Fredric Jameson: Wikis


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Fredric Jameson
Full name Fredric Jameson
Born April 14, 1934 (1934-04-14) (age 75)
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Era 20th- / 21st-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Marxism
Main interests Postmodernism · Modernism · science fiction · Utopia · history · narrative · Cultural studies · dialectics · structuralism
Notable ideas cognitive mapping · national allegory · political unconscious

Fredric Jameson (born 14 April 1934) is an American literary critic and Marxist political theorist. He is best known for his analysis of contemporary cultural trends—he once described postmodernism as the spatialization of culture under the pressure of organized capitalism. Jameson's best-known books include Postmodernism: The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, The Political Unconscious, and Marxism and Form.

Jameson is currently William A. Lane Professor in The Program in Literature and Romance Studies at Duke University.


Life and works

Jameson was born in Cleveland, Ohio. After graduating from Haverford College in 1954, he briefly traveled to Europe, studying at Aix-en-Provence, Munich and Berlin, where he learned of new developments in continental philosophy, including the rise of structuralism. He returned to America the following year to pursue a doctoral degree at Yale University, where he studied under Erich Auerbach.

Early works

Erich Auerbach would prove to be a lasting influence on Jameson's thought. This was already apparent in the latter's doctoral dissertation, which would be published in 1961 as Sartre: the Origins of a Style. Auerbach's concerns were rooted in the German philological tradition; his works on the history of style analyzed literary form within social history. Jameson would follow in these steps, examining the articulation of poetry, history, philology, and philosophy in the works of Jean-Paul Sartre.

Jameson's work focused on the relation between the style of Sartre's writings and the political and ethical positions of his existentialist philosophy. The occasional Marxian aspects of Sartre's work were glossed over in this book; Jameson would return to them in the following decade.

Jameson's dissertation, though it drew on a long tradition of European cultural analysis, differed markedly from the prevailing trends of Anglo-American academia (which were empiricism and logical positivism in philosophy and linguistics, and New Critical formalism in literary criticism). It nevertheless earned Jameson a position at Harvard University, where he taught during the first half of the 1960s.

Research into Marxism

His interest in Sartre led Jameson to intense study of Marxist literary theory. Even though Karl Marx was becoming an important influence in American social science, partly through the influence of the many European intellectuals who had sought refuge from the Second World War in the U.S., such as Theodor Adorno, the literary and critical work of the Western Marxists were still largely unknown in American academia in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Jameson's shift toward Marxism was also driven by his increasing political connection with the New Left and pacifist movements. His research focused on critical theory thinkers of, and influenced by, the Frankfurt School such as Kenneth Burke, Gyorgy Lukács, Ernst Bloch, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse, Louis Althusser, and Sartre, who viewed cultural criticism as an integral feature of Marxist theory. This position represented a break with more orthodox Marxism-Leninism, which held a narrow view of historical materialism. In some ways Jameson has been concerned, along with other Marxist cultural critics such as Terry Eagleton, to articulate Marxism's relevance in respect to current philosophical and literary trends.

While the vulgar Marxist view of ideology held that the cultural "superstructure" was completely determined by the economic "base", the Western Marxists critically analyzed culture as a historical and social phenomenon alongside economic production and distribution or political power relationships. They held that culture must be studied using the Hegelian concept of immanent critique: the theory that adequate description and criticism of a philosophical or cultural text must be carried out in the same terms that text itself employs, in order to develop its internal inconsistencies in a manner that allows intellectual advancement. Marx highlighted immanent critique in his early writings, derived from Hegel's development of a new form of dialectic thinking that would, as Jameson comments, 'pull itself up by its bootstraps.'

Analysis of structuralism

At the same time, Jameson studied the main current alternative to Marxist analysis, as it was taking shape in Europe: the structuralist theory of language and literature. After moving to the University of California, San Diego in 1967, Jameson published Marxism and Form: Twentieth-Century Dialectical Theories of Literature (1971) and The Prison-House of Language: A Critical Account of Structuralism and Russian Formalism (1972).

