The terms postmodern and hypermodern are consistently present in the work of Gilles Lipovetsky. Postmodernity generally describes the cultural and economic state of society which emerged towards the end of the 20th century, after the age of modernity in which we saw a move away from feudalism towards a more capitalist, surveillance society. Hypermodernity comes after and represents a stage in society which points towards a deepening or intensification of postmodernity. Lipovetsky examines these eras and observes what changes they have brought about in terms of society as a whole, and the individual within it.
This essay will look at the significance of Lipovetsky’s use of the terms postmodern and hypermodern, paying particular attention to ‘L’i?? re du Vide’ and ‘Les Temps Hypermodernes’. L’i?? re du vide is a series of essays written in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s that reflect a particular point in French history in the aftermath of 1968, when the ideas of that period were becoming widely disseminated and, to a certain extent, there was a decline of the of traditional reference points such as the church; family; social norms; and political ideologies.
It is important to note that although the title, ‘L’i?? re du vide’ appears to be extremely negative, the general feeling of the text is rather optimistic which reflects Lipovetsky’s typically positive attitude. In this book Lipovetsky discusses the loosening and relaxation of the rigid boundaries of the authoritarian disciplinary and control models that typified modernity. He suggests that this has resulted in people beginning to look to themselves, rather than to their surroundings, in order to construct their identity and find ways of making their lives more meaningful.
This is evident when he maintains that individuals are no longer defined by their background, their inheritance, or their environment, which allows a certain degree of self-invention to take place. This is a concept that has been debated by numerous commentators, including Sennett and Lash (who focuses particularly on the notion of narcissism), who have argued that this new focus on the self is extremely negative for society, claiming that this inward-looking self-indulgence leads the individual to become disconnected from others and the world around them.
It could be argued that Lipovetsky is in dialogue with people such as Sennett and Lash in the sense that he is interested by their ideas, and actually shares some of them, however as illustrated above, he does not always go along with them. This difference in opinion may well be down to a difference in culture, as Lipovetsky is writing in the French context. Lipovetsky puts forward a different, more positive argument. Although acknowledging the triumph of consumption, he wants to challenge the notion that this leads to a complete ideological and moral vacuum.
He suggests instead that there is a new type of individuality arising in which life is becoming more personalised and in which people are trying to find a new median to connect with others. One of the main themes in L’i?? re du vide is that as society has moved away from the rigid structure of the disciplinary era, systems of seduction have replaced the systems of regulation and control as a means of shaping society: “.. non par les forces de la Revolution mais par les ondes radieuses de la si??duction… la si?? duction est devenue le processus general tendant i?? ri?? gler la consummation, les organisations, l’information, l’i?? ducation, les moers”
This is the recognition that it is no longer a question of telling people what to do, but more a question of persuading them to choose to do it for themselves. For example, people are no longer forbidden to smoke by legislative degree; instead they are made aware of the negative effects of nicotine on their health and their life expectancy2.
It is important to recognise that Lipovetsky makes it clear that he does not feel that is achieved through any deception, but instead through this systematic process of personalisation which consists of proposing a wider range of diverse options to the individual so that they are better equipped to make their own choice. An interesting aspect of postmodern society that Lipovetsky goes on to discuss is the emergence of ‘le modi?? le self-service’. By this he does not just mean actual self-service, for example self-service restaurants.
He wants to demonstrate that, in addition to people being able to pick and choose in terms of their material consumption, they also have a choice in the way they live and construct their lives as individuals. This is illustrated when he says “D’ores et di?? ji?? le self-service, l’i?? xistence i?? la carte, di?? signent le modi?? le gi?? ni?? rale de la vie dans les socii?? ti?? s contemporaines qui voient prolifi?? rer de fai?? on vertigineuse les sources d’information, l’i?? ventail des produits exposi?? s …
Telles est la socii?? ti?? post-moderne, caracterisi??e par une tendance globale i?? ri?? duire les rapports autoritaires et dirigistes et simultani?? ment i?? accroi?? tre les choix privi?? s … “3. Throughout L’i?? re du vide Lipovetsky points to a variety of other ways in which this loosening of constraints and personalisation can be seen to be taking place. He discusses the way in which society has moved away from the concept of a tailored worker who continually carries out the same gesture in a disciplined fashion time after time, towards a post-modern scenario in which job enrichment is present.