Postmodernism is a fiction that covers up modernism’s abandonment of its utopian pretensions. What was involved was hardly a paradigmatic shift or rupture. It was, rather, modernism’s reconciliation with its own longstanding service to the bourgeoisie. The “post” in postmodernism asserts the supersession of modernism even as it betrays the continuity of the modernist obsession with supersession.
In the early days of its ascent to power, the bourgeoisie was a revolutionary class. This was acknowledged by the authors of the Communist Manifesto. The early avant-garde catered to this self-consciously progressive elite by accentuating the anti-canonical radicality of its artistic products.
By the middle of the 20th century, the bourgeoisie had thoroughly consolidated its power and was ready to smugly enjoy its reflection in the mirror of art. Modernism’s revolutionary pose could be dispensed with.
It was Andy Warhol’s moment, in which we continue to abide.
Art learned to glorify what exists, the ready-made, the status quo. The modernist subversion of canonicity had come full circle.
Underlying the continuity between modernism and postmodernism is a more fundamental one: the continuity of bourgeois hegemony, to whose aggrandizement modernism and postmodernism have been equally devoted. What distinguishes them is strictly a distinction between how the bourgeoisie wanted to see itself in its adolescence and how it came to see itself in its decadence. Modernism heroicized the nascent bourgeoisie’s insurrectionary will. When the bourgeoisie was safely and formidably ensconced as the new ruling class, postmodernism came along to glamorize its cold cynicism.