Tethering the Butterfly:
Revisiting Jameson's "Postmodernism and Consumer Society" and the Paradox of Resistance

Jason Berger

Westin Bonaventure Hotel


We have seen that there is a way in which postmodernism replicates or reproduces -- reinforces -- the logic of consumer capitalism; the more significant question is whether there is also a way in which it resists that logic. (Jameson 20)

     1. The above closing statements of Fredric Jameson's 1988 essay "Postmodernism and Consumer Society" ring with portent -- his Marxist polemic connecting postmodernism and late capitalism concluding with a "significant question" that, undoubtedly, posits a direction for discursive analysis. Perry Anderson, in the forward to The Cultural Turn [1998], a more recent compilation of Jameson's essays on postmodernism, writes that the publication of "Postmodernism and Consumer Society" "has remained the cornerstone of all work [on postmodernism] by Jameson that has followed" (xii). Although Jameson extends and modifies his definitions of "postmodernism" and the Marxist conception of "late capitalism" in essays subsequent to "Postmodernism and Consumer Society," he does not return to the intriguing question that he poses at the end of his 1988 essay -- a question that is, arguably, central to exploring the concept of postmodernism. It is interesting to speculate why Jameson chooses not to pursue analysis of possible elements of resistance to capitalism and capitalistic logic within postmodernism, especially considering the new understandings of late capitalism that have developed in the last decade. Jameson's recent critique of late capitalism in "Culture and Finance Capital" provides insight into postmodernism gained since the Reagan era in which his 1988 essay is framed, providing an apt context for such re-analysis. We must, therefore, ourselves return to the original question posed at the conclusion of Jameson's 1988 piece and ask if, in fact, there may be an element within postmodernism that "resists" the "logic of consumer capitalism." Using a reinterpretation of Jameson's own work, I will argue that his analysis of the hyperspace within the Bonaventure Hotel in his original 1988 essay provides evidence that postmodernism does create a resistance to late capitalism through spatial "deterritorialization." I then will extend my analysis to the source of this term -- a Deleuzian neologism -- in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia [1980] in an attempt to further explore the paradox that surrounds the concept.

 

Jameson's Late Capitalism and Postmodernism

     2. Jameson, in "Postmodernism and Consumer Society," explores the concept of "postmodernist space," which he refers to as a "mutation in built space itself" -- where humans become physically disoriented because they have not developed the "perceptual equipment to match this new hyperspace" (10-11). This hyperspace, which emerges out of postmodernism, is, according to Jameson, directly linked to the concept of late capitalism. Jameson refers to this mode of capitalism as a "postindustrial society" whose "multinational capitalism" and new pervasive forms of media and technology replace the pre-World War II society. Jameson elucidates how postmodernism, besides deriving from late capitalism, directly incorporates the economic realm by "[eroding] . . . the older distinction between high culture and so-called mass or popular culture" (2). This confluence of "high art" and "commercial forms," then, is a distinctive trait of postmodernism -- a trait that helps establish the concept of hyperspace. For if art and commercial forms are fused, then the myriad of technological and communication systems of the last half of the twentieth-century become, themselves, part of art. This, in turn, makes these commercial forms not only part of culture per se, but part of society's own production and concept of reality.

     3. This concept of late capitalism, and, therefore, postmodernism, is developed in Jameson's later essay, "Culture and Finance Capital" [1996]. Here, Jameson uses Giovanni Arrighi's study in The Long Twentieth Century to analyze the concept of finance capital and its abstracting influence on an evolving economic system. Jameson describes late capitalism as a "third stage" of a "cyclical" system of finance capital, where the "goal of production no longer lies in any specific market, any specific set of consumers or social and individual needs, but rather is transformed into that element [ . . . ] that has no content or territory and indeed no use-value as such, namely money" (153). This shift to a finance capital based economy changes the concept of capital itself -- abstracting it even further from its previous conception. "Capital itself," Jameson writes, "becomes free-floating . . . [separating] from the 'concrete text' of its productive geography" so that "money becomes [ . . . ] to a second degree abstract" (142). This elevated abstraction of finance capital is augmented by the developments of communications technology, prompting Jameson to describe it as being "like a butterfly stirring within the chrysalis" that "separates itself off from that concrete breeding ground and prepares to take flight" (142). As in "Postmodernism and Consumer Society," Jameson argues that the "dissonant" and "scandalous" forms of abstraction in the age of modernism have now "entered into the mainstream of cultural consumption" so that "our entire system of commodity production and consumption . . . is based on those older, once anti-social modernist forms"(149). In this sense, then, postmodernism has consumed modernism's aberrant forms of abstraction, converting the previously abstract and dissonant into commonplace elements of postmodernism's "hyperspace" society. People, therefore, are not shocked by the "scandalous" and abstract forms that are constantly depicted in postmodern society, for these forms have become concretized, in a way, within the various realms of media and technology. It is important to remember, however, that Jameson views the economic base of postmodern society -- finance capital -- as, itself, the highest level of abstraction.

     4. This new context and insight into late capitalism allows us to look more closely at Jameson's previous work and at an example of, arguably, the most obvious aspect of resistance to late capitalism within postmodernism -- an aspect first revealed in Jameson's analysis of the "hyperspace" created in the Bonaventure Hotel.

 

Seeds of Resistance: "Deterritorialization" and the Bonaventure Hotel

     5. In "Postmodernism and Consumer Society," Jameson focuses his analysis of postmodernist space exclusively on John Portman's Bonaventure Hotel. The Westin Bonaventure Hotel, built in 1976, is a landmark in downtown Los Angeles. Its futuristic structure (in light of its historical positioning) is composed of three mirrored-glass towers -- with glass elevators rising up through a circular lobby's ceiling toward hotel rooms, a 5-acre shopping complex, an indoor "lake," and a rotating rooftop lounge. Jameson claims that postmodern buildings such as the Bonaventure Hotel do not seek to "insert a different, a distinct, [or] an elevated . . . language into the tawdry and commercial sign-system of the surrounding city," but, instead, seek "to speak that very language, using [commercialism's] lexicon and syntax." These buildings, Jameson contends, "aspire to [be] a total space, a complete world, a kind of miniature city," not, then, wanting "to be a part of the city, but rather its equivalent and its replacement or substitute" (11-12). He, however, explains that unlike the great modernist buildings that sought to invoke a dramatic distinction from the surrounding "fallen city fabric," the Bonaventure Hotel -- with its mirrored-glass siding -- seeks no such distinction. In fact, the mirrored-siding, according to Jameson, hides the hotel itself, for when you look at the building, all that can be seen -- besides, of course, the outline of the structure -- are "the distorted images of everything that surrounds [the building]" (13). The important element here is Jameson's portrayal of the Bonaventure as composed in the lexicon and form of commercialism, and, hence, late capitalism. The building is, therefore, a physical manifestation of the late capitalistic society -- a mini-city within the city itself -- and although it is a major attraction and quite exotic in a futuristic way, it is, nonetheless, part of the city -- a functioning mechanism of the flow of both people and images of Los Angeles. Jameson specifically states that he desires for Portman's building to be distinguished from the "leisure-specialized" space found in places like Disneyland -- an obvious allusion to Baudrillard's polemic that Disneyland is a "deterrence machine" set up to present a tangible concept of the imaginary so as to cast the outside world as real. We see, then, that because of its economic function within the city that the Bonaventure Hotel is a normal element of the whole. It is designed to fit into the physical and economic landscape of the city, yet when you enter, it constructs its own "new" world. This new world, however, is not intended to contrast with the outside city as Disneyland is; it, instead, is designed to replace it -- to become the outside world (hence, in a way, deconstructing the concept of inside/outside metaphor).

     6. Jameson's analysis of postmodern hyperspace and the site -- I will argue -- of a resistant strand to late capitalism come in his critique of the space of the hotel's lobby and the effects it has on hotel guests and, therefore, hotel business. Jameson describes the escalators and elevators required in order to get to the lobby, which is situated floors below any entrance into the building, as "allegorical devices" that mechanically perform the old function of walking -- replacing the "narrative stroll" with a "symbolized" form of movement that signifies the old one. One can argue, then, that the off-setting of the lobby (the "center" of the hotel's function) acts to cut off this space from the rest of the hotel and the city outside. Entering the lobby on mechanical devices and existing in this new space can be seen as a synchronic experience: where a single, contained "new" world eclipses the old, diachronic experience of the outside world.

