This controversial article, which Jameson later expanded into a book, was part of a series of analyses of postmodernism from the dialectical perspective Jameson had developed in his earlier work on narrative. Jameson viewed the postmodern "skepticism towards metanarratives " as a "mode of experience" stemming from the conditions of intellectual labor imposed by the late capitalist mode of production. Postmodernists claimed that the complex differentiation between "spheres" or fields of life such as the political, the social, the cultural, the commercial , and between distinct social classes and roles within each field, had been overcome by the crisis of foundationalism and the consequent relativization of truth-claims. Jameson argued against this, asserting that these phenomena had or could have been understood successfully within a modernist framework; the postmodern failure to achieve this understanding implied an abrupt break in the dialectical refinement of thought. Jameson argued that parody which implies a moral judgment or a comparison with societal norms was replaced by pastiche collage and other forms of juxtaposition without a normative grounding.
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In other works, such as Signatures of the Visible and The Geopolitical Aesthetic , film is the focal point of his reflections on the fate of critical and Utopian thought in postmodern culture, and of his evaluation of the possibilities and limits of various narrative and representational forms for imagining the place of individual experience in the new global system.
Thus the significance of this project — and the legitimacy of its philosophical, aesthetic and political claims — can only be fully understood within the broader framework of Jamesons rethinking of the problem of interpreting cultural history generally, which finds its most systematic elaboration in The Political Unconscious But this task, Jameson argues, demands more of the interpreter of cultural artefacts than a reading of the work, as in traditional literary or film history, as a reflection of its political or cultural background.
For Jameson, that background is never simply given to us immediately. To be represented, in other words, history must first be rendered representable and the stories of its individual and collective characters imagined in terms of the repertoire of narrative schemas and generic formulas, conceptual oppositions, myths and stereotypes that, together, constitute the ideological horizon of a given historical moment. It is, Jameson argues, only in and through such forms of narrative and thought that a society can attempt to represent its underlying contradictions and antagonisms, respond to the social anxieties and collective wishes to which those contradictions and antagonisms give rise, and imagine the possibility of their resolution.
But since those forms, and their traditions of reception, have evolved in response to earlier historical moments of whose ideologies and collective fantasies they still bear the traces, they must themselves inevitably be rewritten or transformed in order to address the contradictions of the present.
The text thus does not so much reflect history as work on and rewrite it, negotiating the relationship between the forms of social practice and experience, with their attendant fantasies and anxieties, that constitute its historical raw material, and the repertoire of narrative and representational strategies it has inherited, along with their ideological residues.
From this perspective, the task of the critic is that of reconstructing the dynamic process by which the work writes a place for itself within those overlapping histories. But the ideological work performed by the film will not turn so much on the truth or falsehood of its account of these events considered in and of themselves as on the transformations it brings about in the forms of narrative through which the historical events in question — as well as those of the broader history for which it serves as the allegorical figure — are imagined.
According to Jameson , this very distinctive narrative content — a kind of saga or family material analogous to that of the medieval chansons degeste with its recurrent episodes and legendary figures returning again and again in different perspectives and contexts — can at once be structurally differentiated from the older paradigms by its collective nature.
This shift in narrative form across generic boundaries would seem in itself to suggest, Jameson argues, a shift in the forms of social life that provide their raw material, one in which, in the age of the multinational corporation, the story of a mere individual can no longer credibly lay claim to the same significance. The allegorical inscription of the contradictions of corporate America within the framework provided by the gangster genre an inscription that, as we have seen, demands a reinvention of that genre thus leads us to frame our objections to that system in the language of moral condemnation, rather than political critique.
These Godfather films, like other instances of mass culture analysed by Jameson, can thus be said to fulfil the ideological function that the structural anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss attributed to myth in the culture of tribal societies: that of offering an imaginary resolution of real social contradictions.
In the iconic wedding sequence of The Godfather dir. It must first respond to the ideological demand that the resolution of social contradictions be imagined without calling into question the underlying structures that give rise to them. But it must also, at the same time, express the ideologically inadmissible longing for another form of life, by entertaining the fantasy of a remembered or imagined collectivity beyond the contradictions of the present.
