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Always Historicize! On Fredric Jameson, the Tea Party, and Theological Pragmatics

Theodor Adorno, Alain Badiou, Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Slavoj Žižek: What do these thinkers have in common? First, they are all Marxists.1 Second, they have all received significant attention in the theological community; each of these theorists, for example, has been the subject of a full-length volume in Continuum’s exciting Philosophy and Theology series. Yet Fredric Jameson, given the title “America’s leading Marxist critic” by Terry Eagleton,2 is the subject of no such book and is the object of no such attention. Present theological conversation has, to a great extent, completely ignored him. There are substantive reasons for this, but—by means of the brief introduction offered here—I hope to show that this has nevertheless been a mistake.

In this brief introduction, I can only hope to cover a small portion of Jameson’s material, which is jubilantly vast by any estimate. Still, I claim that even a broad and general account of Jameson’s method and themes has much to suggest for the theologian invested in engaging current political and cultural critique. It is, in other words, essential reading. I hope to verify this claim by showing how Jameson’s methodology can be utilized specifically by theologians. Building off of Jameson’s practice of theoretical pragmatics, I will outline what a critical program of theological pragmatics might look like, using the Tea Party movement as a case study.

First, a word of context: Jameson did his doctoral studies under Erich Auerbach at Yale University and is currently a professor of comparative literature at Duke University. Primarily, he is known as one of the foremost living practitioners of theory, a term which within the Marxist tradition designates an eclectic mixture or synthesis of philosophy, economics, political theory, and cultural commentary that has its roots in the Frankfurt school.3

As a theorist, Jameson has been particularly notable for the variety of his topics and their persistent crossing of high/low culture divides (if any of these remain). For example, in between writing commentaries on Georg W. F. Hegel’s Phenomenology and Karl Marx’s Capital, he penned an article on Utopian themes in The Wire. He has written on obtuse and untranslated works of Russian Formalism but also on Ursula K. Le Guin’s great sci-fi/fantasy novel The Left Hand of Darkness, Al Pacino’s Dog Day Afternoon, Rem Koolhaas’s buildings, and Frank Gehry’s house. He has utilized Louis Hjelmslev’s structural linguistics and illustrated his point with Phillip K. Dick’s hallucinogenic novellas. Suffice it to say that Jameson’s topic is culture, tout court.

And as any reader of his knows, Jameson carries out all these analyses in an unmistakable style.4 See, for instance, this strangely beautiful and triumphant passage from the end of The Political Unconscious:

Only Marxism can give us an account of the essential mystery of the cultural past, which, like Tiresias drinking the blood, is momentarily returned to life and warmth and once more allowed to speak, and to deliver its long-forgotten message in surroundings utterly alien to it.5

And see, above all, the following comment on dialectical thinking from Marxism and Form:

There is a breathlessness about this shift from the normal object-oriented activity of the mind [i.e., everyday empiricism] to such dialectical self-consciousness—something of the sickening shudder we feel in an elevator’s fall or in the sudden dip in an airliner. That recalls us to our bodies as this recalls us to our mental positions as thinkers and observers. The shock indeed is basic, and constitutive of the dialectic as such: without this transformational moment, without this initial conscious transcendence of an older, more naïve position, there can be no question of any genuinely dialectical coming to consciousness.[6]

In this paragraph on dialectical thought, one can feel the very movement of the dialectical pattern itself, in one’s bones and in the sentences themselves. So it must be said that Jameson’s practice of theory is first of all a virtuosic writing of dialectical sentences.

In a broader sense, by labeling Jameson a theorist we primarily intend to suggest the following methodological practice: the proposal of theoretical interpretations of art, economics, literature, and philosophy that—as interpretations—have no aspiration to platonic eternity,7 or indeed to eternal Truth. Instead, Jameson’s interpretations are put forward in an attempt to influence the common social life of a people in the specific moment of their articulation.

