- Preface:PMC at 20
It's been twenty years of Postmodern Culture. The journal published its first issue in September, 1990, and was then the lone peer-reviewed electronic journal in the humanities.
PMC was first edited by John Unsworth and myself, then by Stuart Moulthrop and Lisa Brawley, Jim English, and by myself again. The editors chose PMC as the handle for the journal because we didn't want it to suggest a focus on the personal computer: PMC has always relied on digital technologies, and was shaped by the emerging internets, but its mission was to produce work that was not necessarily about computers or the internet, as much computer-mediated publishing was expected to be at the time. On the other hand, being electronic allowed PMC to publish work not possible for print journals, such as audio, video, and hypertext, and to develop models of distribution and collaboration that were new to the academy. This new model of communal work was from the start a political project based in new technologies. For example, the journal, which was first published by the editors through a listserv at North Carolina State University and then by Oxford University Journals, was free to subscribers, who could download issues and articles from us. With the advent of the World Wide Web in 1994, PMC moved to Johns Hopkins Journals (on their Muse project, which at the start was publishing only Hopkins journals); in that new environment the current issue remained free, and the journal maintained a free text-only archive of back issues. Another example of the politics of the medium is the journal's decision to publish in unformatted ASCII to begin with, rather than in more specialized formats, so readers across platforms and in different countries could read the journal. This was no longer necessary when we moved from listserv-based delivery to the Web.
PMC's mission has been, and continues to be, to cultivate theoretical and critical cultural studies of the contemporary period. The word "postmodern" was meant to locate the epistemic focus of the journal; postmodernism cannot be understood as a set of stylistic or formal features or attitudes, but as a cultural and intellectual time in the broad sense for which Fredric Jameson argues. The journal has been interested in critical engagements with cultural and theoretical questions rather than in period arguments; has promoted theory as a topic in itself; has engaged work on its own merits, rather than by arrangement, leading us to publish, through the anonymous review process, less known scholars, and to return work by scholars who are justifiably well regarded; and has published experimental work, like the hypertext issue shepherded by Stuart Moulthrop in 1997 and the meditative philosophy by Alexander Garcia Düttmann in this issue, that does not fall into familiar categories. The journal has argued by doing for a material and secular culture of difference—a postmodern culture—because, as Arkady Plotnitsky suggests in his essay here, no other culture does or can exist.
This project is important today because while culture is made of difference, it can certainly turn against difference. While critical cultures in the Western academy have been open to repeated challenge and experiment in many ways (sometimes—as Düttmann argues in his essay here—as superficial deflections), they continue to look for ways of safeguarding the same. I am thinking of the rise of the culture of presence in new media studies; the trend for new pragmatism in American studies, which sometimes has little interest in the historical grounding of aesthetics; the popularity of that version of object theory where objects are supposed to speak for us—not to mention that objects have other significance, as commodities for example; the arguments against symptomatic readings of culture, and against "the hermeneutics of suspicion," which want things in themselves to be what they appear to be; the resurrection of religion, often in the name of materialism; and the conversion to new metaphysical ontologies that can lead, in the extreme, to reified sociological and ethnic categories, and to categorical statements about them. These trends suggest that we ask whether radical or innovative thought has a...