The Timing of Postmodernity


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Below, we present an excerpt from The Origins of PostmodernityPublished in 1998, the book began as an introduction to Fredric Jameson's The Cultural Turn before expanding to a four-part historiographic essay on postmodernity as an idea and a phenomenon, with special attention to Jameson's singular contribution to its theorization. In his foreword, Anderson writes: "Although I have never written about a body of work that I did not, in one way or another, admire, an element of resistance was in the past always an ingredient in the impulse to do so. Intellectual admiration is in any case one thing, political sympathy another. This short book tries to do something else, which I have always found difficult: to express a sense of the achievement of a thinker with whom, it might be said, I lack the safety of sufficient distance." 

The text here forms the first part of the book's concluding section. In the preceding chapters, Anderson has traced the appearance of the earliest ideas of the postmodern, and the developments undergirding them, through its "crystallization" in Lyotard and Venturi, before turning to the fuller account provided by Jameson. 

Body Heat (1981), described by Jameson at the Whitney in 1982 as "exceedingly symptomatic."

The capture of the postmodern by Jameson has set the terms of subsequent debate. It is no surprise that the most significant interventions since his entry into the field have likewise been Marxist in origin. The three leading contributions can be read as attempts to supplement or correct, each in its own way, Jameson's original account. Alex Callinicos’s Against Postmodernism (1989) advances a closer analysis of the political background to the postmodern. David Harvey's Condition of Postmodernity (1990) offers a much fuller theory of its economic presuppositions. Terry Eagleton's Illusions of Postmodernism (1996) tackles the impact of its ideological diffusion. All these works pose problems of demarcation. How is the postmodern to be best periodized? To what intellectual configuration does it correspond? What is the appropriate response to it?


The central question here is the first — the issue of periodization. Jameson's earliest critic on the Left had pointed out a loose joint in his construction.1 If postmodernism was the cultural logic of late capitalism, should they not coincide fairly closely in time? Yet Mandel's Late Capitalism, on which Jameson based his conception of a new stage in capitalist development, dated its general arrival from 1945 — while Jameson put the emergence of the postmodern in the early seventies. Even if it could be argued that the full realization of Mandel's model did not come overnight, such a gap remained troubling. Callinicos and Harvey, writing at virtually the same time, drew opposite conclusions. Harvey, whose earlier work The Limits of Capital had outlined the most systematic and original Marxist theory of economic crises, argued that the advent of postmodernity, rightly located towards the beginning of the seventies, in fact reflected a contemporaneous break with the post-war model of capitalist development. With the recession of 1973, Fordism — undermined by increased international competition, falling corporate profits and accelerating inflation — had plunged into a long-delayed crisis of overaccumulation.

In response, a new regime of flexible accumulation had emerged, as capital increased its room for manoeuvre across the board. The new period saw greater flexibility of labour markets (temporary contracts; immigrant and domestic sweating), manufacturing processes (outsourcing of plants; just-in-time production), commodity outputs (batch consignments), and above all of deregulated financial operations, in a single world market for money and credit. It was this restless, speculative system that was the existential basis of the various forms of postmodern culture, whose reality and novelty were not to be doubted — a sensibility closely related to the dematerialization of money, the ephemerality of fashion, the glut of simulation in the new economies. None of this amounted to any fundamental change in the mode of production as such — let alone to a long-term solution of the pressures of overaccumulation, which had still not undergone the necessary purge of a massive devalorization of capital. Nor, indeed, could flexible accumulation itself be described as universally dominant; more typically, it coexisted in mixed patterns with older Fordist forms, and even the shifts from one to the other were by no means always irreversible.2 What had critically altered, however, was the position and autonomy of financial markets within capitalism, outflanking national governments, which spelt systemic instability of an unprecedented kind.

