Jul 9, 2009

To be honest with you Diane, I am surprised.

So here's the deal. I really believe that the cultural world is absolutely done with Marxism. Ok, not right *now* we're not, but I believe we're in the twilight years. And, I have to say, I will not be sad to see it go.

The other day my Professor was going over architecture around the 1750's, and the central theme underlying basically all architecture at this time is a sort of decline, marked by a stagnation of creativity. All the buildings made in this period (with some exceptions of course) are in popular styles, but show no new traits, no progression. There are no real masterpieces, and no architect is really making strides. All of this, essentially, is how we can tell that the current popular ideology is waning and will soon be replaced with something else that at least seems less derivative. It all reminds me of what Stuart Hall once said about theory becoming what he called "fluent". Basically it's simple: Freud writes the Interpretation of Dreams. Then, a whole bunch of scholars take it up and begin interpreting cultural things like literature and paintings, and as they do this they develop a set of jargon terms. So, in this example, you'd get a lot of scholars using Freudian terms like "Oedipus Complex", "phallic", "the uncanny", and so on. Then, usually, at least one other big name comes out of that group, for this example lets go with Lacan. Then the cycle repeats and becomes more complicated, and a new group of scholars comes out that use both "fear of castration" as well as "lack" or "symbolic realm". Repeat this for 50 to 100 years and see what happens. I, and every other undergraduate student in the liberal arts (or what we should really now just call "cultural studies" and be done with it) knows what happens. You get someone like Briony Fer, whose book me and my friends were required to read for a Fine Art History course about abstract art. Essentially she draws absolutely everything back to two guys: Freud, and Lacan. And this book was written only a few years ago, when we are supposed to be oh-so-much better than those horrible Modernists who believed in the author as hero (another funny thing about this is that, as Harold Bloom pointed out back in the 80's, at least modernists could make reasoned value judgements. Now you have to accept everyone and everything no matter how crappy they are...yeah, not being able to critique bad writers is really going to lead to good things...). She throws around these jargon terms I'm talking about so much that you really can't help but sit back and let it all wash over you, all the while wondering whether she "wants a cracker", if you see my meaning. But the bad thing is, is that you're not wondering much else. Freud writes something half-original, then Lacan takes it up, fast-forward a few decades and scholars like Fer are parroting it back at undergraduates, and the cycle of hegemonic ideology repeats.

So, what does this have to do with Marxism? Well, first off, all of the names mentioned above (even Harold Bloom, the poor chap, although eventually he got out of this particular quagmire) are highly influenced by what Marx wrote. Secondly, all of the above are the details of what is going on within a larger cultural discourse in which Marxism is the umbrella ideology. Sooooo...if all of these terms are so accepted that undergraduates have to stifle a yawn when they read them...you know something is up. Marxist cultural theory is just *begging* us to refute it by any means possible at this point. Because really, how much longer can we keep talking about "alienation" from the products of our labour when we know nothing else? Have you ever met anyone who's said to you "gee, I really wish I could start milling my own corn and...shoe-ing...my own shoes again, I really miss that"...and, if you have, did you believe them? Or, better yet, if you have said that, did you even believe yourself? Can we honestly sit around today and believe that it is possible, today, to go to a way of life that is unglobalized? Without international corporations? Can we honestly, today, say that that is a possibility for the future? Keeping in mind that you are, right now, on the internet?

No, you can't. It wasn't a very good idea when Marx first had it, but it is a completely outdated idea today. It simply does not fit in the world we live in. As Marx himself once said in a different context, it "weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living". His theory was for a different world entirely, and it is time to buck up and pick another one to take its place, or modify it greatly. If we don't, we will be stuck in the same rut for who knows how long, never progressing, only repeating again and again what is told to us by scholars that have come before us. No "original" idea, no truly new forms can possibly arrise out of the current hole in the ground that is contemporary academics. I personally believe that a number of the high art world's artists have realised this, and it leads me to a strange and highly circuitous appreciation of their work. For example, I used to despise, with a great passion, the work of Damien Hirst. Now, however, I believe that just as Duchamp and Warhol did before him, Hirst is making art that makes fun of us all for our own lack of creativity. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I truly think we could all learn a little something from Mr. Hirst. Other than how to blow 200 million dollars, I mean.

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