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INTERFACE: HILTON KRAMER This is the first INTERFACE we plan as a regular feature in PAJ. Our intention is to invite for discussion with PAJ writers a figure, preferablysomeone outside theatre, whose ideas are influential or controversial in the American cultural scene. The INTERFACE is designed as an open forum of opinion, debate, and exploration of far-ranging aesthetic, political, and cultural issues in contemporary life. Hilton Kramer is the editor ofThe New Criterion and former art critic of The New York Times. A collection ofhis reviews and essays, The Revenge of the Philistines: Art and Culture 1972-1984 was published by The Free Press in 1985. This INTERFACE was taped in February, 1986, with PAJ editor Gautam Dasgupta as moderator, and contributors Gerald Rabkin and Herbert Blau. 59 POSITIONS DASGUPTA: Ever since your tenure as an art critic for the New York Times, and now as editor of The New Criterion, you have aligned yourself with the modernist temperament. Over the past decade and a half, you have increasingly situated yourself at the crossroads of modernism and contemporary art practice, commonly referred to as postmodernism. You have also been critical of forces you believe undermine the achievements and high tenets of classical modernism. Could you chart for us the areas of contention, as you see them, operating in today's cultural landscape? KRAMER: Among the important areas of contention are, I think, the following : where there has been a strong modernist tradition, that is, strong In the sense of producing a great many works that are now recognized masterworks , the area of contention is to be found precisely where the standards governing that tradition have been most directly challenged by a variety of forces, perhaps the most prominent of which generally goes under the heading "postmodernism." In those areas of the arts where there has been a less robust-modernist achievement, particularly say in the last quarter century or the period since the fifties, in music for example, I don't think postmodernism looms as so much of an issue because there is in a sense nothing to combat. However, as soon as one attempts to discuss the conflicts between, say, the modernist tradition and the postmodernist challenges to it, one has to recognize that the term postmodernism means a great many different things to a great many different people, in different fields. As far as I'm aware, the term actually has its origin more or less in two fields, architecture and dance. At least those are the two areas in which I first became conscious that there were artistic movements stirring that were pleased to regard themselves as postmodern. In dance, where I suppose it began with the Judson Church performances, the notion of postmodern dance seemed to me to become less and less viable because the continuities with modernism seemed so direct, that is, it was more a challenge to the rhetoric of modernism than to the aesthetic of modernism. The challenge has been most open and flagrant and in many respects victorious in architecture where there was a concerted effort-one might even say a conspiracy-to devalue and deconstruct the reputations of modernist masters and substitute a kind of pastiche, or I suppose we could call it an architecture of appropriation and parody, In its place. In certain other fields, particularly in criticism and in some of the literature that is allied with criticism, postmodernism also acquired a political, which is to say a radical component as well, so that certain Marxists or deconstructionists tend to regard themselves as practicing a kind of postmodernist mode of criticism. In any case, I think that Is perhaps enough to give you some sense of the perspective I bring to this issue. 60 THE MODERNISMIPOSTMODERNISM DEBATE BLAU: Today modernism itself is being reconstituted theoretically and reinvestigated, and in that discourse there's a complication in the relationship of modernism and the avant-garde that seems to me to be germane to the distinction between modernism and postmodernism. The supposition is that there was always a repressed content in modernism that is now emerging in what people speak about as postmodernism. KRAMER: Well, I've long held the...


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