MODERNISM, POSTMODERNISM AND POPULAR. CULTURE
One of the now classic texts which charts the positioning of mass culture or popular culture within the nexus of the modernism/postmodernism debate is Andreas Huyssen’s After the Great Divide (1986), in which he draws attention to ‘the structuralist preference for the works of high modernism, especially the writing of James Joyce or Mallarme’ (McRobbie 1994:13) and comments on the fact that ‘the classical modernists’ occupy a central position in the development of critical theory. He cites the examples of Flaubert.. .in Barthes.. .Mallarme and Artaud in Derrida, Magritte. in Foucault. Joyce and Artaud in Kristeva…’ (Huyssen 1984:39).
Huyssen (1986) looks at some of the ways in which postmodernist developments have challenged what he calls ‘the modernist dogma’ of the 1940s and 1950s. He considers how ‘pop art’ can be seen as a ‘postmodernist cultural form’ challenging many of the traditional distinctions made between high and mass culture. He
contends that ‘Pop in the broadest sense was the context in which a notion of the postmodern first took shape, and from the b eginning until today, the most significant trends within postmodernism have challenged modernism’s relentless hostility to mass culture’ (Huyssen 1986:188).
Huyssen charts what he considers to be a shift in the cultural reference points of postmodernism as it emerged in the US from the postmodernism characteristic of the 1960s and 1970s to that of the 1980s. He contends that the postmodernism of the 1960s ‘tried to revitalize the heritage of the European avant-garde and to give it an American form’ (ibid,.). He goes on to note that by the 1970s the ‘avantgardist postmodernism of the 1960s had.. .exhausted its potential, even though some of its manifestations continued well into the new decade’ (ibid). Huyssen’s main point is that the cultural statements of the 1960s did not reject modernism, but rebelled against the socio-cultural articulation of a society driven by the politico-economic military complex. As Huyssen (1986:191) comments, ‘neither the variations on modernism of the 1950s nor the struggle of the 1960s for alternative democratic and socialist cultural traditions could have possibly been construed as post-modern’. He also makes the point that the emergence of postmodernism in France in the 1960s did not imply the same break with modernism as was the case in the US.
For Huyssen the significance of the avant-garde is of paramount importance in establishing a dialogue with the cultural establishment and in creating a ‘climate’ within which postmodernism could emerge. He maintains that
it was [the]…specific radicalism of the avant-garde, directed against the institutionalization of high art as a discourse of hegemony and a machinery of meaning, that recommended itself as a source of energy and inspiration to the American postmodernists of the 1960s.