates his thesis with the graphs, information and wide statement that postmodern theorists usually disdain.

10. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
The rubric of this baggy monster of a 1,058-page caller refers to an elusive movie that terrorists are trying to get their hands connected due to the fact that to ticker it is to beryllium debilitated, adjacent killed by enjoyment. Perhaps these terrorists volition beryllium capable to entertain Americans to death, destroying the evil empire with the precise taste weaponry it deployed connected its ain citizens and exported astir the world. Good luck with that, guys. “Entertainment’s main occupation is to marque you truthful riveted by it that you can’t teardrop your eyes away, truthful the advertisers tin advertise,” said Foster Wallace successful a 1996 interrogation to beforehand the novel. “And the hostility of [Infinite Jest] is to effort and marque it astatine erstwhile highly entertaining and besides benignant of warped – and to benignant of shingle the scholar awake astir immoderate of the things that are sinister successful entertainment.” The book’s tragedy, arsenic is existent of overmuch postmodern culture, is that it succeeded successful entertaining, but did it shingle america awake from entertainment’s sinister lure? Not truthful much.

  • Everything, All the Time Everywhere: How We Became Postmodern by Stuart Jeffries is published by Verso. To enactment the Guardian and Observer bid your transcript astatine guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges whitethorn apply