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When an unpopular Irish playwright for the British stage said that art imitates life, no one really cared. Farquhar, a failed-actor-turned writer/director didn't really begin writing his most famous works until he was close to death, but most of his quotable notions and wit were recorded early in his life. He said this particular phrase after he killed a friend of his, and fellow actor by stabbing him with a rapier on the stage after mistaking it for a blunt foil.
The late 19th century applies to Farquar's school of thought because it marks the beginning of a three-stage approach to a comparison between capitalism and art. Frederic Jameson describes these stages as realism, modernism, and postmodernism . Each of these three stages is associated with the specific type of capitalism that was popular at that time: realism is associated with market capitalism, modernism with monopoly capitalism, and postmodernism with consumer capitalism.
Cornel West, like Jameson, identifies further similarities between capitalist movements and artistic movements in the past century on two levels. On the broader spectrum, West says that civil crisis leads to social change , and that recent social crisis has been the undulating economy. On a narrower spectrum, he discusses the "existential challenge" to the New Politics of Difference, that is, "how does one acquire the resources to survive… as a critic or artist?" (West 617).
There is, perhaps, an alternate view that can be considered when approaching a comparison between capitalism and art. Since 1880, a strict equation between economic movement and social change could be formulated, but it does not necessarily hold true for the late 20th century and postmodernism. Postmodernism was affected by economic crisis, but because the United States has not faced economic crisis in two decades, the postmodern movement has suffered greatly.
Two of the first realist writers were Honore de Balzac and George Eliot. Balzac's Le Comedie Humaine (1830) "contains none of the baser instincts of man that are glorified in romanticism," (Alter 201). In this 20-year compilation work, Balzac covered many topics, but according to Robert Alter, president of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics (1997), the most important one is that of social and economic ambition. Eliot's Middlemarch (1871) "viewed human life grimly, with close attention to the squalor and penury of rural life" (Alter 8). Alter says that she is one of the first writers whose work was entirely saturated with pessimism.
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From a technological standpoint, locomotion and the steam engine were becoming very important by the late 19th century to travel (domestic and international), mining (the first efficient mines could bring raw ore to the smelting refinery in significantly less time than if it were done by manual labor), and to modernization (steam engines could run generators, which made electrical appliances more practical). According the United States National Agricultural Statistics Service, the number of farms decreased from approximately eight million to seven and a half million from 1850 to 1900, as many people decided to and were able to work in an office instead of a field. This gave rise, of course, to market capitalism.
Market capitalism is based on supply and demand. The market in the 19th century consisted of the middle and upper class, and because the market was unsaturated, it could withstand to hold more goods and services. As more goods were produced and more services were rendered, the supply versus demand ratio determined the cost of the product. This early start to a market economy stimulated job growth and economic success among many Americans, and eventually led to two stock market crashes (1917 and 1929). The writers of the 19th century did not support the direction in which society was headed, and wrote stark, emotionless or emotion-reversed works. What the writers saw as problems in reality were reflected in the realism of the literature.
Modernist writers such as Cummings and Woolf took realism to the next level by rejecting "elaborate formal aesthetics in favor of a minimalist design… as in [the work of] William Carlos Williams," (Klages 2) while blurring distinctions between genres (as in T. S. Elliot or E. E. Cummings and their new approach to poetry) and breaking down many classical conventions. Third-person narratives are rare for modernists, as are contiguous stories and dialogue. Subjectivity is favored over narrativity, but modernism retains very distinct differences from postmodernism.
Postmodernist works tend to contain similar rejections of the classical in favor of disrupted narration, subjectivity, and a blur between polarity and genre-distinctions. The major difference is that modernism uses these conventions as "something tragic, something to be lamented and mourned as a loss" (Klages 2). Postmodernism uses the conventions as a literary technique, like rhyming or scansion, but without any negative connotation.
