Comment on "Is the Post in Post-Modernism the Post in Post-Colonial?" Also, please comment on the commodification of Art.

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Before delving into these two separate subjects, it will be pertinent to look at the person who is central to their ideology: Kwame Anthony Appiah.  The son of an art historian of England and a lawyer of Ghana, Appiah grew up in the upper echelons of his society.  He tells a story from when he was eight years old and sick in the hospital where he was visited by both the Queen of England and the President of Ghana in the same day!  He went on to receive the highest education and, after receiving his doctorate at Cambridge, he taught at the highest quality universities:  Yale, Cornell, Duke, and Harvard. This is a man who also learned from his mother, who was not only an art historian but also a writer.  During his professional career he always wrote so that the common man could understand the most complex of issues.  This leads us directly into "Is the Post in Post-Modernism the Post in Post-Colonial?"

My comment on that lengthy essay is to answer the question found in the title with one word: no.  No, the post in post-modernism is not the post in post-colonial.  In fact, Appiah is desperately trying to separate the two movements that too many scholars have lazily merged together as one.  (I am not sure why, but it kept reminding me of the old idea of how Mary Magdalene of the Bible was somehow or other eventually merged with the adultress until they became one character in people's minds.  Just like Appaiah, there have been Biblical scholars willing to write the equivalent of this essay about how that idea is most certainly wrong.)

The important issue, however, is that the two movements of postmodernism and postcolonialism do have a lot in common!  However, if you look at the definitions, one can't help but agree with Appiah that they are separate.  Postmodernism is a movement!  Postcolonialism is a discipline!  The former's main goal in art, architecture, and criticism was to separate from modernism (and not necessarily to be "after" modernism).  Appiah has some humorous words for this vague movement:

I keep my bearings in the shark-infested waters around the semantic island of the postmodern.  The task of chasing the word postmodernism through the pages ... is certainly exhausting.

The former (postcolonialism) is actually an academic discipline that responds to both imperialism and colonialism and asks the question "What are the consequences of one country controlling the natives of another land?"

Appiah asserts that it has been in error that scholars both confuse and combine these two movements.  In his essay, according to many, Appiah has gone even further into the realm of non-Western art:

[Appiah] has made a significant contribution to clarifying the biases regarding the reception of non-Western art and the assumptions that are sometimes shared by the creators of such art.

This approaches your second topic of the "commodification of art" which is basically to turn art pieces into "commodities" that can be bought and sold. In fact, Appiah has something grand to say about the commodification of art that you ask about:

This does not mean that theories of postmodernism are irrelevant to these forms of culture, for the internationalization of the market and the commodification of artworks are both central to them.  But it does mean that these artworks are not understood by their producers or their consumers in terms of a postmodernism:  there is no antecedent practice whose claim to exclusivity of vision is rejected through these artworks.

Appiah tops it all off, going further than the essay you ask about, by writing In My Father’s House, which is absolutely an example of stark postcolonialism in African philosophy.  This writing (as well as others) proves that Appiah wants the two movements of postmodernism and postcolonialism everlastingly separated in our minds. 

As a final thought, I would like to suggest that Appiah's greatest contribution is actually "reaching across the aisle," albeit not in political terms.  Remember that he comes from a time when philosophers stuck to philosophy and historians stuck to history.  Separate disciplines were separate.  Appiah changed that!  He fluidly crossed between disciplines and was praised for doing so. By crossing the aisle from time to time, he wrote for the greater good of humanity.

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