“The Challenges of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy”

Raritan: A Quarterly

"A beautifully written, powerful and profound memoir.
It is quite, quite overwhelming. Each sentence rings like crystal."

--Joyce Carol Oates

" 'Green They Shone' : The Poem As Environment"

D.H. Lawrence Review
50th Anniversary Issue

"J. Hillis Miller's All Souls' Day: Formalism and Historicism in Victorian and Modern Fiction Studies"

Reading Nineteenth-Century Literature: Essays in Honor of J. Hillis Miller
Eds. Julian Wolfreys and Monika Szuba

Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press (UK)
New York: Oxford University Press (USA)


"The Feudal Unconscious:
Capitalism and the Family Romance"

October 159 (Winter 2017)
MIT Press

Now Available

Portuguese translation of THE MYTH OF POPULAR CULTURE (Blackwell Manifestos, 2010) now available from Tinta Negra (Rio de Janeiro, 2015)


O renomado crítico cultural americano Perry Meisel detona as noções convencionais sobre a divisão entre “alta” e “baixa” cultura.

O autor transita pela provocante teoria de que a cultura pop experimentou ritmos dialéticos. A hábil análise que o livro apresenta de três tradições culturais duradouras – o romance norte-americano, Hollywood, e o rock inglês e americano – nos leva a um ciclo histórico da cultura pop que tem Dante como ponto de partida e revisita ícones como Wahrol, Melville, Hemingway, Twain, Eisenstein, Benjamin, Scorsese e Sinatra.


The Myth of Popular Culture discusses the dialectic of "highbrow" and "lowbrow" in popular culture through an examination of literature, film, and popular music. With topics ranging from John Keats to John Ford, the book responds to Adorno's theory that popular culture is not dialectical by showing that it is.

Available as eBooks

COURSE IN GENERAL LINGUISTICS. Trans. Wade Baskin. Co-ed. with Haun Saussy. By Ferdinand de Saussure (Columbia University Press, 2011)

Blackwell Manifestos, 2010)

THE LITERARY FREUD (Routledge, 2007)




Alienating Alienation: Fredric Jameson's Revisionary Romance

by Perry Meisel

The Political Unconscious. By Fredric Jameson. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981.

Fables of Aggression: Wyndham Lewis, the Modernist as Fascist. By Fredric Jameson. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1979.