Jameson’s particular understanding of theory can thus be helpfully labeled theory as pragmatics. And let me be clear right away: this practice of theoretical pragmatics has nothing to do with the philosophical school of pragmatism; rather, the practice of theory as pragmatics is made up of theoretical interpretations of philosophy, economics, political theory, culture, and art that do not aspire to Truth but rather to change the world in this moment. This is theory as pragmatics, not the philosophical school of pragmatism, but the practice of using theory to change the present world.

This pragmatic practice of theory arises with delightfully paradoxical force in Jameson’s recent commentary on the first volume of Marx’s Capital, titled Representing “Capital.” The activity of writing a commentary (or a “reading,” as Jameson puts it) on an old and in some ways out-of-date book may initially seem to contradict pragmatic intervention in the moment. But for a truly dialectical thinker, this contradiction disappears, for she always includes herself and her own situation in any consideration of the past, in what could be called a dialectical rebound. Statements made in the past always repeat themselves with different meaning in our present, and thus any dialectically aware commentary on the past is always a pragmatic intervention in our present.8

This is exactly what Representing “Capital” embodies as a commentary. It articulates Marx’s Capital in our context, and this leads to the book’s two salient focal points: (1) the difficulty of representing capitalism, this massive system that always eludes our comprehension and whose antinomies tend to reflect themselves in any attempted analysis, and (2) the structural necessity of unemployment within this system.9 In his reading of Marx’s magnum opus, Jameson thus highlights or foregrounds two issues that must stand out to an at least minimally aware reader of our times. He then attempts to orchestrate the past insights gleaned from Marx’s book to aid us in understanding, to the extent we can, our present.[10] This practice of commentary might look to the past, but that does not keep it from intervening in the present. So offering a reading of Marx’s Capital is entirely in keeping with Jameson’s practice of theoretical pragmatics, which aims at offering critical analyses that will help us—namely, his current readers, in this time—to understand and thus change our world.

This articulation of theory as pragmatics helps us to formulate exactly how Jameson is a “Marxist.” This is a label that, at first, may not obviously apply to Jameson, for politics as such play a relatively minor role in his writings. Jameson’s Marxism is rather a kind of scientia: a way of diagnosing social, cultural, political, and aesthetic symptoms, much in the vein of Marx’s Capital (which, as Jameson notes, is not a directly political book).11 Marxism supplies the presuppositions and methods that allow Jameson’s interpretations both to be generated and to cohere, and it is in this way that Marxism provides the theoretical backing for Jameson’s pragmatic interventions.12

If Marxism lies at the root of the presuppositions that generate Jameson’s immense body of work, we must then ask more specifically, what presuppositions does Marxism supply Jameson? The first that comes to mind, and the one that I will focus on here, is rather obvious: “Always historicize!” This is how Jameson opens The Political Unconscious. But note what immediately follows this eye-catching initial imperative: “This slogan—the one absolute and we may even say ‘transhistorical’ imperative of all dialectical thought—will unsurprisingly turn out to be the moral of The Political Unconscious as well.”13 This wry paradox places Jameson’s cards forcefully on the table: he is committed to the principle of historicizing as a generative presupposition for his dialectical analyses.

This general principle is then embodied in a specific way. As Jameson practices it, historicization is the dialectical shifting back and forth between two temporal registers: the synchronic and the diachronic. These terms can be succinctly summarized: the synchronic is to be understood as all the structures that comprise a given object in the particular moment of study in which one approaches it; the diachronic is understood as how the character of that object has developed to be that way through time.

To take an example from anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, the synchronic would be a map of kinship structures that one could draw after coming to know an indigenous Brazilian tribe; the diachronic would be a study of how those kinship structures came to be that way through time. Jameson is especially critical of theorists who attend only to the synchronic, as he makes clear in The Prison-House of Language.14 Yet he by no means intends to neglect the synchronic in an exclusive devotion to the diachronic; rather, he uses the synchronic as a jumping off point for the diachronic.15

Perhaps the most famous example of the kind of thinking Jameson practices is Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus.16 Sigmund Freud had attempted to establish the Oedipus complex as a fundamental structure of the human mind. Deleuze and Guattari accepted the relative validity of this diagnosis but then proceeded to argue that Freud’s Oedipal complex was not some timeless truth, some quasi-eternal structure of the human mind, but a historically conditioned development of the Western bourgeois family that could and should be overcome.17

