What Is ‘Postmodern’ in the Digital Environment?

In light of the readings in class from our textbook in recent weeks, I wonder how many of the digital works that we have studied this week are true “postmodern pieces.”  They all seem unconventional and creative, offer a commentary on modern culture, present “old” media in a new setting, and challenge the traditional way that we “read” or experience artistic work. But the fact that they are part of the relatively new digital environment does not make them necessarily fit the criteria (at least for literary works) as postmodern expression, I think.

I keep thinking there must be something more there that makes them warrant study and debate. “Nio” strikes me as original, witty and appealing, while the Weather Visualizer is, to me, just plain silly (sorry).  What makes either of them “push the boundaries” and turn modernism upside down, however? The Whale Hunt (the project I chose for my inquiry), for example, certainly challenges the traditional form of the photojournalistic essay; it presents artistic work in unusual ways and includes the viewer/reader in the adventure.  We even have the ability to create our own “ending” by leaving the narration at any point.  Okay, we’ll call that “postmodern.” But how many of the digital creations are “antidetective” stories described by William V. Spanos in “The Detective and the Boundary” (173); or recreate reality in the dramatic way that Baudrillard anticipates in “The Precession of Simulacra” (105); or drastically “re-frame” the narration to expose the literary conventions of storytelling, as Patricia Waugh notes in our assignment for next week “From Metafiction” (247)? Some yes, some no?

Finally, how is all this affected by the presence of the “database” as the “center of the creative process in the computer age,” as Len Manovich argues in his essay? As was discussed in Tuesday’s class, perhaps the criteria for a postmodern piece is that it is transformative, as was noted in the example of “Star Wars, One Letter at a Time.” It still raises a question: To what extent are these works mediated by the creator/artist, the viewer/reader, or both? Does it matter? More discussion and enquiry, please.


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One thought on “What Is ‘Postmodern’ in the Digital Environment?”


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    Professor Sample says:

    I wonder if our discussion last week answered any of your questions about the new media work. Certainly most of the digital art didn’t play with the typical hobby horses of literary postmodernism (metafiction, self-consciousness, simulation) yet almost all of them challenged traditional notions of narrative. Maybe the reason why the new media work seemed innovative but not necessarily postmodern is because the work goes well beyond the kind of literary postmodernism we’ve talked about in class. The new media work is a kind of anti-narrative, which therefore makes it unrecognizable to the theories we’ve looked at so far, which, for however much they question teleology and authority, still buy into the concept of narrative at some level. New Media is anti-literary postmodernism, replacing narrative structure with database logic.

    Even “Star Wars, One Letter at a Time” — which most of the class dismissed as a gag — replaces narrative with a database (Star Wars is no longer a narrative, but a non-relational database, which we can only read one field at a time). As such, SWOLaaT does dramatically “reframe” narration, exposing the limits of what we find acceptable or tolerable when it comes to storytelling.

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