What stirred Freud on his first visit to Rome in 1901 - as it had George Eliot and Walter Pater before him - was the disconcerting lesson that the city's form was its content. It was decay, the very decay of Europe inscribed in the "Eternal City," that startled in Freud its recognition and defense. A modernist reading of this episode would gloss it as an allegory of the soul's privation in a world of crumbling values. Yet the revolutionary side of this, Freud's representative experience, is not allegorical but structural. For in such a moment of vision we find the exemplary collapse of the Romantic oppositions that had organized Freud's early thought and then transformed it: form/content, self/other, subject/object, reader/text, consciousness/unconscious.
It has taken years for the consequences of this collapse to spell itself out in the various disciplines or gazes it invokes. And only in the dissemination of (post-)structuralist thought over the last decade or so have the consequences grown formalized enough to produce anything like the mighty narratological machinery engineered in the United States by Fredric Jameson. Especially significant is that Jameson's most recent work - The Political Unconscious and Fables of Aggression: Wyndham Lewis, the Modernist as Fascist- goes out of its way to restore to criticism in the current continental mode what its often lewd and ignorant opposition claims it lacks: an ambition beyond mere "formalism," some evidence against its supposedly aggressive contempt for "referentiality." Both The Political Unconscious and Fables of Aggression are monuments to the renewal or, really, the reinsertion of what we might call the referential imperative that proceeds directly from (rather than against) what Jameson will polemically call the "windless closure of the formalisms."
Key to the problem of referentiality for Jameson's noninstrumental or nonmimetic view of language is the problem of what really mediates social life and literary language. If language doesn't simply mirror the world, in what fashion does it refer? Much of the strength of Jameson's revisionist Marxist intervention derives from the answer to the question provided by the French refocusing on what in Marx is crucial, a project historically analogous to the great though troubled rereading of Freud begun by Lacan and recentered by Laplanche and (silently and negatively) by Foucault. Lacan's counterpart in the Marxist tradition is Althusser, and Pierre Macherey Jameson's Laplanche. Even the title of Macherey's Theory of Literary Production (Paris, 1966) already reverberates with the metaphorical linkage it enacts - a rapprochement between the production of goods and the production of texts. Needless to say, Lacan's rereading of Freud lighted on a metaphor in psychoanalysis structurally similar to the metaphor of production in Marx (note also the advanced efficiency with which it explained both Freud's system and its revisionary ratios). In psychoanalysis what had been revalorized - largely by an act of retranslation - were the Freudian notions of psychic economy and psychic investment (the latter a reappropriation of James Strachey's Hellenizing version of Besetzung, "cathexis"). Marx's language allowed art and ideology to find far closer and reflexive relations to the means of production than they seemed to have before.
Though Jameson himself is quick to refute the production analogy as a homology (one evidence perhaps of his certain indebtedness to it), it is nonetheless from this level of presupposition that his project is set in motion. The rejection of homology is in fact part of what Jameson claims the restoration of the category of mediation makes plausible all over again, namely, the staggered or "dialogical" relation between the social order and its symbolic products. Rather than an isomorphic relation between base and superstructure - for example, the production of material goods is structurally equivalent to the production of cultural goods - Jameson proposes the (only slightly) more complex notion that artistic texts are ideological products that try to escape or outwit the contradiction inherent in the production of goods as such. Thus the task of ideological production is to rewrite the contradiction as a "coherent" narrative.
Central, then, is the definition of ideology, which Jameson takes from Althusser's deconstruction of the classic Marxist opposition between base and superstructure. Ideology, says Althusser, is "the imaginary representation of the subject's relationship to his or her real conditions of existence." Jameson "refines" Althusser's definition "by distinguishing between such an 'imaginary representation' and its narrative conditions of possibility." To determine the latter, Jameson revalorizes the aesthetic in such a way as to "complete" Althusser, as he puts it, by offering, in Fables of Aggression, the following notion of aesthetic value as a methodological proposition: "that great art distances ideology by the way in which, endowing the latter with figuration and with narrative articulation, the text frees its ideological content to demonstrate its own contradictions: by the sheer formal immanence with which an ideological system exhausts its permutations and ends up projecting its own ultimate structural closure." Hence the privileged status of literature as a means of studying in action what Gramsci called "hegemony." "Ideology is not something which informs or invests symbolic productions," writes Jameson in The Political Unconscious. "Rather the aesthetic act is itself ideological, and the production of aesthetic or narrative form is to be seen as an ideological act in its own right, with the function of inventing imaginary or formal 'solutions' to unresolvable social contradictions."