Callinicos, on the other hand, reversed this line of argument. While it was true that global capital was now more integrated than ever before, and possessed new degrees of mobility, this in no way added up to a "break" in the history of capitalism. For national states retained substantial powers of regulation, as the ironic success of Reagan's military keynesianism in reflating the world economy in the eighties had shown. As for the other features of "flexible accumulation," they were mostly exaggerated or mythical: the labour force was less segmented, batch production less widespread, the service sector less significant than theories of post-Fordism suggested — just as Fordism itself was an overblown notion, projecting a homogeneous dominance of standardized mass production that had never existed, save in a limited number of consumer durable industries. Similarly, postmodernism as a distinct set of artistic practices — let alone a cultural dominant — was largely a figment. Virtually every aesthetic device or feature attributed to postmodernism — bricolage of tradition, play with the popular, reflexivity, hybridity, pastiche, figurality, decentring of the subject — could be found in modernism. No critical break was discernible here either.

What could be observed was something different: namely a gradual degradation of modernism itself, as it had become increasingly commodified and integrated into the circuits of post-war capital. The sources of this decline, however, were to be traced in the first instance, not so much to larger economic changes, or any immanent aesthetic logic, as more directly to the political history of the time. Historically, modernism had reached its apogee with the cluster of revolutionary avant-gardes between the wars — constructivism in Russia, expressionism and neue Sachlichkeit in Germany, surrealism in France. It was the victory of Stalin and Hitler that finished off these movements. Analogously, postmodernism — aesthetically little more than a minor twist in the downward spiral of modernism, though ideologically of much greater significance — should be seen as a product of the political defeat of the radical generation of the late sixties. Revolutionary hopes disappointed, this cohort had found compensation in a cynical hedonism that found lavish outlet in the overconsumption boom of the eighties. "This conjuncture — the prosperity of the Western new middle class combined with the political disillusionment of many of its most articulate members — provides the context for the proliferating talk of postmodernism."3

Such contrasted diagnoses, reached from common starting points, pose the problem of situating the postmodern with some accuracy acutely. In a sketch of the origins of modernism in the European Belle Epoque, I once suggested that it was best understood as the outcome of a field of force triangulated by three coordinates: an economy and society still only semi-industrial, in which the ruling order remained to a significant extent agrarian or aristocratic; a technology of dramatic inventions, whose impact was still fresh or incipient; and an open political horizon, in which revolutionary upheavals of one kind or another against the prevailing order were widely expected or feared.4 In the space so bounded, a wide variety of artistic innovations could explode — symbolism, imagism, expressionism, cubism, futurism, constructivism: some quarrying classical memory or patrician styles, others drawn to a poetics of the new machinery, yet others fired by visions of social upheaval; but none at peace with the market as the organizing principle of a modern culture — in that sense, virtually without exception anti-bourgeois.

The First World War, destroying the ancien régimes in Russia, Austro-Hungary and Germany, and weakening landowners elsewhere, modified but did not overturn this setting. European upper classes and their train de vie went on much as before; advanced forms of industrial organization and mass consumption — Gramsci’s idea of Fordism — remained largely confined to the US; revolution and counter-revolution battled from the Vistula to the Ebro. In such conditions, avant-garde movements and forms of great vigour continued to emerge — Opojaz in Russia, Bauhaus in Germany, surrealism in France. The caesura came with the Second World War, whose outcome smashed the old agrarian elites and their way of life across most of the Continent, installed stable capitalist democracy and standardized consumer-durables in the West, and gutted the ideals of revolution in the East. With all the forces that had historically spurred it gone, the élan of modernism gave out. It had lived from the non-synchronous — what was past or future in the present — and died with the arrival of the purely contemporaneous: the monotone steady-state of the post-war Atlantic order. Henceforward, art that still would be radical was routinely destined for commercial integration or institutional cooption.

