The Seeds of Time is an expanded version of Fredric Jameson’s 1991 Wellek Library Lecture series at the University of California, Irvine. In it, he takes current discussions of postmodernity to the cutting edge. Moving on from his definitive study Postmodernism; or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Jameson in this next book surveys the limits in our current thinking about what Utopia, totality, innovation, feasible socialism, Second-World culture, architectural incommensurability, and Critical Regionalism might mean in the 1990s and beyond.
Part one, or “The Antinomies of Postmodernity,” gives us a cognitive map of the fin de siècle: one that charts the trend in semiotics, poststructuralism, and certain tendencies in cultural analysis away from the dynamic dialectics of contradiction and toward the paralyzing logic of antinomy. The impasse in our present attempts to work through the antinomies of postmodernism, in Jameson’s reading, is itself symptomatic of just how widespread late capitalism’s colonization of everyday life has become in its so-called Third Wave. Indeed, “it seems to be easier for us today,” Jameson concludes, “to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism.” Circumscribing the a priori antinomies of postmodernity (time and space, heterogeneity and homogeneity, anti-essentialism and naturalism, Utopia and conservatism), Jameson would further the discursive possibilities for a future breaching of our collective “incapacity to imagine change”: a breaching that, in contradiction to our moment’s “conceptual freezeframe,” is yet to come in the “missing next tick of the clock, the absent first step of renewed praxis.”
Some of the social complexity of that future praxis, however, may well elude the theoretical laboratory in which The Seeds of Time would detect and plot its material emergence. For, in linking cultural postmodernity [End Page 410] to the built environment of the First World, Jameson pays limited attention to what cultural critics such as Homi K. Bhaba foreground in the specific, discursive strategies of performative agency through which postcolonial subjects resist and transcode the cultural dominant of late capitalism.
Part two, or “Utopia, Modernism, and Death,” follows a different strategy in mounting a post-capitalist project. Here Jameson gleans the seedlings of Utopia in Second World literature, specifically Andrei Platonov’s Soviet novel Chevengur (1972, 1978, 1988). Written during 1927–28, this recently recovered masterpiece depicts the period of heroic Communism in the USSR, focusing on the years between the 1917 Revolution and the New Economic Policies of 1923. Part of Platonov’s value, for Jameson, lies in Chevengur’s version of social modernization that offers a kind of anticipatory, back-to-the-future glimpse of what a socialist culture-one released from the spectacle of advertising and relentless profiteering-might look like after the fall of socialist institutions in the late twentieth century.
Utopia, as you find it here, betokens a fundamental paradox. On the one hand, its postindividualist leveling of bourgeois social distinction offers anonymity as “an intensely positive force, as the most fundamental fact of life of the democratic community.” On the other hand, in eradicating the cultural logic of capitalism as such, this radical anonymity “in our non- or pre-Utopian world goes under the name and characterization of death.” Jameson’s masterful, close readings of Chevengur consider the internal contradictions Utopia negotiates in the novel’s modernist ironies, in its handling of sexuality, and in Platonov’s fascinating portraits of the Revolution’s “miscellaneous” peasants: those marginal, “home-made people . . . on vacation from imperialism.” Unfettered by the constraints of possessive individualism, bourgeois social distinction, and middle-class conformity, these Utopian misfits, as Jameson characterizes them, “grow wild like plants . . . [and] blossom into the neurotics, compulsives, obsessives, paranoids, and schizophrenics, whom our society considers sick but who, in a world of true freedom, may make up the flora and fauna of ‘human nature’ itself.” Not insignificantly, these “seeds from some nameless weedpatch,” as Platonov characterizes them, might well be transcoded as Second-World forerunners of a certain renegade subjectivity that we recognize today in the “queer” identity politics thrown up by...