RETHINKING MARXISM Volume 11, Number 4 (Winter, 1999)
In this issue Christopher Fulton creatively poses the issue of what new and different insights Marxism has to offer to the study of art history. Borrowing a page from Marx, who begins his critique of political economy with a discussion of the commodity, Fulton argues that the appropriate object of a specifically Marxist historical aesthetics is the "elemental product of artistic labor," the material facticity of the work of art itself. Fultons strategy is to combine a presentation of theoretical concepts and strategies with an investigation of the "totality of social relations" and a discussion of specific examples of Renaissance art in order to illustrate what he considers to be the advantages of a materialist, Marxist art history over both traditional idealist and more re-cent sociological approaches. He begins with an analysis of the changes in the social practice of art collecting in mid-fifteenth-century Italy, especially the attempts by the new Florentine mercantile elite to affirm their social status through new modes of domestic architecture and the appropriation of public symbols in the form of private art collections. Focusing attention on both the symbolic form and the materiality of the works of art produced during this period, Fulton argues that the effects of the activities of the Medici family can be viewed dialectically as a "transvaluation" of civic imagery by private appropriation and, at the same time, as a fundamental change in the ontological condition of art, its "transformation" into an independent object. It is this double movement that, for Fulton, explains the emergence of such diverse artistic novelties as schiacciato relief sculpture and easel painting. He then focuses his attention on art criticism and the ways in which the material form of art induces a specific form of viewing and contemplation. Thus, for example, changes in the objects of art that accompanied the growth of private collecting encouraged the emergence of "connoisseurial" aesthetic values and a formal discourse on art, thereby completing the profound transformation of Renaissance art. While able to provide only the most general of guidelines for a rejuvenated Marxist art history, Fulton argues that the rise of the autonomous work of art can be best understood in terms of the social and historical conditions that give rise to the objects, identities, values, and institutions— in short, the fetishistic character—of the modern system of art.
Unlike the notions of art and aesthetic value, desire is often taken to be external, even inimical, to the materialist strategies of Marxist theory. However, Bradley Macdonald demonstrates that it is possible to excavate not only the figure of desire but also another concept that has been ignored by readers of Marx—namely, that of pleasure. Focusing his reading on the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, with due attention to the issues raised by such diverse thinkers as Herbert Marcuse, Judith Butler, Guy Debord, and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Macdonald is able to construct a concept of desire that refers to "the socially and historically embedded way in which sensuous beings strive to make their world, aspiring toward plenitude and singularity." A Marxian notion of pleasure emerges, in turn, as the gap between desire and its practical realization. In Macdonalds view, the materialist concepts of desire and pleasure that are articulated within Marxs writings exceed both the ahistorical and idealist foundations of Hegelian theory and the productivism and economism to which Marxs discussion has been traditionally confined; while embedded in specific social and historical conditions, these concepts can be read as ontologically more than their investment in economic forms and prior to their attachment to political economy. Still, the question remains, why are such materialist concepts necessary, "particularly when there are plenty of competing discourses on desire circulating within the body of postmodern theory?" Macdonalds answer to potential skeptics or critics is twofold: on the one hand, a specifically Marxian conception of desire and pleasure opens the Marxist tradition to diverse realms of struggle that are not reducible to those of labor and the economy; on the other, it serves as a corrective to the proliferation of reductionist (because ahistorical and naturalistic) conceptions by examining the particular demands that are "never met under conditions of exploitation and oppression."
