The Glasgow Review Issue 3
The Fetish of the New: Culture and Class in Alasdair Gray's Something
The culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises. The promissory note which, with its plots and staging, it draws on pleasure is endlessly prolonged; the promise, which is actually all the spectacle consists of, is illusory: all it actually confirms is that the real point will never be reached, that the diner must be satisfied with the menu. In front of the appetite stimulated by all those brilliant names and images there is finally sat no more than a commendation of the depressing everyday world it sought to escape.
Theodor W. Adorno & Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment
Alasdair Gray's Something Leather is a sex-and-shopping novel. Between the two shopping excursions with which her story begins and ends, June Tain undergoes two simultaneous - sexual and sartorial - transformations: the 'strikingly good looking' divorcee who enjoys men's admiration but 'refuses to bring it to a very ordinary sexual conclusion' experiences a painful but ultimately enjoyable conversion to the rigours of lesbian S& M; equally, she leaves behind her favoured clothes styles of the thirties and forties ('which flirt elegantly or luxuriously with the human outline') in favour of figure-hugging leatherwear and lacy or elaborate lingerie. Gray tells us, though, in the Epilogue, of a further transformation with which he had originally flirted. The much-put-upon Senga and Donalda, whose fastidious work with needles and cuffs makes possible June's metamorphosis, were then to have been used by the leather-clad, wasp-tatooed Revenge Angel 'to entangle and corrupt important legislators, thus provoking a feminist socialist revolution'(SL, p. 247).
Of course this does not happen. Instead, June retains her index-linked pension plan and her shares in British Gas and BP. On the Monday morning following her initiation, she is told on the telephone by Harry, the artist for whom Senga and Donalda arrange these S& M sessions, that their £3000 cheque has been stopped. For June this is unimportant; her present needs are sexual rather than financial (and anyway, she already 'has nearly seven thousand pounds in two bank accounts'). She and Harry agree to meet that evening. Later, an envelope is pushed under June's door: Senga has sent her payment of £700 ('all I have except a bit in my purse to tide me over') before the cheque clears - which of course it never will. Sharply pocketting the notes - 'thinking smugly, "A chap should always have money in his pockets"' - June sets out on the shopping spree with which her story ends, finding herself ultimately returning to the leather shop she had visited 221 pages previously. She approaches the same assistant who had sent her to Senga and the Hideout in the first place, and asks whether she recognizes her:
After a wondering stare the assistant says, 'Yes! _Did you find that place you were looking for?'
'So you're happy now?' asks the assistant, smiling.
'Yes,' says June, smiling.
(SL, p. 231)
This is the novel's concluding moment of resolution. Yet to see it as the true fulfillment of that promise of happiness suspended at the end of chapter one - as Donalda kisses June in 'a kiss which is almost a bite,' and June 'enjoys a melting delicious weakness like nothing she has known' - is surely misleading. In a recent article on Gray, Alison Lumsden cites June Tain's final affirmation of contentment and writes:
Thematically, then, Gray's work seems to suggest that, while the vast economic and political structures which form systems of entrapment ... may be difficult, if not impossible, to challenge, the individual may nevertheless find some kind of freedom within these frameworks.
Not surprisingly, she goes on to claim that 'the conclusions which Gray's work implies are in fact fairly traditional, classically bourgeois ones.' If we assume that the novel offers only a celebratory affirmation of June's fate, that the reconstruction of her sexual practices and dress- sense are depicted as in some way sufficient, then we too shall be led to the association of Gray's novel with individualistic bourgeois liberalism - a sort of pseudo-transgressive Pants Down for Paddy. However, such an interpretation would be ill-advised. Rather than focussing on the transformation that undoubtedly does occur, then, it will be the purpose of this essay to insist on the paramount significance of the changes that do not take place: namely, those in the representation of relations of production.
