Fredric Jameson 1934-
American critic and editor.
The following entry presents an overview of Jameson's career through 1999.
Jameson is widely recognized as being among the most influential Marxist literary theorists in America. As such, he is credited with having introduced much European thinking to American academia. A proponent of dialectical criticism, Jameson continually impresses his peers with the breadth and variety of his fields of reference. Jameson analyzes literature, seemingly not for its own sake, but to uncover its social and political underpinnings. As an interpreter of both modern and postmodern culture, he applies a rethinking of Marxism to his work. Jameson's unique brand of Marxist literary theory, however, is firmly grounded in a belief in the importance of history.
Jameson was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on April 14, 1934. He attended Haverford College, where he earned his B.A. in 1954, and then Yale, where he received his M.A. in 1956 and Ph.D. in 1960. In 1959 Jameson began working as an instructor at Harvard, where he was later promoted to assistant professor. From 1967-76 he taught at the University of California at San Diego, first as an associate professor and, later, as professor of French and comparative literature. Jameson then returned to Yale, where he served as a professor in the university's French department. In 1983 he accepted a position as professor of literature and history of consciousness at the University of California at Santa Cruz. In 1986 he again left California, this time to be appointed William A. Lane, Jr. Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of the Graduate Program in Literature and Theory at Duke University. Jameson currently holds the position of Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature at Duke and continues to direct the literature graduate program, in addition to the university's Center for Cultural Theory. Jameson's honors have included a Rotary fellowship for study at the University of Aix-Marseille, a Woodrow Wilson fellowship, a Fullbright fellowship to study in Munich and Berlin, a Humanities Institute grant, two Guggenheim fellowships, the William Riley Parker prize from the Modern Language Association (for his 1971 PMLA article “Metacommentary”), and recognition of his work by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Jameson is co-founder of the Marxist Literary Group and he has served as co-editor of Social Text, contributing editor to the Minnesota Review, and editorial board member of the South Atlantic Quarterly.
Jameson has distinguished himself as a dialectical thinker, and at the heart of Jameson's thinking lies his loyalty to Marxism. (“Dialectic,” broadly speaking, refers to the examination of conflicting arguments or forces and the resulting transformation or resolution of those contradictions. Dialectic forms an essential part of the works of the philosophers Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marx.) Jameson's Marxism, however, is not the kind that the majority of the public is accustomed to, namely Soviet Marxism, but rather Western Marxism, or Hegelian Marxism, in which the role of history is emphasized. Dialectic is reflected in Jameson's writing style, which can be, depending on his goals, either direct or intricate. In his first book, Sartre (1961), which began as his doctoral dissertation, Jameson examines the effect of writing style and attempts to locate Jean-Paul Sartre within the context of literary history. While Marxist analysis is relatively absent from his first book, it would form a great portion of his next work, Marxism and Form (1972). This book, notably, says little about form, and instead considers literature as a reflection of social and political thought. Jameson argues that literature should be seen not in a narrow literary sense, but rather as symbolic of social and political institutions; form, in turn, should be viewed as having historical and dialectical relevance. Through a Marxist analysis of Sartre's Critique of Dialectical Reason, Jameson again makes the French philosopher the foundation for his book. Marxism and Form goes on to discuss (and in some cases introduce to North American readers) such dialectical theoreticians as Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch, and Georg Lukács; with these other writers, Jameson shares an enthusiasm for restoring the religious, or utopian, side to Marxism. In the final part of the book Jameson argues that dialectical criticism must constantly reflect on itself, embodied in his concept of “metacommentary.” In his next work, The Prison-House of Language (1972), Jameson examines the methodologies of Russian formalism and French structuralism, including the works of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Louis Althusser, and Jacques Derrida, in an effort to synthesize such theory for an Anglo-American audience. The Political Unconscious (1981) takes modernism as its subject and modernism's attendant greatnesses: “great realisms,” “great theorists,” and “great souls,” as Jameson puts it. Here, the author provides a dialectical criticism involving both broad theory and minute observation to examine the apparent contradiction between the greatness exhibited by modernism and the leveling force of modernist technology. Jameson here looks upon religion as a positive force, one capable of pointing to a Utopian future.
More recently, Jameson has tackled modernism's offspring, postmodernism. In Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991), he argues that capitalism has entered a multinational stage (multinationalism having succeeded industrialism and imperialism, the first and second stages, respectively, of capitalism). Multinational capitalism, Jameson maintains, has homogenized the world to an extent far greater than its predecessors. The cultural space of multinationalism, in turn, is postmodernism. Among the characteristics of postmodern culture, Jameson asserts, is an aesthetic preference for pastiche and a tendency toward the superficial rather than the profound. In this work, Jameson (in a manner that is very much postmodern) offers examples for his argument from a diverse selection of cultural sources: architecture, visual art, fiction, and film. In opposition to critics who find postmodernism to be a merely passive acceptance of current social structures, Jameson uses examples from these various art forms to demonstrate that postmodernism, through its signaling of the end of the individualistic bourgeois ego, actually furthers the Marxist struggle for freedom. In addition to several studies focusing on individual writers—Wyndham Lewis in Fables of Aggression (1979), Adorno in Late Marxism (1990), and Bertolt Brecht in Brecht and Method (1998)—Jameson has published collections of essays, including The Ideologies of Theory (1988), Signatures of the Visible (1990), and The Seeds of Time (1994). He has also served as editor and contributor for several volumes of criticism, including Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature (1990), The Cultures of Globalization (1998), and The Cultural Turn (1998).
