Academic journal article Postmodern Studies

Introduction

Academic journal article Postmodern Studies

Introduction

Article excerpt

Over the course of the twentieth century, the twin developments of mass production and mass media in the capitalist economies of the Global North completed a total transformation of everyday life, reorienting almost every activity toward consumption. Things once locally produced and often handmade were now mass produced and commodified, turning local, artisanal producers into deskilled laborers serving the assembly line. This world of mass production radically altered the meaning of objects in an unprecedented and profound reification that reached into every sphere of life. This was not just the fate of objects, but also of the practices with which they are always enmeshed. Mass production and commodification liquidated what remained of folkways tied to local production, demanding people construct the meaning of their lives through purchases rather than production. This transition to a lifeworld of consumption affected not only concrete objects, but even more forcefully altered symbolic and aesthetic practices. Technologies of mechanical reproduction redefined story, image, and music, altering the traditions of both fine and folk art with mass produced and distributed forms in newspapers, advertising, radio, film, and television that shattered the aura of fine art and liquidated folk art almost completely. Rather than making their stories, images, and music, ever more urbanized workers and managers consumed new mass-produced art forms that, epitomized by the Hollywood studio system, developed into the wall-to-wall mediascape of twenty-four hour broadband that now blankets the city, the suburb, and the country alike.

Given these developments, this book seeks to answer the following questions: How did art and literature respond to this age of consumption? What do the productions and practices of artists and writers reveal about the meaning of mass production, consumption, reification, mechanical reproduction, and meaning? Artists and writers leave a unique record of struggle, argument, critique, tactics, and invention. They explicitly struggle with and reflect on the problems of meaning, and, moreover, these struggles are not categorically different from the problems everyone faces in a world of consumption. By understanding the response of art and literature, I believe that we understand the problems, urgencies, and possibilities of a world unfolding through the commodity form.

My thesis: artists in every medium throughout the twentieth century turn to collage to respond to the possibilities and limits of an inescapable consumer culture. I argue that by employing collage techniques, artists solve the problem of making meaning in a readymade world. Through collage, artists find ways to evade, negotiate, reflect, or sometimes undo the reification of commodity culture. Connecting collage practices across mediums, genres, art movements, nations, and times, I argue that the prevalence of the technique cannot be understood simply as the unfolding necessity of a particular medium's evolution or a localized response to specific problems, but rather reflects a truly dialectical response to the ubiquity of the commodity form as it developed though mass production, mass media, and consumer culture.

Artists and writers broadly adopted two tactics to cope with mass production. The first was to resist commodification and develop non-alienated relationships to their work. The abstract expressionist painters most vividly embody this tactic of direct resistance, an attempt to evade or escape the demands of consumer culture through the most revolutionary aspirations of romanticism. Strikingly, however, the two greatest visual artists of the century, Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol, chose a second tactic. Instead of openly resisting or evading the commodity form they went into it, directly engaging it with what Jean Baudrillard calls the fatal strategy-becoming the very thing the system demands, but pushing this process to such an extreme that it is dialectically transformed. …

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