Gray himself points to precisely this feature of the novel in his Epilogue:
It was now clear that June was a new woman, and to describe how she used her newness would limit it. There was a clear hint that having been liberated by the work of Senga and Donalda, June (the professional person) and Harry (the inherited wealth person) would cut themselves off from the poorer folk and have fun together. You need not believe that ending, but it is how we normally arrange things in Great Britain. It is certainly how things were arranged in Glasgow in 1990, when that city was the official capital of Europe - culturally speaking.
(SL, p. 251)
We shall later return to the significance of the final sentence, which was only added to the novel's second edition. For the moment, though, it is important to note that, despite the significant changes that have taken place, class relations and class exploitation remain undisturbed. It is, furthermore, the work of the 'poorer folk' which allows both June and Harry to set off on their path of liberating sexual fantasy. Thus, Harry's insistence that she and June 'don't need these otha little people' (SL, p. 226) relates, quite predictably, to the sharing of the spoils - sexual and financial - rather than to the bruise and welt-inducing labour into which the little people - and especially Senga: 'As usual at the end all the dirty work is left to me so here it comes!' (SL, p. 221) - had put such pitiful effort. A clear class division is hereby signalled among those - Senga, Donalda and Harry - who contribute to the artistic production of the New June.
Moreover, this acknowledgement of Harry, the artist, as a producer is significant in itself. As we shall see, it is important for the novel that Harry's artistic production is never subject to mystificatory claims of aesthetic transcendence or autonomy. This disavowal of a separate, autonomous aesthetic or cultural sphere is reflected even in Harry's almost excessively functional dress-sense, the uniform of 'crumpled army combat trousers, shirt, tunic and boots' which she wears 'because it suits her work' (SL, p. 185). Harry's work is art, and the novel's identification of artistic production as a functional practice signals a transformation in the relation of the aesthetic or cultural sphere to that of the socio-economic.
Since Kant's Critique of Judgement (1790), the cultural or aesthetic sphere has traditionally been characterized in philosophical aesthetics as an autonomous realm. The critique of this claim, as it is formulated by Georg Lukács, focusses on the extent to which it masks the economic and class interests which cultural forms serve, thereby displacing critique and analysis of those interests themselves. However, this apparent autonomy is not fully discarded by Lukács; rather, it is replaced by a notion of semi-autonomy which insists on the inter-relation and inter-dependence of recognizably distinct social spheres such as the cultural and the economic (a network of relations which Lukács places under the category of 'totality'), while simultaneously refusing to reduce these different realms to 'an undifferentiated uniformity, to identity.' For Lukács, then,
The apparent independence and autonomy which [the various elements of a social totality] possess in the capitalist system of production is an illusion only in so far as they are involved in a dynamic dialectical relationship with one another and can be thought of as the dynamic dialectical aspects of an equally dynamic and dialectical whole.
Theodor Adorno, in Aesthetic Theory, testifies to the critical power of art which holds fast to the necessary lie of autonomy (while remaining, in fact, only semi-autonomous) in his claim that 'by their presence art works signal the possibility of the non-existent; their reality testifies to the feasibility of the unreal, the possible.' They do this, he writes, through their disavowal of social utility: 'If any social function can be ascribed to art at all, it is the function to have no function.' Thus, art offers, above all, in the estrangement of its subject matter by aesthetic form itself, the vision of an alternative to actuality; 'Art,' writes Adorno, 'is the negative knowledge of the actual world.' Once the aesthetic no longer claims that autonomy for itself, however, its element of critique is lost and instead, as a proper culture industry, it can effectively express only a form of flight: 'not, as is asserted, flight from a wretched reality, but from the last remaining thought of resistance.' It is precisely this semi-autonomy, whose political import Adorno seeks to redeem, which is discarded by the cultural sphere in which Harry operates. Instead, it openly proclaims itself as a culture industry, fully and harmlessly integrated into daily, economic life. The critique of the culture industry, now to be grasped as the historico-cultural moment of the postmodern, is most effectively, then, the critique of a cultural sphere which has renounced in that semi-autonomy a past critical distance from that same network of class conflict and domination in which it is itself produced. It is important, therefore, to acknowledge the unabashed complicity of that cultural realm in which Harry works with the maintenance and reproduction of those class relations - or relations of production - that we find dramatized so starkly in the novel's conclusion.
