Call for Papers: Imaginary Relations

I’m working on an introductory message for Imaginary Relations, hoping to start posting essays there by January.  Below is a first draft of this message—my writing feels a bit rough to me, as I’m still trying to write through the pain, and having trouble focusing my attention.  I expect this will be better in a few months, so I will be able to do a better job with the essays I’m writing on The Good Place and on “Bartleby, the Scrivener.”  I may revise this somewhat before rebooting Imaginary Relations, but I thought I’d post it here to give folks some notice, some opportunity to ask questions, and to encourage contributions.  

My goal here is to produce an open access online journal to examine how our ordinary daily practices work to produce, and reproduce, our ideology.  The title “imaginary relations” derives from Althusser’s theory of ideology, which he defines as our “imaginary relations to the relations of production.” 

I expect that two points need clarification right off.  What exactly do I mean by “ordinary daily practices”?  What are “imaginary relations”?

By “imaginary relations” I mean that felt sense of how the world just naturally is, how things work, and how we can relate to or interact with it.  Althusser’s point is that ideology is not primarily in concepts about reality (as in science, say, or theology).  Rather, ideology is mostly in practices, in those things we do which seem natural and normal, which seem meaningful to us.  These usually entail a belief, which may be implicit or explicit; but what is crucial is less what we say we believe than what we do, especially what we do without much intentional deliberation.  Imaginary, then, does not mean made up or fanciful—this has nothing to do with the “false consciousness” idea of ideology.  Think, rather, of “image,” of the structure of our perception of the world.  Imaginary relations do not necessarily require false beliefs.  For instance, if one’s ideology is that hard work is ennobling, then one really does feel better about oneself after having worked hard—we aren’t “mistaken” or “deluded” about that sense, really and truly feeling awful but trying falsely to convince ourselves we don’t.  Imaginary relations are what primarily keep us doing what needs to be done for our way of organizing the human social world to be at all workable.  These go all the way from our sense of shame when we are unemployed to our sense of what is proper behavior in the grocery store.  What feels natural, normal, the ordinary thing to do, is our imaginary relation to our relations of production.

The kinds of daily practices I am interested in, then, are those that work to produce these imaginary relations.  This can include many things usually classified as “culture”: arts, sports, courtship rituals, clubs and organizations, leisure activities generally.  In short, anything from Proust to Grand Theft Auto, from attending the opera to playing in a softball league, can work to produce our imaginary relations.  This would include things like the kinds of technology we regularly use, how we organize and behave in a classroom, workplace norms of behavior, arrangements of public and private spaces…and the list goes on.  

My own personal focus is likely to be on certain kinds of art, particularly film, television, and most of all Literature of all kinds.  I would hope that others will at some point be inspired to submit discussions of the imaginary relations produced by things I am less familiar with: cell phones (I don’t own one), video games (I don’t play them), or the modern world of online dating (it didn’t exist during my dating days).  All of these things shape how we experience the world, what we think reality is like, and what seems natural for us to do.  

The aim here is to avoid an academic or scholarly discourse, and to discuss these things in ordinary language to the extent possible.  My hope is that if we can become more aware of the ideology being produced by our everyday practices, we can gain some ability to change it with deliberate intention.  

To many in the academic world, that last sentence will seem hopelessly naive.  So, at the risk of starting off in too academic a style, I am going to say something briefly about why this kind of project cannot be carried out in the academic world.  I will use the discourse of Literature as my example, with the hope that I can make clear both what I want to do that cannot be done in academic discourse, and what kind of practice I want to encourage.  

