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Theory Tuesday Act V scene iii

And now for the third and final installment of Theory Tuesday (Special Raymond Williams Edition).  The moment a few of you have been waiting for!

But first we have to address two points made deep in the comments thread of installment number two.  Here’s Tom in comment 30:

there is still a great deal here that is problematic for the later development of cultural studies that Williams did so much to found. There is a sense in which the continuously variable determinations that Williams insists on blur the lines between oppositional and dominant in an unproductive manner (the difficulty of determining the relation of oppositional to dominant has all too often been an alibi for a quietist politics), to say nothing of the fact that the question of whether setting “the bounds of the thinkable” can’t amount to hegemony sitting on your chest and telling you what to think is still an open one.

To say nothing, indeed! I still think that hegemony operates by setting the bounds of the thinkable (in the US, a universal right to health care is barely thinkable; a universal right to paid vacations and family leave is not) rather than by overt propaganda exercises like The Path to 9/11. Left media critics make much of the fact (to take a random example) that millions of Americans believe that Iraq was involved in 9/11, and I have heard any number of my colleagues adduce this as evidence of the Foxification of national discourse. But the curious thing is that on September 12, 2001, millions of Americans believed that Iraq was involved in 9/11, and Iraq’s refusal to denounce the attacks didn’t exactly reassure those people. The question remains, then, of whether Fox News actively recruits people to the “Iraq was involved” agenda, or whether it simply confirms the Cheney-Rice conspiracy theorists in what they already believe. And behind that, the larger question looms of what Gramsci’s theory of hegemony would make of Fox—and other overtly propagandistic media—in general. And then there’s another question about the meaning of “consent”: as you know if you read these windy theory-things of mine, I keep insisting, against the Chomsky/Herman “manufacturing consent” model of culture and society, which I think smacks too much of old-school “false consciousness,” that consent is not manufactured but actively won by hegemonic blocs. But when the winning of consent is based largely on mass deception, as it was in the runup to the war in Iraq, then the difference between consent that is “manufactured” and consent that is “won” looks like the difference between orange-red and red-orange in the Crayola box—and a topic of interest only to pettifogging theorists who wonder exactly how many Marxists can dance on the head of a pin. (Or who have a masochistic interest in figuring out, to a couple of decimal places, whether they were defeated because the hegemonic bloc worked primarily by deception or persuasion.) Moreover, it is not clear how much of that consent has to be active, or whether people can “consent” to a hegemonic agenda partly by shrugging and saying “yeah, whatever.” The danger of putting too much emphasis on passive consent is that it leads back to vanguardism: the people cannot represent themselves, they must be represented. (Or: the hegemonic bloc prevents them from understanding their true position in the system of ideological production, so I, the Theorist, will have to speak for them.) But the danger of putting too little emphasis on passive consent is that it underestimates the powerful political value of apathy and disaffection. After all, if you can convince people that they have no power to affect things like national health care policies or decisions to go to war, you’ve won a good deal of the field right there.

So that’s why invoking “hegemony” should properly give rise to a series of questions rather than a series of answers.  Now for “totality.” I said it was as troublesome a concept as ever, and Colin Danby courteously showed up in a series of comments (hey, what’s with the patterns of three? am I being mocked again?) to say, in comment 82, that Williams sometimes nods—or at least tries to sneak one by us while we’re nodding:

There’s a dubious move late on page 7. Having enlarged the category of base and moved to totality, RW then worries about what would happen if we gave up the concept of superstructure altogether. He says that the reason we keep a concept of structure is that we need it to analyze institutions like law. He presents this with a very simple unmasking-type critique: these institutions which present themselves as “natural, or as having universal validity or significance, simply have to be seen as expressing and ratifying the domination of a particular class.”

Note the weakness of the assertion “simply have to be seen.” The idea seems to be that we need to rescue literature from philistine concepts like base-superstructure by situating it behind enough insulating concepts like residual/emergent to give it considerable autonomy, but this kind of crude, grubby theorizing is perfectly OK for analyzing, say, law.

And here is where, to take Michael’s metaphor, Foucault may have transferred to a better bus. Because surely, if he did anything, Foucault showed that it is possible to analyze institutions critically without having recourse to base-superstructure. Indeed from this vantage point Williams’ notion of “intention” is not a contribution to analysis, it’s simply an a priori assumption.

So superstructure is held up with a slender prop indeed, and I think this plays a large role in the subsequent argument, because it creates one pole in the tension Williams is working with—given the assumption of the overall social-ontological validity of base-superstructure, we then need to rescue culture. Whereas without that prop culture wouldn’t need rescuing at all.

