Valences of the Dialectic Hardcover – 19 Oct 2009
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Not often in American writing since Henry James can there have been a mind displaying at once such tentativeness and force... The best of Jameson's work has felt mind-blowing in the way of LSD or mushrooms: here before you is the world you'd always known you were living in, but apprehended as if for the first time in the freshness of its beauty and horror. --Benjamin Kunkel, London Review of Books
Jameson's skill in connecting diverse materials and theories, the suggestiveness of his insights, and his passionate conviction make this an exciting work. --Times Literary Supplement
One of the great writers of our time, not just one of the most formidably gifted critics and cultural theorists...It is a vast treasure trove of a book. --Terry Eagleton, London Review of Books
About the Author
FREDRIC JAMESON is Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature at Duke University. He is the author of numerous books, including Archaeologies of the Future, The Modernist Papers, A Singular Modernity and Postmodernism, Or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.
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Thus, it always struck me as strange that Jameson would have never written extensively on Hegel or Marx. His Marxism and Form, while a masterwork, was never a prolonged meditation on Hegel, Marx, or the dialectic itself. So, it was with great anticipation that I received my copy of Valence of the Dialectic. Readers of Jameson would be pleased with this new volume of writing. Not only because the writings themselves are well executed, not only because the analyses in them are astute, but because it fills this gap in Jameson's oeuvre. But this is a book that will not only appeal to those who have an active subscription with the Jameson newsletter, as I do. Narratologists and historians (of a theoretical bent) will also have much interest in this book, especially the final chapters on Paul Ricoeur (so, maybe I should add philosophers). Those who happen to be reading Hegel's Logic will also find the first parts of this book interesting. Those who are now getting acquainted with the dialectic will find this book immensely valuable. Last, but not least, those invested in marxian thought, its history, its contours, will be advised to read this book.
This is not to say that the book is complete or even smooth. It is very much 1) a reading of Hegel's minor Logic, 2) a critical reassessment of Ricoeur's critical project and its application to History, and 3) a review of marxian thinkers, or should I say, simply, dialectical thinkers (Rousseau!). Which leaves out not just Marx, as Jameson himself admits, but also, and crucially, The Phenomenology of Spirit, which I suppose (and hope) the forthcoming Hegel Variations will supply. It is also not a smooth read, as it is broken up into parts which don't always internally cohere. There is a section called Commentaries, which brings together all of the forewards Jameson occassioned to write (but not the ones on Althusser and Lyotard--why?). Then there is a part called Entries, which has a group of encylopedia type articles on Commodification, Revolution, Ideology, and the like along with breathtaking essays on Lenin and Rousseau. But why not put the chapters on Lenin and Rousseau in Commentaries, since that is what they are? Then the final tour de force is a strange read, as the first part is more or less a long review and summary of Ricoeur, so it is a bit tedious. But then the patient reader is well rewarded with the final chapter on History: a chapter that seems to provide an answer to all those devotees who wondered "What is History to Jameson?" But for a writer who once described the experience of the dialectic as that sudden drop in the elevator or airplane, the proverbial butterflies in the stomach, the twists and turns of this volume would have been expected. It is this unevenness where things are set up and dealt with only to return later in some unexpected way that sheds new retroactive light on their previous appearence that is the Jamesonian dialectic itself. I would use a psychoanalytic term for this: jouissance. The dialectic comes along with a particular gratification, a particular jouissance, that erupts during the reading or thinking of something, that tears away what was previously or commonly thought. To think dialectically then is to enjoy this jouissance rather than to forestall it. Thus, the reader would be aided if they simply sat back and enjoyed the bumps and bruises that comes with working through a Jamesonian text.
A final word on some odd features. First is the ever present ghost of Derrida. Derrida infiltrates many of these pages. And he even bats lead off in the chapter on Ricoeur, with no real justification. One wonders why? I have my theories. Second is the feeling that one is holding a volume to be stashed away in the archive. Those with an active subscription to the Jameson newsletter will see much of that material reproduced in this volume. It is almost as if Jameson has decided to make sure that all of his essays reappeared in book form for posterity's--or more simply, for ease's--sake. What adds to this feeling is the form of the book itself, as it fits the style Verso created for Arhaeologies of the Future, The Modernist Papers, and Ideologies of Theory. Side by side, they indeed have the look and feel of a Standard Edition. Last is the work of Verso itself. Verso, for some strange reason, has decided to create its own house style for this book. But it is highly unsuccessful, as it makes the book unnecessarily hard to read. So instead of the standard capital Roman numeral to name a section and then to mark off a subsection with a lower case letter, and then further with a lower case Roman numeral, and still further with an arabic numeral, Verso decided to mark off each section with an arabic numeral, and then a subsection with a lowercase Roman numeral. But then inexplicably after subsection "vii" of one chapter the next subsection is marked off "8." Then in another chapter, instead of maintaining this convention, they use all lowercase roman numerals. Not to mention that their 1s look like Is. It is as if Verso created such a labrynth for itself that it could no longer navigate its way forward and got lost. It is perhaps advisable for Verso to go back to creating readable texts with standard stylization. But that should not hinder you from purchasing Valences--just annoy you.
Fredric Jameson and his late works represent the ultimate triumph of form over substance. Jameson's form is perfect. Its an athletic Marxist intellectual ballet where every move is perfect and every is note is hit. The crowd (small as it is) roars its approval....but its a very old crowd and a crowd going through the motions because while every move is perfect, its completely devoid of intellect, persuasion and new ideas. Its the ultimate in going through the motions intellectually while accompishing nothing.
He rehashes the holy books of the old prophet Hegel, he comtemplates the dialectic, he circles around to the disciples of the savior Marx and then makes a perfect three point landing on the marxist view of history. But where is the relivance? Economics, the working class and the everyday lives of people have been surrendered as a battleground. Rather, the world will be redeemed through cultural criticism grounded in Marxism. It would be sad if it were not so pathetic.
In many respects, the book takes the form of a summing up. A collection of random materials organized into what seems like a tombstone for a whole school of thinking. After all, the form is so very perfect in the book that no one will every be able to surpass it and the contents are so absolutely irrelivant that the book will eventually be forgotten. It points out ironically the ultimate failure of Marxism: That Marxism is a religion so caught up in authority, form and dogma that it can't ever renew itself.
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