Open menu Open menu hover pink Close menu Close menu hover pink
O Magazine
2015-2017

Postmodernism

In his extraordinary An Alternative History of the 20th Century, British author John Higgs resorts to the Super Mario Bros. videogame, created in 1985 by Shigeru Miyamoto for Nintendo, with the purpose of explaining, in a clear and educational manner, what the hell is that we call postmodernism: “In Super Mario Bros., the player controls an Italian plumber with a moustache called Mario. Mario’s job is crossing Mushroom Kingdom to rescue Princess Peach, who has been kidnapped by Bowser, the monstrous king of the koopas, those beings that resemble turtles. I’ve got to say that none of this makes any sense. Super Mario Bros. is a combination of that do not fit in with any system of categories other than the logics of the game itself”. A bit further down in his argumentation, he defines postmodernism as a group of forms that have nothing to do with each other and are put together in the hope that they will each and all work their on way”. And he adds: Another characteristic of postmodernism that has to do with this is what the theorists call jouissance, a term meaning “enjoyment”, and which refers to the “pleasure of the game”, but which also has transgressive and sexual connotations. Postmodern art is not ashamed of grouping lots of dissimilar and disconnected elements, but it enjoys doing it.” At the end of the chapter, Higgs ends up regretting, with reason, the fact something initially conceived as fun has ended up trapped in the prison of a progressively obscure academic jargon that, deep down, has taken away all the pleasure of the strategy and has given postmodernism such a bad name among the not initiated.

There are many other ways to illustrate all this, of course, without sounding too affected. Perhaps when the count of Lautréamont dreamt about the encounter of an umbrella and a sewing machine over a dissecting table he wasn’t foretelling surrealism, but postmodernism (which, in the end, is no more than a capricious sum not so much directed by the unconscious as by a playful imperative). Indeed, the opening scene in the extraordinary Toy Story 3 presented the possibility that all our children games have been, for ever, purely postmodern. Having to imagine an adventure with a bunch of Comansi Indians, a Big Jim, a piggy savings bank and a UFO is a postmodern gesture that no academic twist should pervert.

This cartoon, for instance, could fulfil the function of being the synthetic definition of postmodernism. It was drawn by Montanari & Grassani on number 12 of the fumetto Dylan Dog, with script by huge artist Tiziano Sclavi and published in the Italian market in September 1987. The most recent Spanish edition of this instance of Dylan Dog adventures is included on the third volume of the series Dylan Dog by Tiziano Sclavi, published by Aleta/Dolmen in September 2009. This story is called ¡Killer! and it’s a kind of re-visiting of the Golem myth meets James Cameron’s Terminator. I should mention something about the series before getting down to the (very postmodern) features of this story in particular. Sclavi created his paranormal phenomena investigator in 1986 and ask the first of its drawing artists, Claudio Villa, to base the physique of the character in actor Rupert Everett, whom the scriptwriter admired especially for his role in Marek Kanievska’s Another Country. When, a few years later, Michele Soavi made a movie inspired by the character, Dellamorte Dellamore, fiction intervened in reality and the actor chosen to play him was… Rupert Everett!! Bu the way, Dylan Dog was named Dylan as homage to his namesake, the poet (Dylan) Thomas who got drunk of life under the milk wood.

By Jordi Costa

Some of my friends are very experienced when it comes to postmodern enjoyment, but some of them just can’t take one of the whims that Sclavi decided to incorporate to the series: Dylan Dog’s particular Dr. Watson is no other than… Groucho Marx! Not a man who looks a lot like Groucho Marx, but Groucho himself, with his painted moustache, his cigars, his eyebrows, the same clothes he wore in the Metro comedies and the same verbal wit. I’ve always had problems with people who, at a carnival party, choose Groucho Marx or Charlot, but I can’t help feeling some sympathy before Sclavi’s insolence and cheek. Including in a horror story a comic counterpoint that looks like, dresses and talks like Groucho Marx is, deep down, so little cool and so inappropriate that it’s not that it rules… it just goes round the bend of ruling in order to transcend in the purest and unanswerable form of arbitrariness.

In ¡Killer! the Golem isn’t only the Terminator played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the character that warns Dylan and Groucho of what is happening is a rabbi… interpreted by Woody Allen! During those moments in the story where the plot doesn’t advance, Woody and Groucho enrol in duels of witticisms, answer each other with sayings and happily immerse themselves in unsettling mad dialogues, a distancing strategy that becomes a downer for all those petulant readers that were waiting to find a horror story taking itself seriously. In fact, Groucho and Woody aren’t so far from each other as could be, let’s say, an Italian plumber and an army of chelonians: I remember with pleasure the conversation that both made in Charlotte Chandler’s book, Hello and Goodbye!, in which master and disciple ruthlessly talk about the history of American comedy. However, the fictional encounter between Woody and Groucho playing respectively a rabbi chased by a cyborg and a paranormal detective assistant takes ¡Killer! to the Olympus of a postmodernism that is radically severed from the most paralysing academic sphere.

Do you want a new definition of postmodernism? Today’s stolen cartoon can give you one: the meeting of Groucho Marx and Woody Allen in the interstices of an Italian horror cartoon in which the Golem is fused with Terminator before a stupefied Rupert Everett. And, remember, this doesn’t come out of a work trying to be cool at all: it’s an everyday comic book, a supposed sub-product that knows far better than you or me what that pleasure thing is all about.