Monday 23 March 2009


Postmodern Fragmentations: Fear of Replicants

When I was a student postmodernity started. I remember it well. One of the metaphors of our postmodern beginnings came from several films, robocop, bladerunner and the likes dealing with artificial intelligence. In these and many other films, robots and other mechanisms challenged us with a new sense of fragmentation and independence. We were worried about a technological future, not an ecologic one. Machines, technology and computers filled the end-of-modernity imagination with these, with the possibility of replication, machines fragmenting the self, society, machines becoming independent, becoming alienated from us and also, of course against us.

With the loss and the coming of age of the computer anthrophomorphised as robot or as replicant (as self and soul) we finally understood such concepts as 'fragmentation' and postmodernity along with it. I spent some of my student years back in early and mid 90s debating on these themes, running sessions that would take in parallel readings of Geertz and Marcus with the screening of BladeRunner and the discussion of the semantised duplicity of the term 'replicant', both in the sense of a reproduction of the self, but a contestation of the self and its soul and societal order.

BladeRunner came and went and our future was never found. At the down of the millennium I remember sitting down with my brother, and he looked at me seriously, contemplating the pass of the time. We had longed for that moment since we were little. When we were little we used to ask each other, how old are you going to be in the millennium? ...and to us, in the millennium night the thought of having become 31 and 33, numbers that as children felt as incomprehensible as a trillion pounds of debt are now for us as adults felt strange. He looked at me, deeply, worried, stranged, perplexed, disapointed, annoyed, cynical...There weren't any star-wars like transports, space travel wasn't more far or distant that the ashes of the Challenger. It simply wasn't there. Looking at my brother's eyes I remembered the day, he and I, still small, walked nine miles from our home to a near town to watch BladeRunner. No replicants, no fear of contestation,no deconstruction? where was the future where the self had acquired a fragmented soul and removed fathers-as-gods? Did our extinct animals never dreamt of electronic pets then?

We weren't worried about the end of time, or even the end of history which he had seen few years early with Marshal Sahlins, no, we had not acquired a milenarist vision of our future, but we had acquired a technological vision of our future, and it wasn't there. On that day, at that millennium moment, nearly 9 years ago now, we felt missing, where was our sci-fi world? Not even mobiles started to look like that future 9 years ago. Why weren't we, we felt, there yet?

Altermodern Fears: The Melting of Snow and Numbers

We are not there yet and Postmodernity is well over. We are not postmodern in the sense of the kinds of worries we used to share, or even the perplexity of 'drowning with numbers', our new fears take millenarism way beyond its possibilities. More than ever, we are now in the age of ecological fear, -some of it anticipated with apocalyptic modernities and milenarist crisis metaphors (and their movies) of a kind different than before.

Would you rather have a future of unruly robots, an adolescence of machines, or would you rather have climate change and the 'day after tomorrow' by quantification? The robots, so full of 0 and 1 and number-driven, don't scare us anymore, and with them the end of postmodernity. The fact we can point out the second, that our fear or ecologic crisis is felt more real than our fear of machines and technologies emerging independently from us, tells me we have now encountered the future of our modernity. We have become the altermodern.

We have been able to visualise the grim 'WatchMen' after 20 years of not being able to see that comic turned into film, 20 years in which we couldn't re-metaphorisise it anew for new audiences. But now, we have. Ecology is our grim reality, like in the movie, governments and corporations will extend their control through engineering fear of the end of the world, the millennium, like its postmodernity, echoing through our new times. 'I robot' has been replaced by 'Knowing', same director and all. We do have, I grant you, technical horrors aplenty in the movies right now, some re-brining, echo like, and probably as a result of the enlargement of postmodernity I was talking about earlier, transformers and aliens and many other technological horrors and hopes, including a new treekie event and a further trail of horror movies (the gothic theme of the family under a new guise). I will be watching out when these break their postmodern predicament about the self and how it deals with the altermodern qualities.

Set aside the use of filmic metaphors for conceptualising the gap between late modernity and altermoderity, the underlying issue (to which I hope to write some in the next blogs) is about biopolitics and the conceptualisation of the 'antropos', to phrase Rabinow's text on the Anthropologist Dilemma in Global Assemblages that I will also refere to later.

A genuine concern of the world that movies metaphorise in the tales of robots, machines and replicants alike is not a mere representation of fragmentation, but much more deeply, a recollection, a kind of memory re-collection, of the issue of biopolitics in late modernity.

In a similar way we may want to ask ourselves how will our new altermodern economies look like, we may want to ask ourselves if altermodern styles of biopolitics -with the new forms of volunterism, citizenship participation, positioned politics, their anchoring of 'society' as deterministic biology- will come to explore the late modern conceptions of biopolitics and be able to articulate these within a framework of critical disassociation with our uncanny environmentally-concerned ideologies, or not.

I will come back to the issue with something useful I learned on Friday with Max Ferrar's paper on reconceptualisations of 'the soul' in the context of this discussion about biopolitics and ecopolitics.

Monday 9 March 2009

Altermodern Economies

Earlier on I commented on how Postmodernity had enlarged itself. The enlargement of Postmodernity owes to a series of factors, one of it is the inherent ability of this period to reconstruct its own alterity as part of a reflexive paradigm, thus enabling ideas, concepts, art, exchange of goods and so on to implode onto other generalising metaphors such as 'globalisation'.

In a sense, one could say, postmodernity had a life larger than itself, simply because it could project itself onto other conditions better than any movements prior to it. It could also deconstruct and semanticise without many boundaries. One of the reasons, though, why postmodernity lasted longer,in this kind of enlargement is because of the current social context, a context that has been re-defined through the second wave of the financial crisis: the economic crisis wave (first being financial, then economic, then social, I mean).

