Saturday, May 21, 2011

Fredric Jameson: "Reification and Utopia" – summary and review

Fredric Jameson's "Reification and Utopia" (1979) starts with a summary and debate of the traditional critical attitudes towards the social functions of art in general and popular culture in particular. The central line of Jameson's review is the notion of the commodification of culture and art and the reification of human experiences which are turned into consumer products. Reification according to Jameson means that human experiences and practices are transformed into consumable objects that can be measured in light of their function and end, and of course money. By this perspective in was customary, in the Marxist tradition, to view popular culture as art which has turned into a consumer product with high-art being the antithetical autonomous aesthetic form.

But Jameson doesn't subscribe to the traditional Marxist notions about high and popular culture. He offers a view of modern cultural production is being structured in an historical context through the dialectical opposition of high and popular, with the products of both being reactions the works of late capitalism. By refusing to be popular, modern art is in fact always relating to popular culture, and therefore the two are dialectically interrelated. Here Jameson offers a groundbreaking approach in the study of popular culture that will be later further developed in his "Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism".

In the second part of "Reification and Utopia" Jameson analyses three popular films: Jaws and the first two parts of The Godfather. His analysis points to the social, political and ideological meanings inscribed in what is normally viewed as popular senseless entertainment. Jaws and The Godfather, according to Jameson, combine two types of meanings. On the one hand they confirm the existing social order while on the other hand they offer a type of utopia of returning to the old lost family values. These movies, Jameson argues, offer a way of coping and confronting historical processes in the American culture and the sense of crisis and deterioration.      

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