This page in no way attempts to provide an exhaustive overview of postmodernism. You won’t be an expert on Postmodernism after this discussion or the next 20. We’re simply scratching the surface of this complex theory.
Jameson’s Postmodernism, or , The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Duke UP, 1990)
Fredric Jameson is a tough read, but he’s important to bring up (remember, we’re just introducing this) when discussing postmodernism.
Although I didn’t assign Jameson, I like to think of Jameson in context of the rise of postmodern(ist) scholarship. Before we get into that, we ought to consider Jameson’s caution about theorizing Postmodernism itself. He warns that it’s difficult:
- “Postmodernism theory seems indeed to be a ceaseless process of internal rollover in which the position of the observer is turned inside out and the tabulation recontinued on some larger scale” (p. 64).
- when defining ideology’s function… “the production of functioning and living ideologies, is distinct in different historical situations…[and] there may be historical situations in which it is not possible at all–and this would seem to be our situation in the current crisis” (p. 53).
Although Jameson isn’t as well known in popular circles, he does sort of figure into the “Culture Wars” of the 1990s. Postmodern theory and theorizing gave rise to new kinds of scholarship (more on that soon…) that critiqued the hegemonic ideology of American society (and Western). Also, it’s (usually) embraced by the Left, and, therefore, anathema to the Right. However, the postmodern condition isn’t a movement that you can be on or off–you’re situated in it.
Postmodern theory is beneficial for all kinds of study inside the academy, but here are my reasons for English Studies:
- Literature: Jameson brings up interpretations of literature in his chapter (which I didn’t assign), and you should know that Postmodernism (PoMo) is crucial for serious literature students. Unless I missed something in the last few years, Postmodernism is the dominant analytical framework for literature over the last 25 years.
- Rhetoric/Composition: Because we think about student identity as a culmination of one’s experiences (even if some of us think they’re totally socially constructed), PoMo theory allows us to consider the multiple positions from which people argue, write, consider, and participate in the culture.
- Technical Communication: Well, as a member of a postindustrial, global economy, you need to understand how hierarchies lend themselves to technological production and, in turn, how humans interact with technology. Without that insight, you could edit a document, but you can’t re-vision one. Thinking about best approaches for users requires technical communicators to consider perspectives beyond their own culturally situated point of view. One must ask appropriate questions in order to more effectively communicate to a variety of audiences, including audiences that might not be known…
If you want a date, post WWII (circa 1945).
History: no monolithic narratives; not necessarily a story of universal human progress; different interests interweave with and question each other (Malpas, p. 99).
- Africana Studies (African Diaspora)
- Queer Theory
- Class Studies
- “historical pluralism” (Malpas, p. 99)
These and others have challenged “traditional” ideas of historical/social narratives. Often those in power write history from their privileged perspective.
Architecture: Fredric Jameson sees it as aspiring to “a total space, a complete word, a miniature city” (p. 40).
- Generate multi-layered spaces for inhabitants
- Often structures will help users (consumers) have a totalizing experience. (Mall, Towne Centre, Vegas Casino, etc.)
- Robert Venturi’s Learning from Las Vegas discusses Vegas Casinos’ attempt to be a totalizing experience
- Familiarity across distances (McDonald’s in Charlotte is the same in LA)
Art: art with no single purpose and no need to change the world; increased democratization of art and increased types of forms and techniques for producing art.
- Attempt to level artificial boundaries such as low and high
- Embraces Markets
- Literature: questions of ontology (the nature of being, of a subject’s existence)
- Textual self awareness: a text is reflexive of itself as a text…
- Fragmented narratives and realities
- Parody: “A literary composition modelled on and imitating another work, esp. a composition in which the characteristic style and themes of a particular author or genre are satirized by being applied to inappropriate or unlikely subjects, or are otherwise exaggerated for comic effect” (From the online OED, which you should have access to on campus).
- Pastiche: “concerned only with the superficial appropriation of different modes and genres for the generation of its own performative style” (Malpas, p. 25).
- Satire: “A poem, or in modern use sometimes a prose composition, in which prevailing vices or follies are held up to ridicule. Sometimes, less correctly, applied to a composition in verse or prose intended to ridicule a particular person or class of persons, a lampoon” (From the online OED, which you should have access to on campus).
Politics: economic theories from Baudrillard, consumption and simulation
- We are the sum total of our purchases
- Late-capitalist system—built-in obsolescence (iphone, HDTV, fashion, next-generation this and that)
- Commodification of all that’s possible or that can be conceived
What are the limits to commodification in contemporary American Culture?
Hyperreality: (Baudrillard) “creation of media, film, and computer technologies have come to be more real for us, and interact more fundamentally with our experiences and desires, than…realities of nature or spiritual life” (Malpas, p. 125).
- What is “real” is simulated or artificial, even on a collective scale; collectively, members of a culture believe in the reality of the simulation
- Media saturation turning events into commodities; infotainment
Resistance: (Least recognized, highly debatable) Well, in theory, resistance is a component of the postmodern, but it’s often absorbed by corporate entities or dominant entities.
- Emancipation in the nature of postmodernist art, theory, and culture
- Demonstrates the fractures and silences of grand narratives
- Exposes contemporary false consciousness
- No universal consensus is possible—millions of special interests
Moral relativism critique of postmodernism: if there’s no absolute truth, than one’s “moral” position is relative and can’t be wrong.
Compare this discussion with value pluralism (or moral pluralism), which recognizes that different ethical stances can be acceptable even if contradictory to the others.
Understanding Arguments in the Postmodern
Ways of knowing or, more accurately, ways of arguing often get supported by the following:
- Tastes and convictions
Truth is often defined as facts, so the above list is ranked from more personal knowledge (1) to most socially accepted knowledge (4).
Where might “statistics” go?
Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke UP, 1991.
Malpas, Simon. The Postmodern. London: Routledge, 2005.