Fredric Jameson

Fredric Jameson is the Knut Schmidt Nielsen Professor of Comparative Literature at Duke University.

Time and the Sea

Fredric Jameson, 16 April 2020

Recently​ a happy accident put me in possession of a rarely seen film by Andrzej Wajda, Smuga cienia, from 1976. It is an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s short, openly autobiographical novel The Shadow-Line (1916). Wajda conceived the film as a modest docudrama based on Conrad’s last mission at sea. The British government, in the thick of the First World War, had enlisted the...


Fredric Jameson, 8 November 2018

I will call Knausgaard’s kind of writing ‘itemisation’. We have, in postmodernity, given up on the attempt to ‘estrange’ our daily life and see it in new, poetic or nightmarish, ways; we have given up the analysis of it in terms of the commodity form, in a situation in which everything by now is a commodity; we have abandoned the quest for new languages to describe the stream of the self-same or new psychologies to diagnose its distressingly unoriginal reactions and psychic events. All that is left is to itemise them, to list the items that come by.

Everything changes in Macondo, the state arrives, and then religion, and finally capitalism itself; the civil war pursues its course like a serpent biting its own tail; the town grows old and desolate, the rain of history begins and ends, the original protagonists begin to die off; and yet the narrative itself, in its rhizomatic strings, never grows extinct, its force remaining equal to itself until the fateful turn of its final pages.

In Hyperspace

Fredric Jameson, 10 September 2015

It is probably not immediately obvious what interest a new theoretical study of science fiction holds for the mainstream adepts of literary theory; and no doubt it is just as perplexing to SF scholars, for whom this particular subgenre of the subgenre, the time-travel narrative, is as exceptional among and uncharacteristic of their major texts as SF itself is with regard to official Literature. To be sure, so-called alternative or counterfactual histories have gained popularity and a certain respectability; my personal favourite is Terry Bisson’s Fire on the Mountain.

Dirty Little Secret: The Programme Era

Fredric Jameson, 22 November 2012

The secret Mark McGurl discloses is the degree to which the richness of postwar American culture (we will here stick to the novel, for reasons to be explained) is the product of the university system, and worse than that, of the creative writing programme as an institutional and institutionalised part of that system.* This is not simply a matter of historical research and documentation,...

Cosmic Neutrality: ‘Lucky Per’

Fredric Jameson, 20 October 2011

Once upon a time, when provinces still existed, an ambitious young provincial would now and again attempt to take the capital by storm: Midwesterners arriving in New York; Balzacian youths plotting their onslaught on the metropolis (‘à nous deux, maintenant!’); eloquent Irishmen getting a reputation in London; and Scandinavians – Ibsen, Georg Brandes, Strindberg, Munch – descending on Berlin to find a culture missing in the bigoted countryside. So also Henrik Pontoppidan’s hero, an unhappy clergyman’s son who flees the windswept coasts of Jutland for a capital city which is itself narrow-minded and provincial in comparison with the bustling centres of Europe.

Then You Are Them: Atwood

Fredric Jameson, 10 September 2009

There is a category into which Atwood squarely fits and without which she cannot fully be understood, a category of which at least 300 million English-speakers generally need to be reminded: she is a Canadian, and no little of her imaginative power comes from her privileged position above the border of the lower 48. The Fall is not properly grasped unless it is understood to be a fall into Americanism.

Perfected by the Tea Masters: Japan-ness

Fredric Jameson, 5 April 2007

The three-stage process [of the building of the Katsura Imperial Villa] is perfectly discernible in the layout of the buildings as they survive. Beginning from the Ko-shoin with its celebrated Moon-Viewing Platform (tsukimi-dai) of bamboo, the Chu¯ -shoin and the Gakki-no-ma were added, and finally the Shin-goten. All rooms face the pond at a uniform angle, whilst successively set back...

First Impressions: Slavoj Žižek’s Paradoxes

Fredric Jameson, 7 September 2006

As every schoolchild knows by now, a new book by Zizek is supposed to include, in no special order, discussions of Hegel, Marx and Kant; various pre- and post-socialist anecdotes and reflections; notes on Kafka as well as on mass-cultural writers like Stephen King or Patricia Highsmith; references to opera (Wagner, Mozart); jokes from the Marx Brothers; outbursts of obscenity, scatological as well as sexual; interventions in the history of philosophy, from Spinoza and Kierkegaard to Kripke and Dennett; analyses of Hitchcock films and other Hollywood products; references to current events; disquisitions on obscure points of Lacanian doctrine; polemics with various contemporary theorists (Derrida, Deleuze); comparative theology; and, most recently, reports on cognitive philosophy and neuroscientific ‘advances’. These are lined up in what Eisenstein liked to call ‘a montage of attractions’, a kind of theoretical variety show, in which a series of ‘numbers’ succeed each other and hold the audience in rapt fascination.

Pseudo-Couples: Kenzaburo Oe

Fredric Jameson, 20 November 2003

It is necessary to study precisely how permanent collective wills are formed, and how such wills set themselves concrete short and long-term ends – i.e. a line of collective action.


Nobel Prize-winners seem to fall into two categories: those whom the prize honours, and those who honour the prize. And then there are those assumed to be in the first category, who turn out to...

Après the Avant Garde

Fredric Jameson, 12 December 1996

Whatever you thought of it at the time, the fate of Tel Quel – the journal, the group and the theoretical orientation – concerns us all in one way or another, for the fate of the avant garde (was this really the last one?) has something to say about our society, our history, our politics and our relationship to the future. Given Tel Quel’s essentially literary orientation, its history can also tell us something about the place of Literature in the new televisual age.’

