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Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism_Postmodernism as Cultural Dominant Frederick Jameson [cognitive mapping]

A last preliminary word on method: what follows is not to be read as stylistic description, as the account of one cultural style or movement among others. I have rather meant to offer a periodizing hypothesis, and that at a moment in which the very conception of historical periodization has come to seem most problematical indeed. I have argued elsewhere that all isolated or discrete cultural analysis always involves a buried or repressed theory of historical periodization; in any case, the conception of the ‘genealogy’ largely lays to rest traditional theoretical worries about so-called linear history, theories of ‘stages’, and teleological historiography. In the present context, however, lengthier theoretical discussion of such (very real) issues can perhaps be replaced by a few substantive remarks.

* In ‘The Politics of Theory’, New German Critique, 32, Spring/Summer 1984.

One of the concerns frequently aroused by periodizing hypotheses is 55that these tend to obliterate difference, and to project an idea of the historical period as massive homogeneity (bounded on either side by inexplicable ‘chronological’ metamorphoses and punctuation marks). This is, however, precisely why it seems to me essential to grasp ‘postmodernism’ not as a style, but rather as a cultural dominant: a conception which allows for the presence and coexistence of a range of very different, yet subordinate features.

Consider, for example, the powerful alternative position that postmod- ernism is itself little more than one more stage of modernism proper (if not, indeed, of the even older romanticism); it may indeed be conceded that all of the features of postmodernism I am about to enumerate can be detected, full-blown, in this or that preceding modernism (including such astonishing genealogical precursors as Gertrude Stein, Raymond Roussel, or Marcel Duchamp, who may be considered outright post- modernists, avant la lettre). What has not been taken into account by this view is, however, the social position of the older modernism, or better still, its passionate repudiation by an older Victorian and post-Victorian bourgeoisie, for whom its forms and ethos are received as being variously ugly, dissonant, obscure, scandalous, immoral, subversive and generally ‘anti-social’. It will be argued here that a mutation in the sphere of culture has rendered such attitudes archaic. Not only are Picasso and Joyce no longer ugly; they now strike us, on the whole, as rather ‘realistic’; and this is the result of a canonization and an academic institutionalization of the modern movement generally, which can be traced to the late 1950s. This is indeed surely one of the most plausible explanations for the emergence of postmodernism itself, since the younger generation of the 1960s will now confront the formerly oppositional modern movement as a set of dead classics, which ‘weigh like a nightmare on the brains of the living’, as Marx once said in a different context.

As for the postmodern revolt against all that, however, it must equally be stressed that its own offensive features—from obscurity and sexually explicit material to psychological squalor and overt expressions of social and political defiance, which transcend anything that might have been imagined at the most extreme moments of high modernism—no longer scandalize anyone and are not only received with the greatest complac- ency but have themselves become institutionalized and are at one with the official culture of Western society.

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If we cannot be fully present, we cannot be fully free.

Of great interest, is and has always been the ways in which we are profoundly influenced by our environment and the ways in which we affect our environment, both realities are instrumental in the shaping of our biological, intellectual and mythological understanding of events.

A philosophical rationalization of the known and the acquired can be found in Habermas, under the subheading, Some Characteristics of the Mythical and the Modern Ways of Understanding the World. Habermas conceives of systemic changes in worldviews as not solely psychological, economic or sociological in other words caused by external factors-but also related to an internally reconstructable growth of knowledge.[1]  Such internal growth of knowledge can be understood as individual consciousness, which is and can only be guided by the structure of the mechanism within which it is conceived. The challenge therefore lies in understanding the external mechanism to be as influenced by the internal mechanism as the latter is by the former. This relationship may be informed by geographic realities as well as fantastical speculations the contemplation of which leads us to the formation of social structures and social values. Thus an awareness of space and place allows individuals to recognize their relationship with the world around them, when prevalent this state of being evolves a social collective based on the collective rather than subjective conscious. This can be viewed as a departure from metaphysical and ideological abstraction to a mode of essential being, the recognition of a greater good.

I ponder the concept of sound/noise creation as part of a collective to be a catalyst of such consciousness in that the acoustic qualities of space make the experience of sound/noise creation place specific and therefore deeply rooted in the present while the necessary active participation affirms a sense of self and a sense of value. Collective sound/noise creation is maintained through active engagement by the individual and critical analysis of the self in relation to the whole. In order to achieve the common goal of collective soun/noise creation, each aspect of the engagement must the negotiated and renegotiated until the collective enters the golden moment [2] of social participation. Such active engagement as part of a group endeavor is what Habermas terms communicative action and represents a plausible model for achieving democratic dialogue. Not only is it vital that we actively engage with our environment in a meaningful way but perhaps more so, it is essential that we listen for environmental changes and are sensitive to individuals within the collective conscious which this environment houses. My thinking is influenced by the work of Pauline Oliveros, who’s life long practice of deep listening demands a reversal of the indoctrinated attitudes of passing on information and focuses on the receiving of information. The practice of continually receiving gives rise to constant renewal, which, accommodates the flux nature of our world and may place us in a better position to explore the potential of our intellect and being, in other words to enter a state of becoming which may sustain our internal and external worlds more effectively than our attempts thus far.


[1] Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action. Vol. 1 Reason and the Rationalization of Society. Beacon Press 1984. p. 65 ­

[2] Sean Taylor, The Golden Moment, the moment at which a project no longer fully belongs to any one entity and its sustainability becomes the common goal for many.