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Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Poetics of Social Forms) [Paperback]

Fredric Jameson
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

14 Jan 1992 Poetics of Social Forms
Jameson's study of the cultural, political and social implications of postmodernism.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 449 pages
  • Publisher: Verso Books; 1st Paperback Printing edition (14 Jan 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0860915379
  • ISBN-13: 978-0860915379
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.2 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 164,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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First Sentence
The last few years have been marked by an inverted millenarianism in which premonitions of the future, catastrophic or redemptive, have been replaced by senses of the end of this or that (the end of ideology, art, or social class; the "crisis" of Leninism, social democracy, or the welfare state, etc., etc.); taken together, all of these perhaps constitute what is increasingly called postmodernism. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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47 of 59 people found the following review helpful
Jameson's book stands out as one of two major original contributions to the analysis of postmodernism (the other being David Harvey's Postmodern Condition). Sympathetic to Marxism, Jameson draws on Ernest Mandel's notion of late capitalism to suggest that postmodernism is the cultural logic of a distinct phase of capitalism. no analysis of review of postmodernism could exclude this foundational text.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The bible of postmodernism 11 April 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Although Jameson's style is dense and difficult at time, repeated readings of the text make his points clear. The points he makes are enlightened and incredibly well informed. It occasionally lacks examples of the theory, but the examples he does make reference some very interesting material. A must have for anyone interested in media studies, cultural theory and philosophy.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
163 of 174 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Book, For Those Who Can Read It 3 Nov 1997
By A Customer - Published on
"Postmodernism" is one of those words many of us have heard somewhere, but something we know little about, which includes myself. But since I have read Jameson's book, among a few others on this notoriously confusing topic, let me at least tell you what I think about the book. To begin with, this is not a book for those who are new to the subject. This has to do not just with the extremely complicated nature of postmodernism as a topic, but Jameson's style of writing itself, which produces sentences that at times can run more than half a page, if not more. Reading Jameson's work can be something like climbing Everest with a jeep on your back, as a friend of mine recently commented. It is difficult to imagine an intellectual (perhaps with the exception of the psychoanalytic theorist Jacques Lacan) in the past thirty years who is more difficult to understand than Jameson.
Yet, those who are able to endure Jameson's arrogant, intricate writing style will easily see why his book on postmodernism is one of the best written on the subject. Jameson begins his work with an intricate reading of a painting by Van Gogh and contrasts it to Warhol's "Diamond Dust Shoes," the former as the symptom of a typical "modernist" work and the latter as a prime example of a "postmodernist" one. His main argument in the important opening title essay and throughout the book is that around the late sixties to the early seventies, cultural representation and production has experienced significant changes and that these changes must be accounted by even more significant changes in history itself, history being understood here with the Marxian notion of "the mode of production" or, to put it crudely, the socio-economic system. I will not go into the details of this argument, which are too complex to discuss here; but what is amazing about Jameson's work is the sheer depth of his intellectual capabilities, which offers detailed analyses of architecture, video, economics, film, literature, and so forth into all corners of culture, within the context of our recent history, followed by his daunting, one-hundred page conclusion on a number issues to consider in future studies of the postmodern. Even if you do not agree with Jameson's argument, much less his Marxist critical approach, you will no doubt be amazed by Jameson's seemingly endless cultural inventory. If you are a follower of Marxist theory or cultural theory in general, you will be equally impressed with the ambition of Jameson's intention, which is nothing less than to present a totalizing historical perspective on postmodernism and postmodernity. Anyone interested in postmodernism or Marxism must read this indispensable text. The only problem is if you can.
Peter Song, recent graduate in English and Comparative Literature at UNC Chapel Hill
111 of 135 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism 26 Dec 2001
By Mete Çomoğlu - Published on
The term, Postmodernism refers to the cultural and ideological configuration that is taken to have replaced or be replacing Modernity. New movements in architecture and the arts as well as social theories indicate a change from modernity to postmodernity.
Frederic Jameson, an American Marxist social theorist and the author of the book, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, draws the attentions to the differences in culture between the modern and postmodern periods. In order to explain his arguments, Jameson is specially interested in the fields of architecture, art and other cultural forms. He places the heaviest emphasis on architecture. In his article, Jameson's basic argument is that postmodernism is a dominant cultural form and that is indicative of late capitalism.
