The Topographical Imagination of Jameson, Baudrillard, and Foucault

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In my monograph The Topographical Imagination of Jameson, Baudrillard, and Foucault (Noesis/The Davies Group), my underlying premise is that critics of the humanist subject do not merely attack its dangerous presuppositions, but also redefine subjectivity by projecting a world and then constituting the subject in relation to their own projections—a postmodern vision with its own ontological, and often metaphysical, configurations.  Thus, I trace the projected worlds of several canonical theorists: Fredric Jameson, Jean Baudrillard, and Michel Foucault.  In brief, Jameson characterizes postmodernism by its privileging of spatial categories, as opposed to the dominance of time in modernism. 

Yet the conception of this disorienting space, which in part shatters individual perception, relies upon a Marxist theory of levels, a vision of an elaborate and layered world.  Meanwhile, Baudrillard projects two antagonistic worlds locked in a double-spiral: the symbolic and the semiotic; the first is an unrepresentable, imaginary order that only defines itself in relation to the sign system; the second is a simulation of a real that itself never existed.  Although Foucault claims to be anti-representational, and thus adhere to no ontology of jamesonhis own, he imagines a system defined by inclusions and exclusions.  A dual bar of exclusion is at work: the constructed other that is necessary to the system and the realm of freedom at the system’s limits.  This model persists throughout his career in three major instantiations that can be differentiated by a shift in emphasis: simply, from concepts and the immanent rules that govern them to the network of discursive and non-discursive relations.  In short, the projected world of each theorist has its own organizing figure: a system of levels, a double-spiral, and a dual caesura.

My book was written with two audiences in mind: scholars fully conversant in the issues at stake and an educated, more general audience, such as postgraduate students of philosophy, literary theory, and social theory who want to strengthen the foundation to their studies.  By the title alone, specialists will recognize the significance of my central claim.  After all, part of the poststructuralist project, succinctly captured in baudrillardLyotard’s famous proclamation on the death of metanarratives, is to resist representational models, such as those presented by Marx and Freud.  Thus, Jameson labors to hold onto a Marxist notion of totality yet tries to accommodate poststructuralist insights.  Baudrillard develops various strategies to subvert representations of reality.  Foucault works twice-removed by observing other writers’ observations about reality.  These theorists are taking great pains to avoid the pitfalls of a humanist tradition that they fear has domination implicitly built into it, for it too often privileges an epistemology in which the subject is not only ahistorical, white, and male but also expansive and imperialist.  Even so, one point that I want to suggest is that by throwing out traditional categories of subjectivity, by reversing the priority between the subject and the world, these theorists have shifted the argument to another level and left the potential domination intact.  A second point is that the modernist project persists in their work, because rather than merely offer, as they claim, strategies and conceptual tools, they have replaced older representational models with their own (or, at least, they are very close to doing so). 

The way I trace out each imagined world is what makes my book a valuable resource for serious postgraduate students.  If readers know only a few of the primary texts, particularly the famous ones, such as Discipline and Punish and Simulacra and Simulation, my book helpfully locates these landmark texts within the theorist’s larger body of work.  My chapters, particularly those on Baudrillard and Foucault, seek to be holistic and, moreover, to trace key concepts from one text to the next, by charting their inception, mutations, displacements, and final form.  Thus, I MICHEL FOUCAULT-PORTRAITdon’t employ jargon but explain the trajectory of particular ideas.  Although I offer in-depth overviews, I don’t simply rehearse the theories, such as many introductions to theory do; instead, I excavate the topographical imagination that results from seeking to constitute the subject from without, from its external situation.  In an archeological manner, I draw forth the organizing figure of each theorist’s thinking.  Jameson and Baudrillard confess as much at moments in their work, while other writers, such as Sartre and Derrida, suggest Foucault’s dual caesura.  By elucidating the topographical imagination that visually organizes each theoretical project, I offer readers an innovative way to access and conceptualize complex ideas.

Of course, many scholarly books are devoted to the problem of representation; they delineate its origin, vary in focus from global capitalism to subaltern bodies, and seek possible routes out of the crisis.  The limits and possibility of representation is a recalcitrant problem that has drawn the attention of scholars and serious students concerned with such issues as political action and postmodern identity.  My monograph, which assumes readers are somewhat familiar with the problem, seeks out the places where representation persists in the works of canonical theorists who are most earnest in avoiding it.  Other writers have surely noted this persistence; after all, Jameson is frequently taken to task for his reliance on a Marxist notion of totality.  Yet what fascinates me, and perhaps what makes my book unique, is that when these theorists notice representation in their work or when another critic points it out to them, they attempt to weed it out; they develop their ideas; they alter concepts and strategies; they adopt new positions as analysts in relation to their objects.  The archeologist turns into the genealogist.  Symbolic exchange morphs, by degrees, into seduction.

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