Frederic Jameson and Postmodernity, Part Two

FREDERIC JAMESON (1934-)

Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1984)

Part Two

In Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1984) Frederic Jameson (1934-) examined film and architecture as forms of postmodernist culture that displayed the marks of the “waning” that was the Postmodern. Examples of this “early” postmodernism, that is, postmodernism avant la lettre, can be found in films made by Hollywood in the early 1970s and early 1980s. As a neo-Marxist theoretician, Jameson termed these films “nostalgia films” created out of collages of drifting memories of past times and of past films which were then pasted together into a pastiche of other films, half remembered. It is important to pause and take note of the collective ages of the Baby Boomers for whom these so-called “nostalgia” films were made and marketed. The age of the viewers would have been thirties and forties and it is their knowledge of popular culture that is put into play. Depending heavily upon the adult audience’s cultural memory of Hollywood, movies, such as Star Wars (1977), Grease (1978), Chinatown (1974), and Body Heat (1981), became the leading examples of a trend of cinematic intertexuality that would become the foundation of later works, also based upon intertextuality, such as, Pulp Fiction (1994) and L. A. Confidential (1997).

Jameson referred to a phenomenon he called the “waning effect,” or the impact of the commodification of objects in which movie stars are commodified into their own images, a condition that Andy Warhol understood quite well, displaying Troy Donahue with the same indifference he lined up cans of soup. Postmodern works, whether early predictions of the breakdown of Modernism suggested by the works of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, or later manifestations of actual Postmodernism, such as the referential photography of Jeff Wall, are all conceptual examinations of what makes a work of art see-able and recognizable to an audience with a rich collective memory of both high and popular culture. In the process of exploring a trail of quotations of earlier works, these artists made the familiar unfamiliar and uncanny, by revealing the means of the making of “art” as a concept. Jameson understood that (postmodern) “theory” had become a new kind of (nostalgic) discourse and that Postmodernism is marked by a sense of an end of philosophy and as Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man (1992).

In redeploying Marxism as the new neo-Marxism of Theodor Adorno (1903-1969), Jameson straddled the divide between the Cold War and the Fall of the Berlin Wall, where, as Fukuyama put it, history ended. Therefore in the essays, “Postmodernism and Consumer Society” and “The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” Jameson defined Postmodernism in Neo-Marxist terms. For Jameson, Postmodernism is not a style but a periodizing concept that is correlated with the emergence of a new kind of social life and a new kind of economic order: modernization in a post-industrial consumer society. Following the Frankfurt School, Jameson combined philosophy with political science and sociology and literary criticism and, as were Adorno and Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), also concerned with the society of the media and the spectacle in an age of multinational capitalism. Most observers would agree with Jameson that the 1960s was the critical period, the break with Modernism, which ushered in two new and significant features in mass media: pastiche and schizophrenia.

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American Graffiti (1973) an early nostalgia film by George Lucas

Pastiche is compared with parody, which is possible only when the artist can play off a prevailing style in order to mock the original and to ridicule its mannerisms. Parody is based in a belief in a norm, such as Andy Warhol’s parody of the pretensions of Abstract Expressionism. But when there is no belief in “normal language,” as in Postmodernism, art becomes fragmented and privatized with each group of artists speaking in a private language called “theory” of art or art commenting upon art. For example, in the art world, Pluralism followed upon the demise of the “last official style,” which was mid-1960s Minimalism, and it was the seventies that ushered in an age of pastiche. In this era of stylistic diversity and heterogeneity, pastiche appeared as an imitation of a particular and unique style but wore a stylistic mask. Pastiche speaks in a dead language and is supposedly neutral. One could return to Friederich Schiller (1759-1805) and revisit his concept of satire, which was one of the tools of Schiller’s “sentimental artist,” who is always detached and alienated (like the Postmodern artist). Pastiche is blank parody and blank irony, without a sense of humor (unless the humor is black, as in Pulp Fiction). Art is about itself but in a new way. This is not “art for art’s sake” but a sign of failure of art as an aesthetic of the new. Art can no longer be defined as an aesthetic of the new.

