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Post-American - click opera
February 2010
 
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Sat, Mar. 11th, 2006 11:08 am
Post-American

It's slightly strange for me to be back in America, because, personally, I'm post-American. Starting in 1996, I visited the US many times to play shows and do tours. I even ended up moving to New York, where I lived between March 2000 and March 2002. For a little while I might even have looked "pre-American" -- in the sense that I might have considered taking steps towards some kind of permanent residency status (as my ex-wife is now doing, though without any great enthusiasm). But after the Bush "victory" in 2000 and 9/11, I quickly became "post-American". I lost any interest in living in this country.

So it's entirely appropriate that the biennial which has brought me back is being widely described as "the post-American biennial". That term is an interesting one, and it's being used with different shades of meaning. The most trivial sense is how Linda Yablonsky in the New York Times uses the phrase: this is the "post-American" biennial because curators Philippe Vergne and Chrissie Iles are both Europeans, and because for the first time the Whitney Biennial is including foreign-born artists (like me).

Jerry Saltz, in his review of the Whitney Biennial in the Village Voice, uses the term with a wider political implication. For him the show is both "un-American" and "post-America":

"Iles and Vergne are European, more than a quarter of the 101 participating artists were born outside the U.S., and sundry others live elsewhere part-time. Even the show's title comes from a French movie, François Truffaut's 1973 film, although the movie's original title describes the biennial and the country better, The American Night."

"This show, and the art world, are trying to do what America can't or won't do: Use its power wisely, innovatively, and with attitude; be engaged and, above all, not define being a citizen of the world narrowly... "Day for Night" speaks to a nation that is no longer an ideal but only a country. That makes this the Post-America Biennial."

Over at Time Out, Andrea K. Scott tells us that "Day For Night, the new Whitney Biennial, pledges allegiance to post-America":

"Iles is British and Vergne is French, and this year the outmoded "made in the USA" Biennial mandate has been pretty much scrapped... Even the phrase "Day For Night" has foreign roots: It's the English translation of the title to Francois Truffaut's film La Nuit Americaine.... These are dark days, Iles and Vergne seem to suggest. The country is a Halliburton-backed war machine and art has pushed past its borders into a liminal twilight zone. The real accomplishment of this biennial may be in "Prying History Loose, Not Nailing It Down" (to quote Bradley Eros's essay in the exceptionally well-conceived catalog). Despite the occasional splinter, the curators have successfully dismantled the house that Breuer (and Altria) built, with an eye on a post-American world."

The origin of this talk of "post-America" is this statement of the curators in the biennial catalog: "At a moment when world opinion of the United States is at its lowest ebb... there seemed to be a particular urgency to make a bold curatorial statement about the current zeitgeist... The "day for night" that it reveals suggests an impulse that could be termed premodern, or pre-Enlightenment, confirming the sociologist of science Bruno Latour's argument that we have yet to become modern. We are, in other words, in a "post-America," in which America has become more of a nation than an ideal."

Now, clearly this "post-America" meme stands in opposition to the meme of the "project for a new American century", the fundamental document of the neo-con regime, justification for endless hawkish American interventions throughout the world. "Post-America" suggests that the "new American century" has already failed, a suspicion confirmed by any glance at the headlines from Iraq, or any comparison of New York's 20th century skyline with Shanghai's 21st century one.

There are other uses of the term "post-American", though. Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-immigrant lobby opposed to the granting of American citizenship to Mexicans, or to the employment of non-American soldiers in the US military, citizens of countries like the Philippines, lured by the possibility of a US green card ("Give me American citizenship or give me death", you could call it). Here's Krikorian in the National Review:

"Let me be clear what I mean by a post-American. He's not an enemy of America — not Alger Hiss or Jane Fonda or Louis Farrakhan. He's not necessarily even a Michael Moore or Ted Kennedy. A post-American may actually still like America, but the emotion resembles the attachment one might feel to, say, suburban New Jersey — it can be a pleasant place to live, but you're always open to a better offer. The post-American has a casual relationship with his native country, unlike the patriot, "who more than self his country loves," as Katharine Lee Bates wrote. Put differently, the patriot is married to America; the post-American is just shacking up.

"Now, there are two kinds of post-American. David Frum, in his "Unpatriotic Conservatives" article for NR last year, highlighted what I think is the less important kind: Those who focus on something less than America, whether white nationalists or neo-Confederates, etc. The second, more consequential and problematic kind are those who have moved beyond America, "citizens of the world," as the cliché goes — in other words citizens (at least in the emotional sense) of nowhere in particular."

This definition comes in an article entitled "Post-Americans: They’ve just “grown” beyond their country." The inverted commas around "grown" -- as well as his phrase "citizens of nowhere in particular" -- make Krikorian's attitude to these people clear: they're A Bad Thing. He ends the article with a question: "The most important long-term political question we face: Who are we — America or post-America?"

One of the pieces I do in the Biennial is a short joke, a piece of disinformation: "America will soon be a part of the European Union." It may not be true, but one thing I've noticed is that many of the young Americans who've been talking to me in the gallery are planning to leave the US at the earliest opportunity, to live in Europe or elsewhere. They're post-Americans in the way Krikorian describes... and deplores.

Unlike Krikorian, I'm not worried by these people at all; they seem sane and wise, well-prepared to deal with a post-American world. It's the ones who stay at home, the 93% of Americans who don't have a passport but who do vote for governments with a foreign policy, who worry me, and especially the kinds of policies they may start voting for when they begin to notice that the 21st century is beginning to look distinctly... post-American.

46CommentReply

girfan
girfan
GIRfan
Sat, Mar. 11th, 2006 04:28 pm (UTC)

A post-American may actually still like America, but the emotion resembles the attachment one might feel to, say, suburban New Jersey — it can be a pleasant place to live, but you're always open to a better offer. The post-American has a casual relationship with his native country


Thanks for this post.
I now know that how I feel is "post-American".
I lived there until 10 years ago, but sometimes felt like I didn't fit, and this is more than likely why. I don't feel patriotic and never was a flag-waver. Most people think I am odd for not prefering the US over the UK, and even odder when I say I no longer want to ever live there (especially with the political climate there!).


Unfortunately for those young Americans talking to you about living elsewhere, it has become harder to just pick up and go. It was hard for me 10 years ago, but I married an Englishman which made it easier (FYI-this was NOT a marriage of convenience-I love him and it was a decision made of who was to move where and I think the decision for me to move to the UK was the wise one). I notice that laws are tightening even more.


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alisgray
alisgray
spoonful of sugar, pinch of salt
Sat, Mar. 11th, 2006 04:51 pm (UTC)

they are.

I live in one of the fightin' blue states, and the citified liberal part of it at that. but even the advertising here is getting more heteronormative, more Christian, and more ugly.

I'm too old to fall into the young, leave as soon as possible mindset. It's hard enough to scrape out one's corner in a place where one doesn't have a funny accent (and for me that's nearly everywhere else in this country, as well as abroad.)

should we all just give up and leave? isn't it at least as noble, or responsible, to stay and demand things be examined and restored here?


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300letters
300letters
Manufactured Pretense
Sat, Mar. 11th, 2006 04:49 pm (UTC)

I'm considering becoming a post-American. This place is getting harder to stomache by the day. And I love this country, but its been totally derailed and is now actively working against the very principals it was founded upon.


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nomorepolitics
nomorepolitics
Sat, Mar. 11th, 2006 05:06 pm (UTC)

It's well put. There certainly is a strong contrast since 20 years ago when I first came here after living in Athens. My experience with North America is generally redneck small cities and towns, now Ottawa, previously Boston, Detroit, London Ontario, and host of unheard of places.

When I first came here in '86 when the "America" cultural bubble was bursting, people were still proud, and truly many of them were arrogant towards the rest of the world with their righteous ideology. Now, I still stand out in a crowd here as I ever did, but no-one looks at me with that pride here anymore, judging me for being different. They've lost it, especially the rednecks. Now they judge with shame or guilt, or pretend to ignore the fact that I am dressed differently. I think they are coming to the sense that their sloppiness and lack of enthusiasm for life don't accomplish anything.

But, and I mean most rednecks, seem to still be culturally centered on American culture, though they are no longer proud of it. I wonder how long it will take before they begin to look out at what is happening in the rest of the world -- not to deny that there are some who do, but they are the exception not the rule. This from a different perspective than living in an interesting city like New York.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Mar. 11th, 2006 05:06 pm (UTC)

Googling the phrase "post-America" I also found this touching rumination by elderly writer Peter Dale Scott. He quotes Whitman's "Democracy is a great word / whose history remains unwritten / because yet to be enacted", a thought picked up in the Leonard Cohen song that says "democracy is coming to the USA", and somewhat connected to Bruno Latour's idea that we are yet to be Modern.