     7. It is, however, the experience of being within the space between the "four symmetrical residential towers" of hotel lobby that Jameson claims best exemplifies this postmodern hyperspace. Jameson writes:

[Such] a space makes it impossible for us to use the language of volume or volumes any longer, since these last are impossible to seize. Hanging streamers indeed suffuse this empty space in such a way as to distract systematically and deliberately from whatever form it might be supposed to have; while a constant busyness gives the feeling that emptiness is here absolutely packed, that it is an element within which you yourself are immersed, without any of that distance that formerly enabled the perception of perspective or volume. You are in this hyperspace up to your eyes and your body [ . . . ] . (14)

According to this passage, the physical design of the lobby disorients people's perceptions, rendering preconceived language and notions of space unsuitable. Yet, because the lobby is completely self-contained and artificially filled with "busyness" ("busyness" presumably used to describe both the movement of people and the sundry of distracting details), it succeeds in replacing the old world's notion of space. The physical manifestation of postmodern hyperspace, therefore, is able to achieve, Jameson argues, the "suppression of depth . . . that postmodern painting or literature" have been able to produce. This is a crucial point: that the hyperspace of the Bonaventure Hotel is, in fact, a form of postmodern art or expression, similar to other forms of art. Its manifestation within the field of architecture, however, allows it to leap, if you will, off of the canvas or out of the printed page and express itself in the "new medium" of three-dimensional space. While other forms of art, such as books or paintings, exist within the diachronic space of the "normal" world, this space is the art itself, and, therefore, it lacks the regular world forms or references with which to stabilize or ground the viewer's perceptions. Here, hyperspace -- postmodern expression created through the medium of architecture -- completely replaces the old world, immersing people within itself. This factor, we will see, is the element that enables us to expose the strand of resistance to the mode and forms of late capitalism that, according to Jameson, is produced by and located in the very same postmodern expression.

     8. This resistance is revealed when Jameson briefly discusses the fate of businesses within this postmodern space. He writes that the "absolute symmetry of the four towers" makes it "quite impossible to get your bearing in the lobby." This "spatial mutation," he claims, creates a "notorious dilemma" for the shopkeepers on the balconies: the lack of referentiality and subsequent disorientation prevents customers from locating the appropriate stores -- forcing the shops to lower their prices to attract consumers and, therefore, lowering revenue (15).

     9. The detrimental effects such hyperspace has on stores within it, alone, signals a potential problem for capitalism within postmodernism, but it is the manner in which capitalism responds to this situation that reveals the fact that postmodernism encompasses an aspect of resistance. Jameson describes how "color coding and directional signals have been added in a pitiful and revealing, rather desperate, attempt to restore the coordinates of an older space" (15). The critical aspect to remember here is that, according to Jameson, this hyperspace is created by late capitalism -- is late capitalism itself. Yet, in order to sustain business within this space, capitalism must react to the disorientation it has created by building markers and signs to direct the flow of business -- to, in a sense, deconstruct the hyperspace and create a simulated sense of referentiality in order to allow itself to function. One may argue that even though the stores inside of the hotel have struggled, that the hotel, as a whole, has been quite a successful business venture, drawing tourists from around the world and appearing in several blockbuster movies, including "Rain Man," "Forget Paris," "Blade Runner," and others (the movies acting as yet another, although less obvious, "marking" strategy -- depicting the hotel's lobby to mainstream America and, hence, allowing it to fit into the context of everyday life). It is, however, important to distinguish the fact that the hotel, as a tourist and movie commodity, exists within the space of the outside world and, therefore, benefits economically from being set against the context of the outside world. It is only within this postmodern space that stores and capitalism suffer. Jameson, however, argues that the postmodern hyperspace seen in the Bonaventure Hotel is representative of the "global multinational and decentered communicational network" that is late capitalism. This hyperspace, therefore, can be seen as the "real" world of late capitalism -- the hyperspace below all of capitalism's labels and color-coded false signifiers. We see, then, a chiasmus-like Foucaultian relationship between late-capitalism and the resistant/disruptive elements within postmodernism: capitalism creates the resistance within itself (for postmodernism, according to Jameson, is a reflection of late capitalism) and, at the same time, seeks to subvert or invert that creation in order to maintain itself and its system of production and consumption. But how, exactly, can we define the mutation of space that is revealed within the physical embodiment of postmodernism? What is the cause of this disorientation that so disrupts business in the hotel?

