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Then You Are Them

Fredric Jameson: Atwood, 10 September 2009

The Year of the Flood 
by Margaret Atwood.
Bloomsbury, 434 pp., £18.99, September 2009, 978 0 7475 8516 9
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... Who will recount the pleasures of dystopia? The pity and fear of tragedy – pity for the other, fear for myself – does not seem very appropriate to a form which is collective, and in which spectator and tragic protagonist are in some sense one and the same. For the most part, dystopia has been a vehicle for political statements of some kind: sermons against overpopulation, big corporations, totalitarianism, consumerism, patriarchy, not to speak of money itself ...

Space Wars

Fredric Jameson, 4 April 1996

The Invisible in Architecture 
edited by Ole Bouman and Roemer van Toorn.
Academy, 516 pp., $115, February 1994, 1 85490 285 7
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The Classical Vernacular: Architectural Principles in an Age of Nihilism 
by Roger Scruton.
Carcanet, 158 pp., £19.95, October 1994, 1 85754 054 9
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... To what degree is our experience of modern – let’s say rather, contemporary – architecture mediated through photography? To what degree, in other words, is that experience really photographic rather than architectural (and spatial)? And would such ‘contamination’ be a bad thing? Is it possible that the buildings themselves are complicitous, no longer offering the grand head-on, Neoclassical façades for simple reproduction (see, for example, the magnificent Richard Pare collection, Photography and Architecture 1839-1939)? Photography would then be co-operating in the actual construction of the newer buildings, angling into dimensions of built space that our ordinary human bodies have little daily commerce with, combining planes we normally separate in dramatic visual ‘chords’, and absorbing the signs of space in order to produce a new simulation ...

Perfected by the Tea Masters

Fredric Jameson: Japan-ness, 5 April 2007

Japan-ness in Architecture 
by Arata Isozaki, translated by Sabu Kohso.
MIT, 349 pp., £19.95, July 2006, 0 262 09038 4
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... The three-stage process [of the building of the Katsura Imperial Villa] is perfectly discernible in the layout of the buildings as they survive. Beginning from the Ko-shoin with its celebrated Moon-Viewing Platform (tsukimi-dai) of bamboo, the Chu¯ -shoin and the Gakki-no-ma were added, and finally the Shin-goten. All rooms face the pond at a uniform angle, whilst successively set back from right to left (as viewed from the pond ...

First Impressions

Fredric Jameson: Slavoj Žižek’s Paradoxes, 7 September 2006

The Parallax View 
by Slavoj Žižek.
MIT, 434 pp., £16.95, March 2006, 0 262 24051 3
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... As every schoolchild knows by now, a new book by Žižek is supposed to include, in no special order, discussions of Hegel, Marx and Kant; various pre- and post-socialist anecdotes and reflections; notes on Kafka as well as on mass-cultural writers like Stephen King or Patricia Highsmith; references to opera (Wagner, Mozart); jokes from the Marx Brothers; outbursts of obscenity, scatological as well as sexual; interventions in the history of philosophy, from Spinoza and Kierkegaard to Kripke and Dennett; analyses of Hitchcock films and other Hollywood products; references to current events; disquisitions on obscure points of Lacanian doctrine; polemics with various contemporary theorists (Derrida, Deleuze); comparative theology; and, most recently, reports on cognitive philosophy and neuroscientific ‘advances ...

Cosmic Neutrality

Fredric Jameson: ‘Lucky Per’, 20 October 2011

Lucky Per 
by Henrik Pontoppidan, translated by Naomi Lebowitz.
Lang, 558 pp., £44, November 2010, 978 1 4331 1092 4
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... Once upon a time, when provinces still existed, an ambitious young provincial would now and again attempt to take the capital by storm: Midwesterners arriving in New York; Balzacian youths plotting their onslaught on the metropolis (‘à nous deux, maintenant!’); eloquent Irishmen getting a reputation in London; and Scandinavians – Ibsen, Georg Brandes, Strindberg, Munch – descending on Berlin to find a culture missing in the bigoted countryside ...

Time and the Sea

Fredric Jameson, 16 April 2020

... Recently​ a happy accident put me in possession of a rarely seen film by Andrzej Wajda, Smuga cienia, from 1976. It is an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s short, openly autobiographical novel The Shadow-Line (1916). Wajda conceived the film as a modest docudrama based on Conrad’s last mission at sea. The British government, in the thick of the First World War, had enlisted the ageing celebrity for a brief, hopefully not too dangerous foray in the North Sea to hunt for German U-boats ...

Exit Sartre

Fredric Jameson, 7 July 1994

Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944-1956 
by Tony Judt.
California, 348 pp., £11.95, February 1994, 0 520 08650 3
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Arguing Revolution: The Intellectual Left in Post-War France 
by Sunil Khilnani.
Yale, 264 pp., £19.95, December 1993, 0 300 05745 8
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... These two books take an essentially British perspective on the history of fellow-travelling in France since World War Two. Armed with the magic cap of François Furet’s ‘demystification’ of the Revolutionary ethos, they advance prudently into the thicket, gazing with chaste perplexity (and occasional exasperation) on the peculiar mores and customs of the denizens of outre-Manche, and in particular dwelling at some length on the Gallic overestimation of intellectuals as well as of the only too familiar (but evidently now extinct) ‘desire called revolution ...