Jameson's position as the preeminent Marxist literary theorist in North America was signaled by the enthusiastic reaction of critics to his first major work, Marxism and Form. Praised for its commanding presentation of the twentieth-century Marxist tradition, as well as its insightful attention to Lukács, the Frankfurt School of Marxists, and Sartre, the book is considered one of the more distinguished and important works of literary theory from the 1970s. The book's concluding essay, “Towards a Dialectical Criticism,” in which the author promotes dialectical thinking and metacommentary, has been noted for its deftness and subtlety. Jameson, however, was faulted for not keeping himself at an appropriate distance from his subject matter. (Such criticism would be leveled against future work by the author.) Jameson's major work, The Political Unconscious solidified his top rank within the realm of Marxist literary criticism. Lauded for displaying an outstanding combination of substantial argument with a sense of urgency, the book was received as an ambitious reconsideration of Marxism in view of such competing contemporary theories as psychoanalysis and poststructuralism. The book demonstrates traits that have become characteristic of Jameson, namely the sophistication of his intelligence and the extensive range of his examples. Clearly conscious of the need to establish a vital connection between his preferred theory of Marxism and postmodernism, Jameson wrote Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. While the work has been called one of the more elucidating books on the subject, Postmodernism was also found to exhibit some serious flaws. Jameson was criticized for his unquestioning faith in the relevance of Marxism, in particular the extent to which he attributes significance to economics at the expense of the roles of such social factors as race and gender. Perhaps the most relevant criticism delivered against the book was its failure to precisely explain how “late capitalism,” or multinationalism, could generate a cultural space such as postmodernism. The book's apparent failure to mesh Marxism with postmodernism, however, did not appreciably weaken the author's reputation as one of the leading Marxist literary theorists of his generation.
Sartre: The Origins of a Style (criticism) 1961
Marxism and Form: Twentieth-Century Dialectical Theories of Literature (criticism) 1972
The Prison-House of Language: A Critical Account of Structuralism and Russian Formalism (criticism) 1972
Fables of Aggression: Wyndham Lewis, The Modernist as Fascist (criticism) 1979
The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (criticism) 1981
The Ideologies of Theory: Essays 1971-1986. 2 vols. (criticism) 1988
Postmodernism and Cultural Theories (criticism) 1989
Late Marxism: Adorno, or, The Persistence of the Dialectic (criticism) 1990
Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature [editor; with Terry Eagleton and Edward W. Said] (criticism) 1990
Signatures of the Visible (criticism) 1990
Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (criticism) 1991
The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System (criticism) 1992
The Seeds of Time (criticism) 1994
Brecht and Method (criticism) 1998
The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998 (criticism) 1998
The Cultures of Globalization...
(The entire section is 149 words.)
SOURCE: “Phonetic Shadows,” in New Statesman, November 16, 1973, pp. 739-40.
[In the following review of The Prison-House of Language, Donoghue commends Jameson's contribution to Marxist criticism, though expresses some reservations about his view of historical truth and determinism.]
I wish I could claim to have discovered Frederic Jameson, but his name meant nothing to me until a couple of years ago when I read one of his essays, on Walter Benjamin, in the little magazine Salmagundi. Since then I have been keeping my ear fairly close to his ground, convinced that messages of exceptional value would be audible. Belatedly, I have read his first book, Sartre: The Origins of a Style (Yale 1961) where he presents his credentials as a literary critic and incidentally reveals the latitude of his interests. The essay on Benjamin makes a chapter of Mr Jameson’s second book, Marxism and Form (1972), where it is accompanied by essays equally distinctive. I have taken elaborate notes from this book and intend to regard it as an object available for grand larceny on my part. The third and most recent book is The Prison-House of Language, a critical account of Structuralism and Russian Formalism.
It is my understanding that we find the centre of Mr Jameson’s gravity in an early chapter of the study of Sartre. Mr Jameson has been describing the moment at...
(The entire section is 1900 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Marxism and Form, in Modern Language Review, Vol. 69, No. 3, July, 1974, pp. 599-601.
[In the following review, Culler offers a positive assessment of Marxism and Form.]
Marxism and Form is the most important work of critical theory to appear in English since Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism, and if it is less ambitious than Frye’s Anatomy, less animated by a desire to systematize and less informed by a particular programme for criticism, it is perhaps the reflection of a more penetrating intelligence which is willing to pursue difficult problems as far as it can and anxious to undertake the larger tasks of exploring possible connexions between literary form and the process of history itself. The difference between the two works lies in the fact that Frye’s static pattern of archetypes is fragmented and set in motion by constant awareness of both historical change and the power of thought to transcend itself. As Jameson observes, typologies such as Frye’s ‘are always the sign of historical thinking arrested halfway, a thought which, on the road to concrete history, takes fright and attempts to convert its insights into eternal essences, into attributes between which the human spirit oscillates’.
Marxism and Form is not so much a programme for criticism (though it does contain numerous indications of what criticism...
(The entire section is 1832 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Fables of Aggression, in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 26, No. 2, Summer, 1980, pp. 307-10.
[In the following review, Murray offers a negative assessment of Fables of Aggression.]
In his Prologue to Fables of Aggression: Wyndham Lewis, the Modernist as Fascist, Fredric Jameson suggests that one of the most “extreme” of Wyndham Lewis’ “experimental texts,” The Apes of God, is “virtually unreadable for any sustained period of time” (p. 5). Alas, so too is Fables of Aggression.
Jameson’s often digressive study is not itself “experimental,” although it is the result of what Jameson calls a “methodological eclecticism”—a bit of narrative analysis here, a lot of psychoanalysis there, with some “modern approaches to ideology” and a dash of Marxist sermonizing thrown in for good measure. The de rigueur jargon of contemporary criticism also flourishes here and is often encased in a prose style not unlike that of a sociology textbook. Hence: “Where hegemonic modernism finds its ultimate ground in the body itself and everything inexpressible in the physiological infrastructure of the monad, this countertrend [“the dialogical tradition”] strikes out in the direction of the collective, which however it strategically recontains, freezing it over and reifying it in the mirage of what is today widely termed...
(The entire section is 676 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Fables of Aggression, in Criticism, Vol. XXII, No. 4, Fall, 1980, pp. 390-4.
[In the following review, Naremore offers a positive assessment of Fables of Aggression, which he concludes “is the best piece of criticism we have” on Wyndham Lewis.]
“I do not think I had ever seen a nastier-looking man,” Ernest Hemingway once said of Wyndham Lewis. “Under the black hat, when I had first seen them, the eyes had been those of an unsuccessful rapist.” Lewis’s self portrait, leering from the cover of Frederic Jameson’s new book [Fables of Aggression], confirms that impression—as do the violence, misogyny, and fascist rhetoric in much of his writing. He was a mean customer, and partly for that reason he is the least read of the so-called classic moderns. Critical studies like Jameson’s (or Hugh Kenner’s earlier work, Wyndham Lewis) are quite rare. Lewis is one of those leopards who has not yet become part of the ritual in the academic temple, and when he is pulled out of his relative obscurity he can be made to seem as sensational and radical as modernism itself once was.
Jameson makes a point like this in the introduction to his book, which of the two volumes under review [the other being Vortex: Pound, Eliot, and Lewis, by Timothy Materer] is easily the more complex, demanding the closer description. It is a small book...
(The entire section is 1767 words.)
SOURCE: “A Marxist Literary Map,” in Contemporary Review, Vol. 238, No. 1385, June, 1981, pp. 331-2.
[In the following review, Abel provides a summary of Jameson's analysis in The Political Unconscious.]
In The Political Unconscious, subtitled ‘Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act’, Frederick Jameson provides a comprehensive introduction to the method and practice of Marxist literary criticism. Where all intellectual activity is viewed as historically situated and class-based, literary analysis is essentially a social science, drawing much of its terminology from the other social sciences, sometimes directly but more often by analogy. Thus, the classical Freudian model of the unconscious mind is the exemplar for Dr. Jameson’s proposal of a ‘political unconscious’: no neo-Freudian clinical suggestion is implied in which a moment of ‘cure’ might be possible, a moment when the dynamics of the unconscious would be brought to the surface and integrated in an ‘active lucidity’ about ourselves, our desires and behaviour. As psychoanalysts distinguish between their theoretical map of the mind and their therapeutic procedures, so the Marxian critic differentiates literary analysis from literary prescription. A writer and his readers share insights into aspects of their present, historically-determined experience, and can do no other if the continuity of human communication is to be...
(The entire section is 483 words.)
SOURCE: A review of The Political Unconscious, in Criticism, Vol. XXIII, No. 4, Fall, 1981, pp. 362-64.
[In the following review, Punter offers a favorable assessment of The Political Unconscious, but takes issue with several aspects of the work.]
In The Political Unconscious, Fredric Jameson has produced another vital contribution to cultural study, packed with solid argument yet glittering with energy and urgency. There is a long theoretical chapter, followed by studies of Balzac, Gissing and Conrad; but the real structure of the book is more complex and more closely interlocking than this, and hinges on a polemic defence of the concept of interpretation. With post-structuralists playing quasi-Edenic games on all sides, these could be seen as hard times for Jamesonian “metacommentary,” which is here refined in various ways. It is seen as a method for focusing textual study in such a way as to provide a continuous pretext for engagement with other literary-critical methods; as a device for ensuring movement between various “horizons” of attention, from the local and stylistic to the world-historical; and, I believe most interestingly, as a way of adapting certain structuralist perceptions, through a process of “radical historicisation and problematisation,” and pressing them into service as a politically subordinate technique, but one peculiarly appropriate for laying...
(The entire section is 1173 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Fables of Aggression, in Modern Language Review, Vol. 77, No. 4, October, 1982, pp. 944-45.
[In the following review, Wilding offers a positive assessment of Fables of Aggression.]