Much could be said of this rapid outline, by way of expansion or criticism, today. It invites more geographical nuance. What determined the gradient of technological enthusiasm in the early forms of modernism? Why was Britain seemingly so barren of innovative movements — or was it altogether? Can surrealism be regarded as simply the last in the series of major avant-gardes between the wars, or did it also configure something new? Answers to questions like these would have to look more closely at the national specificities of the different cultures of the time. Schematically, for example, one could envisage a spectrum of ideal attitudes to the new mechanical marvels of the early twentieth century, varying inversely with the extent of their implantation: the two most industrially backward powers of the continent, Italy and Russia, generating the most fervently technicist avant-gardes, in their respective futurisms; while Germany, combining advanced industry in the West with the retrograde landscape of the East, was split between expressionist loathing and Bauhaus wooing of Metropolis; France, on the other hand, with its pattern of modestly prosperous petty production in town and country, permitted a quirkier synthesis in surrealism, entranced precisely by the interlacing of new and old. As for Britain, the failure of its flickering modernist impulses to endure was surely related to the absence of any major insurgent strand in the labour movement. But it was no doubt also a function of early industrialization, and the gradual development of an overwhelmingly urbanized but already tradition-bound economy, whose slowness acted as a buffer against the shock of a new machine-age that galvanized avant-gardes elsewhere.

But the more important limits of the account retraced above are to be found at the end rather than beginning of the story. The cut-off point proposed for modernism after 1945 was certainly too abrupt. Peter Wollen’s history amply demonstrates that. The legacy of the pre-war avant-gardes could not be extinguished overnight, since it necessarily still stood as internal model and memory, no matter how unfavourable the external circumstances for reproducing it. In America, abstract expressionism offered a poignant illustration of the new situation. Formally an exemplary modernist gesture, the most radical collective break with figurality to date, the New York school went from garret to apotheosis at — comparatively speaking — lightning speed, marking something quite new in the history of painting. This was an avant-garde that became an orthodoxy in its own short life-span, capitalized as symbolic investment by big money and promulgated as ideological value by the state. Yet the Cold War trumpeting of this art by the USIA had a peculiar irony. Connexions with surrealism were vital in abstract expressionism, and the politics of its leading painters could hardly have been further from their use as a moral affiche for the Free World: Rothko was an anarchist, Motherwell a socialist, and Pollock — in the private opinion of Greenberg, his greatest public champion — nothing less than a "goddam Stalinist from start to finish."5

In Europe, where the annexationist logic of the post-war art market was less overpowering, and significant forces of resistance to the Cold War system persisted in the West, continuities with the insurgent aims of the inter-war avant-gardes were much stronger. Surrealism could still trigger successive projects conceived more or less in its image, as Wollen shows in his detailed reconstruction of the movement from COBRA and lettrisme to the Situationist International.6 Here, the heroic ambition of the historic avant-garde — the transfiguration of art and politics alike — sprang to life once more. But even before the climax of 1968, the union had come loose. The artistic wings of Situationism were essentially a product of the periphery: Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Piedmont, where the gallery system was weak. The political head was centred in France, where revolutionary militancy and the art market were both much stronger, creating a field of suspicion within the International of which the artists paid the price, in expulsion or departure; condemning the SI in turn to the hazards, and transience, of any overpoliticization. Another great adventure of these years lasted longer. In some ways strangely parallel in trajectory, Godard's cinema moved towards steadily more radical forms — of narrative ellipse, torsion between sound and image, didactic caption — in the same period, throwing off a series of near-masterpieces, before culminating in a convulsive, unsustainable bid for a revolutionary ascesis in the aftermath of 1968. Later, Godard’s withdrawal to Switzerland might be compared to Jorn's refuges in Liguria or Denmark: a different kind of productivity, once again of the margin.

