In his account of late capitalism Fredric Jameson describes its cultural logic as if it were a schizophrenic - broken in language, amnesiac about history, in thrall to glossy images, subject to mood-swings from speedy euphoria to catatonic withdrawal. No wonder that his exemplar is Andy Warhol. 'Warhol distrusted language,' Wayne Koestenbaum writes on the first page of his smart biography; 'he didn't understand how grammar unfolded episodically in linear time, rather than in one violent atemporal explosion. Like the rest of us, he advanced chronologically from birth to death; meanwhile, through pictures, he schemed to kill, tease and rearrange time.' Signs of this linguistic disturbance, real or staged, are abundant. There is 'virtually no correspondence in his hand': photographs, audiotapes and films were his modes of inscription. He couldn't spell to save his life: typographic errors recur in his commercial illustrations of the 1950s, sometimes introduced by his Czech mother, Julia. And he spoke in a deadpan that extended to his books, which were mostly edited from taped conversations. All of this evidence leads Koestenbaum to his initial diagnosis of Warhol: 'Trauma was the motor of his life, and speech the first wound' - speech understood here as the medium of 'normal' intersubjectivity or reciprocity with the world.
LRB 21 March 2002 | PDF Download