Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Fredric Jameson – Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism –summary and review

Fredric Jameson - Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism - summary 
part 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - Review

Fredric Jameson is considered to be one of the most important and influential literary and cultural critic and theoretician in the Marxist tradition of the English speaking world. In "Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" Jameson attempts to characterize the nature of cultural production in the second half of the 20th century, the era of late capitalism, and to distinguish it from other forms of cultural production of preceding capitalist eras. A substantial part of Jameson's "Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" is dedicated to differential analysis of works of art and architecture from what Jameson terms "high modernism" and postmodern works. He characterizes the postmodern mode of production as a "cultural dominant" in the wake of concepts like "depthlessness" or the suppression of depth, the waning of affect and pastiche, terms which according to Jameson relate to the postmodern form of production and experience.

The problem of periodization and the cultural dominant
The concept of postmodernism immediately raises the issue of periodization, entailed by the prefix "post-" assigned to the time of modernism. When did modernism begin and when did it end? Is it possible to set clear temporal boundaries between modernism and postmodernism? Jameson believes that it is possible to speak of cultural modes with in a defined timeline. Nevertheless, he restricts his periodization of postmodernism to the unbinding notion of cultural dominant which has a degree of flexibility which still allows for other forms of cultural production to coexist alongside it.

In the notion of cultural dominant Jameson stays true to the Marxist tradition of tying culture with the political and economical state of society. This stance holds that the socio-economical structure of a society is reflected in a society's cultural forms.

Jamson relies on the work of Ernest Mandel that divided capitalism into three distinct periods which coincide with three stages of technological development: industrialized manufacturing of steam engines starting from the mid 19th century, the production of electricity and internal combustion engines since the late 90's of the 19th century and the production of electronic and nuclear devices since the 1940's. these three technological developments match three stages in the evolution of capitalism: the market economy stage which was limited to the boarders of the nation state, the monopoly or imperialism stage in which courtiers expanded their markets to other regions and the current phase of late capitalism in which borders are no longer relevant. Jameson proceeds to match these stages of capitalism with three stages of cultural production, the first stage with realism, the second with modernism and the current third one with our present day postmodernism.

Postmodernism according to Jameson is therefore a cultural form which has developed in the wake of the socio-economical order of present day capitalism. Again, postmodernism in Jameson's view is not an all-encompassing trend but rather a cultural dominant that affects all cultural productions. This approach accounts for the existence of other cultural modes of production (thus protecting Jameson from criticism) while still enabling to treatment of our time as postmodern. Other types of art, literature and architecture which are not wholly postmodern are still produced nowadays, but nevertheless postmodernism is the field force, the state of culture, through which cultural urges of very different types have to go. No one today is free from the influence, perhaps even rein, of postmodernism.   

The rest of Fredric Jameson's "Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" is mostly devoted to the illustration of this initial claim by examining different examples of cultural products while continuing to develop some theoretical issues. 

Fredric Jameson - Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism - summary 
part 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - Review

See also; The Political Unconscious by Jameson

More by Fred:



  1. Its an excellent piece of work..
    Easy to digest such a crucial text.

  2. This was very helpful, proved essential in trying to decode the complicated brilliance of Jameson. Great account and analysis. Thank you!

  3. thanks for lucid essay before going for the complex text by jameson, i hope that it will be of great help

  4. Clearest summary I've read of this difficult text. Thank you for writing it.

  5. Thanks for the notes. Won't be able to understand the original text without reading secondary sources, like this one. So, thanks again :)

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