Author Archives: Tlali

Marx’s Base & Superstructure Continues

The readings for this week explored the complexity of the ‘base and the superstructure’ as proposed by Marx, mainly focusing on the material and positivistic aspects of these two proposition. I often wonder if Marx actually had such a reductionistic view of these two proposition, or if the Marxists which followed him, in an effort to understand or apply his theories, fell in a reductionist approach. This week, Williams and Hall explore the complexity of culture within the framework of these two aspects.

Stuart Hall proposes two paradigms, which I’m assuming are “culturalism” or “structuralism” in an effort to decipher the what he calls the ‘breaks’ to the critical analysis of understanding tradition or history. Hall further provided an overview of the emergency of the field of Cultural Studies from the three main texts responsible for giving birth to this field. Hall proposes two ways of conceptualizing culture which enable us to conceptualize its complexity. He proposes that “Culture is not a practid3; nor is it simply the descriptive sum of the ‘mores and folkways’ of societies. It is threaded through all social practices, and is the sum of their inter-relationship.” (p.96) Hall further explores the connection of the base and superstructure as a part of the vulgar materialism and economic determinism in Marx. To resolve this issue he further offers the analysis of the ‘whole ways of life’ and the issue of ‘determination’ to the study of culture within a Cultural Studies framework. Furthermore, Hall cites Levi-Strauss theory of structuralism to highlight the ideological aspect of culture, also with Althusser’s work to minimize or straight out avoid a reductionistic perspective. I was not very clear however, on Foucault’s concept of ‘concrete analysis’ to this structuralist concept. It also seemed unclear what he was referring towards the end of this article when he discusses the required of field of study?

Raymond Williams essays follow a more logical analysis of the ‘base and superstructure’ as well as all the other aspects related to these. I thought his explanation of ‘determination’ was very clear, on the one hand, it sets limits, and the other exerts or pressures, depending on the context used. I really liked the fluidity of each chapter which continued to explain the topics from the ones before. I thought his analysis of hegemony was very thorough and clear as well. What seemed unclear to me was the study of ‘structure of feeling’ and ‘the sociology of culture’ as both seemed to be dealing more with ideology and to be difficult to quantify.  Williams in his essay titled “Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory” explains the complexity of the base and provides great examples of base and superstructure in his piano analogy. Overall, though I think I understand these two aspects, there are some questions I would like to clarify in class.

EZLN Bibliography

The following are some of the titles I plan to use for my paper. I plan to integrate some texts I purchased in Mexico which covers the conflict from the emic perspective and that of the Mexican government as well (though the sources are only in Spanish).

Bibliography

Albores, G. Roberto et al

1996 Cumplimiento de los Acuerdos de Paz digna en Chiapas. Gobierno del Estado de Chiapas.

Aviles, Jaime & Mina, Gianni

1998 Marcos y la Insurreccion Zapatista, La “revolucion virtual” de un pueblo oprimido. Editorial Grijalbo: Mex.D.F

Bonfil Batalla, Guillermo

1996 Mexico Profundo- Reclaiming a Civilization. University of Texas Press: Austin, Texas.

Coe, Michael D.

1994  Mexico- from the Olmecs to the Aztecs. Thames and Hudson: New York

1999 The Maya. Thames and Hudson: New York

Collier, George & Lowery, Elizabeth

1999 Basta! Land and the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas. Food First Books: New York.

Darling, Juanita

1994 Some Indian Towns Reject Mexico Rebels, in Los Angeles Times, January             9, 1994, Home Edition, A-1.

Glusker, Susannah

1998, Women Networking for peace and survival in Chiapas: militants, celebrities, academics, survivors, and the

stiletto heel brigade. (Globalization and Local Cultures: Maya women Negotiate Transformations) in Sex Roles: A

Journal of Research, October 1998, v39 i7-8p539 (1).

Hayden, Tom

2002 The Zapatista Reader. Thunder’s Mouth Press: New York.

Hernandez, R. Aida

2001 Histories and Stories from Chiapas Border Identities in Southern Mexico. Texas University Press: Austin, TX.

Hernandez Navarro, Luis

1999 Mexico’s Secret War in The Zapatistas Reader edited by compiled by Tom   Hayden, 2002: New York, N.Y. pp.

61-68.

Marcos (subcomandante)

Selected Readings from Our Word is Our Weapon. Seven Stories Press: New Cork. ISBN 1-58322-663-X

Nash, June

2002 Mayan Visions, the Quest for a Autonomy in an age of Globalization. Routledge Press: New York, N.Y.

Paz, Octavio

1994 The Media Spectacle Comes to Mexico in , in The Zapatistas Reader edited by compiled by Tom Hayden, 2002:

New York, N.Y. pp.30-33.

Poniatowska, Elena

1995 Voices from the Jungle: Subcomandante Marcos and Culture, in The Zapatistas Reader edited and compiled by

Tom Hayden, 2002: New York, N.Y. pp 373-382.

Rosenbaum, Brenda

1993 With Our Heads Bowed- the dynamics of gender in a Maya Community. University of Texas Press: Austin, TX.

Ross, John

1995 Rebellion from the Roots, Indian Uprising in Chiapas.  Common Courage Press: Memphis, TN

Suchlicki, Jaime

1996 Mexico –from Moctezuma to Nafta, Chiapas and Beyond. Brassey’s Inc.

van den Berghe

1995 Marketing Mayas, ethnic Tourism Promotion in Mexico, in Annals of Tourism research, 22,3:568-588.

Wienberg, Bill

2000 Homage to Chiapas- The New Indigenous Struggles in Mexico. Verso; New York.

Marx Phylosopher- Althusser

Althusser’s Contradition and Overdetemination seems full of contractions and mystical aspects. After many hours of surfing through Wikipedia, I was still lost with this essay. There are some aspects which seem clear and interesting (the side notes really seemed to help too), but overall, the issue of the nature of the dialectic and Marxist “inversion” of Hegel seemed very confusing to me. I probably will have to read this a couple of times to get.

The Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses seemed much clearer and explained some of Althusser’s theories better in my opinion. It reminded me of the theory of Cultural Materialism, which is very helpful in understanding the relation and interplay between material conditions and ideology (which Marx discusses in his work). I really found interesting the way Althusser discusses the interplay between the Ideological State Apparatus and education. It’s so true the way that our educational system “grooms” some higher class into the better paying jobs, while the lower classes are trained for the lower paying jobs. 

I really liked the way Althusser explained the interaction between the infrastructure, structure, and superstructure and the way that the first serves as the platform that supports the other two. I was also unclear in this formulation “all ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concrete subjects, by the functioning of the category of the subject” (p.1504). What does he mean by this? I think that by the time I got to this part of the essay my brain was out of order.

Culture, ordinary?

Raymond Williams’ chapter titled “Culture is Ordinary” was a great contrast to the quintessential anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s famous essay on Balinese cockfighting “Deep Play.” Williams challenges many of the generalizations made by anthropologists and sociologists who have carved a place in academia by essentializing various aspects of culture. Just like Geertz, claiming to attain an understanding or “interpretation” of culture, scholars have been writing ethnographies which exoticize “primitive” natives in far away places. Yet, where would our understanding (as limited as it may be) of other diverse cultures be without the contributions of Margaret Mead, Bronislaw Malinowski, and Franz Boas?

Though Geertz is sometimes considered a postmodernist, his essay makes several assumptions which may be challenged by other scholars (like Williams). One of such assumptions can be seen in his essay when he states: “Consider, then, as support of the general thesis that the cockfight and especially the deep cockfight, is fundamentally a dramatization of status concerns, the following facts, which to avoid extended ethnographic descriptions I shall simply pronounce to be facts…both extensive and unmistakable” (p.437).  How can Geertz claim that cultural interpretations are unmistakable facts? It seems a bit arrogant to assume that after spending sometime, with a few informants he can gather “facts” to construct a deep understanding of the subconscious aspects of cockfights. It is not that I disagree with the various excellent points and analysis in which he offers an emic perspective of Balinese culture, but I feel uncomfortable when scholars make these kinds of assumptions to validate their theories/analysis.

One of the quotes by Williams which really got me thinking about the complexity of culture is the way that “A culture is common meanings, the product of a whole people, and offered individual meanings, the product of a man’s whole committed personal and social experience” (p.10). Culture, in this sense is dynamic and multidimensional, hence difficult to ever comprehend holistically. Williams invites us to reflect on the false equations, analogy, and proposition about culture which many scholars have inadvertently produced in their attempt to study culture. Perhaps the only way to academically study culture is by recognizing its many aspects and its ever-changing qualities, only by so doing can we allow for the recognition of the “cultural difference” (as explain in many words by Homi Bhabha) that exist and coexist in this planet. This seems to be the challenge for Cultural Studies.

Proposal- EZLN

I have always been fascinated by the Zapatista National Liberation Army, a.k.a. EZLN or the simply the Zapatistas. The New York times refers to the EZLN as “the first postmodern revolution” and perhaps this is the reason I’m drawn to them. It could also be the poetic words and sensual mystery of its sub-commander MARCOS.  Regardless of the reason, one things is for sure, the Zapatistas embrace the teachings of Marx and attempt to bridge the gap between rhetoric (which Mexican indigenas have always had plenty of) and reality. Whether this is possible or not still remains a mystery.

During my master’s thesis I lived near an indigenous Zapatista village in Chiapas and I witnessed the poverty and diseases which were very common in their society. I felt sad to see children who were the same age as mine, but half their height and weight, begging for food. These indigenous Maya people make the majority of the Zapatistas movement, and though many don’t know it, they have been practicing Marxism even before Marx was born.

Today, the U.S. labels the Zapatistas a socialist/communist group which poses a danger to U.S. interests. As a matter of fact, they have been on the F.B.I. list for several years. The Maya have been secluded from Mexican mestizos and the rest of the world for thousands of years, yet after the uprising of 1994 when they took over seven municipios (towns) they revealed themselves to the world with a phrase “Ya Basta” no more exploitation and abuses. Ever since, they have been fighting, hidden in the jungle but via the internet for access to land, justice, and autonomy.

Through this paper, I hope to be able to further the connection between Marxist theory and the Zapatistas, their Maya culture, including their ancient ideology based on communal welfare, lack of land ownership, and leaders who live and die for their people. These concepts are very foreign to the way I was raised, under a traditional, Western ideology of capitalism. I’m very interested in making the connection and being able to see Marxism in action, which may just workout for the Zapatistas.

Marx & Economics

Marx’s A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy was to me a great contribution to the understanding of economics in general. Though I had learned about the development of economics in the history of humanity, the interrelation and interdependance of these aspects were never as clear to me as they are now. Marx’s essay gives as a great overview of the production, distribution, exchange, and consumption of resources, which are the basic components of political economy. It is particularly relevant to understand the interconnection as well as the effects these aspects have in the history as well as the future of our species.

In Western ideology, “progress” has been measured by the amount of production (thus consumption) generated by any given society. For many years, the industrial revolution has been seen as the starting point of the highest level of human progress. This, however, has been possible only through the invasion and pillaging of resources of either undeveloped, or underdeveloped countries. Would the U.S. be the powerful nation that it is today without the labor of slaves from Africa or the lands (and most recently the labor) taken from Mexico? 

Marx explains how our connection with nature has been changed as our paradigm chances the views we have about history. It is ironic, to state it kindly, that Westerners ignore over 100,000 years of human evolution where our production and consumption have been limited by nature, to assume that our “history” began with the emergence of the market system. Marx explains ” …the new forces of production which had developed since the 16th century, appears as an ideal whose existence belongs to the past; not as a result of history, but as its starting point” (p.267).  This starting point, then gives rise to the most destructive system based on consumption and waste which results from the unregulated spread of capitalism.

Some of us in the West read Marx’s theory and assume that it’s an ideology which would never work. The idea of abolishing land ownership in favor of communal collaboration and equality seems to idealistic for us to grasp. Yet we forget the thousands of year in which many cultures have practiced this principle.  The many Native Americans who believed they were part of the land, not owners of it. Finally, the Maya, who are dying daily from the destruction of the rainforest which is instrisically part of their livelihood. The Inca or Quechua for example, from Peru who never actually had currency. These so-called “backwards” cultures managed to live in what we would call a “Marxist” model for many more years than we have in the West. Our overpopulation, makes it hard to make a system like this work, but the question is how sustainable is our current economic system?

Ways of Thinking

How much of what we see influences our thoughts? According to John Berger, a lot. In his book Ways of Seeing Berger provides insightful essays where images extract mental connections deep in our subconscious mind. Berger explores various historical themes, connected with sexism, prejudice, and our real misunderstanding of the role of publicity.

Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays gave birth to this idea of publicity, with a general training of the workings of the mind from the writings of his uncle. In the documentary Century of the Self we can trace the history of publicity in the West and how this came to revolutionize capitalism and take it to the extreme, to the point that today capitalism could not survive without advertising. 

In Berger’s book, essay seven highlights some of the most important aspects of publicity. Publicity is about connections with the past but always about the future. In this sense, we are condition to live in the future, with the hope of an ever-most-unattainable ideal based on material wealth. This material wealth is disguised as “freedom” to the point that we have allowed for an extreme form of unregulated capitalism to spread and take over.

Bernays’ ideas were simple, to make people feel deficient about themselves. As Berger puts it: “the publicity image steals her love of herself as she is, and offers it back to her for the price of the product” (p.134). The purpose is to create dissatisfaction, and then promote an ideal self, an ideal glamour, and portray an unrealistic sexuality to manipulate people and turn them into consumers.

Another ideology used in publicity is the belief of democracy being attained through material  acquisition. In the U.S. publicity has been taken to another level as most American ideologies have been manipulated to convert citizens into consumers. We can just reflect on the words of our former president when he addressed the country after the 911 attack and asked us to “continue to shop.” Berger states that “publicity is the life of this culture- inso far as without publicity capitalism coutl not survive- and at the same time publicity is its dream” (p.154). Yet the worst part is the predatory spread of these erroneous ideas around the world under the disguised progress evident in the globalization phenomenon. Where will this all lead? Is there a way we can break free of this ideology/mind-control?