Pseudo-Couples

Fredric Jameson: Kenzaburo Oe, 20 November 2003

Somersault 
by Kenzaburo Oe, translated by Philip Gabriel.
Atlantic, 570 pp., £16.99, July 2003, 1 84354 080 0
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... It is necessary to study precisely how permanent collective wills are formed, and how such wills set themselves concrete short and long-term ends – i.e. a line of collective action. Gramsci Nobel Prize-winners seem to fall into two categories: those whom the prize honours, and those who honour the prize. And then there are those assumed to be in the first category, who turn out to have been in the second all along ...

Prussian Blues

Fredric Jameson, 17 October 1996

Ein weites Feld 
by Günter Grass.
Steidl, 784 pp., DM 49.80, August 1995, 3 88243 366 3
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... Can there be literature after reunification? It strikes one as something of a science fictional question. Philip K. Dick, indeed, posited a future world in which the Axis powers had won World War Two, and proceeded to divide the United States down the middle into two zones with two decidedly different regimes of military occupation. In Fire on the Mountain Terry Bissell posits a world in which a successful John Brown’s raid sets off a black revolution in the American South which leads to the formation of a socialist state, ultra-modern and prosperous, in contrast with the shabby private-enterprise North that limps along on the crumbs of world trade ...

An Unfinished Project

Fredric Jameson, 3 August 1995

The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin 1910-1940 
edited by Theodor Adorno and Manfred Jacobson, translated by Evelyn Jacobson.
Chicago, 651 pp., £39.95, May 1994, 0 226 04237 5
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T.W. Adorno/Walter Benjamin: Briefwechsel 1928-40 
edited by Henri Lonitz.
Suhrkamp, 501 pp., DM 64, April 1994, 3 518 58174 0
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... Walter Benjamin was not a letter writer of the order of Lawrence or Flaubert, for whom the medium of the letter seems to fill a need, not for mere self-expression, but for some larger exercise of the personality in exasperation or enthusiasm, in that almost instinctive enlargement of reaction to things which others find in unmotivated physical activity ...

Après the Avant Garde

Fredric Jameson, 12 December 1996

Histoire de ‘Tel Quel’, 1960-82 
by Philippe Forest.
Seuil, 656 pp., frs 180, October 1995, 2 02 017346 8
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The Time of Theory: A History of ‘Tel Quel’ (1960-83) 
by Patrick ffrench.
Oxford, 318 pp., £37.50, December 1995, 0 19 815897 1
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The Making of an Avant Garde: ‘Tel Quel’ 
by Niilo Kauppi.
Mouton de Gruyter, 516 pp., August 1994, 3 11 013952 9
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... Whatever you thought of it at the time, the fate of Tel Quel – the journal, the group and the theoretical orientation – concerns us all in one way or another, for the fate of the avant garde (was this really the last one?) has something to say about our society, our history, our politics and our relationship to the future. Given Tel Quel’s essentially literary orientation, its history can also tell us something about the place of Literature in the new televisual age ...

Itemised

Fredric Jameson, 8 November 2018

My Struggle: Book 6. The End 
by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated by Martin Aitken and Don Bartlett.
Harvill Secker, 1153 pp., £25, August 2018, 978 1 84655 829 0
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... A well-known writer came over. We said hello, I was embarrassed, I knew he didn’t like what I wrote. He had mentioned this once and been ironic, which made this even harder. But he didn’t want to say just hello and congratulate me, he wanted to talk, and he spent at least five minutes refining his attitude to me and my books, he couldn’t say straight out that he didn’t like them, that they were bad in other words, but nor could he not say that, so what came out of his mouth was impossible to grasp because I didn’t understand the basis ...

In Hyperspace

Fredric Jameson, 10 September 2015

Time Travel: The Popular Philosophy of Narrative 
by David Wittenberg.
Fordham, 288 pp., £18.99, March 2013, 978 0 8232 4997 8
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... It is probably​ not immediately obvious what interest a new theoretical study of science fiction holds for the mainstream adepts of literary theory; and no doubt it is just as perplexing to SF scholars, for whom this particular subgenre of the subgenre, the time-travel narrative, is as exceptional among and uncharacteristic of their major texts as SF itself is with regard to official Literature ...

Dirty Little Secret

Fredric Jameson: The Programme Era, 22 November 2012

The Programme Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing 
by Mark McGurl.
Harvard, 466 pp., £14.95, November 2012, 978 0 674 06209 2
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... The secret Mark McGurl discloses is the degree to which the richness of postwar American culture (we will here stick to the novel, for reasons to be explained) is the product of the university system, and worse than that, of the creative writing programme as an institutional and institutionalised part of that system.* This is not simply a matter of historical research and documentation, although one finds a solid dose of that in The Programme Era: it is a matter of shame, and modern American writers have always wanted to think of themselves as being innocent of that artificial supplement to real life which is college education, to begin with, but above all the creative writing course ...

No Magic, No Metaphor

Fredric Jameson: ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, 15 June 2017

... The​ first centennial of the Soviet revolution, indeed the fifth centennial of Luther’s, risk distracting us from a literary earthquake which happened just fifty years ago and marked the cultural emergence of Latin America onto that new and larger stage we call globalisation – itself a space that ultimately proves to be well beyond the separate categories of the cultural or the political, the economic or the national ...

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