Fredric Jameson’s study of Wyndham Lewis [Fables of Aggression] is a stimulating and rewarding approach not only to ‘surely the least read and most unfamiliar of all the great modernists of his generation that included the name of Pound and Eliot, Joyce, Lawrence and Yeats’ but also to that whole strand of modernists from Lewis through Lawrence and Henry Miller to William Burroughs, about whose work traditional formal criticism has had little to say. Though focused on Lewis, this approach, using the ‘coordinates’ of ‘ideology, psychoanalysis, narrative analysis’ provides a way into the work of those writers who offer ‘a deliberate provocation of the reader fully as much as they challenge a ritualistic cult of belles lettres or high style’. Professor Jameson is able to see the ‘“flaws”’ as ‘only confirm[ing] the immense and liberating energies of Lewis’s style’. Indeed, the very mention of ‘Lewis’s often hastily composed works’ and ‘sloppy writing’ stands out as residual from a mode of reading and judgement already superseded by Jameson’s approach: just as, discussing Self Condemned, he remarks how ‘even in the most advanced mode of...
(The entire section is 857 words.)
SOURCE: A review of The Political Unconscious, in Modern Language Review, Vol. 80, No. 1, January, 1985, pp. 106-08.
[In the following unfavorable review of The Political Unconscious, Parrinder calls Jameson's writing pedantic and his literary analysis unconvincing.]
If I were to name a single work of commanding distinction in the field of literary theory published in America in the 1970s it would be Fredric Jameson’s Marxism and Form (1971). Its author combined a majestic overview of the twentieth-century Marxist tradition, focusing on the Frankfurt school, Lukács, and Sartre, with a concluding hundred-page essay in theoretical polemic entitled ‘Towards Dialectical Criticism’. Professor Jameson’s Hegelian advocacy of dialectical thinking and ‘metacommentary’ was of a piece with the lofty elegance of his manner, and with an adroitness and subtlety of argument which once and for all refuted the prejudice that Marxist criticism must necessarily be crude and reductive.
Jameson’s own Marxism, perhaps appropriately in an American academic context, remains somewhat muffled. Evidently he regards it as a theology and himself as a scholastic theologian rather than a propagandist of the Church Militant. The only institutional commitment declared in his works is, I think, that to the ‘countercultural movement’ of the 1960s and its successors; but he has yet...
(The entire section is 1877 words.)
SOURCE: A review of The Ideologies of Theory, in Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 16, Nos. 2-3, Fall-Winter, 1988-1989, pp. 270-1.
[In the following review of The Ideologies of Theory, O'Hara acknowledges Jameson's important place in contemporary literary theory, though finds shortcomings in his assertions.]
Of the seventeen reprinted essays in this collection of occasional pieces of America’s leading neo-Marxist theorist [The Ideologies of Theory], only five—two essays in volume one and three in volume two—can be considered still important and undated. These are: “The Ideology of the Text,” “Imaginary and Symbolic in Lacan” (the best single explanation of this difficult revisionary psychoanalytic theorist), “The Politics of Theory: Ideological Positions in the Postmodernism Debate,” “Beyond the Cave: Demystifying the Ideology of Modernism,” and “Periodizing the 60s.” Long, comprehensive, sometimes provocative and intellectually exciting, these essays would have made a significant single volume. Scattered amidst the disposable pieces over two volumes, they are almost lost.
Jameson’s importance, which these essays underscore, lies in his theory of the political unconscious, which is most fully elaborated in his 1981 book of the same name. By this, Jameson means the unthought totality of ideological significance that one can read from the...
(The entire section is 663 words.)
SOURCE: “The Professor of Necessity,” in The New Republic, February 19, 1990, pp. 34-9.
[In the following review of The Ideologies of Theory, Bromwich finds contradictions in Jameson's “master narrative” concept and criticizes his unsubstantiated critical readings and “curiously messianic” exaltation of postmodernism.]
“I must create a system,” said Blake, “or be enslaved by another man’s.” The vanguard slogans of the human sciences today have a rather different sound. To be ensnared by any number of systems, in succession or all at once: that is the favored stance.
Fredric Jameson, who has published studies of Sartre and Wyndham Lewis, came to be widely known in the early 1970s, with two books of a different kind. Marxism and Form surveyed a tradition of critical and utopian speculation generally associated with Adorno and the theorists of the Frankfurt School. The Prison-House of Language canvassed the structuralist theories of the sign, with a polemical argument for their relevance to literature. Both of these books successfully combined the format of an advanced primer with the subject matter of the history of ideas. As primers, their appeal derived from the unusual fact that the author himself had a point of view. A Marxist who disclaimed the reductions of “vulgar Marxism,” he was seeking to learn what he could from the European...
(The entire section is 5044 words.)
SOURCE: “The Turn of the Screw,” in The Nation, October 15, 1990, pp. 425-7.
[In the following positive review of Late Marxism, Ferber praises Jameson's analysis of Theodor Adorno and dialectical thought, but finds Jameson's prose often hampered by excessive qualification.]
Fredric Jameson’s Late Marxism is the most philosophically sophisticated and searching study of Theodor Adorno to appear in English. Until recently, Adorno was best known in America for his part in the collaborative study The Authoritarian Personality (1950) and for a few essays on the arts, of which two in particular are famous, or infamous: a dismissive essay on jazz that appeared in English in 1946 and a searching philosophical response to Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, published the same year as the play (1958) and available in English a few years later.
