November 16, 2011

postmodernism remembered

Marcus A. Jansen, "Surreal" (2009)
Postmodernism was certainly an expression of the late capitalist economy. Indeed, it's rare to find this much derided period of American optimism mentioned in academic writing without a reference to Fredric Jameson, who first coined the expression ("postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism") in the mid 1980s. On many fronts, it appears that we've entered something of a new cultural moment, where contemporary anxieties over life and death have trounced the optimistic attitudes of previous decades and demystified the ideals of free play and ironic detachment which came to define an aesthetic. And yet despite our return to the "hard truths" of the Real (or as Mark Fisher describes it, "capitalist realism") following 9/11, we've carried this cultural logic still further. If we have, in fact, moved into something beyond postmodernism, it might be worth asking what's at stake in breaking from it. Jameson's point is that the denigration of meta-narratives serves an important function in the perpetuation of capitalism. In literary terms, we might say, capital continues to play the main character in a meta-narrative perhaps even more insidious than those which postmodernism had sought to upend.

Marcus Jansen's "Surreal," featured above, illustrates the tenacity but also the continued appeal of the postmodern aesthetic. It also reminds me of one of my favourite book covers: Faber and Faber's first edition of Paul Auster's New York Trilogy. Its cover perfectly captures the neo-noir aesthetic of Auster's postmodern detective story with its pastiche of American objects cast, along with the solitary figure, against a monochromatic backdrop. As much as I love this book, it's hard not to see a similar logic (recall Marx's explanation of the process of commodification in Capital) at work in Auster's description of the detective genre. "In the good mystery," Auster writes in City of Glass, "there is nothing wasted, no sentence, no word that is not significant. And even if it is not significant, it has the power to be so – which amounts to the same thing…even the slightest, most trivial thing, can bear connection to the outcome of the story, nothing must be overlooked. Everything becomes essence." 

No comments:

Post a Comment