     10. To answer these questions we must return to Jameson's recent critique of late capitalism in "Culture and Finance Capital." As previously mentioned, Jameson views late capitalism as a time of increased abstraction due to the shifts in money systems and economies. He uses the Deleuzian neologism "deterritorialization" to describe this economic transformation and its subsequent effects in the postmodern era. "Deterritorialization," Jameson claims, refers to the "new ontological and free-floating state," in which "the inherent nature of the product becomes insignificant, a mere marketing pretext." This, he asserts, derives from the "saturation of local and even foreign markets," whereby capitalism abandons the old "kind of specific production" and "takes its flight to other more profitable ventures [the money market]" (hence, like his butterfly analogy, capitalism, itself, because of lack of new markets, uproots and expands into an abstract realm) (153). Based on Marx's material conception of reality, whereby "conceiving, thinking, [and] the mental intercourse of men [ . . . ] [are] the direct efflux of their material behavior," this shift in economics and production in late capitalism must, therefore, shift or change our thinking and perception (Marx, The German Ideology, 154). The space of the Bonaventure Hotel is, therefore, a physical representation of this postmodern perception -- a direct reflection of the deterritorialization of late capitalism, itself. The physical nature of this representation of deterritorialization allows the Bonaventure Hotel to create a material embodiment of the reality of the economic state of late capitalism, temporarily eradicating the old world's (and, hence, old capitalism's) concept of referentiality and, in turn, other old signifiers: time, history, etc. Remember, however, that this space is not intended to be presented as a non-reality or as a separate reality. It does differ from the outside world, but this distinction is eroded by the hotel's shape and purpose (to replace the old world). Without the old world's notion of space -- itself, again, possibly only a system of simulated referents on top of a hyperspace similar to that seen in the hotel's lobby -- the deterritorilization and subsequent decontextualization of this postmodern hyperspace (a "new" system of pseudo-referents replacing the referents of the old) distorts people's concepts of self, other, and the world. This distortion also, as we have seen, disrupts business within this sphere.

     11. We see, then, that the economic shift to finance capital and the subsequent deterritorialization -- the butterfly fleeing the base of the "material" world -- changes the world. Using the experience of stores within the physical embodiment of this deterritorialization, however, this change can viewed as detrimental to capitalism's own cause. Capitalism, therefore, attempts to conceal this deterritorialization by re-marking or re-signifying this new space -- labeling it based on the diachronic space of the old world.

     12. The Bonaventure Hotel, therefore, provides an apt example of the resistance to late capitalism that is embedded within postmodernism. It is, as we have seen, the Bonaventure's spatial manifestation of this postmodern expression that allows us to see its deterritorialization and the subsequent dilemma it poses to stores and, hence, capitalism. It is, however, capitalism's response to this threat -- essentially a re-signification of deterritorialization -- that tends to mask the self-subverting elements of late capitalism. Jameson, himself, alludes to this process, although in a different context and not with the premise that it is capitalism's attempt to either conceal or reverse resistance it has created. In discussing fragmentation in pop-cultural concepts such as movie previews, Jameson introduces the concept of "renarrativization" -- whereby capitalism is able to "re-endow" fragments of the world with "cultural and mediatic meaning[s]." For Jameson, then, "the narrativized image-fragments of a stereotypical postmodern language" are part of a "new cultural realm or dimension which is independent of the former real world" ("Culture and Finance Capital" 161).

     13. It is, one can argue, this renarrativization that acts to subvert the resistance late capitalism has created and that, subsequently, conceals and negates evidence of the original resistance. For this reason, it is difficult to locate other such examples of self-subverting effects of late capitalism. One can argue, however, that it is this renarrativization, itself, that marks the clandestine effort that late capitalism has made and is making to conceal the deterritorialization of the postmodern era.

     14. One example of this attempt to renarrate the fragments of hyperspace with meaning can be found in Baudrillard's aforementioned notion of the role of Disneyland in his book The Precession of Simulacra. Baudrillard argues that today, similar to Jameson's notion of the renarrativization of deterritorialization, the world is composed of "simulations" that act to generate "models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal" (10). Baudrillard cites the example Disneyland as a "deterrence machine" that acts as an "ideological blanket" which serves to present an imaginary space/world "in order to make us believe that the rest [of the world] is real." For Baudrillard, then, "Los Angeles is encircled by these 'imaginary stations' which feed reality [ . . . ] to a town whose mystery is precisely that it is nothing more that a network of endless, unreal circulation [ . . . ] without space or dimensions" (25-6). Disneyland can therefore be seen as a renarrativization tool that attempts to re-apply meaning to and stabilize the simulated referents of the "real" world by creating a blatantly imaginary one.

