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New Left Review I/176, July-August 1989


Fredric Jameson

Marxism and Postmodernism

Marxism and postmodernism: people often seem to find this combination peculiar or paradoxical, and somehow intensely unstable, so that some of them are led to conclude that, in my own case, having ‘become’ a postmodernist, I must have ceased to be a Marxist in any meaningful (or in other words stereotypical) sense. [*] This essay, reprinted from Postmodernism/Jameson/Critique, ed. Douglas Kellner (Maisonneuve Press, Washington D.C. 1989), concludes and responds to a collection of fourteen other essays commissioned to assess the relations of Marxism, poststructuralism and postmodernism. For the two terms (in full postmodernism) carry with them a whole freight of pop nostalgia images, ‘Marxism’ perhaps distilling itself into yellowing period photographs of Lenin and the Soviet revolution, and ‘postmodernism’ quickly yielding a vista of the gaudiest new hotels. The over-hasty unconscious then rapidly assembles the image of a small, painstakingly reproduced nostalgia restaurant—decorated with the old photographs, with Soviet waiters sluggishly serving bad Russian food—hidden away within some gleaming new pink and blue architectural extravaganza. If I may indulge a personal note, it has happened to me before to have been oddly and comically identified with an object of study: a book I published years ago on structuralism elicited letters, some of which addressed me as a ‘foremost’ spokesperson for structuralism, while the others appealed to me as an ‘eminent’ critic and opponent of that movement. I was really neither of those things, but I have to conclude that I must have been ‘neither’ in some relatively complicated and unusual way that it seemed hard for people to grasp. As far as postmodernism is concerned, and despite the trouble I took in my principal essay on the subject to explain how it was not possible intellectually or politically simply to celebrate postmodernism or to ‘disavow’ it (to use a word to which I will return), avant-garde art critics quickly identified me as a vulgar-Marxist hatchet man, while some of the more simplehearted comrades concluded that, following the example of so many illustrious predecessors, I had finally gone off the deep end and become a ‘post-Marxist’ (which is to say, a renegade and a turncoat).

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