Within Postmodernism, stylistic innovation is no longer possible. All that is left to do is to imitate dead styles and to speak in dead languages. Schizophrenia is a reflection of the radical break in time and space between Modernism and Postmodernism. Classical Modernism was an oppositional art–opposed the established art forms or opposed to the prevailing ideology that could be both a scandal and offensive to the public as with Dada. Today, the provocative challenge of Modernism to reality is taken for granted by the art institutions and the art public and all subversion is co-opted by the established order. Contemporary art has shifted its position and is now fundamentally in and part of our culture and can no longer exist outside of the system, as art becomes a commodity production linked to styling changes. With no future “shock” to move towards (because everything and anything “new” is immediately commodified), then art can only recycle, reuse and repurpose. Time folds back upon itself. Without a sense of past and present and future, the sense of history disappears and there is a loss of capacity to retain our “own” past as life that is lived in the perpetual present. Perpetual change obliterates traditions and transforms reality into images and time is fragmented into a series of perpetual presents in the plural. In this existential present, the past becomes a referent and an opportunity for formal inventiveness. As Jameson remarked,

Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream is, of course, a canonical expression of the great modernist thematics of alienation, anomie, solitude, social fragmentation, and isolation, a virtually programmatic emblem of what used to be called the age of anxiety. It will here be read as an embodiment not merely of the expressionism of that kind of affect but, even more, as a virtual deconstruction of the very aesthetic of expression itself, which seems to have dominated much of what we call high modernism but to have vanished away–for both practical and theoretical reasons–in the world of the postmodern. The very concept of expression presupposes indeed some separation within the subject, and along with that a whole metaphysics of the inside and outside, of the wordless pain within the monad and the moment in which, often cathartically, that “emotion” is then projected out and externalized as gesture..

The past can be approached only through stylistic connotation of “pastness” or glossy qualities of image-as-fashion. The intertextuality of Postmodern art is deliberate and built into an artificial “aesthetic effect.” The result is a “history of aesthetic styles” that replaces the “real history” of art. The aesthetic then becomes a sign and these signs program the spectator to recognize the appropriate “nostalgic mode of reception.” This pastiche of a past that has been stereotyped causes a “crisis” in historicity because the subject has lost the ability to recognize or to organize past and present into a coherent experience. Schizophrenia is a breakdown in the signifying chain, creating a rubble of distinct and unrelated signifiers: a linguistic malfunction. This schizophrenic disjunction is a form of écriture–writing–or a cultural style. Therefore, Postmodernism cannot be a style and can only be a cultural dominant that is oppositional to Modernism and confronts the modern movement as a set of dead classics. The familiar depth model of Modernism is replaced by textual play and multiple surfaces, meaning that the cultural language is now dominated by categories of flat space, rather than categories of time or history, chronological or temporal categories.

With the disappearance of the individual and the consequent unavailability of personal style, pastiche reigns as a dead language, an imitation of dead styles. Postmodern pastiche is speech through masks or voices culled from the imaginary museum of global culture. Pastiche foregrounds practice and orchestrates the primacy of historicism as a random cannibalism of the styles of the past recycled into “neo” or a “simulacrum,” as Jean Baudrillard said, an identical copy for which no original as ever existed. The “Neo-Noir” film is a simulacrum of “Noir” movies, which were highly artificial and stylized morality tales from the American film industry of the 1940s and 1950s. The black and white image of Noir was recycled into the “Neo-Noir” film in color and is an image of an image and, according to Jameson, is the final form of commodity reification. It was the French, starved of American films during the Second World War, who discovered these crime movies, considered B movies and named them “noir” films and created them as a particular genre. The French noticed the return of the Le mode rétro, or nostalgic film, as a restructuring of a pastiche of films made decades ago, a time long gone by, the time of the parents of the Baby Boomers. These nostalgia films were projected into the collective and social level in an attempt to appropriate a missing past of an era lost in time.