     15. One can argue that this same self-subverting element of postmodernism is seen in the renarrativization projected by many contemporary elements of our culture such as movies like The Matrix series and Conspiracy Theory, which refer to tangible "real" worlds or causes behind falsities in our modern one, or the application of the spatial notions of "forward," "back," and "home" to the non-spatial hyperspace of the Internet. Although the aforementioned examples refer only to renarrativizations, it is this re-labeling and re-stabilizing of postmodern space and thought that, as we have seen, reveals a concealed element of resistance.

 

Betrayed Resistance: The Rhizome, Deterritorialization, and Renarrativization

     16. To better understand Jameson's notion of postmodern hyperspace and the resistant aspect within it that we have revealed, it is appropriate to look at the source of Jameson's use of "deterritorialization:" Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. This publication and its concept of a "rhizome" system also provides an apt correlation to Jameson's spatial deterritorialization of the Bonaventure Hotel: a postmodern spatial model of logic and the acquisition of knowledge. Unlike in the Bonaventure Hotel and the other provided examples, however, Deleuze and Guattari's notion of the rhizome can be seen as a deliberate attempt to create a resistance to late capitalistic society and the base it is built upon. The deterritorialization in the rhizome, then, originates from their revolutionary theory as opposed to ostensibly deriving from capitalism, itself. We shall see, though, that the paradoxical relationship that exists between late capitalism and postmodernism also subsists between the rhizome and its intended resistance: the rhizome betraying the resistance it seems to foster and returning to and supporting capitalism.

     17. In A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari portray the modernist styles of artists such as Joyce and Nietzsche as being innovative and "multiple," but ultimately unable to break from the classical system. They then -- apparently building on Barthes's notion of text -- present their "rhizome" system. This system seeks to break from the centralized and controlled nature of the classical binary/biunivocal and the modernists' "fascicular" systems. The rhizome is described as "an acentered, nonhistorical, nonhierarchical, nonsignifying system without a General and without an organizing memory or central automation, defined solely by a circulation of states" (21). Unlike the structural nature of binary logic, the rhizome system "is made of only lines: lines of segmentarity and stratification as its dimensions, and the line of flight or deterritorialization as the maximum dimension [ . . . ] after the multiplicity undergoes metamorphosis" (emphasis mine, 21). This system, then, breaks from the old model of logic/thought, having "no beginning or no end [ . . . ] coming and going rather than starting and ending" (25).

     18. It is, however, Deleuze and Guattari's spatial conceptualization of this system that allows us to directly correlate it with Jameson's critique of the Bonaventure's lobby. The rhizome system is described as being made of plateaus that are "always in the middle" and of being "composed not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion" (21). It is also presented as being a multiple, circular system of "taproots" (5). Although Deleuze and Guattari are depicting a system of logic, they do so by describing it using a spatial metaphor -- a metaphor of a deterritorrialized hyperspace similar to that used by Jameson's analysis of the Bonaventure's lobby.

     19. It can be argued, therefore, that the postmodern hyperspace that is produced by and disruptive to late capitalism in the Bonaventure Hotel is directly related to the concept of the rhizome system in postmodern logic (the spatial metaphor connecting the two). The difference, here, however, is that Deleuze and Guattari present their rhizome system as a resistance to capitalism, not as deriving from it (although the deterritorialized resistances are similar, their sources and causes are disparate). The intentional revolutionary nature of this system is clearly seen when they implore the reader to "make rhizomes, not roots, [and to] never plant!" (24). They later directly refer to the system as revolutionary, writing that American and English literature already "manifest this rhizomatic direction [ . . . ]; they know how to move between things, establish a logic of the AND, overthrow ontology, do away with foundations, [and] nullify endings and beginnings" (25).

     20. Deleuze and Guattri's postmodern system of logic and acquisition of knowledge, then, can be seen as an attempt to combat capitalism and the Western tradition of logic that it is based on -- providing a multiple, de-centered overthrow of ontology and foundations. Logic, in this deterritorialized system, escapes the stable, linear "old" model of the established superstructure, providing the possibility for multiplicity outside of capitalism's apparatuses of control. Or does it? Is this system as radical as it appears? Might its hypothetical function, in fact, inadvertently act to subvert the resistance it is supposed to foster and, instead, support capitalism?

