Frederic Jameson, “Marxism and Historicism”

What aspects of literature does James believe are currently under debate? (historicism, form, representation) Why is historicism important to him?

What concerns does Jameson think should lie at the base of all critical and interpretive methodologies? (concern with modes of production) What advantage would this provide? (would lead to our understanding of the political unconscious)

What place does he believe such modes of production have in more formalist theories? (perceived as an “absent cause”)

In what form is history accessible to us? (narrative, 43, 45) What other theorist has expressed this view? (Hayden White)

What are the forms of historicism he identities? (antiquarianism, existential historicism, structural typology, Nietzschean anti-historicism)

How does Jameson define antiquarianism? What would be some clear examples? What relationship does historicist history bear to the present? (abolishes present, 45)

What is its relationship to “empiricism,” and how is the latter defined? How does Jameson critique an empirical view of history? (based on prior assumptions, a pure empiricism impossible)

What examples does he give of existential historicism? (51-54, unites mind of critic or historicism with mind of the past, 51) What does he see as its flaw or potential flaw? (can be associated with the “genetic trope,” 48-49) Its merits? (past has vital urgency for us, 51; enthusiasm and involvement, 53, 54)

Who else had attacked notions of a “genetic trope”? (Foucault, in “Archeology of Knowledge”) Is this also a potential flaw of “structural historiography”? (yes, uses categories such as “feudal”)

What questions should we be asking in confronting a “genetic trope”? (Why was this particular phenomenon appearing at a particular time?)

What does he see as the true “nightmare of history”? (repetitive labor) How has this been erased? (focus on aesthetics without cause, 57) How has this fact entered into history? (concept of labor theory of history, 58)

In what context does he cite Benjamin, and to what end? (entrance into history through Novum, 57; belief that past affects and challenges us leads to utopian history of future, 58)

How would he revise existential historicism’s relationship to past? (it’s not the relationship of the subject of the present to the past as subject, or to the past as a perceived type, but rather the present as a situation intersects with the past as a situation, 57)

What are some structuralist myths he opposes? (all leads to scientific rationality, 61, movement toward entrophy, 61)

What are his critiques of structuralism? (oversimplifies rhetorical possibilities, 61, projects “rules” onto past, 61, unable to avoid observer/subject bias, 63-64, appeals to an extra-historical system, which in fact should be a narrative or teleological view of history, 63) Against whom does he seem to be arguing? (Foucault, structuralist anthropologists)

Why does he term his fourth category of historicism Nietzschean? (refuses problem, 64, states that past does not exist, is incoherent) How does Jameson apply this hypothesis? (the object of history is not history but its representations, 64--signifiers work on signifiers, 65)

What argument does he give for the simultaneous existence of several modes of cultural production? (64) How is this a critique of structuralism?

What does Jameson see as dangerous conclusions of postmodern historians, as exemplified in Lyotard, Hindess and Hirst? (the present is only fit object of analysis, past  didn’t exist in its difference, there has always been capitalism, 66) What inconsistencies does he see in these claims? (Lyotard advocates the preservation of an idealized new “paganism”)

What does Jameson believe is added by a Marxist approach? (history seen as both identity and difference, 67, concept of mode of production a differential one, in which a single mode of production suggests possibilities of others, 68; contradictory overlay of several modes of production in tension is called “cultural revolution,” 69)

What are some examples he gives of a “cultural revolution”? (69, transition from matriarchy to patriarchy, Protestant Reformation as bourgeois cultural revolution)

Against what form of rigidified Marxism does he warn? (69, grounding of theory of history in capitalistic present)

What form of cultural production does he prefer? (study of cultural revolution, in which past actively challenges present, 70)

What happens when we read? (two distinct social forms confront one another, 70) What will result from this understanding? (past will rise up to judge our present social formation, imposing the knowledge of what we are not yet, 70) How is this confrontation disturbing? (70, past judges the monadization of contemporary life, past judges us without sympathy for our subjectivity, 71, eloquent words)

Why cannot Marxism be a matter of dogma? (its subjects are historically decentered in the context of a potential Utopian future, 71)

What is the function of anticipatory expressions of a future society which also judges present (71)?  What final admonition does Jameson leave with the reader? (we can view our present as history only in context of radical and Utopian future, 72)

What would be some implications of Jameson’s view? Could one be a Marxist historicist in some other way? Is the appeal to alternate futures inherently radical or revolutionary? (future could be dystopian)