In or about 1966, modernity changed. In the spirit of recent reflections on “the year as period,” the present article undertakes a thought experiment: What if we dated the beginning of postmodernism to 1966 instead of, say, 1972–73, the date preferred by Charles Jencks, Fredric Jameson, and Andreas Killen, among others? What might such a thought experiment tell us about postmodernism, and about periodization in general? Even more decisively than in 1973, culture in 1966 is characterized by a series of “breakdowns”—of developments that get ahead of themselves, that stall out and recoil on themselves. Traceable across a variety of cultural practices, this pattern is especially evident in rock music, which achieves aesthetic “escape velocity” in 1966 in such works as the Beatles' Revolver and Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde but then stalls out. The pattern of stall and recoil is only one of a number of topological signatures of cultural practices and products also datable to 1966, among them the rediscovery of meta (self-reflection, recursiveness, strange loops) and the opening of paraworld spaces. These topological signatures constitute the building blocks of a postmodernist poetics.

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