The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Frederic Jameson,
“Postmodernism and Consumer Society,” 1988

How does Jameson define the phenomenon of “postmodernism”? What are some of its expressions in architecture, popular culture and literature (as of 1988), and what seem to be some common features? (1961, reaction against modernism, effacement of distinction between high and low culture)

Is the rebellion against a prior aesthetic a unique feature of contemporary/recent art forms, or have most literary movements reacted against earlier ones? And if so, what is distinctive about the reaction against high modernism?

What has happened to the relationship between high and mass culture? What had this relationship once been, and what is the significance of the change? (1961)

What does Jameson see as a feature of contemporary “theory”? (1962, no longer discourse of separate academic disciplines) In what way is contemporary theory a manifestation of postmodernism?

What social correlates does Jameson identify with these new aesthetic features? What economic order do we live in? (1962, new moment of capitalism, 1960s had been transitional period)

How does Jameson define parody, and what is its relationship to the original which is the object of parody? (parody mocks original, 1963) Why is this form of parody now no longer possible? (1963, its cultural expression is now patische and paranoia) What has happened to the notion of a common language? (many private languages, very possibility of linguistic norms has vanished)

What by contrast is pastiche, and at what moment does it appear? (1963) What does he mean by “blank parody”? (parody without humor)

What is meant by the “death of the subject”? What two interpretations of this “death” in contemporary conceptions of identity does he give, and why is the second more powerful? (1963, notion that sense of individual self a myth and mystification)

What implications for the study of modern literature should follow from the “death of the subject”? (1964-65, stylistic innovation is no longer possible--contemporary art "is going to be about art itself in a new kind of way," 1965)

What do you think of the claim that “writers and artists of the present day will no longer be able to invent new styles and worlds”?--has anyone previously held this view? (1965) Is it valid?

Why do contemporary artists “speak through the masks and with the voices of the styles in the imaginary museum”? In your experience of contemporary art, is this true? (1965) Can you compare this relationship with the past with, say, that of the Victorians to the Romantics? The moderns to the Victorians? The Romantics to the neo-classical period,” etc.?

What does Jameson mean by “the nostalgia mode”? (1965) Is this “nostalgia mode” to be identified with the serious study of history? Does his essay give it a favorable or unfavorable meaning?

Is the concept affected by the fact that most of his examples are from films? How does he explain the “nostalgia” element in films which do not directly concern the past? (1966, plagiarize plots, recreate mode of perception)

By his definition, is anything not nostalgic?

How does he interpret the fondness for movies set in small towns? (1966-67) What does he see as flawed about the focus on the past?

How does Jameson separate the fashion for “nostalgia” from novels representing “our historical past”? (1967) What is the relevance of Plato’s parable of the cave in this context?

Can you see any blind spots to this distinction between historical fiction proper and nostalgic historical fiction?

Eighteenth and nineteenth-century critics debated over the respective values of “the ancients and the moderns”? (1967) If we could consider them anachronistically, where would Jameson’s ideas have fitted into this debate?

What, in Jameson’s view, has happened to our sense of space--“this new hyperspace”-- within the city? Which architects does he identify as representing this trend? (1967)

What kind of consciousness will accompany these changes? (1968)

What does Jameson find significantly representative in the architecture of the Bonaventure Hotel? (1968, hyperspace) What are some of its special features, and what effect do they have on the person who enters or inhabits them? (1969-71)

What does he make of the claim that these import a popular ambiance? (1968)

What political implications does he see to this inability of the human body “to organize its immediate surroundings perceptually”? (1971) Does this suggest any features of the Kantian sublime?

Have you seen such buildings, and do you agree with his assessments?

What is “the new machine”? (1971, the space of postmodern warfare) What does he find to be postmodern about this particular perception of war? (breakdown of all previous narrative paradigms, of shared language through which a veteran might convey such experience; new and previously unimagined alienation). Do you think that he is correct that this is a phenomenon particular to the Vietnam and later wars?

What is Jameson’s answer to the criticism that the features he identifies were also characteristic of earlier periods, such as modernism (or Victorianism, for that matter)? (1972-73) According to Jameson, how has the relationship of art to a wider culture changed, in the academy and in mass society? (1974) (an image of "the incapacity of our minds. . . to grasp the great . . . decentered communicational network in which we find ourselves caught as individual subjects")

What does he see as the relationship of postmodern aesthetics to a sense of history? (1974, has begun to lose its capacity) Is he speaking solely or principally about U. S. society?

Does this claim contradict/complicate his earlier views of nostalgia? If we are a nostalgic culture, how can we suffer from “historical amnesia”? (1974, society has begun to lose capacity to retain its own past--perceptual change or claim of change)

How may “historical amnesia” be seen as a new feature of culture? (1974, media encourage forgetting of past, framentaiton of time into a series of perpetual presents)

What social functions provided by earlier forms of art/literature/cultural criticism does Jameson find absent from contemporary aesthetic forms? (1974) With what final question does he leave the reader?

How do you think he himself would have answered this question? What possible answers might be given?

Jameson is of course a Marxist critic--which aspects of his methodology or criticisms do you find resemble those of earlier Marxists such as Marx, Lukacs or Althusser?

Why do you think James chooses architecture and films (rather than, way, fiction and poetry) as the focus for his claims about postmodern culture? How would you describe the methodology of this essay?

What do you think of this essay? Which of its claims do you find convincing?

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