Thus Jameson's object is to intercept aesthetic form at is historical limit, indicating closures and/or breaks rather than narrating - overtly at least - a development or teleology that (in)directly causes or even governs the shifts his choice of texts enacts (modernism in the Lewis book, the movement from Balzac's classical realism to Conrad's impressionism in The Political Unconscious). And though ideology is narrative (and vice versa), history itself cannot be narrated as such because it is - Jameson uses another of Althusser's formulations - the always "absent cause" (like the Freudian unconscious) that the critic or historian can only reconstruct after the fact, as a paradigm or model installed retroactively by the act of analysis.
If Jameson's Marxism is largely Althusserian, the precise source of his methodological apparatus is in turn Lévi-Strauss's "The Structural Study of Myth," that central essay in which (the) myth(ological) is apprehended (as Barthes would also show) as an ideological structure. This structure is ideological in Althusser's exact sense: "as the imaginary resolution," as Jameson puts it, "of a real contradiction." But the myth's ideology is also structural, yielding thus to the analysis of its terms. Presented at length in The Political Unconscious, the Jamesonian "permutational scheme" (in his usage, always referred to as a combinatoire) is a structuralist invention designed to supersede the impossible options now open to "normal" criticism: "between antiquarianism and modernizing 'relevance' or projection." Such a "double bind" is especially familiar - indeed, exacerbated - in the study of pre-Romantic writers such as Shakespeare (did Hamlet have a "character problem" before the nineteenth century gave him one?), the history of whose criticism is, more than any other, a history of criticism's own historical determinations. In pre-Renaissance writers such as Chaucer, the "double bind" is especially obvious, forced as scholars are to choose between Talbot Donaldson's modernist, virtually Proustian reading of Chaucerian narration and D.W. Robertson's absolutist historicism, insisting, contra Donaldson, that Chaucer is unreadable without learning one's way back into the knowledge and presuppositions of the Middle Ages - only, of course, to remain there.
The specific elements Jameson has plugged into Lévi-Strauss's compensation structure are each familiar enough (semiotics, psychoanalysis, Marxism), although it is in the exchange among the three levels of analysis it projects that its peculiar strength is to be found. Before showing how the combinatoire works in practical criticism, let us quickly sketch its components in more detail:
(1) The introduction of Greimas's semiotic rectangle in order to diagram the binary oppositions that organize a given fiction's options: the ideals to which its world can aspire (usually through its characters), and the levels to which it can sink.
(2) The use of psychoanalysis at a Derridean level of apprehension: that is, narrative (like memory or language) as an exercise in simultaneous cancellation and preservation (the model of mind that emerges in Freud's "Note on the 'Mystic-Writing Pad'").
(3) The use of an Althusserian notion of mediation which seeks the closures of the resolution that a given text tries to perform upon its own "raw materials." It is also at this level that we see what Jamesonian mediation promises to produce: that opening onto the real or to history that emerges against the horizon of ideological closure dis-closed by the first two steps of analysis (what a given text resists, its "absent or unrepresentable infrastructural limiting system"). Thus the modernist ideology of ressentiment as Jameson describes it in an unlikely chapter on Gissing - the familiar modernist ideology of a restive resistance to civilization - becomes itself no more than the inverse of the order to which it is opposed, and so exposes not only the slavery of avant-garde sensibility to the master it seeks to dethrone, but also the shared capture of both sides of the (now sham) struggle within the same epistemic closure. Liberation and repression can be thought only in relation to each other.
In Fables of Aggression, Jameson appeals to Deleuze's and Guattari's distinction between the molecular and molar levels of narrative as a means of shifting his gaze from one level of his combinatoire to another, the levels in turn of a narrative's molecular and micro-components ("style," figural motifs) and its shaping or containing strategies at a more holistic level (often that of genre, such as the imposition of a romance tag in the second half of Lord Jim). Nor is the "unity" of a work what the combinatoire is designed to register and unpack.
From Jameson's point of view, the novel is therefore a privileged form, not only because it is the classic site of production of the bourgeois subject, nor even because ideology understood as narrative has no more exact expression than in the mechanisms of prose fiction. No, the novel is significant above all because it is a genre that takes earlier genres - as well as the codes of contemporary social life and value and their histories - as its own "raw materials" or "ideologemes." Jameson's notion of the novel is, from the start, that of the representation of representations even in its moments of realist desire. For even the classical realist is in fact reflexive, since the signifiers of his text are drawn from the signs that constitute the culture he depicts: if life itself is a matrix of sign systems, then representational art is always already a kind of (meta)commentary. Here the full extent of Jameson's particular debt to Bakhtin emerges, since these representations or ideologemes are the sedimented inheritances of social and aesthetic laws of every kind and description, laws or languages with which a "novel" (including what Jameson calls the "artificial" or vernacular epic) is, by definition, in constant and polyphonic dialogue (Bakhtin's "heteroglossia" or "dialogism" proper).