Jameson’s practice of historicization is similar to that of Deleuze and Guattari, although it has vastly broadened out from this singular Oedipal preoccupation. The synchronic system of the television series The Wire, for instance, with its many interlocking threads that give us a glimpse of the totality of this particular system (i.e., Baltimore), is read by Jameson as an expression of desire from our particular historical moment: we want to comprehend the city and its operations, but the level of complexity now suffusing the modern city, governed by globalized capitalism, has made this thoroughly impossible.18

The Wire is thus a representational dream, an allegory for what we would all like to do when confronted by the sublime enormity of our modern metropolises. Adroit as it may be, the television series of course fails to represent the city of Baltimore as it truly is. However, this synchronic, structural failure of the work itself should not rebound on the makers of the show but on our historical moment.19 The synchronic failure is an allegory of our diachronic moment; for if we were truly to make a work that captured the nearly infinite interconnecting threads of the modern city, it would approach the immensity of Jorge Luis Borges’s “Library of Babel.” It is, in other words, impossible, and Jameson’s practice of historicization has revealed it as such. And here we can take note of one more thing: as we have seen through The Wire, historicization as an activity has its richest playing out precisely in observations of what it is that constrains our cultural artifacts, which limits them and makes them have to be as they are; namely, finite allegories of the times in which we live.

Both of the themes elucidated so far, theory-as-pragmatics and historicization, and indeed all of Jameson’s themes—utopia, allegory, form, conflict, et cetera—culminate in one central preoccupation: thinking dialectically. This preeminently Jamesonian20 preoccupation essentially concerns itself with making connections; it is “marked by the will to link together in a single figure two incommensurable realities, two independent codes or systems of signs, two heterogeneous and asymmetrical terms.” In the traditional—Hegelian—language of dialectical thought, making connections is called “mediation,” which could be figuratively expressed as “the jumping of a spark between two poles.”21

This “spark” is the instant of realization, the moment when we come to see two things as connected that we did not previously consider as such. It is what happens when we relate synchrony to diachrony; it is the moment when we see the limitations of The Wire as arising, in part, out of the economic dynamics of global capitalism.

So for Jameson, thinking dialectically is essentially seeing interconnectivity: it is a retrieval of something of the whole on behalf of the part. And as Jameson remarks, “The dialectical method is precisely this preference for the concrete totality over the separate, abstract parts.”22 This preference means that dialectical thinking is the extraction of a part and the activity of relating that part to the whole, especially when that relation is an unexpected one.

Take, for instance, Jameson’s analysis of Andy Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shoes, which he compares to Vincent Van Gogh’s A Pair of Boots (or, more specifically, to Martin Heidegger’s analysis of this painting in “The Origin of the Work of Art”).23 The boots in the Van Gogh painting are a farm worker’s shoes; they are gritty, textured, worn. In this painting, according to Heidegger, a whole world opens up: something of the character of the peasant’s long labor in the field is revealed, and we are led into his life through the painting. Similarly, Jameson argues, a world is opened up in the Warhol piece. The lack of depth, the glittering surface, the commodified and mechanically replicated product: these traits speak to the postmodern world we inhabit, the world dominated by the cultural logic of late capitalism.

Warhol’s painting is no longer simply an isolated piece of art. It can now be seen (dialectical sight!) as a part of the whole, one piece which allegorically speaks of our late capitalist, depthless, commodified, and globalized world, a world saturated with advertising and devoid of any true subjectivity, a world in which we follow the pleasures we have been told to enjoy. In other words, Jameson constructs a vibrating band out from this painting into our world, a line of interconnectivity that quivers with meaning. Once this unexpected connection has been made, we come to a greater understanding of the world in which we live our everyday lives.

