As the importance of a Foucault, a Jacques Derrida or a Roland Barthes attests, postmodernism is hard to conceive without continental theory, structuralism and poststructuralism in particular. Both have led us to reflect upon culture as a corpus of codes or myths (Barthes), as a set of imaginary resolutions to real contradictions (Claude Levi-Strauss). In this light, a poem or picture is not necessarily privileged, and the artifact is likely to be treated less as a work in modernist terms unique, symbolic, visionarythan as a text in a postmodernist sense "already written," allegorical, contingent. With this textual model, one postmodernist strategy becomes clear: to deconstruct modernism not in order to seal it in its own image but in order to open it, to rewrite it; to open its closed systems (like the museum) to the "heterogeneity of texts" (Crimp), to rewrite its universal techniques in terms of "synthetic contradictions" (Frampton) in short, to challenge its master narratives with the "discourse of others" (Owens).
These concerns are signalled here by the rubric "anti-aesthetic," which is not intended as one more assertion of the negation of art or of representation as such. It was modernism that was marked by such "negations," espoused in the anarchic hope of an "emancipatory effect" or in the utopian dream of a time of pure presence, a space beyond representation. This is not the case here: all these critics take for granted that we are never outside representation or rather, never outside its politics. Here then, "anti-aesthetic" is the sign not of a modern nihilism which so often transgressed the law only to confirm it but rather of a critique which destructures the order of representations in order to reinscribe them.
"Anti-aesthetic" also signals that the very notion of the aesthetic, its network of ideas, is in question here: the idea that aesthetic experience exists apart, without "purpose," all but beyond history, or that art can now effect a world at once (inter)subjective, concrete and universal a symbolic totality. Like "postmodernism," then, "anti-aesthetic" marks a cultural position on the present: are categories afforded by the aesthetic still valid? (For example, is the model of subjective taste not threatened by mass mediation, or that of universal vision by the rise of other cultures?) More locally, "anti-aesthetic" also signals a practice, cross-disciplinary in nature, that is sensitive to cultural forms engaged in a politic (e.g., feminist art) or rooted in a vernacular that is, to forms that deny the idea of a privileged aesthetic realm.