After some browsing, I downloaded, among other things, a lecture by Fredric Jameson, "The Aesthetics of Singularity". In one way, it was more boring than I expected, in another way, more interesting.
Žižek is a showman. Jameson is a “literary theorist and critic,” according to the website of Berkeley’s Townsend Center, and “an American literary critic and Marxist political theorist,” according to Wikipedia (Sept. 3, 2016, 3:57 PM) – that is, he is an academic. His delivery style, if it can be called that, is that of someone talking to himself.
Most teachers and lecturers after a while learn how to exude at least a rudimentary charisma, when necessary. Of course, if your chosen audience is yourself, then it is not necessary. To add to the monotony of his delivery, Jameson employed the anti-peroration. As he summed up an argument and came to a conclusion, he would drop his voice to a mutter which I don’t think even he could have deciphered if he had not already known what he was saying.
More interesting than I expected were Jameson’s ideas.
Žižek echoes, albeit with flair and brilliance, conclusions that I already have come to. Jameson makes connections and sees correspondences in ways that never would have occurred to me. My reaction to a brilliant thought of Žižek’s is enthusiastic assent, “Yes!” My reaction to a brilliant thought of Jameson’s is sheepish admiration, “Wow!” Although beautiful to behold, some of Jameson’s ideas prove a little flimsy or a little far-fetched. “Why didn’t I think of that, it’s so obvious!” becomes “Why didn’t I think of that, it’s so clever!”
Here is the gist of Jameson’s lecture – or, at least, what I took away from it: (I’m not going to go back and check.)
Jameson begins by defining postmodernism as the structure and texture of the present. Everything, not just art, can be described as postmodern – the economy, politics, food. The postmodern world is a world of singularities – one-offs, instead of old fashioned things that exist through time.
Postmodern art is exemplified by the art installation: an arrangement of various objects. It specifically relates to the space in which it is displayed. No longer on display, the art installation no longer exists. That makes the curator, not the artist, the celebrity of the postmodern world (Wow!).
Postmodern economy is characterized by the financial derivative. Just like a postmodern art installation, it is an arrangement of various financial assets. (Wow!) In the modern world it was the directors of the banks, CEO’s, entrepreneurs who were the celebrities of the economy; the postmodern economic celebrities are the bankers and brokers.
Social protest also has become postmodern. Tahrir Square, the color revolutions, the 1999 Seattle protests, the occupy movement, all were collections of people drawn through social media. Instead of representing a movement, they were arrangements of various people with various agendas.
Jameson may not have stopped there, but that is as much as I can recall.
It is a delightful trio of interlocking ideas and analogies, but do they conform to reality? That sounds negative, but I don’t mean to be. In philosophy, unlike in science, the beauty of a theory counts for a lot, even if it doesn’t all add up.
Jameson was strongest on art; less strong on finance; almost peremptory about postmodern social protest. Perhaps he was running out of time. But he fluffed a question about it, afterwards. Someone in the audience asked if he thought that the 1968 student demonstrations were examples of postmodern social protest. Jameson pondered a moment, then answered, “Yes.”
Maybe I was projecting, but I got the sense that Jameson had a sentimental attachment to ’68 and couldn’t bear to leave it out. 1968 was organized by leaders, from the names we know, down to one SDS or anti-Vietnam activist in a class, or on the floor of a dorm. In that way, ’68 was closer to the Paris Commune, the March on Washington or, for that matter, Kristallnacht, than to Occupy Wall Street.
Including ’68 weakens Jameson’s neat analogy between an art installation and a crowdsourced demonstration. He probably realized later that he’d goofed.