Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
In 1986, Fredric Jameson published an essay entitled ‘Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism’ in Social Text, a left-identified, New York-based journal of cultural politics. In retrospect, I'm sure he wishes that he hadn't. For the essay has brought him nothing but brickbats.
Jameson's work has always been marked, somewhat paradoxically, by both its magisterial erudition and its eminent contestability. I don't mean by the term ‘contestability’ that what he has written has proved controversial, necessarily. I mean, rather, that his work has demonstrated a rather remarkable tendency to provoke its readers to take issue with its premises and arguments, its terms and conclusions. Jameson has always attracted a lot of readers, most of whom, from the beginning, have liked to disagree with him, in whole or in part. My sense is that this is because, while he has characteristically worked with material – ideas, concepts, theories, bodies of work, modes and styles of cultural practice – that possesses, or is beginning to possess, wide currency, his own approach to this material has invariably been off-centre: not only consistently dialectical and deeply committed to systematicity (in an age in which dialectics and systematicity have been almost universally reviled), but also heterodox and distinctly underivative, though never lapsing into mere idiosyncrasy. Not only has Jameson tended to get to this material first, as it were, to think about it significantly in advance of most other scholars, he has also tended to think about it in a significantly different way from most other scholars.