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klasensjo
klasensjo
klasensjo
Sat, Mar. 11th, 2006 05:10 pm (UTC)

It's the ones who stay at home, the 93% of Americans who don't have a passport but who do vote for governments with a foreign policy, who worry me

Yes, that is scary. This survey paints a pretty clear picture.

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/geosurvey/download/RoperSurvey.pdf


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notazionist
notazionist
tout va bien
Sat, Mar. 11th, 2006 05:36 pm (UTC)
Post-American Pax-Americana

A very telling piece.

Most of my friends (in their mid-twenties) have considered or are in the process of leaving the US. These are white, middle class, American born former students.

A very interesting thing about work in this country: for those who majored in one of the humanities (like myself), the best paying work is if one were to teach English out of the US, such as Japan.

Anyone who leaves the US now, either on vacation or to find residency, will find more hostility than before, obviously. But it seems a small price to pay for the removal of blood on one's hands.

What I was most enthralled about with this piece was that I'm attempting to capture this "post-American" idea on film. Call it the transition period between American and post-American, an identity crisis. A bizarre time to be living in this country, but like all of us who live here, we've never been one people, never terribly connected, and always hiding from one another. All of this is merely heightened, and for some of us, it's time to go.


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seanthesean
Mr. Sean
Sun, Mar. 19th, 2006 07:24 pm (UTC)
drunk injuns

that article is pretty spot-on. you can tell by leftists using words like "heteronormative" as an insult. what is interesting for me is that alot of people i know who grew up in the city, especially leftist cities despise the left for their remarkable dishonesty. i first started noticing this when i was in the punk scene & there was a real antagonism between those of us who grew up in the city & those who chose to move to the city. the natives were always a bit crazier, drunker & more honest. the mobile hip gypsies were always more political, dishonest & manipulative.


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cheapsurrealist
cheapsurrealist
Dave Nold
Sat, Mar. 11th, 2006 07:25 pm (UTC)

"America will soon be a part of the European Union."

The hardest part would be trying to remember to call "soccer" "football" and "football" "American football".


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loverboy82
loverboy82
( ... )
Sat, Mar. 11th, 2006 08:48 pm (UTC)

the metric system would be tough too. wasn't there a time when they tried to get everyone to start using it in the states? and it totally failed?


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loverboy82
loverboy82
( ... )
Sat, Mar. 11th, 2006 08:44 pm (UTC)

so the argument seems to be that the idea of America no longer makes us feel good- its worldwide popularity is depleted, so now the world is Post-American. well, i left america for china but i don't feel post-american. america & new york have changed dramatically since 9-11-01 but we still live in world which is economically, politically and culturally dominated by america. i don't really see that changing unless some sort of unseen disaster/crisis emerges. i see the skyline in pudong everyday from my apartment building and frankly im not sure it makes the city look any more futuristic or powerful than new york or toyko- if anything probably less so due to its tackiness. i've met many americans out here and many lead a life of rootless cosmopolitanism you celebrate but i don't think most of them will stop identifying with america. i like the idea of World Citizen too but i think for most people have a strong attachment to their Home.


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dzima
dzima
ralf dziminski
Sat, Mar. 11th, 2006 10:23 pm (UTC)

Here's a list of people that still haven't realised that:

- Politicians from countries outside of America who implement American laws in their own countries and follow American war-mongering policies (they are obviously still thinking in "New American Century" terms);

- Countries that import American TV dramas and Californian navel oranges even though they can make/grow their own;

- Non-Americans who say "dude", "bro" and "buddie";

- Non-American bands who want above all to break into the American market;

- Nick Cave;

and the list goes on.

I think that a well level minded way to think about America is that it is just another country, not ahead not behind of anyone, instead of having this image of it being the number one country.

America certainly must have been attractive to artists back when Duchamp, Schoenberg, Ernst, etc., all moved there but nowadays there are other attractive destinations around the world as well I'm sure.


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charleshatcher
charleshatcher
charleshatcher
Sat, Mar. 11th, 2006 11:53 pm (UTC)

I think if I were to classify myself as anything it would have to be "past-caring about post-America posts".


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jammypack
jammypack
Kebin
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 02:54 am (UTC)

That's funny.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 01:07 pm (UTC)

I'm actually rather sympathetic to this Basque Separatist / Quebec / Scotland sort of approach, involving secession. The states with political power in the US currently are those with the least economic power. Secession would correlate IQ and GDP much more closely than it is now, and remove the red states' undue power over countries they haven't even visited, and can't even find on a map.


