Post Modern Bankruptcy

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent “Impossible Conversations” exhibit is described by author Paula Marantz Cohen as a demonstration of post-modernism.  Post-modernism, writes Ms. Cohen, involves “contravening established conventions and expectations.”   I do not know what “skepticism toward meta-narratives”  means exactly, but Ms. Cohen explains this as “a puncturing of whatever may pretend to be universal or absolute.”   This explanation certainly brings her metaphor home for us bankruptcy types.

Ms. Cohen’s characterization of the post-modern as “using what is saleable, cool, or new and then discarding it when it is no longer saleable, cool, or new” also strikes a familar chord.  Since September 15, 2008 – the day on which Lehman Brothers filed the largest and most consequential chapter 11 case in history – we have all seen a radical (albeit, pragmatic) departure from established conventions and expectations.  Lehman may not have been the first post-modern bankruptcy, but it was certainly the case that ended  the “modern” era as we knew it.

There is a boldness in what is proposed, as well as in the judicial response.  Rules (whether official or unwritten) are used or not used, applied or not applied, depending on context or exigencies of circumstances. There is no longer a degree of predictability over whether or not an unusual DIP financing, collective bargaining agreement rejection, break up fee, asset purchase agreement, litigation settlement, or reorganization plan, will be proposed – or approved.  To paraphrase Ms. Cohen: “That’s post-modernism for you.”

Just as Ms. Cohen noted about the exhibit, the effect can be headache-inducing.

“Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations.” Through August 19. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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