RETHINKING MARXISM Volume 11, Number 3 (Fall, 1999)
In this issue Beverley Best sets out to shake up the seemingly established, strict opposition between Marxism and post-Marxism by staging a confrontation between Fredric Jamesons dialectical criticism and Ernesto Laclaus theory of hegemony. However, instead of focusing on the oft-cited, substantial differences between those two theorists (and the bodies of theory that their work is taken to represent), Best engages in a nuanced—in the best sense, dialectical—analysis of the ways in which some of the key concepts put forward by Jameson and Laclau, however discontinuous and even divergent they may seem, can be interpreted as sharing a common ground and speaking to a similar problematic. For example, according to Best, the complex interplay of contingency and history, of immanence and transcendence, is present in the frame-works of both Jameson and Laclau. Similarly, both theorists refuse to relinquish the idea that Utopia, at once necessary and impossible, is a key moment of social analysis. These points of convergence, in turn, flow into the issue of the universal and the particular, especially as it refers to the relationship between individual subjects and the social totality or, in more general terms, between identity and its other. Best finds that both Jameson and Laclau raise, and then refuse to resolve—thereby maintaining a permanent tension between—an entire series of such otherwise antagonistic concepts. This orientation lends a fundamentally different cast to the connections between their theoretical approaches. Refusing both simple opposition and final synthesis, Best invokes a "permanent uncertainty" which undermines the rigidity of existing interpretations of the divide between Marxism and post-Marxism and is constitutive of her conception of "productive and self-conscious social theory."
The novel, especially the realist novel, has a special affinity with Marxism in its capacity to focus on the structure of class and to make the experience of class exploitation intelligible. At the same time, it is rare to discover in such novels, including and perhaps especially politically radical ones, the representation of a rich pattern of overdetermined relations between class and nonclass processes. The pro-vocative thesis of Julian Markelss contribution to a new "poetics of class in the realist novel" is that mainstream novels (such as those of Balzac and Dickens) too often ignore class or subsume class to other social determinations while radical novels (such as Fielding Burkes Call Home the Heart or Meridel LeSueurs The Girl) often make class their entry point but then fail to explore its mutual constitutivity with respect to other moments of social reality. According to Markels, the "representational resistances" that can be detected in both mainstream and radical novelistic attempts to represent the ravages of capitalism and the dynamics of strike activity mean that the realist novel can often provide literal examples, but ultimately falls short of creating a credible and powerful sustained representation, of the overdetermined—class and gender, individual and communal, and so on—experiences of everyday life.
Is civil society primarily an economic realm or a sphere of political practice? And what are the implications of both views, or an alternative conception of civil society, for the goal of imagining socialism and the process of mourning the loss of the con-temporary relevance of the socialist ideal? For Viren Murthy, the economic conception of civil society can be traced back to Hegel and, especially, to Marxs critique of the Hegelian conception of the strict separation between civil society and the state. Marxs view, according to Murthy, is that the state is incapable of containing or resolving the economic contradictions inherent in civil society, thereby requiring a working-class revolution to transform both the capitalist state and civil society out of existence. It is this conception of a projected "end of politics" that so-called civil theorists have challenged in recent years, arguing that civil society is much more than economics and that Marx overlooks the possibility of democratic practice within civil society. Marxists, of course, have attempted to answer these criticisms. Murthy examines two such responses, by Paul Thomas and Moishe Postone. Both thinkers re-state Marxs theory, by incorporating the possibility of democratic political struggle among multidimensional social agents and, at the same time, the necessity of eventually overcoming the antinomies of civil society. In Murthys view, this new Marxist conception points in the direction of a radically new imaginary of a future socialism, as the abolition of abstract labor instead of its extension or final realization, and the present possibility of democratizing both the state and civil society.
The conventional history of Marxist literary and cultural criticism in the United States has focused almost exclusively on English-language sources and has failed to recognize the earlier emergence of an explicitly Marxist approach to literary and cultural analysis in the Yiddish press at the turn of the century. Steven Cassedy sets out to fill in the missing page by examining the work of the Jewish émigré intelligentsia that arrived in the United States during the closing decades of the nineteenth century and who, coinciding with the publication of Upton Sinclairs The Jungle and Maxim Gorkys visit from Russia, tentatively explored and then forcefully stated specifically Marxist approaches to literature and literary criticism in newly founded journals and newspapers such as the Forward and Di Tsukunft (The Future). Writers such as Louis Boudin and Jacob Milch proceeded, not unlike Plekhanov and other Russian Marxists, to graft the rudiments of Marxist economic theory onto the cultural and political world-view of the pre-Marxist Russian revolutionary movement. Cassedy credits those initial steps, while they may not have directly engendered the next wave of Marxist criticism, with having established the combination of normative judgment and activist stance for the succeeding, U.S.-born generation of radical critics who established such organizations as the American Writers Congress and the journals Partisan Review and New Masses during the Marxist cultural heyday of the 1920s and 1930s.
The New Origami Hotel in the City of Angels is the site and symbol of tourist dollars and civil unrest, union organizing and union busting, Central American immigration and Japanese ownership—as well as a murder behind the "Do Not Disturb" sign of one of the hotel suites. The bilingual cartoon series prepared by Stephen Callis, Leslie Ernst, and Rubén Ortiz Torres chronicles the experiences of housekeeper Carmen Lucia Vargas through a portion of a typical workday. Reminiscent of the style of traditional U.S. comic books and more recent zines, Los Supermachos and Los Agachados from Mexico, and the "For Beginners" series initiated by Rius, "Murder in My Suite/Bienvenidos al Hotel California" is a compelling reminder of the ability of "low" art, popular culture, and humor to play with (and, of course, to play off) both other examples of the genre and the "serious" articles between which it is sandwiched in these pages to provoke new ways of thinking about the economic and social issues that are central to the Marxian tradition.
Gramscis discussion of "common sense" is not, as is often assumed, relevant only to cultural issues. As Evan Watkins explains in the first Remarx essay, Gramscis notes can also be fruitfully appropriated to rethink the complexity of economic relations, especially for understanding the multiform, contradictory character of "capitalist" everyday thought. It is precisely the combination of what Watkins considers to be the "pre-Keynesian" and "postmodern" currents of contemporary capitalist common sense that calls for a Marxist analysis of a new sort: not a project of ideological demystification but, rather, a pedagogy that seeks to mobilize and extend the alternative economic practices that are already emergent around us.
The next Remarx essay focuses on the film The Usual Suspects, which serves Andrew Biro and Steven Hayward both as an example of a political critique of late capitalism and as a backdrop to elaborate an alternative to certain Marxian theorizations of the postmodern. There is a close connection, Biro and Hayward argue, between gangster films and the capitalist ideology of radical individualism and progress through innovation. However, in the case of The Usual Suspects, criminal labor is displayed as fully alienated, thereby bringing into question the possibility of capitalist justice. At the same time, the key shifts that make up the postmodern representational strategy of the film create the possibility of an immanent critique of late capitalist society itself. It is in this sense that, for Biro and Hayward, the ideologicalcultural form of late capitalism can be used to challenge its content.
Meera Nanda continues, in her contribution to the Remarx section, the debate over so-called relativist—social constructivist, postcolonial, and postdevelopment—views of science that was provoked by the plenary addresses of Sandra Harding and Vandana Shiva at the 1996 conference sponsored by RM. In a substantially revised version of the paper she delivered at that same conference, Nanda first defends the project of modernist secularization as a key ingredient of progressive science and larger social movements in India and elsewhere in the Third World, then challenges the claims of both postcolonial critics of modernity and constructivist interpreters of Western science. While she is willing to concede that social and scientific "traditionalists" may be committed to progressive social change, Nanda emphatically argues—through critical exposition and personal testimony—that the content and protocols of modern science are uniquely suited to the cause of social justice.
Finally, we are pleased to present reviews of four quite different books that, together, represent the extraordinary range of issues central to contemporary Marxist thought. Vin Lyon-Callo begins with a discussion of Talmadge Wrights Out of Place, a critique of both the dominant social policies toward homelessness and the social production of dominant understandings about homeless people. While Lyon-Callo finds much to recommend in this volume, he does suggest that Wrights ethnographic method could fruitfully be extended to include the practices of compliant homeless individuals as well as the articulations of policymakers and other homelessness professionals. Carla Willard, for her part, discusses the significance of Richard Ohmanns historical analysis of the role that mass-circulation magazines played in the seemingly magical appearance of a national mass culture in the United States at the turn of the present century. Willard credits Selling Culture especially with exploring the remarkable complicity of marketing strategies practiced by corporations, ad agencies, and magazines, and their ability to create society itself as a form of consumption. The history of the tango is a perfect example of the global inequalities created by colonial and postcolonial forms of domination. However, according to Janet OShea, Marta Saviglianos Tango and the Political Economy of Passion ventures far beyond any binary model of colonizer versus colonized to draw attention to newer—and perhaps harder to characterize—forms of global financial trafficking. Walter Mignolos Darker Side of the Renaissance demonstrates the ways in which European experiences in the New World were important to Europes own discursive formation. In her review, Karen Graubart notes the importance of Mignolos project but also raises a series of important questions concerning the ways in which colonial sources are used to represent the subalterity of pre-Hispanic cultures and societies. Her criticisms represent an important reminder both of the need for and of the difficulties encountered by projects of postcolonial cultural and social analysis.
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