by John David Ebert
Every new world age must be preceded by an Event of such momentous significance that it causes a tectonic shift, or discontinuity, in the ontological architecture of a society. Hence World War II was the great Event that separated Modernity from Post-Modenity, irrevocably dividing one world age from the next. Everything that we think of as “postmodern” came into being after it: eclecticism in architecture; the death of the metanarrative (Lyotard); the rise of minority cultures; decolonization and the Voice of the Cultural Other being expressed in academe (Spivak), etc. etc.
Likewise the Event that separates Modernity properly speaking–demarcating it, say, from the Enlightenment–from all that went before it was the French Revolution and the succeeding Napoleonic Wars that eventually, once the dust had settled, led to the Haussmanization of Paris: a complete structural reworking of boulevards, streets and demolition of old, worn-out neighborhoods that was already consistent with the Revolutionary tendency toward Deconstruction; that is to say, of the getting rid of old grand historical metanarratives (hence the advent of the metric system; the attempt to implement a new world calendar by getting rid of months and days named after old European gods and goddesses intertwined with Christian eschatologies). The difference in world horizons is exemplified by comparing Ingres’s 1827 painting “The Apotheosis of Homer” with Manet’s 1862 “Le Dejeuner sur L’Herbe.” Whereas the former painting apotheosizes the West’s grand Homeric narrative of descent from the Classical world, Manet’s painting absolutely defies all attempts at trying to find a narrative in it.
After the restructurings of Haussman, the French Impressionist painters put Paris on the map as the capital, not only of the nineteenth century–to quote Walter Benjamin–but of the entire project of Modernity down to World War II (after which the center of the art world shifts with Abstract Expressionism to New York, although Paris becomes the Intellectual Capital of Postmodernity in the 1960s).
Such Evental shifts between world ages can be found all throughout history, for they are not at all unique to Western Modernity. The seventeenth century BC, for instance, was an age of horizonal demarcation with the advent of the two-wheeled horse chariot and compound bow that, in the West, created the Mycenaeans of the Pelopennese, Troy Level VI (1700 to 1200 BC) and the Hyksos invasion of Egypt which was ruled for a little over a century by Semitic peoples from Palestine. The Hyksos dynasty ended the Egyptian Middle Kingdom and their expulsion from Egypt by the twin brothers Ahmose and Kamose around 1530 BC marked the transition of Egypt into its New Kingdom imperial phase and the creation of its trans-Palestinian Empire.
Another such Event takes place around the year 1200 BC, which brings this Late Bronze Age of the chariot empires to a close with a massive systems collapse signalled by the Trojan War (end of Troy VI, circa 1250 BC) and the eruption, from the Black Sea, of marauding Sea Peoples who systematically dismantle and destroy the Mycenaean world, the Hittite Empire, and nearly all of the cities of Palestine. Egypt barely survives this period intact, but its imperial days, from that point on, were over.
Not to digress too far, but I think it is important to understand that such world ages are nothing new and indeed, make up the ontology of history, which is catastrophic and dis-continuous.
The Great Event, likewise, that signifies the decisive shift from Postmodernity to Hypermodernism was September 11, 2001. Up until then, as Baudrillard once pointed out, Events had been on strike and had apparently ceased to happen, as globalization dissolved history into its anticlimactic end. But 9/11 was the great Hyksos Event that signified the transition of American political power from the concerns of what Carl Schmitt called its “grossraum,” that is to say, its trans-national hemispheric domain, to the building of an Imperial Security State Apparatus, with a global external proletariat defining a specific Outside in the form of those neo-Hyksos barbarians known as the mujaheideen and their various genealogical offshoots (ISIL, ISIS, etc.).
At least, this is the Event that signalled the shift on the political plane, for on the technological plane, the shift can be more precisely demarcated in the year 1995 when the National Science Foundation turned the Internet over to the public. The impact of the Internet on all previous forms of media is the equivalent on the technological plane of the Hyksos Event of 9/11 on the political plane. For the Internet now proceeded to provide Hypermodernity with its World Interior which, as Peter Sloterdijk pointed out, had earlier been architecturally expressed in the 1851 Event of the Crystal Palace in the Great Exhibition in London of that year–preceded by the Parisian prologue of the Arcades of the 1830s–which provided Modernity with its World Interior: namely, that of a global shopping mall.
This was a kind of translucifying of retail space–an opening up of it, as it were–by liquidating its walls and rendering them transparent to the outside. As Walter Benjamin pointed out, the department store came into being out of the Parisian arcades, as well as the concept of retail stores connected by labyrinthine alleyways with iron and glass enclosures. (Whereas the Crystal Palace simply enclosed all retail space into a single gigantic, linear open mall lined with purveyors and merchants: the ultimate outcome of that phase of Modernity marked by the discovery and conquest of the New World, and the expansion of Western imperialism across the planet, from whence signifiers of all kinds and sorts were ripped from their various cultural contexts and put into the circulation of Industrial capitalism).
