Jameson on Jameson: Conversations on Cultural Marxism

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Fredric Jameson is one of the most influential literary and cultural critics writing today. He is a theoretical innovator whose ideas about the intersections of politics and culture have reshaped the critical landscape across the humanities and social sciences. Bringing together ten interviews conducted between 1982 and 2005, Jameson on Jameson is a compellingly candid introduction to his thought for those new to it, and a rich source of illumination and clarification for those seeking deeper understanding. Jameson discusses his intellectual and political preoccupations, most prominently his commitment to Marxism as a way of critiquing capitalism and the culture it has engendered. He explains many of his key concepts, including postmodernism, the dialectic, metacommentary, the political unconscious, the utopian, cognitive mapping, and spatialization.

Jameson on Jameson displays Jameson’s extraordinary grasp of contemporary culture—architecture, art, cinema, literature, philosophy, politics, psychoanalysis, and urban geography—as well as the challenge that the geographic reach of his thinking poses to the Eurocentricity of the West. Conducted by accomplished scholars from United States, Egypt, Korea, China, Sweden, and England, the interviews elicit Jameson’s reflections on the broad international significance of his ideas and their applicability and implications in different cultural and political contexts, including the present phase of globalization.

The volume includes an introduction by Jameson and a comprehensive bibliography of his publications in all languages.

Mona Abousenna
Abbas Al-Tonsi
Srinivas Aravamudan
Jonathan Culler
Sara Danius
Leonard Green
Sabry Hafez
Stuart Hall
Stefan Jonsson
Ranjana Khanna
Richard Klein
Horacio Machin
Paik Nak-chung
Michael Speaks
Anders Stephanson
Xudong Zhang

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Jameson, the author of The Political Unconscious(1981) and other influential works, is well known for the amazing variety of subjects he discusses. The many readers who find his style hard to grasp will find considerable help in this collection of ten interviews with him that date from the 1980s to the 1990s. The book makes his key concepts accessible: Jameson is a classical Marxist who believes that literature and the other arts reflect the mode of production. In our time, this is capitalism. Accordingly, it is not enough for critics to analyze a writer's personal unconscious, though Jameson is quick to embrace Freudian insights. The critic needs also to see the political unconscious, i.e., the implicit assumptions about the economy, society, and power, at play in a particular work. At the present stage of capitalism, postmodernism has replaced the modernist classics that once formed the literary and artistic canon; and much of Jameson's criticism is devoted to postmodernist works. He by no means confines himself to the European and American scene but displays a keen interest in Asia and Latin America as well. Recommended for literary and cultural criticism collections.
—David Gordon

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822341093
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 1/28/2008
  • Series: Post-Contemporary Interventions Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Fredric Jameson is William A. Lane Jr. Professor of Comparative Literature at Duke University. He is the author of many books, including Signatures of the Visible; Late Marxism: Adorno; or, The Persistence of the Dialectic; The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act; The Prison-House of Language: A Critical Account of Structuralism and Russian Formalism; and Marxism and Form: Twentieth-Century Dialectical Theories of Literature. His books Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, winner of the Modern Language Association’s James Russell Lowell Prize, and The Cultures of Globalization (coedited with Masao Miyoshi) are both also published by Duke University Press.

Ian Buchanan is Professor of Critical and Cultural Theory at Cardiff University. He is a coeditor (with Caren Irr) of On Jameson: From Postmodernism to Globalization. His books Deleuzism: A Metacommentary and A Deleuzian Century? are both also published by Duke University Press.

Fredric Jameson is William A. Lane Jr. Professor of Comparative Literature at Duke University. He is the author of many books, including Signatures of the Visible; Late Marxism: Adorno; or, The Persistence of the Dialectic; The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act; The Prison-House of Language: A Critical Account of Structuralism and Russian Formalism; and Marxism and Form: Twentieth-Century Dialectical Theories of Literature. His books Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, winner of the Modern Language Association’s James Russell Lowell Prize, and The Cultures of Globalization (coedited with Masao Miyoshi) are both also published by Duke University Press.