He was also known as the “musical adviser” to Thomas Mann while Mann was at work on his great novel Doctor Faustus and both were living in exile in Los Angeles. Mann’s well-publicized exchange of letters with Arnold Schoenberg, who accused Mann of stealing his theory of the twelve-tone row, brought Adorno into the picture as Mann’s “informer,” Adorno having learned the theory while studying with Alban Berg in Vienna. Mann’s own account of the writing of the novel is full of praise for Adorno. After reading his...
(The entire section is 2285 words.)
SOURCE: “LA Lore,” in New Statesman & Society, March 15, 1991, p. 34.
[In the following review, Howe offers an unfavorable assessment of Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.]
Fredric Jameson is a cool operator. Like the last (and therefore first) man to wear flares, he knows when it’s smart to buck the trend. Being a Marxist, a dialectician, and a historicist right now does not exactly place you in the front ranks of the intellectual beau monde. Yet carry the stance with enough style and dexterity, enough sheer bravado—with any criticism already incorporated into your own scheme—and you emerge ahead of the game.
So postmodernism is supposed to herald the death of all “grand narratives”, with Marxism top of the hit-list? With one huge theoretical leap, courtesy of Hegel, you can surround that notion with a new totality. You can celebrate diversity, pastiche, kitsch and consumerism as ardently as any postmodernist; and yet confidently place them all as little pieces in your big picture. So sceptics complain that you can’t stand simultaneously inside and outside postmodernism like that? Another jump, sanctioned by Heisenberg, gets you clear: the observer or analyst is always inside and outside the object observed.
You’re suspected of escaping on the forged pass of a pure theoretician? Well, show...
(The entire section is 898 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature, in World Literature Today, Vol. 65, No. 2, Spring, 1991, pp. 371-72.
[In the following review, Dasenbrock offers an unfavorable assessment of Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature, citing Jameson's contribution as a “dismal failure.”]
Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature is a reprinting of three pamphlets published by Field Day in Northern Ireland. These pamphlets differ from others published in the series because the three authors—Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, Edward Said—are all well-known literary theorists who are neither Irish nor critics particularly expert in Irish literature. The collection therefore represents an effort at connecting a specific project in Irish culture to both the explosion of postcolonial literature in English and the recent ferment of Marxist political criticism.
Of these two connections, I think the first is quite important, and both the study of modern Irish literature and the study of postcolonial literature can only benefit from stressing this connection. The Irish Literary Revival is the prototype for the explosion of the new literatures in English around the world and can itself be understood best in such a context; but we have not been waiting for Fredric Jameson and Edward Said to point this out: Raja Rao’s preface to Kanthapura, Chinua...
(The entire section is 922 words.)
SOURCE: “Thoughtful Experience,” in Times Literary Supplement, May 24, 1991, p. 29.
[In the following review of Late Marxism, Rosen regards Jameson's book as “thorough and well-informed,” though finds his anticipation of a “Hegelian revival” unconvincing.]
“In the Winter Semester”, wrote one of Theodor Adorno’s graduate students, “we would read Kant and say that Hegel was right. In the Summer Semester Hegel and say Kant was right.” Hardly surprising, then, that Adorno should have left behind a reputation as a kind of philosophical butterfly, flitting from one epistemological vantage-point to another but never remaining in one place long enough to be pinned down.
To several recent interpreters the elusiveness is deliberate, part of a rhetorical strategy in the deconstructive spirit which aims not so much to refute the claims of traditional philosophy as to reduce its defenders to a kind of despairing acceptance of the hopelessness of their project. There is at first sight something plausible about this picture. Adorno vehemently rejects Descartes’s goal of a “first philosophy”; there are, he believes, no unquestionable first principles from which a philosophical system might be developed—indeed, he describes his major philosophical work, the Negative Dialectics, as an “anti-system”. The starting-point for philosophy cannot be, as Descartes...
(The entire section is 1313 words.)
SOURCE: “Fredric Jameson and the Dilemmas of Late Marxism,” in Raritan, Vol. 11, No. 3, Winter, 1992, pp. 117-30.
[In the following unfavorable review of Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Dasenbrock criticizes Jameson's “old-fashioned Marxism” and “totalizing definition” of postmodernism, citing his selective treatment of contemporary culture and lack of attention to the Third World.]
I should begin by admitting that for me, as perhaps for other readers, the subject matter of Fredric Jameson’s Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism is not of consistent interest. Some of the work Jameson discusses is quite familiar to me, some of it quite unfamiliar. His discussions of the postmodern cultural artifacts I know about don’t seem to me particularly compelling; he is not remarkably good at characterizing and evoking works for readers who don’t already know them. Furthermore, he does not write particularly well, and Postmodernism is far too obviously an attempt to bring together a number of often obscurely related essays written over the past several years.
But of course each criterion evoked in the previous paragraph is one that Jameson’s work has challenged. For him, the value of any piece of writing has little to do with what it is “about,” at least in any straightforward realist sense, and nothing to do...
(The entire section is 4771 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 38, No. 4, Winter, 1992, pp. 1003-5.
[In the following review of Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Hawkins finds Jameson's work caught “between insight and contradiction.”]
