Viewing posts tagged marxism

Turning the Tables

“A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties. So far as it is a use-value, there is nothing mysterious about it, whether we consider it from the point of view that by its properties it satisfies human needs, or that it first takes on these properties as the product of human labour. It is absolutely clear that, by his activity, man changes the forms of the materials of nature in such a way as to make them useful to him. The form of wood, for instance, is altered if a table is made out of it. Nevertheless the table continues to be wood, an ordinary sensuous thing. But as soon as it emerges as a commodity, it changes into a thing which transcends sensuousness. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than if it were to begin dancing of its own free will.”

- Karl Marx, Capital vol.1


Consciously or not ...

Red Kangs Are Best

I very much enjoyed the latest episode of the Pex Lives? Podcast, which looks at 'Paradise Towers'.  During it, Kevin and James' guest Jane (of achairforjane? and many fascinating comments - and an amazing guest post on Lost - at Phil Sandifer's blog) suggests a Marxist reading of the story in which the Rezzies are the consumerist bourgeois who ascend a few levels via the system which later consumes them.  Totally valid and satisfying reading.  (And I'm grateful for the lovely shout-out, as always.)

I think, however, that it illuminates a certain interesting ambiguity about what constitutes a  'Marxist reading' or a 'Marxist analysis'.  I know Jane and the Pex Lives boys already know this, so this isn't in any way meant as a criticism of any of them, but I think a 'Marxist analysis' would really have to constitute more than finding some way in which aspects of the narrative function as an allegory of some aspect of the class struggle.  I hold my hands up: that's often what I do here, and it doesn't really cut the mustard.

To do that is to bring Marxist categories to a text, but still to treat ...

Monsterism

In his famous essay 'The Dialectic of Fear' (published in New Left Review #136, Nov-Dec 1982) Franco Moretti used Marxist and Psychoanalytic criticism to provide a coruscating account of the twin monsters of bourgeois culture: Dracula and Frankenstein.

The entire essay is well worth reading and is findable online if you hunt about.  Here are some of the best bits about Frankenstein (the book):

Like the proletariat, the monster is denied a name and an individuality. He is the Frankenstein monster; he belongs wholly to his creator (just as one can speak of 'a Ford worker'). Like the proletariat, he is a collective and artificial creature. He is not found in nature, but built. Frankenstein is a productive inventor-scientist...). Reunited and brought back to life in the monster are the limbs of those - the 'poor' - whom the breakdown of feudal relations has forced into brigandage, poverty and death. Only modern science - this metaphor for the 'dark satanic mills' - can offer them a future. It sews them together again, moulds them according to its will and finally gives them life, But at the moment the monster opens its eyes, its creator
draws back in horror: 'by the glimmer of the ...

Random Thing #3


And one more.  Please bear in mind, this is a fragment.


Marx saw creativity as essential to human nature.  He famously once said that “Milton produced Paradise Lost in the way that a silkworm produces silk, as the expression of his own nature”.  The difference is that Marx saw such creativity as a potential in all people, and believed that class society stunted such potentials in the majority by forcing them to do work that was alien to their natures. 

Yet there is some truth to the idea of progress in the history of class society.  Marx is quite comfortable – sometimes a little too comfortable – with the idea that the accumulation of capital can also be the accumulation of progress, that even the imperialistic development of class society can push people ‘forwards’.  It’s just that he also sees horror in the process, eventually calling the ‘progress’ that British imperialism and capitalism brought to India as resembling a “hideous, pagan idol, who would not drink the nectar but from the skulls of the slain.”  This is far from an unproblematic way of putting it, but the point stands. 

It is a point ...

Force Decides

Israel is currently killing hundreds of people in Gaza.  As they do from time to time.  To make something Abba Eban once said true by simply inverting his meaning: the Israelis never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity for peace.  Though even that is too kind to them.  As even White House senior staff acknowledge, the Israelis don't want peace.  Give them everything they've ever wanted, and it still isn't enough - because what they say they want isn't what they want.  What they really want is to continue the war until they have finally completed the work that David Ben-Gurion left unfinished, and eradicated the Palestinians.  The mindset of Israel is genocidal, and becoming more openly so by the day.

It is now clear to a great many people that what happened to the Native Americans as a result of the institution and independence of the United States of America was a scandal, a holocaust and a tragedy.  The idea is so commonplace it's become a sentimental truism in pop-culture.  Well, Israel had not done very much that America didn't do in the process ...

A Presumptious Dilettante's Five Belated Eggs

The more I think about it, the more I think a humble, sympathetic, non-domineering, non-entryist engagement with the anti-oppression movements springing up around issues of gender identity (i.e. Trans issues) is going to be absolutely crucial for the Left in the coming years. 

This isn't just a moral imperative.  Sure, the Left must stand with the oppressed.  Always.  By definition.  Otherwise why bother being on the Left?  Otherwise, what does 'The Left' mean?  But it's also a tactical imperative.  The system must be attacked at its weakest points.  The righteous and rightful rage felt by many on the axis of Trans oppression is absolutely one of the system's weakest points.  It hits people where they live: in their bodies.  Bodies are oppressed, disciplined, punished, curtailed, invaded, wounded and even dissected by capitalism... and it behoves the Left to realise that this happens in arenas outside the sites of direct capitalist production.  This is one of those things that everyone formally 'gets' and then puts to one side.  That's not good enough.  Capitalist oppression is total, hegemonic, far-reaching and omnipresent.  It ...

Piece of Cake

Someone nice on tumblr just asked me:

Do you think that it's fair to criticize a work of art for the failings of the culture around it? This is a question I've been mulling over the past few days and I'm sure you have an interesting response.

My answer got a bit long, so I decided - opportunistically - to post it here.


*

I think the terms of the question are worth investigating.

What do we mean by 'failings'?

What do we mean by 'culture around it'?

Failure is, of course, subjectively judged.  Something I think is bad may be seen as good - or neutral, or normal, or inescapable - by others.

It is perfectly possible for something that is a 'failure' with regards to general human wellbeing to be a 'success' for a social system.  (The wellbeing of the working class, in any class society, always being more universal than that of the minority loafing class.)

Indeed, I think that if you look at the vast majority of mainstream media culture as it has existed in modern capitalist society - including and perhaps even especially with reference to narrative culture - then you see that it pretty unambiguously touts ...

18

Everyone is down a mine.

(Incidentally, it's funny how often Doctor Who in the 70s and 80s keeps coming back to mines.  I'm sure it's nothing to do with the fact that coal mining was a key industry in British economic life during these decades, miners were among the most powerful unionised workers in the 70s, and the 80s saw the calculated destruction of the miners' unions and their industry by the Tory government.  Oh ho no.)

Anyway.  As I say, everyone - the Doctor, Romana, K9, Adrasta, Organon and a giant green blob called Erato - is down a mine.  And things are coming to a head.  (Head.  Pit-head.  Geddit?  Never mind.  It doesn't really work anyway.)

Yes, so anyway...  Erato is, as I say, a giant green blob.

"Erato came here fifteen years ago to propose a trading agreement," says the Doctor, while everyone else still reels from the revelation that the blob has a name, a mind and the ability to talk. "Tythonus is a planet rich in metallic ores and minerals...."

There's an interlude here where the Doctor and Adrasta have a little ...

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