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Saturday, November 05, 2005

PoMo, PoCo, PoStu...

These are the three ruling tenets of contemporary literature. I have been threatening myself to get to write something that would help clarify doubts and aspersions about Post Modernism, in which process I wanted to induct my flock to Post-Colonialism and Post-Structuralism without neither will this study be complete.

Post-Modernism, for starters, is not against Modernism as many people mis-conceive. Neither is PoMo a heir-apparent to Modernism. It does not continue what Modernism started. Now what did Modernism start? It started a proper protest against the Victorian values of art and the way things were strait-jacketed. When I say Victorian, I do not restrict it to 19th and turn of 20th century England, but the general conservative smugness that accompany a "within the parameter" created art.

In 1896, a French play went on stage and on its opening night was riot and strong incriminations from the "well-behaved" society of Parisian theatre watchers. The play? Ubu Roi. The playwright? Alfred Jarry. Now, what made it sacrilegious? The very opening words uttered on stage were "Merde! Merde!". And it is such an innocuous word these days - Merde: Shit!!! But you can relate to the amount of smugness that prevailed. And thus started the first attempt at Modernism truly. So Modernism is a proactive response to changing non-productive, complacent, conservative, orthodox values of how art must be. Modernism was not merely a form-based protest as many believe. Neither is its successor PoMo. If one thought the experiments with form and structure is what PoMo is all about, it is wrong. Simple example: how often we take a path of overt external manifestation to show our inner dissent, be it in food habits or resorting to vices or anything else you can conjure up, refusing to confirm ultimately? PoMo and its predecessor Modernism are precisely that.

While dealing with any -ism, one has to always remind oneself that they evolve contiguous with an era or a period in history, and is exemplified through arts, literature, music and other genres and projections of media. Nevertheless... this is the key to understanding... with moderation and without getting carried away by our aversion (which is largely a result of the non-comprehension or the lack of opportunity to comprehend the root of its evolution)... that -isms are schools of beliefs and as a natural extension have an ideology and a philosophical standpoint. So what could be the philosophy or idea behind PoMo, you ask? 

We need to trace its evolutionary history, which inevitably takes us to Modernism.

Modernism, I had already told you, is a protest form against Victorian values to art, literature etc. And when Modernism evolved, in its nascent stages during the 1910 to 1930, it largely was "high modernism" - perhaps as ivory tower-ish as the predecessor it was protesting against. There were no earth-shaking deviations or experiments in form. Even the Eliotean writings or those of Virginia Woolf, were still within a comprehensible structure. It protested subliminally and subversively by being "an insider". On the French side, it was more in the area of shock usages of vocabulary and metaphors and images. The French have always relied strongly on images and visuals than words, which may explain the trait. Getting back. Only with the advent of the early 30s, Modernism started breaking fresh grounds. By then, the tantrum throwing tween of Modernism had moved on to becoming a protesting adolescent who in time and given the laws of nature would evolve into a mature and discretionary and responsible literary -ismer of the 50s-60s. Thereby, we see the Hughes and Larkins and the late-TSEliots and Samuel Becketts, Ezra Pounds, e.e. cummings, James Joyces - not to mention the French Existential playwrights like Giradoux, Genet, et al - of the literary world producing mature works that have a settled structural deviation from the 19th century form, yet ideologically and philosophically a more searching frankness. All would have been well if these folks were able to keep it going.

Every generation needs its change. To establish what happened to Modernism and why PoMo was needed, I digress heavily. 

I cite as example the Tamil film music industry. The 50s music had a different feel to it. People wanted musicals. The moment you ask someone their name, they would go on a High Octave singing. High art and artisans and practitioners dominated the industry. You had to be trained in music and dance to get to the industry. Then came the age of 60s where acting was evolving as a melodramatic art and people wanted what was to become the forerunner to the capering around duet routines. The actors were not necessarily singers. Synching started. It was also the period of social dramas. You could slowly see the drop in the statistics of historical films. They were semi-social semi-historical (more due to their period-ification through costumes) productions that almost became civil-war type films and social movies in the late 60s. And the music also changed. From the MKTs and PUChinnappas we moved to K.V.Mahadevans and R. Sudarsanams... we moved from Pattukottai Kalayanasundarams and Bharathiyars to Kannadasans and Vaalis... 