The quarter century after the end of hostilities thus seems in retrospect an inter-regnum, in which modernist energies were not subject to sudden cancellation, but still glowed intermittently here and there, where conditions allowed, within an inhospitable general climate. It was not until the turn of the seventies that the ground for an altogether new configuration was prepared. If we want to fix the emergence of a postmodernism more accurately, one way of doing so is to look at what had replaced the principal determinants of modernism. Jameson's work, in fact, contains pointers to most of the relevant changes, which with the slightest of rearrangements afford the more precise focus required. Postmodernism can be viewed as a cultural field triangulated, in its turn, by three new historical coordinates. The first of these lies in the fate of the ruling order itself. By the end of the Second World War the power of aristocratic tradition had received its quietus across continental Europe. But for another generation, its traditional alter — rival and partner — persisted. We can still speak of the bourgeoisie as a class, in that meaning of the term in which Max Weber could remark with pride that he belonged to it. That is to say, a social force with its own sense of collective identity, characteristic moral codes and cultural habitus. If we wanted a single visual clip of this world, it was a scene where men still wore hats. The United States had its version in the old money of the Eastern establishment.

Schumpeter always argued that capitalism, as an intrinsically amoral economic system driven by the pursuit of profit, dissolvent of all barriers to market calculation, depended critically on pre-capitalist — in essence nobiliary — values and manners to hold it together as social and political order. But this aristocratic "under-girding," as he put it, was typically reinforced by a secondary structure of support, in bourgeois milieux confident of the moral dignity of their own calling: subjectively closer to portraits by Mann than Flaubert. In the epoch of the Marshall Plan and the genesis of the European Community, this world lived on. In the political realm, substantial figures like Adenauer, De Gasperi, Monnet embodied this persistence — their political relationship to Churchill or De Gaulle, grandees from a seigneurial past, as if an after-image of an original compact that socially was no longer valid. But, as it turned out, the two braces in the older structure were more interdependent than they once had seemed.

For within the span of another twenty years, the bourgeoisie too — in any strict sense, as a class possessed of self-consciousness and morale — was all but extinct. Here and there, pockets of a traditional bourgeois setting can still be found in provincial cities of Europe, and perhaps in certain regions of North America, typically preserved by religious piety: family networks in the Veneto or Basque lands, conservative notables in the Bordelais, parts of the German Mittelstand, and so on. But by and large, the bourgeoisie as Baudelaire or Marx, Ibsen or Rimbaud, Grosz or Brecht — or even Sartre or O'Hara — knew it, is a thing of the past. In place of that solid amphitheatre is an aquarium of floating, evanescent forms — the projectors and managers, auditors and janitors, administrators and speculators of contemporary capital: functions of a monetary universe that knows no social fixities or stable identities.

Not that inter-generational mobility has greatly increased, if at all, in the richer societies of the post-war world. These remain as objectively stratified as ever. But the cultural and psychological markers of position have become steadily more eroded among those who enjoy wealth or power. Agnelli or Wallenberg now evoke a distant past, in a time whose typical masks are Milken or Gates. From the seventies onwards, the leading personnel of the major states was moulting too — Nixon, Tanaka, Craxi were among the new plumes. More widely, in the public sphere democratization of manners and disinhibition of mores advanced together. For long, sociologists had debated the embourgeoisement of the working-class in the West — never a very happy term for the processes at issue. By the nineties, however, the more striking phenomenon was a general encanaillement of the possessing classes — as it were: starlet princesses and sleazeball presidents, beds for rent in the official residence and bribes for killer ads, disneyfication of protocols and tarantinization of practices, the avid corteges of the nocturnal underpass or the gubernatorial troop. In scenes like these lies much of the social backdrop of the postmodern.

For what this landscape means is that two conditions of modernism have vanished utterly. There is no longer any vestige of an academicist establishment against which an advanced art could pit itself. Historically, the conventions of academic art were always closely tied, not only to the self-representations of titled or upper classes, but also to the sensibility and pretensions of traditional middle classes below them. With the passing of the bourgeois world, this aesthetic foil is missing. The title and site of the most deliberately lurid brat-pack show in Britain says everything: Sensation — care of the Royal Academy. Similarly, modernism tapped violent energies of revolt against the official morality of the time — standards of repression and hypocrisy notoriously stigmatized, with reason, as specifically bourgeois. The jettisoning of any real pretence of upholding these standards, widely visible from the eighties onwards, could not but affect the situation of oppositional art: once bourgeois morality in the traditional sense is over, it is as if an amplifier is suddenly cut off. Modernism, from its earliest origins in Baudelaire or Flaubert onwards, virtually defined itself as "anti-bourgeois." Postmodernism is what occurs when, without any victory, that adversary is gone.

