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New Left Review I/151, May-June 1985

Mike Davis

Urban Renaissance and the Spirit of Postmodernism

It has become customary for historians to speak about the death of the Victorian Age in 1914, or the reign of a politico-monetary Long Sixteenth Century persisting well into the middle of the calendrical 17th century. By the same token, there are innumerable incitements in contemporary cultural, if not political, analysis to regard the Old Twentieth Century—defined, preeminently, by the two Great Wars and their attendant revolutions—as having drawn to a close sometime between the Beats and The Punks, Sartre and Foucault. Fredric Jameson’s recent essay, ‘The Cultural Logic of Late Capital’ (NLR 146), is an audacious attempt to argue the case for such an epochal transition. Indeed, Jameson, charting a caesura from the beginning of the ‘long Sixties’, goes as far as to suggest the ascendency of a new, ‘postmodernist’ sensibility or cultural attitude, overwhelmed in a delusionary, depthless Present, and deprived of historical coordinates, imaginative empathy, or even existential angst. With extraordinary facility for unexpected connections and contrasts (as between architecture and war reporting), he stalks the logic of the new cultural order—based on the manic reprocessing and ‘cannibalizing’ of its own images—through various manifestations in current writing, poetry, music and film. It is, however, architecture, ‘the privileged aesthetic language’, that reveals the most systematic, virtually ‘unmediated’ relationship between postmodern experience and the structures of Late Capitalism. Thus, according to Jameson, the ‘new world space of multinational capital’ finds its ‘impossible’ representation in the mirror-glass and steel ‘hyperspaces’ of the Los Angeles Bonaventure Hotel and other contemporary urban megastructures.

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