Jameson's article begins with the comparison of Van Gogh's painting to Warhol's. Jameson contrasts Van Gogh's painting with Warhol's "Diamond Dust Shoes," He refers to the former as the symptom of a typical "modernist" work and the latter as a prime example of a "postmodernist" one. His main assertion here is that cultures and production has experienced important changes and these changes must be accounted by even more significant changes in history . He focuses on these changes on the individual level in postmodern society and his main concern was the cultural expressions and aesthetics that is associated with the different systems of production.
Jameson suggests that postmodernism is differed from other cultural forms by its emphasis on fragmentation. He specially emphasizes on the term, fragmentation. For Jameson, the fragmentation of the subject replaces the alienation of the subject which characterized modernism. Postmodernism always deals with surface, not substance. There is no center, rather everything tends to be decentralized in postmodernism. Postmodernist works are often characterized by a lack of depth. According to Jameson, individuals are no longer anomic and anxious, because there is nothing from which an individual could cut his or her ties. The liberation from the anxiety that characterized anomie may also mean a liberation from other kind of feeling as well. For him, this is not to say that the cultural products of the postmodernism are devoid of feelings, but rather such feelings are now free-floating and impersonal.
Jameson defines the late capitalist age as a distinct period, which focuses on commodification and the recycling of old images and commodities. Jameson provides an example of Warhol's work, (Diamonds Dust Shoes) as well as Warhol himself. Jameson refers to this cultural recycling as historicism (the random cannibalization of all styles of the past.) It is an increasing primacy of the 'neo'(new) and a world was transformed into sheer images of itself. the actual organic tie of history to past events is being lost.
All of these cultural forms in art and architecture are indicative of postmodernism, late capitalism, or what Jameson calls present-day multinational capitalism. Jameson claims that there has been a radical shift in our surrounding material world and the ways, in which it works. He refers to an architectural example, a postmodern building Symbolic of the multinational world space which people function in daily. Jameson suggests that the human subjects who occupy this new space have not kept pace with the evolution which produced it. There has been a mutation in the object, yet we do not possesses the perceptual equipment to match this new hyperspace. Therein lies the source of our fragmentation as individuals.
Jameson also suggests that this latest mutation in space, postmodern hyperspace, (he provides the Bonaventura hotel as an example) has finally succeeded in transcending the capacities of the individual human body to locate itself, to organize its immediate surroundings perceptually, and cognitively to map its position in a mappable external world. This is the symbol and analogue of our inability at present to map the great global multinational and decentered communicational network in which people find themselves caught as individual subjects. He continues, we now live in a world where our daily life, our experiences, our cultural languages are dominated by categories of space rather than by categories of time, which was dominant in past eras. For Jameson, late capitalism aspires to a total space and a vastness of scale.
Jameson's argument in this article is that postmodernism is a dominant cultural form, not simply a style, and Jameson considers this dominant cultural form (postmodernism) as a sign of late capitalism. In explaining postmodernism as a dominant cultural form, he is specially concerned with the field of architecture, art and other cultural forms. Yet, as far as I have seen in this article, Jameson seems to emphases much more on the field of art and architecture than on social and political aspects of postmodernism. For example, he does not explicitly give much attention or interest to social theories such as poststructuralism, which is highly associated with postmodernism. Secondly, although the term, "Late-Capitalism" implies multinational capitalism, media-capitalism, the modern world system and postindustrial society, in the article he only talks about multinational capitalism and he neither explicitly touches nor sufficiently explains the terms like; modern world system and postindustrial society.
I would also like to commend on Jameson's style of writing, in the article, he produces sentences that sometimes can run more than half a page, I think this makes the article a little bit harder to read. Nevertheless, Jameson's article is worth to read since it stands as one of the best written books on postmodernism, besides it also offers detailed analyses of postmodernism and late capitalist age.
In conclusion, by his article -The cultural logic of late capitalism"- Jameson tries to argue that all of the characteristics of contemporary art, architecture and cultural forms reflect the structure of late capitalism as well as contemporary society - (i.e. domination by multinational corporations, the decline of national sovereignty). Moreover he argues that postmodernity is a part of the cultural logic of late capitalism and this is what brings about cultural fragmentation. Although, in this article, social, political and other aspects of postmodernism have not been emphasized as much as art, architecture, and cultural aspects of postmodern age have been, this article clearly explains the connection and relation between postmodernism as dominant cultural form and late capitalist age.
37 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Postmodernism and Its Failings 27 Feb 2010
By John David Ebert - Published on
Postmodernism is not so much characterized by fragmentation--that was already a characteristic of Modernism, especially in Cubist painting and in poetry like T.S. Eliot's or Ezra Pound's--as by a hostility toward historical metanarratives,or "master narratives," as they are also dismissively called in order to evoke a colonialist slant. That Hegel and Marx, two of postmodernism's theoretical godfathers, were precisely that, i.e. creators of historical metanarratives, is generally quietly overlooked.