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csn
csn
Nick the Monk-Rom
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 05:06 am (UTC)

Good article, I agree with quite a bit of what you're saying, but I have to take protest with the "comparison of New York's 20th century skyline with Shanghai's 21st century one" in regards to your assertion about the New America having already failed. To assert that Shanghai is a more futuristic or modern city than New York in any sense of the word just because it has a small assortment of dopey, incongruous buildings with virtually no standards of aesthetic cohesion of beauty, is laughable. Shanghai is a disgusting city, with countless dishevelled alleyways and crumbling buildings in the process of being razed to build more shopping malls for every ugly skyscraper. That particular photo, of the skyline on the eastern side of the pudong river, is one that symbolizes a lot about Shanghai and the modern China. That particular picture is fairly incredible, considering the sky very rarely resembles any shade of blue as was captured in that photo, usually consisting of an indeterminable, murky haze. There are series of billboards and flashing lights, although they some time turn them off after about 8 PM or so to conserve power. That stupid needle is the worst of them all, which, along with the host of other buildings surrounding it, seem to be built for the purpose of showing that China can have a city with a few really tall buildings, and no other reason, even if they don't really know why they're building them and they're only partially occupied. Best of all, do you know what it is on the other side of the river, where those buildings are?

Nothing. The whole area is a damn "development zone." If you cross over to the other side and stand next to those buildings, you will see a vast wasteland surrounding it.


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csn
csn
Nick the Monk-Rom
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 05:08 am (UTC)
a small correction

I meant to say "huangpu river." Pudong is the eastern side of it. ("East of the Huangpu").


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cerulicante
cerulicante
cerulicante
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 06:26 am (UTC)
Yes, the US is SOOOO Selfish....no other country is ever selfish!

This show, and the art world, are trying to do what America can't or won't do: Use its power wisely, innovatively, and with attitude; be engaged and, above all, not define being a citizen of the world narrowly

The purpose of the US government is to act in the best interests of its citizens...if it happens to benefit other countries, as well, then that's nice, too.


Why doesn't anyone ever give any other country crap for being selfish? Why is the US the ONLY country that is never allowed to do things that are good for it? Is a lust for intellectual revenge worth more than the welfare of an entire nation? I guess so...


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fritzela
fritzela
Sun, Mar. 12th, 2006 07:10 am (UTC)
Jesse Eisenhower writes:

I'm staying in America although I've been "Post-America" for some time now. (Prior to reading this I would describe this outlook as being idealistically estranged or, as a day-to-day self-affirmation: pointedly non-chalant.) Forgive me if you will but I want the world to be "Post-America" in the way described in this entry because I'm waiting, with occassionally bated breath (and believe me please that this entry has hit a nerve; my fingers are pretty trembly) for a very different, maybe more literal Post-America to take shape. I want the world to look away, or it can keep looking frowning gnashing for all I care, while I, and those friends of mine here in California, begin something new. A seriously very fun little uprising involving arts of all kinds that are made in reaction to the American ideal because we thrive on absurdity, irony, incredulity, etc.. Talk about being without country, our feet don't even touch the ground as we strut bouyantly through shopping malls and supermarkets, nimbly negotiating our way around every casual instance of resistance we meet like as though we are purposefully nuzzling into the soft satchel of a great slingshot so as to be slung with equal force (with exhilirating velocity!) in the opposite direction. We get lots of kicks out of this ridiculous society, and granted it's only because this kind of material prosperity is as laughable as it is soberingly unreal (like any Effect of fortune that's been stranded (Hah! Hidden!) from its Cause). But basically I'm happy, maybe even a little grateful for the way in which this American society has granted me a rather formidable capacity for conceptual thought, cultural appreciation and artful aspirations. I don't know how these tendencies were impressed upon me but there is certainly enough precedent in the history of American art to satisfy me (though I do not by any means feel daunted by these precedents). My friends and I are assuredly in the minority, and assuredly we would like it to stay that way. But there is something coming in the arts, I'd like you to know, which will be distinctly American, wherever it may be exported or exhibited, and I'm telling you: it won't happen until the rest of the world is Post-America. So please hurry the fuck up.

@underablanket.com


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(Anonymous)
Sat, May. 27th, 2006 04:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Jesse Eisenhower writes:

Hey, do you know Jesse's e-mail contact? I read his kerala travelogue on livejournal.com and wanted to talk to him about his trip. Reply to rav37@hotmail.com. Thanks.


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