Jameson & "capital"

Chuck Grimes cgrimes at tsoft.com
Tue Oct 13 13:47:05 PDT 1998

I was following the exchanges over Arthur Kroker, Jameson, and their relation to, what, maybe the progressive or Marxist wing of economic theory here on LBO? Not sure.

Whittled down a few notches on the rhetorical scale, some of these exchanges sounded a lot like some of the arguments I used to have about art and revolution. Art and revolution are really metaphors for the disjunction between the worlds of cultural expression and the worlds of work, the realm of the imaginary and the concrete.

As Dennis Redmond said, "Well, let me rev up the literary-hermeneutic Marxist chainsaw (rrrrrrrrrrmmmmRRRRRR) and do some carving. Warning: this post is a bit long, so hit the delete key if you're not into lit-critique." (Very witty).

Central to both realms, the imaginary and the concrete is the body and its uses, alternately as a well of images and as the very means of labor. So, I strongly disagree with the quoted Jameson, that body and power should be stricken from discourse--it, they, together are and always have been a primal source of cultural expression and characteristic of concrete existence. (Ignoring Foucault or Deluze for the moment)

Dennis Redmond continues, "This notion of the wireless body forgets that the body was never wired in the first place, and is never identical to the tools and products which late capitalism creates. Substitute 'mobile phone' for 'body' in the above passage, and it almost makes sense: this brave new info-tech-telecom infrastructure will make the Revo possible, and we will break through, not to genuine multi-culturalism or North-South solidarity, no, comrades, far more important, we'll all get to speak *wireless* in a wireless world!"

While I obviously agree with this amusing put-down, I want to move the criticism in a different direction. "This notion of the wireless body forgets...the body was never...identical to the tools and products which late capitalism creates."

The body was never identical to any tool or product no matter what period of history you want to examine, but the experience of using tools, and making things, and the consequent expression of that experience in art or more generally in any cultural expression always assumes such an identity. The identity is part of the basis for an aesthetic experience. That is the experience of labor, and the aesthetic expression of that experience are often some form of interpretation of the body. For example, blues and working life. That is, experience and expression find unity through the metaphorical domain of the body--embodied as art or some other cultural expression. In other words, contrary to Derrida, writing is speech, painting is vision, sculpture is presence, is body. But these identities are cultural configurations, social fictions in a sense, and were in the past usually de-marked from the concrete arrangements of work and the labor of their production. De-marked, but not alienated, in the sense that Marx used the term. In fact, (I think) that was one of the points Marx was making--this demarcation, once a mere social fiction, was transformed into a living alienation through capitalism and mass production.

So, returning to all this cyberspace nonsense. What many schools of cultural theory have done is confuse a merely formal and aesthetic presumption of identity, with a concrete identity--hapless lackeys of romanticism that they are. In doing so, they then speak not as if, or as seems, but as is, folding the imaginary into the concrete and losing track of, or abandoning the difference. This is a kind of mysticism or mythological form of thought that then renders ordinary existence as a kind of magical realm populated with mere vapors, humors, and spirits. In a sense these cultural theorists have also abandoned the distinction between criticism and their object of critique, folding themselves into the very cultural experiences and expressions they are presuming to explicate. In short, they have become writers instead of critics.

As writers, they merge into a sea of other cultural expressions turning social critique into just another style, rather than an altogether different intellectual domain such as philosophy. As stylists, then, they give themselves over to purely aesthetic enjoyments, something like a tasty brie on crackers.

Chuck Grimes

PS. Just looked at Dennis R's comment on Jameson & "capital" about the strength of FJ analysis of literary works. What I actually liked best in some of the things I've read of FJ were his analysis of architecture and design--raising from the abstract to the literally concrete.

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