New Issue of Mediations

The editorial collective of Mediations, the journal of the Marxist Literary Group, is pleased to announce issue 24.2, a special issue that revisits the relationship between Marxism and literature. Mediations is published twice yearly. The Fall issues are dossiers of non-U.S. material of interest; the Spring issues are open submission and peer reviewed. Mediations has circulated in various forms and formats since the early 1970s, and is now available free on the web. Both a web edition and a print edition, downloadable in pdf form, can be accessed at mediationsjournal.org. Featured authors in the current issue include Gáspár Miklós Tamás, Imre Szeman, Neil Larsen, Mathias Nilges, Nicholas Brown, Aisha Karim, Leerom Medovoi, and Sarah Brouillette.
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Volume 24, No. 2 || Marxism and Literature Revisited

Mathias Nilges and Emilio Sauri, guest editors

CONTENTS


Editors’ Note

The Left and Marxism in Eastern Europe: An Interview with Gáspár Miklós Tamás
Imre Szeman interviews the political philosopher, journalist, and writer, Gáspár Miklós Tamás. Describing his own political move to the Left in relation to local post-Soviet politics in Hungary and global structures of contemporary capitalism, Tamás discusses the dangers of attaching hopes for greater rights and liberties to both free market structures and nostalgic forms of leftism. What answers can Marxism offer in response to the sociopolitical and philosophical pressures of the current conjuncture in which the free market agenda has become structurally and politically untenable? How must we re-think Marxism itself in a context in which solutions to the political impasses of the present can no longer be found in a return to Party politics of the past? How might Marxist political philosophy deal with pressing contradictions such as rising forms of ultranationalism? Addressing these and other questions, Tamás demonstrates how recent political developments in Hungary, and throughout Eastern Europe more generally, provide lessons for the Left throughout the globe.

Marxist Literary Criticism, Then and Now
Is there such a thing as a Marxist literary criticism? Imre Szeman argues that, despite the fact that Marxism has long privileged literature as an object of analysis and critique, there is no unitary methodology or set of considerations that distinguish a “Marxist” approach to literature from others. Here, Szeman provides a historicization and structural analysis of what he identifies as the three primary modes of Marxist literary criticism. At the same time, this essay also points to a fourth, as yet unnamed, possibility for Marxist literary critique that seeks to sublate the assumed “impasse” created by the limiting choice between “ideological” and “anti-ideological” culture, an impasse that, according to Szeman, bears witness to a profound historical shift.

Literature, Immanent Critique, and the Problem of Standpoint
What might a method for critical theory that advances beyond the tenets of “ideology-critique” look like? For Neil Larsen, the answer lies in Marxism’s own recourse to immanent critique. Yet, with the notable exceptions of Adorno and Lukács, immanent critique has bothered little with the problem of standpoint in relation to cultural, and, in particular, literary objects. Larsen, then, attempts to specify an immanent critical standpoint of literature that allows for the articulation of a dialectical critique that dispenses with what he identifies as the “fallacy of application.” Demonstrating how any literary theory — Marxist and otherwise — is, of necessity, immanent to the text, this essay turns to the question of method as a means of grasping the relationship between the literary text as “subject/object” and the social totality.

Marxism and Form Now
Contemporary literary criticism is everywhere marked by what appears to a revival of foundational questions: what is literature now? How do we argue now? What is form now? Rather than signal a new direction for literary criticism, this now-ness, Mathias Nilges maintains, points to a discipline in the midst of a crisis of futurity. Extending the French Regulation School’s suggestion that the history of capitalism is the history of the struggle between capital and its social regulation, Nilges argues that the current disciplinary crisis is best evaluated in the context of capitalism’s cultural regulation. Dialectically linking the (crisis-driven) movement of structural, epistemological and cultural forms, Nilges maintains that the study of the formal(istic) history of cultural regulation must replace cultural critique based on the assumed possibility of the subsumption of culture under capital, which, in turn, creates the conditions of possibility for an emergent Marxist literary criticism.

