t is safest to grasp the concept of
the postmodern as an attempt to think the present historically in an age
that has forgotten how to think historically in the first place. In that
case, it either "expresses" some deeper irrepressible historical impulse
(in however distorted a fashion) or effectively "represses" and diverts
it, depending on the side of the ambiguity you happen to favor. Postmod-
ernism, postmodern consciousness, may then amount to not much more
than theorizing its own condition of possibility, which consists primar-
ily in the sheer enumeration of changes and modifications. Modernism
also thought compulsively about the New and tried to watch its coming
into being (inventing for that purpose the registering and inscription
devices akin to historical time-lapse photography), but the postmodern
looks for breaks, for events rather than new worlds, for the telltale instant
after which it is no longer the same; for the "When-it-all-changed;' as
Gibson puts it,1 or, better still, for shifts and irrevocable changes in the
representation of things and of the way they change. The moderns were
interested in what was likely to come of such changes and their general
tendency: they thought about the thing itself, substantively, in Utopian
or essential fashion. Postmodernism is more formal in that sense, and
more "distracted;' as Benjamin might put it; it only clocks the varia-
tions themselves, and knows only too well that the contents are just
more images. In modernism, as I will try to show later on, some resid-
ual zones of "nature" or "being," of the old, the older, the archaic, still
subsist; culture can still do something to that nature and work at trans-
forming that "referent." Postmodernism is what you have when the
modernization process is complete and nature is gone for good.
a more fully human world than the older one, but one in which "cul-
ture" has become a veritable "second nature." Indeed, what happened
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