Living with postmodernity
It is in the 1987 Legislators and Interpreters that Bauman presents
the first fruits of his growing engagement with the debates about
postmodernity that had convulsed intellectual life in Continental
Europe and, increasingly, North America. Modernity and the
Holocaust, which followed Legislators, although written from a postmodern perspective, makes no mention of these debates. However,
this is hardly surprising because Bauman’s focus in this book is on
a historically specific period and set of events in Western modernity. But
Extending the critique of Bauman’s first exposition of postmodernity and postmodernism
with modernity; as Bell
had recognised, many modernist movements were critical of bourgeois society, and this became particularly clear after the carnage
of the First World War. According to Harvey, there were differences
between the temper of modernism in Europe and America (Harvey
1991: 27), with Europeanmodernism being more anti-bourgeois,
though art historians have pointed out that many of the American
modernists who became prominent in the 1950s had already been
involved with an art critical of the Depression-era America of the
1930s (Harris 1993: 3).
Modernism and postmodernism
‘Modernism’ is a term usually reserved for a set of movements in
the arts that began in the latter part of the nineteenth century
in Europe, gained a particular momentum in the early years of
the twentieth century and continued to flourish until at least the
middle of the twentieth century, the periodisation being dependent on when one believes that a new set of aesthetic strategies and
products, dubbed postmodernist, began. As we will see, for many
commentators postmodernism in the arts was, by and large, a continuation of modernism
’, and ‘modernism’ and ‘postmodernism’, that had engulfed
Continental Europe and the English and philosophy departments
of American universities.
This was not surprising. Little in the preceding years had prepared Anglo-American sociology for what was about to hit them.
Marx, Weber and Durkheim, the revered greats of classical sociology, had not used the concept of modernity, although of course
they were acutely aware of the novelty of the times they were
living in (Ray 1999). Only George Simmel (1858–1918), a relatively little-known figure in mainstream sociology, had
expressed in history, others would continue shortly after in the
modernist arts, literature, poetry, music and philosophy. A second wave of radical modernism emerged in Marxist politics, political economy, liberation theology and indigenous movements.
Engagement in the cross-currents of history
Modernism arose at the turn of the twentieth century as a movement of artists, philosophers, writers, poets, musicians and activists (Schelling, 2000). In
a short time, they remedied the positivist cultures that had denigrated Latin
America and venerated European
work of Raymond
Williams, Spivak is likewise moved to challenge the work of Terry
Eagleton for its insularly national account of Jane Eyre’s class dynamics.
Jameson writes from a different but equally revisionary impulse: to extend
Lukácsian aesthetics to include the impact of empire building on metropolitan art, and to amplify Lenin’s conceptions of imperialism as the last
stage of capitalism. Like Jameson, Said and Spivak are also motivated by
expressly contemporary political goals. Spivak offers a strategic intervention against contemporary Anglo-European
critique (Callinicos 1990: 162–71; see also Eagleton 1996: 1–44;
and see also Owen 1997, and Lopez and Potter 2005).
Some of these descriptions apply only too well to Bauman the
postmodernist. In the 1987 Legislators, as we have seen, Bauman
draws upon Rorty’s critique of the Western rationalist tradition
and Foucault’s notion of modernity as a disciplinary complex,
and is clearly influenced by the critique of hyper-rationalism and
modernism in postmodernist architecture. Equally important to
Bauman’s embrace of the postmodern turn was his utter disillusionment
then cohabiting couples (5.9 per cent). Such households would have been
exceptional in Ireland when Seamus and John, whose stories we examined in
Chapter 1, were starting their families.
Figure 2.1 provides an overview of family household composition in Ireland,
Denmark and Portugal in 2009, based on the European Survey on Income and
1 or both
, ‘are my Antipodes.’
I came upon the work of the art historian Bernard Smith in a serious way in the 1990s. This was a major moment for me, but it was also a necessary precondition of moving on to work on and with Bauman. Culture and socialism were two of the switch points. The key work in Smith’s writing is, and remains, European Vision and the South Pacific (1960). I had for some time been writing essays on Australian intellectuals, checking out their archives and their published work, and when possible interviewing them. These essays are now gathered in
helped to open new doors for me, to east and central European Marxism, and what followed.
This memoir is a story of one relationship with Bauman. Many others had significant encounters with Bauman. He was a generous man, who responded equally to requests from afar and emails from Leeds undergraduates who could hop on the bus with an interest. Bauman was always interested in the Antipodes, though I am not sure that this was why he was interested in me. I came a little later to Bauman, though this was also Bauman before Bauman, well before the liquid modern, which we