Fredric Jameson’s Concept of “Depthlessness”

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Fredric Jameson

Fredric Jameson, best known for his analysis of contemporary cultural trends, called postmodern culture as one of “depthlessness” and as the cultural logic of late capitalism. “Late capitalism” implies that society has moved past the industrial age.and into the information age. Likewise, Jean Baudrillard claimed postmodernity was defined by a shift into hyperreality in which simulations have replaced the real.

In postmodernity people are inundated with information; technology has become a central focus in many lives; and our understanding of the real is mediated by simulations of the real. Arguing that postmodern cultural trends and practices were cultural expressions of deeper economic structures of new forms of capitalism, Jameson suggested that postmodernity converts all art forms into commodities. Such a commodification of art implies a culture of surface appearance rather than depth. Thus he observes that the postmodern culture is that of the signifier than the signified, and that the linguistic sign has lost its value. The absence of depth leads to a culture where the surface meaning and appearance is all that matters. The “subject” lacks uniqueness and is fragmented, and this fragmentation and depthlessnes is what Jameson calls the culture of pastiche, where repetition of older styles becomes a style in itself, and where there are no “originals” or “prototype” and the copy is all that there is.

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In Robert Coover‘s 1977 novel The Public Burning, Coover mixes historically inaccurate accounts of Richard Nixon interacting with historical figures and fictional characters such as Uncle Sam and Betty Crocker. Margaret Atwood‘s The Blind Assassin is yet another example.

Relatedly, Jameson argued that the postmodern era suffers from a crisis in historicity; that “there no longer does seem to be an organic relationship between the American history we learn from school books and the lived experience of the current, multinational, high-rise, stagflated city of the newspapets and of our own everyday life.”

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