Fredric Jameson’s latest book, Allegory and Ideology (2019), returns to the provocative proposition that he floated in The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (1981): that humankind’s cultural past is only available to us today if we believe that “the human adventure is one”—a series of efforts to wrest a realm of freedom from the realm of necessity. This essay examines the new book for evidence of possible fluctuations in Jameson’s commitment to a “single great collective story,” underlining in particular the subversiveness of the adjective “great” but also his re-affirmation of a particular Jamesonian version of constructivism, the Marxist spin he puts on loose and generalized notions of “X is a construct” and “everything is narrative.” Jameson’s loyalty to the concept of “ideology” is read here as another moment in his long-lasting dialogue with the late Hayden White. And his loyalty to the concept of “allegory” is read as dialectical in an especially courageous sense: a willingness to concede that the ability to affirm a “single great collective story” depends both on allegory, which works by a respectful but not reverential attention to cultural differences, and on the model of imperial power, which provides Jameson with his 1981 model of four-fold interpretation.
Single? Great? Collective?: On Allegory and Ideology
Bruce Robbins is Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University. His latest book is The Beneficiary (2017). He is working on a book about criticism and politics, and his documentary What Kind of Jew Is Shlomo Sand? (released by Mondoweiss in April 2020) is available at youtube.com/watch?v=sO3fVFXeSWY.
Bruce Robbins; Single? Great? Collective?: On Allegory and Ideology. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 October 2020; 119 (4): 789–798. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-8663699
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