This seeing of interconnectivity is intimately related to the opening of Utopia, that world we desire to inhabit.24 If there is a messianism in Jameson (along the lines of Walter Benjamin),25 it is to be located in his profound belief in the practice of dialectical representation: his conviction, that is, that a more holistically accomplished representation of our world will in fact change it. It is when we become aware of our world that it starts to change: this, it seems to me, is the conviction that drives Jameson as a practitioner of theory. And this is why dialectical thought is so important to him, for thinking dialectically is pragmatic thinking par excellence, making connections for our moment to change our world.

What most characterizes Jameson’s thought, in the end, is thinking dialectically, embodied in pragmatic interventions and operating on the principle of hope. This is then carried out on a remarkable variety of cultural artifacts in a manner that is all at once artistic, entertaining, and—if you as a reader let Jameson’s way of thought truly affect the way you think—eventually transformative.

 

So how does a theologian relate to this body of thought? Karl Barth once said that theologians must read with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.26 There is thus a generalized sense in which Jameson can be useful to theologians: namely, in his remarkably prescient attention to our densely interconnected culture. To benefit from this it is simply necessary to read his works, and I hope I have provided some indication of their significance here. But there is also a more specific way theologians may appropriate Jameson’s pattern of thought: within the field of theoretical pragmatics, Jameson can help us develop a pragmatics of our own, a theological pragmatics.

The discipline of theological pragmatics begins with the conviction that theology is embedded within every aspect of our world (economics, art, politics, literature, the shoes on your feet, the length of your hair), an operating principle that can be called the interconnectivity of theology. This is the acknowledgment that, like cultural spiders, human beings have secreted out theology everywhere they spin. This theology is there; it is only awaiting exegesis.

As a discipline, of course, theology has not always been directly attentive to this interconnectivity, to the omnipresence of theology in our world. In short, the topics theology has seen fit to address have often been hermetically sealed, and this must be changed. A theological pragmatics would then first of all be characterized by the attempt to draw out the implicit theology present in all the manifold regions of our world. As examples of this type of exegesis, consider the works of Willie Jennings (The Christian Imagination) and J. Kameron Carter (Race: A Theological Account).27 These are critical writings that first of all bring out the role theology has played in the construction of race; their goal is not necessarily to articulate a unique theology, but to ask how theology is being used in our world today.

This constitutes the first way a theological pragmatics is different from a theological systematics. The second way is similar: instead of trying to build a coherent and lasting system of truth, theological pragmatics is an intentional intervention in the present moment. Like any other type of theoretical pragmatics, it is not preoccupied with the search after Truth (with a capital T); rather, it seeks to contribute some useful understanding of the place of theology in our present world so that our world might by means of that newly forged understanding be duly changed and led closer to redemption.

These dual operating principles of interconnectivity and intervention immediately recall and recommend the patterns of dialectical thought as we have seen them so richly practiced by Fredric Jameson, and he will here be our methodological guide in how to implement this specific type of theoretical pragmatics that is theological pragmatics. Nothing more should be said in an abstract form (here I also follow Jameson, who has hardly written anything at all in this vein); like dialectics, theological pragmatics is best exemplified in action. I thus turn to a brief case study.

For an example of theological pragmatics at work, let us take up the Tea Party movement and its commitment to a radically free-market economy, an economy marked above all by absence of regulation. For those who might wonder what type of theology sustains such a commitment, C. Jesse Duke, a Tea Party member, gives us a clue:

This whole process of free markets and the trading of time and energy is just the natural order of the world. A tree exchanges oxygen for carbon dioxide. A fire exchanges heat for oxygen. Atoms exchange electrons to become other atoms. Plants collect light to make chlorophyll, which nourishes animals, which become food for other animals and man, and so on. Everything in nature is constantly exchanging. So the free exchange of time and energy between people is the God-designed, natural order. Conflicts erupt when this order is upset.28

This claim could be dismissed for any number of reasons—for its lack of any fundamental distinction between the nature and abilities of plants and animals and the nature and abilities of humans, for its willful ignorance of the fundamentally unique reality of money, for its seeming unfamiliarity with the conflict that pervades the natural order of plants and animals—yet a theological pragmatics is not so concerned with this type of refutation, which is not too helpful at any rate.29 Instead, theological pragmatics begins by drawing out the specifically theological implications of this statement.