Consider the common assumption that a poem cannot be paraphrased.  Decades ago, when things like Literature and art and philosophy were still studied at universities and sometimes at the better high schools, this was drilled into us as an essential truth. Something about a poem must exceed any attempt to paraphrase it, or else it is not art.  Art somehow addresses the ineffable, and poetry speaks in words about what is beyond words.  One of the most famous statements of this was an essay we all had to read as English undergraduates, Cleanth Brooks’s “The Heresy of Paraphrase.”  But as Stanley Cavell pointed out back in the sixties, in fact Brooks himself paraphrases poems all the time.  The problem was not that a poem could not be paraphrased, but that once the poem has been paraphrased the critic “has to do everything at his philosophical disposal to keep paraphrase and poem from coinciding: in particular, speak of core and essences and structures of the poem that are not reached by the paraphrase”(“Aesthetic Problems of Modern Philosophy, 71).  The point, what I take from Cavell’s discussion, is not to say “aha, Brooks has really been paraphrasing after all!”  Rather, we need to recognize that there is something about the poem, and the practice of reading it as a poem, that is somehow more than the conceptual content.  We need to try to explain what more a poem does, other than what it says, and why it is so important to the critic to obscure this function behind talk of ineffability and essences.  That is where we will locate the ideology of the poem, the work it does to produce our imaginary relations.  

Let me offer a brief illustration.  We all know Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.”  We could all easily paraphrase this poem.  In fact, when teaching it, students will often think we have accomplished the task of “close reading” once we have gotten them to see that the speaker did not, in fact, take the “road less travelled by” at all. On a first reading, they universally take the poem to say something like: if you follow the harder path, you will succeed.  Of course, a proper paraphrase would be more like: later in life, you will claim to have made the harder choice, to convince yourself that things would have been worse if you had made different choices.  Or something to that effect.  We can argue about the best paraphrase, but we can’t think that the former example is anything close to what the poem actually says—it isn’t a paraphrase at all, and misses the whole point of the poem.  

However, once we’ve paraphrased the poem, we haven’t yet begun to explain the ideological function it serves.  In fact, for many readers, almost all apparently, its ideological function depends exactly on failing to really read the poem at all.  That is to say, the affective experience of reading the poem (the way most people will read it) is to convince us that we ought to set out to do the harder thing in life, and we will be rewarded later on.  It is often invoked, from high school graduations to car commercials, to inspire us to do what in fact is—no, not the less common thing—but exactly the thing demanded of all of us collectively.  Go to college, that’s the “road less travelled”!  The demand is that we all must follow this “harder path,” like everyone before us, if we hope to survive in the world.  Sometimes it’s “go into debt for this really expensive car” or “play this cool new video game” (both television ads I’ve seen the poem used for), but it always functions to inspire us to pay up now for reward later. Or, it is meant to. And we think we are special if we do this, among the few who did the harder thing.  

And once we’ve corrected our “reading”?  Well, then the poem still works to produce an affective response. We come to feel a sense of ironic detachment from the petty business of choosing what to do in life.  We feel special, among the few who can correctly read a poem and appreciate its subtle irony—and we let go of our concerns for things like political and economic reform. What matters is achieving calm detachment and contemplative humor.  

My point, with this little example, is that we generally focus on what a poem says, and miss what kind of imaginary relation to the world it works to create in us.  That, in fact, cannot be captured by paraphrasing the poem, because it is not in the content of the poem.  Instead, we need to look for it in the practice of reading and appreciating poems.  

The goal of educational institutions is to avoid contemplating exactly this.  They are meant to mystify the function of art, to talk of ineffable essences, so that art can go on doing its work. Film studies will obsess about cinematography or montage or technique, and avoid discussion of the ideological function of actually watching a movie on Netflix.  Or we obsess about the vacuous content of instagram feeds, but ignore the imaginary relations to our real conditions of existence created by the very fact that we must use our phone for absolutely everything now.  

My hope, in Imaginary Relations, is to explore what we are usually trained to ignore.  The question I want to ask is: when we do this, what kind of a subject does it make us into?  What kind of a person do I become, with what abilities, tendencies, desires, and assumptions about the world, when I play this game or read this book or us this phone?

I hope others will join in, and I’ve had some promises of contributions, but if I don’t get them I’ll just keep right on posting my own thoughts every week or two until I do.  In the works are essays on The Good Place, Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” and The Witcher.  Others have mentioned writing about Gilmore Girls, Friday Night Lights, and Fox News.  I hope I get some of these submissions, and more.  If you’re not sure what this project is all about, I hope you’ll check back, read some of the essays, and engage in the debate.  Because the goal here is a debate.  I hope to open the conversation about the imaginary relations of our everyday practices, not settle it.  Attempts to outline ideologies in this way may be tentative, subjective, open to complication or revision.  

