Fredric JamesonEdit

(1934- ) Jameson is the William A. Lane Professor in the Program in Literature and Romance Studies at Duke University. He is an American literary critic, and identified with Marxist political theory. He is best known for his work on the cultural emergence of postmodernism, which is tightly linked to late capitalism. He understood postmodernism through historical materialism, meaning it required no moralizing analysis, but rather granular examination of its historio-cultural circumstances and their underlying economic relations.

==Postmodernism and Consumer Society==

A blessedly succinct exposition on postmodernism. Despite its range of expression, defining characteristics include:

  1. “most of the postmodernisms mentioned above emerge as specific reactions against the established forms of high modernism, against this or that dominant high modernism”. Thus, what was once a subversive, avant-gard style, has become establishment, suffocating, enemy

  2. “effacement in it of some key boundaries or separations, most notably the erosion of the older distinction between high culture and so-called mass or popular culture”

There is also a general decay in our ability to cleanly separate disciplines (think the new discourse of French theory typified by Foucault). Importantly, postmodernism is not mere style, but rather:

a periodizing concept whose function is to correlate the emergence of new formal features in culture with the emergence of a new type of social life and a new economic order (spectacle, consumer society, etc)

In this essay, Jameson sticks to two significant features of the newly emergent social order, pastiche and schizophrenia.


Pastiche is referentiality without the “making fun” of parody. As postmodernism inaugurates a certain failure with believing in the possibility of the new, or progressive movement toward greater and fuller knowledge or discovery, there is a referentiality to the past. As nothing can be new, we repeat the old, but in ways not intended to parody the past (think Paula Scher). This is approximately beginning in the 1960s. Pastiche is blank parody. Because of the poststructuralist decay of the notion of the discrete individual, we no longer develop the personal style (like Pound and proust of the modern period; death of the subject, the individual), but endlessly reference the past: “We are unable today to focus our own present, as though we have become incapable of achieving aesthetic representations of our own current experience. But if that is so, then it is a terrible idictment of consumer capitalism itself—or at the very least, an alarming and pathological symptom of a society that has become incapable of dealing with time and history” (117).


Schizophrenia is deeply linked to these poststructuralist concerns of the death of the subject, but through a certain structuralism of language. As structuralism reminds us that there is no one-to-one relationship in language (we read the structure of the whole sentence, not the words). Schizophrenia ultimately deals with the postmodern relationship to time. For Lacan, the experience of human time, and the persistence of memory and personal identity is an effect of language that links the “I” and the “me”. Because schizophrenia breaks these links, destroying the capacity of metaphysical coherence of signifieds matching signifiers, the schizo lives in a perpetual present, but one in which their day to day experience is intense, immediate—at the level of the word, not the sentence. The schizophrenic does not believe in the coherency or continuity of self over time.

While these themes also appear in high modernist work, Jameson reminds us that a “radical break” between periodization may moreso be about a change in emphasis. Postmodern means a striking emphasis in this material themes that were once secondary. Modernism became over as soon as its once subversive characteristics become entrenched in the academy. Similarly, new types of consumption effect the relationship between our aesthetics and our social world in ways unprecendented in the period of high modernism. The formal features of postmodernism express the deeper logic of the postmodern social system (consumer or multinational capitalism). This is the disappearance of a sense of history, losing our ability to retain our own past. We live in perpetual present with perpetual change that obliterates traditions which were always sought to be preserved. The informational function of the media is to most everything to the past as swiftly as possible, rendering events of a few decades ago completely foreign to us, lost in amnesia. Postmodernist aesthetics reinforce the logic of consumer capitalism, but Jameson leaves the question of whether it can resist such a logic an open one.