In this case, what is implied in C. Jesse Duke’s statement is a certain kind of natural theology. This is a type of theology that flourished especially during the Middle Ages, the early Modern period, and the rationalistic liberal theology period of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but it has been present throughout the entire history of Christian thought, and it can helpfully (if crudely) be summarized by the two-book theory.

God has been revealed in two different books: the book of Scripture and the book of nature. On one hand, the book of Scripture is the Christian Old and New Testaments; the book of nature, on the other hand, is the rational order of creation, which can effectively be grasped by the human mind. The book of Scripture may be particularly for Christians, but the book of nature is open to all, and this accounts for the similarities between Christianity and other world religions. Interpretation of the book of nature gives birth to natural law, the delineation of the divinely ordered forms of the world. As can be seen from Duke’s statement, natural law—once appropriated into the sphere of human being and doing—organically generates a natural law ethic: a moral code that reflects the order of nature and that theoretically can be universally agreed upon by all rational beings.

More specifically, then, what Duke accomplishes in his statement is nothing short of a concisely articulated understanding of natural law that generates a natural law ethic. The argument goes like this: here is what the natural world is like, and our human world should attempt to reflect the God-given order of the natural world, like a properly functioning mirror. Disorder happens when the human mirror is bent out of shape, usually by this or that rebellious ideology. To work against the free market through interference or regulation, it must be concluded, is to work against the reality God has given us to emulate.

This type of natural theology has been radically called into question by two of the greatest theologians of the last century, Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar.30 Both theologians posit that we cannot simply read truths off of nature as we observe it around us. Nature is fallen; it bears the inevitable warp of sin. This rather devastating salvo is not meant to abolish all natural theology, however. Instead, Barth and von Balthasar claim that nature must be read through Christ, who illuminates what is fallen and what is redeemed in our surrounding world (see Col. 1:15–20). And, as David Bentley Hart’s “The Needle’s Eye” has recently reminded us,31 Christ has something very different to say about economics in comparison to the current propositions of free-market advocacy—at least as we have observed them in C. Jesse Duke.

Theological pragmatics is intended to have the theoretical strength to call such statements as that by Duke into radical questioning. No longer is there just a nihilistic difference of opinion or values (e.g., liberal versus conservative): the issue now strikes to the heart of our (presumably) shared faith.32  Only once the theological background of the political position at hand is illuminated does one have an opportunity to agree or disagree with this deeper commitment (or more fundamental logic). That is to say, it is only once the theological implications of a statement or political position are brought to light that a truly critical analysis can begin.

Once a theology has been extracted in this manner, it can then be historicized in line with Jameson’s exemplary practice. In a theological pragmatics, theology is the synchronic structure that needs to be placed within its diachronic context, and this is only fitting in a theology dedicated to the Word made flesh and led by the Spirit who refuses to be separate from our history. Theological pragmatics thus presses on from synchronic analysis to diachronic contextualization.

I should insist that it is only by means of this persistence that the theology in question will truly be understood; without attention to the place a theology occupies in history, we simply will not understand its significance. We ignore Jameson’s resounding imperative at our own peril. Without venturing too far into this debate, I suggest here that this is the moment at which Marxism touches theology: when we pay attention to the historical situation of the theological utterance in question. This is to say that now, in our thoroughly modernized world in which every possible historical situation has been indelibly shaped by capitalism, Marxism is the way to pay attention to history. One can gain no access to the significance of any modern historical situation without its theoretical tools.

With this in mind, I return to Duke’s natural theology and propose that in Duke’s statement, theology serves the function of simplification. As I have by now frequently noted, the present age is a time saturated with the increasing complexity of the global capitalist world. Whether markets need regulating or not would then seem necessarily to be a question of extraordinary complexity with a multitude of answers, each corresponding to a unique reality that perhaps needs regulating (or perhaps not). Duke’s version of natural theology short-circuits this complexity: instead of the incomprehensibly intricate world we daily inhabit, there is a simple world of need and exchange, a one-to-one correspondence that thoroughly pervades the harmoniously cyclical world God has created. At least, we would inhabit such an elegantly simple world if we imitated nature as God has created it to be.

