Last semester, I read Frederic Jameson’s “Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” which argues (among other things) that we live now in an economic and cultural era defined by reproduction. While the industrial age was marked by a capitalism rooted in factory and artistic production, our postmodern epoch is fragmented and shallow, a culture that produces nothing new but rather reproduces, in various forms, things that have already been done.
If this is true, the internet is the ultimate example of reproduction. Most of what I’ve written in this blog is an accumulation and analysis of various links. (I try to sprinkle original thought in here and there, but existential question of the day: what is original thought, anyway?) I am presenting, in a new form, something that someone else wrote (that is, itself, a commentary on something else). Links break up my narrative, resulting in a fragmented reading experience. My ideas are understood to be not my own, per se, but my voice emerging within a set context: the blogging genre, the topic of technological developments and society, the modes of writing learned by graduate students, the various influences of academics who came before me, whose work I weave into my own through allusion, summary, and straight-up links.
I don’t buy postmodern theory as a whole (the idea that we are subject to inescapable forces and that there’s not much we can do about it seems a little dreary) but it can be useful in describing the changing technological, cultural, and social landscape. There is no doubt that companies, popular artists, government, and other structures of authority are operating under a common cultural paradigm, defined currently by nostalgia, pastiche, depthlessness, and fragmentation We as individuals are in turn fragmented, caught in a dizzying array of information being reproduced in various forms. Jameson calls for new ways of thinking within the culture to make meaning out of the fragments and work within the system to use it to achieve positive ends.
The internet is both an example of postmodern culture and possibly an avenue towards of new way of thinking. Youtube videos of cats doing funny things or more cats doing funny things is all the evidence one needs that our culture has reached a new level of depthlessness. The reproduction that defines pastiche is evident in countless online memes, but an example is Sesame Street’s cover of a popular, agonizingly-catchy pop song. Nostalgia is present in everything from politics to coke commercials, as we constantly try to recapture the make-believe feelings of safety and security that we attribute to times-gone-by.
That being said, the internet brings order to what might otherwise be a shapeless mess of information. Links are presented within a context, and there is underlying cohesion between one webpage and the next. The book Networked allows us to imagine ourselves at the center of our own social networks, linked to other people like websites are linked online. The internet allows us to imagine that fragments of ourselves and other cultures shaping together into a messy, complicated, but ultimately unified whole. This may not be the type of “cognitive map” that Jameson imagined, but it certainly is a start in the right direction to frame our existence in a way that is comprehensible and potentially useful.
(P.S. Apologies for my oversimplified [dare I say fragmented] review of Jameson’s theory….someday I will give it more description.)