Monday, October 22, 2007

the problem of the postmodern body

In trying to grasp some concept in Jameson’s speech on “Cognitive Mapping” that I could hold on to, I was struck by the idea of the “postmodern body.” Jameson writes that “the new space involves a suppression of distance…and the relentless saturation of any remaining voids and empty places, to the point where the postmodern body…is now exposed to a perceptual barrage of immediacy from which all sheltering layers and intervening mediations have been removed” (351). This detailing makes me think especially of the action scenes in “The Matrix” – the viewer is exposed to the perceptual barrage, yet simultaneously told that this barrage happens while the actual bodies of those involved are stagnant – mirroring, in a sense, the viewer of the Matrix who is stagnantly watching the action take place. What strikes me about this image is the lack of agency given to the body – the body can do nothing, it cannot move, it can only accept the saturation around it. Even when Jameson figures the body as “wandering” it is within the confines (apparently randomly) of a “postmodern hotel” – still a designated space intended primarily for resting, not wandering. And the other examples of the body have it “locked” in to music or “undergoing the multiple shocks and bombardments” that come from watching a movie (351).

I’m not sure what Jameson’s answer is to this lack of agency for the body. He moves on to say he is talking about “practical politics” (351), yet bodies seem to disappear (unless my memory is fooling me?). Is cognitive mapping the answer? Jameson says that “The truth of daily experience of London lies, rather, in India or Jamaica or Hong Kong…Yet those structural coordinates are not even conceptualizable for most people” (349). This seems to be primarily a bodily problem – people’s bodies are in one place and not others. Is the answer, then, a loss of the body as important – does the importance reside solely in the mind and its cognitive mapping abilities? I feel like I am missing part of the argument here – if bodies were no longer important, why would it matter if the activists left Detroit bodily? Maybe the real problem doesn’t have to do with their bodies, but only with their mappings? I am not sure.

I just want to note that it occurred to me in re-reading this section that my experience in reading this essay feels like the exact opposite of the experience of the postmodern body – Jameson’s dense theoretical framework, with its evocation of various philosophical and aesthetic movements, and its occasionally biting criticism (I think?) towards colleagues at the same conference – it feels overall very removed from the experience of reading, especially with the questions tacked on at the end emphasizing the distance of the specific time of the conference and the moment of reading. This experience seems to me to avoid “the suppression of distance” – despite the feeling of immediacy in Jameson’s call for change, this “barrage” is undermined by the form of the article. Anyway, that’s just a rambling side note I found interesting.

1 comment:

Lena said...

I think what Jameson means when he talks about the problem of people familiar with Detroit leaving the city is indeed in their cognitive maps, and not in their physical bodies. The body and the mind feel comfortable in a city which has already been mapped onto that person's psyche, so when that body is removed from the city it has mapped and is inserted into a foreign place, there is confusion and disjuncture.