Damn! Good catch, Colin. That is indeed a dubious move, precisely because it assumes what it needs to prove—namely, the classical Marxist proposition that the faux-natural character of “laws, constitutions, theories, ideologies” needs to be unmasked as the expression of a particular class, and that “if these institutions and their ideologies are not perceived as having that kind of dependent and ratifying relationship, if their claims to universal validity or legitimacy are not denied and fought, then the class character of the society can no longer be seen.” Williams attributes this view to the “perception of many militants” who “have to fight such institutions and notions as well as fighting economic battles,” but it seems pretty clear that he endorses it himself. The question remains, however, as it remains for theories of “social construction” in general, whether the unmasking and demystifying move does all the salutary political work claimed for it. And the ancillary question remains—one would have thought, if one were me, that this question had been significantly complicated by Gramsci’s theory of hegemony—of whether one can speak so blithely of laws, constitutions, theories and ideologies as being the expressions of a single, unified class. For while it’s true (for example) that the U.S. Constitution is partly the expression of the interests of white men of property (some of whose property included other human beings), it seems more useful, as well as more accurate, to speak of class fractions and factions—otherwise we’d never be able to understand why some rich people are so deluded as to support progressive causes that involve the redistribution of wealth.  Let alone poor people who support policies that contribute to their immiseration.

And I agree that when Williams resorts to the unearned phrase, “simply have to be seen” (i.e., they have to be seen this way because the theory demands it), we’d be better off on L’autobus Foucault. For the analysis of institutions without recourse to base-superstructure implies (or simply demonstrates) not only that institutions have their specific histories and trajectories but also, more broadly, that the invocation of “totality” may not mean anything more than the faith that “it all hangs together” (as Colin suggests in comment 46). Now, for those of you who didn’t make it down to comment 46 last week, Colin opened it by asking, “are Jameson and his admirers too eager to nominate silly antitotalizers as the foil for their preferred totalization?”, to which the most judicious answer is probably Bugs Bunny’s “ehhhhhh . . . could be!” (But then, there was a great deal of silly antitotalizing going on roughly 15-20 years ago, so I tend to cut Jameson some slack here.) And the reason Colin raised the question was that (if I’m reading him correctly) he worries that an emphasis on “totality,” even of the most provisional and tentative kind, can slip too easily back into precisely the kind of brutal Lucien Goldmann-esque reductionism in which superstructural elements (like literary characters) “correspond” somehow to the means of production.  As Colin puts it:

It seems much too easy, especially at this rarified level, to slide from a statement about logical preconditions for analysis to totality to one particular kind of totality. Another way to put the question is to ask what room is left for political economy as critical, skeptical analysis after these moves. My suspicion, and I hope you’ll tell me I’m wrong, is the “capitalism” gets pushed up to the level of the worldspirit or political unconscious in a way that puts it beyond the work of a critical political economy.

Nope, you’re not wrong to have that suspicion. In the book I’m writing now (well, not right now), I remark on the strange phenomenon in which members of the academic left inveigh against reductive and monocausal explanations of world-historical events in their morning lectures and wear “No Blood for Oil” buttons during the afternoon teach-in. Stuart Hall was particularly adept at spotting this kind of slide and calling it by name, and we’ll deal with him one of these Tuesdays if I can keep up this manic pace of theory-explicatin’.


Having said all that, I’ll move to the final sections of “Base and Superstructure,” which I find less satisfying than the rest of the essay (though one of them, “Residual and Emergent Cultures,” has been hugely influential). There’s a very unfortunate sentence in the “Class and Human Practice” section, where Williams is writing of “practices and meanings” that fall outside the dominant culture, and notes that “since from the whole Marxist tradition literature was seen as an important activity, indeed a crucial activity, the Soviet state is very much sharper in investigating areas where different versions of practice, different meanings and values, are being attempted and expressed.” Come again?  Investigating? Yes, well, it was 1973, and I remember from my dissertation/first book research that there were plenty of American critics at the time who were willing to lament that thanks to the repressive tolerance (cough, cough) of American society, Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow was given the National Book Award, and was thereby “incorporated” into the Matrix, whereas Pynchon’s counterparts in the Eastern bloc at least had the advantage of being properly repressed and exiled. As for me, I’d suggest that the word “investigating” in Williams’ sentence could be profitably replaced with “stamping out.” But you know how I am about such things.

The section on “Residual and Emergent Cultures,” however, is justly famous. I’ll explain my reservations about it in a moment; for now, I’ll just step back and quote.

I have next to introduce a further distinction, between residual and emergent forms, both of alternative and of oppositional culture.  By “residual” I mean that some experiences, meanings, and values, which cannot be verified or cannot be expressed in terms of the dominant culture, are nevertheless lived and practiced on the basis of the residue—cultural as well as social—of some previous social formation.  There is a real case of this in certain religious values, by contrast with the very evident incorporation of most religious meanings and values into the dominant system.  The same is true, in a culture like Britain, of certain notions derived from a rural past, which have a very significant popularity. A residual culture is usually at some distance from the effective dominant culture, but one has to recognize that, in real cultural activities, it may get incorporated into it.  This is because some part of it, some version of it—and especially if the residue is from some major area of the past—will in many cases have had to be incorporated if the effective dominant culture is to make sense in those areas. . . .