This theology of nature thus generates a remarkably easy solution to any economic crisis that should happen to arise: “Return things to the freedom of exchange! For this, and only this, is the way God created things, whether plant, animal, or human.” I very much doubt that Duke would be able to make such an exclusionary claim apart from his natural theology; the fiat of theology has enabled him to make this rather audacious ontological statement about how everything should exist. We therefore must conclude that here theology is a mechanism of simplification.

At this point in history, natural theology of the Duke type serves to simplify our ineffable world and thereby forge a newfound “common sense” that points toward a specific and comprehensible plan of action: deregulation, in an absolute sense. The historical pressure of our unimaginable present has generated a program that is refreshingly simple, and it is a specific natural theology that has made it possible. This seems to me to be the only sensible explanation of how a theology most recently manifested in an Enlightenment-rationalistic-liberal form has resurfaced in the modality of free-market economic advocacy.

The Tea Party movement is perhaps a more complex reality than some credit it to be; it has its own causal nexus that is not exactly easy to discern. This complexity has now been—at least to a certain extent—parsed out by the method originally suggested by Jameson. But it is ultimately up to the reader to decide what to do with the greater understanding theological pragmatics has given us here. Judge for yourself! as Søren Kierkegaard would say, and this decision is the furthest point to which a theological pragmatics can lead us. Yet I think a program of theological pragmatics provides the tools to make an informed judgment, as it brings to light the issues that are truly at stake: the desires residing beneath outward appearance and the fundamental choices which it is the role of theology to enable.

At the very least, I believe this method has demonstrated how theology is woven throughout one area of that which makes up the hypercomplex reality we call modern politics; it has helped us see what type of theology is being utilized within the Tea Party and why. If this is the case, it is entirely in keeping with the program of theological pragmatics that has been outlined and is thus believed by me to be useful. For the program of theological pragmatics operates on a principle of hope very similar to Jameson’s: namely, that when the numerous theologies that structure our impossibly complex world are taken up and critically examined within the tradition of the best theologians, the seeds of a changed world—a world closer to the New World—will be the unexpected result.



1. Although some (Derrida, Deleuze, Foucault) can be counted as Marxists in only a qualified sense.

2. See the jacket cover of Jameson, The Hegel Variations: On the “Phenomenology of Spirit” (London, UK: Verso, 2010), for example.

3. Jameson helped to introduce the Frankfurt school to his monolingual American audience in 1971’s Marxism and Form (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press). For a good introduction to the contemporary significance of Jameson as a theorist, see Sean Homer’s Fredric Jameson: Marxism, Hermeneutics, Postmodernism (New York, NY: Routledge, 1998), 1–7.

4. See, for example, Terry Eagleton’s “Fredric Jameson: The Politics of Style,” Diacritics 12, no. 3 (1982): 14–22.

5. Jameson, The Political Unconscious (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982), 383.

6. Jameson, Marxism and Form, 308.

7. Jameson, Valences of the Dialectic (London, UK: Verso, 2009), 9: “I believe that theory is to be grasped as the perpetual and impossible attempt to dereify the language of thought.” See also Jameson, Marxism and Form, 56–57, on Adorno’s writing of dialectical sentences. It may be objected that Jameson is not directly elaborating his own thought in these references. Yet I hold that his own writing practice in fact operates on these principles, even if he never sets out to directly claim them as his own.

8. See Jameson, Representing “Capital”: A Reading of Volume One (London, UK: Verso, 2011), 9, for Jameson’s thoughts on why it is productive to “return to Marx” in our present moment.

9. These organizing points of Jameson’s book are initially stated on pages 2 through 5 of Representing “Capital” and are then carried on throughout the book.

