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On Pastiche

I’m reading Jameson’s book on culture and postmodernism right now, and he’s gone through describing Van Gogh’s painting of peasant boots and comparing them to Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shoes, and how we can apply hermeneutical readings to Van Gogh’s shoes (that is to say, you can interpret / infer stuff from the boots by looking at them, and imagining them belonging to a greater context) and how we can’t with Warhol’s shoes, because it’s superficial and flat, and even though it’s colourful it’s still kinda flat, and as such, it’s kind of repressed the way it is.

Anyway, moving on, he starts talking about pastiche, and whew I thought, I’m on familiar ground here. Because I understand, or thought I understood, pastiche, being the concept of a thing that has been put together from various other things, has influences from all over, not just geographical space, but temporal. Except it got really depressing? Because pastiche means the disappearance of the individual subject. The name itself implies the idea that there is nothing which is intrinsically what it is, but made out of many components, fragments, and, well, stuff, which are not subjects unto themselves. Then he says something which gives me pause: If the ideas of a ruling class were once the dominant (or hegemonic) ideology of bourgeois society, the advanced capitalist countries today are now a field of stylistic and discursive hetereogeneity without a norm (17).

This is where I know Jameson ain’t talking to me or about me. Because, see, as much as I subscribe the the idea of pastiche as a state of being that has come about with postmodernism, I don’t believe the capitalist countries of today are hetereogenous. They LOOK like it if you’re assuming that homogeneity has a very specific image. But capitalism has always taken diverse forms, always always with an undercurrent of exploitation, always always coming back down to setting up an economy to which everyone who’s not part of the ruling class is beholden to. Kyriarchy, power, control, domination - these are all features of capitalism and is pretty much the dominant, normative discourse of consumable culture product today. Take control of your life! Overcome your problems! Get what you want! Because life will be better when you do all of these!

“For with the collapse of the high-modernist ideology of style - what is as unique and unmistakable as your own fingerprints, as incomparable as your own body … - the producers of culture have nowhere to turn but to the past: the imitation of dead styles, speech through the masks and voices stored up in the imaginary museum of a new global culture” (18).

Now, although this is perfectly applicable to the new subcultures of today like steampunk, I can’t help but wonder… is the anxiety expressed here REALLY all that unique? Doesn’t history work in cycles where everyone sort of goes “oh nos the new generation! It don’t know what it’s missing!” and everyone starts recounting the good old days of yore, even though things are so much better now. I know that Western Civilization has been able to give itself a very linear history of Great Things That Happened, Great People That Lived, One After Another, and When, in neat chronological order. When I learned music theory, I also learned about the Baroque period, versus the Classical, versus the Romantic, versus 20th Century, and how each of them have been very different from each other, because they have had their own features.

But what if it’s because we’ve had so much distance from the masters of the times I mentioned, that we can now step back to see the patterns of how they were similar or different from each other? What if back then they were also going “man, look at the great masters back then, they knew exactly what they were doing in making something new”? Where this theory of “modernists and everyone before them has a linearity and post-modernism doesn’t have linearity” falls apart is that we can only know so much historically. And the reason why today is so chaotic is that never before have we had the means to give voice to so many different kinds of folks all at once, creating a cacophony of voices that are sort of incompatible? But still quite democratic, as democratic as we can get.

Yes, we are still copying from our elders, but isn’t that how culture gets reproduced? And doesn’t that sort of imply our elders were copying from their elders? Which means culture itself is a simulacra, and culture itself as a pastiche, and has been historically. And which implies that a couple hundred years from now, our descendants will be picking up the pieces of all that’s left of us in the here and now, decide what was the most important part of our age, and draw patterns of what we were really like, list down our features into a unified epoch, and go, “those 21st century folk, they really knew what they were talking about, this is how you know this is from the 21st century, see this bit here and here, indicative of…”


( 2 Words — Have Your Say )
Sep. 21st, 2010 03:06 am (UTC)

Day = MADE.

I just spent a little while trying to pick out a favourite quote from this here post of yours, but that's not gonna happen. It's all good!
Sep. 21st, 2010 06:50 am (UTC)
For me right now is like the period of retrospectivism that preceded the great outburst that gave us Kandinsky, Malevich, and Stravinsky. Nobody makes a leap from a standing position -- you have to crouch first...
( 2 Words — Have Your Say )