jameson/existence of cultural thingies as continuous var-

Wed, 19 Jan 1994 13:26:01 EST

Jameson's Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, which
I happen to be reading at this time. But have some reading to do yet before
I reach the concluding Chapter 10, whence the citations appear to have been
taken. The book is difficult if brilliantly written, and the author is
highly sophisticated. So I'd probably say the same thing after having read
the book in entirety that I'll say now, which is, "I'll take Jameson's word
for it." With the caveat that, for every generalization, exceptions may be
found: One such I have already discussed, the critique by the avowedly
postmodernist Marxist Feminist Haraway of the Marxist Feminist MacKinnon,
to the effect that the latter's theory abolishes the <modernist> Self-as-

I solemnly warned the congregation, dearly beloved, that fooling around
with epistemology will lead straight into the pit of ontology, what exists
and how and in what sense, as surely as marijuana smoking does *not* lead
to heroin; ask your President. (Even in Japan, "he's got the whole world
in his hands.") Now you are burning in hellfire. What we have, in Jameson's
book, is *authoritative knowledge* of something whose *existence* is, and
will remain, questionable, even after it has passed out of existence, when
the Owl of Minerva is aboard the Red-Eye Special, "takes the flight after
the shades of dusk have already fallen." To understand myself, I return to
the definition of Culture as "the mental life of society and the material
products wherein it is objectified."

Since the mental life in question must be shared in order to exist at
all, and presupposes a material life whereby the biological organisms which
share it may continue to live at all, and all people are individuated however
much they may ideologically deny this (or affirm it to greater degree than
is objectively warranted: Tang Tsou, America's Failure in China, 1941-1950,
U. Chicago Press, 1956, attributed deluded US policies to the "incredible
ideological homogeneity" of US culture, as projected onto Chinese), culture
always changes. Even should we posit, as do structural-functionalists and
those Marxists asserting distinctiveness over time of "social formations"
or "modes of production" or both, some societal imperative to reproduce
itself, such cannot occur without interference with *exact* reproduction:
the Adaptation "pattern variable" or the "laws of motion" of the "mode of
production." In the realm of culture, whose core is language, there is no
such thing as language without inbuilt processes of change. Also, human
emotion will everywhere include notions of monotony and boredom, better
and worse (whatever other categories the specifics are combined with in
denotation and connotation). If I didn't already have a clearish picture
of which ones of you are already bored and deleted this; deleted from
habitual boredom; and that I'm already bored myself, I'd have written this
weeks ago (not to mention degraded quality over time; frankly, this is lousy).
There must, to get concrete, be posts on this list every day, in order that
the list, qua list, continue; and contingent factors, such as my daring to
say, seriously or otherwise, that my sole interest in the "real name" of
Seeker1 was whether he, Seeker1 was certainly male, was Jewish, or Steve
Mizrach's possible failure to wonder at my purpose in saying such a thing
(there was one), might ignite an absurd flame war. The content of the shared
mental life necessarily changes very rapidly and in explicit disagreement
with itself; all of which occurs within the context of a loosely if
elaborately structured entity whose precarious existence is threatened
by disruption from within and, worse, economic uncertainties from without.

Not so hot, try another angle. Two incarcerated psychotics, with
opportunities for dense interaction on the same ward and shared delusional
system, may indeed confect an entire emic culture between them. But one
of the very facts which constitutes them as psychotics, that they are
unable to "hack it," precludes them from attempting fabrication of products
wherein their meaning system would be objectified, starting with macros for
a print font for their language. (Else they'd be well paid as "hackers" who
may freely go mad before VDT screens.) The exception would be low-tech art,
which the attendants might not recognize as such and throw out. (The limiting
case never occurs because most delusional systems are minor wrinkles on the
prevailing culture; most psychotic art is so bad, its principal display is
in psychopharmaceutical ads with the implicit message, "help prevent this,
prescribe X.")
The meaning systems of this limiting case would *exist*, but hardly: By
routine removal of either party from the ward, the culture with all its
inventory of meaning ceases to exist.
The implication is that, instead of cultural Thingies having an existence
score which is binary, *either* 0 or 1, we have existence scores as continuous
variables, *between* 0 and 1, like p-values. The limiting case gives existence
values not *significantly* above zero.

The next level is the subculture, especially among young people, whose
existence is ephemeral, transitory, evanescent. Or, should it endure beyond
a year or eighteen months, its content would be so drastically transformed
that "old-timers" still hanging around from the previous year would seem,
should their fashions lag, figures of fun; and for their part would bemoan
the sad degeneracy of kids today from the Standards of the Old Days. Such
changes were indeed observed in youth-ghetto and racial-ghetto neighborhoods
in the 1960s, where for example the love-hippies or psychedelic mystics were
morally uneasy with late New Left revolutionary posturing; and both of these
were aghast at the nonconfrontational "laid-back" post-movement culture. The
difficulty with analyzing 1960's social movements, I concluded in 1968-9,
lay precisely in the habituation of Explainers to social movements which
had formal-organizational cohesion, which deposited a residue of self-
monitoring information, statistical and documentary; and a bureaucratic
carcass which endured for decades without proper burial. And as it happens,
some Explainers did indeed insist that on this account no social movements
occurred in the 1960s.
What was true of social movements is also true, before and since, of
cultural, religious, and artistic movements, where no social conflict may
be anticipated barring the isolated gesture; certainly none of the crescent,
developing kind found in real social movements.

Cultural, artistic, and religious movements "exist" to the extent that
they exhibit growth potential sufficient to attract Explainers; and the
material incentives of the Explaining industry may ensure a volume of
Explanatory literature not hitherto justified by the low degree of
objective existence or unimportance of the Observed. Show me a large
enough bunch of artists, writers, and Explainers - critics and social-
behavioral scientists - and I will show you an industry. Put that in
your cyberspace and smoke it. Or, as they say on <Leri@gossip.pyramid.com>,
"Gnow it."

Daniel A. Foss