Follow the discussion in Parts One and Three.

If you have found this material useful,please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]

Postmodernism and Intertextuality

THEORIES OF THE POSTMODERN

INTERTEXTUALITY

Bakhtin and Kristeva

Working within the confines of the Soviet Union, a place where words, thoughts and deeds were monitored, the literary theorist Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin (1895-1975) examined, in an intellectually safe way, how language cannot be controlled by a central authority. Because he had fought in the White Russian army against the Bolsheviks, Bakhtin was undoubtedly already a person of interest to Stalin, and his prominence at the center of the “Bakhtin” Circle in Vitebsk in the early 1920s would have raised his profile even further. Interestingly, he and the painter Marc Chagall were in that city, the town of Chagall’s birth, at the same time; and Vitebsk, now in Belarus, was a center of avant-garde excitement. Due to his adherence to Christianity, Bakhtin was arrested by the Soviets in 1929 and sent to Siberia. His sentence was shorted to six years, possibly because he had written a well-received book, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, that same year. Bakhtin, who had a degenerative bone disease and would live in bad health for the rest of his life, doggedly continued his rethinking of Russian Formalism. His best known ideas which concerned the novel, a relatively new art form, and its manifestations of dialogue, heteroglossia and the carnivalesque, filtered into European literary theory initially through Julia Kristeva (1941-) in Paris.

Bakhtin’s work on the novel began in the 1920s and continued to be developed until his death in 1975, but it is best to begin with his idea of the “chronotrope” or the combination of space and time. The literary “genre” will be a reflection of the way in which a particular culture, whether Greek or Roman or Renaissance, organizes a narrative, which is also the way in which humans conceptually navigate time and space. Each culture conceives of time as it relates to space in a different fashion and the chronotrope manifests itself in literature. Bakhtin explained the relationship between a cultures’s sense of time and understanding of space and the ways in which the collective narratives were structured in his work, “Forms of Time and the Chronotrope in the Novel: An Essay on Historical Poetics” (1937-8/1973). As Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist, in Mikhail Bakhtin pointed out, the re-presentation of a particular chronotrope is characteristic of a particular age and a single work can contain overlapping or coexisting chronotropes that were inherited or borrowed from other times. Bakhtin explained,

“Within the limits of a single work and within the total output of a single author we may notice a number of different chronotropes and complex interactions among them, specific to the given work or author; its is common, moreover, for one of these chonotropes to envelop or dominate others.”

In tracing the evolution of language or the attitude towards language, Bakhtin contrasted the Greek world view of circular time as evidenced in “adventure time,” played out in epics or in tragedy to the realization in the Roman era that language was relative, situational, time-based and not universal or timeless. In response to the modern understanding of malleable language, Bakhtin introduced the idea of “heteroglossia.” Typical of the theoretical approaches of his time which used binaries, Bakhtin set monologic against dialogic, or paired the monoglot and the heteroglot, as explained in his other essays on his theory of the novel, “Discourse in the Novel,” “From the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse,” and “Epic and Novel: On a Methodology for the Study of the Novel.”

All of these essays explored Bakhtin’s contention that language responds to changing world views–the nature of space time, the chronotrope. Bakhtin focused on the novel, because this new type of literature was written in the immediate present tense and was therefore a barometer of social conditions and changes. Most importantly, the novel has inherited hundreds of years of Western literature, from romance to biography, and therefore combines different chronotropes, allowing the novel and its characters to speak dialogically or in many voices. Unlike the language employed for scientific works, for academic explanations, for government information and so on, which claim a universal and transparent mode of expression, the novel make no such truth claims and has the freedom to subvert the supposed neutrality of language. Bakhtin, from the very beginning, was interested in genres and the ways in which a society “tells time.” In addition Bakhtin was concerned with social class and the ways in which authors borrow quotations (a manner of speaking) from different locations, from the street or the drawing room, that allow the writers to mimic various voices; heteroglossia.