How does the combinatoire work in practice? In truncated form in a reading of Wuthering Heights: The question of Heathcliff's status as villain or hero is dismissed as a "disguise," his apparent centrality merely a function of his role as donor in the sedimented genre of the folktale (here Propp emerges behind Greimas) at work in the novel as an ideologeme. Though Heathcliff is no longer "the hero or protagonist in any sense of the word," the text nonetheless "deliberately" projects such a "misreading" to cover his function as "a mediator and a catalyst" in "his twofold mission . . . to restore money to the family and to reinvent a new idea of passion." (The habits of mind produced by this kind of narratological exercise even allow Jameson such provocative throwaways as the following brief meditation on the nature of tragedy and our customary interpretation of it: "Neither Creon nor Iago can be read as villains without dispersing the tragic force of the plays; yet our irresistible temptation to do so tells us much about the hold of ethical categories on our mental habits.")
With Jameson's reading of Balzac, we can watch the combinatoire stretch out a bit more. The semiotic rectangle allows Jameson to map out social inconsistencies or contradictions in a given novel as precise antinomies. Presented as a series of logical permutations, they offer fictional ways out of the "intolerable closure" of thought and action described by the diagram in order to produce a "solution" realizable only at the level of the imaginary or ideological. Thus in La Vieille Fille, Mademoiselle Cormon's two suitors come to represent (as productions of the "anthropomorphic combinations" of historically given possibilities that generate "characters") a double bind with no apparent escape: the impossible coexistence of Napoleonic energy and bourgeois impotence on the one hand (Du Bousquier) and, on the other, of languor and the (once-)legitimate power of the ancien regime (the Chevalier). Mademoiselle Cormon is thus denied an acceptable "match" from either point of view, since neither produces the ideal permutation that history has already taken away: energy combined with aristocracy. Hence the appearance of the exiled aristocratic officer, the Count de Troisville, who represents in a single figure what the other two cannot: the "legitimacy" of an aristocratic lineage and the almost "bourgeois" energy of a Napoleon. But because the count is already married, the solution or "match" can be thought at the only level proper to it - the imaginary. The count's emergence produces what Jameson calls the novel's "horizon figure," one who "blocks out a place which is not that of empirical history but of a possible alternate one: a history in which some genuine restoration would still be possible, provided the aristocracy could learn this particular object lesson, namely that it needs a strong man who combines aristocratic values with Napoleonic energy."
With Conrad we come to the edge of the history The Political Unconscious narrates (the earlier Lewis book continues the later one's historical trajectory into modernism proper), largely because Conrad's work embodies a "fault line" at which the nineteenth-century reduction of experience to the psychological subject reaches its outer limit. What Jameson calls Conrad's "sensorium" - the tendency of perceptual impressions to replace the objects which prompt them - is a "strategy of aestheticization," which turns the object world into a virtual museum by means of fetishizing the "independence of the image," thus recontaining it politically. Hence emerge (as one theorization) those ideologies of autonomous art, formalism, and so on, that may be said to (be able to) derive from the novel's first part (and that Conrad himself sought to guard against even earlier in the preface to The Nigger of the 'Narcissus'). And yet because this first theorization threatens to collapse under the burden of what it represses, the text must produce a second part that will recontain what is socially dangerous in it (here we may recall too that Conrad interrupted composition of the novel at its midpoint):
On the one hand the manifest level of the content of Lord Jim . . . gives us to believe that the "subject" of this book is courage and cowardice, which we are meant to interpret in ethical and existentializing terms; on the other, the final consumable verbal commodity - the vision of the ship - the transformation of all these realities into style and the work of what we will call the impressionistic strategy of modernism whose function is to derealize the content and make it available for consumption on some purely aesthetic level; while in between these two, the brief clang from the boiler room that drives the ship marking the presence beneath ideology and appearance of that labor which produces and reproduces the world itself, and which, like the attention of God in Berkeleyan idealism, sustains the whole fabric of reality continuously in being . . . .

