Back to: Literary Theory in English Literature
Fredric Jameson is a neo-Marxist critic who is known for his analysis of postmodernity and capitalism. His writings include Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991) and The Political Unconscious (1981). He has been a leading Marxist literary critic of America.
Jameson’s early writings were mostly influenced by German philologist Erich Auerbach who was his professor at Yale University. Following the German philological tradition, he studied the style and existential elements of Sartre’s works and published Sartre: the Origins of a Style. The study of Sartre’s works and his concern with the political movement New Left led him to study Marxist literary theory.
Jameson’s book The Political Unconscious is chiefly concerned with the importance of history in the interpretation of literary texts. The book dwells upon ideas of structuralism, Raymond William’s cultural studies and the Marxist concept of labor. Jameson’s focal idea in the book is that history serves as the “ultimate horizon” for the analysis of literary texts.
Jameson’s other book Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism is an analysis of the late 20th-century movement postmodernism through the dialectical approach.
Jameson argued that postmodernist cultures are formed through mass culture. It is a capitalist phenomenon that forces our ideologies to be shaped. The process of this formation is what Jameson called hegemony in the postmodern world.
For him, postmodernism brought a new mode of artistic production as the end of traditional ideologies. Hence, postmodernism is characterized by a rejection of ideologies of modernism.
Jameson also argued against postmodernists’ claim that the differentiation between different fields of life and between social classes is overcome. It was a postmodernist attempt to bring all discourse into a uniform whole.
Jameson stressed that this postmodernist attempt was a failure of understanding and a result of the emergence of corporate capitalism. Jameson also incorporated these ideas into the realms of architecture, film and visual arts.
In the very book, Jameson talks of two aspects of postmodernism which are pastiche and a crisis of historicity. Pastiche, as a work of art that juxtaposes different artistic compositions, replaced parody which is simply an imitation of an original work. According to Jameson, this is how postmodernism attempted to merge different aspects into a uniform whole.
Another aspect, the crisis in historicity is what postmodernity suffers from. For Jameson, history learned in schools has no relation to the everyday life. This is what he considers a crisis in the historicity of the postmodernist era.