Fredric Jameson's book is not designed for the general reader as an introduction to postmodernism, but rather as an overview of postmodernism for the literate and intelligent reader who is already familiar with some of its basic tenets. It is very well written, and the comments from reviewers on this page regarding Jameson's unreadability are simply wrong. Jameson is lucid, clear and distinct. Descartes would have liked him.

Jameson points out that Postmodernism, by contrast with Modernism, has a certain depthlessness about it, and in this respect he is quite right. Jameson contrasts the depth and concern with such issues as anxiety and Existenz evident in thinkers like Heidegger and in painters like Munch with the shallowness of Andy Warhol or the fascination with simulacra of Baudrillard. This seems to me to be one of its decisive characteristics, as is also its mixing of Top and Pop. Whereas Modernist theoreticians like Adorno and Spengler were dismissive and scornful of the so-called "Culture Industry," in Postmodernism, the boundaries between popular culture and elite culture are generally effaced. James Joyce, in Finnegans Wake, THE apotheosis of Modernist literature, was already looking ahead to Postmodernism with his "Here Comes Everybody!" In Postmodernism, it is just as permissible to discourse on James Bond or the Beatles as on classical art and culture, just so long as you don't attempt to frame anything in terms of authoritative metanarratives. Those smack too much of the kinds of narratives that structured and framed the rise of the various fascisms that brought WWII into being. WWII, in fact, was a war fought over metanarratives, for the Nazis believed that the Aryans were descendants of a lost Atlantean civilization--which is one kind of historical narrative--while the Allies believed in the Enlightenment faith in the Brotherhood of Man and the perfectibility of reason-guided rational democracy--another metanarrative altogether.

Jameson's book is something of a handbook on Postmodernism. If you were confused about the subject before reading it, you won't be when you finish Jameson's book. He makes it very clear that, antipathy to historical narratives aside, Postmodernism IS an epoch with certain structural features that define it in distinct opposition to Modernism. In reading the book, you will also become aware of certain features that are MISSING from Postmodernism which really ought to be there: being generally a creation of Marxists, there is scant regard for human spirituality or emotional depth of any kind in Postmodernism (after all, these subjects smack too much of religious and state authoritarianisms). In Postmodernism, there is a pretense that spirituality is completely unnecessary and that all human beings are basically whimsical and slight with little concern for the dark regions of the psyche that produce the kinds of death fantasies that drive terrorism and religious frenzy. What a shallow and inadequate estimation of the human being such a view is need hardly be remarked.

Postmodernism is simply an inadequate view of the place of the human being in the world. It presupposes that history is meaningless (which it isn't) and that the human being is basically a "worldless" entity in Heidegger's sense and has no need to belong anywhere specific. The human being, in this view, is just as happy surrounded by strip malls, airports and gas stations as he would be in an environment structured by cathedrals and palaces. But this, too, is wrong.

However, if you want to read one book about Postmodernism, then Jameson's is the book for you.

--John David Ebert, author of "The New Media Invasion" and "Dead Celebrities, Living Icons."
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars All Pomp, No Circumstance 27 Jun 2013
By The Troll Under the Bridge - Published on
If one is to review this book, there are two things that need to be addressed. One of those things is Jameson's writing style. The other is the range of focus Jameson concentrates on. These two aspects of the book define its value.

Concerning the writing style, one reviewer referred to it as arrogant. I prefer to say it is egotistical. Jameson seems to structure his sentences for the sheer purpose of amazing readers by their spectacular length. His use of parenthetical phrases is like none I have ever encountered in my years of reading. In consideration of purchasing this book, I read reviews on the internet. I was aware that the writing style was challenging. As it happened, a friend gave me the book in order that he and I could read it together and discuss it. I did not have to purchase it myself.

As for the narrow focus of Jameson's approach to his subject, I did not do my homework in advance of getting the book. Shame on me. The focus is mentioned in the title. My interest in postmodernism has little to do with an economic approach. A few years ago I read Guy Debord's book, The Society of the Spectacle, and was familiar with the role of the media in consumerism in the late twentieth century. My interest was more along the lines of what Jameson refers to as the death of the subject, the fragmentation of the postmodern culture and how these were reflected in the arts such as books, architecture, photography, and film. I have been intrigued by the work of Cindy Sherman and her approach to self-portraiture that is not self-portraiture. I also was interested in the subject as a result of watching a documentary on public housing, The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, in which there was a mention that as a result of the failure of the project, the architectural community declared it to be the death of modernism in architecture. It was at this time that I also discovered the style of magic realism in film through watching movies such as Safety Not Guaranteed, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Moonrise Kingdom. All these exciting ideas took hold of me. I wanted to discover more about postmodernism. Unfortunately, by getting Jameson's book as a guide, the excitement I felt in the discovery of new ideas collapsed under the weight of his almost incomprehensible writing style and his Marxist approach to the subject matter.

The style in which Jameson writes and his choice of language immediately puts up a barrier between his ideas and the reader. Why would someone do this? The only reason I can come up with is his ego. The attitude of, I'm smart, look what I can do, does not serve him as an intellectual. Nor does it serve the reader who has a sincere desire to learn from what he has to say. My friend and I asked a question right off the bat. Did no one edit this book before it went to press? I've read several books in the Bollingen Series put out by the Princeton Press. While the subject matter may require much study to understand, the writing poses no obstacle to what is being said by the authors. This cannot be said about Postmodernism by Jameson. This book would benefit greatly from a clarification of language and structure.

Another disappointment in reading this book is the fact that the material is dated. These articles were written in the mid-eighties. His comments are sometimes embarrassing in light of the evolution of ideas that has taken place in the postmodern movement over the years. Some of his sources seem to lack relevance in today's world. It seems that Jameson was only a man of his time. The long reach of his ideas, I feel, is hampered by his limited, Marxist approach. This approach, to me, seems to hinder an outlook that is more inclusive and forward looking. When one limits a thoughtful approach to a subject, the inability to consider other ideas that may prove important in understanding and defining the topic prevents a logical and meaningful conclusion.

I can only rate this book with two stars. When I consider the time and effort I put in reading, discussing and attempting to understand it, what I received in return was much smaller than what I am accustomed to getting from books I read. Just because this man has sterling credentials does not equate to his ability to communicate his ideas in a meaningful way. Intellectualism without any connection to the world at large is an empty vessel that has no true purpose.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive 28 Jun 2008
By D. A. Fox - Published on
Jameson's book is, if the subject is somewhat redundant some 18 years after publication, altogether proving of Jameson's brilliance, not merely in his critical analysis of attitudes toward the visual arts and men of letters, but in his synopsis of philosophical and cultural underpinnings of this phenomenon. He is somewhat scathing but fair in his treatment. I highly recommend this impressive volume to anyone--willing to take on the challenge--seriously interested in recent culture and arts critique.
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