The early 20th century was a veritable growth-medium for technological innovation. From the assembly line to freeze-dried mashed potatoes, from intercontinental ballistic missiles to the computer to television, society was bombarded with new developments daily. Moreover, the landscape was littered with overnight millionaires whose wealth accumulated from playing the stock market (and buying on margin). The Great Depression and two world wars provided the incredible energy needed to sustain the modernist movement. The depression saw entire fortunes wiped clean in days, and the world wars fueled the economy back up the slippery slope once again. The type of capitalism associated with this era is monopoly capitalism (or monopsony), best seen through vertical and horizontal integration in the steel and railroad industries.
By the 60's, the United States was involved heavily in the Vietnam War, and was seeing the beginnings of Cold War tactics. The first sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, were getting media attention, and President Kennedy proposed the civil rights act, ratified on July 2nd, 1964. The energy created by these situations produced the economic energy necessary to fuel the start of postmodernism.
This fuel was in short supply. By the end of the 1989 recession , the United States was experiencing economic freedom and stability unlike any other time in the nation's history. The Gulf War did not even approach the scale of the previous five wars, and there was significantly less opposition. If anything, it brought the nation together and made political leaders of relative unknowns like Colin Powell and Norman Schwartzcoff. The new Clinton Dynasty wound down any threats and further tamed the economy. By this time the influence of Internet was beginning to be felt, but, according to the U. S. Patent Office, the number of patents applied for between 1975 and 1995 was growing steadily, without any crests or troughs. The age of information was ushered in, and, as we would soon find out, postmodernism was ushered out.
Cornel West discusses the challenges to the New Politics of Difference, but something was overlooked. Why were these new politics present nearly half a century after the start of the civil rights movement, and almost an entire century after the women's suffrage movement? It certainly wasn't because there were no leaders to aid the process. Dr. King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Gandhi are proof enough . It certainly wasn't because Americans were not motivated , it definitely wasn't because there was opposition , and it wasn't because important political leaders like Kennedy and Johnson didn't back the movement.
In chemistry, the term is known as dynamic equilibrium. In economics, it's known as market saturation. In physics, it's known as the ratio between potential and kinetic energy. The transfer of energy between anti-monolithic, trans-stereotypical thinking in the postmodern and civil rights movements was not clear-cut, and it was not evenly distributed. So too were the distinctions between the modernist and postmodernist movements. There was so much energy in the 60's that both movements could develop simultaneously. By the 70's, we see the emergence of works like Cloud Nine by Churchill , which blurs the lines between the civil rights and postmodern movements.
The message that Churchill was trying to get through using a wide variety of techniques, specific to the postmodern movement, was that of a civil rights activist. She used punctuated narrativity to convey issues like sexual repression and oppression, sexual identity, and racial struggles .
In Culture and Finance Capitalism, Frederic Jameson wrote "Today, what is called postmodernity articulates the symptomatology of yet another stage of abstraction, qualitatively and structurally distinct from the previous one, which I have drawn on Arrighi to characterize as our own movement of finance capitalism," (Jameson 24.1) where finance capitalism is "the capital moment of a globalized economy" (Jameson 24.1). He goes on to say that a global economy is beneficial to what West calls the New Politics of Difference, because so many cultures are included that it is difficult for a successful business not to embrace all ethnicities and religions. However, this is an expected move from the birth of the Internet, and the advent of the computer, that is, it wasn't really a shocker.
The humdrum of the smoothly undulating economy, controlled by thousands of the most educated economists on earth under the tutelage of Alan Greenspan is not creating Foucault's "human crisis ," or the drastic changes in lifestyle that sparked robust and concentrated reactions by the realists or modernists. Fortunately, it does not appear that the civil rights movement is suffering the same fate as postmodernism, but that is a different thesis.
Some theorists say that postmodernism is long gone, others say it is winding down, and still others say it is as strong as ever. As it stands now, though, does it really matter? Indeed, there are important issues embedded in Cloud Nine, but perhaps there is a broader goal on a different level of abstraction. Like artists before her, Churchill was part of the fight to get her work recognized. Now, Cloud Nine is "popular throughout many American universities" (Bishop).
in a unique method ( punctuated narrativity. altered positions of text. )
is no longer not tolerated, it
is accepted as art, and
accept it … well they don't really count as members of society.