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 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


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.


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?

Day 359: Mad Crocs and Other Forms of Advertising–Crikey!

If you’re like me and drink a lot of coffee to stay awake, you may also run into the occasional upset/cramping stomach. In order to fight this, I have been increasingly turning toward energy drinks as a substitute for late-night coffee–works just as well for keeping up energy and alertness during all-nighters, yet spares you the stomachache (mostly, at least). Also, they are available as low-calorie versions, which is not a bad idea in the face of a general absence of physical exercise. One problems remains, however: these energy drinks tend to taste like moldy ass. In order to spare you some major disappointments, I will therefore provide you with the top five list of energy drinks that pack a nice punch, while still being not too brutal in taste (even though, I must confess, the ass-like taste of some drinks definitely does its part in keeping you awake). Hence, here the results of my totally non-Kantian, yet more than semi-disinterested taste test:

1. Red Bull Sugar Free (the classic, decent taste, nostalgically reminiscent of gummy bears, does its job)

2. Mad Croc Low Cal (more B-vitamins, yet too Guarana-y in taste–overall, not bad)

3. Radioactive No Carb (insane amounts of B-vitamins–5000% of B12–, caffeine and Taurine, also comes with Ginseng, Gingko, L-Carnitine…really does the trick, yet tastes like ass–reason for rating it number 3: it glows in the dark–and I am not even kidding–taste has many faces–and, before you write comments about the sense or nonsense of filling my body with chemicals, let me quickly go Kantian again and remind you that only a disinterested view will prevent the “degustibus non est disputandum” logic–but if you claim to have that kind of view and base your argument on it I will, of course, mock you for being a Rawlsean liberal by showing you the original position of one of my fingers–nicely, of course–just thought I should preventively mention this)

4. Monster Lo-Carb (decent taste, nice variety of vitamins etc. yet overall doses are too low–you’ll have to drink too much of it–which is probably why it comes in large cans)

5. Full-Throttle Low Carb (also decent taste and a variety of ingredients, yet it does not really have the effect it is supposed to have–closer to a sports drink with a little energy blend)

And now for the other part of this advertising post:

please help out some over-caffeintated academics by visiting the following, super-duper-fantastic websites: (the course blog of a class on multiethnic US literature is waiting for your comments) (the journal of the Marxist Literary Group–great new articles!)

Day 338: Mediations Journal

I will also quickly do my part to advertise the grand inauguration extravaganza of the second series of Mediations, the journal of the Marxist Literary Group. Issue 23.1 is a dossier of contemporary Marxist thought from Brazil. Mediations is published bi-annually. 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 format, can be accessed at Featured authors in the current issue include Luiz Felipe de Alencastro, Paulo Arantes, Ina Camargo Costa, Francisco de Oliviera, Milton Ohata, and Roberto Schwarz (!).

Day 137: MLG ICS 2008

Adding to yesterday’s “MLG 2007 Wrap-Up” post, today some things I forgot to mention, including info on next year’s institute coming from Sunday’s business meeting.

Following the success of this year’s institute the MLG ICS 2008 will be longer again. We might not get back to the initial lenght of the institute, which usually was somewhere between 4 and 6 weeks (someone rightly noted: ” I have no idea how anyone survived that”) but next year’s institute will be a seven-day extravaganza. The location has not yet been decided upon but the choice at this point is between UW in Milwaukee, MIT  in Boston and Chicago (not again here at the University of Illinois at Chicago but at Columbia). There has also been talk of bringing it back to the west coast in the next few years. People have also been discussing the idea of increasingly internationalizing the institute (we did have people from Romania, Italy, Canada, Japan and Germany this year), so foreign readers might want to look into this. The topic of next year’s institute will be “anti-globalization.”

One of the things I love about the institute is the increased potentiality of very simple statemets leading to highly theoretical discussions, revealing the in fact highly complex nature of an initially seemingly simple statement. My favorite quote regarding this came from Neil Larsen (in the context of the reading group on Saturday, I believe): “Capitalists are people, too. But they own stuff.”

My overall favorite quote came from Fredric Jameson. At the MLG barbecue (a longstanding tradition), which was held at the house of one my my dissertation directors, Jameson was overheard engaging in an intimate conversation with my dissertation director’s dog Rufus. I did not hear this myself but someone walked by this exchange that happened away from people and saw Jameson take Rufus’ head in his hands and heard him say: ” Hello puppy. Do you have rights? Foucault says you have rights.” I am not sure what Rufus’ response was but this is certainly one of my favorite MLG ICS 2007 mental images.

Day 136: MLG ICS 2007 Wrap-Up

The institute is over. However, much like reaching the object of your desire constitutes the disappearance of jouissance according to Lacan, the much fetishized end of sleeplessness, of dealing with annoying bureaucracy and of generally constantly worrying about doing a decent job organizing this conference ultimately reveals itself as lacking the previously imagined enjoyment. I am still completely exhausted but I woke up this morning and was bored. I do have a whole lot of stuff to do (I have to write and send in the encyclopedia entry today and then get back to articles and dissertation) but the sudden end to hyper-stress is somewhat of a let-down.

