17 September, 2010

Postmodern society

Jameson views a number of phenomena as distinguishing postmodernity from modernity. He speaks of "a new kind of superficiality" or "depthlessness" in which models that once explained people and things in terms of an "inside" and an "outside" (such as hermeneutics, the dialectic, Freudian repression, the existentialist distinction between authenticity and inauthenticity and the semiotic distinction of signifier and signified) have been rejected.
Second is a rejection of the modernist "Utopian gesture", evident in Van Gogh, of the transformation through art of misery into beauty whereas in the postmodernism movement the object world has undergone a "fundamental mutation" so that it has "now become a set of texts or simulacra" (Jameson 1993:38). Whereas modernist art sought to redeem and sacralize the world, to give life to world (we might say, following Graff, to give the world back the enchantment that science and the decline of religion had taken away from it), postmodernist art bestows upon the world a "deathly quality… whose glacéd X-ray elegance mortifies the reified eye of the viewer in a way that would seem to have nothing to do with death or the death obsession or the death anxiety on the level of content" (ibid.). Graff sees the origins of this transformative mission of art in an attempted substitution of art for religion in giving meaning to the world that the rise of science and Enlightenment rationality had removed - but in the postmodern period this is seen as futile.
The third feature of the postmodern age that Jameson identifies is the "waning of affect" - not that all emotion has disappeared from the postmodern age but that it lacks a particular kind of emotion such as that found in "Rimbaud's magical flowers 'that look back at you'". He notes that "pastiche eclipses parody" as "the increasing unavailability of the personal style" leads to pastiche becoming a universal practice.
Jameson argues that distance "has been abolished" in postmodernity, that we "are submerged in its henceforth filled and suffused volumes to the point where our now postmodern bodies are bereft of spatial co-ordinates". This "new global space" constitutes postmodernity's "moment of truth". The various other features of the postmodern that he identifies "can all now be seen as themselves partial (yet constitutive) aspects of the same general spatial object". The postmodern era has seen a change in the social function of culture. He identifies culture in the modern age as having had a property of "semi-autonomy", with an "existence… above the practical world of the existent" but, in the postmodern age, culture has been deprived of this autonomy, the cultural has expanded to consume the entire social realm so that all becomes "cultural". "Critical distance", the assumption that culture can be positioned outside "the massive Being of capital" upon which left-wing theories of cultural politics are dependent, has become outmoded. The "prodigious new expansion of multinational capital ends up penetrating and colonizing those very pre-capitalist enclaves (Nature and the Unconscious) which offered extraterritorial and Archimedean footholds for critical effectivity". (Jameson 1993:54)

(text source: Wikipedia on Postmodernity, paragraph Postmodern society)