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In essays on the subject of centricity, I've most often used the image of a geometrical circle, which, as I explained here,  owes someth...

Friday, May 15, 2009


I continue to read FJ's PU, and am finding it tedious whenever he parses arguments with fellow Marxists like Lukacs and Althusser. Despite Jameson's conviction that Marxist theory offers a gauge of reality that supersedes any other methodological approaches to literature, the fine points of such theory are about as relevant to life as debates about how many angels can dance on Zippy the Pinhead.

So far the book only takes fire whenever Jameson tries to claim territory from myth-critics like Frye and structuralists like Levi-Strauss. His attempts to appropriate mythic material on behalf of ideology are cunningly phrased, which puts Jameson above the tedious "spawn of Frankfurt" from THE COMICS JOURNAL, but his proofs are just as riddled with fallacies and superficial thinking.

The book's title, POLITICAL UNCONSCIOUS, is meant to appropriate on behalf of Marxist theory the notion of a psychological "unconscious" that literary studies inherited from Big Daddy Freud. By the same token, all hermeutical systems that center upon factors of individual "desire" (Bataille, Deleuze) are mistaken precisely because they focus on the individual rather than the social. In a similar vein it's amusing to see Jameson try to replace Levi-Strauss' concept of the "mythologem"-- a term Levi-Strauss meant to define a "unit" of mythological narrative equivalent to a phoneme in linguistics-- with the clunky Marxist term "ideologem," with the assumption that Marxist ideology is just that all-encompassing a hermeneutic.

As an example of Jameson's evasive argumentation, we have his attempt to dismiss myth criticism, not even with his own argument, but with that of another scholar:

"To such allegories of desire, indeed, may be applied Norman Holland's powerful critique of myth criticism as a whole, about which he observes that it works only if we have been told the work is mythic ahead of time, the unquestionable 'resonance' of the mythic rewriting presupposing not the operation of some mythic unconscious, but rather our own preliminary conscious 'set' around the reading in question."

I don't know what logical proofs Holland offered for this opinion in the cited work, but I'll assume that they're of a piece with those of Jameson, who took exception to Frye's supposed indiscriminate championing of "resonance" in pop culture.

Now, what objects of pop culture did Northrop Frye champion? His references to it in his signature 1957 work ANATOMY OF CRITICISM are exceedingly general, but at one point he remarks (and I paraphrase) that science fiction uses many of the motifs of myth, particularly in stories about the earth undergoing some great deluge or upheaval. But in 1957 I don't believe any influential voices were speaking on behalf of science fiction as being "modern mythology," as noted in this much later essay. Thus on the face of it the Holland-Jameson assertion is nonsense. By their lights, Frye could not consider a given SF work to be mythic because no one previous to him, be it other academics or the genre's reading public, had been told "ahead of time" that the work was mythic.

Clearly Jameson is trying to "de-mythologize" myth criticism with much the same strategy one might use to "de-mythologize" an actual myth. But whereas there might be some justification for speculating as to how a myth is created for and received by its audience, no myth critic is trying to claim that a literary work with myth-like qualities operates in precisely the same way as an actual myth. One may agree or disagree as to whether a modern work possesses "resonance" (or what I call, in a similar vein, "mythicity"), but the attempt to analyze the presence of resonance is quite independent of some outside agency having told the critic "ahead of time" that the work is mythic.

As for the "operation of some mythic unconscious," I can't speak for the late Professor Frye, but for me the presence of mythicity is not in the least dependent on whether it proceeds from the conscious mind or from what is better called the "subconscious." As I showed in my rebuttal of Steven Grant's essay, there's no reason to think that mythic material is only properly mythic as long as it remains subconscious. Indeed, even where a mythic association is clearly earmarked as a conscious product of the artist's mind (like Melville's many meditations on whales and leviathans), one cannot discount the possibility that the conscious reference sprung from a subconscious association that has been given conscious articulation, just as Joseph Campbell asserted that it might.

I'll be discussing this in more detail in a future essay: "Interrogating Icy Harris."

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