The topic of pastiche in modern society is extremely applicable to multiple different fields. Because of this, theorists like Fredric Jameson have written pieces mentioning the term pastiche and applying it to their respected fields. The initial focus in Jameson’s work was the way pastiche has an effect on and has been affected by theories in the communications realm. Jameson focuses on pastiche and its lack of creativity. His focus compares the concepts of pastiche and parody and how, in the current media climate, pastiche unapologetically rips off other pieces of work and is “parody that has lost its sense of humor” (Laughey, 2007, 155).
When discussing the theory of pastiche and the effects it can have on artistic creation, it is important to first look into who Jameson is in his background, and how that has interplay into his theorizing of different cultural concepts. Originally a literary critic, Fredric Jameson has institutionalized understandings in a wide variety of different cultural media subject centers; anything from contemporary Korean film to North-American science fiction to Chinese poetry (Danius 1). While this may appear to be a large spread of different topics that have little to no correlation, Jameson was able to utilize his understanding and specialization in a large quantity of seemingly different types of culture and make connections between them. A lot of his theorization on pastiche could be derived from his investigation into cultural connections between all of these types of media; finding drastic similarities that could in turn insinuate that there is a systemic overhead monitoring all the cultural artistic creations.
Jameson’s background in historical analyses of such topics was also a predominant part of what motivated him to take the position that he did on pastiche. Jameson drew a connection between realism and postmodernism with the transition in capitalism from classical capitalism to imperialist capitalism and then finally global/late capitalism. Jameson used his previous knowledge on the history of cultural artistic creation to posit that the growth and exponential power struggle that occurred within capitalism globally could be related to the transition of art creation from individualistic to appeasement of an authority figure. If he had not had the background that he did before analyzing this subject matter, his analysis very easily could’ve been subject to unsubstantiated claims and guesses as opposed to deductions off real life findings.
Jameson’s conceptualization is that pastiche is the lack of originality. In his words pastiche is “the disappearance of the individual subject, along with its formal consequence, the increasing unavailability of the personal style, engender the well-nigh universal practice today” (Jameson, 1991, 21). In other words, pastiche has created a system that focuses less on the individualistic motivations of art and more motivated by the appeal of what is deemed good and worthwhile to create. The increasing unavailability personal style insinuates that I see as more of a passive effect that pastiche has on artistic creation; that the movement away from individual’s creating what they want comes from a power higher than their own personal motives. Jameson explains the of the effects of pastiche through an example focusing on film. Instead of creating new and challenging films, many filmmakers resort to using well known and well-liked motifs that will garner more public support. He uses the example of the 1950s Americana motif. “One tends to feel, that for Americans at least, the 1950s remain the privileged lost object of desire, and to be able to create filmography that allows viewers to put themselves in the situation creates a sense of passive existence within this realm” (Jameson, 1991, 23). The understanding of film producers is there that people will pay into films such as these—he cites George Lucas’ 1973 American Graffiti as an example—it is more financially responsible to continue to make these films than go out on a limb and make a film that individualistically the directors and producers are more emotionally tied to but may not do as well. The inherent bases that Jameson’s theory has in late capitalism is a tell-tale sign of how detrimental capitalist ideals can be to a field like the arts. Capitalism’s focus on making money takes away the individual’s desire to risk financial ruin to do what makes them the happiest.
For Jameson, pastiche has come out of these very capitalist ideals, and have created a system that is now ingrained in the very way human beings create and operate within the arts and in other fields. Jameson posits that “the extraordinary impact of capitalism on hitherto traditional cultures, the social and psychic damage done to now irrevocable older forms of human life and perception” (Jameson, 1991, 206) has irreversibly affected the arts and artistic creation to a point of no return. The concept of traditional cultures is intriguing because it creates the narrative around pastiche that it has not always been an integral part of our culture. Other theorists that discuss pastiche, like Lawrence D. Mankin, look at pastiche in the lens that it has always had a kind of interplay in cultural creation and has only gotten more pertinent with the introduction of capitalist ideals. Jameson’s theorization that pastiche was created out of the capitalist system tues the two concepts together much more than other theorists have, while arguing that pastiche has a sense of passivity that other theorists argue against. Pastiche is not something that is ingrained into the very nature of human beings the way that creating culture is. Rather, it is a response that is motivated by the socioeconomic climate in the world.
When talking about Jameson’s theorization it is also important to define and discuss his conceptualization of intertextuality. Jameson defines intertextuality as “a deliberate, built-in feature of the aesthetic effect, and as the operator of a new connotation of ‘pastness’ and pseudo-historical depth, in which the history of aesthetic style replaces ‘real’ history.” (Laughey, 2007, 156) Jameson goes on to explain how intertextuality goes hand in hand with pastiche in that they both effectively ignore the past in their creation of more artistic culture. Nostalgia, as Jameson lays out, exists when films in the current day relay back to a different time period. Because of this, we never truly focus on what is going on in the present.
However, Jameson’s arguments of pastiche and intertextuality have many pitfalls. Jameson assumes that original cultural creations have to be created in a vacuum and everything that has influence by something else and doesn’t directly acknowledge it is pastiche (Laughey 157.) However, the ability to create unique and original creations is impossible not because of pastiche, but because of the inherent inability to not be influenced by one’s surroundings. Another criticism of Jameson’s understanding of how pastiche has effected our society in the postmodern era is that there is evidence to show that pastiche has existed far before postmodernity. Examples like Shakespeare’s play Antony and Cleopatra show a pastiche-like intertextuality influence far before theorists were acknowledging that it exists (Laughey 157).
In a more current sense, pastiche can be applied to much of pop culture today. Take for instance Madonna. Madonna when she first came into social power–even today–seemed revolutionary. But with careful examination it can be clear that there is a very close relationship between the shock value of Madonna and the shock value Marilyn Monroe brought to Hollywood. The vixen role that both women play, in an otherwise sex-negative media narrative, presents a refreshing yet challenging notion that things don’t necessarily have to be the way that society dictates them. Contrarily, it is not a new fight that Madonna brought to the public eye. What can be seen as unique feeds right into Jameson’s understanding of how cultural creation will continue to be the same, over and over again. In a Jamesonian sense, there have been Monroe and Madonna-esque figures before, and there will continue to be these figures every time womanhood is challenged.
Jameson, F. R. (1991). POSTMODERNISM, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Laughey, D. (2007). Postmodernity and the information society. In Key Themes in Media Theory (pp. 147-168). London, England: Open University Press.
Danius, S. (2015, March 05). About Fredric R. Jameson. Retrieved May 5, 2018, from https://www.holbergprisen.no/en/fredric-r-jameson/about-fredric-r-jameson.html
Written by Will Hewitt