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Jameson, Fredric

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author, Critic.

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(1934-    ) US academic, political philosopher, literary theorist, and literary and cultural critic, born in Cleveland, Ohio; he was educated as an undergraduate at Haverford College, Pennsylvania, and as a graduate at Yale University, where he studied under Erich Auerbach; his PhD thesis was later published as Sartre: The Origins of a Style (1961; exp 1984); as a graduate student he also travelled to Germany on a Fulbright Fellowship. Jameson was Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Harvard University 1959-1967, the University of California, San Diego, 1967-1976, Yale University 1976-1983 and the University of California, Santa Cruz, 1983-1985. He supervised Kim Stanley Robinson's University of California doctoral thesis on Philip K Dick and is perhaps the only person in the sf community to refer to Robinson as "Kim" rather than "Stan" (apparently because Robinson was too much in awe of his teacher to correct him). In 1986 Jameson moved to Duke University, North Carolina, as William A Lane Professor of Comparative Literature, a position he currently still holds. In 2008, he was awarded the annual Holberg International Memorial Prize for academic scholarship in the humanities.

In The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (1981), Jameson developed many of the key theoretical notions that underpin his more substantive literary criticism. Here, he argued for a "double hermeneutic", simultaneously embracing both the negative hermeneutic of ideology, understood in terms deriving from the French philosopher Louis Althusser, and the positive hermeneutic of utopia, understood in terms similar to those in the German philosopher Ernst Bloch.

His longstanding interest in sf studies, within the frame of this double hermeneutic, has generated a series of widely cited scholarly essays. Notable amongst these are: "Generic Discontinuities in Science Fiction: Brian Aldiss' Starship" (Fall 1973 Science Fiction Studies), "After Armageddon: Character Systems in P.K. Dick's Dr. Bloodmoney" (March 1975 Science Fiction Studies), "World Reduction in Le Guin: The Emergence of Utopian Narrative" (November 1975 Science Fiction Studies), "Progress versus Utopia; or, Can We Imagine the Future?" (July 1982 Science Fiction Studies), "Science-Fiction as a Spatial Genre – Generic Discontinuities and the Problem of Figuration in Vonda McIntyre's The Exile Waiting" (March 1987 Science Fiction Studies), "The Space of Science Fiction: Narrative in A.E. Van Vogt" (1989 Polygraph #2/3), "Longevity as Class Struggle" (in Immortal Engines: Life Extension and Immortality in Science Fiction and Fantasy, anth 1996, ed George Slusser, Gary Westfahl and Eric S Rabkin), "'If I Find One Good City, I Will Spare the Man': Realism and Utopia in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy" (in Learning From Other Worlds: Estrangement, Cognition and the Politics of Science Fiction and Utopia, anth 2001, ed Patrick Parrinder) and "The Politics of Utopia" (January/February 2004 New Left Review).

Many of these were first published in Science Fiction Studies and most were collected together in Part II of Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (coll 2005) (see Critical and Historical Works About SF; Modernism in SF; Postmodernism and SF; SF in the Classroom). Part I of Archaeologies, "The Desire Called Utopia", is a previously unpublished book-length (over 230 pages) treatment of the relations between science fiction, Utopia, Dystopia and Fantasy. The book is dedicated to Darko Suvin, Kim Stanley Robinson and other "comrades in the party of Utopia". Following Suvin, Jameson's Archaeologies treats utopia as the "socio-economic sub-genre" of sf. Like Suvin, Jameson also expresses here a clear antipathy to fantasy and to the kinds of dystopia judged to be "anti-utopias", paradigmatically George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). The value of utopia as a literary form, Jameson argues, is in its capacity as "a representational meditation on radical difference, radical otherness, and ... the systematic nature of the social totality". Utopia, he concludes, is "a meditation on the impossible, on the unrealizable in its own right".

Jameson has also written extensively on postmodernism, especially in Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991), The Seeds of Time (1994) and The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern (1998). In Postmodernism, he argues that Cyberpunk sf "is fully as much an expression of transnational corporate realities as it is of global paranoia" and judges William Gibson's work "an exceptional literary realization" of postmodern reality. In The Antinomies of Realism (2013) Jameson argues that the historical novel of the future will necessarily be science-fictional. He analyses David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (2004) and Andy (now Lilly) Wachowski and Lana Wachowski's film adaptation Cloud Atlas (2012) as models of what this might mean. His hostile analysis of realism in this volume, and in the earlier Signatures of the Visible (1990), suggests that nineteenth- and twentieth-century novelists' aspiration after ascertainable knowledge of the world inevitably seems linked to a feverish search for some ultimately "true" affect that will colour and in effect comprise that knowledge; much less rigorously, John Clute makes a similar argument in his The Darkening Garden (2006) about the relationship between Affect Horror – whose authors climb an asymptote towards an always unattainable Affect of Ultimate Truth beyond mere story – and more liberated recognitions of the world. An American Utopia: Dual Power and the Universal Army (2016), a formal Utopia some of whose arguments come close to being fictionalized, argues strongly for a repeal of neoliberal free-market liberalism, and a renewal of the social contract that (he suggests) Americans must once again absorb into their understanding of human meaningfulness, or perish. One instrument to effect this is universal conscription on the Swiss model, with much of the raw work necessary to maintain a world meaningful to humans being undertaken by conscripts. Some continuities can be traced back to the works of Edward Bellamy.

Jameson's other interests include Western Marxism, film studies and Bertolt Brecht. All of this work seems to impinge more or less directly on his writing about sf. He received the 2006 Pilgrim Award for contributions to sf scholarship. [AMi/JC]

Fredric Jameson

born Cleveland, Ohio: 14 April 1934


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about the author


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