Literary and Critical Theory Fredric Jameson
Sean Homer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 March 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0011


Fredric Jameson (b. 14 April 1934) is North America’s leading Marxist cultural theorist and critic. He is the Knut Schmidt-Nielsen Professor of Comparative Literature, Professor of Romance Studies (French) and Director of the Institute for Critical Theory at Duke University, where he has worked since 1985. Jameson has been the recipient of many awards throughout his career; some of the most recent and prestigious include the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the 2008 Holberg International Memorial Prize in recognition for, in the words of the awarding committee, his career-long research “on the relation between social formations and cultural forms.” Jameson was a central figure in the renaissance of Marxist literary criticism in the United States in the 1970s, and with his students at the University in California, San Diego, he helped to found the Marxist Literary Group (MLG) in 1969. In the early 1980s his essays on postmodernity and late capitalism were seminal in grounding the concept of postmodernity in transformation in contemporary capitalism and became the center of intense debates. Postcolonial critics such as Simon During criticized Jameson, and Marxist criticism generally, for his Eurocentrism and refusal to take into account the subaltern experience (see During 1987, cited under Critical Readings: Selected Articles). This may seem to be a particularly misplaced criticism of Jameson, whose work has always engaged with non-anglophone traditions, and has also been extremely influential in Latin America, China, and many other parts of the globe. In the mid-1980s, Jameson lectured in Beijing. These lectures, collected in Postmodernism and Cultural Theories (Jameson 1987, cited under Collected Essays and Lectures), were enormously influential on younger Chinese intellectuals and understandings of postmodernity in China. Since his semi-retirement, Jameson has been compiling many of his articles for a monumental six-volume project, The Poetics of Social Forms; a literary project that was first announced with the publication of Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Jameson 1991, cited under Postmodernism) and is surely without comparison today. The exact structure of the project is not clear, but at least four volumes have been published to date: Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991); Archaeologies of the Future (Jameson 2005, cited under Science Fiction and Utopia); The Modernist Papers (Jameson 2007, cited under Modernism); and The Antinomies of Realism (Jameson 2013, cited under Realism). In addition, A Singular Modernity (Jameson 2002, cited under Modernism) provides “the theoretical section of the antepenultimate volume,” and a footnote in the Hegel book promises Volume 2 will be on allegory and titled Overtone: The Harmonics of Allegory. As Sara Danius described it in her address to the Holberg committee, The Poetics of Social Forms attempts to “provide a general history of aesthetic forms, at the same time seeking to show how this history can be read in tandem with a history of social and economic formations,” (see the Archives section for further details).

General Overviews

Many more or less critical introductions to Jameson’s work are available, included in the section Critical Readings. The revised and updated edition of Ideologies of Theory (Jameson 2009, cited under Collected Essays and Lectures) also provides a comprehensive overview of Jameson’s interests and theoretical positions. To date just one collection of Jameson’s work, Hardt and Weeks 2000, provides a good starting point.

  • Hardt, Michael, and Kathi Weeks, eds. The Jameson Reader. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.

    Hardt and Weeks provide an excellent selection of Jameson’s work up to 2000. Under the headings “Paradigms of Interpretation,” “Marxism and Culture,” “Postmodernism,” “Exercises in Cognitive Mapping,” and “Utopia,” the editors cover most of Jameson’s main areas of interest, although there is not much on modernism here. The editors also provide a very readable introduction and contextualization for each selection. The volume has a comprehensive bibliography up to the year 2000.

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