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.