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?

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 426: No Rest for the Wicked

I saw New Model Army in concert at a tiny place in Wicker Park here in Chicago last Saturday night and I am still smiling. What a fantastic concert and what a fantastic band! They still stick to their shit, still rock, still stir up trouble and still have really bad teeth. I haven’t had a case of goosebumps as bad as this one at a concert in a long long time. “Here Comes the War” may just be the perfect opening song, especially considering that US customs seized not only ALL of their CDs upon entering the US from Canada (threatening to the homeland, evidently–probably for the same reason that anti-imperialist band were denied visas for their last tour a few months ago) along with a lot of other merchandise, including all buttons that said “I’m not at war.” Apparently, one has to be at war these days in order to enter the US–somewhat perplexing, really (“Put out the lights of the Age of Reason!”). To sum up, there is really not much more to this post than this: I love this band! (But apparently not as much as my friend–she briefly considered jumping the bass player.)

The movers move, the shakers shake // the winners rewrite history // but from high on the high hills // it all looks like nothing

old-school but contemporary:

and about two weeks ago–shitty quality, too big of a venue, but otherwise represents their present state (unchanged) state quite well:

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 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.

Day 385: Ghosts

The New NIN project (Ghosts) is finally out. As usual, the album is accompanied by a very interesting web presence (I wrote about the online marketing of My Violent Heart before, focusing on the guerilla marketing and pseudo-astroturfing aspect of it–can’t be bothered to look for the link, though–very busy today–I’ll go see a lecture by Franco Moretti later–yay!). To enter into this specific maze (and for free downloads of tracks), see http://ghosts.nin.com/.

Also, because my last post was about World Pillow Fight Day 2008, here an example of what happens when people actually put some effort into a music video. I rather like this one (which is a very rare thing for me to say about music videos). (Also, I find the “ghost” VERY attractive–especially with the hoodie–a somewhat less objective analysis of the video, I realize.) Band of Horses, “Is There a Ghost:”  Witness the specter of bourgeois ideology and its natural enemy, the emotional tie: