RETHINKING MARXISM Volume 7, Number 3 (Fall, 1994)
In this issue we commence with the troubled question of the relationship between Marxian economic thought and postmodernism. In their article, Jack Amariglio and David F. Ruccio argue that modernist epistemologies, methods of analysis, and views of social causation are clearly dominant within neoclassical, neo-Keynesian, and most Marxian economic frameworks. Yet, they believe that one can detect within each of these schools of thought "moments" in the regnant notions of cognition, behavior, subjectivity, and social determination that defy the decidedly modernist preference for order, centering, and certainty. Amariglio and Ruccio concentrate their analytical efforts on highlighting the effects of this modernist preference on Marxian economic discourse. In so doing, they juxtapose the modernist tendencies to seek foundations for economic explanation in notions of order, centeredness, and certainty against the postmodern valence of notions of disorder, decentering, and uncertainty (or indeterminacy). Amariglio and Ruccio show that many of the main conceptual oppositions that structure classical Marxian economic theory particularly those of production versus circulation, market versus plan, and ultimately capitalism versus socialismare characterized by the overall preference to present capitalism and its institutions as disordered, alienating, socially fragmented, mystifying, and uncertainty-producing. In contrast, classical Marxism presents socialism as a system in which the full promise of the modernist project is realized in the social orderliness, organic unification, and subjective wholeness that can presumably come about as the result of rational economic planning directed by a democratically inclined, worker-controlled state. Amariglio and Ruccio allege that much political and theoretical damage has been done by the modernist bias in Marxian thought, and they set out to show how such distinctions as that between market versus plan fall apart with the realization, for example, that markets are as constituted by the predictable repetitions of habit and tradition as plans are subject to uncertainty, disorder, and conflict. In stressing the "postmodern moments" in Marxian thoughtin teasing out the notions of disorder, decentering, and uncertainty that are implicit or immanent in the oppositions that are the primary focus of Marxian economic thoughtAmariglio and Ruccio contend that the modernist faith in the inherent rationality of a socialist economy must be replaced by the recognition that capitalism has no unique purchase on disorder, decentering, and uncertainty. They conclude by arguing that, in any event, these "postmodern" elements are not the obstacles for constructing a socialist economy that classical Marxism and its offspring have most often believed them to be.
The "dossier" on socialist realism and East Germany modernism prepared by Julia Hell, Loren Charger, and Katie Trumpeter consists of three separate articles preceded by a joint precis surveying the landscape of politics and literary aesthetics in the wake of the dissolution of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). In their prefatory remarks Hell, Charger, and Trumpeter scrutinize the current fashion in German cultural circles to dismiss the socialist-realist art and literature of the GDR as pre- or antimodern, purely polemical, politically ingratiating, complicit with official censorship and state-sponsored brutality, devoid of aesthetic sophistication, and, therefore, worthless. Even more, as the authors point out, some leading lights of German cultural criticism have rejected any "aesthetics of conviction" in their insistence that the contamination of artistic concerns by political commitment must of necessity be rejected if the debasement of culture by the politically correct standards of socialist realism and its like is to be guarded against for the future. As Hell, Kruger, and Trumpener indicate, much of the recent controversy over socialist realism and the "complicity" of its practitioners and even many left opponents of officially sanctioned East German culture is founded, ironically, on a view of socialist realism that buries its numerous contradictions and aesthetic diversity in an all-too-polemical call for the separation of politics, ethics, and culture and the purification of aesthetic production at any cost. The aesthetic elitism that declares itself to be apolitical in German literary circles in opposition to the sullied, propagandistic legacy of East German socialist realism obscures or simply obliterates the various modernist and even postmodernist strategies and lacunae that distinguished the works of some of the main figures in East German literary history. In looking at specific texts produced by these figures, Hell, Kruger, and Trumpener unearth the ways in which socialist realism can be said to have unraveled or complexified itself in the utilization of formal techniques and aesthetic practices that were, at times, neither realist nor univocal in the heroic socialist optimism that was thought to pervade representative texts, performances, and other artifacts. Trumpeners reading of Anna Segherss short story written during the Weimer period, Krugers reflections on the different politically-informed programs and aesthetic concerns of playwrights Bertolt Brecht and Heiner Muller, and Hells considerations on Christa Wolfs 1963 novel What Remains in the context of recent condemnations of her as a collaborator with the East German regime through her purported involvement with the GDRs secret police, are all offered as alternatives to left defenses and right denunciations of socialist realism as a cultural monolith. Hell, Kruger, and Trumpener demonstrate nicely that deconstructive readings of nuanced socialist realist texts spanning the history of East Germany can be rendered if we are willing to put aside "the urge to replace the worst excesses of actually existing socialist dogma with an equally teleological schema of a triumphant capitalist culture that treats any socialist alternative as an aberration or a joke." The authors of this dossier seek nothing less than to open up the questionthought, by some, to be dead and buried in Germany today and perhaps in the United States as wellof socialist writing, its possibilities, its historical conditions, and its contradictory effects. Toward this end, Hell, Kruger, and Trumpener expose the "ideology of modernism" that has excommunicated (socialist) politically-inspired culture in the name of bringing the former East Germany into the orb of Western liberal cultural Germany ideals. In sum, Hell, Kruger, and Trumpener advance their dossier as a "critical intervention" in hopes of resisting the current silencing of those few critics who can discern political dimensions and agendas in all forms of aesthetic modernism and who may still conceive of socialism as a practicable and honorable goal, if not a perfectly good inspiration for cultural practice.
Regina Franks installation "LAdieu Pearls Before Gods" appeared in a window of the New Museum of Contemporary Art (in New York) in the fall of 1993. Franks exhibit consisted of a months worth of her sewing pearls onto a silk gown while electronic postings of the daily wages of womens handwork around the world were flashed above her. As the curator explains in her notes accompanying the installation (reprinted here), Franks performance constituted a rich overdetermination in which the inequalities of womens labor in the global nexus were combined both with the daily ritual of Franks purchasing bread and roses with part of the "wage" that her stitchwork would bring and with the electronic equipment that conveys the flows of capital that make possible the multinational needle trades based upon the exploitation of their mostly female labor force. Franks installation, depicted here in several stills and a data chart of international wages that prevailed during her performance, raises additional questions for us as well. By calling attention in her enactment to the undervaluation and the wide international disparity of wages for seamstresses and others, Frank problematizes the equally disparate and often invisible labor of "artists." In "performing" labor (in several different senses), Frank avoids the erasure of her own production by connecting it explicitly to a global network of workers. Frank additionally confounds the distinction between art and craft as her performance of needlework and its display in a museum window on Broadway make it difficult to preserve the idea thatdespite their often subsistence wages and sweatshop working conditionsseamstresses, embroiderers, and others perform an activity that resides aesthetically or economically outside of the realm of "art." Nor does the artist perform an activity that resists her own insertion into a global division of labor inspired by the extension of capitalist markets. We thank the New Museum and the artist for permitting us to place before readers the traces of Franks intriguing performance of indictment, celebration, and solidarity.
Perhaps the primary object of the newly emergent queer theory has been the unabashed challenge to heterosexuality both as a practical norm (for sexuality, gender construction, and general social relations) and as a central theoretical foundation for many of the concepts of identity inherited from liberal social thought. In her overview of queer theory and the politics with which it has been linked, Rosemary Hennessy raises in particular the extent to which queer theorys critique of heterosexuality and its prevailing social norms circumvents rather than builds upon the insights about gender, sex, and class relations that have emerged from materialist feminism. Hennessy is most concerned that while queer theory has rightly destabilized the notions of fixed (hetero- and homo-) sexual identities and practices by stressing their performative rather than expressive character, it has done so by privileging the realm of signification to the near exclusion of other determinative material processes, such as labor. In Hennessys eyes, much "avantgarde" queer theory, including the pathbreaking work of Judith Butler and others, has followed the now familiar post-Marxist move of driving out labor, production, and class in favor of power, desire, and language from the pantheon of ultimate, constitutive causes of "the real." As Hennessy affirms, the resulting conceptions of gender and sexuality textualize these material forces to such an extent that they make difficult, if not impossible, critical interrogations of the sexual and social divisions of labor that help to structure patriarchal control and womens domestic labor as well as gender and sexuality inside and outside of families. In Hennessys view, a queer theory not engaged with the (mostly capitalist) class conditions and the forms of "private" patriarchy that help to overdetermine compulsory heterosexuality is therefore undermined in its attempts to overturn "heteronormativity," in other words, the laws and ideology that naturalize heterosexuality and treat gay and lesbian practices as either to be tolerated or repulsed. Hennessy is dubious, then, of the transgressivity of a nonmaterialist queer theory that can be easily transmogrified into performative gender bending and flexibility in sexual identities and practices and, therefore, into "an index of the discovery of new consumer markets where pleasure can be profitably appropriated and produced." Hennessy concludes by urging queer and left theorists and activists to turn to a "materialist queer theory [that] can put forward a critique of heterosexuality that does not shrink from celebrating the human capacity for sensual pleasure even as it dares to address the overdetermined relations among identities, norms, and divisions of labor."
