Reading: Jameson, modernism, innovation; Rossanda, the past


“What drives modernism to innovate,” he writes in a chapter on Williams’s Paterson, “is not some vision of the future or the new, but the rather deep conviction that certain forms and expressions, procedures and techniques, can no longer be used, are worn out or stigmatized by their associations with a past that has become conventionality or kitsch.”

Stéphane Mallarme is a central figure in Jameson’s narrative about Modernism. He functions much in the same way that Charles Baudelaire did for Walter Benjamin, as the avant-garde artist fiercely antagonistic to, and yet complicit with, an emerging bourgeois commodity culture. “Mallarme Materialist” is a dazzling essay, and Jameson’s talents as a close reader are very much on display here. He keeps his eye on the textual detail without losing track of the big theoretical question about the effect of capitalism on literary form. Jameson has been working on “Mallarme Materialist” for as long as he has been writing criticism. The date appended to the end of this essay, 1963-2006, is striking: either he’s admitting to a protracted bout of writer’s block, which is highly unlikely, or he’s acknowledging that Mallarme has been a constant companion, someone who, by refusing to be outmoded, has helped him to theorize his own moment in the history of modernity. Whatever the reason, Jameson believes that this poete maudit deserves a “postcontemporary reinvention”, one vital to the moment we are living in now.

Rossana Rossanda, La Ragazza del Secolo Scorso:

“Da piccoli duole di essere privati del passato come da vecchi del futuro.”


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