Runaway train, never coming back

In Jameson’s Late Marxism: Adorno, or The Persistence of the Dialectic, one reads the following:

But we must initially separate the figuration of the terms base and superstructure—only the initial shape of the problem—from the type of efficacy or causal law it is supposed to imply. Überbau and Basis, for example, which so often suggest to people a house and its foundations, seem in fact to have been railroad terminology and to have designated the rolling stock and the rails respectively, something which suddenly jolts us into a rather different picture of ideology and its effects. (pg. 46)

It certainly does! Why had I never heard this before?

8 Responses to “Runaway train, never coming back”

  1. zunguzungu Says:

    If that’s true, a genealogical exploration of just how that “mistake” became canonical and omnipresent would be fascinating in its own right.

  2. Moby Hick Says:

    I just assumed everybody knew.

  3. gerrycanavan Says:

    We did a thing to honor Fred on campus a few weeks ago — a former student, Phil Wegner, is just finishing work on a book called Periodizing Jameson — and one of the things Phil talked about a lot was the tendency of Jameson to make throwaway remarks like this one that seem by themselves to inspire all sorts of possible projects and responses.

  4. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I think you see something similar with Derrida, but it’s not as casual and off-handed with him — it’s always, “Of course this would require vast research on its own….”

  5. Daniel Silliman Says:

    Making antique miniature Marx train sets the perfect, perfect gift for *your* favorite leftist academic.

  6. Saturday! « Gerry Canavan Says:

    […] *A quick note from Jameson about base and superstructure. […]

  7. Kieran Says:

    seem in fact to have been railroad terminology and to have designated the rolling stock and the rails respectively

    If that’s right, it immediately makes me wonder whether Weber’s turn of phrase describing ideas as the “switchmen of history” wasn’t deliberately chosen to echo and rebut this imagery.

  8. Corona Convicted « Kapirasong Kritika Says:

    […] pumatay kay Che Guevara? Alam na natin, pero heto ang ilang detalye. May kakatwang impormasyon si Fredric Jameson tungkol sa bantog na metaporang base-superistruktura sa […]

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