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Afterword

ByFREDRIC JAMESON

This confrontation of two historical phenomena-modernism and theoryastonishingly revives both: positioned after the end of modernism, it also reflects the rumors about the death of theory, rumors fueled by Lyotard’s prophecy about the “end of grand narratives,” as well as by the seeming disappearance of the grand theory of Marxism, along with a professionalization of the disciplines that has led cultural studies, film studies, literary studies themselves back into more respectably empirical research (along with the flight of the historians from “philosophies of history” and the regression of the philosophers into their archival sub-fields like epistemology and ethics). Yet it would seem to be enough to pronounce the obituary on both modern-

ism and theory alike for both to rise up from their alleged resting places and to regain a vitality that claims our interest. How can this be so, particularly when one of these phenomena-modernism-is certainly over in any historical sense, its monuments receding into the past (I do not think the same is true of theory, but like everything else it has its life in history)? The project here was, as I understand it, that “blasting open of the continuum

of history” evoked by Benjamin for a politics that gave new life to those discontinuous moments of the past with which it had elective affinities: the age of Robespierre revived by Lenin. This was always a meeting place between two historical situations, however distant from each other in the “homogeneous time” of calendars and chronologies. Nor was it only the present that gave new life to the past: as witness Marx’s equally famous remarks about revolutionary nostalgia: “Luther donning the mask of the Apostle Paul.” The past thus gives life to the present as well, nor is this a mutual enlivenment which only characterizes revolution as such. It derives, I think, from the fact that the historical affinities have to do, not so much with the actors themselves (Robespierre and Lenin, Luther and the Apostle Paul), nor with the movements, or even with their success or failure. The affinities are between the historical situations themselves, provided you grasp situation as a way in which the heterogeneous elements of a “context” are unified into a dilemma or a contradiction, a problem or a question, to which an answer or solution is imperiously demanded. The military analogy is the best one: the commander, looking out over an uneven landscapemarshland, a few hills, a few roads, bad weather-suddenly, in a practiced coup

d’oeil, pulls it together in a strategic configuration, in which he sees either his own or the enemy’s chances. The was indeed Proust’s notion of artistic innovation as such, in which the coup d’oeil of the artist grasps the aesthetic situation confronting him as a situation and suddenly sees what is to be done, grasps the nature of the intervention he is called on to make. This is then the deeper meaning of Benjamin’s figure: the present revives the

urgency of the historical situation, until then slumbering neglected in the history manuals, and the past allows the protagonists in the present to grasp their own moment in terms of a situation in which they are able to intervene. And this is why it does Rorty no service to consult his feeble sermon on cultural patriotism in order to extract so stereotypical a misunderstanding of historical interpretation as this: “viewing [the text] as the product of a mechanism of cultural production” (Rorty 1996: 13). On the contrary, it is a reinvention of the historical situation alone that allows us to grasp the text as a vibrant historical act, and not as a document in the archives. And this is why even those texts which seemed to have become documents in a now distant past, like the one-time masterpieces of the modern, suddenly come alive as living acts and forms of praxis-aesthetic, social, political, psychoanalytic, even ontological-which imperiously solicit our attention. (It is also why Neil Levi thinks I am at least in part still a modernist.) The confrontations here are of a very different type than one might have

staged with an older literary theory, which was essentially method-oriented, and which saw at least in certain privileged texts the occasion for a demonstration and for a confirmation of certain aesthetic ideas and values. For now and today the participants are able to follow Deleuze’s great principle that both art and philosophy think, only they think in different languages, the one with concepts, the other with its own specific materials. The philosopher produces a new concept, while the painter produces a new color, or if you prefer a new brushstroke, a new layer of oil paint. But the work of both is a work with categories, is a form of thinking and of experimentation with new thinking-a principle which obliges us to revise the very notion of comparison as such. It can no longer for one thing consist in enumerating similarities and analogies, or

even parallels. It is, to be sure, very useful indeed to find that Deleuze’s concept of the “body without organs” replays Artaud; or that the inner conflicts of the surrealists both repeat Kant and anticipate contemporary theoretical debates. The very retreat from theory itself is according to Stephen Ross yet one more spiral in the persistent (theoretical) critique of critiques that have themselves become hegemonic: the figure is reminiscent of Adorno and Horkheimer’s vision of the widening gyres of Enlightenment positivism (in Dialectic of Enlightenment). The authors have no trouble demonstrating Deleuze’s association of artists

and philosophers: the great ebb and flow of Lawrence’s vital and earthly forces (true affects these, which rebuke any one-sided view of this writer as sexist or authoritarian) is as energizing and exhilaratingly theoretical as anything in Deleuze and Guattari. Meanwhile, Virginia Woolf (who seems to be the presiding figure in this collection) is shown to be herself a subtle “philosopher” of time and temporality, closer to Husserl or Heidegger than to Bergson, and richly meriting

her equally central place in Ricoeur’s Time and Narrative. But may I take this occasion to deplore the rather provincial anglophone limits of the aesthetic references here, mostly representative of English modernism, just as most of the theoretical references turn to the continent? The other face of the Deleuze principle would logically be, indeed, the

