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Postmodernism, more than any other defining feature that besets its epistemological disposition is best represented amidst a plethora of matrices of ploy (Boyer, 1994). In this paper, among the cornucopia of introduction(s) to postmodernism we have set our task to usher into an analysis through the opening provided by Edward Soja’s Postmodern Geographies (Soja, 1989). As an attempt to situate and elaborate the central premises of urbanism under late capitalism, Edward Soja’s book presents two invaluable pivotal points. Firstly, Soja enabled us to see postmodernism through the lens of a socio-spatial dialectics which neither denied the intricate processes of epistemic and ideological transformations, nor adhere closely to the academic orthodoxies. Hence, his analysis both temporally and spatially goes beyond the sterile critique of modernism, especially achieving the critical synthesis of spatiality and history in regard to the lucid contextualization of spatial thought from Kant to De la Blache, and from Marx to Foucault.[1]  Second is his intentional use of a crucial allegory to describe postmodern geographies. Perhaps of all the allegories, metaphors, metonymies, allusions, and neologisms concerning postmodernism the most illustrative was suggested by Soja’s appropriation of the Aleph as a fantastic imaginary device poised by Jorge Luis Borges (Soja, 1996, pp. 54–5).

After a brief introduction to the allegorical nature of postmodern urbanism, this paper extends a critical gaze to the theoretical underpinnings of postmodernism. There, two sets of questions emerge: first is related to the reproduction of knowledge and power, and second focuses on the break/brake within the dialectical paradigm that defined the experience of modernity. On the one hand we reckon the blurring of the lines between the hitherto accepted (dialectical) categories, on the other hand the withering boundaries and the rapid pace of hybridization as suggested by Jan Nederveen Pieterse and Homi Bhabha heralds a revival of a deeper struggle between the subject and object (Bhabha, 2004; Nederveen Pieterse, 1995).

The first set, a reinvigorated search for the ruptures and weak linkages prevalent in the power-knowledge nexus, is perhaps much more implicit in a wide array of epistemological discussions than the latter one and can hardly be foregrounded at the fleetingly disguised layers of reproduction of knowledge. While it is true that, turns of different sorts –linguistic, geographic, ontological, cultural, trans-sectional, interdisciplinary, and so it goes- make the fissures within reproduction of knowledge apparent, we can dimly sense the crisis in the epistemological and ontological dispositions of urbanism.

Albeit the referents of the crisis are buried in the ruptured transformation of the discursive space, we can still draw from the lucid hermeneutics of Walter Benjamin. Embodied in Benjamin’s discussion of the transitory –and almost Oedipal- relationship between the allegorist and the collector a whole new series of questions embedded in the discontents of modernism arises. The city as the primary object of analysis, hence, attracts long forsaken interests in novel extrapolations of dialectical binaries like voluntary memory/involuntary recollection, history/memory, space/time and power/knowledge (W. Benjamin, 1999). Here appears the creative destruction of modernism as studied by Marshall Berman and David Harvey, neo-rationalist architectural theories of Aldo Rossi and Manfredo Tafuri, and Christine Boyer’s city of collective memory (Berman, 1988; Boyer, 1994; Harvey, 1989, 2000b; Rossi & Eisenman, 1982; Tafuri, 1976).

The second one is directly concerned with the epistemological fissures of a latter-day fin-de-siecle in terms of the implosion of dialectical ensembles like base/superstructure, production/consumption, politics/ideology, and last but not the least form/function. This problematic is where we can locate the works of Mike Davis, David Harvey, Fredric Jameson, Michael Dear and Steven Flusty (Davis, 1990; Dear, 2000; Dear & Flusty, 1998; Harvey, 1989, 2003; F. Jameson, 1998).

On the Allegorical Nature of Post-Modernism:

The Dialectics of History and Memory

Postmodernism is distinctively understood through an instrumentality of representation. Thereupon emerges the critical question of allegory. Among these allegories, within the framework of postmodernism as allegory, one can count Disneyland as the most enduring. From Sharon Zukin’s Landscapes of Power, to Ada Louise Huxtable’s The Unreal America, and to Michael Sorkin’s Variations on a Theme Park the image of Disney became an uncanny spatial metonymy for postmodern architecture and urban planning (Huxtable, 1997; Sorkin, 1992; Zukin, 1991). Similarly, Jameson’s visual play on Van Gogh’s “A Pair of Boots” and Walker Evans’s “Floyd Burroughs’ Work Shoes” itself came to represent the cultural referent alongside Andy Warhol or “Blade Runner”(Fredric Jameson, 1991). Michael Dear and Steven Flusty come to the same point through verbal ploys suggestive of a capitalism which is similar to a board-game: keno capitalism (Dear & Flusty, 1998). Another resounding image is David Harvey’s juxtaposition of Jonathan Raban’s Soft City as the cultural logic of a new regime of capitalist accumulation(Harvey, 1989). For a growing number of architects postmodernism delineates the liberating transition from Le Corbusier to Las Vegas. Also, from another perspective, Foucault’s panopticon-aptly put, his extrapolated account of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon- the abstract machine of disciplinary societies according to Gilles Deleuze, stands as the suggestive metaphor for both John Bender and Christine Boyer(Bender, 1987; Boyer, 1983; Markus & Mulholland, 1982). Further yet, Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s (1720-1778) fantastical scenographic perspectives had laid the imaginative grounds for an opening to a novel space of representation, attracting responses by divergent figures from Aldo Rossi and the Italian neo-rationalist school of architecture to Thomas Markus’s elucidations on the history of carceral form in the Enlightenment Scotland to Boyer’s excavations in the epistemic precedents of the city of collective memory (Boyer, 1994; Ellin, 1996).

We should be cautious though, in appropriating allegories, since they are not mere innocent explicatory tropes. As Walter Benjamin suggested “[t]he figure of the “modern” and that of “allegory” must be brought into relation with each other” (1999, p. 239). For him this juxtaposition was best represented by Baudelaire’s oeuvre. Since Baudelaire was the embodiment of a perfect allegorist where he said:


Woe unto him who seeks in antiquity anything other than pure art, logic, and general method! By plunging too deeply into the past, … he renounces the…privileges provided by circumstances; for almost all our originality comes from the stamp that time imprints upon our feelings<sensations> (1999, p. 239)


Elsewhere Benjamin points to this indelible attribute of the poet: “Baudelaire’s genius, which is fed on melancholy, is an allegorical genius” (1986, p. 159).Thence we can employ allegory not only as a categorical instrument to define and delineate an epistemic object, but also as a binding element between the seemingly irremediable rupture modernism and postmodernism. The illustrative explanation comes in the form of a dialectical unity between the allegorist and collector


Perhaps the most deeply hidden motive of the person who collects can be described in this way: he takes up the struggle against dispersion…The allegorist is, as it were, the polar opposite of the collector. He has given up the attempt to elucidate things through research into their properties and relations. He dislodges things from their context and, from the outset, relies on his profundity to illuminate their meaning. The collector, by contrast, brings together what belongs together; by keeping in mind their affinities and their succession in time, he can eventually furnish information about his objects. Nevertheless-and this is more important than all the differences that may exist between them- in every collector hides an allegorist, and in every allegorist a collector.(1999, p. 211)


In Benjamin’s complex allegories, an allegorist -like Baudelaire, stands for modernism-one who systematically accumulates keywords in order to give sense to the greater world. On the other hand, he projects his subjectivity through the idea of the collector, who collects for the sake of collection with a burning desire to fulfill the call of the memoire involontaire as against the memoire volontaire. Therefore, we can argue that Benjamin presciently recognized the turn to postmodernism, modernism’s inherent yearning for a spatialized form of historicism (1999, p. 211).

Christine Boyer situates the clash of the allegorist and collector, embodied in the relationship between voluntary memory and involuntary recollection, at the level of negation of totalities. History, thus, serves to organize, accumulate and regulate memory. In other words,


History fixes the past in a uniform manner; drawing upon its difference from the present, it then reorganizes and resuscitates collective memories and popular imagery, freezing them in stereotypical forms….Collective memory…is a current of continuous thought still moving in the present (1994, p. 3).


As a corollary to this observation, Boyer’s work focuses on the interplay between history and memory, objective thought and subjective testimonies that are mediated through a spatialized form of power. Drawing from Foucault’s hermeneutics of power/knowledge, she conceives a historicized urbanism that progresses from ‘the city as a work of art’ to ‘the city as panorama’ and finally arriving at ‘the city of spectacle’. However, Boyer refrains from totalizing allegories:

[1] Though this does not altogether mean that his study is free from the other-izing and Orientalizing bias –heavily, indebted to Perry Anderson’s dissection of Marxist theory into two: Western Marxism and the rest- yet, this should not preclude any fecund theoretizations of the matter (Anderson, 1976).

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