A second condition can be traced to the evolution of technology. Modernism was powered by the excitement of the great cluster of new inventions that transformed urban life in the early years of the century: the liner, the radio, the cinema, the skyscraper, the automobile, the aeroplane, and by the abstract conception of dynamic machinofacture behind them. These provided the images and settings for much of the most original art of the period, and gave all of it an encompassing sense of rapid change. The inter-war period refined and extended the key technologies of the modernist take-off with the arrival of the flying boat, the roadster, sound and colour on screen, the autogyro, but did not add significantly to their list. Glamour and speed became, even more than before, the dominant notes in the perceptual register. It was the experience of the Second World War that abruptly changed this whole Gestalt. Scientific progress now for the first time assumed unmistakeably menacing shapes, as constant technical improvement unleashed ever more powerful instruments of destruction and death, terminating in demonstrative nuclear explosions. Another and infinitely vaster kind of machinery, far beyond the range of daily experience, yet casting a baleful shadow over it, had arrived.

After these glimpses of apocalypse, the post-war boom changed the countenance of the mechanical in more close-at-hand and thorough-going ways. War production, above all — if not only — in America, had converted technological innovation into a permanent principle of industrial output, mobilizing research budgets and design teams for military competition. With peace-time reconstruction and the long post-war boom, mass production of standardized goods integrated the same dynamic. The result was an industrial version of Weber's parabola of the spiritual: as the flow of the new became in its very continuity a stream of the same, the charisma of technique was transformed into routine, and lost its magnetic powers for art. In part too this banalization reflected the absence, amidst a ceaseless plethora of improvements, of any decisive cluster of inventions comparable to those of the era before the First World War. For a whole period the excitement of the modern tacitly dwindled, without much alteration of its original visual field.

The development that changed everything was television. This was the first technological advance of world-historical moment in the post-war epoch. With it, a qualitative jump in the power of mass communications had arrived. Radio had already proved, in the inter-war and war-time years, a far more potent instrument of social capture than print: not merely by reason of its lesser demands on educational qualification, or greater immediacy of reception, but above all because of its temporal reach. Round-the-clock broadcasting created potentially permanent listeners — audiences whose waking and hearing hours could at the limit be one. This effect was only possible, of course, because of the dissociation of the ear from the eye, which meant that so many activities — eating, working, travelling, relaxing — could be performed with the radio in the background. The capacity of television to command the attention of its audiences is immeasurably greater, because they are not simply such: the eye is caught before the ear is cocked. What the new medium brought was a combination of undreamt-of power: the continuous availability of radio with an equivalent of the perceptual monopoly of print, which excludes other forms of attention by the reader. The saturation of the imaginary is of another order.

First marketed in the fifties, television did not acquire major salience till the early sixties. But so long as its screen was only black-and-white, the medium — whatever its other advantages — retained a mark of inferiority, as if it were technically still a laggard stepchild of the cinema. The true moment of its ascendancy did not come until the arrival of colour television, which first became general in the West in the early seventies, triggering a crisis in the film industry whose box-office effects are still with us. If there is any single technological watershed of the postmodern, it lies here. If we compare the setting it has created to the opening of the century, the difference can be put quite simply. Once, in jubilation or alarm, modernism was seized by images of machinery; now, postmodernism was sway to a machinery of images. In themselves, the television set or the computer terminal, with which it will eventually merge, are peculiarly blank objects — null zones of the domestic or bureaucratic interior that are not just inapt as "conductors of psychic energy," but tend to neutralize it. Jameson has put this with characteristic force: "These new machines can be distinguished from the older futurist icons in two related ways: they are all sources of reproduction rather than 'production' and they are no longer sculptural solids in space. The housing of a computer scarcely embodies or manifests its peculiar energies in the same way that a wing shape or a slanted smokestack do."7

