Explaining Marx to newbies

by Chris Bertram on April 20, 2009

I’m lecturing on Hobbes this week. Since it is a first year lecture, I’m not going to get too deep into any of the controversies, but I will try to give the students a sense of who Hobbes was, why he remains important and how his ideas connect to other topics they may come across. I’ll probably say something about Hobbes’s time resembling ours as a period of acute religious conflict.

Suppose I were lecturing about Karl Marx: I’d do the same thing. I’d probably start by discussing some of the ideas in the _Manifesto_ about the revolutionary nature of the bourgeoisie, about their transformation of technology, social relations, and their creation of a global economy. Then I’d say something about Marx’s belief that, despite the appearance of freedom and equality, we live in a society where some people end up living off the toil of other people. How some people have little choice but to spend their whole lives working for the benefit of others, and how this compulsion stops them from living truly truly human lives. And then I’d talk about Marx’s belief that a capitalist society would eventually be replaced by a classless society run by all for the benefit of all. Naturally, I’d say something about the difficulties of that idea. I don’t think I’d go on about Pol Pot or Stalin, I don’t think I’d recycle the odd _bon mot_ by Paul Samuelson, I don’t think I’d dismiss Hegel out of hand, and I don’t think I’d contrast modes of production with Weberian modes of domination (unless I was confident, as I wouldn’t be, that my audience already had some sense of those concepts). It seems that Brad De Long “has different views to mine”:http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2009/04/delong-understanding-marx-lecture-for-april-20-2009.html on how to explain Karl Marx to newbies. Each to their own, I suppose.

The Girls From Planet 5

by John Holbo on April 20, 2009


You know what that means. I’ve been reading Jonah Goldberg again. Here we go, pondering the notion that a few of these teabag types might be right-wing extremists of a certain sort.

I wrote a book on fascism which tried to show that what everybody knows isn’t necessarily true. The idea that soldiers will return from war and become right-wing militants? Well, that has its roots in Fascist Italy, where veterans returned as black-shirted shock troops of “Il Duce,” Benito Mussolini. The only problem with this theory is that what they clamored for was socialism — the socialism of the trenches! — and their leader had earned the title “Il Duce” as the leader of the Socialist Party.

Now obviously ‘socialism of the trenches’ means something like: recover that feeling of unity and common cause we had, in the immediate aftermath of that initial irruption of chaos and disaster, when everyone set aside petty class differences and stood, shoulder to shoulder, against a perceived external enemy.

And it’s obvious that nothing like that could be spiritually akin to – oh, say, Glenn Beck’s 9/12 project. Because Glenn Beck isn’t in favor of socialism.


Let’s talk Texas secession. Like I said, Belle bought me this stack of old paperbacks – because she loves me – and the whole mouldering lot are turning out to be weirdly prescient. First the beaver management, now this. [click to continue…]

The university after what, now?

by Michael Bérubé on April 20, 2009

Last Thursday I took part in a plenary session of the <a href=”http://www.csaus.pitt.edu/frame_home.htm”>US Cultural Studies Association</a>.  The session was called “the university after cultural studies,”  and the participants were (besides myself) Marc Bousquet, Michele Janette, Cary Nelson, Sangeeta Ray, and Jeff Williams.  We were each given eight minutes to speak, and we were admirably (I might say anomalously) disciplined, coming in at 50 minutes altogether.  For those who might be interested, I’ll post my remarks below, with this brief explanation/ introduction:  my talk assumes that everybody in the ballroom, at a cultural studies conference, can speak to the impact of cultural studies on their own research and/or teaching and/or program and/or department, so that <i>somebody</i> has to get up and say that whole entire huge sectors of the university are not “after” cultural studies at all: they didn’t have any cultural studies to begin with, so they’re not “after” cultural studies in a temporal sense, and they’re not interested in doing any now, so they’re not “after” cultural studies in that sense either.

And without further ado:
[click to continue…]

J.G. Ballard has died

by Henry Farrell on April 20, 2009

Via “Paul McAuley”:http://unlikelyworlds.blogspot.com/2009/04/jg-ballard.html. I haven’t seen any obituaries yet. I preferred his early novels, and (even more) his short stories to his later work. I read “The Voices of Time” (probably in one of the old Spectrum SF collections) when I was seven or eight, and didn’t understand it at all, but somehow, it caught me and haunted me. Much of his later work read like different versions of the same novel. But they were often very funny – his over the top plotlines with their garden-suburbia-turned-into-chaos and insane reformer-cum-dictator-wannabes were intended to be satirical. I have a particular fondness for Super-Cannes, if only because of how it jumps up and down in glee on the corpse of the notion of social capital. His work had its problems – most obviously in its depiction of women which was at best chilly, at worst rather worse than that. But he was genuinely a great writer, in the sense that Borges described Kafka as being a great writer – he created his own precursors (but these summoned ancestors were to be found less in literature as such than in what he perceptively called ‘invisible literature’ – all the bureaucratic forms and minutiae that define our lives). We all live in the decaying aftermath of the Space Age that he, better perhaps than anyone else. described. If he was a novelist who was better at describing landscapes and extreme social situations than people, he captured, as a result, something important about an era in which individuality simply doesn’t mean as much as it once seemed to. There are bits of the world (and not-unimportant ones) that are Ballardian – if you’ve read him, you experience the shock of recognition when you see them.