I must say, and please let me know if I’m the only one here, that I found Althusser’s writing style and theoretical framework extremely hard to grasp, especially in the Contradiction and Overdetermination essay. I personally had a hard time grabbing onto any one piece of theory he offered up, and found myself lost in wordplay, trying to slowly separate each sentence into something within grasp. I also still feel (even after a good bit of online research) that I don’t really understand the concepts of overdetermination. I can see it on the plane level of seeing the multiple factors at work within any economic/political situation, yet again I had a hard time making his connections, especially in terms of Hegel’s speculative philosophy vs. the dialectic of Marx’s “rational kernel”. I did enjoy the section about Russia, Lenin and the theory of “the weakest link” (goodbye?), it was the one section I felt I had a fairly good grasp on, but this was also thanks to an aforementioned Western Marxism class I took which covered this heavily. Bottom line, I don’t know if I speak for the rest of you, but I would benefit highly from a lecture on this one.
I felt quite the opposite toward Geertz than Tlali in regards to these readings. Geertz, to me presents both a nuanced and direct perspective in defining culture. As a self-proclaimed critic of many anthropological methods (such as the exotification which Tlali mentions which, for me is an endemic in anthropology), I found Geertz’s work to depart from these issues and present a broader, more appropriate definition of culture. A quote from another section of his, Interpretation of Cultures which sat quite well for me calls culture, “…a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which people communicate, perpetuate and develop their knowledge about attitudes towards life” (p. 89). He later goes on to mention Goffman’s definition of the “focused gathering” on page 424 as, ” …a set of persons engrossed in in a common flow of activity and relating to one another in terms of that flow”. These quotes, to me avoid many of the assumptions made in previous attempts at defining the word. I believe also that he acknowledges the inability of the the anthropologist to come to any sort of absolute “truth” and also avoids all aspects of exoticism or westernization of his gathered information. The quote at the end of the article on page 452 highlights this well: “The culture of a people is an ensemble of texts, themselves ensembles, which the anthropologist strains to read over the shoulders of those whom they properly belong.” Geertz’s piece represents, to me a major step within intercultural understanding, as well anthropological precedent. I also appreciate his postmodern aspects used in his grasp of cultures. In many ways he presents cultural aspects as everything and nothing, comparing them to art, characters in books and theatre etc. in this way broadening his understanding and acceptance of what can belong to the category of culture and relating it more directly to expressive form.
I also have an interest in writing about Marx in relation to the “green” movement. However, my project would focus more on Marx’s influence within ideas about conservationism, exhaustion of resources and their relation to capitalism. I would like to touch upon the national parks system in relation and opposition to Marxist theory in a country driven by capitalism (USA), as well as possibly talk about nature conservation in other, less capitalist societies such as Scandinavia. Mainly, however I would like to draw similarities between Marx’s criticism of capitalism and how that has manifested itself in a nature/resource conservation movement worldwide. Already, the article which Prof. Fitzpatrick dug up during our discussion this past week entitled “Marxism and the environmental question: From the critical theory of production to an environmental rationality for sustainable development” from the journal, Capitalism, Nature, Socialism will serve to help me in my research along with a multitude of historical literature about everything from the founding of the national parks system, to Thoreau and Emerson etc.
Having taken a class on the lineages of Western Marxism I found the article from Capital interesting in that it reads as raw economics. This is a side of Marxist theory which I had never previously read or explored, only heard about. Western Marxism, on the other hand is completely un-applicable and contradictory to Marx’s original goals in his work, to have a direct connection between theory and practice and becomes completely theory based, returning to the academic environment to be pontificated on by the era’s great thinkers (as Karl rolls over in his grave).
As his theory grows in age, Marx’s trajectory in his writings becomes a very important aspect to the understanding of his theory, and per usual a point of contention among his followers. The interesting part for me, is to see how Marx, in his economic writings is able to state in such plain terms about immense social injustices without ever making any major opinionated statements. Through this style he points out major contradictions in the system in simple terms that without prompting would be brushed over. To get specific, I am thinking of his point towards the end of “the buying and selling of labour power” that in every capitalist country in the world, labour-power is “fronted”. The laborer is never paid in advance for his/her work, rather they are expected to give the work upfront to the owner and wait for their payment at a later date. In some cases, as Marx points out in his footnotes, the money never comes and the value of the labor-power is lost forever. This is a point which I had never considered in terms of workers rights, or had never heard in the major demands set out by labor unions.
The more diverse pieces I read of Marx’s, the more I come to an understanding once again of the trajectory of his thought in terms of an ever evolving system of knowledge. To make an awfully ironic comparison, it’s almost as if these early economic based writings were the raw goods for later thinkers to mold into pieces that apply more and more to the contemporary era.
Every time I pick up a piece of Marx’s work, especially the communist manifesto, I find myself increasingly more amazed at how acutely he is able to quite literally predict the future. In this sense, his work becomes more and more applicable the further our societies fulfill his predictions and perceptions of capitalism.
In more specific terms, his descriptions of what today we would define as globalization are piercing: “The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilized nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the productions of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes.” The fact that Marx was able to pin down this idea in the mid 1800s is frightening. He could very well be discussing coke, iPods and Che t-shirts here and one could never tell the difference. For me, the most disturbing aspect to his observation is the ever dying group of tradespeople, who struggle today to stay alive, generally through the financial support of the bourgeoisie whether it be through the direct purchase of their craft as a status symbol, or through other means such as artistic grants, but always generally accepted as obsolete in the terms of capital gain.
In this sense I find the local food movement an interesting forward movement in terms of Marx’s observations. It presents a new model, upholding the traditional ideals of local knowledge, yet embracing production on a level that enables for some sort of capital gain. Again, however we see many of the monetary investments coming from the bourgeoisie, yet the classic paradigm for tradesman-ship(?) and an interest in the preservation of specified knowledge is maintained.
To conclude my rambling, I suppose my major question to pose is really how destine are we to follow in Marx’s layout for a bourgeoisie run society, and are the models that he eventually proposes truly applicable at this point in our trajectory?