JAMESON, in his magisterial work, Postmodernism,
or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991), has offered us
a particularly influential analysis of our current postmodern condition.
Like Jean Baudrillard, whose concept of the simulacrum
he adopts, Jameson is highly critical of our current historical situation;
indeed, he paints a rather dystopic
picture of the present, which he associates, in particular, with a loss
of our connection to history. What we are left with is a fascination
with the present. According to Jameson, postmodernity has transformed
the historical past into a series of emptied-out stylizations (what
Jameson terms pastiche) that can then be commodified and consumed. (See
the next module on pastiche.)
The result is the threatened victory of capitalist thinking over all
other forms of thought.
Jameson contrasts this postmodern situation
with the modernist situation that has been superceded. Whereas modernism
still believed in "some residual zones of 'nature' or 'being,'
of the old, the older, the archaic" and still believed that one
could "do something to that nature and work at transforming that
'referent'" (ix), postmodernism has lost a sense of any distinction
between the Real and Culture. For Jameson, postmodernity amounts to
"an immense dilation of [culture's] sphere (the sphere of commodities),
an immense and historically original acculturation of the Real"
(x). Whereas "modernism was still minimally and tendentially the
critique of the commodity and the effort to make it transcend itself,"
postmodernism "is the consumption of sheer commodification as a
process" (x). That apparent victory of commodification over all
spheres of life marks postmodernity's reliance on the "cultural
logic of late capitalism." (See Marx:
Modules: Jameson: Late Capitalism.)
Following from this economic base for thinking
about postmodernity, Jameson proceeds to pinpoint a number of symptoms
that he associates with the postmodern condition:
weakening of historicity. Jameson sees our "historical deafness"
(xi) as one of the symptoms of our age, which includes "a series
of spasmodic and intermittent, but desperate, attempts at recuperation
(x). Postmodern theory itself Jameson sees as a desperate attempt to
make sense of the age but in a way that refuses the traditional forms
of understanding (narrative, history, the reality obscured by ideology).
For postmodernists, there is no outside of ideology or textuality; indeed,
postmodern theory questions any claim to "truth" outside of
culture; Jameson sees this situation as itself a symptom of the age,
which in turn plays right into the hands of capitalism: "postmodernism
is not the cultural dominant of a wholly new social order..., but only
the reflex and the concomitant of yet another systemic modification
of capitalism itself" (xii). Jameson calls instead for the return
of history; hence, his mantra: "always historicize!" Jameson
pinpoints a weakening of history "both in our relationship to public
History and in the new forms of our private temporality, whose 'schizophrenic'
structure (following Lacan) will determine new types of syntax or syntagmatic
relationships in the more temporal arts" (Postmodernism
6). As Jameson explains, the schizophrenic suffers from a "breakdown
of the signifying chain" in his/her use of language until "the
schizophrenic is reduced to an experience of pure material signifiers,
or, in other words, a series of pure and unrelated presents in time"
27). Our loss of historicity, according to Jameson, most resembles
such a schizophrenic position.
2) a breakdown of the distinction
between "high" and "low" culture. As Jameson
puts it, the various forms of postmodernism "have, in fact, been
fascinated precisely by this whole 'degraded' landscape of schlock and
kitsch, of TV
series and Reader's Digest culture, of advertising and motels, of the
late show and the grade-B Hollywood film, of so-called paraliterature,
with its airport paperback categories of the gothic and the romance,
the popular biography, the murder mystery, and the science fiction or
fantasy novel: materials they no long simply 'quote,' as a Joyce or
a Mahler might have done, but incorporate into their very substance"
new depthlessness, which finds its prolongation both in contemporary
'theory' and in a whole new culture of the image or the simulacrum"
6). This depthlessness is, of course, supported by point # 5. The
depthlessness manifests itself through literal flatness (two dimensional
screens, flat skyscrapers full of reflecting windows) and qualitative
superficiality. In theory, it manifests itself through the postmodern
rejection of the belief that one can ever fully move beyond the surface
appearances of ideology or "false consciousness" to some deeper
truth; we are left instead with "multiple surfaces" (Postmodernism
12). One result is "that our daily life, our psychic experience,
our cultural languages, are today dominated by categories of space rather
than by categories of time, as in the preceding period of high modernism"
waning of affect" (Postmodernism
10) and "a whole new type of emotional ground
tone—what I will call 'intensities'—which can best
be grasped by a return to older theories of the sublime" (Postmodernism
6). The general depthlessness and affectlessness of postmodern culture
is countered by outrageous claims for extreme moments of intense emotion,
which Jameson aligns with schizophrenia and a culture of (drug) addiction.
With the loss of historicity, the present is experienced by the schizophrenic
subject "with heightened intensity, bearing a mysterious charge
of affect" (Postmodernism
28), which can be "described in the negative terms of anxiety
and loss of reality, but which one could just as well imagine in the
positive terms of euphoria, a high, an intoxicatory or hallucinogenic
whole new technology (computers, digital culture, etc.), though
Jameson insists on seeing such technology as "itself a figure for
a whole new economic world system" (Postmodernism
6). Such technologies are more concerned with reproduction
rather than with the industrial production of material goods.