The Success and Failure of Fredric Jameson
Writing, the Sublime, and the Dialectic of Critique
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A critical overview of the work of Fredric Jameson, with an emphasis on his notoriously difficult writing style.
This is the first book to provide a critical overview of the work and career, as a whole, of the Marxist culture-critic Fredric Jameson, foremost among American intellectuals and a vanguard figure in the "theory movement" of the past three decades. Steven Helmling identifies major themes and traces both continuity and change in Jameson's engagement with the challenges presented by continental theory from the 1950s to the present. Instead of approaching Jameson's work by circumventing his notoriously difficult writing style, as many have chosen to do, Helmling takes at face value Jameson's insistence that the success and failure of critique are conditioned on how it is written. Jameson insists on a "dialectical prose" that not merely analyzes but enacts or performs the contradictions of its subjects, resulting in an agitating, dramatic, and compelling style that questions the very success or failure of critique itself. Style is thus regarded both as a salient feature of the writing, and as a problem for critical practice in general. Besides illuminating an oeuvre that's far from fully understood, the book makes a timely contribution to the current, "What was theory?" discussion.
Steven Helmling is Professor of English at the University of Delaware, and is the author of The Esoteric Comedies of Carlyle, Newman, and Yeats.
"It succeeds both as a general introduction to Jameson's vast and notoriously difficult body of work and as a subtle, highly original commentary on the state of Marxist critique in contemporary letters. It is written with grace and wit, and, considering the demands of the material and the sophistication of Helmling's arguments, with admirable clarity. There is nothing dutiful or journeymanlike about this study; it is characterized from start to finish by a rare degree of intellectual passion. I not only learned a great deal from reading this book, but I also truly enjoyed reading it." — James English, author of Comic Transactions: Literature, Humor, and the Politics of Community in Twentieth-Century Britain
"While Jameson is one of our most important theorists, there are relatively few book-length studies of his work, perhaps precisely because he is so hard to read. The author's focus on Jameson's style is fascinating and quite original. This book is certain to become a germinal text in contemporary theory." — Gary A. Olson, coeditor of Race, Rhetoric, and the Postcolonial