Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Narrative of Materialism

Postmodernists are fond of interpreting political and economic reality in terms of narratives; recently one of blogland's most esteemed comrades was suggesting (isn't suggestion tho a type of claim and sort of logocentric hegemony, mon ami?) that materialism is a type of narrrative. Is materialism a narrative, or rather narrative a manifestation of materialism? A story about starvation in the slums of Le Ciudad de Mexico is not at all equivalent to an actual person starving in the slums of La Ciudad . While narrative may be essential for conveying information about the starvation, literary narratives obviously are not necessarily connected to the facts and thus may distract or distance readers from the economic and biological contexts: and Marx himself, with all of his flaws and overgeneralizations, realized this, and was, I believe, quite the philistine in regards to matters literary, tho' making some exceptions for a few=--the Encyclopedists, Voltaire, etc .

Literary taxonomy, like Marxism itself, sort of comes pre-packaged with beaucoup ideological and ethical assumptions. Left connotes something positive to most of the blog readers; tho' what it denotes is perhaps not so easily defined--but the denotation of "leftism" would seemingly include as one of its attributes a emphasis on solidarity and proletarian unity which is perhaps ultimately more a matter of faith than reason. The rise of multiculturalism and of identity politics, perhaps extensions of marxist class struggle, show that other factos=--racial, socio-linguistic, sexual--might prevent any sort of prole bonding. Biology overtakes ideology (as it overtakes belle-lettres).

Marxism is a product of the Enlightenment and thus there are traces of a belief in a Reason, which seems (regardless of the attacks on idealism) still more transcendent than scientific and material. And like much Enlightenment lit., marxism still seems to hold to Rousseauian models of freedom (blog leftists are all about the "Act") that may no longer be applicable; that's not to say Skinner should be reanimated either, but behaviorism and determinism and their relation to agency, to decisions and econ. should obviously be a part of the program of dissent. It was the naive new left, perhaps as driven by Jefferson as by Marx, who contributed to a sort of libertarian hedonism which is now endemic to both corporate liberals and conservatives. I think even HS Thompson realized this: hippies created Vegas, or at least their cowboy cousins did, as they did to the building of the freeway-laced Malebolges of El Lay and SF.

1 comment:

EmmanuelZunz said...

I don’t think you can accuse Karl Marx of being ignorant of the issue of determinism. If I remember correctly his doctoral thesis concerned exactly this: “the difference between the philosophical systems of Democritus and Epicurus”, or somesuch.

To me, the original line in Marx re determinism is the “the English worker needs beer” argument, something like “the system preexisting action is itself illiterate with respect to contingency.”

I’d argue this myself with the whole dimanche gras crowd, but really I can’t quite be bothered to.

Anyway, I liked your page



Custom Search

Blog Archive