The Political Unconscious

ISBN: 0415287510
ISBN 13: 9780415287517
By: Fredric Jameson

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About this book

In this ground-breaking and influential study Fredric Jameson explores the complex place and function of literature within culture. At the time Jameson was actually writing the book, in the mid to late seventies, there was a major reaction against deconstruction and poststructuralism. As one of the most significant literary theorists, Jameson found himself in the unenviable position of wanting to defend his intellectual past yet keep an eye on the future. With this book he carried it off beautifully. A landmark publication, The Political Unconscious takes its place as one of the most meaningful works of the twentieth century.century.

Reader's Thoughts


Hard to say anything about this book that hasn't already been said, but to reiterate that it is a book you should read. Now. For those interested in MArxism, Jameson provides a wonderful review of powerful debates that shaped the engagement of its twentieth century thinkers. For those interested in literary criticism, it is hard not to fall in line with Jameson's proposed method of symptomatic reading.


as might be implicit in the title, a synthesis of freudian and marxist insights, different than the synthesis of same in Deleuze & Guattari, both in terms of object and result. object here is literary theory, whereas object of D&G is more general.


didn't resonate

Charles Rost

A classic of its era and still relevant, especially the first half. The later chapters can be skipped.

Justin Evans

On one level, I like Jameson a lot. I agree with him about a lot of important stuff: yes, most art contains hefty doses of ideology (lies we tell ourselves so we feel better about living in a crappy world) and utopian hope (desire to live in a better world than ours). Yes, to understand this you need to pay attention to history and not just the book/movie/painting/building/symphony. Yes, it's a nice idea to read stories as attempts to solve real world problems. But there's plenty not to like about this book. Primarily, Jameson treats the authors he writes about as naughty schoolboys who *never* tell the truth. Young Conrad, you keep telling me you're writing about the late-Victorian culture of honor, but I know better. Present thy buttocks for a class-war** caning! Whack! 'Lord Jim' is a proto-existentialist philosophy of the act, and you know it! Whack! This philosophy of the act demoralizes the capitalists and reveals to us, your reader, the omnipresence of class war! Whack! Why not say that Conrad had some frigging clue about what he was doing? Why not see that Lord Jim just is about the late-Victorian culture of honor, that it criticizes that culture, and then ask how that critique might fit in to an historical understanding of the time? Well, doing that wouldn't let Jameson spend endless pages constructing Greimasian structural-quadrilaterals that eliminate any sense that a plot moves. That wouldn't let him make pointless, ignorant arguments about the Bourgeois Subject. That wouldn't enable him to take random pot-shots at Henry James for believing that people think stuff sometimes. In short, he might have to admit that he's no cleverer than the authors he's reading. Let's do a Jamesonian reading of Jameson. The ideology is his insistence that structuralism and anti-humanism are somehow emancipatory, when experience (not to mention his reading of Adorno) should have taught him that they are deeply oppressive.*** Jameson's utopia, on the other hand, is his belief that literature matters to us, that it isn't just an autonomous formal jewel floating somewhere in the empyrean. Nice. ** His insistence on 'class war' as *the* structure of all history just seems silly in contrast to the ideology stuff, but it's important to note why: the only definition of class that can hold this kind of weight is Marx's. His definition is: the bourgeoisie owns the means of production, everyone else is a proletariat. The problem should be clear. Lawyers, for instance, don't own the means of production; nor do plastic surgeons. By contrast, the owners of small bookstores do. Now class obviously hasn't been eliminated. But in a post-industrial society, the bourgeois/proletariat model no longer makes any sense in political terms. So, the only model of class conflict that can be a prime-mover of history no longer makes sense in political terms. We need to re-think any reliance on 'class' as said prime-mover.*** By which I mean, capital itself is structuralist and anti-humanist; the unreflective use of structuralism and anti-humanism as 'radical' theories is just bowing down before the thing you're trying to undermine.


Begins and ends with Durkheim. Also begins with "Always Be Historicizing" and ends with Benjamin's barbarism=civilization quote. Prettttttty pretty pretty pretty good. Marxism (Freedom defeats necessity, but not most of the time) is the best story ever told. Ideologemes are invented. Althusser and Lukacs shake hands. NorthFrye and VladPropp sing a duet. Balzac, Gissing, Conrad do a little dance to the tune of Dialectical Materialism. History as a Lévi-Straussian Savage Thinker: Greimas squares for everybody!Really hard!


I find the first chapter of this book the most difficult, but I have re-read it several times. Dense with theory and abstract concepts, Jameson’s description of the kind of Marxist literary interpretation that is possible in a post-structuralist age is well argued and employs ideas from the works of thinkers and critics like Louis Althusser, Northrop Frye and Claude Levi-Strauss. In his discussion he comments on interpretation, historicization, and the relation of narrative to symbolic action. In later chapters, Jameson interprets the realism of Honore Balzac, the “high realism” of George Gissing, and the modernist impressionism of Joseph Conrad.


in the old days, I wold read 5 percent of a book like this and I would understand everything I read. Now I read the whole thing and I understand 5 percent. This book has some beautiful sentences, and intensely dense language.


Wouldn't be fair for me to critique this book. I don't know what avenue brought it to my reading list, but I didn't enjoy this book much at all. Maybe if I was more interested in the subject of Marxist literary critique I'd have been more patient with Jameson's excruciating, hyper-academic writing. Unpleasant to read, and I'd be skeptical of any author who deliberately uses such technical wordplay when an obvious, simple description would exist to say the same thing.If the argument of the book is good, then I'll take someone's word for it.


My favorite Jameson.


Better the second time around


Jameson broke my brain!

Casey Wynhoff

More devotion to criticism would strengthen the impact of this text.


Other than Postmodernism, his best book.


Serious-minded throughout with an excellent restatement of the import of dialectical thought. If you take the standpoint that a movement is a collective narrative, this is one of the finest works of Marxist theory period. Serves as a brutal corrective of the nondialectical tendency to moralize in leftist culture criticism. I give this my highest recommendation.

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