Both these books attempted to engage with features of mainstream literary and academic life that Jameson perceived as tending toward detachment from reality. He criticized both the enshrining of the work of art as an object completely separate from the context of its production through the humanist praise of the artist and the anti-historical formalism derived from a restrictive interpretation of structuralist method. Jameson saw both trends as failures to perceive the key elements of the contemporary production and consumption of artistic objects. Jameson also held, as in previous works, that cultural objects must be understood according to cultural rules; he argued that careful and detailed analysis of cultural practices would reveal art and culture to be grounded in economic realities.

Jameson's work during the 1970s continued in this direction. It combined a multi-layered appraisal of literary texts, including genres and contemporary authors who were scarcely treated by academic studies, ranging from science fiction to Raymond Chandler, with theoretical discussions of ideology, modernism and literary history.

Narrative and history

History came to play an increasingly central role in Jameson's interpretation of both the reading (consumption) and writing (production) of literary texts. Jameson marked his full-fledged commitment to Hegelian-Marxist philosophy with the publication of The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act, the opening slogan of which is "always historicize" (1981). The Political Unconscious takes as its object not the literary text itself, but rather the interpretive frameworks by which they are now constructed. It emerges as a manifesto for new activity concerning literary narrative.

The book's argument emphasizes history as the 'ultimate horizon' of literary and cultural analysis. It borrowed notions from the structuralist tradition and from Raymond Williams's work in cultural studies, and joined them to a largely Marxist view of labor (whether blue-collar or intellectual) as the focal point of analysis. Jameson's readings exploited both the explicit formal and thematic choices of the writer and the unconscious framework guiding these. Artistic choices that were ordinarily viewed in purely aesthetic terms were recast in terms of historical literary practices and norms, in an attempt to develop a systematic inventory of the constraints they imposed on the artist as an individual creative subject. To further this metacommentary, he described the ideologeme, or "the smallest intelligible unit of the essentially antagonistic collective discourses of social classes."

Jameson's establishment of history as the only pertinent factor in this analysis, which derived the categories governing artistic production from their historical framework, was paired with a bold theoretical claim. Jameson's book claimed to establish Marxian literary criticism, centered in the notion of an artistic mode of production, as the most all-inclusive and comprehensive theoretical framework for understanding literature. The groundwork laid out in this book would serve as a basis for another of Jameson's best-known works.

The critique of postmodernism

"Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" was initially published in the journal New Left Review in 1984, during Jameson's tenure as Professor of Literature and History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz. This controversial article, which would later be expanded to a full-sized book in 1991, was part of a series of analyses of postmodernism from the dialectical point of view Jameson had developed in his earlier work on narrative. Jameson here viewed the postmodern "skepticism towards metanarratives" as a "mode of experience" stemming from the conditions of intellectual labor imposed by the late capitalist mode of production.

Postmodernists claimed that the complex differentiation between "spheres" or fields of life (such as the political, the social, the cultural, the commercial, etc.) and between distinct classes and rôles within each field, had been overcome by the crisis of foundationalism and the consequent relativization of truth-claims. Jameson argued, against this, that these phenomena had or could have been understood successfully within a modernist framework; postmodern failure to achieve this understanding implied an abrupt break in the dialectical refinement of thought.

In his view, postmodernity's merging of all discourse into an undifferentiated whole was the result of the colonization of the cultural sphere, which had retained at least partial autonomy during the prior modernist era, by a newly organized corporate capitalism. Following Adorno and Horkheimer's analysis of the culture industry, Jameson discussed this phenomenon in his critical discussion of architecture, film, narrative and visual arts, as well as in his strictly philosophical work. Two of Jameson's best-known claims from Postmodernism are that postmodernity is characterized by pastiche and a crisis in historicity. Jameson argued that parody (which requires a moral judgment or comparison with societal norms) was replaced by pastiche (collage and other forms of juxtaposition without a normative grounding). Relatedly, Jameson argued that the postmodern era suffers from a crisis in historicity: "there no longer does seem to be any organic relationship between the American history we learn from schoolbooks and the lived experience of the current, multinational, high-rise, stagflated city of the newspapers and of our own everyday life" (22).