The genius of the film would seem to lie, from this perspective, in its binding of these two seemingly incompatible impulses within a single generic structure, which allows each to serve as at once the pretext for and the mask of the other. Coppola, For as Jameson shows, the sequels elaboration of both the Utopian and ideological narrative strands of the film beyond the generic and historical limits of their framing in the reinvented gangster film unmasks each of these constituent dimensions of the earlier film.
On the other hand, it shows how the criminal conspiracy is gradually transformed into just the sort of capitalist enterprise of which it had been the displaced image in the first place. Having been forced to account for its history without the aid of the other, each is compelled, in the sequel, to confront as immediately historical content the contradictions that their displacement into allegorical narrative in the first film had served to transcend or contain.
Historical interpretation in Jameson might thus be said to pass through a series of expanding frames, each of which implies a different horizon of interpretation.
On a first level, he examines the repressed collective wish or anxiety and its displaced expression through the individual works rewriting of pre-existing narrative and representational forms.
From this perspective, the task of the critic, in Jamesons view, would be to identify the content of the underlying collective wishes expressed in the work and to show through what transformations of pre-existing cultural forms such wishes achieve indirect expression. But since the pre-existing forms of representation mobilized by the work are rich in meanings accumulated over their previous history, Jameson also maintains that the critic cannot fully grasp the meaning of the works symbolic act without reconstructing, in a broader frame, the implicit messages or presuppositions embedded in those forms themselves, which the individual work will either mobilize or suppress in making use of them in its new historical situation.
This is particularly striking, as we have seen, in Coppolas rewriting of the gangster genre, which only becomes comprehensible in light of the critics reconstruction of that genres previous history. But it is also true of the pervasive motif of conspiracy cited by Jameson as providing the form of collective narrative that permits the Mafia to stand in for the corporation. In interpreting such pre-existing forms, the critic reconstructs the historical progression of a genre from one historical formation to the next, or maps out the alternative uses of the same ideologeme within a single moment.
But here, as in the interpretation of the individual work as a symbolic act, the task of historical interpretation is to uncover the meanings alluded to in the text, in a succession of nested readings that add, with each new historical layer, another dimension of meaning.
But there is also a sense in which the very success of The Godfather , in carrying out its ideological and Utopian vocations by weaving together elements drawn from multiple layers of history, requires the partial repression of that history.
The success of the film as a projection of collective fantasy depends on a historical and geographical structure that allows for allusions to the Mafias past in Sicilian feudalism and its future as big business without explicitly representing the dynamics of either of these moments. That is why history re-enters the scene in Jamesons account of The Godfather , Part II as an unmasking: as a return of the repressed.
In rendering explicit what was only evoked in the first, the second film unties the interwoven strands that gave the first its formal and ideological coherence. For that coherence turned on the exclusion of anything that might lead the viewer to question its illusory superimposition of the collective forms of the feudal family on the entirely different anti-individualism of corporations of the post-war period.
Fredric Jameson Nowhere is the tension between the semantic richness of a works intertextual allusions, and the limits imposed on its frame by aesthetic form and ideology, more pronounced than in Jamesons analysis of postmodernism. No moment of cultural history would seem to be richer in its repetitions of multiple styles, languages, genres and cultural forms than is postmodernity. In postmodern pastiche, styles and images from every region and period coexist in the same space.
For the historical past is not evoked in postmodern historicism as a different form of life or experience. It is accessible only at a second degree, through a recycling of its previous representations. Thus nostalgia films such as American Graffiti dir. George Lucas , and Chinatown dir. Thus Pulp Fiction dir. Quentin Tarantino, , released a few years after the publication of Jamesons Postmodernism, can shuffle its images and their associated narrative events in any order, since that order is governed by no causal or experiential logic beyond the intensity of these images as such and the inter textual relations between them.
Jameson foregrounds two transformations that differentiate late capitalism from capitalisms previous forms. First, the distinction between the economic and the cultural considered as separate spheres — an opposition presupposed by the modernist notion of culture as a site of critique of, or compensation for, the dissatisfactions of modernity — is increasingly worn away. With the increasing centrality of images in consumer culture, both in the marketing of commodities and as commodities themselves, the economic becomes increasingly cultural.
