Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Working Through ...

"Xudong Zhang: Being a product of modernity, Marxism tends to secularize and demystify. But isn't Marxism also proposing its own notion of authenticity and totality?

Fredric Jameson: The first topic one wants to mention is religion. I have been re-reading Kojeve's lectures on Hegel. He makes the point that Hegel is a radically atheist philosopher, but not an antireligious one. Because for him many religions were existent, real social phenomena. They do mystify social phenomena, but it is not by ignoring these phenomena, treating them as delusion or sheer error or superstition (in the Enlightenment fashion), that one gets all the way through them and comes out from the other side. I think that contemporary religion is very interesting. For example, there are all kinds of reasons why Islamic fundamentalism has been able today, in the absence of socialism, to stand as this fundamental alternative to the American way of life. Yet I suspect that the new religious movements are of a rather different type than the great, older, all-encompassing religions of older modes of production.

Coming back to Europe, the more specific question is that the moment of the utopian is crucial. We are talking about the dialectic of ideology and Utopia. Demystification is always valuable, even when it is done by people who have no social vision. It is obviously always useful and always painful--it does not work unless it is painful--to demystify the illusions that we all have all the time, in our own individual heads and then floating through society. Marxism was certainly a very powerful form of demystification, and can always still be one, since the economic is what bourgeois people least want to think about, and class is something they would always rather ignore. There is always a job for a more specifically Marxist form of demystification of all those attitudes. But unless that demystification is linked to the vision or the attempt to envision an alternate society altogether, unless there is a utopian component or drive which is linked to the drive to demystify, then it seems to me that the most productive result of demystification is not achieved. Rather than say that Marxism has an other, semi-religious agenda along the side of demystification, it seems to be that one must see the two drives as linked.

But I think there is a difference between, let's say, most of the things we consider to be religious in this historical moment and in this daily life, and the utopian of the future, which you can call religion if you like, but which is also essentially political. Maybe those little Heideggerian moments in my work try to violently or forcefully re-inject that utopian thing alongside the other deconstructive, demystifying operations. My feeling is that it is only that larger, Marxian utopian drive that can compete with various religious impulses. Is the market utopian? Well, to be sure, in some intellectual ways, but I think that is not a Utopia that is really available for very many people on this planet now.

I also want to say that I greatly respect liberation theology and its equivalents in other great religions. There are reasons why that has been a more effective way of linking social politics in some countries than certain forms of Marxism. But I would prefer the terminology of the utopian. Then you have to remember the whole tradition of vulgar Marxism and Stalinism and their relationships to various different religious movements. That is a very sorry history that has left its mark, of course. So I suppose for many people Marxism is this narrowly Enlightenment rationality which excludes all those other things. I do not happen to see it that way at all. And indeed, some great Marxist philosophers have made the connections: Ernst Bloch is the most obvious reference, but there are others."

(from "Marxism and the Historicity of Theory: An Interview with Fredric Jameson" by Xudong Zhang)


Alex said...

I would disagree with Jameson's arguments here. I don't think the results of combining a religious sense and Marxism have produced happy offspring. And, on the theoretical plane, I simply don't think it's coherent to be simultaneously proposing
a. Marxism's claims of the rationality of the future communist state (i.e., a future state that is rationally comprehended by all people to be superior to the regimes of the Enlightenment)


b. faith.

The most foundational arguments of (a) are in direct conflict with (b).

What I do think is valuable in Jameson's comments is his growing perception that the arguments for all Enlightenment states (which include liberal capitalist democracy AND socialism AND marxist socialism AND social democracy) all are too weak a version of the good. Basically, all of these regimes aim primarily to satisfy one's rational self-interest as defined by the Enlightenment. Of course, the types of regimes disagree as to the precise way to maximize the population's utility but they also all agree on the fundamental overall framework.

So, I would instead propose to Jameson that we reach further back in time, and re-examine much more fundamentally the Enlightenment. This is probably not the place, but I personally would argue that, in fact, the Enlightenment simply does have the wrong framework - people simply crave more noble, more elevated and more ambitious regimes than simply a regime that puts seven pancakes on your plate, rather than three.

Zach Campbell said...

I don't know that Jameson is saying that it's good to combine religion & Marx, but that there's an impulse to radically rethink the future in better terms--he calls it a utopian impulse but says that (some?) religion does this same basic thing, that religion is something that has successfully prompted people to question the centrality or necessity of the reality around them. (No doubt Jameson would acknowledge immediately that, in doing this, much religion has also simply served the ends of the ruling classes. This much is obvious.)