Postmodernism at the V&A / Postmodern Literature

A few weekends ago I went to the Postmodernism exhibition at the V&A. It wasn’t very good. I’d even go as far as saying that it was a bit of a let down.  This was partly due to my own overblown expectation, at last some clarity on Postmodernism, and  my own idleness. I had failed to take in the whole of the exhibition title, the V&A’s target audiences and its curatorial style.

Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990 could just as easily been called, Postmodernism: A bit of bad architecture, awful product design and greed gone mad. Or possibly, Postmodernism: consumerism and popular culture for cokeheads, bankers and other greedy bastards, with the odd bit of visual art ( Jenny Holzer, Laurie Anderson and Robert Rauschenberg) and a subversive musician (David Byrne of Talking Heads)  thrown in, just to remind anyone who has read any theory on postmodernism in arts and culture, that this was the very same subject, on display at the V&A.

It was good to hear again the iconic opening music of  Bladerunner’s soundtrack and to see the flying cars and futuristic-old-meets-new-cityscape (Hong Kong with flying cars in the rain, to anyone who’s been there). Though I don’t recall seeing any mention of Philip K. Dick or his novel  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

In fact there was no real mention or representation of literature in this exhibition at all, other than The Face magazine. Yawn, yawn. More popular culture aimed at teenagers. Don’t get me wrong I loved The Face (as a kid), and the last room of the exhibition;  all record sleeves,  magazines and kraftwerk,  did take me back to my brother’s bedroom, sitting listening to music on his head phones, whilst watching him put on eyeliner. But come on, has the world really gone so mad, that so much value is given to things that kids, with juvenile tastes and experiences, want to buy? – Is youth culture really where it’s at? – I guess that’s a rant for another time.

So as way of righting a wrong,  I thought it would be fun to put together my own Top Ten Postmodern Literature, Classics.. or stuff I read in the 90s, that I think should-be on display alongside The Face at the Postmodernism: Whatever, exhibition.

Not in prize order. I’m just writing them down as I think of them…

1. American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis

2. Highrise – JG Ballard

3.Blood and Guts in High School, Kathy Acker

4. The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter

5. Virtual Light, William Gibson

6. Generation X: Tale for an Accelerated Culture, Douglas Coupland

7. Cock and Bull, Will Self

8. Life Afer God, Douglas Coupland

9. Time’s Arrow, Martin Amos

1o. The Handmaids Tale, Margaret Attwood

Please feel free to add to my list if you wish 

– Alison Gibb


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