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  • Marxism and the Historicity of Theory: An Interview with Fredric Jameson

I. The Historicity of Theory

Xudong Zhang: My first question concerns the overall outlook of your theoretical language and the constitution of your methodology. It is a common view that you combined Marxism and structuralism—not Structuralism per se but the general emphasis on language and textuality since the so-called linguistic turn—to make these things indispensable to one another in your critical practice. Is this picture misleading? Could you explain the way in which these dimensions become intertwined in the development of theory in general and in your own interventions in particular?

Fredric Jameson: Several things have to be said. First of all, what we have called structuralism or theory in the largest sense, ranging from psychoanalysis to linguistics and everything else, not as a precise term but as a general historical term, emerged within the Marxist problematic. If we limit ourselves to France, the dominant French thought right after the Second World War was, of course, existentialism. But it very quickly became existential Marxism. And that was the point at which structuralism as a problematic began to emerge. I do not mean the structuralist position—particularly that language is the ultimate determining instance, but the question as to the relationship of language to other social levels emerges from the Marxist framework, which did not yet have an answer for it. I would say in general that you could probably show where all the specific themes of poststructuralism emerged from this Marxist problematic, which was at that point attempting to arrive at a more refined notion of culture and ideology.

I also want to add something else: The other important influence I have been interested in lately is that of Brecht, because Brecht’s [End Page 353] appearance at the Théâtre des nations in Paris in 1954 was really a very decisive event. Brecht was not normally thought of as a philosopher or theoretician. But his dialectic also set an agenda that would turn out to be poststructuralism—something in particular to be called antihumanism. In Brecht you have the simultaneous attack on the bourgeois classical tradition that Lukács, for example, defended, as well as on the socialist humanist tradition of which Lukács was obviously also a proponent. Then this antihumanism was further developed by people like Althusser—Althusser wrote something on Brecht incidentally, so there was a direct connection. So the point I want to make is that you can certainly read various poststructuralist texts outside their history for their immediate truth value, but if you want to put them in context to see how the problematic was developed, then you have to look at the larger Marxist framework. In a country like France after the War, an overwhelming percent of the intellectuals thought they were Marxist. At any rate at least they found the Marxist problematic—class struggle, modes of production, how to connect base and superstructure, what the nature of ideology is, what representation is—essential to their programs.

Another thing to be said about this first point is that it also explains why, surprisingly for some, we get this intervention of Derrida, in his book Specters of Marx. It is because, I think, now that France has de-Marxified, and many fewer intellectuals consider themselves Marxist, the great theoreticians—this is true for Deleuze, too, although, unfortunately, he did not have time to write his Marx book, but it is also true for others—understand more acutely how their own framework built on the Marxist problematic (again I do not want to say Marxism). And I think what Derrida was trying to rescue there is a multiple thing: he is making commentaries on certain texts of Marx, he is making a political intervention in a situation in which there seem to be no radical alternatives back to the moment. But I think he is also trying historically to save that base of Marxism from which he himself in an idiosyncratic way emerged.

As to the problem of what the relationship is in specific cases, I believe this has to do with the nature of theory itself. Theory...

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