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[ PM L A

theories and
methodologies

Marxist Criticism
and Hegel
THE INTERESTING QUESTION IS IN FACT A TWO-WAY STREET. FAMILIAR
fredric jameson ENOUGH, WITH ITS ACCUSATORY HINT OF IDEALISM AND INTELLECTU-
alizing elitism, is the query, In what sense was Marx a Hegelian?
But more tantalizing, more science ictional and counterfactual, is
its echoing alternative: In what sense was Hegel a Marxist? he shar-
ing of the dialectic is of course the easy way out, in a speculative
dilemma calculated to open up fresh answers and unexpected new
problems. I will only take on one of them herenamely, what Hegel
might have to tell us about the possibilities, and also the limits, of
Marxist literary criticism, an issue that may seem as remote today as
literature itself (and the theorizing criticism of it).
Indeed, I will limit my reflections here to an even narrower
range of speculation: what Hegels Science of Logic (the so-called
greater Logic) might have to tell us about Marxist literary criticism.
For the greater Logic is a kind of abstract template for the concrete
content and materials of Hegels later philosophical studies of art,
religion, the history of philosophy, political theory, and even history
itself. It is a sequence of abstract categories (in Kants or even Aristo-
tles sense), whose internal contradictions generate their more com-
plex successors and which thus range from their beginning in pure
FREDRIC JAMESON is Knut Schmidt-Nielsen Being to their climax in the Concept or Notion (the Begrif ), the
Professor of Comparative Literature, pro- Absolute Idea (which, as it turns out, is simply the dialectic, dialecti-
fessor of romance studies (French), and
cal method itself). his autopoetic self-production of the categories
director of the Center for Critical Theory
at Duke University. His books include Post-
goes through three stages, in a kind of immense spiral (in which all
modernism; or, The Cultural Logic of Late the moments repeat themselves over and over again at higher levels
Capitalism (Duke UP, 1991; recipient of the of complexity): the doctrine of Being, the doctrine of Essence,
MLAs James Russell Lowell Prize), The An- and the doctrine of the Notion (or Concept). Each one is inter-
tinomies of Realism (Verso, 2013; recipient nally driven by a speciic problematic: the irst one (Being) by the
of the Truman Capote Award for Literary
problems of an externalizing Verstand, or Understanding, and its
Criticism), and The Ancients and the Post-
confusions of quality and quantity; the second (Essence) by the more
moderns: On the Historicity of Forms (Verso,
2015). He received the 2008 Holberg Prize hermeneutic issue of the relations between inside and outside, and
and the 2011 MLA Award for Lifetime how the appearance of a given phenomenon is to be unmasked as
Scholarly Achievement. what both conceals and reveals its inner realities; the third, inally
2016 fredric jameson
430 PMLA 131.2 (2016), published by the Modern Language Association of America
131.2 ] Fredric Jameson 431