Whereas the World Interior retail space of postmodernity was the advent, in Edina, Minnesota in 1956 of the shopping mall, which introduced the innovation of turning all the retail spaces away from the city center and faced them, as it were, with their backs, while enclosing itself in a bi-level air-conditioned interior as a miniature city. The shopping mall, with its fake plants, strategically placed fountains, and above all, its electified staircases in the form of escalators became the world interior of postmodernity.
And along with it, what Marc Auge termed “the Non-Place,” that is to say, the eruption, during the 1950s in America, of the Interstate Highway System and its various motels, fast food restaurants and strip malls, all of which had a decentralizing effect on the quaint old city center of the traditional modern city. While the downtown areas began to crumble, the city exported itself to the countryside so that, as McLuhan–the great prophet of postmodern media–put it, “every truck stop cafe with a television and a newspaper became as cosmopolitan as New York or Paris.”
But then, Hypermodernity put an end to the shopping mall, which began to dissolve and disappear during the decade of the 2000’s as the Internet, in turn, decentralized the mall by exporting it to the living room: in effect, the mall became an individualized, rather than a communal, experience. With the Internet, the individual never had to leave his home to shop, and so during the 2000’s retail stores, shopping malls and their connected media–bookstores, record stores, magazines and newspapers–began to disappear as they were absorbed into this new totally electronic World Interior.
Whereas the media of postmodernity had all been analogue–records, cassette tapes, photographs, magazines, celluloid–the media of Hypermodernity is exclusively digital. With the satellization of the Exosphere, the analogue telephone became transformed into the cell phone and later the smart phone, which jacked the individual into the World Interior from wherever on the planet he happened to be. He didn’t have to go anywhere to be included in the new Hypermodern World Interior. And all his analogue photographs could be dissolved from their nitrate surfaces and melted into cyberspace directly from his brain as his camera became an appendage of the new World Interior. His vinyl records were dissolved and liquefied, and his celluloid films transformed into bytes that obsolesced the movie projector. All analogue media were liquefied, dissolved and fed into the new matrix.
Now the individual became empowered to become a new kind of entity, for Hypermodernism has created the Hyperindividual, a new–and bizarre–kind of individual that is nothing like the traditional Western idea of the transcendent Self, for this new self is floating, discarnate, deworlded and decontextualized from all world horizons. The Hyperindividual has no connection with history, community or any kind of idealistic, utopian projects. Those all characterized the past. The Hyperindividual is a world unto himself.
Hypermodernity pours liquid scorn upon all utopian projects, since such projects presuppose a historical narrative behind them. The Hypermodern individual has no connection with the past or the future, indeed, does not even have any connection with the preceding moment, for he / she exists in a timeless, spaceless, ahistorical and modular present.
The structure of Time in Hypermodernity is modular: it is composed of a succession of present moments, each of which is isolated and has no relationship to any preceding moment, or any future moment. The ontology of the individual is that of an amoral hedonist achieving sensory gratification in each present moment, which is disconnected from all others. As a result, there are no values and there are no visions and above all, no connection of the individual to any traditional social formations. He has become a nomad, on his own, disconnected, modular and historyless. (Hence, the advent of the Dangerous Loner, a new anthropological type of Hypermodernity).
Whereas the Transcendental Self of Western history was an objective entity who was actually embedded in a historical flow that connected him ultimately all the way back to the Greeks, the Hypermodern individual has no connections to anything but the luminous glow of cyberspace.
Now that he / she has become disconnected from all utopian projects and all sense of community–for there are no longer any world spaces for him to gather within as part of one or another social grouping–he / she can, within the World Interior, gigantify him or herself to the level of an Icon by using the new media that enable this process to take place: as I pointed out in my 2011 book The New Media Invasion, Jeff Bezos is Amazon, Mark Zuckerberg is Facebook, Larry Page and Sergey Brin are Google. On Facebook, the Hypermodern individual becomes a unique presence in cyberspace, with his own website and his own videos; the technology now enables him or her to gigantify out of all proportion to any relation of scale that would connect him to any group or social formation whatsoever.
Thus, the sobering truth now begins to dawn: Marxism is dead. Critical Theory is dead. The public intellectual is dead. For all these phenomena presuppose connections of the individual to larger social formations beyond himself as a modular unit isolated to sensual gratification in the present moment. The Internet–with its satellized connections to the Exosphere–unplugs and deworlds the individual, putting him into orbit about the planet.
