The most prominent accounts of modernity’s relation to recent history have described it as either a bygone epoch (Jameson) or an unfinished project (Habermas). The disjunction between these accounts has often led historical materialists to pit Jameson’s purportedly Marxist concept of postmodernity against liberal, sociological frameworks that fail to adequately foreground the structural determinations of capital as constitutive of modernity’s history.
But what if it is precisely the termination of modernity, as the epoch of social relations concurrent with capitalism, that remains an unfinished project? Consider the contradictions of Jameson’s account, which holds both that capitalism and modernity are interchangeable categories and that postmodernity is that period of social and political history corresponding with late capitalism. For Jameson, it seems that modernity has ended though capitalism continues, even as he must also hold that the category of modernity is defined by its structural identity with capitalism.
If we simply replace the category of postmodernity with that of late modernity, we obviate the incoherence into which Jameson’s account falls through the misalignment of the after and the late which it has always involved. What this terminological shift opens up is a new historical perspective, within which the end of modernity is not a structural fait accompli but rather a revolutionary task, insofar as the history of modernity is the history of capital, and vice-versa—a history that must end but has not yet.
The field of problems opened through a reconsideration of modernity that only now may begin to approach its terminus in the twenty-first century: that is the terrain of our symposium. What does it mean to situate ourselves at the bitter end of modernity as a period of historical determination that is not yet over, but which lurches toward an uncertain conclusion even now?