Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Postmodernism and Consumer Society

In “Post Modernism and Consumer Society”, Frederic Jameson outlines a few of the major traits of postmodernism. He described in his essay that how postmodernism is different to modernism. Jameson believes that postmodernism is a reaction against high modernism, a form of expression which found vulgar and irreverent by the preceding generation. But now these are standard against the current generation. The difference between high culture and mass culture are gone or at least beginning to fade in postmodernism era he said.

Jameson used different terms like pastiche, death of the subject, nostalgia and schizophrenia to understand postmodernism. According to Jameson Pastiche means parodyor mimicry. He explains “Pastiche is like parody, the imitation of a particular or unique style, the wearing of a stylistic mask, speech in a dead language; but it is a neutral practice of such mimicry, without parody’s ulterior motive, without the satirical impulse, without laughter, without that still latent feeling that there exists something normal compared to which what is being imitated is rather comic”.

The idea of pastiche leads to a discussion of the ‘death of the subject’. He explains that the modernists felt like they were doing something new, something individual. But Jameson states that this sense of the individual in the postmodern is gone. He is proposing that there is no longer individualism. He states that “older bourgeois individual subject no longer exists”. It means that we are in the age of corporate capitalism, and homogeneous world, individuality does not exist at all. He further said that the idea of individuality didn’t even exist in the past or in the modern era; it in fact never existed at all. The idea of the individual “is merely a philosophical and cultural mystification which sought to persuade people that they ‘had’ individual subjects and possessed this unique personal identity”. The conclusion Jameson leads to form this discussion is that modern art is dead; there is no originality, only perpetual copies of pre- existing elements and forms, or, pastiche, “to speak through the masks and with the voices of the styles in the imaginary museum”. Jameson described the term schizophrenia as the second marker of postmodernist society. Jameson describes this in discussing the schizophrenic language experience as one where, “isolated, disconnected,
discontinuous material signifiers which fail to link up in a coherent sequence”.

Jameson then describes a number of films that seem to embody pastiche- replicating certain ideas in an undifferentiated and meaningless way. He gives the example of American Graffiti (1973) and Star Wars to Raiders of the Lost Ark and Chinatown (1974), explaining that this is pastiche because the general plot is derived from the plots of older films and TV shows of the 1930’s to 50’s. Jameson points out that nostalgia films or pastiche films are often less about the past and more about a false realism. Jameson says, “If there is any realism left here it is a ‘realism’ which springs from the shock of grasping that confinement and of realizing that, for whatever peculiar reasons, we seem condemned to seek the historical past through our own pop images and stereotypes about the past, which itself remains forever out of reach”.

In conclusion, Jameson discusses the consumer society and the social impact of art in the early 20th century versus the social impact of art today. He says, ““I believe that the emergence of postmodernism is closely related to the emergence of this new moment of late, consumer or multinational capitalism”. Modernism was described as “critical, negative, contestatory, subversive, and oppositional and the like”. He discussed two features of postmodernism--the transformation of reality into images and the fragmentation of time into a series of perpetual presents. In this way, then, postmodernism replicates or reproduces or reinforces the logic of consumer capitalism.

Author: Sattyendra Kumar

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