10. Jameson does not, however, do violence to Marx’s text by importing concerns that are foreign to it (see Representing “Capital,” 22, where he simultaneously mentions and refuses a discussion of finance capital). His focus on representation and unemployment are dimensions of Marx’s original text; Jameson’s pragmatics seeks only to foreground what is already present.

11. Ibid., 37–38: “Capital is not a political book and has very little to do with politics.”

12. Importantly, the goal of these interpretations is not to say that some phenomenon or other is “good” or “bad” (as a shallow, moralistic Marxism would) but rather to make connections, to show how this cultural expression is a symptom of that economic development. This lack of moralism or easily quantifiable judgment is what has frustrated some readers of Jameson, Postmodernism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991), since Jameson does not attempt to answer whether postmodernism is a good or bad sort of thing.

13. Jameson, The Political Unconscious, ix.

14. Jameson, The Prison-House of Language: A Critical Account of Structuralism and Russian Formalism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972). See the “Preface,” vi, for a helpful description of the difference between synchrony and diachrony.

15. For a succinct summary of this methodology, see Jameson’s article “Metacommentary,” collected in The Ideologies of Theory (London, UK: Verso, 2008), originally published in PMLA 86 (1971): 9–18.  For a more expanded consideration of method, see ch. 5 of Marxism and Form, “Towards Dialectical Criticism,” 306–416.

16. Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, [1972] 1983).

17. This argument is echoed by Jameson before Anti-Oedipus appeared on the scene, in Marxism and Form, 27–28 and 109.

18. Jameson’s analysis of The Wire can be found in “Realism and Utopia in The Wire,” Criticism 52, no. 3 and 4 (2010): 359–372.

19. “But for Marxism the adequation of object to subject or of form to content can exist as an imaginative possibility only where in some way or another it has been concretely realized in social life itself, so that formal realizations, as well as formal defects, are taken as the signs of some deeper corresponding social and historical configuration which it is the task of criticism to explore” (Jameson, Marxism and Form, 331).

20. The allusion is to William Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition (New York, NY: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2003), which references “Jamesonian nostalgia,” 267.

21. Jameson, Marxism and Form, 6 and 4 (respectively).

22. Ibid., 45.

23. See Jameson, Postmodernism, 6–9.

24. On Utopia, see Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (London, UK: Verso, 2005).

25. “For every second of the future bears within it that little door through which Messiah may enter.” From the last of Benjamin’s Geschichtsphilosophische Thesen, as translated by Jameson in Marxism and Form, 82–83.

26. For documentation, see “Quotes by Barth,” Center for Barth Studies, Princeton Theological Seminary, http://www.ptsem.edu/library/barth/default.aspx?menu1_id=8457&id=8450.

27. I hope it is thus clear that by coining the phrase theological pragmatics, I am trying to give a name to something that is already going on.

28. Duke, Spread This Wealth (And Pass This Ammunition): Why We Must, and How We Can Save America from Its Own Misguided Government (Amelia Island, FL: Encouraging Word, 2009), 69–70.

29. That is to say, this type of objection does not seem to change anyone’s mind, perhaps because this refutation doesn’t get to the heart of the matter or sufficiently engage its logic.

30. For two of their books that put the following argument most forcefully, see Barth’s The Epistle to the Romans (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1968) and von Balthasar’s A Theology of History (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius, 1994). Along these lines, see also Stanley Hauerwas, With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology (Brazos, 2001).

31. First Things, February 2012, 71–72.

32. That the simple opposition of some values against other values is in fact nihilism is one of the enduring insights of the Radical Orthodoxy school (though this insight is, of course, not particular to Radical Orthodoxy alone).

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Thomas J. Millay :
Thomas J. Millay received his MDiv from Duke University, where he studied the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze with Fredric Jameson. He currently lives in Durham, North Carolina, and can be reached at tom.millay54@gmail.com.
  • http://www.facebook.com/seanthomasm Sean Mournighan

    This is an impressive article filled with lots of big words. I’m pretty sure its brilliant. I will now endeavor to understand 1/10th of what has been written.

  • Auspice

    I’m convinced to read some Frederick Jameson after this.