Hence revolutionary protest groups such as the Weatherman underground of the 1970s, or the Baader-Meinhof group in the German Democratic Republic of the 1970s now give way to the phenomenon of the lonely, isolated spree killer who stands for Nothing and represents no one. The spree killer, disconnected from all social formations whatsoever, wishes to leave a Mark on the socius because he feels somehow disincluded from the larger project of Modernity. The irony is, however, that in actuality there is nothing that he is disincluded from since Hypermodernity has melted down all coherent social formations. The modular individual as world island unto himself is the only ontological self that exists in Hypermodernity.
Under the conditions of Hypermodernity, there is no longer any Art World, per se, no longer any New York or Paris that functions as a cosmopolitan world center for the artist to be a part of. Art now, simply exists wherever there happens to be an artist–scattered at random across the striated landscapes of the global planetary surface–or he is a criminal who, like Banksy, must get into the city, make his mark–just like a spree killer–and get out quickly. Anselm Kiefer, with his isolated junk shop world horizon at La Ribaute, typifies this new ontological status of the artist as a loner who creates his art out of junked signifiers taken higgeldy-piggeldy from the blown out civilizations of the past.
Is there any longer even such as thing as the practice of art as an activity distinct from, say, science? The plasticene anatomical corpses of Gunther Hagens would seem to defy any clear separation of art from science. In these new vague ontologies, an artist like Anselm Kiefer begins to take on the ontological status of a junkyard dealer.
Under the conditions of Hypermodernity, there are no more Art Movements, only individual artists dotting the ontological Clearing opened up by this new, and uncertain global World Interior.
Hypermodernity is the Death of Art. But not, perhaps, of the artist, who manages to eke out a living like a retrieval of some Robinson Crusoe figure washed ashore with a junkheap of broken signifiers from dead worlds surrounding him.
On the economic plane, Hypermodernity is based upon the neoliberalization of the planet under Clinton in the 1990s. With Free Trade Agreements, the World Bank, GATT and NAFTA, the economy is sent into orbit around the planet and becomes deworlded: all local economies–such as the farmer in a village in Mexico–are simply wiped out, and the result is the empowerment of local criminal organizations, such as the cartels in Mexico, or the Russian mafias, which rush in to fill the gap and try to supply the missing supplement of local need. Thus, the economic transformation creates as a side effect its own internal proletariats and what the German theoretician Heiner Muhlmann calls “disruptive cultures” as a result. Empowering the global ecumene means a disempowering of local community structures, generating violent counterreactions in turn.
Finally, in Hypermodernity there is no longer anything to achieve. Marxism is dead. Utopianism is dead. Revolutionary movements–despite the Arab Spring–are gone. Idealism is non-existent under such conditions, since Hypermodernity locks the individual into a modular present that is disconnected from all preceding presents. There is only the Now. Anything that has occurred more than 48 hours ago, simply ceases to exist.
Civilization has now become the sum total of its population: a planet of individuals achieving instant gratification, amoral, valueless, unmotivated and without Vision. All exoskeletal “spheres,” to use Peter Sloterdijk’s term, are gone and now there is only social “foam,” that is to say, individuals rubbing up against other individuals, each with their own private semiotic sign regime clashing with each other’s. In Modernity, civilizations with their own sign regimes clashed with one another; in Postmodernity, terrorist groups as social formations clashed; but in Hypermodernity each individual is a nation state unto himself armed and equipped with his own electronic sign regime to do battle with other suits of light in cyberspace.
With the annihilation of all geographic distance due to globalizing technologies, there is now nowhere for the individual to go to. The World Interior of the civilization now exists on a glowing, self-luminous surface in front of him. There is, furthermore, nothing to achieve, since all utopian projects have come to an end with the liquidation of all social formations.
In Hypermodernity, too much is never enough, for it is a society of excess, surfeit and signifier overload. Anyone can become “famous” for any reason, but under the conditions of constant electronic liquefaction, that fame will last precisely 48 hours. In a society in which everyone can become famous, no one in particular is famous. Thus, the structuring anthropological types of the previous world order of postmodernity are simply melted down under the impact of the unfolding architecture of planetary cyberspace: celebrities and public intellectuals cannot exist under such conditions because the digital technologies of Hypermodernity enable anyone to enter the civilizational Clearing without the slightest effort. Hence, there is no discipline that is necessary to master because all such conditions have been liquefied and melted down, to be thrown onto the junkheap along with all other civilizational paradigms.
But: there is an Empire to build, and you must be careful, in this new world interior, what you do and say, for you–as a perpetual and continuous inhabitant of its inside–are constantly under surveillance. There is no place where you are not. The Forum and the Agora are everywhere.
You do not need to go to them, they are already wherever you are.
You are civilization.