Thus the second half of Lord Jim is, according to Jameson, little more than melodrama (shades of the later Conrad?), which functions to recognize the explosive possibilities of the first half under the (now-)archaic genre of romance. Lord Jim becomes, then, an "ideological fable designed to transform into a matter of individual existence what is in reality a relationship between collective systems and social forms."
Focused as it is on the self-erasing structure of ideology or "mythology," Jameson's exemplary reading of Conrad's novel is obviously not limited to use of modernist, novelistic, or even canonical texts alone. The same sort of operation motivates many television advertisements today: Beta Max commercials, for example, about the simultaneous marriage of quadruplets - copies of copies for copies - bearing the "unifying" or recontaining "logo" "the one and only"; or even news shows advertising paintings of their video images as proof of their "originality." (Mary Tyler Moore had already only a few years before demystified the latter by making the production of a news show its enabling comic fiction.) Jameson's analysis of founding modernist documents such as Lord Jim, then, actually uncovers and elaborates the paradigm that produces ideological formations even in their broadest contemporary manifestations in popular culture.
Nostromo, too, indicates the limits of its ideological closure, but, as Jameson shows, in a way that inverts the strategy of Lord Jim, and, in the process, allows the later novel to touch upon history in a manner the earlier one cannot. For in Nostromo, the apparently psychological or personal drama of Decoud and Nostromo produces the emergence of the far more genuinely public drama that they secretly represent: "a narrative production of society itself" in their passage from nature to culture as they cross the gulf with their lighter of silver. But the cost of this production (the nuances of its development are too elaborate to recapitulate here) is the repression of one form of popular insurrection in the service of the new culture (the Montero brothers, whose "caesarism," as Jameson calls it, disallows them the right to represent "democracy" in a separatist occidental republic), in favor of another version, that of old Viola and the spirit of Garibaldi. The phenomenon, says Jameson, is "akin to Freudian splitting," whereby the "bad double" of the Monteros is canceled (even as it is preserved) by the valorization, instead, of the European (and so "properly" Latin) representation of revolution.
In the earlier Fables of Aggression, the combinatoire (there only implicitly formulated) performs similar work on Wyndham Lewis's corpus, and allows us to see the strategy of recontainment at work in a starker manner than in either Balzac or Conrad. At the molecular level of Lewis's sentences, argues Jameson, the trope of hypallage is privileged and therefore symptomatic: this is the trope by which an adjective comes to refer to a substantive different from the one to which it is assigned by the grammatical context. The opening of Lewis's 1917 Cantleman's Spirng Mate displays hypallage exactly: "Cantleman walked in the strenuous fields . . . ." Thus, remarks Jameson, "The attributes of actor or act are transferred onto the dead scenery . . . . 'Properties' come loose and stick to the wrong places." Metaphor, to put it another way, yields up its secret status as metonymy, thus collapsing the sacred difference between the languages of prose and poetry (at least in Jakobson's influential reading). And the point of Lewis's aggressive use of hypallage? To "transform the figurative into the literal," and so to "kick . . . away the metaphorical apparatus by which we have risen into the figural."
Before the consequences of such a claim rebound upon the later Lewis, however, the simple recontainment strategy of the "national allegory" of his early fiction will do, since his text does little to threaten it, hence gives it little to repress. "National allegory," after all, retains all those categories of essence and original qualities (racial type and so on) that are in fact vouchsafed by a prose that believes itself closer to the real than any literary language before it. For any speech with so much faith in its ability to achieve a higher verisimilitude must presume not only the existence of a natural and/or object world independent of language, but also the existence of fixed, universal essences that metaphysically - rather than socially - determine the fabric of social law from a transhistorical, archetypal, ultimately racist point of view.
The break in Lewis's career comes, however, when the earlier molecular strategy of a "literal" prose ends up deconstructing the conditions of its own possibility, admitting the price of its readability:
This complex narrative operation thus involves a four-term process. The novelist establishes an initial "literal" (which is to say, "fictive") situation, only immediately to fragment it into the building blocks and components of a new allegorical and thematic textual narrative, which has little enough thematic relationship to the original. The reader is then obliged to begin with the fragments of the allegory, which must be reconstructed in narrative form before the first-degree or "realistic" narrative can be deduced and inserted beneath the text as the latter's signified.
Yet this signified exists nowhere: it is an evanescent effect of the reader's own "prior knowledge" or existential experience, which comes before him/her with the force of something already known, something recognized, rather than witnessed for the first time.

