Frederic Jameson: Postmodernism

[Readings] (08.29.08, 4:10 pm)


Jameson opens his chapter with some general and vague articulation of contemporary culture. The general trend is that the understanding of the future has changed from a catastrophic or redemptive vision, to a declarative finality: the end of ideology, art, social class, etc. This attitude is what Jameson calls postmodernism. Postmodernism is characterized by, at least in its etymology, by being the state after the movement of modernism. The postmodern is sort of a declarative end of modernism and all that it stands for.

Jameson gives some discussion of the modern- generally through examples. Many recent works are characteristic of “high-modernism”. The defining point of modernism seems to be an elitism, destroying and reconstructing traditions in pursuit of a certain ideal utopia. Postmodernism, by comparison is characterized by the popular. The postmodern seeks to erase the distinction between high and low culture or art as defined by modernism. Instead, the postmodern adopts and incorporates popular and low culture into its substance.

Seemingly, Jameson is attempting to analyze this through a “periodizing hypothesis”, as opposed to an account of postmodernism as a single movement among others. This method of investigation is intended to give credence to the nature of postmodernism as one, a new period separate from modernism, and two, a “cultural dominant” that incorporates and subsumes other features.

On footwear: Jameson gives an extended example of Van Gogh’s “A Pair of Boots” as a high modern work, because its evocative reference to a larger system of a world and values (peasants, the suffering of work life). Van Gogh uses color to romanticize and make utopian common objects. This approach makes the art form a form of powerful representation, in the sense that it is heavily symbolic and stands for ideas, and a system of meaning.

The postmodern example is Andy Warhol’s “Diamond Dust Shoes”, which is dead and lifeless, detached from a sense that the objects might have a life or history, but they are rather random and inert. This work still conveys meaning, but it is not conveyed representationally, the work does not represent meaning, but rather evokes meaning from the viewer’s association of the commodity.

Postmodernism is also characterized by a “waning of affect”, where feeling and emotion are left lacking in newer images. Instead, images are commodified and are referential to the surface only, suggesting that there is only the image. This regression of images ties back to Baudrillard and simulacra. Common themes of the modern, anxiety and alienation, are missing or are inappropriate in the postmodern.

Instead of representation and explicit signification, the postmodern uses simulacra in the sense of Baudrillard. Instead of representation, the postmodern connotates, parodies, or uses pastiche. Contemporary works can no longer represent the past, instead they can only represent our ideas and stereotypes of the past. The postmodern in this sense is able to destroy history as a concrete thing.

The understanding of history in the postmodern era is schizophrenic. Instead of having a concrete chain of signification that composes a coherent meaning, postmodern memory has a breakdown of meaning, in the form of “a rubble of distinct and unrelated signifiers.”

Jameson spends time exploring some final notes on mapping and architecture. Postmodern architecture and mapping are characterized by a lack of signification. The postmodern building is a totally self contained and nearly imaginary structure, without traditional ideas of reference and space. This leads to an alienation that can be seen as a lack of mapping. Traditional mapping connects the imaginary and the real, or the space with the map (or the model). A postmodern work/map/building must be dissociated and global. What that means, or how it would play out is left to be determined.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorJameson, Frederic
TitlePostmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
Tagsmedia theory, dms, postmodernism
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

1 Comment »

  1. […] are “megastructures,” much like the hermetically sealed bubbles described by Jameson in Postmodernism. These are places with no readily visible or accessible ways in or out (on foot, anyway), and are […]

    Pingback by Icosilune » William Whyte: The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces — January 6, 2009 @ 10:59 pm

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