The Condition of Postmodernity by David Harvey

Premier Marxist economist David Harvey has spent the better part of the last decade trying to popularize, and simplify, Karl Marx’s magus opus Capital. Yet before he embarked upon this journey he was one of many commentators attacking the concept of postmodernism during its highlife. Unique insights mixed with thoughtful theory produced a rarely seen critique of postmodernity which would set him apart from the score of other progressive thinkers.

This is where his 1990 book The Condition of Postmodernity comes in. entailing his assault on what may be called postmodern economics, Harvey focuses on the concrete materialism of postmodernism as opposed to culture and abstract theory (a la Jameson). Readers may be surprised to read that most of the book deals with economic arguments; sketches of crashes, recessions, booms, and capital accumulation and circulation abound. Impatient readers may shout why all of this is necessary; after all, should not a critique deal with culture, that bastion of postmodern thought, rather than with the specifics of neoliberalism?

Everything, of course, is connected. While not immediately apparent why Harvey chooses to focus on economic details right off, it quickly becomes clear that he does so to make a point: that the production of postmodern aesthetics and culture is intimately tied to the accumulation, and circulation, of capital in so far as the two compose the bedrock for the actual means of production, time-space compression; that temporal-spatial transference which has thrown the modern (postmodern) world into chaos, not only fiscally but culturally as well. For precisely these reasons is why chapters concerning boom and bust cycles are interspaced with chapters on architecture and cinema. In short, the former concept affects the latter two when seen in a dialectical praxis encompassing a mutual sphere of constantly developing and changing interests.

If this sounds complicated, don’t worry, you’re not stupid- it IS complicated. If you are not familiar with Harvey’s prose or theories beforehand the theory can be dense. Yet even so I can honestly say that among the academics who produce works on economic theory, Harvey is by far the best when it comes to speaking in everyday terms. Truthfully, Harvey has a way in explaining incredibly hard material in rather simple terms. So, like any academic book, Harvey’s inquiry takes contemplation in order to properly comprehend; yet it will not break the mental bank. Only the postmodern one.

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