On the other hand, image-resistant themselves, the machines pour out a torrent of images, with whose volume no art can compete. The decisive technical environment of the postmodern is constituted by this "Niagara of visual gabble."Since the seventies, the spread of second-order devices and positionings in so much aesthetic practice is comprehensible only in terms of this primary reality. But the latter, of course, is not simply a wave of images, but also — and above all — of messages. Marinetti or Tatlin could erect an ideology out of the mechanical, but most of the machines themselves said little. The new apparatuses, by contrast, are perpetual emotion machines, transmitting discourses that are wall-to-wall ideology, in the strong sense of the term. The intellectual atmosphere of postmodernism, as doxa rather than art, draws many of its impulses from the pressure of this sphere. For the postmodern is this too: an index of critical change in the relationship between advanced technology and the popular imaginary.

A third coordinate of the new situation lay, of course, in the political changes of the time. The onset of the Cold War, after 1947, had frozen strategic boundaries and chilled all insurgent hopes in Europe. In America, the labour movement was neutered and the left hounded. Post-war stabilization was followed by the fastest period of international growth in the history of capitalism. The Atlantic order of the fifties, proclaiming the end of ideology, seemed to consign the political world of the twenties and thirties to a remote past. The wind of revolution, in which the avant-gardes had once skimmed, was gone. Typically, it was in this period, when most of the great experiments seemed over, that the notion of "modernism" acquired currency as a comprehensive term, to demarcate a canon of classical works to which contemporary critics now looked back.

Yet the outward appearance of a complete closure of political horizons in the West was still, for a whole period, deceptive. In continental Europe, mass Communist parties in France and Italy — and undergrounds in Spain, Portugal and Greece — remained unreconciled to the existing order; no matter how moderate their tactics, their very existence acting as "a mnemonic device, as it were, holding the place in the pages of history" for the revival of more radical aspirations.9 In the USSR, the passing of Stalin unleashed processes of reform that seemed in the era of Khrushchev to be moving towards a less repressive and more internationalist Soviet model — one committed to assisting rather than frustrating insurgent movements abroad. In the Third World, decolonization was shaking loose major bastions of imperial rule, in a series of revolutionary upheavals — Indochina, Egypt, Algeria, Cuba, Angola — that brought independence to much wider areas. In China, the established bureaucracy became the target of a movement orchestrated by Mao, invoking the ideals of the Paris Commune.

Such was the setting, with its mixture of realities and illusions, for the sudden kindling of explosive revolutionary energies among educated youth of the advanced capitalist countries — not merely in France, Germany or Italy, but equally in the United States or Japan — in the sixties. The wave of student revolt was rapidly, if more selectively, followed by labour unrest — most famously, the general strike of May-June 1968 in France, the Hot Autumn of Italy in 1969 and its protracted sequels, the miners' strikes of 1973-74 in Britain. In this great turbulence, echoes from the European past (Fourier, Blanqui, Luxemburg: not to speak of Marx himself), the Third World present (Guevara, Ho Chi Minh, Cabral) and the Communist future (the "cultural revolution" envisaged by Lenin or Mao) criss-crossed to create a political ferment not seen since the twenties. In these years too, vital struts of the traditional moral order, regulating the relations between generations and sexes, started to give way. No-one has retraced the parabola of that time better than Jameson, in his essay "Periodizing the Sixties."10 Quite naturally, it saw lively avant-garde flames spurt up again.

