dialectical criticism

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Fredric Jameson (b. 1934)



Bertolt Brecht (1898—1956) German dramatist, producer, and poet

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Fredric Jameson's term for his approach to literary and cultural analysis. The essential tenets of the approach—he insists that it is not a method as such, which would imply a ‘one size fits all’ attitude which Jameson rejects—were worked out in detail in Marxism and Form (1971) and then further elaborated in The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (1981). As in Karl Marx's conception of the dialectic, Jameson insists that dialectical criticism must strive for the scandal of the unexpected revelation that comes from the demonstration that the Other is not as different from the same as we initially thought. Dialectical criticism should proceed from the abstract to the concrete, from the imperfectly understood to the concretely understood, where that would mean comprehending the true historical nature of existence. In this regard, dialectical criticism can also be compared to Bertolt Brecht's notion of the estrangement-effect, which was doubtless an inspiration in any case. Ultimately, dialectical criticism should strive to reveal obscure effects of class struggle in any given text by reconstructing the historical conditions—particularly the ideological conditions—that yielded it. Jameson's life-work can be seen as an astonishingly long and diverse series of demonstrations of both the versatility and utility of this approach. See also metacommentary; transcoding.

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.

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