Sunday, April 20, 2014

Jameson, DH, and the State

I was struck by many things in “Towards Dialectical Criticsm,” but particularly by Jameson’s conception of interpretation. Personally, I couldn’t help but compare elements in this chapter to their understanding in another great interaction with literary criticism: our own Stephan Ramsay’s essay “Algorithmic Criticism.”   

For me, the tl;dr for Ramsay’s article is that despite there being a clear distinction between the analysis given by “anecdotal” information of the “paper and pen” humanist and the algorithmic information gathered through computational means, the observance of patterns and “the irreducible tendency of the computer toward enumeration, measurement, and verification – are fully compatible with the goals” of typical humanist criticism. Additionally, regardless of basis for methodology,  any “critic who endeavors to put forth a ‘reading,’ puts forth not the text, but a new text in which the data has been paraphrased, elaborated, selected, truncated, and transduced.” I recalled this article when reading Jameson’s critique of interpretation, where he says:

“What we have called interpretation is therefore a misnomer: content does not need to be treated or interpreted, precisely because it is essentially and immediately meaningful in itself…Content is already concrete, in that it is essentially social and historical experience, and we may say of our own interpretive or hermeneutic work what the sculptor said of his stone, that it sufficed to remove all extraneous portions for the statue to appear, already latent in the marble block. Thus the process of criticism is not so much an interpretation of content as it is a revealing of it, a laying bare, a restoration of the original message, the original experience, beneath the distortions of the various kinds of censorship that have been at work upon it; and this revelation takes the form of an explanation of why the content was so distorted and is thus inseparable from a description of the mechanisms of this censorship itself” (Marxism and Form 403-404)

This idea of transferring focus from content to the notion of “censorship” is an interesting one, especially given the connotation that is attributed to censorship –mainly, state interference. This brought to mind Benjamin Schmidt’s presentation a week or so ago at the DH Forum, where he described maps of whaling voyages as representations of states.

He closed by saying that all data that is viewed at a similar macro scale will depict state mechanisms. Afterward, when I turned and asked Ramsay what he thought, he replied, “He’s absolutely right; it’s all stateism.”
In a similar aspect as Jameson’s dialectical criticism, Ramsay suggests algorithmic criticism “endeavors to expose the bare empirical facts of a text,” and I agree with both stances. One of the temptations of computational text analysis is the attempted movement to a more objective interpretation of texts that finds its foundation in empirical data, instead of anecdotal. But what if the result of a “laying bare” of a text’s content results not in a more nuanced understanding of the object in terms of either its sociohistorical context or its more objectively based patterns, but, as Schmidt puts it, a Foucauldian realization that the object is nothing more than “the invisibility of state power?”

I guess a less convoluted question would be: Jameson’s understanding of the interconnectedness between culture, capital, and society seems to be well established and coherent…but where is the state? In a similar way as H&N, Jameson gives us a glimpse of a “multinational network” that is past imperialism in Postmodernism, where “the nation-state itself has ceased to play a central functional and formal role” because capital has “expanded beyond [the city-state and nation-state], leaving them behind as ruined and archaic remains of earlier stages in the development of this mode of production” (412). I suppose then, that a mention of the state by Jameson must be made through the lens of production or the capitalistic mode, but I wonder if that’s diminishing the role of the state too much in his overall analysis.
Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed Jameson, and I hope to read through more of his work with added care as I’m sure he has proved me wrong somewhere. 

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