In 1995 I witnessed an economic crisis in Japan, and shortly later smaller bursting of bubbles, the .com bubble for example. Some of the resolutions to those crisis were postmodern and took us to an unprecedented space vacuum that was made clear when the 2008 crisis came along.

Without the power of the financial world in mystifying the elements that lead to building up of the current financial collapse I feel, perhaps, postmodernism would have entered a sense of change and movement different than, the altermodern period. Postmodernism lasted long, and it did (and still echoing, it is not a 'beginning and end' kind of preposition, or rather both postmodernims and altermodernims coexist at present) thanks to the good measure of financial, social and economic expansion of the period thrown in, for good measure, as if it were.

So, altermodern economies start at a time when postmodern economies are struggling to position themselves in that enlarged space that used to inhabit. It is yet to see if altermodern economies will serve us the purpose of highlighting inequality and the many deficits in our social justice, or it will be lost in a vortex of imploding economies and social practices.

...must dash to work...continue later...

Monday 2 March 2009

The interconnected modernity of alterity?

The Altermodern started being defined as 'the new period' after postmodernism in art.

In the article below, Bourriaud argues that altermodernity is a 'wandering in time, space and mediums', in a sense, as I see it, inheriting some of the qualitie of the online domains in the physicality of art. I quote from the article:

“Altermodernity,” Bourriaud continues, “arises out of negotiations between different agents from different cultures and geographical locations.” Artists, by this reckoning, have become nomads, a mobile community of outsiders within a vast globalised society, choosing their images, like words, from roughly the same visual language. It’s the next stage, Bourriaud claims, for civilisation after postmodernism, and artists who mocked its own claims to greatness"...

When I tried using the term Altermodernity, I felt the term 'alterity' in the name fit well the precursor anthropological understanding of 'otherness' into the differential of alterities that social cultures represent to each other. I also feel the idea of mobility and negotiations between different cultures appeals to this new period. My first reticence to using this term for anthropology was, however, that negotiations and mobilities were distinctive of the previous postmodern capacities for understanding the world. A good example of this, was Henrietta's Moore's 'global anxieties'.

A second interpretation of the Altermodern I read gave an example of Altermodernity as opposed to Postmodernity. A postmodern example was Hirst and his Shark in the Tank (in lego:, and other similar pieces. They are postmodern in their specified dismemberment of concepts but they are 'fixed', Altemodernity, on the contrary presuposes exchanges that are mobile, art that is born out of routes and meetings with others. A good example of transition between postmodern and altermodern is perhaps the lego example above.

An example of Altermodern, from this new point of view would have to be Gormley's plynth which extends the possibilities of Ewans' ideas in the Tate.

I agree with Lewis in the article that "Any definition of our age as a new era of travel, interconnectedness and political activity" as defined by Bourriad is tricky [I will continue tomorrow or soon]

Postmodern towards the Altermodern

Between 1995 after Geertz, Marcus, a re-emargence of Foucault's genealogies, Moore's subjects, Strathern's parts and wholes and Butler's performativity and her govermentality of pain, sometiems I feel there is no remaining gap one can escrutinize our new 'panopticon' from, the gaze has become far too ingrained in the current and also postmodern flexibility of exchanges about deconstruction of power and enlargement of our intellectual perspectives. With perhaps the rare solace of Nikolas Rose, the years between the turn of the Millenium and last year's financial crisis, have left me with one doubt, we are in period that although we recognise as postmodern it can not longer take on all the predicaments of postmodernity. Postmodernity has enlarged itself.

There were few attempts at defining changes of understanding theorisation within this period, for a short while the term 'naive ethnographies' came to define anthropological work that tried to reassess ethnographic approaches from new angles albeit less theoretically ingrained in the postmodern theories equally building upon these. In this period the idea of flexibility, multiplicity, engaggement, complexity of identities, de-territorialisation, post-capitalism, glboalisation came to dominate the vocabulary of ideas. The anthropology of globalisation is a good example of this period after naivety. But then, the term naive was not conducive, its connectivity failed to engage us. The anthropologies of x and z, and in particular of globalisation were built on the analysis of the aftertaste of postmodernity as a quality of taste (see earlier blog on taste).

Other anthropologies have kept happening during this period, of course, amongst them perhpas the most important have been the 'shared' and 'open' approaches to the production of anthropological knowledge on the Internet. This was a 'less perceived' period in terms of linear sequencing (i.e postmodernism, naive ethnographies, anthropology of globalisation), partly, and I am as responsible as any other anthropologist working for this media.

The Altermodern...

Let me start with the original concept in Art and then linking back to the period just before us...

The Altermodern - What came after Postmodernism?

Altermodern, and thus I guess, our move to Altermodernism, was originally described for me by the Tate in London and in the local free underground (in the tube) news on the Tate.

For the past ten years I have been concerned with postmodernity, a condition we were once not so familiar with, we did not know what to do with, and then we came to develop. Postmodernity has left us with an aftertaste, a taste for finding new deconstructions and critiques to the genealogies of power and governance. An aftertase of some kind of vague reminisence of taste. I keep re-assessing the feeling of my tongue with a sense that the original taste is now evading me.

For the past three years I have been asking Anna, and she has asked me...what after Postmodernism? what is there after Postmodernism, what do we call this period...clearly it is still postmodern but it is already an aftertaste of it.

A month back I went home and I said to Anna. I know our new period. It is the Altermodern.

Anna answered back: yeah, I heard a would you explain Altermodernity then?

This is the attempt to look at altermodernity (from the point of view of anthropology, that is)

AlterModern, Altermodernism(s)

The Altermodern

This blog is called 'Altermodern' and worried as I was about briging all my blogging and twitting and web pages together I left for today something much more close to my heart, to look at the concept of the Altermodern. Here it is then.