The Political Unconscious : Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act, Paperback Book

The Political Unconscious : Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act Paperback

3 out of 5 (1 rating)


In this ground-breaking and influential study Fredric Jameson explores the complex place and function of literature within culture.

At the time Jameson was actually writing the book, in the mid to late seventies, there was a major reaction against deconstruction and poststructuralism.

As one of the most significant literary theorists, Jameson found himself in the unenviable position of wanting to defend his intellectual past yet keep an eye on the future.

With this book he carried it off beautifully. A landmark publication, The Political Unconscious takes its place as one of the most meaningful works of the twentieth century.century.


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On one level, I like Jameson a lot. I agree with him about a lot of important stuff: yes, most art contains hefty doses of ideology (lies we tell ourselves so we feel better about living in a crappy world) and utopian hope (desire to live in a better world than ours). Yes, to understand this you need to pay attention to history and not just the book/movie/painting/building/symphony. Yes, it's a nice idea to read stories as attempts to solve real world problems. <br/>But there's plenty not to like about this book. Primarily, Jameson treats the authors he writes about as naughty schoolboys who *never* tell the truth. Young Conrad, you keep telling me you're writing about the late-Victorian culture of honor, but I know better. Present thy buttocks for a class-war** caning! Whack! 'Lord Jim' is a proto-existentialist philosophy of the act, and you know it! Whack! This philosophy of the act demoralizes the capitalists and reveals to us, your reader, the omnipresence of class war! Whack! <br/>Why not say that Conrad had some frigging clue about what he was doing? Why not see that Lord Jim just is about the late-Victorian culture of honor, that it criticizes that culture, and then ask how that critique might fit in to an historical understanding of the time? Well, doing that wouldn't let Jameson spend endless pages constructing Greimasian structural-quadrilaterals that eliminate any sense that a plot moves. That wouldn't let him make pointless, ignorant arguments about the Bourgeois Subject. That wouldn't enable him to take random pot-shots at Henry James for believing that people think stuff sometimes. In short, he might have to admit that he's no cleverer than the authors he's reading. <br/>Let's do a Jamesonian reading of Jameson. The ideology is his insistence that structuralism and anti-humanism are somehow emancipatory, when experience (not to mention his reading of Adorno) should have taught him that they are deeply oppressive.*** Jameson's utopia, on the other hand, is his belief that literature matters to us, that it isn't just an autonomous formal jewel floating somewhere in the empyrean. Nice. <br/><br/><br/>** His insistence on 'class war' as *the* structure of all history just seems silly in contrast to the ideology stuff, but it's important to note why: the only definition of class that can hold this kind of weight is Marx's. His definition is: the bourgeoisie owns the means of production, everyone else is a proletariat. The problem should be clear. Lawyers, for instance, don't own the means of production; nor do plastic surgeons. By contrast, the owners of small bookstores do. Now class obviously hasn't been eliminated. But in a post-industrial society, the bourgeois/proletariat model no longer makes any sense in political terms. So, the only model of class conflict that can be a prime-mover of history no longer makes sense in political terms. We need to re-think any reliance on 'class' as said prime-mover.<br/><br/>*** By which I mean, capital itself is structuralist and anti-humanist; the unreflective use of structuralism and anti-humanism as 'radical' theories is just bowing down before the thing you're trying to undermine.

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