According to Frederic Jameson, modernism and postmodernism are cultural formations which accompany particular stages of capitalism. Jameson outlines three primary phases of capitalism which dictate particular cultural practices, including the production of art and literature:
- Market capitalism (18th – late 19th centuries) – Associated with realism.
- Monopoly Capitalism (late 19th – mid 20th centuries) – Associated with modernism.
- Multinational / Consumer Capitalism (current) – Associated with postmodernism.
Jameson claims that postmodernism is a new “cultural logic of capitalism,” that its fragmented image culture and aestheticization is part of a shift to a new global capitalism and that postmodernism is therefore not just another aesthetic style besides modernism but is a new cultural dominant.
Like Jameson’s characterization of postmodernism in terms of modes of production and technologies, the second facet, or definition, of postmodernism comes more from history and sociology than from literature or art history. This approach defines postmodernism as the name of an entire social formation, or set of social/historical attitudes; more precisely,this approach contrasts “postmodernity” with “modernity,” rather than “postmodernism” with “modernism.”
According to Jameson, pastiche is like the “imitation of a peculiar mask, speech in a dead language: but it is a neutral practice of such mimicry, without any of parody’s ulterior motives, amputated of the satiric impulse, devoid of laughter and of any conviction that alongside the abnormal tongue you have momentarily borrowed. . .Pastiche is thus blank parody, a statue with blind eyeballs.”
The difficulty of deriving new styles, accompanied by the lack of individualism, pushes society into a terminal repetition of lost styles. In other words, pastiche is the re-emergence and perpetuation of past modern cultural styles to the point of a stagnation and death of style. This repetition of modern styles does not, however, constitute a ‘style’ of its own.
The representation of past ideals and objectives through the appropriation of codified styles lead to what Jameson calls contemporary nostalgia culture. It is the collective desire for the images of a past one cannot retrieve that renders a definite ‘historicism’ in postmodern culture. Jameson sees this preoccupation with a sense of history as the result of a society in which nothing occurs. “This very triviality of everyday life in late capitalism is itself the desperate situation against which all the formal solutions, the strategies and subterfuges, of high culture as well as of mass culture, emerge: how to project the illusion that things still happen, that events still exist, that there are still stories to tell, in a situation in which the uniqueness and the irrevocability of private destinies and of individuality itself seem to have evaporated?”
Batman, for example, can be read as a nostalgic film for it does not represent one particular style or period but rather displays an array of many styles and periods to produce a nostalgic effect. Batman is a comic book hero that brings back memories of 1950s comic reading and at the same time the memory of the 1960s Batman television series.
Time, Space, and Schizophrenia
Crucial to Jameson’s understanding of the postmodern and his project of a cultural politics is the transition from a temporal logic to a spatial logic in postmodernism. The global capitalist or late capitalist culture is, as we have seen, what Jameson calls postmodernism. The spatialization of time is a result of the destruction of the temporality of the subject, of societies move towards schizophrenia. Time is an organizing system, a continuity within which the subject may situate him/herself as a unitary individual. Within multinational capitalism we find ourselves able only to map the globe.
However it is critical for the subject to be able to mentally or cognitively map him/herself within not only a geographically global system but also within a social one. Humans used to map themselves temporally within the scheme of history. However, as the subject becomes more fragmentary, as the subject approaches a society within which one finds the end of historicity, the ‘real’ diminishes while schizophrenia flourishes. Postmodernism was originally characterized by its refutation of the objective and totalizing truths of modernity; truths are deflated as one is left with nothing ‘real,’ just the empty shell of the contemplated referent and the subject and his/her contemplation. This “breakdown of the relationship between signifiers”, between the subject and how he/she contemplates the object, results in a schizophrenic reality.
Jameson, F. (1984). Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism. New Left Review, 146.