Feel free to email me at wtompepper@cox.net, or post a comment here, if you have any ideas for possible contributions.  

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15 Comments

  1. thesonoranghost

     /  November 2, 2020

    I would like to contribute, though it might take me a few editing rounds to get to the core of what you’re looking for. Apparently right when I thought I “got it” in regards to ideology–I missed that all important “practices” aspect.

    I don’t have your email address. Mine is sonoran_ghost[at]protonmail.com

    If you would do me the small favor of sending me a message there, I can correspond with the drafts quite a bit better. I already have a candidate topic.

  2. I’m interested in this project too, and may want to contribute. I also don’t have your email, would prefer at least at first to send comments that way. My email is fairhaven69@gmail.com

    My poetry blog is http://www.place9011.com

  3. Nicky

     /  November 10, 2020

    Hi everyone

    I find the ideology analysis project very interesting and useful. I startet to make some notes, collect ideas and thought, maybe others would like to pick up and add their own perspective on them or add further ideas, so here questions/ideas/inspirations I thought of:

    questions that would interest me:

    – the borg in star trek as anticommunist ideology: what interests me is the defense of communism in face of the critique inherent to the borg – more specifically the defense from Toms or Althussers perspective: is the ideology theory a collectivism where there is no room for the individual and its specific desires and characteristics, how is the individual subject thought – as a mere dissolution into collective conditions/or a more playful variant of it….how can the oppressive elements be avoided?

    – mindfulness as a compensation of a lack of recognition (i.e. participation in the determination of collective goals?) as a reintroduction of the Big Other through self-observation. (When I first encountered mindfulness, I experienced this wonderful relief, like I suddently felt like I can give myself something that was missing in my life and my outsider position and was amazed that mindfulness could make me truly independent of others/of society on a psychological level because I could give myself what I missed before). What is recognition? What should it be, what is its distorted replacement? What does it lead to?

    – astrology as has become quite popular in mainstream culture – Adorno sees in it the doubling of the powerlessness we endure by capitalism: the mysterious forces behind what is visible and that determine our lives finds its analogy in the celestial forces…are there other explanations?

    – Biden`s victory speech: almost got a bit tears (which I hate, also when they push the tear buttons in movies, like this impulses I can`t control and don`t even stand for) – he talked about unity and cooperation, but it was also clear for whom: “trump and trump supporters are not our enemies, they are americans”, so he plays the patriotism card. Something about my tears and the grandeur feeling also reminded me of star trek with their emphasis on honor and unity, superiority over other civilizations…the sublime feeling you get, when you feel recognized and included by a big other, a willingness it produces to serve, maybe even sacrifice yourself for this Other – as long as it just able to give you this feeling of being a part of it/something bigger (something big/honorable/noble) than yourself….and although I don`t want to project the worst, maybe there will be significant positive change, Biden is still a Neoliberal after all, and I wonder about the function of the projection of hope: like with Obama, there was this positive expectation – after reading a bit of Afropessimism I also wonder if hope is not more of an obstacle to real change, like it feeds us till we are ready to look at the facts again – while missing to do the real work and change….so what could be the function of a representation of hope/grandeur (also observed for example in star trek)?…kissing the baby`s head after the speech…generally what pushes your tear buttons and why? Function of sentimentality, being part of something bigger etc.

  4. Thanks Nicky,

    Lots to respond to here. I’ll just focus for now on one point: the illusion of “room for individuality”. This does seem to be the issue that STNG is dealing with. Remember, the series aired during the time that neoliberalism gained complete control in the US and Europe, and at the point that capitalism was “going global.” Perhaps the Borg somehow represented the concern that it was becoming clear that under global capitalism we in fact did not have the “individual freedom” we were supposed to value—that in fact we were being asked to adapt to an overwhelming “system” that could not be stopped. That is, the language of the Borg is the language of neoliberal global capitalism: resistance is futile (because capitalism is a natural force, not humanly made), and we will add your biological distinctiveness to our collective, so that the only “uniqueness’ allows is what will aid the triumph of global capitalism. The fantasy we get in STNG is that a fascistic military state can defeat this force, and maintain our illusion of uniqueness—so long as we can play a role in the organic whole that is the Star Fleet military universe.