     21. The most basic example of the problem with Deleuze and Guattari's system can be found in the definition of the rhizome as being in the "middle." Even if it is a "multiple" and an "assemblage" that is outside of the tree-structure of the "root-book," isn't a "middle" inherently reliant upon a beginning and an end -- even if the system never ventures to these poles -- to define itself as a middle per se? This system, therefore, defines itself in terms of the "old," classical system it seeks to overthrow, making it reliant upon it. One must ask, then, if the rhizome can really overthrow this old system at all, for if it did, how would it define itself?

     22. This reliance on the classical system becomes even more problematical when one analyzes the rhizome system's use of language and signifiers, which even Deleuze and Guattari admit inherently retain "the root-tree as [their] fundamental image" (5). Even if, then, this system conceives of itself as outside of the classical system's binary and biunivocal relationships that have dominated Western art and thought, its language and signifiers still remain part of this old system. For despite the rhizome's claim of being a multiple and escaping the tree-base of knowledge acquisition, its language -- the very essence of its expression -- is still saturated with its latent meanings and associations. Dick Hebdige, in Subculture: The Meaning of Style, refers to this fact when he writes: "there is an ideological dimension to every signification" (13). In this view, then, an assemblage and a multiple, an "interbeing" that "is the conjunction, "and . . . .and . . . and . . ." is still -- because of its use of language -- affixed to and based upon the ideological aspects and components of the classical system that dominates linguistics and the world. The words, themselves, that are used to create this metaphor of deterritorialization within the rhizome act as referents, similar to the color coded signs hung in the Bonaventure lobby, to re-narrate the space. The actual form of this system, then, undoes its own intended resistance.

     23. We have seen, thus far, how the rhizome system is not as revolutionary as it is intended to be and how both its very definition and essential components are based upon and infused with the old system it seeks to resist. But the rhizome system can also be seen as going beyond a negation of its own intended resistance and, in essence, becoming a tool for furthering capitalism itself.

     24. One way in which the rhizome may act to inadvertently support capitalism -- even if we assume that aspects of it are, indeed, revolutionary -- is in the fact that it exists in a non-political, non-material realm. Although it hypothetically creates deterritorialization similar to that seen in the Bonaventure's lobby, the rhizome exists solely within a spatial metaphor, casting the system, then, into the realm of postmodern art that exists within the context of the old world. This creates a means and forum for potential revolutionary thought and logic, yet, importantly, this activity exists within the "safe" sphere of the rhizome -- a system that has a hypothetical and experimental, jesting-like feel (the authors stipulating they created aspects of it "just for laughs") (22). This safe arena, therefore, provides a forum for intellectuals and others to vicariously satisfy their desires for revolutionary thoughts and actions and, as a result, makes such actions within a real, material world less likely. The rhizome thus supports the status quo and the old system by providing a harmless revolutionary outlet with no tangible connections to the material world. Brian Donahue, in "Marxism, Postmodernism, and Zizek," cites Zizek's analysis of the psychological displacement of belief in "The Supposed Subject of Ideology" as revealing that ideology is located "not in the conscious but in real activity" (par. 19). This holds, then, that what one claims to believe is irrelevant if it does not correlate to how one acts in the real world. One can, therefore, write and think within this revolutionary realm of the rhizome, but if one continues to function within the "traditional" systems that the rhizome metaphorically escapes, then one acts to negate and disavow the rhizome and any revolution or knowledge it may create.

     25. A second way the rhizome may act to actually support capitalism is in its relation to commodification. Marx writes, in Capital, Volume 1, that the commodification of products relates to "the social character of labour [appearing] to us to be an objective character of the products themselves." Marx goes on to elucidate that commodities, themselves, obtain "fixity only by reason of their acting and re-acting upon each other as qualities of value" (322-3). In this manner, then, commodities are defined by each other instead of by their source in social labor -- which, in essence, allows these products to break free from the material world production and exist in the realm of multiples whereby they are defined only by "fluctuations in . . . relative values" (323). The rhizome system, it can be argued, supports this system by modeling its logic due to the fact that it exists in the middle and is always reproducing itself: embodying the conjunction "and . . . and . . . and. . . ." Does it not, then, also support the mind-frame of free-market capitalism -- propagating the self-indulging buying practices with which capitalism indoctrinates the masses? We can see the connection between the rhizome system and commodification more directly when we consider the fact that the rhizome is presented as an assemblage that "establishes connections between certain multiplicities" and that it is always "between things" (23, 25). Thoughts, books, and other expressions within the rhizome system, therefore, can be seen as dislocated from their sources -- based, like commodified products, on each other. The rhizome can be seen, then, as a system similar to that of capitalism's commodification: promoting multiples that are related to each other instead of being related to their sources.

