Friday, March 25, 2011


I will preface this post, like last time, by saying that I've done no research on this topic, so what follows might very well be cliched and passé (or just flat out wrong). I will further preface this post by saying that if you don't like boring questions about theory, feel free to skip on over this.

I've been thinking about Fredric Jameson (I'm not going to lie, I think about him a lot. His ideas fascinate me and I envy him his writing style, even as writing or talking about him terrifies me) and his concept of the “ideologeme” (introduced in his
The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act) in relation to Lacan's idea of the “point de capiton” (quilting point). I should say at the outset that I'm no expert on Lacan (I'm not even a novice on Lacan) and I'm drawing what I know about the quilting point from Žižek. If I've read my Žižek correctly, he seems to suggest that the quilting point (or maybe here “anchoring point,” the other translation of Lacan's term, is more appropriate) fixes the subject in a symbolic field against which the subject can be delimited, given shape, known (at least in some way). His example, at least in Violence, is anti-Semitic discourse and the image of the “Jew.” For anti-Semites, the “Jew” is a symbol, an image projected onto the “real” Jew. This symbol contains all the irrational fears, hatreds, and associations that make up the anti-Semite's conception of “Jew” as a subject. In order to create, maintain, and justify the anti-Semitism (or perhaps the anti-Semite's worldview, or the anti-Semite's conception of the “Jew” as subject or “Jew” as Other), the Jew must be affixed to this symbolic field (that matrix of hatred, fear, and associations) via the quilting point of the “Jew.”

Now, it seems to me that we can read this quilting point (the symbolic “Jew” is Žižek's example) as a kind of narrative. A small narrative, but one that fulfils a particular (and extremely important) function ideologically: it is by way of this quilting point, this narrative of the “Jew,” that the anti-Semite reconciles the fact that the flesh-and-blood Jew he or she experiences is in fact not the “Jew” that he or she hates and fears, by affixing the Other in the symbolic field that creates and sustains the hatred by dictating how he or she experiences the Jew. Or, as Žižek puts it in Violence:

What the perpetrators of pogroms find intolerable and rage-provoking, what they react to, is not the immediate reality of Jews, but the image/figure of the “Jew” which circulates and has been constructed in their tradition. The catch, of course, is that one single individual cannot distinguish in any simple way between real Jews and their anti-Semitic image: this image overdetermines the way I experience real Jews themselves, and furthermore it affects the way Jews experience themselves. What makes a real Jew that an anti-Semite encounters on the street “intolerable,” what the anti-Semite tries to destroy when he attacks the Jew, the true target of his fury, is this fantasmatic dimension. (66-67)
This narrative function (if I'm correct that we can see the quilting point—via the example above—as a kind of narrative) is remarkably similar to the function Jameson assigns to an ideologeme. For Jameson, an ideologeme:

is an amphibious formation, whose essential structural characteristic may be described as its possibility to manifest itself as either a pseudoidea—a conceptual or belief system, an abstract value, an opinion or prejudice—or as a protonarrative, a kind of ultimate class fantasy about the 'collective characters' which are the class in opposition. (87)
He goes on to say that the ideologeme serves to explain or narrate away social and historical (which he terms objective) contradictions that emerge from ideological conceptions; the ideologeme is a “symbolic resolution” and an “imaginary resolution” to these contradictions (much as the “Jew” is for the anti-Semite the resolution to the conflict raised by the flesh-and-blood Jew). The ideologeme provides ideological closure that would otherwise be denied by the objective contradictions raised; it fills in a gap that the contradictions have exposed. The similarity to the quilting points function in relation to a symbolic field appears obvious (of course, this similarity rests on my having correctly understood the concept of a quilting point. I might not would not wager money on this being correct).

Now why does any of this matter? (Short answer: it doesn't). I think I might be a structuralist at heart more than I'm anything else (theoretically, at least). Hayden White makes a lot of sense to me, and his concept of metahistory (and I do love all things meta. Is it because I was born in a period that would not allow me to be anything other than a child of postmodernism?) seems particularly useful and valuable when considering the critical history of literary texts. Ditto with Jameson and his dictum to “Always historicize!,” or his ideas that:

we apprehend [texts] through sedimented layers of previous interpretations, or—if the text is brand-new—through the sedimented reading habits and categories developed by those inherited interpretive traditions. (9)*
and that:

our object of study is less the text itself than the interpretations through which we attempt to confront and to appropriate it. Interpretation is here construed as an essentially allegorical act, which consists in rewriting a given text in terms of a particular interpretive master code. (9-10)**
Without this kind of metahistory or metacommentary (Jameson's term for the method of literary analysis outlined above), it seems to me like critical histories can become factories of ideologemes, producers of quilting points, forever fixing texts as narratives that shore up gaps in ideological conceptions or visible entryways into symbolic fields. That is, my critical reading of a text makes it perform a particular ideological role or function because I know that that ideology already exists and the text must therefore (through a kind of Althusserian interpellation, it seems like) always-already be a part of that ideology.

For example, if I'm a post-structuralist critic, I must read a text as embodying elements of post-structuralism (not only because I'm likely to choose texts that embody those elements given that those are texts I would enjoy reading) because post-structuralism is how I understand the world, and the text, as part of that world, must therefore enact post-structuralism. The text must become a narrative that smooths over/explains away/fills in any contradictions/gaps that emerge from the interaction between the content of the text and my worldview. The text must be the quilting point that serves as the visible aspect of the symbolic field. In short, the text itself is overdetermined (always-already read, as Jameson says). In such an environment, moving the critical discussion further and introducing new ideas seems difficult (at the risk of understatement). Jameson's method of ideological analysis and critique—the process that starts with the identifying and naming of ideologemes—in order to uncover the political unconscious of a text seems especially relevant in this context. By performing this critique on the critical histories of texts, the criticism of the text can move beyond ideology (even if it is only to a different ideology). At the very least, perhaps new, fresh ideas in a critical discussion can thereby emerge.

* Hello, Stanley Fish and “interpretive communities!”
** Again, hello Mr. Fish, I didn't see you come in.


  1. I'd be lying if I said I read more than 1/10 of this, but you gave me permission not to in that first paragraph. Regardless, I see Jameson in there, and it gives me the sense that you're making progress with your paper and I therefore hate you. That's all.

  2. Why for do you never respond to my COMMENTS?!?!

  3. I don't know how exactly I would respond to your comment. I'm not sure if this has any relevance to anything I'm writing about right now. I started thinking about this stuff, and then I got interested, and then I wanted to write it down before I forgot what I was thinking about. If anything, this post seems to have more immediate connections to things I've written, rather than things I'm writing.