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.
– Hide quoted text –
–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

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?

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.)

Day 435: AY!

Wow, I’ve been really bad at this whole blogging thing as of late. (I mean even worse than usual.) I have been insanely busy and practically spent every day in its entirety at coffee shops writing. I’m just finishing an article (which I will be sending out tonight). Also, I hope there will be some time left for me to do laundry, since I have to get up at 4 in the morning to go to the airport where I have to get on a flight to Long Beach at 7 in the morning. I’ll be at the ACLA convention over the next few days. I organized a panel there and will be presenting a paper (along with some other UIC folks). There will also be a few MLG people there, so it should be fun. I am, however, slightly worried about the presentation I have to give, the main reason for which is the fact that the presentation has yet to be written (and in a way that doesn’t make me look like an idiot). Well, I guess I have a longish flight and one more night at the hotel for that. It’s more a matter of copying and pasting anyway. The talk will essentially consist of an abbreviated version of an article that should be coming out as part of an edited collection sometime soon. I’ll advertise here it when I know specifics.

Oh, and in the same spirit, for those read German: check out Sebastian Domsch’s Amerikanisches Erzaehlen Nach 2000. Muenchen: Edition Text + Kritik, April/May 2008. It’s not quite out yet but should be within the next few days–you can pre-order it. Yours truly has a chapter in that as well.

I’ll be back next week with reports from the Western frontier (of the culture industry).

Day 420: The Universal

A while ago I promised to return to writing about issues of critical theory. Yet, I have barely done so. In fact, I have barely blogged as of late. I am not sure why. There is a lot of stuff going on, but most of it is too mundane to bore people with. I am trying to find an apartment in Canada (I am moving at the end of June), I’m in the process of scheduling a date for my defense, I’m making final revisions to my dissertation (mostly unnecessary, yet I can’t just let it lie around), I am copyediting the proofs of a book chapters that will come out soon (I may send links, but then again that may conflict with me trying to keep this blog largely anonymous), I am writing on form, utopia, totality and universals, and I put together several conference panels. So, lots of stuff to do but this stuff is largely not very interesting.

Therefore, here the beginning of a return to issues of critical theory. A beginning inquiry into the nature of the universal:

Thought is the proper medium of the universal. This means that nothing exists as universal if it takes the form of the object or of objective legality. The universal is essentially ‘anobjective.’  It can be experienced only through the production (or reproduction) of a trajectory of thought, and this trajectory constitutes (or reconstitutes) a subjective disposition.

Subjection, in other words, is contingent upon the fact that the particular can only be thought (and represented) in reference to the universal. Subjection is, therefore, fundamentally connected to Marxist accounts of subjectivity (and ideology) that make reference to the necessity of ‘totalizing’ in ways that are always already dialectical (and not noumenal). Now, what does that tell us about the distinction between the terms ‘universal’ and ‘totality’? As we find it, the distinction between both terms in critical theory is often qualitative or even merely rhetorical. There is, however, a logical distinction that, I suspect, has something to do with the above. Thoughts?

Day 399: I Need To Vent

Not a lot. Just a little bit. About academia. Nothing dramatic happened. I was just a little upset by a number of talks I recently attended (well, upset may even be too strong–disappointed, rather).

I went to see a Franco Moretti lecture (on the history of the novel). Verdict: terrible! Bad, bad old-school literary scholarship and that from a person whose work I have admired for years (to be fair, I never considered him to be a cutting-edge theorists with truly radically innovative ideas–aside from the whole graphs and maps thing, which I will not discuss here, since there is a whole set of problems with this approach–yet, Moretti was still always my go-to guy for the good kind of historicism–I assume I don’t have to mention names in regards to the bad kind of historicism) .

Then I attended a Richard Godden colloquium (another person whose work I’ve admired for a long time and who has produced absolutely brilliant books in the past) in which we discussed with him some of his recent writings. Verdict: terrible+terrible! He was underprepared, the articles were full of theoretical errors (both in regards to Marx and Freud/Lacan) and the arguments presented were underwhelming at best. Upside here: he was at least a good sport about us questioning his work and engaged in a good discussion.

Immediately after the Godden colloquium, I rushed over to an event with Slavoj Zizek. At that point I was rather unmotivated, since Godden had disappointed too much and since Zizek, while often entertaining, had essentially been doing the same thing the last few times I saw him (i.e. semi-educated audience pleasing, “you’d think this is a true logical relationship, but it surprisingly turns out the opposite/reverse is how it works,” softcore Hegelian analysis with Lacanian fireworks for critical theory groupies). Surprisingly, however, Zizek delivered a long talk (almost 2 hours) that actually tried to engage rigorously with the problem of ethics (especially with Levinas) and, even more suprisingly, produced some actual cultural analysis (sadly, I think it is safe to assume that the only thing the autograph hunters that crowded the room remembered about this talk was Zizek’s reading of Rammstein lyrics and performances). “Cultural analysis? Duh!” some may say, “that’s what he does.” No, I would respond here. That is not what he generally does at all. Using culture to make a theoretical point is very different from using theory to make a point about culture and it precisely the latter Zizek did for once in this lecture.

Overall verdict of recent talks: a 33.3% success ratio is less than satisfying. So, all you critical theorists and cultural/literary critics who get paid a shitload of cash for your talks: step it up and deliver some effort and rigorous thought! This ain’t fucking Broadway!

***EDIT:

Ha ha! Wouldn’t you know it: the only segment of the talk somebody filmed and put on youtube is the Rammstein part (and that was a very weak example in support of his argument–soft-serve Zizek, if you will). Here the segment nevertheless:

Day 398: Materialist Epistemology

Consider the following sentence:

“Only those who transform reality (material and social) are able to gain knowledge of it.”

What’s wrong with this? (And, to up the level of difficulty, what is wrong with it, if you do not want to let go of the following: Hegel, Marx, the dialectic, the material formation of (self) consciousness)? Something is fundamentally bugging me about this and I think the idea of “general intellect” may get me there. This is the kind of stuff that makes me lose sleep (or, as happened today, makes me only realize that I have been standing under the shower for a long, long time, after I begin to notice that the water has started to hurt the skin on my shoulders).

Day 394: White Folk

People have been talking about this blog quite a lot–even in academia, which is why this entry may be quite fitting:

There are some entries that are rather haphazardly put together, but a number of them are witty and entertaining. Enjoy.