Fredric Jameson, The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998

Ch. 1 Postmodernism and Consumer Society

POSTMODERNISM: A periodizing concept whose function is to correlate the emergence of new formal features in culture with the emergence of a new type of social life and a new economic order (i.e., the society of the media, multinational capitalism)

Postmodernism as an ideology is a symptom of the deeper structural changes in our society and its culture as a whole, or in other words, in the mode of production.

(3; 50)

Emerges late 1940s-early 50s - Key transitional period: 1960s


- effacement of key boundaries or separations – ex. erosion of older distinction between high and mass/popular culture (10, 19)

- effacement of older categories of genre and discourse – ex. Foucault, whose work incorporates philosophy, history, social theory and political science (3)

- pastiche : the imitation of a peculiar or unique style, but without satire (a blank irony) (4)

- fragmentation of time into a series of perpetual presents: “schizophrenia” (20)

- the end of individualism : “death of the subject” (5)

- autoreferentiality : a cultural process designates its own cultural production as its content (14)

- disjunction between the body and the built environment : the transformation of reality into images - a symbol and analogue of our incapacity to map our current global, multinational and decentred communicational network (16+)

- breakdown of traditional narrative paradigms

Ch. 2 Theories of the Postmodern

Jameson discusses four general positions on postmodernism:

1. Antimodern/Propostmodern (Ihab Hassan, Jencks, Tom Wolfe)

- what is not yet called postmodernism is already saluted within modernism as a whole new way of thinking and being in the world (22)

- celebration of new informational high technology

- (Jencks) postmodern architecture distinguishes itself from that of high modernism through populist priorities – postmodern buildings celebrate their insertion into the heterogeneous fabric of the commercial landscape and renounce high-modernist claim to difference and innovation

= effacement of older distinction between high and so-called mass culture - what used to be stigmatized as ‘populism’ is now part of a new and enlarged cultural realm

2. Promodern/Antipostmodern (Habermas, Adorno, Hilton Kramer)

- discreditation of postmodernism by reaffirming the authentic impulse of a high modernist tradition that is still alive and well today

- it’s a conservative viewpoint that tries to eradicate the anti-middle-class stance of the classics and the modern and construct a new cultural counterrevolution

- Habermas associates modernist impulse with bourgeois Enlightenment and its still universalizing and utopian spirit (25)

- with Adorno, Habermas seeks to rescue and recommemorate what both see as the essentially negative, critical and utopian power of the great high modernisms

3. Promodern/Propostmodern (Lyotard)

- works associated with postmodernism will be assimilated back into classical modernism, so that postmodernism becomes little more than the form taken by the authentically modern in our own period, and a mere dialectical intensification of the old modernist impulse toward innovation

- postmodernism doesn’t follow modernism but precedes and prepares it – the postmodernisms all around us are the promise of the return and reinvention of a new high modernism (27)

4. Antimodern/Antipostmodern (Tafuri)

- postmodernism = a degeneration of the already stigmatized impulses of high modernism proper

- impossible to radically transform culture before there is a radical transformation of social relationships themselves (as per Marxist tradition: conception of ‘total system’ of capitalism) (28)

Ch. 3 Marxism and Postmodernism

Postmodernism = A third stage of capitalism :

- contains the idea of a ‘mode of production’

- resolves a longstanding malaise with traditional economic schemas in the Marxist tradition in the area of the media (not just aesthetic or stylistic considerations)

- J’s approach is totalizing : it considers the movement from a historical standpoint , as well as considering the political and ideological functionality of the concept

- postmodern theory characterizes a logic of difference or differentiation, which is systemic (the play of differences creates a new kind of identity on an abstract level)

- There has never been a prior moment in the history of capitalism when it enjoyed such elbow-room and space for manoeuvre: all the threatening forces it generated against itself in the past are today in disarray if not neutralized

- global capital seems to follow its own nature and inclinations without the usual precautions

- surviving enclaves of socio-economic difference have been absorbed and colonized by the commodity form

- the waning of our sense of history, and more particularly our resistance to globalizing or totalizing concepts like that of the mode of production itself, are a function of precisely this universalization of capitalism.

- the new reality tends to overwhelm those immersed in it:  where everything is henceforth systemic the very notion of a system seems to lose its reason for being (43)

- (Castoriadis) “…for the past 25 years, the productive forces have known a development that far surpassed anything that could have been imagined in the past. This development was, of course, influenced by modifications in the organization of capitalism, and it in turn has led to a number of others, but it has not put into question the substance of the capitalist relations of production. What appeared to Marx as a ‘contradiction’ that was to destroy the system, has instead been ‘resolved’ within the system.” (IIS 18)

- we now specify another higher kind of agency: multinational capital itself: a ‘non-human’ logic of capital (46) (like Weber’s formal rationality – the key phrase is “without regard for persons” – rationalization has a de-anthropomorphizing tendency) (FSR 191)

- agents of all sizes and dimensions are at work: consider (psychoanalytic) tradition of psychic and ideological ‘subject positions’ (47)

- (Gross) postmodernism as the ‘afterimage’ of late capitalism (AFTERIMAGES: Objective phenomena which are also mirages and pathologies; they dictate attention to optical processes, to the psychology of perception, and to dazzling qualities of the object) (47)

- another ‘definition’ of postmodernism: it’s actually a transitional period between 2 stages of capitalism

- new intl proletariat will reemerge

- need for ‘cognitive mapping’ - class consciousness of a new and hitherto undreamed of kind (49)

Ch. 4 The Antinomies of Postmodernity

Antinomies: Time and Space (per Kant’s a priori representations)

I. TIME (51)

time = speed

(rate/velocity vs. lived time)

- eclipse of inner time means that we read our subjectivity off the things outside

- (Virilio) the seeming speed of the outside world is itself a function of the demands of representation = technology vs. nature (52)

- it is as though an illusion of slower permanence accompanies the lived present like an optical projection, masking a change that only becomes visible when it falls outside the temporal frame (53)

- for a world population, time also becomes multicultural, and the hitherto airtight realms of demography and of industrial momentum begin to seep into each other

- too many new styles; too many people (creators suddenly find themselves unwanted owing to sheer population density)

- this new absolute temporality has everything to do with the urban – the modern era still had something to do with the arrogance of city people over the provincials; but now modern technologies are everywhere; there are no longer any provinces, and even the past comes to seem like an imperfect world (54)

- transformation of traditional ideology into Utopia , as a prefiguration of an abstract final moment of development coincident with a global rationalization, with a positive realization of the dialectic

- demystification in the contemporary period has its own ‘ruse of History’: destroying traditional societies to sweep the globe clean for the manipulations of the giant corporations

- media paradoxes result from the speed and tempo of the critical process, as well as the way in which all ideological and philosophical positions as such have in the media universe been transformed into their own ‘representations’ (57)

- the paradox from which we must set forth is the equivalence between an unparalleled rate of change on all the levels of social life and an unparalleled standardization of everything

- on a social and historical level, the temporality that modernization promised has been eclipsed to the benefit of a new condition in which that older temporality no longer exists, leaving an appearance of random changes that are mere stasis, a disorder after the end of history. (62)

- temporal paradox: absolute change equals stasis (61)

- Another paradox/antinomy:

If time has been reduced to the most punctual violence…then in the postmodern time has become space anyhow.

II. SPACE (63)

Time needs a spatial expression but space does not require a temporal expression

(in fact, space may be what represses temporality)

- if Difference and Identity are at stake in the temporal and spatial antinomy, then the difference in considerations of space is not temporal change of the form but variety and infinity, metonymy and heterogeneity

- capitalism divests us of heterogeneities and reduces them to equivalencies

- it seizes a landscape and flattens it out into a grid of identical parcels, then exposes it to the dynamic of a market that reorganizes space in terms of an identical value

- form of value is liberated from its former concrete or earthly content

- homogeneity derives from initial parcellization, which translates the money form and the logic of commodity production for a market back on to space itself (66)

- How is it possible for the most standardized and uniform social reality in history to emerge as the rich oil-smear sheen of absolute diversity and of the most unimaginable and unclassifiable forms of human freedom?

- spatial paradox: homogeneity equals heterogeneity (72)

Ch. 6 Transformations of the Image in Postmodernity

The history of vision and the visible:

Stage I: The Look (Sartre) (103)

The Look is what posits my immediate relationship to other people; but it does so by way of an unexpected reversal in which the experience of being looked at becomes primary and my own look a secondary reaction.

The Look is at the same time reversible; by returning it, I can attempt to place the Other in a similar position = a perpetual alternation which only the dialectical shift to the collective level can transform.

= ‘thingification,’ or reification in its literal sense: the visible subject becomes the object of the gaze

= domination: the Other (or myself) must submit to this objectification

= visibility as colonization

Stage II: Bureaucratization (Foucault) (107)

Knowledge + power = an instrument of measurement - forms of discipline, control and domination

- the visible becomes the bureaucratic gaze

- being looked at becomes a state of universal subjection – the new regime excludes agency

- an act of resistance can still give rise to a utopian space (but not in Foucauldian heterotopia)

- in the becoming universal of visibility, the abstract mind seems unable to find its niche or function in this unexpected primacy of a sense once subordinate to it.

BREAKTHROUGH in this 2nd moment: when the enigmatic object is replaced by a technological one, and in particular by mediatic technology.

- transformation of visibility into new speech

- the ‘image’ now imposes itself everywhere, and designates a technological origin

- paradoxical outcome of the bureaucratic eye: in the very process of revealing the intimate connection between seeing and knowledge, it suddenly turns out to posit the media

In our time, it is technology and the media which are the true bearers of the epistemological function. (110)

Stage III: Postmodernity (Jameson) (110)

The true moment of image society: human subjects begin to live a very different relationship to space and time, to existential experience as well as cultural consumption

- a euphoria of high technology

- in this new stage the very sphere of culture itself has expanded, becoming coterminous with market society in such a way that the cultural is no longer limited to its earlier, traditional or experimental forms, but is consumed throughout daily life itself

- social space is now completely saturated with the culture of the image

- the body is transformed into a passive and mobile field of ‘enregistrement’

- the image is the commodity