Initially written to entertain myself — until I accidentally learned something.
The one thing Frederick Jameson fears most in The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” is postmodernism. He believes that the loss of a modernist code or the historicity in art & lit renders it powerless. But what about his theory itself? It seems to me that Jameson, in talking about the postmodern, ironically, becomes postmodern. While incorporating paintings, photography, architecture, poetry and prose, all encapsulated within a recognizable theoretical framework, is he not using various recognizable forms to present the unrepresentable?
Wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants. Had Jameson left the reader to come to his or her own conclusion, my theory might have had a chance. Instead, we are directed to a specifically unified interpretation from the author, killing my fun altogether.
Seriously: Words vs. Meaning
My prior argument seems about as sound as Jameson’s after today’s class discussion. While there is an element of “truth” in the argument that late capitalism drives the art market, I have a hard time believing accusations of postmodern “depthlessness” and lack of context. So what can I gain from a piece I don’t feel I can connect with?
I’m trying hard to hold fast to history as a lived moment of human experience rather than some nonexistent, objective Truth or, as Aliya said, “another metanarrative.” I think what throws me is the terminology rather than the idea. Baudrillard’s “simulacra” (copies of copies with no identifiable source) serves me better. Unfortunately, I can’t find a way to apply this to Jameson’s assessment of Warhol because I feel Warhol’s message was larger than Jameson gives credit for. So?
I?m sorry to return to my lingering “The Last King of Scotland” argument. I made a new connection today. I hope you’ll stick around to read it. (I probably won’t be able to let this go until I resolve my “fascination with” and “brutal distaste for” the film’s end result.)
Film Example: “The Last King of Scotland”
This movie is based on true events about a very real Ugandan dictator, but his life is revealed through the perception of a fictional doctor. This doctor is not simply narrating. He is the main character with significant influence on very disturbing events within the film, yet it is never made clear that he is fictitious. Then, in the DVD special features, Ugandan extras said they are glad children can watch this film and finally learn about Ugandan history.
This isn’t history! It’s not even comparable to studying Native American perspectives amid an overabundance of British colonization literature. This is purely fiction and claims itself as such in the extras. Of course, if you don’t watch the extras, you have no way of knowing to what extent the story has been created for the sake of entertainment. Will Ugandan children know? I think not.
Finally, Why Jameson Matters
I find it confusing to have experienced a very upsetting reaction to a movie that rocked my world. Ugandan children will learn from a presentation that represents nothing that ever took place. I think this misrepresentation (although if it never happened it can’t be misrepresented) is what deeply disturbs Jameson. This nostalgia for historical format produces nothing real. This is where I begin to find value in Jameson’s argument.
I should start with this question: Why does this film affect me more than the thought of “Titanic” being our most prevalent reference to the actual ship sinking? (That said, should I be equally outraged?) I suspect the difference stems from my access to other informational resources if I decide I want to explore them. Too many Ugandan children do not have that privilege. It deeply upsets me that this movie, available in the rampant form of bootleg DVDs, will likely be a child’s only (and brutal) source of information.
In this sense, I feel that corporate interest in box office performance is a poignant example of imperialistic governance over point of view. How very arrogant to insert a white and highly educated man within the complicated Ugandan cultural structure and sell him as truth sayer, OR is this a critical commentary on white society’s rejection of information from a black society? I understand the enormous power of art in delivering powerful messages, and now also how inextricably capitalism infiltrates it with corruption. In the end, the white guy is the hero. Victory goes to the dominant culture in possession of enough money to keep it that way. With this dominant/oppressive late capitalist relationship, third world, culturally based education systems seem impossible to build, yet the quirky playfulness of pop culture is forced upon them in the name of that same almighty buck.
So, it seems my understanding of the postmodern is two-fold. To those in the dominant culture, it will be entertaining and maybe even valuable and enlightening. To those without access to education it will be devoid of “historicity” (pastiche) and they won’t even know it. How’s that for two very different metanarratives about postmodernism?!
- Is “the postmodern” as elite as the modern, requiring education to appreciate while that same education is robbed from the lower classes by a capitalistic system that, by default, requires an underclass to exist?
- If postmodern art is driven by late capitalism, and following the line of logic I just laid out, doesn’t that make postmodernism corrupt by default?
- If either of these questions ring true, then are commercial artists complicit in the continuance of oppression?
This is all so very pessimistic.