New Literary History 30.1 (1999) 239-262
A certain spatial turn," Fredric Jameson tells us, "has often seemed to offer one of the more productive ways of distinguishing postmodernism from modernism proper, whose experience of temporality -- existential time, along with deep memory -- it is henceforth conventional to see as a dominant of the high modern." He is too circumspect -- too cagey, some might say -- to have written, "Time is to modernism as space is to postmodernism," but clearly this is something like what he means. Stripped of its Jamesonian qualifications, the hypothesis of the postmodern spatial turn looks vulnerable to all kinds of objections: that it mystifies the categories of time and space, that it defers to the structuralist logic of binary opposition, that there is too much slippage in all four key terms for us to get a semantic fix on the proposition. And yet, and yet. . . . Flawed as it is, the spatial turn hypothesis continues to seem worth entertaining for its heuristic promise, for its potential to illuminate a whole range of postmodern phenomena, not least (as I hope to demonstrate here) postmodernist poetic practice.
Think of it, then, as a heuristic tool. Like other tools, heuristic and otherwise, it needs calibrating.
For there is at least one respect in which, well before the onset of postmodernism (by anyone's account), modernism had already undergone a spatial turn of its own. High modernism conspicuously privileged the spatial dimension of verticality or depth; indeed, the figure of depth was arguably one of modernism's master-tropes. However, to assert this is not to contradict the thesis of the modernist temporal dominant, but rather to corroborate it. For "depth" in modernism is spatialized time, the past (whether personal and psychological or collective and historical) deposited in strata. The sources of this master-trope are many, but they certainly include the actual archaeological discoveries that coincided with the onset (with the various onsets) of high modernism: the discovery of the painted caves of Europe, beginning early in the nine-teenth century and continuing at an accelerated rate into the twentieth (Altamira, 1879; Les Trois Frères, 1916; Lascaux, 1940); Schliemann's finds at Troy (1873) and Mycenae (1876); Evans's at Knossos (1900); Carter's opening of Tutankhamun's tomb (1922); and so on.
Arguably the most important figure to have registered the imaginative impact of the archaeological discoveries of the modernist era was, of course, Sigmund Freud, and Freud's use of archaeological tropes for the "stratified" structure of the psyche and the "excavatory" work of psychoanalysis is a second major source for the modernist master-trope of depth. We know of Freud's preoccupation with archaeology not only from his writings but also, perhaps even more revealingly, from his own personal collection of antiquities. Ringing him at his writing-desk and mingling with his patients in his consulting-room, these synecdochic figures of archaeological "deep time" even followed Freud into exile in London at the end of his life.
Freud evidently found the archaeological metaphor for the psyche and its products (for example, dreams), and for the work of psychoanalysis itself, irresistible, returning to it throughout his career, early and late. In doing so, in the view of Freudian critics of Freud, such as Donald Spence, he did both psychoanalysis and archaeology a disservice: psychoanalysis, because he burdened it with a master-trope that has subsequently hardened into an ideology; archaeology, because he attributed to it a kind of "scientism" a good deal less sophisticated, hermeneutically speaking, than archaeological procedures and archaeological thought really are. Other critics, more sympathetic to Freud, have observed that the archaeological model of psychoanalytic process alternates in his writing and thought with other, more constructivist models, whereby truth is not recovered by excavating the deep strata of the patient's psyche, but rather constructed in the therapeutic encounter -- not so much an archaeological dig, then, as a kind of collaborative novel. Nevertheless, the archaeological model, whenever it appears in Freud's writings, belongs to the positivist side of his intellectual makeup, underwriting a discourse of epistemological mastery.
Intellectually dubious though it might be, the Freudian appropriation of archaeology has proven to...