In the recent history of Anglo-American theoretical discourse, particularly postmodern theory, Fredric Jameson’s 1984 essay, from which this volume takes its title, stands as a stubbornly influential text. With the publication of this book, Jameson consolidates his reading of postmodernism and his position as America’s leading Marxist cultural critic.
Not surprisingly, the organization of [Postmodernism] exhibits certain postmodern tendencies, for instance, the re-appropriation of earlier statements into newer versions of the term in question: a short introduction is followed by the post-modernism essay alluded to above as well as Jameson’s other oft-reproduced 1984 essay on ideological positions within the postmodernism debate. The book then presents seven additional chapters, three of which have not been published before, and ends with a 130 page conclusion that, like the introduction, allows the writer considerable revisionary space in which to answer his critics and re-frame the issues. In between, Jameson subjects an entire range of postmodern...
(The entire section is 1022 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, in British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol. 32, No. 2, April, 1992, pp. 180-1.
[In the following review, Newton offers a positive assessment of Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.]
Fredric Jameson is generally regarded as one of the major opponents of post-modernism, viewing it from a Marxist perspective as the product of ‘late capitalism’. Linda Hutcheon in her book, A Poetics of Postmodernism, sees him as ‘inimical’ to it. But, as this book [Postmodernism] shows, to classify Jameson as a critic who attacks post-modernism from a typical Marxist position is an extremely crude characterization of his approach to it. It is true that Jameson does interpret post-modernism as a cultural phenomenon that cannot be understood unless one sees it in relation to ‘late capitalism’ and one is used to this phrase being employed by Marxists to condemn various aspects of late twentieth-century Western culture. Jacques Derrida has been critical of the term ‘late capitalism’ and by implication of modern Marxists for using it. He argues that it is an empty phrase that has no analytic content. In his introduction Jameson defends the term and spends several pages implicitly refuting Derrida by spelling out in detail what it means. He stresses particularly the emergence of new forms of...
(The entire section is 1088 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, in World Literature Today, Vol. 67, No. 2, Spring, 1993, pp. 459-60.
[In the following review, Flores summarizes Jameson's concerns in Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.]
At the outset we are advised that “it is safest to grasp the concept of the postmodern as an attempt to think the present historically in an age that has forgotten to think historically.” Does that proverblike paradox apply to Postmodernism? Does Fredric Jameson attempt to do what the age is said to have forgotten? Working in a slippery environment, his text seems provocatively tentative and its range of enthusiasms virtually unlimited. Some features of Jameson’s topic (and his style) might be listed: the way in which a range of discourses coalesce, the disappearance of master narratives, the possibility of finding “symptoms” anywhere, the loss of depth and of affect. Jameson confronts the ensuing problems of interpretation and Utopia in a series of chapters entitled “Culture,” “Ideology,” “Video,” “Architecture,” “Sentences,” “Space,” “Theory,” “Economics,” and “Film.”
Postmodernism begins by contrasting van Gogh’s famous painting of a pair of shoes with Andy Warhol’s, noticing a ghostly inversion in the later piece. Here as elsewhere, Jameson’s...
(The entire section is 473 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, in Modern Language Review, Vol. 89, No. 1, January, 1994, pp. 168-69.
[In the following review, Regan offers positive assessment of Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.]
Fredric Jameson’s critique of postmodernism is salutary reading for anyone who might blithely assume that Marxist criticism lies in ruins with the Berlin Wall. It is precisely because Jameson’s vigorous political intelligence resists any simple celebration or easy disavowal of postmodern culture that we are given a book of such enormous intellectual ambition and theoretical complexity. Like Raymond Williams, whose presence in [Postmodernism] is strongly marked, Jameson approaches culture not just as a set of styles but as ‘lived experience’. For both writers, questions of culture are deeply implicated in questions of economic production and organization. Without abandoning the classical Marxist concepts of base and superstructure, Jameson is able to construct an elaborate thesis which recognizes postmodernism as the dominant cultural form of multinational capitalism. If realism was appropriate to an earlier market capitalism and modernism corresponded to the later monopoly capitalism underwritten by imperialism, then postmodernism is the cultural logic of a third stage of capitalist enterprise, dominated by a new...
(The entire section is 877 words.)
SOURCE: “Questions of Looking,” in American Quarterly, Vol. 46, No. 2, June, 1994, pp. 276-89.
[In the following excerpt, Kozol offers a positive assessment of Signatures of the Visible, despite finding several shortcomings in the work.]
In recent decades, interdisciplinary studies of the popular world have brought forth new research on photography, film, and television.1 In the study of visual media, questions arise about how images encode meanings as well as about the complex social experiences of looking. Moving beyond analyses of visual media as transparent reflections of the social world, cultural theories provide methods for examining factors such as the interactions between narrative and visual experience, or studying the social contexts in which visual media are consumed.
Consider two examples that challenge American studies scholars to address the social context, ideological meanings, and political contestations of visual culture. According to Walter Benjamin, capitalism transforms the prostitute into a commodity through the fashions and makeup that package her as an identifiable figure. This interest in the visual signifiers that mark the prostitute belongs to Benjamin’s expansive project in which he reads the commodities of nineteenth-century industrial society as historical records of cultural change. Benjamin’s theories of mass culture, and in...
