October 11, 2002 – Fredric Jameson: “The End of Temporality”

Friday, October 11| College Eight 240| 4:30 PM

In a language and a land hostile to its operations, Fredric Jameson has crafted a dialectical critical method of singular power and efficacy. His metacriticism, ranging in register from the inescapable, hortatory “Always Historicize” to the real work of historicizing a wide range of critical, filmic, artistic, and literary genres, has been central in the continuation of a vibrant and engaged Marxist critique. Postmodernism, history, narrative, form itself—he has not only shaped our understanding and conception of these and other fundamental elements of critical discourse, but has made the political stakes of this discourse clear. Jameson’s Marxism is a capacious one—not eclectic, but attentive to the logic of the critical situation. Few critics, for instance, would be capable of making both Adorno and Brecht central to a critical project, as Jameson did in Late Marxism: Adorno, or, the Persistence of the Dialectic (Verso, 1990) and Brecht and Method (Verso, 1998).

Jameson is the author of seventeen books and dozens of essays. His criticism is the subject of many studies, including books by Perry Anderson, Douglas Kellner, and others. His work has been translated into all the major European and Asian languages. It has been particularly important in Japan, China, and the Chinese-speaking areas. Houxiandaizhuyi he wenhua lilun (Postmodernism and Cultural Theory), published in China in 1987 and reprinted in Hong Kong and Taiwan in 1988 and 1989, had a transformative effect on Chinese critical discourse.

Periodization, historicization, and temporality have always been central concerns in Jameson’s work. His most recent book, A Singular Modernity, is being published this fall by Verso. It examines revivals of discussions of modernity and aesthetic modernism against the perceived disappearance of alternatives to capitalism, offering a meta-critique of the concept and a diagnosis of the stage of capitalism which has given birth to it. His talk at Santa Cruz represents further thinking on these questions.

“What is…identified as the history of ideas is poorly equipped to deal with intellectual regressions of this kind, which can often more plausibly be accounted for by political conjunctures and by institutional dynamics. The defeat of Marxism (if it really was defeated) checked the flow of much contemporary theory at its source, which was the Marxist problematic as such (even if it traveled via the detour of Sartrean existentialism and phenomenology). Meanwhile the professionalization (and increasingly, the privatization) of the university can explain the systematic recontainment of theoretical energy as such, as aberrant in its effects as it is anarchist in its aims. But this is precisely why such reinstutionalizations and their regressions can scarcely be numbered among the consequences of postmodernity, with the latter’s well known rhetoric of the decentered and the aleatory, the rhizomatic, the heterogeneous and the multiple. Nor can one imagine that this was exactly what Jean-Francois Lyotard had in mind when he celebrated the displacement of the “grand narratives” of history by the multiple language games of the postmodern, which surely implied the invention of new games and not the artificial resuscitation of those of the academic yesteryear.”

—from “Regressions of the Current Age,”
Preface to A Singular Modernity.