Ian Buchanan is Professor of Critical and Cultural Theory at Cardiff University. He is a coeditor (with Caren Irr) of On Jameson: From Postmodernism to Globalization. His books Deleuzism: A Metacommentary and A Deleuzian Century? are both also published by Duke University Press.

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Read an Excerpt

Jameson on Jameson



All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4087-4

Chapter One

Interview with Leonard Green, Jonathan Culler, and Richard Klein

Green: What do you take to be the political significance of books like Fables of Aggression or The Political Unconscious? As a Marxist, do you see the main function of such works as critical and interpretative? I am thinking of Marx's eleventh thesis on Feuerbach: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it." I am also thinking of a recent article by Terry Eagleton, in which he raises the following issue: "For the question irresistibly raised for the Marxist reader of Jameson is simply this: how is a Marxist-structuralist analysis of a minor novel of Balzac to help shake the foundations of capitalism?"

JAMESON: Read carefully, Terry's question is not so much a critique addressed to my own work as such, as rather the expression of an anxiety which everyone working in the area of Marxist cultural studies must feel, particularly when it is a matter of studying the past. The anxiety is a significant one, which should be looked at in some detail.

It would be too facile (but not wrong) to return the compliment by replying that Balzac, of all writers, has a privileged and symbolic position in the traditional debates of Marxist aesthetics: so that to propose a new reading of Balzac is to modify those debates (symbolically much more central in Marxism than in other ones, and involving political and epistemological consequences which it might be best to spell out more substantively in my response to your second question). So one type of political consequence that emerges from work like this can be located within Marxism, as part of its redefinition, its self-definition, and so forth, something which may not particularly interest your readers.

On another level, however, such studies of "classical" texts are to be taken-to use the fruitful Althusserian concept-as an intervention in the standard university teaching of what is called the "canon." So at this point the question opens up into the more general problem of a Marxist pedagogy. I'm tempted to sketch a position on this last in terms of something like a practical double standard, since I tend to make a rough distinction between the functions of graduate and undergraduate teaching in this respect. The former involves something like laboratory experiments in the study of cultural dynamics and, insofar as this is loosely analogous to "scientific research," needs no particular justification in terms of immediate "relevance" (but we can come back to this type of study later on). But such graduate research could be described (going fast) as a pedagogy of form, as opposed to some more properly undergraduate orientation towards content.

Let me explain this last briefly: the opposition is not really that of theory versus practical criticism, although that is the stereotype that comes to mind. Rather, in undergraduate work one does not really confront the "text" at all; one's primary object of work is the interpretation of the text, and it is about interpretations that the pedagogical struggle in undergraduate teaching must turn. The presupposition here is that undergraduates-as more naive or unreflexive readers (which the rest of us are also much of the time)-never confront a text in all its material freshness; rather, they bring to it a whole set of previously acquired and culturally sanctioned interpretive schemes, of which they are unaware, and through which they read the texts that are proposed to them. This is not a particularly individual matter, and it does not make much difference whether one locates such interpretive stereotypes in the mind of the student, in the general cultural atmosphere, or on the text itself, as a sedimentation of its previous readings and its accumulated institutional interpretations: the task is to make those interpretations visible, as an object, as an obstacle rather than a transparency, and thereby to encourage the student's self-consciousness as to the operative power of such unwitting schemes, which our tradition calls ideologies. The student's first confrontation with a classic, therefore-with Heart of Darkness, with Jane Austen, with Vonnegut or with Hemingway-will never really involve unmediated contact with the object itself, but only an illusion of contact, whose terminus turns out to be a whole range of interpretive options, from the existential one (the absurdity of the human condition), across myth criticism and its more psychological form (the integration of the Self), all the way to ethics (choices and values, the maturing of the protagonist, the apprenticeship of good and evil). These various liberal ideologies (and they obviously do not exhaust the field) all find their functional utility in the repression of the social and the historical, and in the perpetuation of some timeless and ahistorical view of human life and social relations. To challenge them is therefore a political act of some productiveness. The reading of novels is to be sure a specialized and even an elite activity; the point is, however, that the ideologies in which people are trained when they read and interpret novels are not specialized at all, but rather the working attitudes and forms of the conceptual legitimation of this society. One may of course come at these ideologies in other, more specifically political (or economic) situations; but they can just as effectively and sometimes even more strikingly be detected and confronted in that area seemingly so distant from and immune to politics which is the teaching of culture.

