by Fredric Jameson
Works do not have meanings, they soak up meanings: a work is a machine for libidinal investments (including the political kind). It is a process that sorts incommensurabilities and registers contradictions (which is not the same as solving them!) The inevitable and welcome conflict of interpretations – a discursive, ideological struggle – therefore needs to be supplemented by an account of this simultaneous processing of multiple meanings, rather than an abandonment to liberal pluralisms and tolerant (or intolerant) relativisms.
This is not a book about “method”, but it does propose a dialectic capable of holding together in one breath the heterogeneities that reflect our biological individualities, our submersion in collective history and class struggle, and our alienation to a disembodied new world of information and abstraction. Eschewing the arid secularities of philosophy, Walter Benjamin once recommended the alternative of the rich figurality of an older theology; in that spirit we here return to the antiquated Ptolemaic systems of ancient allegory and its multiple levels (a proposal first sketched out in The Political Unconscious); it is tested against the epic complexities of the overtly allegorical works of Dante, Spenser and the Goethe of Faust II, as well as symphonic form in music, and the structure of the novel, postmodern as well as Third-World: about which a notorious essay on National Allegory is here reprinted with a theoretical commentary; and an allegorical history of emotion is meanwhile rehearsed from its contemporary, geopolitical context.