Essay on Steinbeck and Contemporary Culture: Capital and Postmodernity

Essay on Steinbeck and Contemporary Culture: Capital and Postmodernity

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Steinbeck and Contemporary Culture: Capital and Postmodernity

Modernity was an era characterized by an explosion of revolutionary,
productive, creative, critical, and rational human energy. Man was an
end in himself, the remaining absolute in a relativistic universe. The
liberating dialectics of the modern era have come into equilibrium,
however, with the postmodern era in which traditional dichotomies lose
their distinctions and information spreads at exponential rates. The
Grapes of Wrath

Steinbeck foreshadows a contemporary culture defined by dehumanization
in his treatment of capital and the landed class. Steinbeck's most
marked criticism of the psychological and economic consequences of
capitalism is found in the novel's interchapters. In an anonymous and
exemplary exchange between an evicted tenant and a landlord, the
tenant desires to "fight to keep [his] land" and shoot someone, but
the owner maintains that the force responsible for the tenant's
eviction is not human, but "the monster," an impersonal and abstract
entity representing capitalism (45). Steinbeck underscores the
contrast between humanity and the capital interest, as represented by
the monster: "[They] don't breathe air, don't eat side-meat. They
breathe profits; they eat the interest on money. If they don't get it,
they die the way you die without air, without side-meat" (43). The
monster, moreover, "has to have profits all the time….When the monster
stops growing, it dies. It can't stay one size" (44). Capital,
Steinbeck comments, must constantly be in flux and reproduction of
itself. The owners who serve capital are all "caught in something
larger than t...

... middle of paper ...

...more real than real" (81) -
that is, the realization of ideal body image, status, and personality
attributes in the advertised image - the actual social sphere loses
its meaning. Mass production, Baudrillard concludes, is no longer for
the masses, but of the masses (68). This psychological reversal of the
production dynamics that characterized modernity subverts

Whereas capital in The Grapes of Wrath dissociates the bourgeoisie
from their physical humanity, Steinbeck's ideal remains intact. In
Simulacra and Simulation, however, Baudrillard carries the causal
chain to man's inessentiality in postmodern culture.

Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jean. Glaser, Sheila Faria, trans. Simulacra and
Simulation. Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1994.

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.

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