    The key point seems to be captured in your question about individuality. Because of course the point is that this is always an illusion—we have only whatever individual desires are installed there by the collective mind, by the dominant symbolic system. Then, we mistake these things we are taught to desire for our “deep internal self”, and are willing to fight to the death to hold onto them, to fulfill these desires. This, for me, is the hardest point to make, and continues to resurface. It is difficult for people to grasp that they are constructed, dependently originated, in a collective social formation, and actually have not essential deep “true self.” Therefore, they always fear that the elimination of capitalism will rob them of an individuality that is just an illusion, that is just desires in the service of the existing system.

    Again, I’m not sure I’m able, at this point, to make this argument clearly—I think I’ve made it more clearly in the past than i could possibly do now, and even then it wasn’t clear enough for most readers to get (although, to be fair, some clearly did get the point—but I always suspect they’d already figured it out on their own, and it wasn’t really me who explained it to them).

  5. Nicky

     /  November 11, 2020

    If I have doubts about a complete identity between the individual and “the ensemble of the social relations” as I suggested could be a critique inherent in the Star Trek Borg as anticommunist ideology, I don`t mean a deep self instead, I rather refer to a doubt that there is “no individual left”, that the relation between the collective and the individual is a flat identity without mediation. I also refer to a critique of Althusser brought forth in Haug, W.F. in “Einführung in Marxistisches Philosophieren”, where he also talks about the sixth Feuerbach theses and claims that Althusser and Bloch (and others) missed the “in its reality” part of the defintion of the subject: “In its reality”, Marx presupposes, “it is the ensemble of the social relations”. Haug claims that this is an important “detail”:

    Sixth Feuerbach theses written by Marx in the Spring of 1845, but slightly edited by Engels;
    —–
    Feuerbach resolves the religious essence into the human essence. But the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual.

    In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations.

    Feuerbach, who does not enter upon a criticism of this real essence, is consequently compelled:

    To abstract from the historical process and to fix the religious sentiment as something by itself and to presuppose an abstract – isolated – human individual.
    Essence, therefore, can be comprehended only as “genus”, as an internal, dumb generality which naturally unites the many individuals.
    —-

    Haug in “Einführung in marxistisches Philosophieren” in my translation*:
    “Not only has a great deal been written about the sixth Feurbacht theses as Georges Labica (1998) noted, but it has first and foremost lead to a never ending history of false and vulgar history of reception, in which even so significant marxists like Louis Althusser, Ernst Bloch and many others were complicit. Marx `just` defined the human being as “Ensemble of social relations”, says Bloch (Prinzip Hoffnung, I, 286; GS5, 305). Bloch skips the mediating insertion “in its reality”. Lothar Kühne, a DDR-philosopher, worked out that this is an important detail: the sixth Feuerbach thesis should not be read, as if it denied the individual its human essence and as if this could be effective elsewhere than in all living human individuals. How language can not persist without speaking individuals, new borns humanise themselves only after their birth by starting to acquire the language, which they find, outside of themselves, in the human world. Lucien Sève, whose marxism and theory of the personality (1972) can to a large extent be read as comment to the 6. Feuerbach-thesis, hence talks about, that the human being is “excentré par rapport aux individus”, “decentered in relation to the individuals”, which can be described as “phenomenon of a shift of the midpoint of the human subject”(1972, 163).
    Blochs reduction is still of the finest of vulgarisations. The most rude and popular form explains summarily, Marx reduces the Individual to an “Ensemble of social relations”.”
    Haug, Wolfgang F.: Einführung in marxistisches Philosophieren, 2006, Berlin.

