Saturday, February 27, 2016

Word drunk philosophers

POSTMODERNISM, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
by Fredric Jameson

Jameson is a Marxist literary critic and it seems he has another goal in addition to discussing the why and the why-not? of a fluid philosophy that seems to undermine any sense of "fixed" areas of knowledge that might otherwise give a culture a sense of itself, an identity, ethos and larger purpose that makes the past acceptable, the future brimming with a promise yet to be fulfilled, an entrenched optimism that makes the present tolerable or, at least, a condition where apathy is the preferred stance; he is intent of maintaining the authority of Marxist methods of discerning the economic superstructure of capitalism and, as well, holding on to the progressive notion that properly executed critiques and political actions based on them will further us along to Marx 's and Engle's prophecy that after the revolution, after the dictatorship of the proletariat has been established and operating for an unspecified amount of time, the State will eventually, naturally wither away , as men and women have, it's assumed, been restored to their natural state before the foul distortion of capital fouled every thing up; that is, we will have become , to paraphrase a famous promise, fishers and farmers in the morning, poets, musicians and artists in the afternoons, scholars and philosophers at night. That is to say, we will no longer have occupations, our labor, informing us who we are and destroying our potential of being much more.
This is a key book for those struggling to comprehend the verbal murk that constituted post modernist theory , which is a shame, because Fredrick Jameson cannot help but add his own murk to this occasionally useful overview of a directionless philosophical inclination. He certainly brings a lot of reading into his digressive discussions and reveals how much the idea of post modern strategy--Lyotard's notion that the Grand Narrative that unified all accounts of our history, purpose and collective sense of inevitable autonomy over the earth and those outside our culture has been shattered, eroded or made unpersuasive in a century that has known the horrors of 2 world wars and the overwhelming emergence of new technologies and the efforts of populations outside the margins of acceptable culture to claim their rights as humans , first and foremost--has usurped preceding and established ideas in areas of literature, architecture, movies, the arts, philosophy itself.

Free to be you and me, as the philosopher Marlo Thomas would have it, which is essentially the same promise made by libertarians , a cult of free market zealots who believed that more of us in the culture would be more fully realized examples  of human potential if, quite literally, all trappings of the socialist state were gotten rid of and the conditions of society were laid to the workings of uninhibited capitalism. But here we find something interesting, as both scenarios, the success of the socialist revolution and the replacement of the State with a pure free market , seem modeled after the most basic tenet of Christian theology, that the world will make sense and those who are fully prepared with achieve the best lives they could have when the Savior returns to earth with the keys to the kingdom of Heaven. All three involve better days deferred; all that remains is for us is wait and distract ourselves with work, however packaged the labor comes to us as. Is that postmodernism?
A machine by Jack Kirby

Merely noticing the formula for competing Grand Narratives isn't especially new, since there have been critics and theorists in the older modernist wing of social critique who've noticed more similarities than differences in absolute scenarios involving cures for our ills and the sources that make us sick. But that was a matter of one idea trying to bankrupt the other. There are, to be sure, more specific arguments of the differences between modernism and postmodernism, all of them utilizing more opaque language than  my excruciatingly vague rant here, but it would be a safe guess to assert that modernist still had a view of a whole universe and various sorts of slavishly detailed theories to express the causes, conditions and direction of that unity, and that postmodernism, as a rule, was the kid we all know who could take radios, clocks, computers, bikes and such things apart and have no idea about how to put any of it back together. 

The post modern inclination undermines the metaphorical structure and linguistic devices philosophies use to make their systems persuasive; Derrida and Baudrillard were smart men with much influence over the Left who had their own discourses that argued that every argument contains the seeds of it's own counter assertion. Jameson doesn't seem to want any of that and proceeds to write as densely as the thinkers he seeks to critique, often times stalling before coming to a major point he seemed to be traveling toward in order to indulge himself with clarifications about terms being used, ideas and artifacts that have been used as examples of opaque references .

There is much the notion of the word-drunk in this volume, the idea that Jameson is thinking out loud and that the writing is a species of verbal stream of conscious wherein there is the assumption, an act of faith actually, that the longer the associative chain ,the more inclusive the argument the analysis becomes and that in this process there will come the connecting conceit that unifies what might have been mere intellectual drift into a bravura performance. I can't shake the idea that Jameson is stalling here and is, honestly, out of his depth in his discussions that are not directly involved in parsing the creation and use of narrative forms as political tools in a problematic culture. There is value here, though, and I would suggest reading the opening essay, "Culture", where one gets the choicest ideas and insights has in this volume. For the rest, it is a reminder of just how bad a writer Fredric Jameson is.