Prussian Blues

Fredric Jameson, 17 October 1996

Can there be literature after reunification? It strikes one as something of a science fictional question. Philip K. Dick, indeed, posited a future world in which the Axis powers had won World War Two, and proceeded to divide the United States down the middle into two zones with two decidedly different regimes of military occupation. In Fire on the Mountain Terry Bissell posits a world in which a successful John Brown’s raid sets off a black revolution in the American South which leads to the formation of a socialist state, ultra-modern and prosperous, in contrast with the shabby private-enterprise North that limps along on the crumbs of world trade. But what if the Allies had won World War Two, and divided Germany itself into two occupation zones dominated by two different modes of production? And what if – for the science-fictional fantasy has the peculiar property that its conceits refuse to remain static or fixed, but suddenly convulse, change and grow with the dynamics of History itself – what if eventually, after several generations, these two different German-speaking nations somehow rejoin? Is one to imagine the coming into being of some undreamt of new third entity, distinct from each of its constitutive halves (assuming the post-national dimensions of a European federation don’t deprive secession and reunification alike of anything other than local significance)? Or does the one half appropriate the other and subject it to its own specific forms of exploitation, as the North did to the conquered South after the real Civil War, sending in the various tribes of carpetbagger, from the academic to the financial, from land speculators to the police force (with their newly repainted vehicles), in order to teach the errant member its true subalternity and to endow it with conformity to the law and custom, the property rights, of the allegedly consanguine state that has taken its poorer cousin in out of charity …’

Space Wars

Fredric Jameson, 4 April 1996

To what degree is our experience of modern – let’s say rather, contemporary – architecture mediated through photography? To what degree, in other words, is that experience really photographic rather than architectural (and spatial)? And would such ‘contamination’ be a bad thing? Is it possible that the buildings themselves are complicitous, no longer offering the grand head-on, Neoclassical façades for simple reproduction (see, for example, the magnificent Richard Pare collection, Photography and Architecture 1839-1939)? Photography would then be co-operating in the actual construction of the newer buildings, angling into dimensions of built space that our ordinary human bodies have little daily commerce with, combining planes we normally separate in dramatic visual ‘chords’, and absorbing the signs of space in order to produce a new simulation. The older photography wished to isolate the building from its surroundings and render it visually independent: this new kind uses it to render a seamless web of spatial texture, like a Mayan frieze.’

An Unfinished Project

Fredric Jameson, 3 August 1995

Walter Benjamin was not a letter writer of the order of Lawrence or Flaubert, for whom the medium of the letter seems to fill a need, not for mere self-expression, but for some larger exercise of the personality in exasperation or enthusiasm, in that almost instinctive enlargement of reaction to things which others find in unmotivated physical activity. Benjamin was, on the contrary, a person of the greatest reserve; even where he lets himself go with people he trusts, one has the feeling not of the revelation of some true inner self but merely of the relaxation of that reserve. The extraordinarily stiff manner of a central European bourgeoisie – which sought no doubt to designate a certain class pride by its eschewal of aristocratic nonchalance and easiness, as well as of the barbarism and ignorance of country nobles in general – is appropriated and made part of the personality, like a mask that grows onto the skin of your face. Such a reserve may well also express fear, both of the rituals of a class you detest and devote your life to undermining, and of the artificialities of the artists who secede from it. It is in any case very European, and has no American equivalent, even where writers like Henry James have thought it desirable to produce one.

Exit Sartre

Fredric Jameson, 7 July 1994

These two books take an essentially British perspective on the history of fellow-travelling in France since World War Two. Armed with the magic cap of François Furet’s ‘demystification’ of the Revolutionary ethos, they advance prudently into the thicket, gazing with chaste perplexity (and occasional exasperation) on the peculiar mores and customs of the denizens of outre-Manche, and in particular dwelling at some length on the Gallic overestimation of intellectuals as well as of the only too familiar (but evidently now extinct) ‘desire called revolution’. There is in this something of the wide-eyed fascination of children confronting an incomprehensible adult sexuality, but also a mild breath of the pastoral vocation. More modestly than those American economists who undertook to bring the good news of free enterprise to the post-Soviet dark ages in Eastern Europe, these writers both take satisfaction in their commitment to an ancient tradition of Anglo-American liberalism, whose moral and intellectual benefits they are prepared discreetly to administer to the Continent at the appropriate hour of need.

As William Blake finds eternity in a grain of sand, so Walter Benjamin’s Surrealist gaze finds momentous meanings in the trifling and discarded. In the same way, he believes that every moment of...

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We think​ of immigration as a movement in space, from one country to another. In conventional terms, those who were born in the United States are American; those who were not are immigrants....

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The beauty of style indirect libre or free indirect discourse is that it seems to tell the truth without equivocation, to have all the certainty we could wish any third-person narration to have,...

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Into the Big Tent: Fredric Jameson

Benjamin Kunkel, 22 April 2010

Fredric Jameson’s pre-eminence, over the last generation, among critics writing in English would be hard to dispute. Part of the tribute has been exacted by his majestic style, one...

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Walter Benjamin once remarked that what drove men and women to revolt was not dreams of liberated grandchildren but memories of oppressed ancestors. Visions of future happiness are all very well;...

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The major contribution of the English theatre to last year’s Brecht centenary was Lee Hall’s dazzling version of Mr Puntila and His Man Matti, presented by the Right Size, a touring...

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What We Have: Tarantinisation

David Bromwich, 4 February 1999

Post-Modernism entered the public mind as a fast-value currency in the late Seventies and early Eighties, in the field of architecture, where its association with gimmicky tropes of visual play...

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Some Versions of Narrative

Christopher Norris, 2 August 1984

Philosophers are understandably aggrieved when literary critics presume to instruct them in the finer points of textual interpretation. Particularly irksome is the claim of conceptual...

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