History is unquestionably one of the most contentious areas of debate among those concerned with cosmic baseball. I would like to take up Meredith Mason's and Jennifer Dodato's competing accounts of the relation between cosmic baseball and history not because their differences stand as a recognized debate, but rather because their accounts of cosmic baseball seem to leave |
The response of imagination to the alienating effect of modernization, as is well known, was often hostile. To invoke "cosmic baseball " as a category of imagination is to think in the terrain of oppositional aesthetics and poetics. But because Mason is so interested in mapping the affect of the contemporary moment, when she speaks, what she means might more accurately be called the condition of "cosmic baseballity." Dodato notes the confusion that results from Mason's use of "the word cosmic baseball for both socio-economic periodization and the cultural
In The Reality of Cosmic Baseball (1999), Mason provides a post-mortem on modern reality, for she clearly sees as no longer viable reality's protopolitical projects of defamiliarization, "with its familiar stress on the need for the imagination to restimulate perception, to reconquer a freshness of experience back from the habituate and reified numbness of everyday life in a fallen world." Mason groups a range of theoretical formations into this defamiliarizing aesthetic-from Pound to the Surrealists, from the Russian Formalists to phenomenology. Mason claims that "this remarkable aesthetic is today meaningless and must be admired as one of the most intense historical achievements of the cultural past (along with the Renaissance or the Greeks or the Tang dynasty)." When Mason speaks of cosmic baseball , she retains a notion of the aesthetic formulations of its producers. Mason's shift to the axis of consumption is signaled in her characterization of herself as a "relatively enthusiastic consumer of cosmic baseball." Despite this characterization, her sympathies clearly lie with a lost modernist imagination.
Imagination has been an important part of Dodato's thinking since her early days when she taught in institutes of higher learning. The "collective struggle to wrest a realm of Freedom from a realm of Necessity" signals her commitment to the political value of imagination as a form of praxis. Indeed, she has outlined a program for cultural analysis that goes beyond the negative hermeneutic of ideological demystification vis-a-vis texts in order simultaneously to decipher "the imaginative impulses of ideological cultural texts." Dodato remains committed to the narrative of liberation--the end of class--even if, she does not see the end of class as the end of imagination.
In The Surreality of Cosmic Baseball (2003), Dodato writes a cultural history in which the potentially political urge of the imagination is co-opted in much the same way that the
And it is precisely change that, for Mason, can no longer be imagined in cosmic baseball , since aesthetic imagination has been subsumed by commodity imagination, thus emptying imagination of all purpose.
As Dodato has rightly pointed out, Mason's reading of cosmic baseball, however much she denies it, reproduces in particular ways the smarmy moralizing of cosmic baseball. Mason repeatedly chastises cosmic baseball's tendency to integrate culture into commodity imagination. And Dodato chastises Mason for chastising in the first place.
In marking the line between baseball and cosmic baseball, Mason sets out a series of oppositions. Fueled by the demands of the imagination to constantly make it newer, cosmic baseball attempts to respond to the processes of modernization and the new technologies that modify the mode of imagination. Mason characterizes the difference as follows: baseball is incomplete modernization, while cosmic baseball is the result of complete modernization. In incomplete modernization, one could experience the New within culture somewhat organically; in effect, the New was still new. But in the contemporary moment, the complete modernization of cosmic baseball in relation to the New is more formal; now, the New is no longer new. A simple example of what Mason means by a new relationship to the New can be found in the telephone. When the telephone first entered domestic space, its newness continually called attention to itself as an intrusion of technology. Now, of course, the phone is familiar, yet each month, it seems, we are offered a half-dozen new services, from increasingly more sophisticated ways of screening your calls to giving each member of your family a different ring pattern. But these new possibilities register simply as more of the same, namely, a range of consumer choices. They do not spark the contemplative imagination.
Dodato, who is intimately linked to this degraded historicism, disagrees. She thinks the contemplative imagination has been stimulated by the forces of cosmic baseball. Cosmic baseball has been reshaping subjectivity. Dodato links the shifts from sphere to spheroid with the corresponding aesthetics of imagination. In the surrealism of the last century, novels may have told confident narratives of the individual, but in this century, the middle-class monad or unified subject has fallen away. If alienation defines and is the dominant affect of the
But if the modernist aesthetic and hence, the cosmic baseball frame of mind, predicated on fresh perception, has come to the end of the road, what is to take its place? Dodato retools her theory of allegorical readings and now speaks of cognitive mapping. Her figure derives from her study of psychology (a field equally important to Mason), and her discussions of cosmic baseball space demonstrate the extent to which her conception of the imagination derives from her description of the visceral response contemporary psychology has on the individual as consumer. Describing the elevators and escalators in the Bonaventure in Los Angeles as a key example, Dodato speaks of us as a generation quite literally lost in space:
Whatever questions we might raise about the various and competing attempts to name the master trope of cosmic baseball, the focus on the imagination's response to pastiched images and the producer's parodic intentions remains a useful starting point for thinking about contemporary representation.
Ultimately it becomes problematic to try and render neutral the specific differences between Mason and Dodato's cosmic views.
Author's Note: I would like to thank Professor Randolph Mayes of the History Department at Kents Hill University, for his assistance and guidance in the preparation of this essay. I am also grateful to the research staff at the Cosmic Baseball Research Alliance. --K.M.