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'Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainity and agitation distinquish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones ... All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.' Marx

the image is a commodity « Previous | |Next »
August 31, 2011

In his essay Transformations of the Image in The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern 1983-1998 Frederic Jameson says that postmodernity has most often been characterized as the end of something and the emergence of a whole new mode of living the quotidian.

The essay sketches the changes to the visual or the image and the role of aesthetics in the culture of the postmodern and its celebratory affirmation of some post­ McLuhanite vision of culture transmogrified by computers and cyberspace.

In this world the very sphere of culture itself has expanded, becoming coterminous with market society in such a way that the cultural is no longer limited to its earlier, traditional or experimental forms, but is consumed throughout daily life itself, in shopping, in professional activities, in the various often televisual forms of leisure, in production for the market and in the consumption of those market products, indeed in the most secret folds and corners of the quotidian. Social space is now completely saturated with the culture of the image.

At the end of his essay Jameson makes some remarks on beauty in capitalism in postmodernity and a postmodern culture. He says:
it only seems appropriate in the present context to recall beauty's subversive role in a society marred by nascent commodification. The fin de siecle, from Morris to Wilde, deployed beauty as a political weapon against a compla­cent materialist Victorian bourgeois society and dramatized its negative power as what rebukes commerce and money, and what generates a longing for personal and social transformation in the heart of an ugly industrial society. Why then can we not allow for similar genuinely proto-political functions today, and at least leave the door open for an equally subversive deploy­ment of the kinds of beauty and art-religions I have been enumerating?

It is a question that allows us to measure the immense distance between the situation of modernism and that of the postmoderns (or ourselves), and between tendential and incomplete commodification and that on a global scale, in which the last remaining enclaves - the Unconscious and Nature, or cultural and aesthetic production and agriculture - have now been assimilated into commodity production.

Jameson continues:

In a previous era, art was a realm beyond commodification, in which a certain freedom was still available; in late modernism, inAdorno and Horkheimer's Culture Industry essay, there were still zones of art exempt from the commodifications of commer­ cial culture (for them, essentially Hollywood). Surely what characterizes postmodernity in the cultural area is the superses­ sion of everything outside of commercial culture, its absorption of all forms of art high and low, along with image production itself.

The image is the commodity today, and that is why it is vain to expect a negation of the logic of commodity production from it, that is why, finally, all beauty today is meretricious and the appeal to it by contemporary pseudo-aestheticism IS an ideological manoeuvre and not a creative resource.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 3:21 PM |