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Steinbeck and Contemporary Culture: Capital and Postmodernity

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Warren Winter English II Honors 2B Mr. Nunan June 2, 2004 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). ...read more.


It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory-precession of simulacra-that engenders the territory" (1). According to Baudrillard, the boundaries between concrete and abstract, natural and artificial, have collapsed. In the pre-modern era, images played the role of discernible counterfeits of reality and of aiming "for the restitution of the ideal" (151). In the Industrial Revolution and the following modern era, "a Promethean aim of a continuous globalization and expansion" (151) effected an early albeit incomplete collapse between such boundaries through mass production and the multiplication of copies. In the postmodern era beginning in the mid twentieth century, images and information expressed through mass media precede the determination of reality; representation and reality now indistinct, the predominant social and cultural experience is that of the simulacrum, or the copy without an original. Experiences are limited to and defined by prepared realities and regenerations of the historical, chimerical, and legendary phantasms of children and adults: for example, Disneyland, which is "presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real" (12); edited war footage ["all these things arrived...with a ...read more.


Late capitalism's advancement through advertising compounds dehumanization, particularly by Steinbeck's understanding of man's value as producer, not product. Advertising absorbs all languages, linguistic devices, and original cultural forms in the instantaneous, superficial assignment of commodities to signifiers. For Baudrillard, it is vague seduction (87) into this new structure of meaning where all contents are transcribed into each other, "whereas what is inherent to 'weighty' enunciations, to articulated forms of meaning (or of style) is that they cannot be translated into each other" (87). Furthermore, by creating a simulated sociality that is "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. ...read more.

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