FREDRIC JAMESON builds on the work of previous theorists in his understanding of ideology. He is particularly influenced by Jacques Lacan and those post-Marxist theorists who have made use of Lacan's distinction between reality and "the Real" in order to understand ideology (Louis Althusser, Chantalle Mouffe, and Ernesto Laclau). (See the Lacan module on the structure of the psyche.) At one point, Jameson quotes Althusser's Lacanian definition of ideology: "the representation of the subject's Imaginary relationship to his or her Real conditions of existence" (Postmodernism 51). Those "Real conditions of existence" remain, by definition, outside of language. History therefore functions for Jameson as an "absent cause," insofar as, in its totality, it remains inexpressible; however, it nonetheless does exist as that which drives real antagonisms in the present (for example, between social classes). We may not be able to get out of ideological contradiction altogether; however, Jameson asserts the importance of attempting, nonetheless, to acknowledge the real antagonisms that are, in fact, driving our fantasy constructions.

Jameson also makes it clear that there is not one ideological dominant in any period. In this, Jameson follows Raymond Williams' useful distinctions among "residual" ideological formations (ideologies that have been mostly superceded but still circulate in various ways); "emergent" ideological formations (new ideologies that are in the process of establishing their influence); and "dominant" ideological formations (those ideologies supported by what Louis Althusser terms "ideological state apparatuses"; e.g. schools, government, the police, and the military). Jameson insists on the value of such a model because "If we do not achieve some general sense of a cultural dominant, then we fall back into a view of present history as sheer heterogeneity, random difference, a coexistence of a host of distinct forces whose effectivity is undecidable" (Postmodernism 6).

By determining the dominant of our age in his book, Postmodernism, Jameson hopes to provide his reader with a "cognitive map" of the present, which then can make possible effective and beneficial political change. The problem with our current postmodern age, according to Jameson, is that "the prodigious new expansion of multinational capital ends up penetrating and colonizing those very precapitalist enclaves (Nature and the Unconscious) which offered extraterritorial and Archimedean footholds for critical effectivity" (Postmodernism 49). Any effort to contest dominant ideology threatens to be reabsorbed by capital, so that "even overtly political interventions like those of The Clash are all somehow secretly disarmed and reabsorbed by a system of which they themselves might well be considered a part, since they can achieve no distance from it" (Postmodernism 49). Given such a situation, Jameson argues that what is needed is a "cognitive map" of the present, one that reinjects an understanding of the present's real historicity. Jameson compares the situation of the individual in postmodern late capitalist society to the experience of being in a postmodern urban landscape: "In a classic work, The Image of the City, Kevin Lynch taught us that the alienated city is above all a space in which people are unable to map (in their minds) either their own positions or the urban totality in which they find themselves: grids such as those of Jersey City, in which none of the traditional markers (monuments, nodes, natural boundaries, built perspectives) obtain, are the most obvious examples" (Postmodernism 49). The notion of a "cognitive map" enables "a situational representation on the part of the individual subject to that vaster and properly unrepresentable totality which is the ensemble of society's structures as a whole" (Postmodernism 51). Jameson expands this concept of cognitive mapping to ideological critique, suggesting that his task is to make sense of our place in the global system: "The political form of postmodernism, if there ever is any, will have as its vocation the invention and projection of a global cognitive mapping, on a social as well as a spatial scale" (Postmodernism 54).

One "cognitive map" Jameson for example turns to is Algirdas Greimas' semiotic square, which he calls "a virtual map of conceptual closure, or better still, of the closure of ideology itself, that is, as a mechanism, which, while seeming to generate a rich variety of possible concepts and positions, remains in fact locked into some initial aporia or double bind that it cannot transform from the inside by its own means" ("Foreword" xv). Using Greimas' semiotic square, Jameson seeks to find the dominant ideological contradictions of a given text or cultural work. (For more on the semiotic square, see the Greimas module on the semiotic square.)


Proper Citation of this Page:

Felluga, Dino. "Modules on Jameson: On Ideology." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. Date of last update, which you can find on the home page. Purdue U. Date you accessed the site. <>.






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