This is a real book by Lyotard

This is a real book by Lyotard

I know, I know. The postmodern condition … that old thing? Well, more precisely, I’ve been thinking about Jean-Francois Lyotard’s 1979 “report on knowledge,” The Postmodern Condition, which I’m gearing up to teach again in Methods class. I’m thinking in particular about something smart that my friend Drew Daniel had to say about this book in his recent book on the industrial band Throbbing Gristle’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats, an album released in the same year as Lyotard’s report:

Eclecticism is the degree zero of contemporary general culture: one listens to reggae, watches a western, eats McDonald’s … it is easy to find a public for eclectic works (Lyotard, 76).

Lyotard noticeable elides a crucial difference between eclectic consumers and eclectic artworks. The commodities racked up by the eclectic consumer require a certain amount of distance and difference amongst themselves … to show up as eclectic. But if eclecticism for the consumers is par for the course, eclecticism within the commodity is a rather riskier affair (Daniel 162).

Drew’s riposte is helpful to me as I have always been annoyed by
people who think that discussions of cultural or aesthetic hybridity are merely paeans to the eclectic consumer utopia described by Lyotard. One always hears of theorists of hybridity, like Homi Bhabha, “uncritically celebrating” it, and that embedded pejorative imagery of celebration always calls forth Lyotard’s knowingness about the “ease” with which hybrid ostensibly finds its publics. Those who embody or perform cultural hybridity tend to find themselves in the much more difficult position Drew ascribes to the eclectic auteur.

Drew is speaking tonight at the Guggenheim’s punishing 24-hour conference on time, around 11 PM.

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