    In my interpretation of this text, it is not just identity, there is a space between the social relations and the single individual – a transportation, a mediation, even a translation – change happens in this transfer, can I say individuation? (I believe also Adorno sees in the subject a medium of these social relations, although in his sociological studies in volume 8 he exactly critizices the lack of this mediation in the subject as pathology of society and the individual). This is probably also the place where others, is it Benjamin, talk of “agency”.
    Considering that you acknowledge human nature in Marx, I am not sure, if you also implied this mediation part…
    I feel like I have to read much more about this, but that is what I have now.

    original*:
    “Über die sechste These ist nicht nur, wie Georges Labica (1998) bemerkt hat, “viel Tinte vergossen worden”, sondern sie hat vor allem eine nicht enden wollende Geschichte der verfälschenden Vulgärrezeption nach sich gezogen, deren sich selbst so bedeutende Marxisten wie Louis Althusser, Ernst Bloch und viele andere mitschuldig gemacht haben. Marx definiere das menschliche Wesen “eben als `Ensemble der gesellschaftlichen Verhältnisse`”, heisst es bei Bloch (Prinzip Hoffnung, I, 286; GS5, 305). Bloch überspringt den vermittelnden Einschub “in seiner Wirklichkeit”. Dass dieser wichtig ist, hat ein DDR-Philosoph, Lothar Kühne, herausgearbeitet: Die sechste Feuerbach-These darf nicht so gelesen werden, als würde dem Individuum das menschliche Wesen abgesprochen und als könnte dieses woanders als in allen lebenden menschlichen Individuen wirksam sein. Wie Sprache nicht ohne sprechende Individuen bestehen kann, so können Neugeborene sich zu sprechenden Individuen erst nachgeburtlich humanisieren, indem sie anfgangen, die Sprache sich anzueignen, die sie ausser sich, in der Menschenwelt, vorfinden. Lucien Sève, dessen Marxismus und Theorie der Persönlichkeit (1972) zu weiten Teilen als Kommentar zur 6. Feuerbach-These gelesen werden kann, spricht daher davon, das menschliche Wesen sei “excentré par rapport aux individus”, “dezentrieret in Bezug auf die Individuen”, was sich als “Phänomen der Mittelpunktsverschiebung des menschlichen Subjekts” beschreiben lässt (1972, 163).
    Die blochsche Verkürzung ist noch die feinste unter den Vulgarisierungen. Die gröbste und populärste Form erklärt kurzerhand, Marx reduziere das Individuum aufs “Ensembke der gesellschaftlichen Verhältnisse”.”
    Haug, Wolfgang F.: Einführung in marxistisches Philosophieren, 2006, Berlin.

  6. Nicky

     /  November 11, 2020

    Sorry my typos and mistakes: in singular, it is “thesis” of course.

  7. Nicky,
    Yes, I’m familiar with that argument. But Haug makes the mistake of assuming that the writings of Marx are like a divinely revealed text. In biblical scholarship, one could traditionally “prove” someone wrong by pointing out they had misread a passage. But I wouldn’t care if there was a statement in Marx that directly and explicitly contradicted this position, I would just say that Marx is wrong about reality.

    I understand the impulse to hold on to something that exceeds dependent origination—we all want to have a self that is more than the sum of our social determinants. This is something I debated for years with Glenn as SNB. There is of course a certain biological difference that exceeds our social construction—you can’t change someone’s height or native intelligence with culture. But this difference is not, I take it, what most people are concerned about.

    I object to the term “reduced” to an ensemble of human relations. My position is that the ensemble of human relations elevates us out of our merely animal existence, and makes us a unique species with a degree of agency no other living thing has.

    For me, it isn’t an argument over who read Marx most closely. Someone would have to show me that there really is something in a person that is unconstructed (I mean, obviously, something not biological, like the size of your nose). That might convince me. But I’ve never seen any example of this.