Jameson's analysis of postmodernism attempted to view it as historically grounded; he therefore explicitly rejected any moralistic opposition to postmodernity as a cultural phenomenon, and continued to insist upon a Hegelian immanent critique. His failure to dismiss postmodernism from the onset, however, was perceived by many as an implicit endorsement of postmodern views.

Recent work

Jameson's later work has dispelled the perception that he is sympathetic to postmodern thought; however he approaches postmodern authors dialectically and does not merely dismiss their work. He turned to Adorno again in search of a contemporary theoretical framework for Marxian dialectics. He supplemented his critique of postmodernism with additional material, appearing first in a casebook compiled by Douglas Kellner in 1989 under the title Postmodernism/Jameson, Critique and then in the extended version of the 1984 article, published in book form as Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism in 1991 (see also reference to Ernest Mandel). This book earned him the Modern Language Association's Lowell Award.

During the 1990s Jameson further developed this line of thought in the 1994 Seeds of Time, in his Wellek Library lectures at the University of California, and in the 1998 Brecht and Method. This last was an analysis of the political and social context surrounding Brecht's political commitment.

Jameson's most recent work includes Archaeologies of the Future, a study of utopia and science fiction, launched at the Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, in December 2005; The Modernist Papers (2007), a collection of essays on modernism; and Valences of the Dialectic (2009), which includes Jameson's critical responses to Slavoj Zizek, Gilles Deleuze, and others. The Hegel Variations, a commentary on Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, is forthcoming from Verso Books. [1] A recent overview of Jameson's work, Fredric Jameson: Live Theory, by Ian Buchanan, was published in 2007. The first published Italian monograph about Jameson was written by Marco Gatto and published in 2008, with the title: "Fredric Jameson. Neomarxismo, dialettica e teoria della letteratura".

Holberg International Memorial Prize

On 16 September 2008 it was announced that Jameson received the Holberg International Memorial Prize for 2008.[2] The prize is NOK 4.6 million (c. $648,000) and Jameson received it from Tora Aasland, Norwegian Minister of Education and Research, in Bergen, Norway on 26 November 2008.[3]

Influence in China

The first edition cover of Jameson's Postmodernism and Cultural Theories, tr. Tang Xiaobing (1987, Shaanxi Normal University Press).

Jameson has had an enormous influence, perhaps greater than that of any other single figure of any nationality, on the theorization of the postmodern in China. In mid-1985, shortly after the beginning of the cultural fever (early 1985 to June Fourth, 1989)—a period in Chinese intellectual history characterized in part by intense interest in Western theories[4]—Jameson introduced the idea of postmodernism to China in lectures at Peking University and the newly founded Shenzhen University.[5][6] These were minor events amid the larger cultural ferment, yet ended up being quietly seminal: Jameson's ideas as presented at Peking University had a major impact on some gifted young students, including Zhang Yiwu and Zhang Xudong, budding scholars whose work would come to play an important role in the analysis of postmodernity in China.[7]

Notwithstanding the impact of these lectures on a few future intellectuals, 1987 was the date of Jameson's truly enormous contribution to postmodern studies in China: a book entitled Postmodernism and Cultural Theories (simplified Chinese: 后现代主义与文化理论pinyin: Hòu​xiàn​dài​zhǔ​yì yǔ​ wén​huà​ lǐ​lùn​), translated into Chinese by Tang Xiaobing. Although the Chinese intelligentsia's engagement with postmodernism would not begin in earnest until the nineties, Postmodernism and Cultural Theories was to become a keystone text in that engagement; as scholar Wang Ning writes, its influence on Chinese thinkers would be impossible to overestimate.[6] Its popularity may be partially due to the facts that it was not written in a scholarly style and that, because of Jameson's specific critical approach, it was possible to use the text to support either praise or criticism of the Chinese manifestation of postmodernity.[6] In Wang Chaohua's interpretation of events, Jameson's work was mostly used to support praise, in what amounted to a fundamental misreading of Jameson:

