The (Dusty) Paradigm of Postmodernism

It has been a nontrivial amount of time since I blogged in any way about anything, let alone about my ongoing project on comics and the graphic novel. I won’t write extensively here, but I have made a few breakthroughs—after a frankly rough 2016—and thought I’d jot some notes down. I did publish “Comics Studies Comes of Age” (not my preferred title, tbh), a short piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education, which does some ground clearing for what I want to do.

I have a new title for my project. I’m now thinking of calling it “The Cartoon Art: Comics in the Age of Mass High Culture.” I hope this new title registers as something of a contradiction, in the way that the term “Culture Industry” was meant to for Adorno and Horkheimer. “Cartoon” is meant to be in tension, if not contradiction, with “art,” and mapping that contemporary contradiction is increasingly what the book seems to be about.

The term “Mass High Culture” is another clue about where I’m heading. At first, I used the term ironically, almost as a joke, but I’ve decided to keep it and make an argument about the remarkable way in which loads of formerly low cultural practices — comics, science fiction, video games — are now feted as art. My hope is that the story of comics can be a vital case study that lets us revisit — and reconfigure — (a somewhat dusty) mass culture debate after the end of postmodernism.

You may like or hate the works celebrated in this way — loads of people, for example, hate highbrow science fiction, or any discourse that tries to elevate SF — but the very fact that we’re elevating so many practices, not to mention debating the meaning of these elevations, seems distinctly important in the history of culture. We’ve witnessed, I think, the failure of many of the foundational cultural theses we’ve inherited from the (now itself dusty) paradigm of postmodernism.

I’ve said more than I intended to, so I’ll stop here, and promise more to come.