    • Thomas J. Millay

      I’m glad to hear it, Auspice! I have many theories about why Jameson isn’t read as much as some of these other ‘critical theory’ folks in theological circles. One reason is that even though he’s praised all the time by people like Zizek (see the article “With Hegel Beyond Hegel” and at several points in his Hegel book), he’s an American, and thus doesn’t fit well within this group of theorists, and probably doesn’t have as much natural allure.

      It’s also important to think about how theologians came later to the scene of critical theory. If you think about Jameson virtually introducing a theorist like Walter Benjamin to his American audience, it’s clear that Jameson would remain a well-known figure in critical theory circles. But when theologians arrive on the scene, Benjamin is already so well-known that the debt to Jameson is no longer so readily apparent.

      It’s also the case that Jameson is a figure operating thoroughly and unapologetically within a tradition: Western Hegelian Marxism (the figures in Marxism & Form are Adorno, Benjamin, Marcuse, Bloch, Lukacs, and Sartre). Unless you have a deep knowledge of this tradition, you won’t really get how consistently original, delightful, and revolutionary his writings can be. The synthetic genius with which he draws this tradition together and applies it to the most diverse topics is a wonder to behold. Yet there are still not many theologians who are comfortably conversant with this tradition; thus the lack of recognition of Jameson and the frequent use of Derrida and Foucault, who draw on very different traditions.

      Yet, as I said above, I think that if theologians aren’t conversant with Jameson and this tradition of Marxism, they won’t be able to understand the situation in which theology is currently articulated. That is, of course, a great impoverishment.

  • Amanda

    This is an excellent article. Seriously, good stuff, and you’ve definitely convinced me of the importance of Jameson. My background so far is in philosophy (making this right up my alley in terms of both interest and [at least basic] familiarity), but I’ll actually be starting my M.Div at Duke this fall, since I’ve come to suspect that theology is what I actually need to be doing. And I’m definitely interested in marrying these two disciplines in whatever I might do. Given that, I felt like you were talking directly to me in this article, and that I ought to pay attention :)

    Is there a particular work(s) that you would suggest a newbie like me begin with?

    • Thomas J. Millay

      Thanks very much, Amanda! If you’re interested in the merger of theory and theology, this is a very good time to be involved in the discussion. The conversation is burgeoning, and I can only see it continuing to flourish. Duke is a great place to be a part of it; you should especially look into studying with Ken Surin, J. Kameron Carter, and Willie Jennings (along with Jameson, of course).

      For Jameson, I would suggest beginning with Marxism and Form. The introductory chapter is exciting reading, with thoughts on the lack of a Marxist culture in America due to the prominence of the traditional Anglo-American philosophical and literary schools. It’s very fun to read, and I think it still serves extraordinarily well as an introduction not just to Jameson, but to the whole Western Hegelian Marxist school. My only warning would be that the introductions to the various figures (Adorno, Benjamin, Bloch etc.) are not typical introductions with biographical data and genealogies of influence. I’d say they’re more like introductions that also intentionally offer a unique interpretation of the figure in question, and they can be a bit more difficult to follow because of this. But anyways, the introduction to this book is still very clear and exciting, and it really gives you a sense of Jameson’s overall project–so I’d start there if I were you.

      • Amanda

        Thanks so much for the advice, Thomas–both on who to study with at Duke and a good book to start with. I looked it up, and it seems super interesting. I’ll add it to my summer reading list for sure, and I’ll keep your other suggestions in mind as I plan for my classes in the coming years.

        Thanks again for being so helpful all around!

  • rendmig

    do you know Roland Boer’s work? He has used Jameson not only to analyse Hebrew Bible, but also to develop a Marxist engagement with religion: In the Vale of Tears.

    • Thomas J. Millay

      I must confess, I was not aware of Roland Boer’s work at the time of writing this, and I’ve just done a flurry of searching based off your comment. His project certainly seems interesting, and I thank you very much for making me aware of it. I’d like to post again after reading Boer’s Criticism of Theology: On Marxism and Theology III, which looks to provide a quite significant engagement with Jameson.