Post-Postmodern Paper People

4 thoughts on “Post-Postmodern Paper People”

  1. I am reader of your site and I am looking forward to Pop Apocalypse. I have a question about post-post modernism. Why is it that books like this, a "magical realist, ironic yet also filled with bottomless emo heartache" isn't criticized as harshly in lit. as it is in film; for example The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou fits the aforementioned bill, ( is this true at all?) but when that came out it was said to be Anderson's worse film for these reasons (ironic heartache, magical realism)- like these things can't/don't make up a character, cinematically. Why does the ironic heartache/magical realism hold up better in books than in movies in regards to critics? Life Aquatic is easily my favorite movie, and I thought the 'magical realism' e.g. the fish, steve zissou killing an entire fleet of pirates, separated it from his other movies and that is why It is considered his worse, among critics.

  2. Hey, William. Glad you're reading the blog and that you're excited about "Pop Apocalypse"! Let me try to answer your question as best as I can, given space and time constraints.

    I see two major differences between what I am calling postirony (or post-postmodernism, as you call it) in film and in literature. One is the size of the market that consumes each; the other is the ease of consumption with each medium. Every Wes Anderson movie gets far more media coverage than even the highest selling McSweeney's Books book (with maybe the exception of those written by Dave Eggers), given the relative amount of attention our culture pays to literature. And then, it's far easier to watch a two-hour film than to read a densely-rendered three-four hundred page literary novel. With more attention from a general audience, with diverse tastes, comes more negative attention, I think.

    I personally really enjoyed the Life Aquatic. It was my favorite of Anderson's films, which I know is an atypical critical judgment. But I have to admit that the Life Aquatic is pretty rarefied stuff, a kind of mainlined version of his aesthetic, and so not for everyone. With a McSweeney's book, the audience tends to be small and self-selecting, which leads more naturally to a higher proportion of positive reviews. This is just speculation on my part; I haven't done any sort of systematic reception history on these works in general.

    Then again, there are plenty of negative reviews of literary postirony. Lee Siegel wrote a scathing review of Dave Eggers' "What is the What" in the New Republic. Melvin Jules Bukiet has written a fairly critical overview of the "Brooklyn" novel, which he says is characterized by "mawkish self-indulgence… a heavy dollop of creamy nostalgia… magic realism… [and] a complacency of faith." James Wood, meanwhile, decries this style as a continuation of a Pynchonian "hysterical realism," a term he coined to describe the fiction of Zadie Smith. And so on.

    I think general attacks of this sort are kind of silly. There are good and bad examples of this style, as with anything else, and good and bad individual works, often by the same author. So it's a mixed bag. I should say that my goal, at least in discussing these writers in my dissertation, isn't to pronounce critical judgments for their own sake but to position the aesthetic of these writers in terms of an evolving literary history and to describe their individual relationships to an ethos of irony, whose collective valuation I argue has been on the decline for a while.

    All of which is hard enough to talk about in any sort of general way.

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