Fredric jameson’s latest book, Allegory and Ideology, opens with three theoretical panoramas—‘Preface: Allegory and Ideology’, ‘Historical: The Ladder of Allegory’, ‘Psychological: Emotional Infrastructures’—which are followed by six analytical chapters—Hamlet, Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, the 1986 essay on ‘national allegory’, The Faerie Queene, The Divine Comedy, Faust ii —rounded off with a conceptual conclusion, ‘Literary: Allegoresis in Postmodernity’, which surveys the contemporary literary scene and draws the broader political implications of the book as a whole. Three appendices follow, including a long meditation on Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained.footnote1 There is a lot to read, in Allegory and Ideology.

Despite the symmetry of the title, however, ‘allegory’ and ‘ideology’ have hardly the same weight in the pages of the book. In the theoretical sections, ‘allegory/ies/ical’ are about four times as frequent as ‘ideology/ies/ical’, and the disparity is even greater in some of the readings (especially Faust). Nor is this just a quantitative disproportion: while the nature of ideology is taken more or less for granted, allegory is discussed at length in the first chapter—where Jameson explains his preference for the four-fold version of the trope, its invention credited to Origen of Alexandria (185–254 ad), as opposed to the two- and three-fold variants—and its internal structure is presented in detail, with reference to early Christian readings of the Hebrews’ exodus from Egypt in the Old Testament, which Jameson schematizes as:

anagogical: the fate of the human race

moral: the fate of the individual soul

allegorical or mystical: the life of Christ

literal: (in this case) the coming up out of Egyptfootnote2

Readings of allegory, including Jameson’s, tend to start with the literal meaning of the text, whence they proceed to the allegorical, moral and anagogical levels (usually in that order). Here, though, the four levels are frequently presented in reverse (descending from the anagogical to the literal), and for the moment it may be useful to preserve Jameson’s way of ordering them. In three of the analytical chapters—Hamlet, Mahler and Faust—they assume the following form:


anagogical: transition to modernity (capitalism)

moral: acting (in metatheatrical or Brechtian style)

allegorical: Lacanian (names, hysteria, obsessional)

literal: the (old) dynastic text

Mahler’s Sixth: