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New Left Review I/148, November-December 1984

Dan Latimer

Jameson and Post-Modernism

Perry Anderson in his Considerations on Western Marxism (1976) has pointed out that, because of the general debilitation of a Stalinized socialist culture in Russia and the absence of any significent working-class audience here, the most gifted of Western Marxist thinkers directed their attention away from class action and economic infrastructures to bourgeois superstructures, most especially to art. [1] Perry Anderson, Considerations on Western Marxism, London 1976, p. 52 ff.; p. 76 ff. All this materialistic interest in superstructure is being repaid now, if publishers’ catalogues are any indication, by some superstructural interest in materialism. The extent of this interest and its depth are matters that will no doubt be revealed in the fullness of time. And the possible reasons for the interest would at this point be equally conjectural. Whether we are dealing merely with a predictable return of history, a return made all the more energetic by years of New Critical and Deconstructive repression; or with a collective mid-life crisis of the Vietnam War generation of graduate students permanently traumatized by mendacious authority figures and their death-dealing abstractions (‘national honour,’ ‘self-determination’): or whether—perish the thought—the interest is simply a result of our having come to the end of yet one more method so that now only materialism remains to be enlisted and massively commodified to shock our poor brains, already reeling from overconsumption, back into action for yet one more book or article: or whether we genuinely feel that a society which, when it takes note of us at all, shows such unrelenting contempt for its intelligentsia that it surely can’t have managed to reach perfection yet—such questions are perhaps too involved to be answered on this occasion. But an interest there is, undeniably, whether we judge by the number and availability of Marxist texts, by the popularity of such events as the 1983 summer institute for the Marxist Interpretation of Culture in Urbana, Illinois, or by the spiritual centrality there, indeed in American criticism as a whole, of Fredric Jameson, formerly of Yale French and Comparative Literature, now of the University of California, Santa Cruz, History of Consciousness Program. Readers of nlr have recently had the opportunity to sample Jameson’s analysis of post-modernism, in an essay packed with critical ideas and insights. [2] Fredric Jameson, ‘Post-modernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism’, nlr 146. It is not inconceivable, at this point, that Marxism, through culture criticism, could become an influential way of thinking among those who, as yet, are innocent of the slightest contact with Capital.

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