09/08 – Periodizing the 80’s (Jameson)
In Sessions on September 5, 2010 at 7:22 pm
Perhaps even more so than Badiou, Jameson seems like an odd choice for a seminar such as this. Technology, at least for Jameson in our assigned reading for today, is explicitly dismissed, it is “here itself a figure for something else” as Jameson writes (34). Despite Jameson’s interest in Mandel’s “machine ages,” it is safe to say that these items are included more for their position as power sources for what we used to call “the means of production” (the steam engine, the “nuclear-electronic device”) than as examples for any careful thinking of the intersections of technology “itself” with culture, politics, etc., and the closest we get to taking on information technologies (to be fair, this is the early 80s), is Jameson’s rather odd (but interesting) consideration of the aesthetics of a computer’s physical hardware. However, as with Badiou we will also discuss Jameson’s particular “hybridization” of systematic and contingent forms of analysis; more importantly, however, I was hoping we might also seek to extend Jameson’s periodization schema into the present.
Below is a table illustrating Jameson’s retooling of Mandel’s three “machine ages” (taken from, as the caption indicates, Nealon’s recent book on Foucault).
Adapted from Nealon, *Foucault Beyond Foucault* (59)
Nealon himself has extended this schema (click on the image above to see the table with Nealon’s additions), slotting in “Just-in-Time” or “Finance” capitalism into the left column, designating “the computer chip” as the new “machine” of the present era, and suggesting a “post-postmodernism” to categorize the aesthetic/critical response of today. I can’t do justice to the latter concept here, but to summarize briefly, Nealon argues that contemporary aesthetics and commodity/entertainment culture is what he calls “the privatization of cultural value,” the way that private experience/subjectivity has, perhaps ironically, emerged as the shared public cultural/aesthetic connection between groups of people. Nealon’s examples–the rise of the memoir as the “it” literary genre of the present, the turn toward personal narratives of experience, struggle, and achievement in documentary film and the coverage of sporting events, a focus on relating personal experience in music (from rap to indie rock)–cross as least as many genres/media as Jameson, but provide a more singular analysis of the “aesthetic response” of contemporary culture.
I largely agree with Nealon’s analysis here, but will propose a somewhat different categorization as well as an additional column in the schema, one at least implicit in Jameson’s analysis. Although it may be that Jameson would take the “logic” of all these time periods as subsumable to an analysis of culture, it certainly seems that it is the breakdown between culture and other categories (particularly that of commodities) that helps him periodize postmodernism as a distinct era. I’ll suggest here (see table below) that we might see previous areas as having a “dominant logic” that was not necessarily cultural:
YOUR MOMENT OF ZEN:
* In reference to Jameson’s claims that 80’s cinema makes clear how the “nostalgia film” approaches “the ‘past’ through stylistic connotation, conveying ‘pastness’ by the glossy qualities of the image, and the ‘1930s-ness’ or ‘1950s-ness’ by the attributes of fashion” (19).