For Bakhtin and his Circle, the key term was “utterance,” meaning that language is a human activity and is located within a specific social chronotrope. As Bakhtin and his colleague, Valentin N. Volosinov, wrote in Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, “A word is a bridge thrown between myself and another. If one end of the bridge depends on me, then the other depends on my addressee. A word is territory shared by both addresser and addressee, by the speaker and his interlocutor.” However, for the French who took up the ideas of Bakhtin, “Intertextuality,” a term coined by the Bulgarian theorist Julia Kristeva (1941-) became the translation of his concepts. These imported ideas on language were developed in contrast the formal structures of Ferdinand de Saussure and for the Parisian intellectuals who were also looking for alternatives to formalism and structuralism, Bakhtin’s literary theories fell upon fertile soil. As an Eastern European, Kristeva had access to the writings of Bakhtin and his Circle and, when she came to Paris in 1966, she brought the linguistic critique of Bakhtin with her.

However in mingling with the Parisian intellectual milieu, Kristeva made important changes to Bakhtin’s interpretations of plural voices in literature and came to her own definition of “intertextuality.” As is obvious from the account of Bakhtin’s essays above, he and his Circle were still clinging to the notion of representation in that the heteroglossia of a novel was illustrative of the various chronotropes evidenced in the utterances of the characters. Over time, Kristeva further destabilized the notion of the “self,” psychologicalizing language under the influence of Jacques Lacan and eliminated Bakhtin’s personalization of the author due to Jacques Derrida’s Deconstruction. Thanks to the sponsorship of Roland Barthes (1916-1980) who invited her to present the writings of Bakhtin to his seminar, Kristeva became a prominent figure in French philosophical thought. Her presentation was subsequently published in Critique as “Bakhtine, le mot, le dialogue, et le roman” (“Word, Dialogue and Language”) in 1966. However, Kristeva was a student and it was Barthes who spread her ideas through his own articles which began to reexamine the relationship between author and reader and among texts themselves.

The concept of Intertextuality that Kristeva put forward was based in Bakhtin’s notion of the dialogic novel–multiple voices in narrative context, “heteroglossia,” and “dialogism,” meaning that all dialogue is inherently dialogic or intertextual. In order to “utter” the speaker must know the language and must have cultural competence in that language. While dialogism is true of “everyday” speech, literary writing had acquired a “special” status with the presumption of the author as the supreme creator. The omnipotent author, or more precisely the theoretical device that confines a book to a single voice, constitutes a monologue, stripping language of the other’s intentions. The result is a suppression of the natural and existing dialogue resulting in a binary opposition: exposition and analysis: the exposition of the author and the analysis of the theoretician. The reader is eliminated from the equation. The various chronotropes are suppressed in favor of a fiction of plentitude and precision that effectively stops any further or alternative analysis. Authority is upheld but at a cost. One can understand the theory of intertexuality is a return of the repressed, that which haunts the text: the multiple and excluded voices which were actually created by the writer but written out by a formal analysis of the work’s structure.

When she gave her paper, Kristeva incorporated Bakhtin’s Rabelais and His World, which expounded on the carnivalesque or the incorporation of the unauthorized and informal language of popular culture and the “lower” classes. The carnival was a medieval custom that allowed a periodic release of the antic and the forbidden into official culture. It was on those occasions that the real culture of real people, unfiltered by abstractions and embedded in actual experience, was released. These subterranean levels of commentary lodged within legitimated forms of discourse include parody, the grotesque, earthy and of the body. As Bakhtin wrote,

“To degrade also means to concern oneself with the lower stratum of the body, the life of the belly and the reproductive organs; it therefore relates to acts of defecation and copulation, conception, pregnancy, and birth. Degradation digs a bodily grave for a new birth; it has not only a destructive, negative aspect, but also a regenerating one…. Grotesque realism knows no other level; it is the fruitful earth and the womb. It is always conceiving”

