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Raymond Chandler: The Detections of Totality

The master of literary theory takes on the master of the detective novel
Raymond Chandler, a dazzling stylist and portrayer of American life, holds a unique place in literary history, straddling both pulp fiction and modernism. With The Big Sleep, published in 1939, he left an indelible imprint on the detective novel. Fredric Jameson offers an interpretation of Chandler’s work that reconstructs both the context in which it was written and the social world or totality it projects. Chandler’s invariable setting, Los Angeles, appears both as a microcosm of the United States and a prefiguration of its future: a megalopolis uniquely distributed by an unpromising nature into a variety of distinct neighborhoods and private worlds. But this essentially urban and spatial work seems also to be drawn towards a vacuum, an absence that is nothing other than death. With Chandler, the thriller genre becomes metaphysical.


  • “Even the most anti-Marxian among us, [will] find ourselves compelled, if not to accept the book’s intricate hypotheses, at least to accord them an ungrudged admiration for the brilliance of their formulation and the serene and quietly convinced tone in which they are advanced.”
  • “Jameson, now 82, has long been the most alluring American literary theorist, the only one to match the French in style and depth. This bravura book stems from a long engagement — we might say obsession — with Chandler; what had been a footnote 30 years ago now unfolds with full force. Jameson makes every strand of Chandler’s oeuvre glisten with significance.”
  • “Fredric Jameson is America’s leading Marxist critic. A prodigiously energetic thinker whose writings sweep majestically from Sophocles to science fiction.”
  • “Not often in American writing since Henry James can there have been a mind displaying at once such tentativeness and force. Probably the most important cultural critic writing in English today … it can truly be said that nothing cultural is alien to him. 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.”
  • “Probably the most important cultural critic writing in English today … it can truly be said that nothing cultural is alien to him.”
  • “The most muscular of writers.”
  • “The small length of Jameson’s book adds a tightness to its arguments and the style is often Chandler-esque: words are not wasted, literary observations are pin-sharp and there are some wry aperçu. Winningly, Jameson occasionally employs the genre’s rhetoric, so his theorising becomes the pursuing of “lines of enquiry”, a “procedure”, etc. It’s touches like this that make Jameson such a joy to read”


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    Fredric Jameson’s pathbreaking essay An American Utopia radically questions standard leftist notions of what constitutes an emancipated society. "If," Jameson asks, "business, the professions, religion, even the labor unions (let alone the post office or the Mafia) are inadequate vehicles for dual power, what can then be left in late capitalism as an already organized institution capable of assuming the parallel and ultimately revolutionary role on which alone radical social change depends?" 

    All books on our Emerging Futures Reading List, including 
    An American Utopia, are 40% off until Sunday, November 20th at midnight UTC. Includes free worldwide shipping and bundled ebooks where available.

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  • Ebook Highlights from Verso’s Archive from $1/£1


    We’ve come to realize that our 90% off ebook sale has placed our readers in a dual crisis of both shortening time and expanding options, leaving many paralyzed or uncertain on how to navigate this vast terrain of radical ebooks. The task is certainly daunting. With a diverse list of authors ranging from Rosa Luxemburg, Ellen Meiksins Wood, Fredric Jameson, David Harvey, and Benedict Anderson to Patrick Cockburn, Liza Featherstone, John Berger, and Richard Seymour, choosing the right bundle can be a challenge. 

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  • Real Qualities of the Microcosm: Raymond Chandler in Los Angeles, USA

    The Los Angeles of Raymond Chandler was an unstructured city, and the social types are here nowhere near as pronounced. By the chance of a historical accident, Chandler was able to benefit from the survival of a purely linguistic, typological way of creating his characters after the system of types that had supported it was already disappearing

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