Later in the 70s - that unforgettable period of tacky and heavy color usage in costume, makeup and sets from '70 - '74 (the period when MGR and Sivaji Ganesan starred in all those bell-bottomed pants, 2 inch heeled shoes, orange and rose and pink and garish colored bobby-collared overcoats and safaris, and during which period the heroines looked like Cinderellas and Snow Whites being pimped with made-over Wigs) - the music became confusedly racy. This was truly the period - my icon music director - when M.S.Vishwanathan truly dominated. We will not discuss the legitimacy and the need for some of the tunes he composed. But the 60s MSV and the 70s MSV were definitely different until he lost out to the emerging thin Pannaipuram native with a guitar and bell-bottoms and 50-watt bulb curl of well-oiled hair on his forehead - the one who would go on to become the legend Ilayaraaja. 

Come mid-70s. A horde of people with artistic aspirations from the interior of Tamilnadu rushed to Chennai to make it their home. Bharatiraajas and Ilaayaraajas... - the music changed again... the Ilayaraja of 16 Vayadhinile (folk) and Priya (first digital recorded western tunes) gave way to the Ilayaraja of Dhalapathi, melody scoring over technology... and then came ROJA. And the music changed again... and so on and until now. 

Similarly with Modernism. Things had to change. An -ism had lived for 60 years as a form of protest. It doesn't deserve that long a period. No movement needs or can sustain anger and protest that long! So it was inevitable something had to happened. And Post-Modernism happened.

How? Meanwhile colonialism was getting a beating politically. The Raj world-over had to give way both politically as well as culturally, leading to a change in the weather conditions of creativity. Actually PoMo and PoCo happened simultaneously. Subtly they have been lapping the shorefront of the Modernist and Colonialist beaches of arts and politics since the mid-40s. Thankfully the fall of Nazis did not have major impact on this. Expressionism had taken care of it in Germany and Symbolism as well as Impressionism in France. Actually the German Expressionism in literature started in the 1820-30s through a revolutionary called Georg Büchner - that Büchner of Woyzeck and Danton's Death! 

Back to the beaches of arts and politics: that was perhaps one credit no one can take away from the Brits. But the structural changes have been emerging on the Continent and in Russia meanwhile. Hence PoStu (Post-Structuralism) had joined the race making it a tri-partite coalition to overshadow Modernism and its counterparts in economics, philosphy and politics.

By the 60s, as Elvis came, Beatles came, Reggae came, Marley came... PoMo, PoCo and PoStu had also arrived. And the rest is KAOS. Yes, if historification is not organised there would be chaos. And if a movement sets in without revolution, then the sudden realization that the backyard had somehow changed to present a picture that was not there when we went to sleep overwhelms us that there has to be chaos of the mental geography! And that is the state people still find themselves. And you are no different from them. The reason is: PoMo had advanced too much that it was difficult to find a starting point to catalogue it and put an inventory of things that constitute the cupboard called PoMo. As a result we find ourselves like Dorothy in Munchkinland. Too much sudden colour and too many details. The richness is overwhelming and the depth is staggering, of what is a PoMo work of art and what is not, that one suffers from a syndrome akin to being caught like a beggar in a Five-Star Champagne party of Mega-corporate figureheads!

Now, what are the probable constituents? Having provided what I intended to do, viz. open the doors to a lay reader of literature, I leave you with a wonderful link to Post-Modernism. Hope this helps dispel some doubts and stigma towards PoMo!


Srini said...

Hello (Sir) KK,

For once what you have written didn't go over my head. For, I myself have been thru (certainly not all, but) much of what you have said under PoMo, PoCo and PoStu.

Well... the analogy of tracing the development of PoMo paralled with our own Film Industry of Music makes it all the more interesting.

And as usual - though it appears as a very sensible gentleman thou hatest isms - your KK-isms are eloquently naughty!

Krishna Kumar said...

EH ! Anyway, why else would we all blog? Hidden inside the urge to be read or heard and/or understood is also the narcissism to flaunt those phrases of random inspirational vocabulary to all of us bloggers. And like Samanth says in the intro to his blog, no one to cut out all those fancies and whims and caprices of ours saying "Reporting is not a show of vocabulary, Watson!"