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Fr. 379

August 28, 2013

In the first part of Late Marxism, Fredric Jameson briefly touches on the difficulties facing contemporary studies on identity and, by extension, subjectivity. As he presents the matter, questions of identity tend to oscillate between two poles, in particular, between a strong and a weak version.

In the strong, the version to which the philosophical concept is itself subordinated, the subject is locked into a sort of closed self before which the same events and patterns unfold endlessly. This repetition calls only for the subject to recognize it and to subsume it under any one of a number of pregiven categories. Nothing new can come of the subject’s encounter with the world, and so inner life turns about on itself. The subject is at every moment identical with itself, nothing new introducing itself therein, and so sinks into neurosis.

In the face of such neurosis, the subject sometimes move from the strong to the weak version, on which there is no firm identity of the subject or, perhaps, even a subject of which to speak.  The world is a primal flux of perpetual change, one which confronts the subject with radical novelty at every step. In this world, there are no readymade concepts at hand of which one can make use in recognizing and categorizing familiar phenomena. On the contrary, as the world endlessly confronts the “subject” with the strange, the subject can only recoil in the face of experience and let the necessary concepts, as of yet unformed, slowly take shape in him or herself, almost without his or her knowing. If the presentation of the weak to this point recalls Deleuze to some extent, it is not without reason; Jameson himself makes this connection in his consideration of the matter.

Yet Jameson is quick to underscore to what extent these positions are merely idealized poles and how much the everyday life of the subject admits of numerous “compromise formations”, lest these poles prove too inhospitable for both the subject overly centered on itself and incapable of conceiving other and that “larval subject” subjected to the total system of the machine spinning endlessly about on itself. This explains the presence of other more common forms of identity, such as that of the ego or the sensation of having a persistent identity over time, which makes for a more tolerable experience of the world than either the strong or weak versions presented here. More than a mere defense mechanism, the ego is a weapon, a praxis in itself. In the end, one can only side with Jameson in this search for a subjectivity that is more life-adapted, more suited to reality, whatever its nature be.

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