    Of course, in the case of STNG, the fear, in my recollection, that made this story line compelling was that capitalism in its pre-neoliberals/global phase did construct different subjects differently. We each needed to play a different part—some factory workers, some middle management, some teachers, etc. What seemed to be happening was that we were all being constructed in a uniform manner, with the idea that any job should be arranged that you could plug anyone into it and have them perform it. The factory worker and the scientist supposedly need the same “training” and education, etc. Of course, this was never true—but it did seem to me that it was a real fear in America at least, as we began to see the homogenization of culture: my desire is now the same as everyone else’s, first and foremost to enable profit, secondly to make myself some money while I do it.

  8. Nicky

     /  November 12, 2020

    Hi Tom,
    Thoughts and also new questions…

    I clearly hate Neoliberalism and victim blaming more than I fear losing “individuality”. Except maybe, I also kinda hate whenever “community” comes up, how it always also excludes or always already has excluded.

    It sometimes can make sense to go back to an original text like Marx, especially if one calls oneself a Marxist like Althusser – to make a point? It was convenient…For me it is more an intuition, the way we can creatively engage with the material given to us, like what we are doing here, maybe I am influenced by Fichte but individuality seems less like a substance than an activity, a mental freedom given, Kants concept of spontaneity comes to mind. Like reading a text that must be somehow reconstructed and can`t just be taken over 1:1 or like a stamp coins an envelope. There is movement in us, change, we handle the ideological shaping while being shaped and simultaneously being the shape, we deal with it in a certain way and not another, and how we do this and if it is only the negation of what we are told to be true, makes us individual?
    If there was the image of a Leviathan with all the individuals building it, it would not be a clear picture, but blurry and pixelated because no Big Other is exactly the same, from one copy to another little shifts, shifts in perspective, emphases, pathologies, skills – bodies!! Or is it the practice that does the transportation job – so well? And what if you fall out of the picture? What is a bad subject – is it even a subject anymore, can one deliberately become a bad subject and is it worth it? How is the collective mind (of bad subjects) you talked about different to other ideologically bound minds?

  9. Yes, any community requires we abandon some options. But then, so does individuality. I’m kind of Freudian on this—we all want imaginary plentitude, but living as humans requires that some option is always already excluded.

    What does the collective mind of the bad subject look like? Well, I suppose there are many different kinds of bad subject minds. For instance, those Americans who are passionate Trump supporters are bad subjects of global neoliberal capitalism. They are angry and dissatisfied because they have been produced as subjects with desires they are forbidden to act on and capacities they are forbidden to use. They have some vague inkling that the American capitalist system is somehow opposed to their interests—that it is a MoP that serves the interest of a shrinking oligarchy of the very wealthy. But they cannot understand this, because in order to keep them in line neoliberalism has systematically eliminated opportunities for education for half a century, leaving the populace ignorant and unable to think properly. So what happens? They believe racism and nationalism will solve their problems. Or they believe in thoroughly insane conspiracy theories involving Obama conducting child sex trafficking in DC pizza parlors. Because of course their is a sort of conspiracy—it is just right out in the open, not hidden away. It is Warren Buffet declaring “there is a class war, and my class is winning it!” There is a “conspiracy” of the very wealthy to get more money and make everyone else poorer. It is called capitalism.

    So what do we do? Agency, I’ve argued, comes from correct knowledge. But how do you get someone so horribly ignorant to begin to understand the truth about how things really work? It is easier to convince them of bizarre fictions than obvious truths after decades of indoctrination.

    I don’t think anyone “deliberately” becomes a bad subject. We become bad subjects because the ideology of capitalism fails all the time. The internal contradiction of capitalist economics cannot be overcome by any form of ideology.

    But how to get people so thoroughly trained to be violently and angrily anti-intellectual to think more clearly about the world? I don’t know. I just keep trying…

  10. Nicky

     /  November 13, 2020

    That was helpful, thank you for your answers, patience, for not giving up! I find your whole effort, theories, and struggle very encouraging and inspiring!