At the same time, the production of aesthetic objects themselves becomes increasingly integrated into commodity production. As a result, the content of social experience increasingly becomes indistinguishable from the cultural forms in which it is represented, and the forms of cultural representation themselves become the social reality they represent.
In this situation, the only realism possible would seem to be that of citation: realism as pastiche. Meanwhile, this assimilation of its former peripheries into an expanded capitalist system exceeds the capacity of existing narrative and representational forms for situating the interactions of individual and collective actors within a now transnational social space. Postmodernism is thus born of the historical impossibility of reviving realism or modernism in late capitalism, even as the forms of postmodernisms predecessors persist, as so many dead languages within it.
Jamesons analysis of postmodernism as the cultural dominant of late capitalism encompasses the widest historical perspective discussed in The Political Unconscious: the ideology of cultural forms, in their dialectical relationship to the history of social formations. But in his most extended engagement with postmodern film, in The Geopolitical Aesthetic, Jameson offers analyses of how individual films textualize postmodernity s contradictions within the limits imposed by that historical conjuncture, while expressing its collective wishes and anxieties.
Sydney Pollack, ], The Parallax View [dir. Alan J. Pakula, ], and Videodrome [dir. In conspiracy film, this problem is managed by a continual shifting of gears between inherited narrative forms such as those of the detective or espionage novel where characters must be individuals, and the hidden conspiracy as an invisible collective character.
Meanwhile, the struggle between these two conspiracies, considered as collective characters, also provides a narrative apparatus in which opposing judgements concerning the ultimate nature of those social processes — as the Utopian promise of a transfigured community or as an updated fascism — are juxtaposed.
The alternation between the two thus does not so much offer a mythic resolution of these contradictory aspects of postmodernity as lay bare before our eyes the narrative mechanisms of ideology itself. In Mababangong bangungot The perfumed nightmare; , Kidlat Tahimik explores the relationship between his alter ego s life in a village in the Philippines and his implicit faith in the metropole s promise of technological and economic development.
Kidlats persona is a village jeepney driver. Jeepneys are reconstructed and elaborately decorated surplus jeeps used for public transportation. When, at the films climax, Kidlat incongruously conjures up a great wind blowing against the empire, he cites, as Jameson acknowledges, a mythic language, expressing forces of revolt latent in the land. Thus, when Tahimik takes up devices inherited from modernism, it is not in an attempt to invent an authentic alternative to postmodernism, but as part of a strategy of dislocation, where the oppositions of the modern to the natural or traditional, and of development to underdevelopment, are called into question.
An analogous movement takes place thematically, as Kidlat leads us to rethink the opposition of periphery to centre in the world system. On his visit to metropolitan Paris, what most disillusions him is the destruction, in the name of development, of traditional neighbourhoods for the benefit of the corporate chains.
Thus, through this witness from the periphery, we rediscover, in the metropole itself, the same sort of capitalist onslaught on pre-existing forms of life that might be denounced, in anti-imperialist terms, in the periphery. Meanwhile, it is in the periphery that we discover a site that undoes, in a different way, the opposition of old to new, of invention to backwardness, of development to underdevelopment.
This is the factory in which the jeepneys are reconstructed out of the scavenged parts of military machinery, to be refunctioned to a new purpose, but also individually and idiosyncratically painted, and thus transformed into aesthetic objects in their own right. It is with this exemplary work of cognitive mapping — which, by widening the frame of postmodernism beyond the geographical limits of the metropole, shows us another way of imagining the interpenetration of the cultural and the economic — that Jameson concludes his most extended reflection on postmodern film.
Tahimiks film does not move beyond the postmodern present to invoke another world beyond it. Nor does it, like a conspiracy film, dream of a commanding point of view from above, that would encompass the totality of the world system in a single gaze. In this, it provides a fitting allegory for the work of Fredric Jameson himself. NOTES 1. Russell trans.
Grundfest Schoepf trans. New York: Basic Books, , Source: Colman, F. Film, theory and philosophy. London: Routledge.
The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System
Fredric Jameson and Film Theory