Paige Hirschey Lecture Review: Fredric Jameson

Paige Hirschey



In his lecture, “The Aesthetics of Singularity” Professor Fredric Jameson discussed the manifestations of post-modernity within several aspects of society, from economics to politics, philosophy to the visual arts. Among all these facets he claims that post-modernity has resulted in a shift from generality to singularity. Events within these categories can no longer be defined in broad overarching terms but are, more than ever, individual and as such, indefinable. I’ll admit at first I had a bit of trouble with this claim. What caused this shift? Why is singularity more characteristic of our society now than any other time? He started his explanation of this claim with another claim that there are two sorts of temporal structures. The first, is the more traditional belief in an equally important past, present and future. The second places emphasis on the present with the past and future rendered negligible by comparison. According to Jameson we have reached a point wherein the present is so stimulating, that the past is forgotten and the future cannot be fathomed. In this present-oriented society, singularity thrives.

In terms of visual art he looked to installation art as the epitome of postmodernist aesthetics. Installations are, of course, a series of objects displayed in a particular time in a specific place. No one installation can ever be truly repeated. They are, by their very nature, ephemeral; a product of the present. The object or objects within the installation are not the art object in and of themselves (or else it would not be an installation) the art is rather the interaction between the individual viewer, the objects and the space. This idea reminded me of conceptual art. Jameson however claims a difference between conceptual art and the installations that he feels epitomize postmodernity. To him, conceptual art provides the viewer with a familiar object that is meant to inspire, in his words “theoretical meditation” on the part of the viewer. Post-modern art he argues, places more emphasis on the idea of the work so that the viewer actually consumes the idea rather than the object. He likened this to Jorge Borges’s series of reviews of imaginary books, which suggest that the idea that learning the plot of a book is equally satisfying as actually reading it.

I was really intrigued by this concept of the idea taking precedence over the piece itself. It reminded me of appropriation. Artists like Sherrie Levine and Richard Prince have almost completely disregarded the idea of creating a physical work of art. Instead they sell an idea, taking a popular image and introducing it (or reintroducing in Levine’s case) into the world of high art. By presenting the same image in an arena that is reserved for high art, like a gallery setting, the viewer is forced to look at it in a new way. The artist’s here are not so much creators as intercessors, leaving behind the traditional role of the artist they communicate an idea through using the work of someone before them. I think Mr. Jameson would agree that this is the epitome of postmodernity.

Overall I really enjoyed Professor Jameson’s lecture. While sometimes hard to follow, I found that I agreed with most of his points, especially in terms of the visual arts, which of all the topics he covered, I felt that I had the best grasp on. It was especially interesting to hear him speak while in a contemporary art class. I could think of countless examples of artists from class who embodied the singularity he professed as the hallmark of postmodernity. I also found it interesting that he believes that the installation is the foremost art form of postmodernism. To me it seemed as though this assumption challenged his previous claim that postmodern art defies generalization. On the contrary, I feel that post-modern art is characterized by it’s lack of any single defining medium, form or style. The fact that artists like Gerhard Richter and Cindy Sherman can pursue forms that are not strictly speaking in line with Mr. Jameson’s definition of post-modern in an undoubtedly post-modern society speaks to this. That being said I found Mr. Jameson’s lecture to be thoroughly interesting, not to mention incredibly thought provoking. As an art history major, and someone who has been brought up in a post-modern society, it was interesting to see how he feels art production and reception has changed over the past few decades. Even though I didn’t necessarily agree with all of his ideas, I felt (and still feel) that it was a great privilege to hear him discuss these topics firsthand.

One Response

  1. I had been looking forward to this lecture for sometime but was unable to attend due to a last minute conflict in my schedule. I am incredibly jealous that you got to attend but found your paper to be quite informative. I’m sure that Jameson’s lecture was very dense, yet you do a great job of breaking down his main points and making it easy to understand. Furthermore, I found your own analysis of his ideas to be very useful and interesting. I particularly enjoyed reading the part about the object vs. the concept and the role it plays in the future of art. I believe object vs. concept is an integral part of every work and your paper highlights this relationship. When we look at a piece of art it tends to be through two perspectives: the artist’s and our own. The concept tends to illustrate the artist’s intentions while the object cannot help but evoke are own personal response, which has been forged through our experiences in life. It is fascinating to consider how a work can mean something entirely different than what it was meant to and, yet there is no right or wrong.

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