But this conjuncture proved to be a climacteric. Within another few years, all the signs were reversed as, one by one, the political dreams of the sixties were snuffed out. The May Revolt in France was absorbed virtually without trace in the political doldrums of the seventies. The Czechoslovak Spring — the boldest of all Communist reform experiments — was crushed by the armies of the Warsaw Pact. In Latin America, guerrillas inspired or led by Cuba were stamped out. In China, the Cultural Revolution sowed terror rather than liberation. In the Soviet Union, the long Brezhnevite decline set in. To the West, here and there labour unrest persisted; but by the second half of the decade the tide of militancy had ebbed. Callinicos and Eagleton are right to stress immediate sources of postmodernism in the experience of defeat. But these setbacks were only a preamble to more decisive checkmates ahead.

In the eighties, a victorious Right passed over to the offensive. In the Anglo-Saxon world the Reagan and Thatcher regimes, after flattening the labour movement, rolled back regulation and redistribution. Spreading from Britain to the Continent, privatization of the public sector, cuts in social expenditure and high levels of unemployment created a new norm of neo-liberal development, eventually implemented by parties of the Left no less than the Right. By the end of the decade, the post-war mission of social-democracy in Western Europe — a welfare state based on full employment and universal provision — had been largely abandoned by the Socialist International. In Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Communism — unable to compete economically abroad or democratize politically at home — was obliterated altogether. In the Third World, states born from national liberation movements were everywhere trapped in new forms of international subordination, unable to escape the constraints of global financial markets and their institutions of supervision.

The universal triumph of capital signifies more than just a defeat for all those forces once arrayed against it, although it is also that. Its deeper sense lies in the cancellation of political alternatives. Modernity comes to an end, as Jameson observes, when it loses any antonym. The possibility of other social orders was an essential horizon of modernism. Once that vanishes, something like postmodernism is in place. This is the unspoken moment of truth in Lyotard's original construction. How, then, should the conjuncture of the postmodern be summed up? A capsule comparison with modernism might run: postmodernism emerged from the constellation of a déclassé ruling order, a mediatized technology and a monochrome politics. But, of course, these coordinates were themselves only dimensions of a larger change that supervened with the seventies.

Capitalism as a whole entered a new historical phase, with the sudden fade-out of the post-war boom. The underlying cause of the long downswing, with its much slower rates of growth and higher rates of inequality, was the intensification of international competition, relentlessly forcing down rates of profit and so the springs of investment, in a global economy no longer divisible into relatively sheltered national spaces. This was the hard meaning of the arrival of the multinational capitalism flagged by Jameson. The response of the system to the crisis yielded the configuration of the eighties: the battering down of labour in core regions, outsourcing of plants to cheap wage locations in the periphery, displacement of investment into services and communications, expansion of military expenditure, and vertiginous rise in the relative weight of financial speculation at the expense of innovative production. In these ingredients of the Reagan recovery, all the deteriorated elements of the postmodern came together: unbridled nouveau riche display, teleprompt statecraft, boll-weevil consensus. It was the euphoria of this conjuncture that generated, with punctual timing, the first real illumination of postmodernism. The economic turning-point of the Reagan Presidency came on 12 August 1982, when the American stock-market took off — the start of the feverish bull-run that ended the Carter recession. Three months later, Jameson rose to address the Whitney.


1. See Mike Davis, "Urban Renaissance and the Spirit of Postmodernism," New Left Review, No 151, May-June 1985, pp. 106-113.

2. The Condition of Postmodernity, Oxford 1990, pp. 121-197. The even keel of this work is very impressive.

3. Against Postmodernism, Cambridge 1989, p. 168. 

4. "Modernity and Revolution," New Left Review, No. 144, March-April 1984; reprinted, with a postscript (1985), in A Zone of Engagement, London 1992, pp. 25—55.

5. See T. J. Clark, "In Defense of Abstract Expressionism," October, No 69, Summer 1994, p. 45.

6. Raiding the Icebox, pp. 135-150.

7. Signatures of the Visible, New York 1992, p. 61; likewise Postmodernism, pp. 36-37.

8. The phrase is Robert Hughes's: Nothing if Not Critical, New York 1990, p. 14.

9. Marxism and Form, p. 273.

10. The Ideologies of Theory, Vol 2, pp. 178-208.


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