In this issues Remarx section we add to our running discussion on Marxism and ecology (see, for example, Raskin and Bernow, Spring 1991 and Sandler, Summer 1994) with articles by Andriana Vlachou and Roy Morrison. Vlachou leads off with a sharp look at some of the recent attempts by Marxists inspired by ecological viewpoints to resituate Marxism on a firmer, environmentalist basis in thinking through the relations between nature, society, and human intentions and institutions. Vlachou pays particular attention to the debate between Ted Benton and Reiner Grundmann in the pages of New Left Review in the late eighties and early nineties. In contemplating this debate, Vlachou notes the untheorized and largely "mystified" notions of nature, human interests, technology, and much else that function as key concepts and points of contention between Benton and Grundmann. Vlachou takes Benton to task for substituting philosophical "realism" for Marxs historical materialism; it is this substitution which allows Benton to treat nature and "natural limits" as "real" objects (and therefore, as brute forces to which all human intentions must somehow adhere or bend), the knowledge of which is given to observers and not discursively produced. As Vlachou recounts, Bentons realism leads him to claim that ecological conditions and crises were underestimated by Marx, Engels, and their followers since they tended to believe in the ability of humans to dominate nature nearly at will. Yet, while Vlachou finds Benton to err too much on the side of unexamined naturalism in his ecological reconstruction of Marxism, she finds Grundmann to err to the same degree in his resort to humanism and rationalism as the means by which he introduces ecological matters into Marxism. Vlachou stakes out a different groundone that embraces the Marxian concepts of overdetermination, contradiction, and classto conceive of the many currents that simultaneously constitute natural and social processes into a dialectical engagement with one another. Through some brief examples, Vlachou demonstrates that the kind of knowledge of the environment that can be produced in utilizing a class theoretical viewpoint informed by the Marxian idea of overdetermination can reveal unique insights into ecological problems and their solutions that are not available to Greens through any other means.
Roy Morrison has a somewhat different focus from Vlachou on the relation between Red and Green theories and practices. Morrison is concerned with the extent to which Marxism can both lend itself to and incorporate within its own ambitions the rejection of industrialism, upon which much radical environmentalism is based. Morrison, whose experience in the Clamshell Alliance contributed to his understanding of the manifold interactions between radical thought and political action, believes that the Green analysis of the ecological crisis that attends industrialism in all of its forms ultimately can be conjoined with the liberatory, democratic impulses of Marxism. But, as Morrison states, in order for Marxism to "green" itself, it must give up its persistent exaltation of a future socialist industrial order that would free human potential through the liberation of the machine. Rather, as Morrison argues, Marxisms encounter with environmentalism must first and foremost include both the goal of achieving ecological sustainability of both human and natural environments and the view that the social and ecological destruction of capitalist industrialism is not simply an epiphenomenon of capitalist exploitation. A Green Marxism, in Morrisons view, must be willing to recognize the environmental and totalizing folly of replacing capitalist with socialist industrialism and must, instead, build upon democratic and local "social practices that embrace sustainability and sufficiency."
Slavoj Zizek, as Teresa L. Ebert states here, has become the latest " hot new intellectual commodity" in left academic circles in the United States. Zizeks reworking of Jacques Lacans psychoanalytical oeuvre into a new theory of ideology is the subject of Eberts review of Zizeks The Sublime Object of Ideology and Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture. Ebert wastes no time in getting to her criticism of Zizeks elision of Marxian theory and the critique of capitalist social relations by his insistence on desire and pleasure as the irreducible, "impossible kernel of the social real." Ebert bemoans this latest "idealist" transcendence of the reality of capitalist exploitation by discourse and psychoanalytic narrative. As Ebert relates, Zizeks privileging of enjoyment as the founding moment of the real, and as the "excess" of which all other surpluses, including that of surplus-value, are merely expressions, is a form of reductionism that has recently attracted the attention of cultural critics, many of them reputedly recoiling from the reductionism of orthodox Marxism. Ebert argues that Zizeks choice to reduce social reality to the psyche and its "effects" has hidden the constitutive nature of capitalist class relations and forces of production as a material force. In her critique of Zizek as purveying the latest style in bourgeois social theory, Ebert brings up the crucial question of the inability of postmodern discourse to think through the historical conditions of its own making and its insertion in contemporary global economic and social arrangements. Zizeks resort to "excess" as the key register through which to read any and all aspects of the real leads him, Ebert points out, to theorize capitalism as always transcending its own limits and making itself anew in "permanent development." For Ebert, then, Zizek "completely suppresses the objective reality of surplus-value and the contradictions of capitalism as based on the exploitation and appropriation of labor." Presenting capitalism as a juggernaut that fills the entire social space through its dynamic, excessive character and championing the cause of enjoying ones "symptom," Zizek, in Eberts view, ultimately refashions the bourgeois imaginary par excellenceembracing capitalism as a system within which individual pleasure is unrestricted without regard to the conditions of exploitation and oppression that it has historically brought forth.
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