Postmodern nostalgia and the innovation hype process

by Julien Kirch, March 14, 2018

In a book about Japanese culture and Cartesian perspective, I found an inspiring explanation of how a manga reuse foreign tropes :

In “Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” (1984), Fredric Jameson reads the formal planarity of Andy Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shoes as a symbolic expression of “the emergence of a new kind of flatness or depthlessness, a new kind of superficiality” in our world where objects “now become a set of texts or simulacra.”[1] Likewise, the shōjo Gothic style suggests that the superflat visual aesthetic implies a particular postmodern mode of vision and knowledge — a “way of seeing” (John Berger) or “scopic regime” (Martin Jay) — that “flattens” all “real” phenomena in the world into hyperreal signifiers “without origin or reality.”


In Kuroshitsuji, the setting of the narrative in late Victorian England forms the premise for a nostalgic simulation, recontextualization and reinscription of seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century Western European and English architecture, food, and dress. Postmodern nostalgia, as defined by Jameson, is the collective social desire to appropriate an idealized past through aesthetic representation or, to use Baudrillard’s term, simulation.[2] It involves emptying signs of the past of their historical referents, and reinscribing these signs with connotations of a vague “pastness” that construct Barthesian “mythologies” of the past as a “privileged lost object of desire” while effectively effacing “real history.”[3] The shōjo Gothic style in Kuroshitsuji performs this postmodern nostalgic simulation: the signs of Western European and English culture are “flattened” out, stripped of their historical referents, and transformed into idealized hyperreal images of an impeccably elegant and beautiful late Victorian aristocratic lifestyle.


As a postmodern practice of simulation, recontextualization and reinscription, the shōjo Gothic style ironically idealizes the modern. It nostalgically fictionalizes a Western European past in order to articulate the continuing desire of the Japanese nation in the present for the historical phenomenon of Western modernity projected into the future as an ideal to which to aspire.

— Superflat and the Postmodern Gothic: Images of Western Modernity in Kuroshitsuji by Waiyee Loh
Mechademia 7: Lines of Sight

What struck me is how the described process looks like what happens in the the innovation hype process: when we try to copy something that we identified as a desirable model, while actively ignoring its context.

So maybe the way we "innovate in IT" is not something specific to IT but something deeper linked to our current cultural context. Will next step be to ask consultants to read Fredric Jameson?

Finaly, postmodern nostalgia may be a good term for the process, as it’s more descriptive, and holds more cachet than the usual cargo cult, while avoiding its colonialist connotations.

1. Fredric Jameson, “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” in The Jameson Reader, eds. Michael Hardt and Kathi Weeks, 195-96 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995).
2. Ibid., 203-4
3. Ibid., 203-7