     26. We see, then, that the rhizome symbolically creates a deterritorialization similar to what is seen in the Bonaventure Hotel, but its deterritorialization exists only within a metaphoric spatial realm, which ultimately prevents it from resisting capitalism. As we have seen, however, the rhizome also fails to create deterritorialization and resistance because it exists within and through a language that is infused with the "old" world's meanings, causing it to mimic and, therefore, support capitalism's notion of commodification. In essence, the rhizome, in trying to create deterritorialization through the forum of words, always already re-narrates itself and makes real deterritorialization impossible. Even if the rhizome, or a new -- even more effective -- system of multiples was successful at breaking from the old system and from capitalism, capitalism's ability to re-label disparate and revolutionary multiples (as we have seen with the Bonaventure) would, essentially, dismantle the revolution and, by re-narrating meaning, adopt the multiples into its own system.

     27. In conclusion, it may be possible to answer the question Jameson that posits at the end of his 1988 "Postmodernism and Consumer Society" using both his own analysis of the Bonaventure Hotel within the original essay and his subsequent analysis of late capitalism. Late capitalism can be seen as a new level of economic abstraction, which, in turn, affects people's thoughts and perceptions and creates postmodernism. Within postmodernism's physical manifestation in architectural space, we, quite possibly, may find that that the disorienting hyperspace and its deterritorialization may be a resistance, or, at least, a hindrance to capitalism. The best evidence of this resistance may, in fact, be capitalism's reaction to this proposed threat: inscribing signifiers that act to re-establish the referents of the old world (essentially reterritorializing the space). A similar scenario can be found in Deleuze and Guattari's revolutionary concept of the rhizome system -- where deterritorialization in the realm of logic, instead of disorienting people and disrupting business, can be seen as being intended to allow knowledge and thought to escape the confines of the superstructure. I have shown, however, how the rhizome's intentional attempt to create a resistance similar to that of Jameson's notion of deterritorialization may, in fact, subvert itself and support capitalism. Even if the rhizome was revolutionary, however, we can see how capitalism could, hypothetically, subvert the deterritorialization of the system: re-narrating the multiples with the "old" binary system and its beliefs -- as it has done in the spatial realm.

     28. This analysis reveals that the relationship between postmodern culture and late capitalism is more dynamic than originally thought and provides impetus for Marxist inquiry into contemporary art and culture. In so doing, it implicitly reveals that such Marxist inquiries are, themselves, still relevant within a late capitalistic society that, as Brian Donahue in "Marxism, Postmodernism, Zizek" contends, has challenged such methodology (par. 1). Seeing how pervasive the system of capitalism is, with its power to subvert both self-generated and foreign inceptions of resistance through renarrativization, an important line of inquiry is to further analyze the function of renarrativization itself -- a study of its various marking strategies.

 

go to this back issue's index

home

 


 

Works Cited

Anderson, Perry. Forward. The Cultural Turn. By Fredric Jameson. London: Verso,1998. xi-xiv.

Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra et Simulation. Paris: Editions Galilee, 1981.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. 1980. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

Donahue, Brian. "Marxism, Postmodernism, Zizek." Postmodern Culture 12.2 (2001). January 2001. 2 February 2003 <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/pmc/v012/12.2donahue.htm/>.

Hebdige, Dick. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. Ed. Terence Hawkes. New York: Methuen & Company Ltd., 1979.

Jameson, Fredric, "Culture and Finance Capital." 1996 ed. The Cultural Turn. By Fredric Jameson. London: Verso, 1998.

Jameson, Fredric. The Cultural Turn. London: Verso, 1998.

Jameson, Fredric. "Postmodernism and Consumer Society." 1988. The Cultural Turn. By Fredric Jameson. London: Verso, 1998.

Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels. Capital, Volume 1. 1867. The Marx-Engels Reader. Ed. Robert C. Tucker. 2nd ed. New York: W & W Norton & Company. Inc., 1979. 294-438.

Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels. The German Ideology. 1932. The Marx-Engels Reader. Ed. Robert C. Tucker. 2nd ed. New York: W & W Norton & Company. Inc., 1979. 146-202.

 


 

Contents copyright © 2004 by Jason Berger.

Format copyright © 2004 by Cultural Logic, ISSN 1097-3087.