This would then be a more general description and defense of the political uses of an intervention in the realm of teaching and studying the literary and cultural classics of the past. To be sure, if that were what I myself was primarily engaged in, the choice of Balzac is a singularly ineffective one for an Anglo-American public, where different kinds of school classics or specimens of the canon would be obviously a far more important strategic terrain. But, to speak the language of reification and specialization, I'm in French, and the mission of intervening in English departments, while very important, interests me personally less than some others. This answer has already been too long, but let me briefly spell out what those might be.

I happen to think that no real systemic change in this country will be possible without the minimal first step of the achievement of a social democratic movement; and in my opinion even that first step will not be possible without two other preconditions (which are essentially the same thing): namely, the creation of a Marxist intelligentsia and that of a Marxist culture, a Marxist intellectual presence, which is to say, the legitimation of Marxist discourse as that of a "realistic" social and political alternative in a country which (unlike most of the other countries in the world) has never recognized it as such. This is the perspective in which I would want my own efforts to be understood, and I suppose my own particular contribution to such a development would mainly lie in showing the capacity of Marxism to engage the most advanced currents of "bourgeois" thinking and theory; but that is only one task among others.

A final remark on the problem of the "canon": European radicals, particularly in the mid-1960s, with the increasing emphasis on the university as an "ideological state apparatus," came to formulate a view of political intervention in which literature itself, as an institution, was an appropriate target for critique and occasion for consciousness raising. Something of this developed over here, but was absorbed into an old American tradition of anti-intellectualism or know-nothingism, which paradoxically was never really left-wing at all, but simply replicated the general attitude of a business society to culture generally. I think it may be worth pointing out that in the framework of the classical nation-state, culture and the national "canon" do play a centrally legitimizing role which surely cannot have an exact equivalent in the superstate, which is also essentially a postcolonial society. American literature has never been a national literature in that sense, since its most intense moments have always turned around the agonizing problem of what an American culture could possibly be in the first place and of what it might mean to "be" an American-questions which no European would ever have thought of raising in the context of the nation-state. Our critical relationship to "classics" and to cultural institutions generally cannot therefore be those of the various European lefts and demands fresh thinking, which will not simply reproduce the critical distance with which the European left deals with its own elite national cultures.

Still, all this is a part of a more general problem, which I evoked at the beginning of this discussion and which is to me the fundamental one, namely, the relationship to the past itself. I have already implied that our relationship to our own past as Americans must necessarily be very different and far more problematical than for Europeans whose national histories (the still vital myth of the Great Revolution or the Paris Commune in France, say, or the burning significance in the present of a historical moment such as "the making of the English working class") remain alive within contemporary political and ideological struggles. I think a case could be made for the peculiar disappearance of the American past in general, which comes before us in unreal costumes and by way of the spurious images of nostalgia art, and for which Franklin D. Roosevelt is as dead and unreal as George Washington or Cotton Mather. This has something to do with the triumphant and systematic way in which the American past, and most particularly its great radical traditions, have been stamped out in almost every generation: the 1930s was only the latest great period of militancy to have been obliterated from any living collective consciousness (with the result that the militants of the 1960s were effectively denied any sense of a still vital radical tradition). But there is another disturbing and significant factor which must now be introduced into the discussion: and it is the unique dynamics of this latest moment of capital-variously called consumer society, media society, multinational society, postindustrial society, the "society of the spectacle," and so forth-and which is characterized by a historical amnesia, a repression both of the past and of any imaginable future, far more intense than in any other social formation in human history. It may be possible, then, if the study radicals make of cultural artifacts from the past-such as Balzac, but also Hawthorne or Dickens-is ineffective, that this is less our personal fault or problem than it is a systemic one, and a pathological feature of contemporary society.