In contrast to the bête noir of Barthes, the “realistic” novel, which Bakhtin stated was “monologic,” the dialogic novel put forward by Bakhtin emphasizes the carnival, the power of parodic language and the discovery of the plural which destroys hierarchal difference and levels the text. Kristeva, in her turn, argued that every text is under the jurisdiction or rule of other discourses in that each text is “created” by other texts. A text is differential and historical, a play of divergent times or temporalities or Bakhtin’s “chronotopes,” and contains traces and tracings of otherness and of other genres. Texts are made out of cultural or ideological norms and conventions of the genre that are recognized by the activated reader/viewer who is familiar with the styles and idioms in the language and with the clichés and formulas. As Kristeva wrote in her 1966 essay,

Bakhtin postulates the necessity for what he calls a translinguistic science, which, developed on the basis of langauge’s dialogism, would enable us to understand intertextual relationships; relationships that the nineteenth century labelled ‘social value”or literature’s moral “message..” Dialogue and ambivalence are borne out as the only approach that permits the writer to enter history be espousing a ambivalent ethics: negation as affirmation. Dialogue and ambivalence lead me to conclude that, within the interior space of the text as well as within the space of texts, poetic language is a “double.”

Given that the process of intertextual references is governed by the rules of discursive formation, the structure of the literary system need not depend upon the author’s intentions, and there are no moments of authority, no points of origin, only the purposes of reading. The auteur is a construction based upon a series of texts that retrospectively creates the author/auteur, rather than being a writer as the one who created the texts. The identification of the intertext is an act of interpretation on the part of the reader. Because the writer may or may not be aware of all the “voices” deployed, the author’s intention is not at issue. The writer is a reader of a text before s/he creates texts and the work of art is shot through with references, quotations, and influences and because what is produced is a cross-fertilization of a book, it is these networks that are of interest. The undermining of the authority of the writer undermines the enclosure of the book, problemizing both entities. Intertextuality is a subversive activity.

Kristeva links intertextuality to transgression: “We should particularly emphasize this specificity of dialogue as transgression giving itself a law so as radically and categorically to distinguish it from the pseudo-transgression evident in a certain modern “erotic ” and parodic literature..” In contrast the assumption that there is an official mode of discourse, all such “laws” constitute a kind of textual ideology, so that language is not timeless or universal but subject to cultural code and these codes are site and time specific. The conscious use or awareness of the intertext is a conscious manipulation of what Barthes called the “circular memory of reading,” which could refer to the use of italics and commas to indicate sources. However, this kind of restrictive reading is a mere catalogue of “influences” or “sources” and other assertions of the “presence” of the “author,” which restrict the reader’s free intertextual reading of the text. In contrast to the formal analysis, Kristeva called active and intertextual reading an “aggressive participation.”

In her later work, The Revolution of Poetic Language (1974/1984), Kristeva took the idea of the carnival and recast it as the semiotic in which the maternal or “feminine fluidity” or that which is yet unfixed would be a transgressive invasion or inscription (inter-writing) into intertextuality. In other words, the feminine becomes a kind of under-text, which is pre-symbolic or semiotic but also makes the symbolic possible. Therefore, a “fluid reading” would both accept and look for examples of other texts that have somehow entered into the primary text, always supposed to be “pure.” But no text is pure or whole or centered. Every text is an intertext, composed of multiple texts. It is easy to assume that all Kristeva means is that one text may quote another text, but this is not what she is saying. Kristeva was always interested in the Other, particularly the primal Other, the female which has been suppressed by the Law (of the Father) and haunts the (male) official text and subverts the singular (patriarchal) authoritarian voice. Both Bakhtin and Kristeva were very interested in subversion of the social order as manifested in literature as a form of literary social activism, not so much on the part of the writer him or herself but on the part of the reader who was re-directed, away from unity and towards polysemy.