So in order to repress the inauthenticity (in the Frankfurt Jameson's vocabulary) of modern life, Lewis is forced to invent a new kind of molar recontainment that will repress - that will (in the vocabulary of the Derridean Jameson) preserve and cancel at one and the same time - the utterly figurative nature of the "raw materials" of both life and literature. And what danger does its leakage threaten to expose? That of the "crisis" of the "authentic self," as it is dispersed into a vortex of ideologemes, transformed into what Jameson calls, following Jean-Francois Lyotard, a "libidinal apparatus." So the new vision that "displaces the crisis of the self" as it is decentered into a force field of dialogical proportions is the recontaining myth of the "strong personality" (Lewis's "proto-fascism" and its lineage in the earlier "national allegory"). By aligning the determinate possibilities of existence in a semiotic rectangle that allows only such judgments as weak/strong, mediocre/masterful, the only possible imaginary solution is that of the "strong personality."
To resuscitate Lewis, however, is also (and here Jameson follows Lewis himself exactly) to dismiss those canonical modernists situated squarely within Romantic tradition such as Joyce and Virginia Woolf. The repression (through a strong misreading) of Woolf and Joyce alike is symptomatic at a number of levels, especially when we remember that the "libidinal apparatus" is dramatized with far more pungency and authority in Woolf (or even Lawrence) than in Lewis (that "jar on the nerves," as Woolf puts it, skewing subjectivity in her fiction); or even more, when we recall that the decentering of the subject at the mercy of the raw materials of the vortex becomes an older Stephen Dedalus's overweening preoccupation in Ulysses. Of course, the flooding of a weak novelist by a strong critic is probably the real motivation for both Jameson's choice of Lewis and the swerve from canonical orthodoxy, even though the strategy carries in its train other side effects as well, especially the questionable endorsement of only those writers who practice an overtly "dialogical" prose fiction - James and Beckett in particular. (Why Jameson is willing to grant a separatist legitimacy to a postmodern literature still almost wholly within the debt of Joyce remains enigmatic.)
Surely, then, the dialogical appeals to Jameson not only because it describes the novel equally well from both a dialectical and a differential point of view, but also because it mirrors the structure of his own imagination so neatly. As a tissue of relations to other discourses and traditions, Jameson's own discourse constantly shifts its relations to its relations - moving, most characteristically, from Derrida in one phrase to the Frankfurt hermeneutic in the next - and can thereby change its entire range or play of epistemological coordinates from moment to moment in a transpositional strategy at once exhilarating and exasperating. To invoke Jameson's use of Bakhtin in his own defense is therefore a necessity as Jameson moves through the dialogical operations of the combinatoire by means of what he himself calls an "unavoidable shifting of gears." But whether this is all a calculated effect or simply the overflow of a sensibility overdetermined to the point of saturation remains for us to consider. Does Jameson's text, dialogical as it may be, perform the "critical return upon itself" that Jameson maintains all texts should display as a sign of auto-accountability, of what he calls the necessity of "reflexive play" in analysis?


Surely the relative autonomy that Althusser gives to art requires aesthetic discourse to play at the limits of its possibilities. Jameson is, of course, a critic at the limit, but also a critic at a moment of crisis as he comes into his maturity. However, can we legitimately address Jameson's project in the vocabulary of those now-suspect Romantic terms: development, style? And what of Jameson's often rawly layered prose, an insufficient irony, even an insufficient truculence? Can we say such things without presuppositions of personality and expressiveness that the Derridean (if not the Frankfurt) conscience forbids? Is Jameson's intent simply to reject the problem of style altogether in favor of a dialogism that can border on a resurrection of the Imitative Fallacy? Does Jameson genuinely relinquish the pose of the critic as sensibility in favor of the critic as mere functionary or sieve for the knowledges (sciences) that leak through his text? Or, by contrast, is Marxism itself an elaborate defense mechanism by which he can, in conscience, allow himself to dodge the question of his status as a writer under the shelter of the collective?
Lest we be accused of ideological capture by speaking of what may seem to be "style" in the quaint sense, let us recall that our purpose is not to reconstitute an Author, but to indicate gaps in the text's accounting machinery. One trope by which we can intervene in the problem of thinking the "collective" (for we do retain, as Deleuze and Guattari remind us, our "bodies" and our "pleasures") is to reconsider that agency identified by another hybrid kind of criticism as the Reader (the best of it indebted to the last, decisive paragraphs of Barthes's "Death of the Author"). Who is the Reader if not precisely that absent but organizing agency that Jameson seeks in his attempt to find an equally totalizing subject to follow, even to rival (with all the requisite epistemological hedges) history in Althusser's sense, or the unconscious in Freud's? And what better model to mediate not only the dialogical relations already in place in a text of the past (Jameson's aim), but also to mediate in turn the additional relation of the belated Reader to the dialogical brew?
And yet despite whatever accommodations may be possible at the level of redefining the collective, grayer difficulties emerge when we consider the stamina with which Jameson defends the classical Marxist notion of alienation within the vortex of a postauthenticist deconstruction of the mythology of voice and presence (hence it is tempting to reconsider the trope of alienation, like much of the terminology of classical Marxism, as an ideologeme in its own right). From an immediate point of view, of course, no one can doubt that certain laborers are alienated from their work by a structure of relation quite different from the intellectual's. And yet to insist, as Jameson does, on a relative identity is not only to presume some "nature" from which "we" are supposedly estranged, but also to reconstitute that homology between the production of goods and of thought that Jameson himself rejects.
As the Lewis book attests, Jameson knows well enough that alienation is not simply the precondition of the artist as we know him. It is (also) his precise goal. In the Romantic case above all, the "originality" of the artist and his work - even of personality as such - is a product of precisely the degree of alienation from precedent that allows us to see something else, something "new" emerge from its sources in force fields whose agency the "new" text wishes to cancel ("individual talent") even as it preserves ("tradition"). This is, of course, the very structure of Lewis's problematic (and therefore exemplary) modernity, the separation that defines connection that in turn requires separation that in turn requires connection, and so on. Jameson correctly identifies this chiasmatic or transgressive schema as the recurrent structure of the modernist imagination, but the curious denial of its primary novelistic exponents returns again as a symptom that must mean something else.
Why, then, the repression of Romantic modernism despite its even richer possibilities for Jameson's argument than Lewis? Largely because it allows Jameson to repress that which Marx seems to go out of his way to avoid but which The Political Unconscious reconstitutes - or, better, recontains - in its final, and quite unexpected, chapter. There Jameson simply asserts an avowedly utopist view of what we might call the "socialist projection," a view of history as "a single vast unfinished plot," with the Marxist garden/resurrection marking the limits of its desire. Astonishingly enough - especially given the gear marked "Althusser" - here Jameson fully recuperates those apparently offhand Frankfurt tropes scattered throughout his text - the "fallen world of capitalism," the "radical impoverishment and constriction of modern life" - in order to produce the terms of an argument guaranteed (like the arguments of the canonical high modernists he deplores) to result in that Eliot/Lukacs (!) view of contemporary society as one of "reification" (the