Having completed, and therefore being “post-”, my first post on this blog, I have decided to address the issue of “post-” as a prefix, specifically the issue of enough al-fucking-ready with using “post-” as a prefix. Hopefully that clears up the potentially confusing post title.
Alright, so now we’re post-post-”post-” post-post post confusion and also post- the post-post-”post-” post-post post post, it’s time to actually sit down and discuss this like serious adults. Hopefully by now the word “post” has lost all meaning to you. Ideally you’re just sitting on the floor, rocking yourself gently and softly muttering “popopopopo”. Because this is the stage I am at now, and I do like to talk to an audience as equals.
This isn’t about the movements themselves. Most of them have fairly valid justifications and ideological systems behind them. A couple are arrant nonsense. The point is that it’s the prefix itself which is stupid.
The craze for putting “post-” on the front of everything appears to have begun in earnest with post-modernism. A broad movement, as much about rejection of modernist certainties as anything, the “post-” acts as a little wink at the arrogance implicit in proclaiming yourselves “modernist”. At this stage, whatever you actually think of post-modernism, the prefix itself has little meaning. It is a joke, and not much more. It isn’t post-modernism because it doesn’t follow after modernism; it reacts against it. Not particularly objectionable though, and expecting post-modernists to do without their little jokes is like expecting something very unlikely indeed.
But then we get to some of the movements arising from post-modernity, and the little whitish dots start to appear around the edges of my vision. Post-feminism, post-humanism, post-post-modernity (seriously), post-Marxism, post-anarchism, post-positivism, they all have one thing in common — they have nothing in common. At least, not in the way that they use the prefix “post-”. Post-feminism uses it to mean that feminism is effectively dead, having completed all its goals, thus we are all living in an age after feminism. Post-humanism and post-post-modernity use it to indicate a critical reaction against something. Post-Marxism and post-anarchism use it to indicate more nuanced, considered, developed versions of their respective political philosophies. And post-positivism looks to be a little over my head, so I’m gonna go ahead and say it’s some sort of submarine base.
The prefix is completely pointless. It can describe any relationship to a past movement, up to and including complete rejection or even apathy. So why is it used so damn much?
Because it’s cool.
Applying “post-” to something that exists, whether to describe your own separate entity or a significant development within the field, is appealing because it suggests that the person espousing this radical new stuff (for want of a better word) has studied the entire field, and conclusively proven that it is pointless. We need to move on, it says, that’s old news. However, by being effectively meaningless, the prefix allows sufficient wiggle-room that you can retroactively include all the good bits of the movement that you want to cannibalise, due to “post-” also being able to imply that you’re a continuing part of the tradition. It’s great! You can grab a ton of positive connotations, imply that your movement is better than the last one, present yourself as though you’re moving forwards, and not actually say a single thing about what you stand for.
All you’ve ended up saying is that you’ve created a movement that has some relation to this other movement. It might be positive, negative, anything. Literally any theory of politics could be described as “post-Marxism”, but as it happens the one that is described as post-Marxism could equally well be described as “academic Marxism”. Using the term “post-” means you may as well call yourself an academic, because the only thing that “post-” is doing is telling us that you are criticising and commenting on something. If you are an academic, you don’t need to use the word “post-” at all, we already get it. You’re talking about modernism, or feminism, or anarchism, or whatever. Perhaps you’re talking about them with a particular tone of horror, or with a sad sense of its limitations, or as though you had a sudden longing to stick part of your body somewhere it doesn’t belong – so why not say that?
We already have words for saying that feminism, for instance, shouldn’t exist. If you think that we’ve moved past feminism, you can describe yourself as an anti-feminist. But of course, that just doesn’t sound as good. We also have words for someone who talks a lot about Marxist theory and thinks about both its major flaws and its most essential positive attributes. Those people are called “Marxist theorists”. Again, that just sounds like a job. Boring, right? Besides, all the Marxist theorists these people are interacting with were so totally stupid. We’re over that. We’re post-it.
The whole “post-” thing is symptomatic of a wider malaise (God, I always wanted to write that phrase, but as someone who wasn’t regularly reading the Daily Telegraph I rarely got the opportunity). There is a sinister trend for movements to be named in a propaganda-like way — it’s almost (And now you’ll really have difficulty believing I’m not a Telegraph reader) Orwellian. No-one, short of batshit-insane philosophers testing the limits of their faculties’ patience/promoting a book, would describe themselves as “Anti-choice” — much less “Anti-life” — and yet two significant political/moral-philosophical movements supposedly think it’s meaningful to label themselves in this way. Pro-choice and Pro-life are totally meaningless names.
