Fredric Jameson, in The Political Unconscious, opposes the view that literary creation can take place in isolation from its political context. He asserts the priority of the political interpretation of literary texts, claiming it to be at the center of all reading and understanding, not just a supplement or auxiliary to other methods current today.
Jameson supports his thesis by looking closely at the nature of interpretation. Our understanding, he says, is colored by the concepts and categories that we inherit from our culture's interpretive tradition and that we use to comprehend what we read. How then can the literature of other ages be understood by readers from a present that is culturally so different from the past? Marxism lies at the foundation of Jameson's answer, because it conceives of history as a single collective narrative that links past and present; Marxist literary criticism reveals the unity of that uninterrupted narrative.
Jameson applies his interpretive theory to nineteenth- and twentieth-century texts, including the works of Balzac, Gissing, and Conrad. Throughout, he considers other interpretive approaches to the works he discusses, assessing the importance and limitations of methods as different as Lacanian psychoanalysis, semiotics, dialectical analysis, and allegorical readings. The book as a whole raises directly issues that have been only implicit in Jameson's earlier work, namely the relationship between dialectics and structuralism, and the tension between the German and the French aesthetic traditions.
The Political Unconscious is a masterly introduction to both the method and the practice of Marxist criticism. Defining a mode of criticism and applying it successfully to individual works, it bridges the gap between theoretical speculation and textual analysis.
Reviews and Endorsements:
"A major work of critical theory…[The Political Unconscious] integrates and refines a vast body of theoretical work, demonstrating a superb mastery of the field of contemporary criticism. The result…is a compelling, forceful argument in favor of the primacy of Marxism over contending strategies of interpretation."—Nineteenth-Century Fiction
"Monumental…Its learning and range of references are exceeded only be the imperial embrace of its complex argument, whose elaboration never imposes a sacrifice of clarity. …Indispensable for all university and college libraries."—Choice
"The Political Unconscious is a major work, and it should be read by historians, social scientists, and philosophers, as well as by literary scholars."—Hayden White, University of California, Santa Cruz
1. On Interpretation: Literature as a Socially Symbolic Act
2. Magical Narratives: On the Dialectical Use of Genre Criticism
3. Realism and Desire: Balzac and the Problem of the Subject
4. Authentic Ressentiment: Generic Discontinuities and Ideologemes in the "Experimental" Novels of George Gissing
5. Romance and Reification: Plot Construction and Ideological Closure in Joseph Conrad
6. Conclusion: The Dialectic of Utopia and Ideology