Thursday, March 25, 2010

Assignment 2, Question 4

What is at stake in calling for that which “does not exist,” that which has net yet achieved in cultural, political, or social forms a “representational” analogue? These are exactly the grounds on which postmodern Marxist theorist Fredrich Jameson treads in his paper “Cognitive Mapping.” Not only does Jameson exceed that which has previously been theorized, his theorization takes the form as a “description of a new aesthetic, or the call for it” (347). In such a move Jameson both questions and reinvigorates the relationship of art and its complicated position in an (postmodern)age of expanded capitalism to a socialist politic(s).
To describe this expanded notion of capitalism and the function of capital Jameson addresses the organization of space of which he states,

I have tried to suggest that the three historical stages of capital have each generated a type of space unique to it, even though these three stages of capitalist space are obviously far more profoundly interrelated than are the spaces of other modes of production. The three types of space I have in mind are all the result of discontinuous expansions or quantum leaps in the enlargement of capital, in the latter's penetration and colonization of hitherto uncommodified areas. (348).

The constant expansion of “capital” throughout local and global as well as political and social spaces results in a fundamental influence on how space might be experienced or represented. The first of these stages/spaces is that “of classical market capitalism in terms of a logic of the grid...a space of infinite equivalence” (349). From this early capitalist stage Jameson notes a transition into a stage of “monopoly capital, or what Lenin called the 'stage of imperialism'” where one finds “a growing contradiction between lived experience and structure” (349). Unlike the first stage of capitalism, which saw its spatial organization as “grid” or an organization through abstraction into equivalence, the second stage of “monopoly” capitalism or “imperialism” results in a space that is fractured, divided, and extremely complicated. This complication and fractured quality is the result of an increasingly global and interconnected/fragmented1 conditions of production.
The final stage, which may or may not be totally separate from Jameson's second stage, is that of “late capitalism” which corresponds to the space and cultural situation known as postmodernism. Jameson comments on the bizarre quality of this new (and current) space stating,

Briefly, I want to suggest that the new space involves the suppression of distance (in the sense of Benjamin's aura) and the relentless saturation of any remaining voids and empty places, to the point where the postmodern body--whether wandering through a postmodern hotel, locked into rock sound by means of headphones, or undergoing the multiple shocks and bombardments of the Vietnam War as Michael Herr conveys it to us--is now exposed to a perceptual barrage of immediacy from which all sheltering layers and intervening mediations have been removed. (351).

This space in which “distance” is increasingly “suppressed” adding to an increased sense of immediacy that takes the violent forms of “shocks and bombardments” interestingly in Jameson's view presents a social and political formation that prevents any conception of a totality. Totality is essential for Jameson, a strict Marxist, who would see a properly imagined social(-totality) as the means and space for a working socialist politics.
Interestingly, Jameson's solution as he suggest in the first lines of his paper is a “new aesthetic,” that of the “cognitive map.” The “cognitive map” is borrowed from Kevin Lynch's “spatial analysis” where Jameson envisions it as an aesthetic to expand “to the realm of social structure” (353). Here we can question the relationship between an aesthetics and a politics and analyze in what ways a particular media object, Mike Figgis' experimental video/film “Time Code,” offers an example of what the aesthetic of the “cognitive map” might look like. Prior to returning to the relationship of aesthetics and politics I would like to offer a brief reading of the form of “Time Code.” Figgis' film was shot using 4 separate video cameras that took one continuous 97 minute take. These takes included a variety of cast members that were a part of a complex and interrelated plot involving a Hollywood production studio and the paranoid situation in which we find its members. Each of the takes plays simultaneously in the film as the visual frame is divided into four equal and smaller frames. As situations unfold it generally becomes understood that the simultaneity at which one views the frame is also representative of the simultaneity of the situations and actions that each frame depicts suggesting a complete and unitary diegetic “time.” The soundtrack of the film sometimes consists of the sound of multiple or a single frame interestingly inviting the spectators focus while also never controlling it. As a result of this the spectator is left to view the film through their own choice, suggesting an agency previously denied by this medium.

While the content of the film is not nearly as experimental or critical as its form, the “paranoid” plot structure and characterization. (including a numerous set of characters who fetishize cocaine and sadistic a sadistic lover who spies on her partner) reflects the formal experimentation. Jameson speaks to the “omnipresence of the theme of paranoia” noting that “conspiracy, one is tempted to say, is the poor person's cognitive mapping in the postmodern age” (356). While the film does not map a “global social totality,” it does gesture towards the conspiracy or “poor” cognitive map with its intersubjective representation of multiple persons and situations as one totality. Here we see that the film is politicized with an example of the aesthetic of the cognitive map. As Benjamin suggested2 the goal is to politicize art, not to aestheticize politics which would lead not to a useful political conception of totality but rather totalitarianism.

1. Here we can read this "/" as "and yet."
2. I would like to return to Benjamin in order to suggest the relationship between an (socialist) aesthetics and (socialist) politics. Like Jameson's call on Benjamin's description of the suppression of distance, this notion also comes from Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility."

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