Michael Pollak mpollak at
Wed Feb 10 02:57:52 PST 1999

On Wed, 10 Feb 1999, Peter Kilander wrote:

> what's a cashpoint? William Empson? what is this guy getting at?

cashpoint: British for an ATM

William Empson: literary critic, author of _The 7 Types of Ambiguity_, once a canonical text for English students, back when being a Critic was something one aspired to. He once wrote that it could just as well have been called the 7 Types of Irony. The example of "material" is the 7th type of ambiguity, the ambiguity of opposites, i.e., words like "cleave" that mean both split apart and stick together, or "doubt", which now means doubt, but in Shakespeare's time meant "don't doubt," and so at a certain point could be . . . ambiguous.

What this guy's getting at: good question. Empson didn't think ambiguity was bad. He thought it was a sign of complexity and richness. This guy seems to think that Anderson and Jameson have no complexity (nor any backbone). So he's misusing Empson to abuse Anderson and Jameson. I can't judge a man based on three paragraphs, but he seems like a chowderhead.


> Last three paragraphs from David Bromwich's review of Perry Anderson's The
> Origins of Postmodernity and Fredric Jameson's The Cultural Turn that
> appeared in the London Review of Books. Bromwich teaches at the Whitney
> Humanities Center at Yale.
> [snip]
> If one tries to say where the Marxist-Post-Modern encounter has gone wrong,
> the answers are not altogether predictable. Cultural theorists like Jameson
> and Anderson are liable to overrate the importance of the political
> commitments of high-profile artists and critics and philosophers, to say
> nothing of adepts with less definite portfolios. This tendency is a natural
> accompaniment of their intellectualism. But it leads them to overrate in
> turn the social influence of works of art and philosophy and political
> thought. At the same time, they now underrate the effects of ideology - the
> 'bridge of excuses', as Havel called it, between a government and a people
> or a culture and its participants. What is missing in their account is any
> of evidence of the feelings, or even, for it would be something, the false
> consciousness of the feelings of people implicated in the system. All that
> is submerged in a theory whose demand is that people be known as obedient
> consumers, or exploited consumers whose revolt can only emerge through
> modified acts of consumption. Some interesting questions have no chance of
> being answered in this explanatory mode. Are people willing participants in
> the mesh of images that is offered to those who accept it as a total
> environment? And are they so all the way down the line: from the morning TV
> montage of global hotspots, to the afternoon trip to the cashpoint, to the
> evening dose of mood-altering drug?
> Political and literary critics are succumbing faster than necessary to the
> cant of the virtual. The surrender may be carried out with complacency by a
> theorist innocent of ideas, for whom it signifies only the triumph of
> engineered sensations. It must be undertaken with a more troubled
> satisfaction by a Marxist. On the current view, Post-Modernism, site of
> total delusion and total reification, enters history to complete the work of
> decomposition already in progress in the global market. The pleasure of the
> result relates to an old slogan, 'Don't build on the good old days, build on
> the bad new days,' a slogan that matched policy of the Thirties - the attack
> on 'social fascism' - by which the German Communist Party broke down with
> social democracy in order to stage a purer confrontation with the Nazis: a
> strategy that at its first trial did not work out well. Perhaps its second
> will be luckier.
> Or perhaps, like the architects Pomo has always written footnotes to, the
> Marxists are now looking East. Empson tells us that in a compostion class he
> taught in Communist Peking, his students would sometimes write: 'The
> Americans are very wicked because they are so material, and the Russians are
> very good because they are so material.' An unconscious switch between
> meanings was necessary to produce the irony there, but a similar exercise
> could come to be performed with a conscious will by the properly knowing. It
> would have the perfection, the flatness, the enigmatic simplicity of a Zen
> koan. The banality of Post-Modernism is so good because it is so material.
> --------------------------
> Peter - by the way Rushmore is a GREAT movie, please go see it

__________________________________________________________________________ Michael Pollak................New York City..............mpollak at

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