The caustic edge of Jameson's theory, which had described postmodernism as "the cultural logic of late capitalism," was abandoned for a contented or even enthusiastic endorsement of mass culture, which [a certain group of Chinese critics] saw as a new space of popular freedom. According to these critics, intellectuals, who conceived of themselves as the bearers of modernity, were reacting with shock and anxiety at their loss of control with the arrival of postmodern consumer society, uttering cries of "quixotic hysteria," panic-stricken by the realization of what they had once called for during the eighties.[5]

The Jameson- and specifically Postmodernism and Cultural Theories-fueled debate over postmodernism was at its most intense from 1994 to 1997, carried on by Chinese intellectuals both inside and outside the mainland; particularly important contributions came from Zhao Yiheng in London, Xu Ben in the U.S., and Zhang Xudong, also in the U.S., who had gone on to study under Jameson as a doctoral student at Duke.[5]



  • Sartre: The Origins of a Style. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1961.  
  • Marxism and Form: Twentieth Century Dialectical Theories of Literature. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1971.  
  • The Prison-House of Language: A Critical Account of Structuralism and Russian Formalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1972.  
  • Fables of Aggression: Wyndham Lewis, the Modernist as Fascist. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1979.  
  • The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. 1981.  
  • The Ideologies of Theory. Essays 1971–1986. Vol. 1: Situations of Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1988.  
  • The Ideologies of Theory. Essays 1971–1986. Vol. 2: The Syntax of History. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1988.  
  • Postmodernism and Cultural Theories (simplified Chinese: 后现代主义与文化理论pinyin: Hòu​xiàn​dài​zhǔ​yì yǔ​ wén​huà​ lǐ​lùn​). Tr. Tang Xiaobing. Xi'an: Shaanxi Normal University Press. 1987.
  • Late Marxism: Adorno, or, The Persistence of the Dialectic. London & New York: Verso. 1990.  
  • Signatures of the Visible. New York & London: Routledge. 1990.  
  • Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 1991.  
  • The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1992.  
  • The Seeds of Time. The Wellek Library lectures at the University of California, Irvine. New York: Columbia University Press. 1994.  
  • Brecht and Method. London & New York: Verso. 1998.  
  • The Cultural Turn. London & New York: Verso. 1998.  
  • A Singular Modernity: Essay on the Ontology of the Present. London & New York Verso. 2002.  
  • Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. London & New York: Verso. 2005.  
  • The Modernist Papers. London & New York Verso. 2007.  
  • Jameson on Jameson: Conversations on Cultural Marxism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 2007.  
  • Valences of the Dialectic. London & New York: Verso. 2009.  

Selected articles

Selected book reviews

  • Then You Are Them, a review of The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (London Review of Books September 10, 2009)
  • First Impressions, a review of The Parallax View by Slavoj Žižek (London Review of Books September 7, 2006)

Selected interviews


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Professor Fredric R. Jameson awarded Holberg Prize 2008". 16 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-17.  
  3. ^ "American cultural theorist awarded the Holberg Prize". Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Norway). 8 December 2008. Retrieved 19 December 2008.  
  4. ^ Zhang Xudong. "On Some Motifs in the Chinese 'Cultural Fever' of the Late 1980s: Social Change, Ideology, and Theory." Social Text 39 (Summer 1994): 129-156.
  5. ^ a b c Wang Chaohua. "Introduction: Minds of the Nineties." One China, Many Paths. Ed. Wang Chaohua. New York: Verso, 2003.
  6. ^ a b c Wang Ning. "The Mapping of Chinese Postmodernity." Postmodernism and China. Ed. Arif Dirlik and Xudong Zhang. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001.
  7. ^ Wang Hui. "The New Criticism." One China, Many Paths. Ed. Wang Chaohua. New York: Verso Books, 2003. Previously published, in an earlier version, as "Fire at the Castle Gate" in New Left Review 6 (November-December 2000): pp. 69-99.

See also

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