Sometimes the importance of a concept such as intertextuality is what subsequent readers, writers, and creators make of the initial concept and how the theory becomes a trope. In a generalized way,the point of intertextuality became that in order for a writer to writer and/or for a reader to read, for an artist to make art, for a spectator to see the object, many references already ready need to be put into play. Structuralism always insisted that meaning is dependent upon a network of relations, what Ludwig Wittgenstein referred to “family resemblances,” and Kristeva was following the logical consequences of the significance of the “network.” However, it is important to understand that there is a difference between intertextuality as subversion of class and authority and intertextuality as a mode of reading. One type of analysis has political implications and the other is a mode of understanding literature without subverting authority.

“Quotations” or heteroglossia need to be understood as the acknowledgement of the importance of polyvalence or the network of language that creates any cultural object. Of course, no cultural object can ever be created out of a space of purified ontology or untouched origins and to be created and, in order to be understood, all objects are dependent upon other objects. That being said, Kristeva is not making the same argument that Harold Bloom made, that art comes out of art. She is saying that art depends upon a network of semiotic relationships that allow the object to function meaningfully in the culture. “Quotations” are not direct re-statings of another author: quotations and references and borrowings are the many ways in which the culture expresses itself across time.

The quotations that comprise the inter-text are forgotten fragments, half-realized displacements that distort and redefine the “primary utterance,” presumed to be the “original” and “creative” voice of the author, and relocates that utterance within another linguistic and cultural context. The use of quotation generates tensions within the reader and analyst pulled between the belief system that valorizes the auteur as the originator and the awareness of the dissemination of meaning and how meaning is made. The quotation or heteroglossia demands a non-linear or fluid reading or an awareness of multiplicity. Holding on to the now-discredited concept of “Originality” may not be the best way to read the work, because the assumption of originality or of the artist-as-origin limits the reading and denies the richness of the text/s. For example, in film noir movies made in Hollywood in the 1940s, one reads through the films and confronts the heteroglossia of the mystery novel, the detective novel, the cultural concern about the Depression, the male fear of the female, the male-made narrative that controls the account, silencing of the subversive voices of the woman, the criminal and even the Law itself. By wrenching oneself out of this trap of the narrator’s voice, the reader can activate the multiple voices and texts, from pulp fiction to Hemmingway.

Any work of art must contain traces of imitation, appropriation, quotation and reference that can mobilize the reader’s creative performance or a performity by the reader. Following Bakhtin’s logic, the history of genres as a sequence is undone–we are familiar with the original “road movie” and know that this journey comes from an antique source, The Odyssey. Therefore, the single unified voice of the narrator unravels and meaning and significance must be constructed out of known genres and borrowed voices, and all authors rewrite the works of predecessors–old voices become new voices. When literature is analyzed from a Postmodern perspective, a text becomes allegory or an assemblage of past genres. Action on the part of the reader preempts the authoritarian idea of the expert and subversive language substitutes itself for subject or the author’s singular voice. The text or artwork is not longer a sacred object but a space of language at work. The artwork is now a fabric composed of multiple codes, suggesting a new activity for the reader/analyst who finds an intertext. The new activity of the intertext is not author-dominated and places the emphasis on the reader or viewer. The text cannot exist as a hermetic or self-sufficient whole and does not function in a closed system. The reader’s experience may lead to new interpretations, for texts enter via the author and via the reader and have the effect of undermining authoritarian reading in the singular.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]

Postmodern Painters

The Postmodern Condition and the International Art Market

Neo-Expressionism was an international style and Postmodern painting was big money. Big painting had returned and the buyers had the big money to pay for it. Art collecting in the 1980s was nothing less than a feeding frenzy on long desired objects—paintings—easily acquired, easily placed (in elegant living rooms), easily stored (in collector warehouses) and easily disposed of (as in dumping a stock). Collectors were nouveau riche, coming into auction houses from the booming stock market. These Nouveaus had plenty of money and wanted to demonstrate their “culture” by accumulating works of “art.” They purchased art as they purchased stocks and the inflated value of art rose like a rocket. Buyers wanted something to buy that was big and visible and impressive—-Conceptual Art would not do, but Neo-Expressionist art would serve to show off their ostentatious wealth and new culture. Unfortunately for many of the artists who made it big very quickly, their stars crashed and burned in the late eighties with the stock market crash at the end of the Reagan era. Some artists survived the economic downturn of the late Eighties, but the buyers never regained their faith in art as a stock that one could invest in.

