Pomo goes to market

by Yule Heibel on December 23, 2006

Fascinating article in The Economist, Post-modernism is the new black, by …hmm, how interesting: I don’t see a by-line. Ok, by “special report” or “the economist.”

Whoever wrote it was pretty well informed. For once, none of the usual sophomoric trashing (which so predictably alternates with hagiographic treatments) of Adorno and Horkheimer, although the article’s ending was sadly lame:

So should every businessman have a Lyotard by his bed? Only if he wants to send himself to sleep. Pomos made a point of writing impenetrable prose: it was necessary, Foucault argued, if they were to be taken seriously.

Come now, author: you just spent a goodly number of words showing that postmodernism wasn’t just about impenetrable prose.

Right at the start, the writer points to a parallel between postmodernism and modern-day retailing or any sort of marketing: “There is no hierarchy of goods.” That’s true, with a qualification. If you’re shopping for a $250,000 wristwatch (i.e., something in the mid-price range), then your wristwatch isn’t inherently more or less valuable than any other commodity …in a similar price-range. At the same time, people with that kind of money to spend no longer believe in any other sort of hierarchy — the value (aka the anti-value) of, say, slumming, has completely evaporated into the evanescence of postmodern life. It is all relative to everything else, and everything else, being relative, is evanescent, unreal.

Foucault had belatedly spotted that post-modernism and “neo-liberal” free-market economics, which had developed entirely independently of each other over the previous half-century, pointed in much the same direction. One talked about sex, art and penal systems, the other about monetary targets. But both sought to “emancipate” the individual from the control of state power or other authorities—one through thought and the other through economic power. Both put restoring individual choice and power at the hearts of their “projects”, as the pomos like to describe their work.


Modern retailers are only just getting to grips with two of the consequences of the breakdown of authority and hierarchy that they hoped for half a century ago: the “fragmentation” of narratives and the individual’s ability to be “the artist of his own life”.


Mark Lee, a management consultant, argues that the “new huge empires are based around one niche”.

The individual becomes the artist of his (her) own life, but the price is that we’re in charge of just a (relatively special) niche. Extinguishing the tutelage of authority in favour of a mastery of domain (the niche), we seem to have flattened the mountains and valleys of the past, exchanging them for a rupture-free landscape that somehow seems curiously the same, wherever we go

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: