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8/8/2020  
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Representation as ´pharmakon´

Reworking the Illness, the Diagnosis, and the Cure


Or: a retroactive dimension of the notion of "subtext" in ideological criticism.
Vanity Fea 15/8/2013 Send to a friend
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Here is Fredric Jameson´s explication of this retroactive element, the subtext, understood as a dialectic feedback between the text and its cultural background:
The symbolic act ... begins by producing its own context in the same moment of emergence in which it steps back over against it, measuring it with an eye to its own active project. The whole paradox of what we are calling the subtext can be measured by this, that the literary work or cultural object itself, as though for the first time, brings into being that situation to which it is also at one and the same time a reaction. (Situations of Theory, 1988: 141)

This should be considered in conjunction with that other insight of Jameson´s in The Political Unconscious, to the effect that a narrative is an imaginary solution to a real problem. —I.e., a symbolic solution to a problematic identified and articulated, or brought into a specific ideological focus, by the narrative itself.

The work of art, or the narrative, we might say par excellence— is at once then the diagnosis and the cure. (See my paper on Emergent Narrativity for this double action, retrospective and prospective, of narrative).  But Jameson´s formulation on the subtext seems to point to a further dimension of this dialectic. The narrative, the literary work or the work of art, is not only the diagnosis and the cure: it is, also, the illness and the cure. To be more precise, the diagnosis or the solution brings the illness or the problem into further focus; one might therefore say it brings the problem (retroactively) into existence as a cultural object, or as an object of attention. In doing so, of course, representation also shapes the semiotic field in such a way that the solution is acceptable as a solution—and the problem is acceptable as a problem. It is the labour of criticism to reexamine these imaginary solutions in order to reformulate not merely the solution they give, but their construction of the problem they bring into sight.



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