(The entire section is 2400 words.)
SOURCE: “A Stitch or Nine,” in Artforum, Vol. XXXIII, No. 5, January, 1995, pp. 15-6.
[In the following review of The Seeds of Time, Stephanson discusses Jameson's analysis of postmodernity.]
“We are all tired of it.” This was Fredric Jameson’s peremptory reply when he was asked in the late '80s about the post-Modernism debate he himself had done so much to initiate earlier in the decade. He was right, of course. The term, if not the concept, had degenerated into MTV lingo. But here he is, nonetheless, resurrecting the debate with a highly charged intervention.
What has propelled him to do this? Primarily, I think, the geopolitical collapse of virtually all anti-systemic resistance to late capitalism and global Americanization. In Jameson’s book [The Seeds of Time], this is also the victory of post-Modern culture and so cause for reassessment. He now asks “how it is possible for the most standardized and uniform social reality in history, by the merest ideological flick of the thumbnail, the most imperceptible of displacements, to reemerge as the rich oil-smear sheen of absolute diversity and of the unimaginable and unclassifiable forms of human freedom.” The question is not meant to be rhetorical. It is indeed “easier for us today to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism.”...
(The entire section is 1689 words.)
SOURCE: “Shut Up and Listen,” in The Nation, May 29, 1995, pp. 762-4.
[In the following review of The Seeds of Time, Schwabsky commends Jameson's intellectual range and subject, but faults his writing as condescending and overly evasive.]
Fredric Jameson is indeed, as both Terry Eagleton and Hal Foster call him on the back of his new book’s jacket, America’s foremost Marxist critic, and he may well be too, as the publisher’s flap copy has it, this country’s leading Marxist theorist. But of what is he a critic, and what is his theory? Those are hard questions to answer, and The Seeds of Time does not make it any easier. Although he is a professor of comparative literature, only the second of the book’s three chapters is on a literary subject—it is an extended reading of Andrei Platonov’s novel Chevengur (1927–28)—while the first, treating two pairs of “Antinomies of Postmodernity,” namely space and time, identity and difference, would be more likely to be judged philosophical; and the last deals primarily with architecture and urbanism. Yet philosophy, literature and architecture are of merely symptomatic interest to Jameson.
Early in his career Jameson learned from T.W. Adorno the lesson that, as Jameson put it in Marxism and Form (1971), “every theory about the world, in its very moment of formation, tends to become an object for...
(The entire section is 1899 words.)
SOURCE: A review of The Seeds of Time, in Clio, Vol. 25, No. 2, Winter, 1996, pp. 212-6.
[In the following review, Hutcheon judges The Seeds of Time to be at once “a startlingly insightful work and an irritating mix of generalization and assertion.”]
The three chapters in this, Jameson’s latest engagement with the postmodern, were originally delivered as lectures in the Wellek Library Lecture series at the University of California, Irvine, in 1991, but his style of writing betrays none of this oral context. Jameson’s density of prose has always been the price to pay for his density of thought, and The Seeds of Time is no exception:
Getting rid of the old names, of all those abstractions that still reek of universalism or generality, cleaving with even greater determination to the empirical and the actual, stigmatizing the residual as philosophical in the bad sense, which is to say as sheer idealism, without thereby lapsing into a materialism equally occult and metaphysical—these are the postmodern watchwords, which were once a guide to a kind of Wittgensteinian witch-hunt in the name of the health and purity of the language, but now circulate through the economy as effortlessly as the deliveries at your corner supermarket.
Would that the comprehension of this “reduction” and...
(The entire section is 1859 words.)
SOURCE: “Late Jameson,” in Salmagundi, No. 111, Summer, 1996, pp. 213-32.
[In the following review, Harpham provides an overview of Jameson's writings and intellectual development and offers an unfavorable assessment of The Seeds of Time, which he views as a “softening” and capitulation of Jameson's Marxism for an ineffectual postmodern perspective.]
Forever, it seems, Fredric Jameson has been described as “America’s leading Marxist critic.” Since the appearance of the challenging and sternly magisterial Marxism and Form in 1971, nobody else has had a shred of a claim to this title, certainly not now, when to be the foremost Marxist might seem a bit like being the leading manufacturer of typewriters, turntables, or four-wheel roller skates. The stature of Jameson, a Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature at Duke University, has survived the dissolution of that perennial embarrassment and drag on theory, “actually existing” socialism; it has survived, too, the general (if premature) decline of interest in Marx himself as a writer and theoretician. Jameson might even come to be regarded as the foremost, the greatest, the leading Marxist critic during the entire period of its influence in the academy. He may even be seen, some day, as having “transcended” Marxism itself. So powerful is his claim to preeminence that it is difficult to imagine it as contested,...
(The entire section is 7825 words.)
SOURCE: A review of The Seeds of Time, in Modern Philology, Vol. 94, No. 3, February, 1997, pp. 422-6.
[In the following review of The Seeds of Time, Foley finds Jameson's commentary useful despite its failure to address historical causality, praxis, and the relationship between utopia and communism.]