Harry is of course questioned on the status of her art in the course of the novel. 'Aren't you sick of being a Post-Modernist' - asks an obviously unpleasant journalist (SL, p. 145). He continues to pester her by asking whether she is envious of past generations of 'truly creative artists'. Her reply - 'No.' - does little to dissuade him. The annoyance goes on:
"But to most people nowadays the new things in the galleries look like doodling! They add very little beauty or intelligence to the places wha they appia, none at all to those who see them. Does it occur to you that yaw art may be a game played for nobody's plesha but yaw own? Like doodling. Or mastabation."
"Does it occur to you often, or only when yaw depressed?"
Harry says slowly, "It occurred to me when you asked me about it."
"But it still strikes you as true?"
"I don't know. Ask Harvey about that."
Harvey is her dealer.
(SL, p. 146)
If there is some truth in the musings of the dislikeable questioner, as I think there is, then it is surely grasped more acutely, if rather more unwittingly, through Harry's own invocation of Harvey, her dealer, than in any discussion of the high seriousness or otherwise of her work. Again according to Lukács, '... the objective forms of all social phenomena change constantly in the course of their ceaseless dialectical interactions with each other.' It is, then, the change in the relation of culture to the market, discussed earlier and here signalled in Harry's overt and stated dependence on Harvey (who is also responsible, a footnote tells us, for the titles of each of Harry's works), that justifies the identification of a transformation in the status and function of art such as Harry's, i.e. a modification in the processes through which artistic meaning and signification are constructed.
The loss of autonomy and outright formal assent to the values of the market that are necessary for this distinction to be made are further displayed in the chapter 'Culture Capitalism', where Harry's dealer considers the feasibility of building and exhibiting an all-new bum garden:
He sees that if Harry now makes a lavish indoor sculpture park representing her eerily horrid schooldays (and with right help Harry can make anything) then Harry's work will be profitably sold by the London art market to the end of the century. So much can be said about it! - this tragically feminist remake of Pooh Corner, Never Never Land, the Secret Garden; this shrine to a dead millionairess who was loved by Marc Bolan, Jimi Hendrix and Sid Vicious, if only for a few minutes. Get the show an explanatory catalogue written by a brainier than usual popular writer (William Golding too old and grand perhaps but try him and Muriel Spark Iris Murdoch Fay Weldon Germaine Greer George Melly Angela Carter David Lodge or whoever wrote The History Man Adam Mars-Jones or whoever wrote The Cement Garden Roald Dahl Martin Amis Tom Stoppard? Harold Pinter? Whoever springs to mind seems suitable) it could be a small bestseller, a cult book if televised why not a feature film? Bill Forsyth directing? But first, the exhibition.
(SL, p. 177)
Perhaps the key phrase here is that late comment: 'Whoever springs to mind seems suitable'. Harvey's thoughts tell us something not about the specific authors he cites, but about the general sphere of culture itself, a sphere which no longer even pretends to be autonomous from economic life and which Fredric Jameson defines as postmodernism.
If Something Leather is itself to escape outright complicity with the social forces it depicts, then it can do so only through a form of self-critique. Fredric Jameson outlines the dilemma for such art and literature in the following terms:
... the new political art (if it is possible at all) will have to hold to the truth of postmodernism, that is to say, to its fundamental object - the world space of multinational capital - at the same time at which it achieves a breakthrough to some as yet unimaginable new mode of representing this last, in which we may again begin to grasp our positioning as individual and collective subjects and regain a capacity to act and struggle which is at present neutralized by our spatial as well as our social confusion.
