Postmodern Pastiche and Fragmentation of Self
in the Electronic Era

In his discussion of postmodernism in the introduction to Fragments of Rationality, Lester Faigley sees the contemporary postmodern city as "a labyrinth full of diverse and intertwined paths of social interaction without necessary relation to each other, incapable of being understood according to any architectonics. The city is like a huge theater that offers the possibility of playing many different roles" (Faigley, 5).

Faigley's description of the postmodern urban landscape recalls the way in which electronic hypertext and digital spaces provide environments which likewise offer the reader-interactor "the possibility of playing many different roles." In offering multiple options through which to map an individual path, such texts thus work to blur boundaries between author, text, and reader, and necessarily become forms of an intertextualized "pastiche."

For Fredric Jameson, the death of the modern autonomous self carries significant implications in regards to the "emergence of a new kind of flatness or depthlessness, a new kind of superficiality in the most literal sense" in the postmodern culture and aesthetic: "The disappearance of the individual subject, along with its formal consequence, the increasing unavailability of the personal style, engender the well-nigh universal practice today of what may be called pastiche" or, in Jameson's own words, the neutral practice of "blank parody" (Jameson, 17).

Regarding issues of authenticity and original authorship, Howard Besser similarly claims in "From Internet to Information Superhighway" that "Images are reprocessed and recycled. In the postmodern tradition, all images (and viewpoints) have equal value; in an on-line world they're all ultimately bits and bytes. Everything is ahistorical and has no context" (Besser, 69).

Yet in raising the "question of temporal organization in general in the postmodern force field," Jameson claims that we are currently living in "a culture increasingly dominated by space and spatial logic" (Jameson, 25). As such, we must consider not only the way in which electronic spaces compel us to reconfigure our conventional notions of the text, but also the way in which our shift from a temporal to a spatial logic pushes us to reconceptualize the very meanings of the terms depth and context: in a logic of spatial organization, depth and context arise to a large extent precisely through interconnectivity, associational links, and intertextuality, or many of the very qualities of pastiche.

Regarding the way in which electronic spaces and computer networks fragment and reconfigure our individual subjectivity, Sherry Turkle says in Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet that:

We come to see ourselves differently as we catch sight of our images in the mirror of the machine . . . A rapidly expanding system of networks, collectively known as the Internet, links millions of people in new spaces that are changing the way we think, the nature of our sexuality, the form of our communities, our very identities . . . the computer has become even more than tool and mirror: We are able to step through the looking glass. We are learning to live in virtual worlds.
(Turkle, 9)

Turkle also comments on the virtual grounding of the fragmented postmodern self in the cyber-realm of a home page. She relates the act of assembling a home page on the Web to the construction of an identity:

If we take the home page as a real estate metaphor for the self, its decor is postmodern. Its different rooms with different styles are located on computers all over the world. But through one's efforts, they are brought together to be of a piece . . . Home pages on the Web are one recent and dramatic illustration of new notions of identity as multiple yet coherent.
(Turkle, 158-159)

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Web page written and constructed by Laralynn Weiss, Georgetown University