English 270 - Spring, 2013

Studies in Contemporary World Literature

    Topic: Postmodernism? Not Yet. The Cultural Logic of Postcapitalism

Class Information

Instructor: Brown, Nathan
CRN: 62600
Time: R 6:10-9:00pm
Location: 120 Voorhies


    It is ironic that the pre-eminant thinker of postmodernism, Fredric Jameson, provides us with the tools to understand why no such period of cultural production has yet come to pass-though it will.

    According to Jameson's account, postmodernism is the cultural logic of late capitalism. But this formulation betrays an unthought tension between the "post" and the "late," and along with it an unthought tension between political-economic and cultural periodization. If the development of capitalism as a mode of production corresponds to the political and social history of modernity, then the cultural logic of late capitalism would also be that of late modernity. Yet in Jameson's account, postmodernism, as a cultural logic, coincides with postmodernity. Thus, late capitalism is aligned with postmodernity, and its cultural logic is postmodernism. But shouldn't it rather be the case that late capitalism aligns with late modernity, and wouldn't its cultural logic better be termed "late modernism?" Thus the cultural phenomena characterized and cataloged by Jameson's book might better be designated by the title: Late Modernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.

    If we think through the tension in Jameson's periodization in this way, a simple conclusion follows: postmodernism would be the cultural logic of postcapitalism, and postmodernity would name a socio-political period following the end of capitalism. On this account, postmodernity will not yet have taken place, and postmodernism is not yet an operative cultural logic. We could summarize this conclusion in a slogan: No postmodernism without postcapitalism!

    This graduate seminar will explore this realignment of cultural and political-economic periodization. But if postmodernity designates a socio-political situation that has not yet come to pass, and if postmodernism is thus a cultural logic we have not yet encountered, how are we to read it? We will pose this question by examining cultural texts (art, film, literature, philosophy) which, in the late 20th and early 21st century, cast the shadow of such a future precisely by figuring the representational block that such projections entail. We will also examine theoretical texts which treat the categories "modernism" and "modernity," as well as the current structure and structural limits of capital.


    Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
    Roberto Bolano, 2666
    Sarah Kane, Complete Plays
    Lászlo Krasznahorkai, Satantango
    Nanni Balestrini, The Unseen

    Terrance Malick, The Tree of Life
    Lars von Trier, Melancholia
    Claire Denis, White Material
    Béla Tarr, The Turin Horse; Werckmeister Harmonies
    Nicolas Baier, Projet Etoile (Noir) & Paredolies (installation/digital photography)

    Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude; Time Without Becoming
    Ray Brassier, "The Truth of Extinction" in Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction

    Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
    Aaron Benanav, "Misery and Debt"
    Gopal Balakrishnan, "The Stationary State"
    Théorie Communiste, "Communization in the Present Tense"
    Maya Gonzalez, "Communization and the Abolition of Gender"