Postmodern art appropriates plurality through the realm of quotation in the new condition favorable to historicism, which gives access to all styles, all of which are of equal validity. Postmodern artists brought back a variety of dead styles to make a point that the glory days of Modernist originality and creativity were gone and could only be vaguely remembered by turning the pages of art history texts. According to Postmodern thinking it was impossible to go back to the days when art was renewing itself through avant-garde movements. Art was now “dead” and could only function as a ghost or a copy or simulacra of itself by collecting pastiches and constructing parodies of the past. The Postmodern situation is one of belatedness, similar to the placement of Mannerism, coming after the High Renaissance, too late to enjoy the glory. Postmodernism was ironic and was uncertain as to its effects, which were, historically, quite brief and superficial. “Found Styles” from history are taken up by Postmodern painters and left intact so as to be recognizable but are sufficiently manipulated to suggest a novel aesthetic attitude that suggested something new if not “neo.”

Neo-Expresssionism was a term that was both hotly contented and empty. For those who disliked this pseudo-movement, its return to representation was an anathema. Benjamin H. D. Buchloh regarded figuration as a return to right wing politics and Thomas Lawson and other writers saw these works as pastiches of the past or simulacra without authenticity or aesthetic importance. That said, different nations “returned” to painting in various ways for various reasons. In America or in New York, “expressionism” meant “Abstract Expressionism” and, therefore, “neo” meant figurative not abstract “expressionism.” In Germany, “expressionism,” meant Die Brücke or Der Blaue Reiter, which were providentially placed before the Great War and thus beyond the Nazi period. Therefore, it would be too confining to place all of the painters of the Eighties in the (American-named) category of “Neo-Expressionism.” Quite a few artists were playing—and “play” was a key Postmodern term—play with what was called the “language of art,” or the history of artistic styles.

In Italy, for example, there was no tradition of Expressionism and the Italian return to painting took the route of Neo-neo-Classicism. Carlo Maria Mariana, an Italian artist, followed Kiefer’s lead in reviving a dead style. In his case, Mariana revived Neo-Classicism, which was based upon an Italian national style, based upon the Greek culture of ancient times. “Classicism” or the Roman approach to Greek art was then taken up by the French and English after the discovery of Herculaneum and Pompeii in the mid-eighteenth century. The paintings by Mariana are slickly rendered in the dead style of David and Ingres from the early nineteenth century and have the air of slight decadence that marked the last phase of Neo-Classicism as evidenced in the work of Girodet. The content favored by Mariani is art historical, that is, he “repaints” older paintings or references Modernists artists, such as Duchamp, quotations easily recognizable by those who are educated in the history of art.

The problem that faced German artists after the war was to recreate something called “German” art. In order to do be a German artist, Anselm Kiefer, and the other German artists, returned to the last style in existence in Germany before Hitler came into power, Expressionism. German Expressionism was expressive and full of feelings and, above all, spiritual. There had been a disruption in art in Germany, during the Nazi period when avant-garde had been forbidden, putting Expressionism onto the list of “Degenerate Art.” Kiefer brought back the concepts of the original Expressionism but could not return to the source. Expressionism was a style that stood for feeling, but no longer was a brush stroke the equivalent of a feeling. Feeling and expression could only be conveyed to the viewer through codes and symbols. Kiefer combined the scale of Abstract Expressionism’s mural and field paintings with a post-war nihilistic spirituality. Kiefer became famous or infamous for evoking memories of the Holocaust, by producing huge paintings that seemed to have Jewish themes. Understood in America as “big paintings,” his paintings, large multi-media projects, to be understood, had to be decoded by a viewer well-versed in Hebrew learning and in German history.

