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Fredric Jameson (b. 1934)


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A vengeful, petty-minded state of being that does not so much want what others have (although that is partly it) as want others to not have what they have. The term, which might be translated as ‘resentment’, though in most places it is generally left in the original French, is usually associated with German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who defined it as a slave morality. Nietzsche sees ressentiment as the core of Christian and Judaic thought and, consequently, the central facet of western thought more generally. In this context, ressentiment is more fully defined as the desire to live a pious existence and thereby position oneself to judge others, apportion blame, and determine responsibility. Nietzsche did not invent the concept of ressentiment, it was a term that was very much ‘in the air’ in his lifetime (the late 19th century), as Fredric Jameson points out in his sharp critique of the concept in The Political Unconscious (1981). Jameson's quarrel with ressentiment, or more particularly Nietzsche's deployment of it, is that the latter fails to consider the ideological weight the term carried in its own time; thus, in Jameson's view Nietzsche fails to see that it is a category deployed by the ruling bourgeoisie elite to simultaneously justify their privileges and rationalize the denial of those same privileges to the poorer classes (on this view of things, the masses revolt not because their cause is just, but because they resent the rich).

Further Reading:

G. Deleuze Nietzsche and Philosophy (1983).

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.

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