In part this may also be due to the fact that this year’s institute was fantastic and simply a great time I will remember fondly for a long time to come. Yes, as organizers we had to deal with a lot of annoying shit but that is always the case. The good thing about all this was that, as far as we know, it did not interfere with people’s fun. Generally speaking, it seemed as though people had a good time and in the end that is really all that matters (and already yesterday afternoon most of the annoying shit began to transform itself into hilarious anecdotes).

As far as the actual conference goes, the presentations were generally very interesting and the level of intellectual production was enjoyably high (with only very few exceptions that shall remained unnamed). Similarly, the Capital reading group was VERY productive and it was good to see so many people participate in it. The highlight of the conference was doubtlessly (as expected) Fredric Jameson’s seminar on the dialectic during which I was frequently distracted by thoughts such as: “I cannot believe I am sitting right next to Jameson while he is discussing the dialectic with us.” The talk he gave was essentially a quick run-through of his newest book Valences of the Dialectic, which, according to Jameson, might be out relatively soon. He said he will give the final draft to the publisher by this fall and the release should happen not too long after that. On a personal note regarding Jameson: he came up to me after my talk while I was smoking outside, told me that he liked my paper/project and gave me some additional ideas/references–my reaction was basically to smile, nod, say “thank you so much” about 12 times and try not to pee my pants with excitement (which might not have shown, since Intelligentsia gave us a leaky coffee container in the morning and so my pants had already been stained with roughly a quart of coffee since 7:30 am–but peeing one’s pants while talking to Jameson is probably still not a good idea)–in a way my reaction was very similar to my interaction with the tribunal I had to face in order to get the German government to allow me to substitute a 13-month alternative service for the mandatory 10-month military service–well, my reaction was similar but I have to say the talk with Jameson was ultimately a lot more enjoyable (and incomparably more meaningful to me).

I will now get back to writing and will probably pass out early tonight–I am still not quite caught up on sleep. I am sure I will think of more interesting info regarding to conference and may post this at a later point but I just wanted to write something in between today’s writing project since I didn’t get the chance to post for the duration of the MLG.

Day 131: Cayce Pollard Units & the MLG

Here a nice example of the fact that within advanced consumer capitalism nothing is a mainstream as not being part of the mainstream (yes, again a sentence that my former students probably cannot hear any more). Not only would Cayce Pollard really love this accessory but it could also be the official shoe of Project Mayhem–i.e. it is a great example of anti-capitalist resistance becoming an integral part of contemporary capitalist accumulation. See the following link:

Other than that the MLG Institute on Culture and Society begins today. To be honest, I wrote this post last night and changed the time stamp, since I had to get up at 6:30 in order to begin setting things up for the conference. Below a PDF file of the conference program for those who have not seen it yet. For more information please visit the website of the Marxist Literary Group, the link to which you can find listed in my blogroll. The website also provides you with instructions for how to sign up for the MLG listserv, which allows you to participate in intellectual exchange, discussions and keeps you in the loop regarding all things Marxist as debated by (not only US) academics (including conference and publication announcements). Let me remind everyone inthe Chicago area again that all events of the Institute are free to the public and that everyone is welcome to attend, listen and participate.


As a quick personal note: I have been searching “Marxism” on youtube (for a reason–Ronald Strickland posted some fantastic lectures that introduce the basic concepts of Marxism) and most of the stuff I found were videos that told me that “Hillary Clinton is  a Marxist. Don’t trust her!” I will not really go into detail about the obvious falsity of these claims, the extent to which propaganda can afford to become increasingly clumsy if you sufficiently de-politicize the public, etc. I will, however, repeat something I have said before on this issue, putting it as bluntly as I can while avoiding to actually engage with this right-wing crap on any truly serious level: the relationship between Democrats and socialism in regards to economic principles is like the relationship between deciding to drag a little less dirt into your apartment and a five-person, deep, spring-cleaning of the place.

Ok, so that’s that. I will try to find time to post updates on the MLG Institute throughout the next few days, which will also mark the transition back to a more serious phase of blogging for me (i.e. I will return to posts about criticism and theory and pick up some unfinished discussions from a few weeks ago–esp. regarding cognitive capitalism/capitalism 3.0). My post-moving phase was mostly marked by blogging about personal issues as a form of talking-cure/anamnesis (yes, anamnesis! my shower problems were very traumatic–see previous posts), but that is not entirely fulfilling (my traffic has gone up, though–strange–maybe I will have to serve some self-help/critical theory fusion cuisine here).

Und schnell zum Amusement der Deutschen Leser hier der neueste Titanic “Brief and die Leser,”: 

»Ausgetrockneter Po bereitet italienischen Bauern Kopfschmerzen« meldet der Bayerische Rundfunk – santo cielo! Ein bißchen Olivenöl/Panthenolcreme wirkt da Wunder! Stellt Euch mal nicht so doof an, sonst fahren wir im Sommer in die Türkei.


Day 130: Progressive Links

Yes, it is true. I finally have internet at home again. Yay! However, I am still very busy–hence, just a quick message. I updated my blogroll and added a bunch of links you might find interesting (if you share my ideological position, that is). Scroll down and you will find my blogroll on the right side of the posts (below “Archives”). Enjoy.

P.S.: I will update this post in the morning and add a little more substance to it.

***EDIT: here the promised substance:

Liechtenstein Successfully Tests Teeny Tiny Nuclear Bomb

After 5 Years In U.S., Terrorist Cell Too Complacent To Carry Out Attack