    Decision means also excluding things, but I was thinking about people, how communities may also have an oppressive element, but this is probably also due to the capitalist system and its ideology, that is at least my experience or more – fear: “there is no right life in the wrong one” (Adorno again)

    …en passant you uncovered a true core of conspiracy theories…

    I also noted your interpretation of the Borg as a neoliberal incorporation of the “Human Ressources”…”Human Capital”…I was a bit surprised by a critical approach to the neoliberal ideology though, because Star Trek is a right-wing show?
    By the way I like the newest season of “Discovery” more than the last ones, they seem to leave the purely action-loaded genre for a more classic almost retro style of Star Trek – which of course I enjoy much more…
    I did not read much yet, but here Sara Jaffe and Adam Kotsko discuss Star Trek
    https://itself.blog/category/star-trek/

    One more thing before diving into the endless imaginary relations themselves…
    Afropessimist Warren said, you cannot be a free black man (in this world) but you can emancipate yourself; you said “you cannot individually determine collective goals” – so what we are doing here in the imaginary relations project is seeking….emancipation? Correct knowledge for agency?

    I will maybe go further into the astrology subject; I had an idea concerning “balance” (of transhistorical qualities/energies/forces) – I also met in buddhist circles – a history theory of the pendulum, the idea of extremes that balance themselves out…and how this idea is protecting the status quo…so, different notions that fuel into the idea of real, mindindependent, ahistorical specific qualities humans have to adjust to in contrast to a historical situation that is created by the humans through materialist conditions…

  11. Nicky

     /  November 20, 2020

    Just found this nice passage in Jameson`s “The political Unconscious”:

    “To imagine that, sheltered from the omnipresence of history and the implacable influence of the social, there already exists a realm of freedom, whether it be that of the microscopic experience of words in a text or the ecstasies and intensities of the various private religions – is only to strengthen the grip of Necessity over all such blind zones in which the individual subject seeks refuge, in pursuit of a purely individual, a merely psychological, project of salvation. The only effective liberation from such constraint begins with the recognition that there is nothing that is not social and historical – indeed, that everything is “in the last analysis” political.”

  12. That book was a fundamental influence in my thinking about Literature. I haven’t looked at it in decades now, but when I was a young English major I read it intensely. I think it probably influenced my lifelong concern with what I call, in my book, the fear of sociality.

    This figures in the essay I’m working on now on “The Good Place.” The concern is that salvation is a matter of individual psychological improvement. The only “social” element is romantic love and our ability to occasionally do things to help others—but to count as morally good, these acts of helping others must be seen as a personal sacrifice. This way of thinking about ethics is so deeply ingrained in our common-sense construal of ourselves that it is almost impossible for most people to even see it as a problem, to even conceive of alternatives.

  13. Nicky

     /  November 20, 2020

    I look forward to that essay!
    I love the book of Jameson – so interesting and intense, but so much to digest on one page, I can only read ten to twenty pages a day. I wish I had read such books when I studied.

  14. I do remember that reading Political Unconscious for the first time took me about a month. Partly because Jameson is, unfortunately, not a very good writer—it seems that sometimes people who are very smart, and fluent in many languages, just write the most awkwardly constructed and obscure sentences.

    But mostly it was because I was reading it on my own, and was unprepared. My undergraduate professors reviled Jameson. They were mostly Chicago School formalists, sure that Literature had nothing to do with politics, history, etc. A couple were students of Wayne Booth, one was a student of Harold Bloom. So, Jameson was quite a revelation for me.

    Unfortunately, all the really important things I learned in college I learned outside of classes, reading things my professors had absolute disdain for. Freud, Lacan, Marx, Althusser, Derrida. I was a rather bad student, in this sense—whatever my professor’s hated, I immediately wanted to know about.

  15. Nicky

     /  November 20, 2020

    I can`t say if this is well written or not, I enjoy that I never know what`s coming, which makes it difficult and interesting, it`s a constant stumbling or climbing.
    I think I wouldn`t have gotten very far then having very little or no idea of Marx, Lacan, Freud, Althusser etc. and I feel like I will come back to the book in some years to read it again.
    University for me was just the terrifying dawning of the realization that my whole naive idealization of this place was practically unfounded and that it was just another expression of a world I wasn`t built/ready for/able “to get in the game with”, something rotten…the competition, the chasing for publications, it seemed to destroy “Geist” or what I was hoping to find there…

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