Archive: December 18th, 2008

Frederic Jameson: The Political Unconscious

[Readings] (12.18.08, 6:16 pm)

A quick review of Jameson’s intentions: historicizing. The central theme and motivation behind The Political Unconscious is the desire to historicize narratives and to understand them within a Marxist framework of meaning. Texts come to us as already read, and interpretation weaves between previous interpretations. Interpretation is, essentially, allegorical. The goal of this study is to use the Marxist framework to understand the system behind interpretations.

Jameson’s chief influences are Frye, Greimas, Freud, Levi-Strauss, Lukacs, Barthes, and Deleuze. Jameson aims to tie these approaches together:

These divergent and unequal bodies of work are here interrogated and evaluated from the perspective of the specific critical and interpretive task of the present volume, namely to restructure the problematics of ideology, of the unconscious and of desire, of representation, of history, and of cultural production, around the all-informing process of narrative, which I take to be (here using the shorthand of philosophical idealism) the central function or instance of the human mind. This perspective may be reformulated in terms of the traditional dialectical code as the study of Darstellung: that untranslatable designation in which the current problems of representation productively intersect with the quite different ones of presentation, or of the essentially narrative and rhetorical movement of language and writing through time. (p. 13)

The concept of Darstellung seems like a potentially relevant idea that is worth investigating.

On Interpretation

Jameson gives a historical review of interpretation (through Althusser). These means of interpretation are ways of reading and connecting the model of the text productively to the real world. Specifically he explores medieval interpretation and how the biblical texts were analyzed according to four levels: (p. 31)

  1. Analogical: political reading (collective “meaning” of history)
  2. Moral: psychological reading (individual subject)
  3. Allegorical: allegorical key or interpretive code
  4. Literal: historical or textual referent

The semantic network behind most narratives is the political unconscious. Jameson is interested in texts, and the space common to all texts (or shared by texts) has a master narrative which is necessarily unconscious. Jameson is not interested in the acceptance of these master narratives, but rather challenging them and understanding them in historical context.

The idea is, in other words, that if interpretation in terms of expressive causality of of allegorical master narratives remains a constant temptation, this is because such master narratives have inscribed themselves in the texts as well as in our thinking about them; such allegorical narrative signifieds are a persistent dimension of literary and cultural texts precisely because they reflect a fundamental dimension of our collective thinking and our collective fantasies about history and reality. (p. 34)

Mediation is about the relationship between the text and its social and cultural context. Mediation is an inherent source of ambiguity. The modern variant of mediation is “transcoding” which illustrates a more literal semiotic process and relationship wherein meanings are encoded and decoded in different ways. An approach to transcoding could be to strategically use different decoding schemes to analyze texts at different levels.

Exploring mediation and transcoding: Expressive causality is a kind of mediation which seems to suggest a kind of audience creativity. The work of mediation is identification and differentiation. Mediation is explored by way of Marxist analysis.

Jameson gives an argument for the narrativization of the real. The real is understood as fantasy, especially within context of the Deleuzian libidinal or “desiring” apparatus. There is an interpretive power in ideology, exploring what the text represses. The notion of master texts is posed in the Freudian language of consciousness and repression. The argument that texts may be read and have adjusted meanings is reminiscent of postmodernism, but the rejection of inherent meaning given by postmodernists clashes with the claim of textual repression.

More than this, the very closure of the “semiotic rectangle” now affords a way into the text, not by positing mere logical possibilities and permutations, but rather through its diagnostic revelation of terms or nodal points implicit in the ideological system which have, however, remained unrealized in the surface of the text, which have failed to become manifest in the logic of the narrative, and which we can therefore read as what the text represses. (p. 48)

Jameson argues that the formalizing goals New Criticism serve to propagate a particular view of what history is. This is interesting in comparison with proceduralization of literature, which I would argue, propagates a view of what meaning an interpretation are.

To Frye, there are phases in reinterpretation, which is essentially a form of rewriting of texts. The fist phase is that  The second phase is a cultural object within

  1. The text is an object created as a form of expression, and may be interpreted as a single and independent work.
  2. The text is a cultural object situated within a cultural context. The smallest unit of study at this level is the “ideologeme.”
  3. The text is read in terms of the ideology of form, which is a means for historicizing the text within multiple sign systems, which are themselves situated historicaly.
Reading Info:
Author/EditorJameson, Frederic
TitleThe Political Unconscious
Tagsnarrative, philosophy, specials, fiction
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon