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 a text as something that exists somehow outside its own origins and function within the forces of production. A more proper sense of the term ‘Marxist analysis’ would be to critically evaluate the story in the light of the circumstances of its production – in individual terms, in terms of material/technical circumstances, in terms of the overall system of capitalist cultural production, and then also in terms of broader Marxist categories like ‘the culture industries’ or ‘ideology’ or ‘hegemony’ (with different Marxists probably stressing this or that aspect over another). I personally would want to argue that a proper Marxist analysis of a text, or any artifact of cultural production, would also focus at least as much upon the social circumstances of its consumption, circulation, distribution, exchange, commodification and financialisation. For my money, too many Marxist critics (of lots of things including – but also beyond – texts) have overstressed the node of production, which is only one node in the circuit of capital.
I’m often said (by people who kindly link to me on social media, for instance) to have written a ‘Marxist reading’ or ‘Marxist analysis’ of this or that. This makes me more than a little uneasy, to be honest, because I’m not usually anything like as rigorous and scholarly as I would need to be to meet even my own standards for such a thing. Generally I just react to texts in a very individual way, with my Marxist views inevitably forming the backbone of my response.
I worry that people with, perhaps, no other exposure to Marxism than me, might take me as a meaningful representative. Ye gods, I hope not. I am an amateur and, despite having gone to University, I consider myself effectively an autodidact. One of my purposes here (beyond simply amusing myself and indulging my vanity) has been, via the conduit of a popular TV show, to maybe bring a bit of Marxism (or just critical leftiness generally) into the thinking and reading of people who might otherwise not encounter it in our barren age.…