[FoRK] No Territories For These Maps

Jeff Bone jbone at place.org
Sat Sep 25 18:43:12 PDT 2010


Fredric Jameson Biography
(b. 1934), Marxism and Form, The Prison House of Language, langue,  
parole, The Political Unconscious

American literary critic and cultural theorist. Jameson'scontributions  
to contemporary cultural studies can be divided into four areas:  
Marxist theories of culture and ideology; synthesis of Marxism and  
poststructuralism; critical analysis of poststructuralists such as  
Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida; and Postmodernism.

Marxism and Form (1971) contains thorough critical accounts of key  
twentieth‐century Marxist theorists. Three aspects of this text  
adumbrate Jameson's later and more influential work:

his treatment and privileging of a specific area of culture (in this  
case literature) as a microcosm offering important insights into the  
workings of capitalist ideology;
his taking up of the Frankfurt School's (and particularly Theodor  
Adorno's) emphasis on cultural mass production and commodification as  
central to any understanding of contemporary culture;
his development of Adorno's thesis that cultural mass production is  
creating a more complex world that is no longer explicable purely in  
terms of traditional Marxist notions of class ideology.
The Prison House of Language (1972) constitutes Jameson's first major  
Marxist engagement with post‐structuralist theory, although only by  
way of descriptions and critiques of some of poststructuralism's  
antecedents—formalism, structuralism, and, particularly, Saussurean  
linguistics. His first goal is to contextualize and historicize the  
development of formalism and structuralism by identifying strong  
similarities and lines of connection between those theories and  
diverse movements, including late romanticism and symbolism. His  
second aim is to demonstrate, partly via Émile Benveniste's critique  
of Saussure, that Saussurean linguistics, and consequently  
structuralism, are flawed theoretically because of their “bracketing  
off” of extrinsic conditions. Jameson's point is that by emphasizing  
and hierarchizing the distinction between the synchronic and the  
diachronic, Saussure locks himself into a kind of linguistic idealism.  
Jameson identifies other Saussurean distinctions—langue and parole,  
paradigm and syntagm—as evidence of Saussure's and structuralism's  
omissions at the levels of both “historical consciousness” and  
technical analysis.

The Political Unconscious (1981b) attempts to synthesize various  
aspects of poststructuralist and postmodernist theory with Marxism.  
Jameson's method is simultaneously dialectical and polemical as he  
seeks to demonstrate the superiority of Marxist theory through its  
ability to incorporate, synthesize, and finally transcend other bodies  
of theory. Its central arguments (the theoretical reconciliation of  
Jean‐Paul Sartreand Louis Althusser, the accommodation of Althusser  
within a Hegelian perspective) are complex. One of its more obvious  
concerns, however, is the use of Althusser and  
Althusser'sappropriation of Jacques Lacan as an antidote to what  
Jameson understands as Derrida's and Foucault's critiques of the  
“reality” of history. Whereas Derrida and Foucault, in their  
different ways, read history as a discursive production predicated on  
a Nietzschean will to power, Jameson wants to insist, first, that  
history is both text and narrative and more than text or narrative  
and, second, that only Marxism can provide an adequate account of the  
workings of history.

While Jameson accepts the uncertainty of textual mediation, he locates  
history beyond representation or knowledge as the repressed, the  
political unconscious. History is a lack (that which cannot be  
represented) that guarantees the fullness of a Marxist grand  
narrative. By taking up, somewhat loosely, Althusser's appropriation  
of Lacan and the Lacanian notion of the “Real” as something that  
can be discerned through its “prior textualization, its  
narrativization in the political unconscious,” Jameson both accepts  
and posits a move beyond the poststructuralist notion of history as  

In his 1984 New Left Review article, “Postmodernism, or the Cultural  
Logic of Late Capitalism,” Jameson argues that postmodernist culture  
and theory are products of late capitalism. Then, he specifically  
identifies what he takes to be the five main characteristics of  
postmodernist culture, describes and anlayzes the disintegration of  
the bouregois subject and the loss of aesthetic “distance”, and  
relates these points to questions of epistemology, the workings of  
ideology, and the possibilities for political activity. Jameson makes  
use of postmodernist theories and evaluations of contemporary life and  
culture (particularly Jean Baudrillard's) but then argues that Marxist  
theory offers the only possibility for any kind of useful explication  
of postmodernism and its politics.