It is necessary to strip this passage of its superfluously apocalyptic and prophetic ornamentation. 'Ostensibly working on works of art,' writes Adorno, 'the artist also works on art - proof again of the fact that art and works of art are not coterminous.' The work of art is itself engaged in a dialectical and thoroughly mediated relationship with the aesthetic or cultural sphere in which it is produced. The critical distance that art had previously retained, but to which the culture industry has lost all pretension, might then be relocated in that still conflictual relation of the individual text - in this case, Something Leather - to the cultural dominant of postmodernism. We need not, therefore, speculate with Jameson on 'some as yet unimaginable new mode' of cultural representation; rather, we should analyse the extent to which texts such as Something Leather already offer both representation and critique of the complicity of that cultural realm to which they owe their production with the social exploitation and domination that they take as their subject. This is a complicity in which the individual text shares, but with which it cannot wholly be identified.
The extent to which Something Leather is successful in associating itself with, and simultaneously distancing itself from, that 'Culture Capitalism' it portrays depends, as we shall see, primarily on how well it can unmask its own function as that of the illusory mystification of class relations. These relations, from whose maintenance and reproduction attention is ultimately diverted by the creation of the New June, are nonetheless lengthily dramatized not only in chapter twelve's 'Class Party', but also in the precocious power-play of Hjordis and her peers in the teacher-free shrubbery of Harry's boarding school. The young Linda, whose Cockney accent survives its RP surroundings with the aid of continual replayings of her nouveau-riche pop-star father's record, is condemned to remain an eternal 'Applicant' to Hjordis' gang, perpetually denied entry to the elusive Fortress: 'I'll allwise allwise be an applicant,' she sobs (SL, p. 29). For her part, Hjordis invokes class solidarity in her failed attempt to convince Harry to join her in opposition to the Headmistress. Accepting her failure, she reflects bitterly that '"[t]he descendant of Teutonic warlords is now spying fo the liberals"' (SL, p. 35).
The behaviour of Harry in the shrubbery is a significant pointer to her later role as an artist. Rather than intervening directly in the class-based power-games of her fellow pupils, Harry appears willing quite literally to transcend such matters by retreating to the safe, lofty heights of a tree. But the imaginative play in which she indulges proves to be less transcendence of power relations than their aestheticization in the form of sado-masochistic fantasy. Witness her first words in the shrubbery, directed to the poor outsider Linda:
We have no time for interlopas be they German, Greek, black, brown or Irish. We do not speak fo the lost cause of racial purity, we speak against boredom. Please direct your attention to this paw little horrid gel who does not deserve ha great advantages. How will we punish ha? Smacking and nipping a the usual thing.
(SL, p. 36)
When Linda's accent finally fades, replaced by the RP for which her father is paying, she is no longer of interest to the future artist, who 'cannot be friendly with someone whose voice does not strike her as comically coarse and ill-bred' (SL, p. 46). The very next sentence - 'Twenty seven years pass before she meets Senga' - directs us immediately, then, to an acknowledgement of the significance of class relations to those S& M get-togethers for which Senga and Donalda (the 'little people') are later employed by Harry to arrange.
Chapters three and four - 'The Proposal' and 'The Man Who Knew about Electricity' - introduce us, respectively, to Senga and Donalda at their youngest. Senga is fifteeen when Tom proposes to her; she is thrilled, but eventually refuses. To Tom's parents, his youthful fancy for Senga is a mistake. They are keen for their son to better himself, to leave behind 'this wee dolly bird' and go to university: 'You'll meet girls of your own sort there," says his father (SL, p. 54). Above all, though, they fear that he will discard the possibility of social mobility in which they place such faith: 'And don't get entangled,Tom," is their usual refrain. Escaping both entanglement and university (the former through no fault of his own), Tom becomes a prosperous small-businessman but remains besotted with Senga. His second proposal to her is even less successful than the previous attempt; they go their separate ways:
She marries the cranedriver, a man with many friends who talks a lot about politics. Two months later Tom marries a woman who looks like Senga but was bred in a wealthier home and wants to be kept in another one.