One, Two, Many Ends of Literature
What if we looked at the notion of the end of literature as a truism, only lacking in plurality and logical rigor? Nicholas Brown explains that one of these “ends” can be regarded as internal to the functioning of literature itself, and as such, the point of departure for a more complete formulation of a Marxist literary criticism. For Brown, this formulation reveals that both literary criticism and Marxism are to be regarded as what he calls “formal materialisms,” a mode of analysis that must be completed and revised every time in light of an object it cannot posit beforehand. What this means for a Marxist literary-critical project subsequently becomes all the more apparent in Brown’s reading of another end of literature – postmodernism.

Crisis of Representation in Wole Soyinka’s Season of Anomy
Perhaps one of the more consistent elements of Wole Soyinka’s work has been a commitment to an individual will that refuses collective mobilization. Aisha Karim argues that Soyinka’s novel Season of Anomy marks a departure from any commitment as such that opens his work to new political possibilities. But while Season of Anomy presents us with an alternative to the politics and poetics that underlie Soyinka’s dramatic output, Karim maintains that it does so only insofar as it imagines itself as a “failed text.” What emerges as a crisis of representation within the text consequently allows the reader to recognize herself as the agent of change on the level of the social.

The Biopolitical Unconscious: Toward an Eco-Marxist Literary Theory
If ecocriticism can and should be dialectically assimilated to the project of a Marxist literary and cultural criticism, how do we have to rethink both ecocritical and Marxist literary critical praxis? What can a Marxist ecocriticism lend to interrogations of the relation between literature and ecocriticism’s most undertheorized category: the environment? Leerom Medovoi illustrates that Marxism not only can, but must play a central role in the formulation of an ecocritical approach to literature capable of transcending the inability to think beyond thematic criticism and ethical critique.

Creative Labor
Sarah Brouillette suggests that literary studies can help de-naturalize contemporary capitalism by accounting for the rise of the pervasive vocabulary that imagines work as a form of self-exploration, self-expression, and self-realization. She discusses two manifestations of this vocabulary. One is the notion of a “creative class” branded by Richard Florida, management professor and guru consultant to government and industry. The other is the theory of “immaterial labor” assembled within autonomist Marxism. Despite their obvious differences, Brouillette demonstrates that both conceptions are more symptoms than diagnoses of a now dominant tendency to fathom creativity both ahistorically — as the essence of experimentation emanating from an internal natural source — and contradictorily — as newly valuable to capitalism but romantically honorable and free.

BOOK REVIEWS

It’s Dialectical!
Nicholas Brown reviews Fredric Jameson’s Valences of the Dialectic. To say that Jameson’s most recent contribution to dialectical thought is monumental in scope is perhaps an understatement. What, then, might this reengagement with the dialectic mean both in the context of Jameson’s work and for Marxism today?

A New Direction for Marxism
Jen Hedler Hammond reviews Kevin Floyd’s The Reification of Desire: Toward a Queer Marxism. Floyd’s book succeeds in producing a dialogue between Judith Butler and Fredric Jameson that will no doubt have far-reaching consequences for both queer and Marxist theory. But what insight does this dialogue provide into the undertheorized position of women in Marxism and Queer Studies alike?

Another Good Cause

What does capitalism have to do with nature/animal conservation efforts? A lot–and I don’t just mean that ecopolitics and rescue efforts for flora and fauna have become a lucrative business in neoliberalism. More specifically, addressing issues regarding the extinction of species and the accelerating exploitation of natural resources raises the necessity to address fundamental contradictions in the logic and structure of capitalism, revealing precisely that capitalism is NOT “the best thing that may be out there after all,” as contemporary pragmatism may have it. On the contrary, looking at ecopolitics and the limits the capitalist structure/logic imposes upon our efforts to save species from extinction indicates precisely the impossibility of solving problems by confining the process of thinking of solutions to the capitalist paradigm. Capitalism and its closing off of imaginative possibility is the death of Utopia and quite literally the death of species that suffer from our unwillingness to depart from a structure ridden with contradictions that gradually and seemingly inevitably robs itself of its own basis.

Recently, a team of photographers, scientists and students traveled to the West African island of Bioko to document the gradual destruction of one of the world’s last nature paradises. One of the most shocking problems they encountered is the trade in bush meat. Prohibited by the government to preserve the island’s impressive species variety (especially monkeys), the extreme poverty of the local population and the possibility of earning $200 plus for a male drill on the local bush meat markets render such conservation efforts hopeless. National Geographic has a quite moving series of photographs on the issue (as well as a feature article) you can find here. What can we do about this? First, we can donate to the local conservation effort (see NG website) to provide short-term aid. Second, we can support progressive grassroots efforts that support community organizations addressing poverty in Africa (similar to the effort put forth by Work and Hour, to which I provided the link a few days ago). Third, and most importantly, we can choose to oppose the WTO, the global policies of the G8, vote in a manner the shapes and puts pressure on our local governments to address issues of global poverty (and the ecopolitical issues connected to them) and ultimately we can choose to think beyond the damaging confines of capitalism

Please look at the series of pictures documenting the trip to Bioko, especially those of the bush meat market. They are here.

The Dialectician’s Guide to Cultural Studies and Totalization

High and low culture are equally fascinating, but you can’t just do one or the other. You must do both.

- Mark Gerard Lawson

This may be the single most important advice not just for those producing culture but for those interested in and practicing the discipline of Cultural Studies. (And, of course, we should add that you always need to be aware of the dialectical interrelation of culture and the socioeconomic structure–and by that I mean neither a mediation nor a superstructural effect but a mutually productive relationship.)

Work an Hour

A good cause to support. Forward widely.

Work an Hour 2008

NYPD Officer Assaults Critical Mass Rider

Blatantly.

Without warning or attempting to stop him non-violently.

Fucked up.

I have participated in Critical Mass rides in Chicago.

They are always peaceful.

All over the globe.

In New York City they are illegal.

New York City promises liberty and justice to the world’s “tired, poor and hungry.”

New York City stands opposed to undemocratic (state) repression and extremism and is willing to defend this freedom of its people against terrorists.

New York City markets itself around the world as the place to which one can escape from the evils of the world.

That is, unless you’re on a bike, evidently.

If on a bike in New York City, you forfeit, so it seems, your right to free speech, free assembly and the privilege of being protected.

But good news, if the logic of the NYPD and NYC legislators is correct, you should be safe from being attacked by terrorists (because you are more like them than like a good NYC citizen and those subjects NYC welcomes).

So, if you’re a New Yorker who is scared of Al Quaeda: ride a bike! But make sure you wear protective gear and look out for the NYPD. However, this may be a good gamble: in contrast to your usual terrorist, NYPD officers are at least clearly recognizable, so you reduce the paranoia factor.

Form your own opinion about what Critical Mass bike rides are, if they should be illegal in NYC and if risking a human being’s health over it is a justified action in order to uphold “the law.” Btw: it looks as though the police officer will get away unpunished. Another proud day for all of us who stand by and laugh precisely because there is nothing to laugh at (as Adorno would have it) while the “law” is being executed by aggression and troubled masculinity.

Here the footage:

Here some info on Critical Mass:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_Mass

http://critical-mass.info/

http://www.critical-mass.org/

http://chicagocriticalmass.org/

Stranded

I shouldn’t have announced the return of this blog this early. It has been rather difficult to write lately–purely coincidentally. Today, I am stranded at Halifax airport. Still. I actually have been here since yesterday. Surprisingly, it’s starting to get a little boring.

I’ve met some nice people (a writer form San Francisco), some weird people (a bush pilot from Australia) and people I may very soon assault (an old hippie who has been playing the recorder constantly–I guess he is trying to entertain people, but he plays it really, really badly and I have the feeling someone may snap very soon. Hope it’s not going to be me. He is playing it as I am typing this. Really testing his luck, the old fella).

I hope I’ll make it out of here soon.

If customs and the Department of Homeland Security will allow me to order pizza into the terminal, I wonder?

Blog Re-Launch Extravaganza (or something…)

I am currently considering re-launching this blog. I am, however, not yet sure whether or not I should change its content, layout, aim, …

The simple reason for returning to blogging is: I have time again. The last few months were crazy and only now are things beginning to calm down at least somewhat (well, maybe in 2 weeks I can really say that and actually mean it). I finished my Ph.D., I got a job, I moved to Canada (I drove a truck up here from Chicago–took me all of three days, 1750 miles and did things to my body that scared me a little bit), I live in a house in the woods, I go swimming in the ocean in the evenings, I read and write a lot and I just agreed to function as committee director for a student who wants to write her thesis on the Beats.

So, I will probably be unable to post daily, but I am hell-bent on getting back to this. Hope you’re all well. I’ll talk to you all soon.

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