In The Seeds of Time, Fredric Jameson’s large imagination and insistent dissatisfaction with things as they are move us toward new insights into the nature of our postmodern malaise and new zones of cultural critique. In the first chapter, “The Antinomies of Postmodernity,” Jameson pursues the project of “cognitive mapping” proposed at the end of his Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, N.C., 1991). Arguing that “the age is clearly more propitious for the antinomy than the contradiction” (p. 2), Jameson outlines four symptomatic oppositions within which postmodern thought oscillates without resolution: between “absolute change” and “stasis” (p. 19); between a “global commodification” resulting in “spatial homogeneity” (p. 27) and a market-driven “individual hyperconsumption” resulting in “a well-nigh Bakhtinian carnival of heterogeneities” (p. 29); between a “profoundly formalist” (p. 43) philosophical antifoundationalism and a “passionately ecological revival of a sense of Nature” (p. 46) combined with a...
(The entire section is 1764 words.)
SOURCE: “It's Irony, Guv,” in New Statesman, February 26, 1999, pp. 55-7.
[In the following excerpt, Gott discusses Jameson's analysis of postmodernity in The Cultural Turn.]
Everyone now recognises that we live in a postmodern world. In architecture and design, in film and music, in art and fiction, in poetry and literary criticism, even in politics, postmodernity is everywhere on display: cynicism and levity, irony and pastiche, nostalgia coupled with historical amnesia, and decoration replacing substance. So obvious and widespread has the phenomenon become that people use this shorthand word with relaxed ease to describe the world around them.
This was not always so. Writing only ten years ago, the American critic Fredric Jameson noted that “the concept of postmodernism is not widely accepted or even understood today”. Yet so pervasive has been its influence and so rapid its popular assimilation, that Jameson’s latest book of essays has been given the stirring title of The Cultural Turn, suggesting that the arrival of the postmodern was not just another stage in the seamless development of culture, nor a mere kink, but a definitive change of direction that requires a more radical explanation of its emergence and future implications.
A critic and professor of literature at Duke University, Jameson has been worrying away at the meaning of...
(The entire section is 1260 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Brecht and Method, in Modern Drama, Vol. XLII, No. 2, Summer, 1999, pp. 286-9.
[In the following review, Gransow and Kleber offer a positive assessment of Brecht and Method.]
The nineties have brought an increase in both the quality and the quantity of Brecht studies in general, although improved archival access has so far not led to a new Brecht biography worth the name. Among the vast recent Brecht literature one book is outstanding: Fredric Jameson’s Brecht and Method. Professor of Comparative Literature at Duke University in North Carolina, Jameson is the author of many works, including the classic Postmodernism or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism and The Cultural Turn. Even before Brecht and Method was published, Fredric Jameson was regarded as one of the leading Marxist critics writing today. This book demonstrates amply that once again he has new insights to offer to Marxists and non-Marxists alike by exploring the connections between drama and politics. Jameson regards Brecht as important not because of his greatness or his canonicity but, rather, for his “usefulness” in a post—Cold War situation even more anti-Communist than in the good old days.
Jameson wants to show that Brecht’s “proposals” were more on the order of a method than a collection of facts, thoughts, convictions, first principles, and the...
(The entire section is 1490 words.)
SOURCE: “In the Faculty Club,” in Times Literary Supplement, August 20, 1999, p. 8.
[In the following review, Berger criticizes The Cultures of Globalization, which he finds “one-sided” and reflective of insular “faculty-club culture.”]
The Cultures of Globalization is a collection of papers delivered at a conference held in 1994 at Duke University. It is part of a series co-edited by the literary theorist Stanley Fish, and is dedicated to Edward Said. One notes these signifiers (if that is the correct term) with apprehension. And as one labours through almost 400 pages of the text, it becomes clear that the apprehension was justified.
It is not, of course, that the book’s topic is unimportant. The concept of globalization refers to a central reality of the contemporary world—the increasing dominance of a global capitalist system, which has immense consequences beyond its immediate economic facts. The political and social consequences have been in the forefront of both public and scholarly attention for some time: consequences such as the relative weakness of national governments in confronting global capital, or the fact that the global market generates winners and losers both between and within nation states. It is also clear that globalization has important cultural consequences. It is these that the present symposium addresses. It does so, however, in a...
(The entire section is 1404 words.)
Bjornson, Richard. Review of Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature by Fredric Jameson. Comparative Literature 45, No. 3 (Summer 1993): 300-03.
A review where Bjornson offers a positive assessment of Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature.
Bradbury, Malcolm. “Isn't That Spatial?” New York Times Book Review (12 April 1992): 32.
Review of Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.
Conroy, Mark. Review of Late Marxism, by Fredric Jameson. Southern Humanities Review XXVII, No. 4 (Fall 1993): 382-88.
Examines Jameson's analysis of Theodor Adorno in Late Marxism.
Csicsery-Ronay, Istvan, Jr. “Postmodern Technoculture, or, The Gordian Knot Revisited.” Science-Fiction Studies 19, No. 3 (November 1992): 403-10.
Review including discussion of Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.
Culler, Jonathan. “Language and Knowledge.” Yale Review LXII, No. 2 (December 1972): 290-6.
Review of The Prison-House of Language.
Harpham, Geoffrey Galt. “Postmodernism's Discontents.” Times Literary Supplement (28 June 1991): 8-9.
Review including discussion of Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late...
(The entire section is 532 words.)