(SL, p. 63)
Tom, then, is an 'interlopa' like Linda, although on a significantly smaller scale and into a class necessarily more predisposed to successful aspirants. It might be tempting to see here an example of that individual who, as Alison Lumsden has put it, 'find[s] some kind of freedom within these [economic and political] frameworks.' In fact, we see Tom, two chapters later, running his own firm and employing the as-yet-fairly-staid June Tain. Having accepted those 'systems of entrapment' and started to prosper within them, he does not, however, go on to live in a way that Gray can plausibly be accused of recommending:
Tom, with the assistance of an expert accountant, goes profitably bankrupt. He moves to London where his ability to deal with buyers and suppliers is found useful by a subsidiary of a gigantic company whose directors will never know his name or face.
(SL, p. 99)
The freedom that Tom finds within the capitalist system is really a form of absorption, his transformation into yet another poor faceless functionary. His early contradiction of his father is proved wrong: Tom is dependable. Thus, he betters himself; Senga - crucially - does not.
The episodes describing Donalda's life before her meeting with June show, like those centring on Senga, her perpetual interpellation, to borrow Louis Althusser's term, as a working-class female subject. The daily exploitation of which this process consists appears most overtly in those scenes where her economic vulnerability collides with the shiny-beaded lure of prostitution. She tells the story of her first proper foray into that particular job market to Mrs Liddel, her landlady, in chapter seven; however, an earlier incident is perhaps even more revealing. The Irishman's attempt to rent her sexual services to the young student who knows about electricity provides an ironic subtext to Donalda's later lesbian grapplings in the service of Harry:
"Don't be put off by her rough tongue, sir. That is a temporary consequence of superficial economic tensions - she's afraid of bein chucked out into the street. Solve these tensions and you'll find her the most docile creature imaginable. You'll be able," he whispers, "to do anything you like with her."
(SL, p. 79)
The Irishman's promise is hardly misleading, as Senga - who later 'seek[s] relief from misery by pulling with both hands Donalda's pleasuring head harder into her crotch' - might well attest; the rough tongue is clearly no longer a problem.
It is in her relations with these two women that Harry is able to find a substitute for her class- inflected schoolgirl fantasies. The imaginative world which her work constructs is a monument to the power-games of Harry, Hjordis and the others. With news of Hjordis' death, however, that dream world (and all its exciting cruelties) cannot survive. Harry's response - to plan a new, bigger, better bum garden - renders unnecessary Linda's plea that, as part of the Year of Culture, she 'let them bring the bums to Glasgow' (SL, p. 150). Glasgow, instead, is to have its own bums. Although the novel appears to end before the work is constructed, there is, nonetheless, a sense in which Harry does indeed make of Glasgow's bums a fitting tribute to her dead friend's memory. Senga and Donalda are extremely versatile.
The work of art which Harry can be seen to complete is the New June. Like Harry, June is shaven bald; more distinctive and particular to her, though, are the tatoos to whose painful application she drowsily succumbs:
While sleeping she feels things being done to her body which are partly real. A wasp is stinging her shoulder repeatedly as it crawls around a spot on it. The stinging throb is also ticklish, but June is sure waking will not cure it. She sleeps until Senga shakes her awake saying, "Look! Isn't it real-looking?"
She touches June's throbbing shoulder and June, looking there, sees a small black-and-yellow trembling wasp.
(SL, pp. 217-8)
The New June is thus marked from the start as a member of a particular class - that of Wasps - just as Senga and Donalda cannot escape their roles as skivvies, 'little people', or bums.
Although Something Leather invites these class associations, it also colludes in their mystification. The book which Linda gives Harry is by a Glasgow writer; it reminds her, she says, of games they used to play with Hjordis. Initially excited, Harry soon becomes frustrated with it:
Each chapter contains a dialogue between women trying to trap each other but seem otherwise self-contained, with no male characters, no plot, no climaxes: nothing but furtive movements toward something sexy and sinister which never happens. Is this supposed to be funny? thinks Harry, exasperated.