theories and methodologies


(the so-called Notion), by the age-old subject- erates the emergence of the thing itself (die
object dilemma, which Hegel believes himself Sache selbst) or, in other words here, the very
to have solved through the syllogism (which reality of the deed, event, or work at issue.
identiies the universal with the particular or The term ground has here indeed two
singular) and through life as the embodiment fundamental meanings, an ambiguity that,
of the singular. his is clearly the most con- particularly inasmuch as both meanings are
tested dimension of Hegels philosophy, and essentially igural, usefully facilitates some
the most easily qualiied as metaphysical or properly dialectical slippage between them.
ideological, as vitalist or normative (charac- he irst is of course that of a foundation, and
terizations true Hegelians would resist). it is clear enough that this sense can serve as
In my attempt here to illuminate the a context or source for the elements of the
problems and the dilemmas of a Marxist crit- contradiction that inds its basis in ground.
icism, I will draw mainly on what I will read At that point we can observe the emergence
as the critical or deconstructive analyses of of the two terms of the grounded and
the second book, or the doctrine of Essence, what grounds it, and meaning slowly shits
with its famous central chapter on the deter- in the direction of the second acceptation of
minations of relection, which so many have the Ground term, which is that of a reason
taken rightly or wrongly to be the centerpiece or cause. he dialectical reversal then takes
of the exposition of the dialectic. place when ground itself turns around into
I have used the word hermeneutic to char- a kind of cause and becomes that new cate-
acterize this central section of the Logic, for it gory Hegel identiies as Condition. I believe
would seem to deal most centrally with ques- that we must here see the establishment of a
tions of interpretation rather than those of new ground in the place of the old one: some-
analysis or explanation (and indeed reaches thing a political analogy may make clearer
a kind of climax in the discussion of form for the whole sequence of categories.
and content). his is why the hermeneutic has A moment of class self-deinition or class
seemed the most appropriate series of catego- consciousness (Identity) leads at once to a class
ries in terms of which to interrogate literary struggle (Diference, Opposition) in which the
criticism (and not only the Marxian variety), fundamental contradictions of society (the
even though literature and art as such (and ground) are revealed and destroyed and a
even imagination) are never a reference or a new ground of the social takes their place in
source of examples throughout the Logic. In classic Hegelian Auhebung (or sublation).
fact, the determinations of reflection are One state of society supplies the fundamen-
most accessibly read as a political, rather than tal elements of a social revolution, which then
a literary, allegory. We begin with Identity as itself modifies its function from a punctual
a category, which proves at once to be the event to the long-term process of social trans-
same as Diference: to say what a thing is is formation sometimes called cultural revolu-
also at once to say what it is not. Yet Difer- tion, thereby producing a new state of society,
ence threatens to disintegrate into the sterile or a new ground. (Something analogous will
category of Diversity, until both initial catego- take place in literary criticism, where a narrow
ries, Identity and Diference, ind their most thematic contradictionthe preconditions of
productive realization in Opposition, which the workwill widen into a sense in which the
almost at once is unmasked as Contradiction. work stands for a whole moment of history
At which point, virtually at once, Contra- and a whole new perspective of the spirit of
diction falls to the Ground (an expression to the age, or better still of culture and society,
which I will return), and this transition gen- in Raymond Williamss formulation.)
432 Marxist Criticism and Hegel [ PM L A

erence: that of the politicalcurrent events,


theories and methodologies

For literature, however, this moment, in


which the critic passes from text to context, or what Louis Althusser will call the aleatory
is a strategic one, which can rarely be man- conjuncture; class conlict, or the properly
aged gracefully. Indeed, as far as Marxist ideological level; and inally the cultural sys-
literary criticism is concerned, I think it can tem of the mode of production as such, which
generally be agreed that its most embarrass- for us is essentially commodification (Po-
ing move tends to be this (unavoidable) shit- litical Unconscious). Still, it is a solution that
ing of gears in which we pass from literary does not solve, or even paper over, the crucial
analysis to Marxian interpretation and ind moment of transition, the embarrassing weak
ourselves obliged to evoke the social and link of the move from text to context.
political meaning of the text in terms of the But lets retrace the process again step
classes, historical contradictions, political by step and, guided by Hegels stages, re-
and economic background, the conjunctures turn to that interesting moment in which the
of forces and ideologies, capitalist alienation, unity of Identity and Diference is stalled on
commodiication, and ideological occultation a possible resolution by way of Diversity (or
and repression, all of which lurk behind the Multiplicity) before inding a more produc-
aesthetic curtain and are suddenly unveiled tive outcome in the category of Opposition.
in all their impoverished extraliterary naked- Politically, the moment of Diversity may be
ness like the wizard of Oz. identiied as that of a liberal multiculturalism
Even so brilliant a dialectician as T.W. that is ofered as a political solution: Multi-
Adorno is capable of completing a subtle plicity is here to be identiied in the variety of
analysis of the contradictions of a given text identity politics (also, in profoundly Hegelian
with the vaguest of gestures toward late fashion, characterized as the politics of difer-
capitalism or verwaltete Gesellschaft. (I ence) and as such subject to the radical criti-
myself have sometimes sinned in this direc- cism of theorists as diferent as Adolph Reed,
tion as well, with the scantiest of references to Jr., Walter Benn Michaels, and Slavoj iek.
commodiication or inance capital.) he atomism of Diversity always, on Hegels
Yet it is a disappointment when we are too view, leads to a repulsion from each of these
precise, as when Carl Schmitt reads Hamlet in various identities, which gradually reorganize
terms of the foibles of Mary Queen of Scots themselves into dichotomous alliances and
and the English succession, or too vague and move toward Opposition as such. Politically,
stereotypical, as when we gesture toward capi- of course, this reorganization is compelled by
talist nihilism or Weltschmerz: either too little the increasing primacy of the economic; in
or too much (although Im not sure which is literary criticism, however, I would single out
which, perhaps Schmitts is also a Hegelian humanism, or ethical criticism, as the weak-
unity of opposites). And it is this unhappy ness that dooms critical pluralism to unpro-
transition that awaits us whether we take the ductive sterility. Vacuous universals like the
historical (objective) path of interpretation or human condition, freedom, and the ideal of
the cultural (subjective) one: the explanatory tolerance always tend to be concealed behind
code of prerevolutionary social tensions or a rhetoric of moral indignation at inequality
that of the theory of ideology as such. and purely social injustice as well as the anar-
I have myself proposed, in a much older chist obsession with power and the state.
work that has never seemed to have made As for Opposition, I have oten been criti-
many converts, a method whereby such inter- cized for assimilating the classical dialectic
pretive codes are diferentiated according to to the structuralist moment in contemporary
the three essential levels of any contextual ref- philosophy, for which the binary opposition
131.2 ] Fredric Jameson 433

theories and methodologies


diferences without positive terms, as Ferdi- the constructions of totalityas it were the
nand de Saussure put it (166)is the renewal abstractions of abstraction itselfthat have
of the twin dynamics of Hegel and Marx alike taken on a new kind of visual representa-
and the only outcome for an emphasis on dif- tionality (itself a representation to the second
ference that is not a dead end. In literary criti- power). Cyberspace thereby responds to a fun-
cism, this attention to dialectical opposites damental dilemma of narrative todayhow to
can alone ofer a productive way out of the un- convey the realities of a global totality, the to-
satisfactory alternatives of the insistence on a tal system of late or inancial capitalism, that
single meaning or the interminable enumera- is beyond the capacity of any individual mind
tion of themes (phenomena that correspond or experience to grasp, let alone to represent?
to Identity and Diversity, respectively, and are This phenomenon would in itself lend
central to Hegels critique of atomism). Gibsons work a historic signiicance in the
his is the moment to introduce what will crisis of contemporary representation. But it
be my concrete example hereWilliam Gib- is accompanied by a second theme, as it were
sons Neuromancerand the properly Hege- another and radically diferent sense of the
lian critique of examples as degraded and possibilities of cyberspace, and that is what
contingent externalizations of the weakness Gibson has chosen to call simstim, or simu-
of empiricist notions of abstraction may lated stimulus. Here it is the sensory capaci-
perhaps be implicitly overcome by the histori- ties of the body itself that are enhanced and
cal precedence of science iction in the post- projected into the outside real world in such a
modern situation today, as well as the current way that we can grasp the bodys far reaches
ideological predominance of communication perceptually without moving from our own
theories, along with the pathbreaking signii- limited bodily position. If the irst kind of op-
cance of the appearance of this work in the eration is an enlargement of abstraction, this
early years of the Reagan era (and indeed in one is an intensiication of empiricism, com-
the Orwellian year). Neuromancer, indeed, parable to what Walter Benjamin described as
inds its irst Identity in the notion of cyber- the optical unconscious of the new media
space Gibson is credited with inventing, and (237), their capacity to open up reaches and
the novels thematic richness ofers a happy dimensions of reality too minute for the old
hunting ground for critics of the most varied human body to grasp, or to Pascals two in-
methodologies, thereby opening up the space finitiesthe human body as the midpoint
of Diversity (and in fact my own remarks here between the galaxies and the subatomic parti-
draw on an earlier essay of mine on this para- cles (346)save that here, once again, unlike
digmatic work [Ancients]). the high art of Benjamins and Rosalind
The passage from thematic Diversity to Krauss optical unconscious, this one is also
the binary of dichotomous Opposition is here literalized in the mode of science iction and
simpliied for us in an exemplary way by the its realistic schematizations.
dual uses of cyberspace that Gibsons novel Now therefore the Identity of cyberspace
dramatizes. A irst sense of the way in which has been revealed to harbor some funda-
cyberspace transcends the perceptual capaci- mental diferences, which quickly reorganize
ties of the normal human body is aforded by themselves into a fundamental opposition:
the great and well-nigh statistical architec- the abstract totalizations of cyberspace in
tures of globalization into which the hacker the narrower sense and the sensory realities
protagonist enters when he leaves that phe- of simstim, both transcending the capac-
nomenological body behind him (as so much ity of the individual body but in two distinct
dead meat, in Gibsons language). hese are and even antithetical directions, toward the
434 Marxist Criticism and Hegel [ PM L A
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unimaginably vast and the unavailably sen- terms that are alternately negative or positive,
sory. It is probably clear enough that this op- depending on whether you are an investment
position can be grasped as a contradiction: banker or the resident of a small town from
each term shares a kind of infinite and can which all business has led. his does seem to
thereby be immediately related to the other, me a reasonable use of allegorical interpreta-
yet the abstract ininity of space is also read- tion, provided we add some fundamental and
ily distinguished from its ininitesimality. he indispensable qualiications.
crucial point to be made here for those with For one thing, as I suggested in passing,
only a stereotypical idea of Hegel is that the this oppositionglobal and localis not an
body, Pascals midpoint, is not in any sense analysis of the current situation, as Lenin
the terms synthesis. Nor was it, I think, for might call it, but rather an ideology: a pop-
Pascal, who wanted to dramatize an agonizing cultural way of imagining the dilemma, a
dilemma rather than a comfortable and cen- kind of picture thinking in its own right
tral niche in the universe. But it is also crucial when it is not the imaginary program of a
to mark the diferences: Pascals igure unites Utopian solution, in which, as with Kenneth
two extremes in a single plane or dimension, Framptons critical regionalism, we propose
whereas in Gibson this opposition involves to develop a vigorous local or regional culture
the incommensurability of two distinct di- that serves as a kind of compensation for the
mensions that not even the individual body is supranational ravages of a world financial
able to mediate. It is this incommensurability system or in which the cultivation of this or
that entitles us to identify this opposition as a that ethnic identity stage attempts to resist
contradiction and thereby to move decisively the faceless standardization of international
from one of Hegels categories to another. business and militarization. Maybe, like re-
he moment of contradiction in the Logic gionalism in literature or religious funda-
is a peculiar one indeed: as one of Hegels mentalism in politics, a third or nationalist
most astute commentators, Batrice Longue- way seems to ofer a kind of momentary so-
nesse, points out (97), it is odd that so cen- lution, a release from what is otherwise the
tral and omnipresent a concept gets so brief paralysis of praxis and the helpless passivity
and perfunctory treatment in the Logic and of populations caught in the middle.
then vanishes so rapidly from the sequence. This is the moment in which, after the
For contradiction then at once passes to dialectic of Identity and Diference leads to
Groundsomething that might, as has al- Opposition and Contradiction, we confront
ready been shown, mean cause or reason, but the unexpected emergence of the category
which in literary circles we are most familiar of Ground. Now philosophically this is a
with in the embarrassingly neutral yet omni- very rich word in our two philosophical lan-
present term context. guages (English and German); or, if you are
Where do we go from here? In literary in- allergic to German philosophy, it is a most
terpretation, we have reached a jumping-of ambiguous one. Grund means a reason for
point, a clif from which only allegory seems something happening: Leibniz uses it and so
to offer the outcome. Gibsons opposition does Heidegger, and we can see how it would
would then translate fairly smoothly into that include causality (something most relevant
opposition current in late capitalism today indeed in the English tradition and most no-
that confronts the global and the local as the tably in Hume) and also how it might have
two irreconcilable extremes of a world market had a whole long previous existence in the-
or a finance capital from which the middle ologys dealings with God. What are your
term of the national has dropped out: two grounds for divorce? What are your grounds
131.2 ] Fredric Jameson 435

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for making that statement? We can then here ield 118). Or even Shakespeare: hou owest
also observe the not-so-ghostly presence of God a death.
the legal system in the multiple appropria- But it would be wrong to think of this as-
tions of this word. Hegel also plays a speciic sociation of ground with death exclusively in
neological game with this word, which works individual terms, for it is also collective and
nicely in German, where zu Grunde gehen historical. Indeed, one of the most revealing
is a frequent colloquial expression for going moments in the Philosophy of History comes
to pieces, collapsing, to sink, to founder, to early, in Hegels account of the Persian empire,
be ruined, figuratively, to hit rock bottom where he remarks, in virtually an offhand
and literally to go out of existence. So here at manner, he Persians are the irst Historical
once we confront the negativity lurking in the People; Persia was the irst Empire that passed
seemingly positive meaning of ground: the away. he chapter in which this line appears
diference between to touch ground and to had been preceded by evocations of China
hit the ground may also helpfully dramatize and India, surely historical par excellence, yet
this productive ambiguity, about which Hegel not in the way in which Hegel understands
himself (having irst suggested in a letter that the historical, for China and India remain
he wanted to teach philosophy to speak Ger- stationary and perpetuate a natural vegetative
man [Letters 107]) said the following: Ger- existence even to the present time (173). his
man has many advantages over other modern is surely an astonishing point of view, and
languages; some of its words even possess the to be juxtaposed with the famous linguistic-
further peculiarity of having not only difer- etymological formulation of essence, Wesen
ent but opposite meanings so that one can- ist was gewesen ist (Wissenschaft 13) es-
not fail to recognize a speculative spirit of sence must necessarily be over and done with,
the language in them (Science 32). However must already have been to be as essence.
shocking such linguistic ambiguities may be (We may note in passing that Marxs much-
in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, they are given discussed and scandalous-infamous theory
a powerful cultural expansion in one of the of the timelessness of Oriental despotism,
most famous lines in Goethes Faust, which or more oicially the Asiatic mode of produc-
Hegel must have relished, spoken by Mephis- tion [in the Grundrisse], derives at least in part
topheles early in the play: directly from such passages [401].)
But this casts a wholly new light on
Denn alles was entsteht Hegels supposedly teleological theory of
Ist wert, dass es zu Grunde geht. history, which has customarily been assimi-
(1.3.20102) lated to a kind of cosmic bourgeois idea of
progress. Even leaving aside the discontinu-
hese lines can be translated as: Everything ous leaps from one world spirit to another (in
that comes into existence has thereby enough fact rather more analogous to recent theories
value to it that it should go out of existence as of the origin of capitalism, leaping from one
well (or that it should be destroyed). Or you market to another in search of a space of ex-
may wish to recall the Anaximander frag- pansion [Arrighi]), what the caricature has
ment, dear to Heidegger: and the source for failed to register is Hegels constitutively ret-
coming-to-be of existing things is also that rospective view of history, already implicit in
of their destruction, according to necessity; the famous owl of Minerva, which only lies
for they pay a penalty of retribution to each at dusk (Elements 23), and blurted out more
other for their injustice according to the as- openly in his salute to the new world, with its
sessments of Time (Kirk, Raven, and Scho- immensities (rivers, mountains, etc.), about
436 Marxist Criticism and Hegel [ PM L A
theories and methodologies

which philosophy (read: Hegel) has nothing it alone, for it has an ininite thirst for it; the
to say: taste of the drink is its annihilation.
he image gives a startling twist to Hegels
As a Land of the Future, it has no interest for more familiar description of experience as
us here, for, as regards History, our concern the organic growth of meaning from seed to
must be with that which has been and that blossom to fruit and back again. It is actually
which is. In regard to Philosophy, on the a small dose of death that is transmitted. he
other hand, we have to do with that which git becomes, in the present, a kind of poison.
(strictly speaking) is neither past nor future, To consume the fruit of the present, to ex-
but with that which is, which has an eternal perience ones own experience, would entail
existencewith Reason; and this is quite suf- a mad jouissance within the short-circuit of
icient to occupy us. (87) timeat once thoughts craving and its ruin-
ation. Hegel here essentially deines history
as trans-generational trauma: experience is
These eternal existences are the various
the belated and vicarious experience of the
forms of each particular National Genius or
missed experience of the other. (86)
characteristic national spirit that make up
World History (Hegel, Philosophy 53). They Comays brilliant language here restores the
form a discontinuous sequence very much in labor and sufering of the negative to Hegel
the style of the Phenomenology of Spirit rather with a vengeance, demonstrating the dialecti-
than the tortuous sequences of the Logic; but cal identity of positive and negative, lourishing
what is to be stressed, despite the rather loose and death, in the presence of Ground as such.
philosophical language of the above- cited At any rate, this categorywhich as
passage, is that if telos there be, then each reason or reasons for being seems a simple
moment, in fulilling its telos, must die. he enough idea, then later on expanded in the
various organic and plant metaphors make version I have already given it as a general
clear that for Hegel also, in some literal sense, context, background, or even element of a
ripeness is all, and this achieved and now ex- phenomenonnow proves to carry in it-
tinguished essence is destined for Erinnerung self the very seeds of time as such, the go-
(memory, but literally interiorization), that is, ing hence as well as the coming hither, the
by Absolute Knowledge. Rebecca Comay has negativity that is the motor force of the uni-
expressed this relation in a striking passage: verse as well as of Hegels series of categories.
For with this negativity the category itself
In the Philosophy of History, Hegel links comes into being and goes thence, and
Spirits mobility to a dangerous morbidity. our question now is, How did contradiction
If the Idea must continually relocate, if the pass over into this new category of Ground?
torch must be constantly handed on, this is
Better still, how does contradiction turn out
because its incandescence burns, or rather, to
essentially to be the category of Ground? And
shit the metaphor, the poison must continu-
then ater that, how does Groundthe rea-
ally be expelled; history is the administration
son for thingsturn into a new category, the
of a time-released toxin whose consumption
is fatal to those who secrete it. he life of a Conditionthe precondition for things and
people ripens a certain fruit; its activity aims ultimately existence as such?
at the complete manifestation of the principle Our Hegelian reading of the literary text
which it embodies. But this fruit does not fall had, in effect, stalled with the reasonable
back into the womb of the people that gave proposition that Gibson has ofered us a re-
birth to it and ripened it; on the contrary, it lection of one of the fundamental contradic-
becomes a bitter drink to it. It cannot leave tions of late capitalism, the gap between an
131.2 ] Fredric Jameson 437

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overarching and increasingly untouchable in my opinion, of the great Hegelian spirals
world system of financial profit and an in- where the same categories repeat at higher
dividual experience shorn of its habitat and levels of complexity.
most oten reduced, if I may use the term, to But to grasp the pertinence of this con-
naked life. temporary parallel, we must also insist on
What we find at this transitional mo- another feature of the Hegelian categories we
ment in the Logic is that the opposition or have been using here, which have all been ex-
contradiction has gone to ground, has pounded in the second book of the Science of
withdrawn into its ground (Hegel, Science Logic, he Doctrine of Essence. Although
434). Ground (Grund) then opens up, into its these categories have often been centrally
own constitutive moments of development, identiied with the dialectic itself, it is impor-
which are those, themselves profoundly lit- tant to understand that for Hegel, essence is
erary and hermeneutic, of the oppositions not the last word in reality but only its sub-
between form and matter and form and con- jective logic, which must be completed by the
tent, to which we may also add the somewhat third book, that of the Notion or Concept. In
later enumeration, under the category of Ap- a more Marxist terminology, we must there-
pearance, of whole and parts, force and ex- fore identify the doctrine of Essence with the
pression, inner and outer, and ultimately of realm of ideology, reserving the question of
causality as such. objectivity (and, indeed, of universality) for
But here already, with the mutation of a later discussion. For it is only there that
Ground into Condition, we reach a remark- representation and history begin to coincide,
able event, namely Existence, or the coming and the literary and cultural formal questions
into being of the work itself! We may here become political ones. As for Neuromancer,
experience what Adorno, who so frequently Hegel has usefully warned us against grasping
compared Hegels situation and achievement its central opposition in any mimetic spirit.
with that of his contemporary Beethoven, Hegelian abstraction is a process of expansion
identiied as the great musical hammer blow rather than subtraction and here moves from
of the Logic, the grand Hegelian airmation the local precondition of the worka social
that Essence must appear! (168). feature among othersto that vaster histori-
I believe that this astonishing transition cal phenomenon of which both text and soci-
from grounds and reasons, themes and con- ety are components, revealing the global-local
tradictions, to existence itself is to be clariied contradiction to be not some representation of
by the interpretive proposal that Jean-Paul reality but rather its ideological symptom, in
Sartre, following Henri Lefebvres histori- a situation in which that reality, like the Laca-
cal work, called the regressive-progressive nian Real, is at one and the same time unpre-
method (51n8). he idea is that, following a sentable and as actual as a beating pulse.
number of logical preconditions for the work
back in time, we lay in place what had already
to besocially, historically, formally, existen-
tially, or psychologicallybefore reconstruct-
ing the actual production of the thing itself,
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