In America, artists took note of what was going on in Europe during the late Seventies and early Eighties and returned to painting, following trends set by Gerhard Richter. Although these Americans, mostly working in SoHo in New York City, were also called “Neo-Expressionists,” the phrase was a catch-all. Neo-Expressionism in New York would be very different from the same brand name in Europe. In America, male artists took advantage of the Feminist breakthroughs in the arts: the insistence upon biography, the personal, the expressive, figuration and representation, as well as narration and psychological content and used these breakthroughs to become instant successes. But New York had become a more diverse society since the New York School and the art world had begun to grudgingly admit to the presence of women.

One of the best examples of a male artist who was trained during the early years of feminism was Eric Fischl. Trained at Cal Arts, the home of the Feminist Art Workshop, Fischl began as a sculptor and started painting only when he went back home to New York to begin his art career. Fischl’s paintings transgress Greenberg’s recipe for formalism by being representational and by delving into unexplored corners of the sexual psychology of the adolescent white male and his fantasies. The paintings were figurative and narrative and full of Freudian symbols and personal content. A decade earlier, Feminist artists had been criticized for their biographical and psychological subject matter, but representation and figuration had become accepted and Fischl’s stories of adolescent male sexual awakenings made him rich and famous.

Another graduate of a Los Angeles art school who returned to New York, Mark Tansey brought back the “history painting” of the nineteenth century by (re)painting the history of modernism in the style of the 1950s artist, Norman Rockwell. Tansey, a student of art history, “plays” with the audience by bringing back salon style history paintings that were full of erudite references to historical events in art history and postmodern theory. Like the earlier paintings of the previous century, the works of Mark Tansey require a livery or a catalogue guide to the embedded erudite meanings. The inside insider’s joke of Tansey’s method of painting was the fact that he used, borrowed, and appropriated the instantly recognizable illustrative style of Norman Rockwell, a merchant of “kitsch.” According to the thinking of the arch defender of Modernism, Clement Greenberg, Rockwell would be the polar opposite of Pollock, the hero of the avant-garde. Rockwell was the hero of the regular people who loved his weekly covers on The Saturday Evening Post. Using a monochrome palette and painting in reverse, that is taking pigment away or off the canvas, Tansey took his viewer back in time to great events in the history of Modernism. He combined a famous photograph of the first airplane flight by Orville and Wilber Wright with Cubism, by making the airplane a Cubist collage and the inventors of the “first flight” were Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Like much of Postmodernism, his paintings were accessible only to an elite few who had an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of art and of the contemporary culture.

The Postmodern tendency towards bricolage can result in a deliberate aesthetic disunity can be seen in the art of David Salle who assembles a painted object composed of various visual languages. Salle combined languages from high art, low art and decorative art into an over-all style of layered art forms. Postmodern art is understood to be “art as language,” conditioned, mediated, and coded. In contrast to the Modernist effort to stabilize and sterilize art through a limited vocabulary, David Salle’s paintings can be compared to an archaeological site to be excavated. His borrowed images are found in variety of cultural digs or sites and are superimposed, one over the other, in strata that the viewer sees through. Each layer is recognizable and readable but none of the layers interact with each other. Each stratum exists in its own right and any attempt to knit the strata together into a narrative or into a meaning that can be unified is thwarted. Salle presents the viewer with an array of dead languages, a dis-array of found styles that have multiple meanings, all of whom are equal.

in the work of Julian Schnable, the artist assembles surfaces without relying upon traditional art materials. He mocks and makes fun of Modernism’s worship of “surface’ or facture and marks his huge canvases adorned or decorated with black velvet and broken crockery and animal horns and fur. The idea of style itself is bankrupt, and the work of art is an assemblage that refuses unity. Both Salle and Schnable produce a reiteration of the vocabulary and ideas of Modernism but do so from a position of making painting about painting, art about the history of art. Postmodern art is always referential, always referring to other or to past traditions, long dead, but possessing a lingering potency. These “dead” languages still exist but are no longer in active use and yet these codes can still be disinterred and activated by the artist.

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Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

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