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)

  1. I’d like to try to place Badiou and Jameson in conversation with each other a bit; in particular, I’d like to see where they’re commentaries align and dis-align in regards to technology and composition.

    Badiou discusses how technology is a “willing, a relation to Being whose forceful forgetting is essential since it realizes the will to subjugate existants in their totality” (48). He goes on to say that “the will enframe and to hold is exactly the same as the will to annihilate” (49). I take it to mean that technology represents the impulse to set boundaries around concepts, particularly notions of personhood and identity. The conflict comes with a similar impulse to use technology to destroy the identity of another, to impose our own impressions and definitions on another. Badiou hints at the commoditization of identity when he describes technology’s ability to mobilize Being (49).

    These concepts remind me of social networking, and the emergence of technological cheap simple published composition. Technology allows us to develop, edit, post, and re-edit our Being. In fact, the only thing we can’t do is annihilate our identities once they are formed (i.e. posted), though the will to do so may be strong.

    Jameson mentions the commoditization of objects and compares this to the work of Andy Warhol and his commoditization of humans as objects (11). Whereas Jameson’s explanation that modernity was about the alienation and solitude of humanity (as evidenced in the painting “The Scream” among other works of art), maybe technology, as described by Badiou, has resulted in something very much the opposite.

    In fact, you could argue that today we are never really alone. Many of Jameson’s cultural artifacts stress the depressing singularity of individual life, but today we are always on camera, always tracked, always “on-line” even away from the computer. I am thinking here of the Speedy Rewards card on my key chain. I use it to get credit every time I buy a fountain pop, so eventually I can get a free fountain pop. That seems innocuous enough, but of course Speedway is recording and tracking and desegregating my purchases. Since I’ve never registered my card, I have no reason to believe that Speedway knows my name. But I bet they know, based upon their presumed ability to track what I purchased and when and from where, what sort of car I drive, that I recently moved from Metro Detroit to Saginaw, and that I drink far too much fountain pop for my own good.

    Jameson never defines post-modernism as this technologically manufactured identity—though Andy Warhol, who Jameson references at length, most assuredly addressed and exploited this in his Factory— or lack of privacy via the endless networking of our lives, but it’s an idea that coincides with his thinking, and dovetails well with the concepts of “writing machines.” I am interested in how we can sculpt these identities using writing machines, and how machines beyond our control then in turn result or sculpt-over our efforts.

    Just as our Being is defined as, or to say, just as we are writing machines, we are also at the mercy of writing machines. We are written as we are writing.

  2. Postmodern capitalism?

    I recently watched Michael Moore’s film, Capitalism: A Love Story. At the end, he concludes: “Capitalism is evil, and you cannot regulate evil.” In reading Jameson’s “Postmodernism; or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” I don’t feel he reached the same conclusion about capitalism. In fact, he even celebrates capitalism at some points in the essay. According to The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, Jameson is a tried-and-true proponent of Marxism, and this is stated as if it is a fact generally accepted by all. And yet, in the aforementioned essay, if Jameson does not celebrate some aspects of capitalism, he appears resigned to its “totalizing” dominance. Is this a characteristic of the postmodern Marxist: a more balanced view of capitalism? While Jameson does not hold back in pointing out its “baleful” aspects, he first marvels at the mass or commercial culture it creates, and then he goes on to point out the postmodernist’s fascination with this “degraded” landscape.
    Jameson says, according to Marx, the reader should try “to achieve … a type of thinking that would be capable of grasping the demonstrably baleful features of capitalism along with its extraordinary and liberating dynamism simultaneously within a single thought” (86). He explains: “We are somehow to lift our minds to a point at which it is possible to understand that capitalism is at one and the same time the best thing that has ever happened to the human race, and the worst.” This does not sound like the argument that goes thus: capitalism is the worst system except for all the others. However, using Marx as a guidepost, Jameson is evidently pointing to a subtler understanding of capitalism. He is not championing it above the rest, but rather seeing it as it is. Even this is difficult for him because many counter-culture entities (e.g., The Clash) “are all somehow secretly disarmed and reabsorbed by a system of which they themselves might well be considered a part, since they can achieve no distance from it” (87). Here the “totalizing” aspect comes back into play. So if he does not partially celebrate capitalism, he is, being a part of it and being interested in popular culture, at least resigned to it.
    Similarly, Badiou, who is also committed to Marxism, in his Manifesto for Philosophy sees capitalism as structurally liberating and oppressive at the same time. Both Badiou and Jameson seem to embrace the pastiche of capitalism, even if Badiou doesn’t think it goes far enough (e.g., he notes that capitalism has bridled technology’s full potential). Especially for Jameson, capitalist culture has become an all-encompassing machine. In “Postmodernism and Consumer Society,” he writes: “the new machine does not represent motion but can only be represented in motion” (Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 1972). This reminds me of Lyotard’s autonomous force or “motricity,” which is in a sense beyond human control (“Defining the Postmodern,” Norton, 1614). If postmodernists have come to view capitalism as a system that is equally liberating and oppressive, and if commercial culture has become a totalizing machine, where does that leave Michael Moore’s conclusion about capitalism?

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