reception of philosophers as artists. This is perhaps easiest to do with Adorno, who actually was a composer, and whose thinking (as Gelikman shows) always resisted the pure or the unmixed, whether in philosophy or in art itself (his defense of Beckett’s minimalism is put in perspective by his admiration for Alban Berg’s “impure” music-Adrian’s last composition in Doktor Faustus gives us a vivid sense of these maximalist experiments). So it is that, in a way, Adorno resists pure philosophy itself, and in particular aesthetics: the partisans of the “autonomy of the aesthetic” have to be rebuked by sociology, just as the more vulgar contextualists need to be confronted by aesthetic specificity itself. Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory is thus not really an aesthetics (you can read it as the deconstruction of all philosophical aesthetics as such, the demonstration of their impossibility): rather, it offers the view of artistic production from the inside, its “ideas” express the contradictions of the work itself, its blockages, failures, lines of flight. This is the sense in which we may consider Adorno an artist as well, rather than a philosopher. Much the same might be said of Deleuze, whose “concepts”—the smooth and

the striated, desiring machines, codes versus axiomatics-can just as easily be taken as the production of new colors-“Luft aus anderen Planeten,” Stefan George called them-rather than new ideas. Is this to say that Deleuze is a theorist rather than a philosopher? The distinction-called for by Shiach here, but never answered-is a fateful

one, and can only be exacerbated by the appearance of Henri Lefebvre. It is a welcome appearance indeed, and marks a long-postponed engagement with this philosopher of modernity, whose celebration of possibility rebukes the long and gloomy tradition of Kulturpessimismus and who goes a long way towards restoring those non-English references-Baudelaire, Rimbaud-on whose absence we have already commented. Lefebvre also opens a path to cultural studies and to the admission of questions of the media, mass culture, and the public sphere, which cannot be said to impinge on the attention of canonical thinkers like Adorno and Deleuze. On the other hand, he is clearly much more conventionally a technical phi-

losopher than either one, despite his association with the Situationists. Modern art is for him so many exhibits in the argument. Nor can one make for him the claim of philosopher-as-artist I have advanced above for Deleuze and Adorno. Lefebvre will, however, remain a basic ally in any attempt to restore a longer historical view of modernism as a movement and as a period (even if both those terms remain contested). But he also stands allegorically as the emissary of Space in a debate still lar-

gely dominated by Time: and thereby hangs another tale. For Lefebvre’s work on modernity is driven by his virtual invention of the concept of everyday life;

and crowned in turn by his work on the urban and his philosophical theorization of space itself. Meanwhile the opposition between temporality and space has been seen as one of the great dividing lines between modern and postmodern: and it is characteristic that the theorists here still prefer to think of Mrs Dalloway as a book about time rather than a book about the city. The thematics of temporality then engender the further discussions here about

modernism’s fetish of the new and whether it needs to be reinvented or laid to rest; about narrative as a temporal process; and finally about periodization as such, which was of course always the deeper nagging thorn-the battle between “philosophies of history” and explication de texte, macro-versus micro-analyses, grands récits or the linguistic games of the individual poems. Few are so willing to dismiss the former as Altieri, who, identifying the conventional mediation between the two levels as allegory, then proceeds to offer us some allegories of feeling in his own readings. My sense is that there is a sensitivity about periodization in English departments that is conditioned by the non-paradigmatic trajectory of English modernism (if there really is such a thing) as well as by the wholly episodic eruptions of the modern in American literature (until it imports modernist theory). Yet we must insist on a fundamental and structural gap between the macro-

concepts of any periodizing history (or philosophy of history) and the detailed field work on any individual text. This gap is a contradiction: it cannot be “solved” or “resolved” by any conceptual synthesis; it must always be starkly acknowledged and remain itself the provisional starting point for any working procedure. “Allegory” is far from being the only mediation possible here, and if it is useful at all it is because the very structure of allegory (as opposed to that of the symbol) insisted in advance on its own inadequacy and its own imminent break-down. It also has the advantage of being in effect a postmodern concept: distinguished

from traditional allegories which are based on personification, its postmodern form excludes categories of the subject. But, to be sure, postmodernity is here notable for its absence from these debates, so that the discussion of the modern-by avoiding what sets historical limits to it-always appears to return to the question of whether we can “return” to it, reinvent it, or revive it. And this is, I believe, also the secret of the other absence which has been deplored, but only in passing: namely the distinction between philosophy and theory. For the latter opposition harbors the former one: philosophy is assumed to be modern, while theory is postmodern. In that case, we have been reading our philosophers as theorists fully as much as they have been reading their modernists as postmodern writers. Deleuze is perhaps only the most scandalous example of such rewriting, defended as such with a truly postmodern shamelessness. I have myself defended the position that our reading of the past and of past

writers is not an individual contact between two people or even two historical sensibilities, but rather the momentary convergence of two distinct moments of history (or even modes of production) which pass judgment on each other in a kind of dialectical modification of Benjamin’s “blasting open of the continuum of

history.” It seems to me perfectly justified to rewrite Virginia Woolf as a postmodernist, provided we acknowledge the objective existence in her work of themes and features which were secondary or subordinate in the modernist period and for modernist readings, and which are now reconstructed as the dominant ones. The reconstruction is a critical and an interpretive act (indeed, a historical one), but it also has its objective basis and is not a matter of caprice and private inclination (save insofar as these are also objective). Still, it would be good to keep something of the violence and the passion of Benjamin’s formula: as long as the debate about modernism is vibrant, for so long also modernism itself remains alive.