Jameson reads postmodernism as simultaneously refuting and confirming  
Marxist theories of history and politics. Developments in postmodern  
art, architecture, literature, music, cinema, and the mass media, not  
to mention the crisis with regard to notions of class, ideology,  
history, social democracy, and the welfare state, all denote “a  
radical break … generally traced back to the end of the 1950s or the  
early 1960s” (Jameson, 1991). Postmodern theories are useful for  
identifying and sketching these changes, but for Jameson their  
denunciation of grand narratives, their celebration of heterogeneity,  
and their supposed ahistoricism must be understood as symptoms and  
products of late multinational capitalism.

Jameson identifies five main characteristics of postmodernist culture:  
the loss of a useful distinction between high and low culture; the  
domestication of once‐subversive modernist and postmodernist works of  
art; the complete commodification of culture; the fragmentation of the  
bourgeois subject; and the loss of any sense of temporal distinction  
and historicity. Depth models based on pairings such as inside and  
outside, latent and manifest, authentic and inauthentic, essence and  
appearance, and signifier and signified now give way, according to  
Jameson, to notions of practice, play, and surface.

How does a Marxist hermeneutics or historical materialism address an  
age supposedly characterized by the disappearance of any notion of  
depth and the inability to think historically? And how does an  
individual or a group respond to a hegemonic late capitalism that has  
effaced not only itself but subjects and groups as well? Jameson's  
response is to put forward the notion of cognitive mapping. Jameson  
takes his cue from Kevin Lynch's The Image of the City (1960), which  
argues that when city residents are “unable to map (in their minds)  
either their own positions or the urban totality in which they find  
themselves,” they “construct … an articulated ensemble which can  
be retained in memory and which the individual subject can map and  
remap along the moments of mobile, alternative  
trajectories” (Jameson, 1991, p. 51).

Jameson justifies this turn to the notion of cognitive mapping in the  
same manner that he argues for the importance of the political  
unconscious in mediating history: via appeals to Althusser and Lacan.  
He posits an analogy between Lynch'salienated and dislocated urban  
dwellers and the Althusserian subject, who attempts to negotiate  
ideological representations of “their Imaginary relationship to his  
or her Real conditions of existence.” Cognitive mapping, for Jameson,  
is the one way a subject can negotiate the self‐effacing and  
hegemonic totality that is late capitalism. The concept bears some  
resemblance toMichel de Certeau's notion of practice and to Pierre  
Bourdieu's notion of habitus. Most of Jameson's subsequent work is  
largely concerned, however, with specifying and theorizing the  
workings of cognitive mapping.

Since 1990, Jameson has published Late Marxism (1990),Signatures of  
the Visible (1990), an enlarged version ofPostmodernism, or the  
Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism(1991), and The Geopolitical  
Aesthetic (1992). Signatures of the Visible argues that visual texts  
and culture occupy preeminent positions in post‐modernist culture and  
attempts to historicize this development so as to “get a handle on  
increasing, tendential, all‐pervasive visuality.” The Geopolitical  
Aesthetic's main concern is to connect Jameson's notion of cognitive  
mapping with his theories of visual culture. Jameson reads certain  
contemporary films as instances of a tendency toward cognitive mapping  
and divides his examples into two groups. The first section of the  
text seeks to “document the figuration of conspiracy as an attempt  
… to think a system so vast that it cannot be encompassed by the  
natural and historically developed categories of perception with which  
human beings normally orient themselves.” The second section analyzes  
film narratives that collapse ontology and geography and that  
“endlessly process images of the unmappable system.” Both instances  
can be understood, for Jameson, as symptoms of an attempt or desire to  
once again read and explicate spaces and terrains; therein, for  
Jameson, “lies the beginning of wisdom.”

[See also Althusser; Bourdieu; Foucault; Postmodernism; and  

Bibliography and More Information aboutFredric Jameson
Jameson, F. Marxism and Form. Princeton: Princeton University Press,  
Jameson, F. The Prison House of Language: A Critical Account of  
Structuralism and Russian Formalism. Princeton: Princeton University  
Press, 1972.
Jameson, F. Fables of Aggression: Wyndham Lewis, the Modernist as  
Fascist. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981a.
Jameson, F. The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially  
Symbolic Act. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1981b.
Jameson, F. Late Marxism: Adorno, or the Persistence of the Dialectic.  
London: Verso, 1990.
Jameson, F. Signatures of the Visible. London: Routledge, 1990.
Jameson, F. Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.  
Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991.
Jameson, F. The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World  
System. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.
Jameson, F. The Seeds of Time. New York: Columbia University Press,  
Lynch, K. The Image of the City. Cambridge, Mass.: Technology Press,  
—Tony Schirato

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