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JAMES LYNN THE LANGUAGE OF EVENTS/A REVIEW ESSAY Prederic Jameson, Marxism and Form: Twentieth-Century Dialectical Tlieories o/ Literature (Princeton University Press, 1971), pp. xix - 432, $12.50. It is advisable, before saying a single word about this remarkable book, to advance a few preliminary reflections upon what are, in our Anglo-American cultural context, the very special and challenging demands which it makes on the reviewer wishing to continue his hitherto blandly straight-forward practice of judging a work of 'iteran criticism 'on its own terms': The terms of Frederic Jameson's Marxism and Form resolve themselves into fundamental questions of critical method which it is the lx)ok's purpose to disclose to us as questions rather than as answers disguised as modest, and hence neutral, proposals which a literary culture - - in which fairness, liberal mindedness and tolerance of a multiplicity of perspectives are traditionally the most affect-laden and instinctual categorical imperatives - - uses to de-fuse issues regarded as explosive merely Ijocause the manner of their formulation invites positive, as opposed to private, commitment. Professor Jameson's Ixxik resists answers because its mode of address is dialectical. This is to say that for him content cannot be fully grasped in isolation from a critical response to form. It is form that first reveals the manner in which content comes into existence and, beyond that, the subjective and historical reasons for its necessary presence to us in a determinate configuration. Dialectical critism is, therefore, a search for the forms of historical forms, which is, however, itself a form, and therefore itself historically circumscribed. The historical form of Professor Jameson's book, in other words (and here we may identify the "special" demands mentioned), itself requires completion in time. It is we who continue his search by situating ourselves with regaid to. not so much the empirical objects of his analysis as his "(.unirete working through of (their) detail" . his "sympathetic internal experience of the gradual construction of a system according to its inner necessity". Iu> »elf consciou.sh personal interpretation of what he takes to lie a tradition of preeminence in Marxist criticism, embodied in the work of T. W. Adorno. Waller Benjamin. Ernst Bloch, Herbert Marcuse, Georg Lukacs ¡nid -leaii-l'aul Sartre. So that if our criticism is to be serious we are required Io include ourselves, as a logical term 140 or moment of a dialectic (and with as much consciousness of our concrete historical situation as that word implies) in the action of coming to terms with both the formal thinking he describes and the form of his awareness of it. As in Hegel's Logic and Phenomenology of Spirit, in which both Jameson and the authors ofwhom he speaks ultimately ground their ontologies, human subjectivity in dialectical criticism is itself implicated in, and transformed by, its own activity. Here, as there, it recapitulates at every instant the history of the manner in which it has deposited its knowledge about itself in the forms of logic, natural science, art, philosophy and theology and about how the hypostatisation of one of tliese forms at any moment in uncompleted time has always resulted, and will always result, in mystification or the mistaking of the determinate historical form for the form of forms or totality. We may, cf course, cling to one of the comforting mystifications of our culture (any one of our empirical ideologies will do nicely) and refuse to have anything whatsoever to do with dialectical thinking but should we offer it but one of our little fingers it will inevitably draw our whole being into realising, intellectually at least, the consequences for our lives of ourselves as the historical subjective agent of all social and cultural determinations. It is indeed the self that knows itself at the end of Hegel's historical ontology, but because it has for a long time been apparent that, as it claimed for itself at the end of the Phenomenology , it did not thereby come to know itself as Absolute Spirit in one final twist of the dialectic marking the end of time, it is forced to continue its labors. Only this time, as the inheritors of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 140-153
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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