Allegory and Ideology

Allegory and Ideology

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Works do not have meanings, they soak up meanings: a work is a machine for libidinal investments (including the political kind). It is a process that sorts incommensurabilities and registers contradictions (which is not the same as solving them!) The inevitable and welcome conflict of interpretations - a discursive, ideological struggle - therefore needs to be supplemented by an account of this simultaneous processing of multiple meanings, rather than an abandonment to liberal pluralisms and tolerant (or intolerant) relativisms. This is not a book about "method", but it does propose a dialectic capable of holding together in one breath the heterogeneities that reflect our biological individualities, our submersion in collective history and class struggle, and our alienation to a disembodied new world of information and abstraction. Eschewing the arid secularities of philosophy, Walter Benjamin once recommended the alternative of the rich figurality of an older theology; in that spirit we here return to the antiquated Ptolemaic systems of ancient allegory and its multiple levels (a proposal first sketched out in The Political Unconscious); it is tested against the epic complexities of the overtly allegorical works of Dante, Spenser and the Goethe of Faust II, as well as symphonic form in music, and the structure of the novel, postmodern as well as Third-World: about which a notorious essay on National Allegory is here reprinted with a theoretical commentary; and an allegorical history of emotion is meanwhile rehearsed from its contemporary, geopolitical context.


  • Allegory and Ideology charges an antique form with renewed political urgency. At its heart is the melancholy conviction that we can never directly lay hold of history.

    Ted TregearMarx & Philosophy Review of Books
  • Throughout this challenging, boundary-crossing new tome, we are repeatedly given such experiences of the intersection of the most minute details of a text and the grandest movements of history, making for a kind of head-spinning and euphoric journey. Yet this bewildering back-and-forth is in line, after all, with what the experience of the dialectic-with its unexpected connections between previously unrelated social strata-is supposed to feel like in the first place. In that, Jameson, as a dialectician, has once again achieved his aim.

    Thomas J. MillayCritical Inquiry
  • The world, it seems, keeps trying to catch up to Jameson, whose talent for dialectical unification still shines forth with radioactive power. After you've read him, it's impossible to unsee what he's shown you: his phenomenology of everyday life reveals the hidden architecture of the capitalist mode of produciton with the aesthetic aptitude of a modern novelist.

    James DraneyFull Stop