Sunday, October 11, 2009


The postmodern subject and the crisis of the Symbolic order

Whereas in my previous blogpost, I focused on the presence of cultural reproduction and its relation to violence in reaction to this ‘new condition of subjectivity’, I would now like to focus on the role of the symbolic order as a means of compensating for this fragmented subject.

If we can think of this fragmented subject in terms of Lacanian psychoanalysis, as Jameson does in his argument, then the fragmented subject, through the process of cultural production, has taken on the order of the schizophrenic:

“that personal identity is itself the effect of a certain temporal unification of past and future with one's present; and, second, that active temporal unification is itself a function of language…With the breakdown of the signifiying chain, therefore, the schizophrenic is reduced to an experience of pure material signifiers, or, in other words, a series of pure and unrelationed presents in time”. (Jameson, 26-7).

According to the Lacanian model of the mirror-image stage, the subject begins with a fragmented body-image until he enters in to a false sense of totality and finally, exists on the assumption of an alienating identity through a process of identification or rather through an ongoing méconnaissance. This process relies on this misrecognition in order to enter into the symbolic system of language. This ‘alientating identity’ to use Lacan’s terms, lies in structural opposition to the identity of the fragmented body-image found first in the mirror.

Jameson’s reading of cultural artifacts as schiophrenic can be read as a symptom of the actual fragmented body-image of the postmodern subject. As Lacan notes, “This fragmented body…usually manifests itself in dreams when the movement of the analysis encounters a certain level of aggressive disintegration in the individual” (Lacan, 4). The breakdown of the illusion of totality marks a fragmentation of subjectivity.

Would this suggest that subjects are purely living in the realm of the Imaginary since they have been taken out of the realm of the Symbolic through a breakdown of signifiers?

So what is in the realm of the Imaginary? On the one hand, Jameson marks out ideology as in the realm of the Imaginary:

[“To the Marxian-Althusserian opposition of ideology and science correspond only two of Lacan’s tripartite functions: the Imaginary and the Real, respectively” (Jameson, 53).]

Earlier in his text however, he seems to position ideology as ‘the representation of the subject’s Imaginary relationship to his or her Real conditions of existence’ (Jameson, 51).

So now my question is, where does Ideology lie? And following this excerpt, Jameson compares the cognitive map to the functioning of ideology: “to enable a situational representation on the part of the individual subject to that vaster and properly unrepresentable totality which is the ensemble of society’s structures as a whole” (Jameson 51).

For argument’s sake, however, I will position ideology in the realm of the Symbolic. But aside from where ideology lies, Jameson argues that the current historical situation makes the production of functioning and living ideologies not possible at all (Jameson, 53).

So now we are faced with a break in the symbolic order, or ideology? It isn’t particularly clear how ideology is not possible at all in our current historical situation and if so, Jameson’s alternative doesn’t seem adequate.

Jameson ends his text by proposing “a privileged representational shorthand for grasping a network of power and control even more difficult for our minds and imaginations to grasp” – an aesthetic of cognitive mapping (Jameson, 36).

Jameson argues that in the midst of global and decentered networks or communications and representation, the potential of individual subject’s lies in mapping. In section, we discussed the potential for the internet as a means of cognitive mapping.

However, there are still overarching questions that I still have with Jameson’s analysis. Looking at the anatomy of phantasy, are desires and pleasures now manifested out in the realm of cognitive mapping? If cognitive mapping is in the real of the Lacanian Symbolic and if we think of a Lacanian conception of desire as being mediated through the Other, where does the desire of the Other lie?

This seems important in terms of Appadurai’s idea of imagination as a social practice. Could the realm of cognitive mapping be where “deterritorialized communities and displace populations, however much they may enjoy the fruits of new kinds of earning and new dispositions of capital and technology, have to play out the desires and fantasies of these new ethnoscapes” (Appadurai 19)?

There are a lot of issues or that I can’t seem to place or put in dialogue with Jameson’s postmodernism. For example, where does cultural difference or disjuncture lie in this? Jameson’s assessment seems to elide that these modes of identification are still incredibly important? Could these movements or radical/reactionary acts based on identity-politics be seen as a violent attempt to hold onto that identity in the midst of postmodernity and globalization that Jameson sees as no longer a factor? Although, this may be a vulgar reading of Jameson and his project, these issues don’t seem to be addressed in this light of his reading. What are we to do with those things that are deemed as no longer relevant or available– cultural difference, identity-politics, waves of nationalism – when they refuse their elision?

Furthermore, isn’t Jameson’s own analysis a very symptom of the ‘symptomology’ that concerns him? And if so, where does Jameson lie within this theory?

Monica Garcia (blog post #3)

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