The proliferation of discourses of capitalist globalization seems to have eclipsed the discussion of the development of capitalism within third world countries that held sway during the 1960s and 1970s. John Milios returns to Lenins extensive contributions to the Russian controversy over capitalist development to rejuvenate the Marxist and neo-Marxist debate concerning the class nature of economic development in contemporary less developed countries. Lenin, we are reminded, was concerned to refute the Narodnik thesis according to which the development of capitalism was "blocked" by the lack of development of the home market and to defend the contrary idea that Russia was a capitalist social formation, albeit a relatively less developed one, at least when compared with the major European capitalist powers. While arguing that Lenins analysis of Russian agriculture (according to which the rural population was being increasingly polarized into capitalists and wage-laborers) was probably mistaken, Milios finds that the remainder of Lenins analysis of capitalist development in Russia represents two key contributions that have been largely overlooked in the postwar period. The first advantage of Lenins approach is a set of methodological principles that stress concrete analysis over teleological principles, an analysis of different modes of surplus labor appropriation (e.g., instead of focusing on the existence of commodity exchange), and the idea that growth in the size of the home market follows and need not precede the development of capitalist production. Perhaps even more innovative, in Milioss view, is Lenins second contribution: the theory of the "buyer-up" as the major agent of preindustrial capitalist relations. According to Lenin, Russia could be characterized as a predominantly capitalist economy and society not because the majority of the population was involved in wage relations but, rather, because small-scale producers were formally subordinated to capital through their relations with merchant buyers. Thus, Lenin conceived large-scale industrialization as representing a transition from one, relatively underdeveloped form of capitalism to another, more developed form rather than—as his opponents then and many radical thinkers in recent years maintain— the passage from precapitalism to capitalism. For Milios, the spread of cottage industries and subcontracting in contemporary third world countries indicates, like the buyer-up in Lenins time, the existence of incipient forms of capitalist development which, under certain social circumstances, may lead to the real subordination of labor to capital and, thus, even more developed forms of capitalist relations.
Beginning with the architectural metaphor of traditional Marxism, the base/ superstructure model, Gary Tedman identifies a "missing" element, the aesthetic level of practice, which serves to complicate the rigid framework of the initial metaphor. For Tedman, the aesthetic level is concerned with the affective practices of human subjects, their emotions and feelings, within class society. Located and mediating the "traffic" between civil society and the state, between production and reproduction, aesthetics (understood in a "catchall" sense as comprising the entire range of sensory awareness) is best described as the work of the media. In Tedmans view, class antagonisms create commonly felt, estranged emotions, forms of sensuous alienation, which the entire culture industry (involving such phenomena as the anthropomorphic spectacle of sports and television advertisements, kitsch aesthetics, and haute couture) attempts to sublimate and redirect onto "safer" pathways, thereby reproducing the existing conditions of production. What do we gain by paying attention to and theorizing the structuration of human feelings within capitalism? Tedmans stated intention, at the theoretical level, is to provide a bridge between poststructural conceptions of subjectivity and the class-based subjects of classical Marxism. Perhaps even more important, Tedman argues that the long-term success of left political movements may be crucially bound up with valorizing previously marginalized microstruggles in order to undermine the dominant aesthetic and to create alternative artistic practices.
Eliot Katzs verses are a testament both to the range of contradictory feelings and frustrations that are the product of living in these times and to the ability of poets (and other writers and artists) to record, to remember, these individual and collective experiences and to encourage and provoke us to view them in a new light. One of Katzs strategies involves making connections and creating juxtapositions among seemingly disparate phenomena: between the Gulf War bombing and Oklahoma City; the vicissitudes of empowerment evidenced in the former Yugoslavia, Mandelas South Africa, alternative religions, and poetry itself; the idiocy of locking ones keys in the car, the homelessness of a pregnant Latina woman, the absence of a Canadian-style New Democratic party in the United States, and the dismissal of Anita Hills testimony. In each case, the reader is invited to identify with the "I" of the poet and to share in the fright, anger, loss, grief, hope, and laughter that are poignantly and provocatively depicted through the images and metaphors that comprise this selection of poems.
We are pleased to offer another in our ongoing series of minisymposia. In this case, Rob Garnett assumed responsibility for and the work of coordinating critical essays by Andrew Feenberg and Andrew Light on Steven Vogels pathbreaking volume on Marxist critical theory and environmental ethics, Against Nature, along with Vogels appreciative response. While Feenberg and Light find much to applaud in Vogels attempt to trace the ambivalent, even contradictory treatment of nature in Western Marxist critical theory (from the early Lukács and the Frankfurt School through Habermas) with the goal of devising an appropriate—antinaturalist and constructivist—stance for a Marxist environmental ethics within contemporary debates, they also note their respective disagreements with specific aspects of Vogels treatment. Feenberg focuses on what he perceives to be weaknesses in Vogels interpretation of Lukács, especially the idea that Lukács invoked the absolute independence of nature (which, for Vogel, contradicts Lukácss conception of the dialectics of society and history). For Feenberg, Lukácss argument can be successfully defended and used to produce a post-Habermasian critical theory of the natural world based on collective self-awareness. The practical effects of a philosophical ethics for negotiating differences within the environmental movement and for devising better policies regarding the natural and built environments are what most concern Light. It is Vogels position on anthropocentrism—that nature can be an object of moral inquiry but not a subject of moral theorizing—and defense of a Habermasian communicative ethics that Light finds most worrisome and least defensible, for these place no limits on a Marxist environmental ethics. In his rejoinder, Vogel defends his view that the natural sciences are "from the very start" social and, therefore, subject to the kinds of transformative practices that Lukács and Feenberg seem to accept only with respect to the social sciences. Vogel then takes up Lights questions and explains that he is most concerned to move beyond the romanticism, vitalism, and naturalism of contemporary environmental philosophy in order to clear the space for a theory of nature that affirms the political and philosophical commitments of the critical theorists, yet overcomes what he considers to be the ambiguous and incoherent legacy of their conception of nature.
In their essay in the Remarx section, Lesley Higgins and Marie-Christine Leps interrogate the role of passports as a form of state power designed to limit the mobility of human beings between countries. For Higgins and Leps, the issuing (and denial) of passports is an instrument of governmentality invented by modernity and implemented as a matrix in which both relations of power and domains of knowledge are articulated, and from which other relations are excluded, thereby subjecting individuals through their identification. They discuss the celebrated cases of Paul Robeson and Philip Agee with respect to the United States government and the exclusion from European citizenship of seven million "guest workers" as examples of the states ability to make all individuals, citizens or not, potential aliens. Instead of demanding an inalienable human right to mobility, Higgins and Leps suggest that winning the international legal right to a passport would eliminate the arbitrary use of government power to police international borders. Such a movement, they suggest, would also overcome the shortcomings of existing identity politics and, instead, contribute to the creation of new forms of subjectivity.
The final section of this issue contains three review essays. The first, by Lucas B. Wilson, focuses on the discussion of Marxism and Deweyan pragmatism in Christopher Phelpss recent biography of Sidney Hook. For Wilson, what is remarkable in Phelpss treatment is his attempt to view Hooks early work not through the prism of his later anticommunist iconoclasm but, rather, as a set of irreducible tensions that the young Hook saw as elements of Marxs own revolutionary method. Phelps shows both how Hooks reading of pragmatism pulled it to the left and how the orthodox Marxism of the turn of the century had produced a mechanical, dogmatic reading of Marx that, in turn, sacrificed what Hook considered to be the revolutionary qualities of "action, experiment, and democracy." This combination of tension and affinity between antiessentialist Marxism and the radical elements of Deweys pragmatism remain, for Wilson, a valuable source of future exploration.
Richard McIntyre finds a good number of thought-provoking insights and issues in A. Fuat Firat and Nikhilesh Dholakias examination of the meaning of postmodernism for contemporary consumption and marketing in Consuming People. However, for McIntyre, the authors conception of a strict separation between and historical succession of modernism and postmodernism (instead of, for example, seeing postmodernism as a moment within modernism), together with their single-minded celebration of new modes of consumption, ultimately serves to marginalize the kinds of theoretical and political innovations that sponsor and encourage direct contact between communities of workers and consumers.
The short collection of Louis Althussers diverse and fragmentary writings on psychoanalysis and its complex relationship to Marxism offers, for Rick Wolff, invaluable insights and raw material for anyone today who is interested in examining and fostering the relation between those traditions. Wolff draws special attention to Althussers further development of his breakthrough concept of overdetermination (which Althusser initially borrows from Freuds interpretation of dreams and uses to criticize economic determinism within Marxism, and to which he returns to undermine any notion that the unconscious is the effect of some "originating" experience), his critique of the theory/practice dichotomy as a standard of truth, and his drawing of parallels (for which he thanks Lacan) between Marxs critique of political economys homo economicus and Freuds rejection of homo psychologicus.
Since this is the last issue of volume 11, we follow our usual practice and include an index for the entire volume. We have also initiated a new feature, a page of public acknowledgments in which we extend our thanks to all those individuals and institutions without whose contributions of time and financial support over the course of the past year it would have been difficult, perhaps even impossible, to produce the four issues of RETHINKING MARXISM that comprise this volume.
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