latter as much an ideologeme now as alienation). In fact, we may even say The Political Unconscious is structured very much like Lord Jim: it recontains at the molar level of the romance of Marxism the molecular level of deconstructive insurgencies of a practical critic who, like the text of the first part of Lord Jim, is already beyond the closure of the macro-text's inevitably frustrated strategy of recuperation. Despite Jameson's rejection of Hayden White's reading of Marxist historiography as romance in structure, Jameson quite clearly means to perceive the truth of the romance or the humanist argument - the Frankfurt reading of Marx - even as he cancels it with the voice of the French, Althusserian rereading. And to say that Marx is, like Hegel or Freud, a product of Romantic tradition anyway is to say nothing new.
By what transdiscursive authority, then, can Jameson speak of an ability to achieve what no philosophy has ever achieved - freedom from the closure his work describes? Even the simplest formulations make the problematic of prognosis a delicate one indeed, whether Freud's ("Only a wish can impel the psychic apparatus to activity"), or Marx's own, which reaches its limit in the fragility of the eleventh thesis on Feuerbach. The authority to which Jameson appeals, of course, is that of Marxism itself, to that (representation of a) "resistance to matter" which is, as he puts it, the crucial third term missing both in Derridean difference and in the (ultimately non-)dialectic of Hegel's master/slave relation. It is here that the ultimate instance of Jameson's self-accounting (or lack of it) emerges, and it lies in the difference, as it were, between dialectic and difference. Whether there is such a difference or not is the central but largely repressed question that Jameson himself raises only briefly, in the relative safety of an aside in Fables of Aggression. (In The Political Unconscious, he directly rejects any identity between the two procedures.) To try to mediate between a notion of differance and dialectic is, as Jameson suggests in an underdeveloped footnote in the later book, to appeal to another notion of temporality altogether (here the readerly alternative of Nachträglichkeit, or belatedness, recurs).
But the question remains: Do Derrida and, through Nachträglichkeit, Hegel, deconstruct Marx's "contradictions" into Foucault's chiasmatic, productive oppositions, the force fields of the symbolic, the very structure of ideological closure? If Marxism is a "romance" (whether Jameson assents or not), then its transcendental signified is the production of precisely that absent third term whose presence, as Jameson well knows (whether it is history, the unconscious, or the Real) is marked only by its absence. Indeed, the very reflexivity by which Jameson tries to have his garden and deconstruct it too is Derridean rather than properly dialectical (for the dialogical can also be read either way): "to invent a space from which to think . . . two identical yet antagonistic features together all at once." Of course, what emerges in this double definition is also what emerges when we note that the structure of surplus value in Marx - the difference between a worker's pay and the value of the object his labor produces, the classical measure of his alienation - is also the structure of signification as such for Derrida: the necessity of a surplus or residue of the always-already against which all that may be must come into being.


Despite these inevitable difficulties - even despite the fact that the irritation they often engender can become an odd source of pleasure - we owe to Jameson, as to no other Anglo-American critic, the debt of a profound politico-aesthetic revelation and example. It is not surprising, then, to find that, unlike the relatively recent Fables of Aggression, the newer Political Unconscious is addressed to a public rather more general than Jameson's work has presumed to address before. Life Geoffrey Hartman's Criticism in the Wilderness, it is additional evidence of avant-garde criticism giving way to the necessity of a more public stance, already a symptom of the resistance to theory that now becomes a subject in its own right. Such resistance suggests, of course, that public issues of the gravest significance are at question, especially the question of political action itself. Given Jameson's attraction to Nietzsche's deconstruction of antinomies such as good and evil, might not his own ideologemic position suggest in turn the historicization of left and right as we crest a new wave in history?
Jameson's most powerful contribution to the politics of theory, then, is not simply the referential yield of his rigorous discipleship to European criticism, nor even the practical fusion his work enacts between New York social criticism and New Haven close analysis. It lies instead, in the final instance, in the force with which it pressures the necessity, intentional or not, of rethinking the political agenda through the cautionary epistemologies that Europe has produced as the price for its dead.

Originally published in October 22, Fall 1982