I mentioned last post that I'd just finished Sandner's FANTASTIC LITERATURE, but there was one excerpt I left off reading because I decided that if I was refute it in all fairness, I'd have to read the whole book. That excerpt was from THE POLITICAL UNCONSCIOUS (1981), by Marxist litcritic Fredric Jameson. I have started it today and am already wryly amused by his insistence that a "properly Marxist interpretive act" will take priority over all other interpretive methods-- "the ethical, the psychoanalytic, the myth-critical," and so on.
I'm amused because although every critic of substance WILL inevitably argue why his system is best, Jameson's approach is the ideologically-minded inverse of Northrop Frye's opening chapter in his 1957 classic ANATOMY OF CRITICISM. In said chapter Frye argues that critics need an awareness of literature as literary structure before interpreting literature through any other conceptual lenses-- including, of course, Marxism. Both Frye and Jameson are doing in these opening intros what any good critic should do; staking their respective conceptual territories-- but Frye's approach, whatever its flaws, seeks to understand literature as literature, while Jameson takes the well-worn ideological path of reading literature as something else.
So why are ideologues (i.e., followers of ideological reading, as I read them) p*ssies? (Note: hopefully that asterisk keeps my blog from being sorted with porn sites, though I'm not betting the farm on it.)
Because they use the weapons of their opponents to attempt taking power, but they won't admit they're doing so. They employ a half-assed hermeneutical method-- most notoriously employed in Roland Barthes' execrably superficial MYTHOLOGIES-- in order to appear as if they are exposing the hidden truth beneath the facade of a given literary work, so that they themselves are (however indirectly) perceived as the new revealers of truth, and, by implication, as those most worthy of the reader's trust.
"Trust me, because I'm an empiricist, exposing the lies of the idealists."
"Trust me, because I'm a rationalist, exposing the lies of the irrational."
"Trust me, because I expouse real comics with drama and irony, and expose the lies of stupid superhero comics."
The other side has its shell games as well, of course, but the point is that the ideologue who pretends to be unveiling truth is the bigger liar, and thus the bigger p*ssy.
Now, I wouldn't bother trying to read Jameson's book at all if I didn't think that some thoughts expressed in the unfinished excerpt offered some sort of mental challenge. Interestingly, given the similarity between the opening of his book and Frye's, much of PU (heh) focuses on his critique of not only Frye but a number of other figures important to structuralism and cultural studies, including Levi-Strauss and Propp. It's possible that I'll even agree with some of the flaws he points out, though I doubt anything will make me trust an ideologue out to sell himself as the voice of THE critical interpretive method.
Just to bring up a small point: though on this blog I've used Frye as an interpretive lens through which to view popular culture works, the late critic himself did very little analysis of pop fiction, though various passages indicate that Frye was open to what "subliterature" had to offer. But even though he did not expressly champion pop literature along the lines of, say, Leslie Fiedler, on page 107 of PU Jameson can't resist taking a potshot about how "older generic categories" of literature "persist in the half-life of the subliterary genres of mass culture," which "await the resurrection of their immemorial, archetypal resonance at the hands of a Frye or a[n Ernest] Bloch."
It's not offensive to me that Jameson should take a shot at Frye (who was alive to defend himself when this was written). But the dig, when coupled with the fact that Frye did not, in fact, write many defenses of poplit, makes Jameson look petty, pathetic, and-- a p*ssy.
Not to mention that even if Frye had been more vocal in defense of popular culture, I seriously doubt he would have been imparting "archetypal resonance" to every single paperback bestseller in the airport kiosks. But that's the strategy of the ideologue: not just to disagree with an opponent's position, but to desperately exaggerate the position to the point where it no longer resembles the original statement.
I also doubt that this guy asserting his ability to discern a "political unconscious" in everything will show that he's conscious of his own weaknesses. But I shall see.