(SL, p. 180)
A correspondance between this novel and Something Leather itself is certainly suggested. The promise of sexual pleasure and fulfillment which is suspended at the end of chapter one has not yet been redeemed; June might stay tied-up but unmolested for a very long time. However, this does not happen. The exasperation with which Harry reacts to Another Part of the Forest is unlikely to be repeated for the reader of Something Leather. Resolution - and this is important - is finally reached.
The quotation with which this essay begins comes from Adorno and Horkheimer's chapter on the culture industry in Dialectic of Enlightenment. 'Art,' writes Adorno in Aesthetic Theory, 'is the promise of happiness, a promise which is constantly being broken.' The culture industry's own promise of pleasure is not broken, however; rather, it insists that it is its own fulfillment, that the aesthetic act is fully sufficient in itself. If art, for Adorno, tells the diner that some of the dishes on the menu are at present denied to him/her, the culture industry, in contrast, insists that the menu is all that is necessary, tasty and nutritious in its easy-wipe plastic coating: 'Not Italy is offered, but proof that it exists.'
Something Leather concludes with precisely the false but necessary resolution that the culture industry demands. June Tain's concluding contentment is doubtless heart-warming, but it does nothing to challenge the power-structures of class domination that can be seen to pervade the entire novel. Instead, it functions much as one of Mr Geikie's strategies for dealing with the public, as described in the Epilogue: 'Our main job is to defuse potentially painful confrontations by arranging alternative procedures' (SL, p. 236). The necessity of such action is clear to Geikie:
"The fact is that Her Majesty's Government is cutting back the social services so vigorously that it is detaching itself from a big class of people it is supposed to govern. All I and Bleloch and Tannahill do is erect façades to the fact."
(SL, p. 240)
The conclusion to Something Leather is another of these façades. Thus, the point of the creation of the New June is that it need not involve any transformation in class relations; in fact it is there to mask the absence of change, to divert attention from the continuing reproduction of class domination. Its function, therefore, is principally ideological.
The final sentence of Gray's Epilogue in the second edition, cited earlier, points to the extent to which Glasgow's year as Culture Capital (changed in chapter ten to 'Culture Capitalism') colluded in the maintenance of class privilege, ditching the likes of Senga and Donalda. Of course Something Leather itself cannot fail to be implicated in this. As the sort of Glasgow novel to which Linda draws Harry's attention (SL, p. 174), it cannot fully deny its status as part of Glasgow's official culture. Moreover, its own resolution, in the form of the New June, serves precisely those interests with which Gray associates the Year of Culture. Yet, as I suggested some pages ago, the politics of Something Leather are rather more complicated than that.
In 'A Letter on Art in Reply to André Daspre' Louis Althusser writes the following:
What art makes us see ... is the ideology from which it is born, in which it bathes, from which it detaches itself as art, and to which it alludes _ Balzac and Solzhenitsyn give us a 'view' of the ideology to which their work alludes and with which it is constantly fed, a view which presupposes a retreat, an internal distantiation from the very ideology from which their novels emerged. They make us 'perceive' (but not know) in some sense from the inside, by an internal distance, the very ideology in which they are held.
This is exactly what Something Leather does, offering social, cultural and self-critique. The novel confronts the complicity of culture with social exploitation. The ideological function of art is thus shared by the work of art that is Something Leather, but it is also portrayed and dissected there before our very eyes.
The final image to face the reader - before Gray's ubiquitous 'GOODBYE' - is a St Andrew's cross of wasps. Like the reference in the Epilogue to Glasgow's year as Culture Capital, it was only later added to the second, paperback edition. Symbolising Scottish nationhood and - probably - aspirations for Scottish independence, the cross is extremely ambivalent. A hint of this is given in the Epilogue, where Lucy, the politician, describes to June CIA plans to deal with an independent Scotland:
"Do you know, June Tain, that the Yanks were going to be quite kind to an independent Scotland? A lot kinder than to Guatemala, Nicaragua, etcetera. They were NOT afraid of us becoming a socialist republic because they felt we'd be even easier to manipulate than England - fewer chiefs to bribe was how my friend put it."