Similarly, everyone thinks of themselves as objective. Most traditional theories, scientific and philosophical alike, strive for objectivity — heck, even journalists are supposed to aim for it, for god’s sake! So what the bleedin’ love-muffin does it mean to describe oneself as Objectivist?
The most famous example I can think of would have to be that constant source of sinister, brain-washing propaganda known as the Church(!) of Scient(!)ology(!!!). Taking its name from the Latin word for “knowledge”, the Greek word for “poorly written sci-fi” and the English word for “Church”, it is of course none of these things. Poorly written sci-fi, for instance, has fewer plot holes. In fact, given its rabid opposition to psychiatry, a pretty substantial school of medical science, this is one case in which the prefix “post-” could make something of a come-back — the “Church of Post-Scientology” has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it? The Church of the Knowledge Branch of Knowledge, to give it its proper title, certainly seems to be lacking something, and most of its members really do seem to be thoroughly post-knowledge.
So that was all pretty intense for what is essentially a semantic quibble. I think I might have just managed to link the over-usage of a pretty vague prefix to the inevitability of propaganda, the problem of overly-partisan American politics,
schoolboy nihilism Randian Objectivism, the impending invasion of Earth by the dread lord Xenu and his army of psych majors, and some awful, awful puns. Which I intend to continue, incidentally.
I’ll bring it down a notch or two by talking about an area of subjective merits. Something which depends on incompatible factors such as your general social milieu, your upbringing, your entire lifestyle and worldview. Something which none of us fully understands, and thus something which none of us can pass judgment on another over. A mellow art which surely no right-minded individual could actually get worked up about, much less devote a significant portion of their life to repetitive, mindless abuse of people who harbour different opinions: music.
With that in mind, the genre name “post-rock” makes me want to strangle kittens. The arrogance implicit in choosing to belong to a genre like that is devastating. Now, I don’t mind the music itself — how could you? It’s almost like it’s been designed to be inoffensive and easy to understand, and it is usually quite staggeringly beautiful – but suggesting that it is beyond rock, that it has outmoded it, is ridiculous. If anything, these bands, or at least the specifically generic ones with names like “Hammock” and “Blanket”, are less complex than the majority of rock songs. Maybe this guy (‘im out of Porcupine Tree) could claim to be “beyond rock”, but here’s the thing: he doesn’t.
Progressive rock admits its debt, admits that it’s part of an ongoing tradition that is constructive, and vast, and whose edifice stretches out of sight in all directions, and makes challenging music which I find interesting. In fact, I suspect that the development on the past is part of what makes the music interesting to begin with. I could easily tolerate the fact that I personally do not find post-rock all that interesting, most of the time, if it wasn’t for that name. That name, which suggests that the sprawling genre known as ‘rock’ now has its best days behind it, as though rock fans are just deluded Luddites, as though they’ve found something better and more futuristic, more now. Ugh.
The same applies to other “post-music” genres, with the proviso that post-punk is sort-of true by definition — punk tries to be primitive, thus all music should be “post-” successful punk music — and that I think a lot of post-metal, especially post-BM (post-black metal), is actually awesome enough to transcend the irritating name. Post-hardcore I know little to nothing about, but the name confuses and disturbs me — does that name mean that having a social conscience and strong willingness to experiment musically are passé?
In conclusion: please, world, stop calling things “post-things”. It’s mostly meaningless, and when it’s not meaningless it’s really irritating. I know that it makes it sound like you have a smarter, more external, more objective angle on life, the universe and everything, but it tells people nothing — and if you really do have something to say, it’s important that people hear it — and don’t just dismiss it as more incomprehensible academic jargon, or worse, vexatious indie posturing.
No post-rock other than Mogwai or God Is An Astronaut, please. I’ll admit that Grace For Drowning sounds a little like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon in places. I hear that Fugazi are good, from my sources, but I don’t know to be honest. Today was terribly bad pun day. Thank you for reading. Please tip your seat up on the way out. Be kind to strangers. This site has more pictures of various mountain-y things.
This is probably bad advice. Prions and suchlike.