The Political Unconscious

The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act

Copyright Date: 1981
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
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    The Political Unconscious
    Book Description:

    Fredric Jameson, inThe Political Unconscious, opposes the view that literary creation can take place in isolation from its political context. He asserts the priority of the political interpretation of literary texts, claiming it to be at the center of all reading and understanding, not just a supplement or auxiliary to other methods current today.

    Jameson supports his thesis by looking closely at the nature of interpretation. Our understanding, he says, is colored by the concepts and categories that we inherit from our culture's interpretive tradition and that we use to comprehend what we read. How then can the literature of other ages be understood by readers from a present that is culturally so different from the past? Marxism lies at the foundation of Jameson's answer, because it conceives of history as a single collective narrative that links past and present; Marxist literary criticism reveals the unity of that uninterrupted narrative.

    Jameson applies his interpretive theory to nineteenth- and twentieth-century texts, including the works of Balzac, Gissing, and Conrad. Throughout, he considers other interpretive approaches to the works he discusses, assessing the importance and limitations of methods as different as Lacanian psychoanalysis, semiotics, dialectical analysis, and allegorical readings. The book as a whole raises directly issues that have been only implicit in Jameson's earlier work, namely the relationship between dialectics and structuralism, and the tension between the German and the French aesthetic traditions.

    The Political Unconsciousis a masterly introduction to both the method and the practice of Marxist criticism. Defining a mode of criticism and applying it successfully to individual works, it bridges the gap between theoretical speculation and textual analysis.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7157-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-6)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 7-8)
    (pp. 9-16)
    Fredric Jameson
  4. 1 ON INTERPRETATION: Literature as a Socially Symbolic Act
    (pp. 17-102)

    This book will argue the priority of the political interpretation of literary texts. It conceives of the political perspective not as some supplementary method, not as an optional auxiliary to other interpretive methods current today—the psychoanalytic or the mythcritical, the stylistic, the ethical, the structural—but rather as the absolute horizon of all reading and all interpretation.

    This is evidently a much more extreme position than the modest claim, surely acceptable to everyone, that certain texts have social and historical—sometimes even political—resonance. Traditional literary history has, of course, never prohibited the investigation of such topics as the...

  5. 2 MAGICAL NARRATIVES: On the Dialectical Use of Genre Criticism
    (pp. 103-150)

    The Marxian vision of history outlined in the previous chapter has sometimes, as we have observed, been described as a “comic” archetype or a “romance” paradigm.¹ What is meant thereby is the salvational or redemptive perspective of some secure future, from which, with William Morris’ Time Traveller, we can have our “fill of the pleasure of the eyes without any of that sense of incongruity, that dread of approaching ruin, which had always beset me hitherto when I had been among the beautiful works of art of the past.”² In such a future, indeed, or from its perspective, our own...

  6. 3 REALISM AND DESIRE: Balzac and the Problem of the Subject
    (pp. 151-184)

    The novel is the end of genre in the sense in which it has been defined in the previous chapter: a narrative ideologeme whose outer form, secreted like a shell or exoskeleton, continues to emit its ideological message long after the extinction of its host. For the novel, as it explores its mature and original possibilities in the nineteenth century, is not an outer, conventional form of that kind. Rather, such forms, and their remains—inherited narrative paradigms, conventional actantial or proairetic schemata¹—are the raw material on which the novel works, transforming their “telling” into its “showing,” estranging com...

  7. 4 AUTHENTIC RESSENTIMENT: Generic Discontinuities and Ideologemes in the “Experimental” Novels of George Gissing
    (pp. 185-205)

    Ideology necessarily implies the libidinal investment of the individual subject, but the narratives of ideology—even what we have called the Imaginary, daydreaming, or wish-fulfilling text—are equally necessarily collective in their materials and form. In this chapter, we will argue that the culture or “objective spirit” of a given period is an environment peopled not merely with inherited words and conceptual survivals, but also with those narrative unities of a socially symbolic type which we have designated as ideologemes.

    Such ideologemes are the raw material, the inherited narrative paradigms, upon which the novel as a process works and which...

  8. 5 ROMANCE AND REIFICATION: Plot Construction and Ideological Closure in Joseph Conrad
    (pp. 206-280)

    Nothing is more alien to the windless closure of high naturalism than the works of Joseph Conrad. Perhaps for that very reason, even after eighty years, his place is still unstable, undecidable, and his work unclassifiable, spilling out of high literature into light reading and romance, reclaiming great areas of diversion and distraction by the most demanding practice of style andécriturealike, floating uncertainly somewhere in between Proust and Robert Louis Stevenson. Conrad marks, indeed, a strategic fault line in the emergence of contemporary narrative, a place from which the structure of twentieth-century literary and culturalinstitutionsbecomes visible...

  9. 6 CONCLUSION: The Dialectic of Utopia and Ideology
    (pp. 281-300)

    The conception of the political unconscious developed in the preceding pages has tended to distance itself, at certain strategic moments, from those implacably polemic and demystifying procedures traditionally associated with the Marxist practice of ideological analysis. It is now time to confront the latter directly and to spell out such modifications in more detail. The most influential lesson of Marx—the one which ranges him alongside Freud and Nietzsche as one of the great negative diagnosticians of contemporary culture and social life—has, of course, rightly been taken to be the lesson of false consciousness, of class bias and ideological...

  10. INDEX
    (pp. 301-306)