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waning of affect


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A feature of the new depthlessness in art attributed to the cultural transformation known as postmodernism as described in Fredric Jameson's essay ‘Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism’ (1984). According to Jameson, by the 1960s a new character type had emerged both in fiction and in reality (in the form of the celebrity artist), which because of its complexity could no longer be thought in terms of such categories as the ego, or indeed the various pathologies of the ego enumerated by Sigmund Freud such as anxiety and hysteria. Jameson illustrates his point by comparing Vincent Van Gogh's ‘A Pair of Boots’ (1887) with Andy Warhol's ‘Diamond Dust Shoes’ (1980). He argues that it is possible to imagine the situation that yielded the former picture because it readily conjures an image of a tired peasant flinging their boots against the wall at the end of a hard day's toiling in the field, but we cannot do the same for the latter which offers only a random collection of dead objects. For this reason, Jameson argues, its impact on us has to be thought in terms of intensity rather than affect because we cannot reconstruct the individual life or life-world which could serve as its point of reference, or our anchor in the real. As a result, it has no depth, by which Jameson means, there is nothing behind or beyond the picture that we can use to decode it. Its surface and its meaning are one and the same.

Further Reading:

I. Buchanan Fredric Jameson: Live Theory (2006).

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.


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