(SL, pp. 246-7)
In the absence of any radical transformation in relations of production, Scottish independence might well, then, turn out to be yet another cruel sting in the service of Wasps. The novel itself, adorned throughout (like June) with black-and-white reproductions of the foul beasties, must also fulfill this ideological role - although it does so while simultaneously exposing to us readers culture's own complicity in the maintenance of class structures. Thus, the specificity of the novel's references to Scotland and to Glasgow provide a means of insisting on the importance of class in any consideration of real social and cultural change, rather than, as Alison Lumsden argues, offering 'a form of containment' and 'pulling the tropic impulses in [Gray's] own work back towards a specific and limited field of hectoring reference.'
Something Leathermust be read carefully, with close attention paid to its contradictions and its silences. Apparently a novel of transformation, it is more about the absence of transformation; ostensibly a sex-and-shopping novel, its primary concerns are with bums and Wasps.
Alison Lumsden, 'Innovation and Reaction in Alasdair Gray', in The Scottish Novel Since the Seventies, eds. Gavin Wallace and Randall Stevenson (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1993), p. 118.
Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, 2nd edn., trans. Rodney Livingstone (London: Merlin, 1971; repr. 1992), pp. 12-13.
Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. C. Lenhardt, eds. Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984), p. 192.
Adorno also remains aware, however, of the affirmative character (to borrow Herbert Marcuse's useful phrase) of such art. The distinction he draws between autonomous art and the culture industry is that the former, while complicit in social domination, can also be critical, thereby expressing an unresolved internal dialectic (already present in the false but necessary claim to autonomy) which is itself expressive of the irresolvable internal contradictions of the capitalist mode of production. The culture industry, for Adorno, is unable to accept conflict in any form.
Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, p.322.
Theodor W. Adorno, 'Reconciliation under Duress', trans. Rodney Livingstone, in Ernst Bloch et al, Aesthetics and Politics (London: NLB, 1977; repr. Verso, 1990), p. 160.
T.W. Adorno & Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (London: Verso, 1977; repr. 1992), p. 144.
Lukács, p. 13.
See Jameson's Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (London: Verso, 1991) and 'Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture' in Signatures of the Visible (London: Routledge, 1992), pp.9-34.
Jameson's argument that the defining feature of postmodernism is its loss of autonomy from the economic realm should not be taken to imply a simple absorption of the cultural or aesthetic by the commodity structure. Rather, his argument is dialectical; it insists on the inter-penetration of the cultural and the economic. It is, then, primarily the relation between them that changes, affecting not only the form and status of cultural texts, but also that of the commodified object world itself, which is now only to be grasped through its projection by cultural forms, resulting in the preponderance of simulacra.
Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, p.54.
Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, p. 261.
See Adorno and Horkheimer, p. 139.
Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, p. 196.
Adorno and Horkheimer, p. 148.
Louis Althusser, 'A Letter on Art in Reply to André Daspre', in Essays on Ideology (London: Verso, 1984; repr. 1993), pp. 174-5.
There are of course certain incompatibilities between the work of Althusser and that of the often Hegelian-influenced Lukács and Adorno. However, there is hardly space here to discuss these in detail; and, with one exception relating to positions on art and knowledge, the passages here quoted do not make particularly uncomfortable bedfellows. A greater incompatibility arises between Althusser's assumption here that art is (at least relatively) autonomous - he writes, for example, of the ideology from which art 'detaches itself as art' [my emphasis] - and Fredric Jameson's definition of postmodernism as a cultural sphere which has lost precisely that semi-autonomy. My argument is that, while the cultural dominant of postmodernism may no longer be able to detach itself from its ideology, individual texts themselves remain able to do so attempts to avoid this apparent inconsistency.
Lumsden, p. 123.