Here I would only observe, as far as I am personally targeted here, that The Political Unconscious gives a very incomplete picture of my own work, in which the archaeological analysis of dead classics plays a less significant role than the choice of examples in that book may suggest. The Lewis book (Fables of Aggression) is about "proto-fascism," a rather current topic, one would have thought; but it is true that Wynham Lewis is scarcely one of the livelier influences in contemporary culture (unlike a number of his contemporaries), and in any case I have never been able to transmit my enthusiasm for Lewis to anyone, I'm not quite sure why.

But the readers of those books may be unaware that my work, increasingly, turns around issues in contemporary cultural evaluation and turns on objects of study such as the media, film, mass culture, science fiction and utopian narrative, and postmodernism-all elements in the cultural and ideological foundations of contemporary capitalism, surely, whether or not one can shake them by way of their analysis.

GREEN: Along these same lines, you have written: "If we want to go on believing in categories like social class, then we are going to have to dig for them in the insubstantial bottomless realm of cultural and collective fantasy.... After that, if one wants to stress the primacy of the political, so be it: until the omnipresence of culture in this society is even dimly sensed, realistic conceptions of the nature and function of political praxis today can scarcely be framed." Do you see any danger in such a formulation? Let me be more specific. Do you think that such a theoretical position opens the discussion of the "political" to the possibility of abysmal and endless deferment? In the academy, among professional intellectuals, where your work is most likely to be read, do you believe that the primary urgency is to make your audience aware of the "omnipresence of cultures"? I would have believed the contrary, that the most resistance would be in the willingness to accept the omnipresence of the "political," particularly in a Marxian sense of the political.

JAMESON: My problem with this question and the preceding one turns on the presuppositions which inform both and which seem to me misguided. In both questions there is taken for granted a conception of the political and of political action (let alone "the Marxian sense of the political") which is not so evident to me; and in the present question, a certain notion of culture is advanced which the very passage you quote is concerned to challenge. As far as "the political" is concerned, any single-shot, single-function definition of it is worse than misleading; it is paralyzing. We are, after all fragmented beings, living in a host of separate reality compartments simultaneously; in each one of those a certain kind of politics is possible, and if we have enough energy, it would be desirable to conduct all those forms of political activity simultaneously. So the "metaphysical" question: what is politics-the seizure of power? taking to the street? organizing? talking socialism? resisting hierarchy and authority? demonstrating for disarmament or trying to save your neighborhood? fighting city hall?-this question is worthwhile only when it leads to the enumeration of all the possible options, and not when it lures you into following the mirage of the single great strategic idea. Still, we have to talk about each of these forms of political intervention separately, so that there is a supreme misunderstanding to be avoided: namely, the misconception that when one modestly outlines a certain form of political activity-such as that which intellectuals in the university can engage in-this "program" is meant to suggest that that is the only kind of politics one should do. I would not want anyone to suppose that when above I suggested a certain kind of political intervention in the teaching of literature, I meant that this was all we should ever do. On the other hand, it is worth asking ourselves what the mirage of the great single-function political "line" or strategy draws its power from. And I think, particularly for intellectuals, this mirage comes from impatience with the mediated, with the long term; it gets its power from the desire (quite proper to a business society, by the way) to show immediate results, to feel some ego satisfaction, to make the tangible mark right now. That is a pleasant luxury, a wonderful gratification, but it is not for us.


Excerpted from Jameson on Jameson Copyright © 2007 by DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword ix

Introduction: On Not Giving Interviews 1

Interview with Leonard Green, Jonathan Culler, and Richard Klein 11

Interview with Anders Stephanson 44

Interview with Paik Nak-chung 74

Interview with Sabry Hafez, Abbas Al-Tonsi, and Mona Abousenna 99

Interview with Stuart Hall 113

Interview with Michael Speaks 123

Interview with Horacio Machin 135

Interview with Sara Danius and Stefan Jonsson 151

Interview with Xudong Zhang 171

Interview with Srinivas Aravamudan and Ranjana Khanna 203

Bibliography 241

Interviewers 269

Inex 273

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