We also need to point out tirelessly the interesting development that the "market" turns out finally to be as Utopian as socialism has recently been held to be. Under these circumstances, nothing is served by substituting one inert institutional structure (bureaucratic planning) for another inert institutional structure (namely, the market itself). What is wanted is a great collective project in which an active majority of the population participates, as something belonging to it and constructed by its own energies.Jameson is a man of considerable intelligence and penetration, but he is given to a certain glibness; he is an uncomfortable postmodernist, and the ease with which he deploys intertextual references and cites divers cultural artifacts only seems to highlight that fact. The main deficiency of Postmodernism, though, is the constant reemergence of the political--always marked with a sickly testiness. Jameson is a Marxist, and he wants to make that fact as clear to the reader as possible; his text functions as a vehicle of self-presentation and identity construction, and within its borders Jameson seems to be carrying on a struggle against himself.
- Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism: The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
Witness, for instance, the reference to how “bizarre” it is to identify Soviet gulags with Nazi concentration camps. As an heir of the sixties, there's no reason for Jameson to associate himself with actually existing socialism at all, and hence no reason to describe as bizarre a contention that, while arguable, is hardly out of the ordinary. But some latent will to authenticity makes him pursue a United Front strategy, with which he can evade the anxiety inherent in his analysis by grounding himself in the solid certainties of respectable orthodox Marxism (notice, too, the connection with Sartre's similar, but far more honest and explicit, refusal to recognize the reality of the gulags because of the political inexpediency of that recognition). Hence, also, his periodic reversion to the tried-and-true tactic of non-confrontational Soviet professors: expound a theory, then spend the rest of your time finding similar approaches in Marx. The Grundrisse serves Jameson particularly well in this regard. When Marx himself (incidentally, “Marx himself” is a recurring phrase, a sort of more insipid ipse dixit) is unavailable for comment, Marxist jargon phrases and their derivatives stand in: Jameson cites Debord's characterization of the image as “the final form of commodity reification” no fewer than four times, thrice describing it as “remarkable” and once as “famous.”
This is also the root of his yearning for a “great collective project.” Elsewhere, Jameson mocks the concept of political nostalgia. But this affirmation of the ultimate end of Marxist thought in the era of postmodernism is so hazy, so lacking in any concreteness or coherence, that it suggests that Jameson's Marxism is at best a lifestyle choice valorized to the level of a personality keystone. Indeed, the project as Jameson conceptualizes it resembles nothing more than the great public works projects of the USSR: BAM, Dnepropetrovsk, and so on. Fittingly for such an incurable postmodernist, Jameson's vision of the future is little more than a Social Realist poster of a well-muscled worker toting his hammer proudly into the sunset.
In one of his cleverer moments, Jameson seizes upon Paul de Man's use of the vocabulary of “temptation,” and so on, to make a larger point about his “ascetic impulse.” We might do the same with his own unremitting flow of “interventions.” They crop up everywhere: Nietzsche intervenes, as does “alertness to the problems of photography,” as do any number of people and concepts. While, like “always already,” this term has long been a staple word (an “iron ration,” as Adorno and Horkheimer would put it) in the postmodernist vocabulary, Jameson is far too subtle a stylist to rely so fundamentally on a cliché. I think his use of “intervention” is reflective of a deeper anxiety, a desire for salvation, a will to expiate the sins of postmodernism and achieve some reconciliation. The operative image is, of course, the cavalry in the Western, intervening at the last moment (in the last instance) to save the white people from the savages.
The fact is, Jameson is manifestly unable to see past the horizons of even the most moribund Marxism. For instance, Jameson evidently believes, and is not ashamed to assert, that for his enemies the conservatives “Utopia” always means “socialism” and “the political” means Marxism—as does “ideology.” The most egregious example in Jameson's book is the placement of little pluses (for leftist) and minuses (for reactionary) next to the names of the theorists in the chart at the end of Chapter 2. (Transvaluation of all values this is not.) The failings of this brand of academic postmodernism shine through with crystal clarity: Jameson is prevented by his inborn prejudices from carrying the critical project to its logical conclusion. In the absence of a functional politics, we get what is essentially an empty space.