Study Guide

Fredric Jameson Biography

Basic Information

Name

Fredric Jameson

Nickname

PoMo Fred, The Money Man, Fray-Jay, Jame$on

Sex

Male

Home town

Cleveland, Ohio: home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and birthplace of Marxist superstar Fredric Jameson

Work & Education

Occupation

Great. I love talking about work—not only because I'm a Marxist, but also because I do a lot of it. After earning my doctorate, I hit the ground running at University of California, San Diego. By then, I was armpits deep in Marxist literary theory. I was studying scads of other Marxist theorists and became even more committed to the idea that cultural criticism has an important role to play in Marxist thought.

I had a few compatriots, but a lot of academics were thinking that Marxism was a "so 50 years ago" kind of thing. Among my many great accomplishments at UCSD was banding with a bunch of my graduate students and starting a Marxist Literary Group. (Those were crazy days—but what happens in MLG…)

My days as Professor of Literature and History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz, were no less rowdy and productive. I started hammering home my ideas about late-era capitalism and really stirred up a hornet's nest. You can now find me at Duke University.

My website lists my publications, my specialties, and even summarizes the seminar I am teaching. There, I clearly state my intellectual mission: "to analyze literature as an encoding of political and social imperatives, and the interpretation of modernist and postmodernist assumptions through a rethinking of Marxist methodology."

Before you move past this quotation like a contagious disease, allow me to translate: if you read literature very carefully, you will find that the author has left clues about his or her world in the text. I am like a Marxist Sherlock Holmes: I will root out Marxist meaning in a text—even in Dr. Seuss... especially in Dr. Seuss.

Education

I'm living proof that you don't have to attend an Ivy League school to achieve world domination. (Okay, maybe that's a tasteless remark for a Marxist to make, but you get the point.) I went to Haverford College, where it was my great "privilege" (I like to put class-related words in quotation marks so you don't think I am assuming economic privilege) to study under the formidable thinker Wayne Booth. After that, I did a little globetrotting to France and Germany, where things were happening (at least by an academic's standards).

It was 1960s Europe, and Continental Philosophy was the hot trend. ("Continental Philosophy" is a way of referring to the whole stew of hot ideas at the time—existentialism, phenomenology, structuralism, and psychoanalysis, anyone?) It was like the intellectual's version of Spring Break in Miami Beach.

With my "wealth" of knowledge, I returned to the country every Marxist loves to hate: the United States. Yale was the place to be, so I picked up a PhD there and studied under Erich Auerbach—a dude seriously worth checking out. We had an academic bromance that lasted a lifetime.

Beliefs

Political views

Wow. I'll try to keep this brief, because when you're a Marxist, you live and breathe politics. First, I hate the evil dictator Stalin, so my Marxism is called non-Stalinist. Second, keep in mind that I am a Marxist cultural theorist, which means that I see the world through the lens of Marxism. To me, Marxism is not about how you vote; it's about how you see the world and its modes of production (a little phrase I use to refer to art). I believe that reading and interpretation must take place from a political perspective.

Let's talk about how I read a novel, because that's sort of what I, as a Marxist cultural critic, did in my book The Modernist Papers (2009), where I studied writers like Joyce, Proust, Mallarmé, Gertrude Stein, and William Carlos Williams.

I see Marxist ideas everywhere. When I look at these works, I am not interested in what they tell me about a red wheelbarrow or the Paris expat community. I read these novels for "the content of the form."

Whaaa?

Okay, modernists claimed that their primary concern was "pure form"—you know, all of that wild experimentation with stream-of-consciousness and cubism and poems without clear rhyme schemes. They said they were focused on the object itself, not in the message it sent.

I say you can find content in the form. Confused? Don't worry. We'll baby step through this.

Modernists really wanted to create work that was nonlinear, innovative, and experimental, but by doing so they revealed their knowledge that it is impossible to live outside of history, politics, and economics—especially when these things were breathing down your neck, as they did in the 1920s and 30s. Modernists avoided content to avoid the realities of their historical moment. Nice try.

Religious views

You may have deduced this by now, but I'm not a guy to be found at your local mosque, church, or synagogue. Remember Marx's whole "religion is the opiate of the people" thing? That's a short way of saying that people become deluded when they worship God.

Once they get their God on, people start to forget about the miseries of life, they get all obedient (which makes for good worker bees, which therefore helps capitalism), and they start living for the afterlife. As for Marxist theory and religion, I believe you can't understand any aspect of human existence—religion included—without thinking about economics. Religious people tend to believe that God determines history, but I say nope: economics does.

Activities & Interests

Likes

Aesthetics
Jaws
The Godfather I
and II (Forget III)
The Shining
Jean-Paul Sartre
(big time)
History, not history
Wuthering Heights
The novels of Joseph Conrad
MTV

Dislikes

People as "brands"
Soviet-era Communism
The Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles (total eyesore)
Andy Warhol
The architecture of Frank Gehry
Bourgeois illusions
Any and all oppression
Superstructures—from malls and gated communities to complexes of any sort
Terror
The idea of the genius

Interests

Coming up with utopian scenarios
Staying abreast of trends by consuming popular culture
Strolling across the Duke campus, leaving a trail of graduate students in my wake
Listing all the things I hate about ideology
Hanging out with Ke$ha
Mourning the loss of history
Indicting consumer capitalism
Condemning parody
Bemoaning the blankness of postmodern society
Weeping over the loss of the unique

Groups

Marxist Literary Group
Pacifists
Western Marxists
Cultural Marxists
Marxists Who Aren't Communists
Post-Modernists who Critique Postmodernism—and Modernism
Early Thinkers on Late Capitalism
The Eagleton Scouts
New Leftists
Dialecticians