By “emergent” I mean, first, that new meanings and values, new practices, new significances and experiences, are continually being created.  But there is then a much earlier attempt to incorporate them, just because they are part—and yet not a defined part—of effective contemporary practice.  Indeed it is significant in our own period how very early this attempt is, how alert the dominant culture now is to anything that can be seen as emergent.  We have then to see, first, as it were a temporal relation between a dominant culture and on the one hand a residual and on the other hand an emergent culture.  But we can only understand this if we can make distinctions, that usually require very precise analysis, between residual-incorporated and residual not incorporated, and between emergent-incorporated and emergent not incorporated.

OK, let me say this first: the residual-dominant-emergent scheme is a Good Thing.  It is a Good Thing insofar as it recognizes, as Marxist theory had been annoyingly reluctant to do, both the relative autonomy of culture and (relatedly) the fact that historical epochs and social formations are layered and polyphonic.  Simply breaking things up into residual, dominant, and emergent (inc. and not- inc.) goes a long way toward making Marxist theory every bit as complex and contradictory as lived experience itself—as does the distinction between “class” and “class fraction.” So what if the Reagan and post-Reagan right wing in the United States combines a wistful evocation of old-tyme, small-town American values and a commitment to the evisceration of old-tyme small-town values by unfettered Wal-Martism?  You were expecting maybe that the hegemonic bloc would be consistent and coherent?  Get out from here with such silly notions!

But apart from the question of whether this Good Thing goes far enough, in and of itself, to recognize the kind of complexity and contradiction that makes hegemony work (and makes the world go ‘round), there’s the possibility that it can congeal into yet another Bad Thing, namely, the creation of Marxist Culture Charts according to which cultural practices are weighed in the scales and valued chiefly (or exclusively) for their degrees of cool radical emergentness and even cooler resistance to incorporation.  When that kind of culture-charting meets up with the ritual glorification of the “counterculture” characteristic of some of the academic left, you wind up with . . . surprise!  Reductive and predictable celebrations of this or that allegedly transgressive or counterhegemonic practice, whose transgressive counterhegemonicality is secured by its doubleplusgood position on the “emergent” “not incorporated” side of the grid. 

Now, Williams actually doesn’t say “residual bad, emergent good,” but the implication is there nonetheless, with the alignment of the residual with the religious (boo!) and the rural (also boo!).  (And, of course, with the possible alignment of the emergent with the utopian classless society Yet To Come.) However, even though Williams seems to stack the deck in this section, particularly when he insists that “our hardest task, theoretically, is to find a non-metaphysical and non-subjectivist explanation of emergent cultural practice” (thereby letting us know that the emergent is where all the good action is at), his theory does have the good sense to thumb its nose at any number of vanguardist theories of literature and culture, in which the poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, seers and sages well avant of the garde:

It would be easy to say, it is a familiar rhetoric, that literature operates in the emergent cultural sector, that it represents the new feelings, the new meanings, the new values.  We might persuade ourselves of this theoretically, by abstract argument, but when we read much literature, over the whole range, without the sleight-of-hand of calling Literature only that which we have already selected as embodying certain meanings and values at a certain scale of intensity, we are bound to recognize that the act of writing, the practices of discourse in writing and speech, the making of novels and poems and plays and theories, all this activity takes place in all areas of the culture.

Williams’s complaint here about the “sleight-of-hand” goes back to an earlier passage in which he’d spoken of the “selective tradition”—“that which, within the terms of an effective dominant culture, is always passed off as the tradition, the significant past” (and which, I would surmise, simply has to be seen as expressing and ratifying the domination of a particular class).  These gestures can be read as, among other things, swipes at F. R. Leavis’s “great tradition” and the entire Arnold-Eliot-Leavis cultural tradition that shaped Williams’ thought from Culture and Society onward, which is to say, shaped Williams’ thought.  And in their insistence on the legerdemain by which the full range of literature (think of the sense in which “literature” still means “all written matter,” as in the injunction against handing out literature in the mall) is reduced to the narrow group of texts designated as Literature (“embodying certain meanings and values at a certain scale of intensity”), these gestures also helped set the stage for the Great Wars of the Canon in the 1980s. 

And we’re still not done with this essay!

Now we get to talk about “Critical Theory as Consumption” and “Objects and Practices.” The first of these final two sections is brilliant.  Like so:

What seems to me very striking is that nearly all forms of contemporary critical theory are theories of consumption.  That is to say, they are concerned with understanding an object in such a way that it can profitably or correctly be consumed.  The earliest stage of consumption theory was the theory of “taste,” where the link between the practice and the theory was direct in the metaphor.  From taste there came the more elevated notion of “sensibility,” in which it was the consumption by sensibility of elevated or insightful works that was held to be the essential practice of reading, and critical activity was then a function of this sensibility.  There were then more developed theories, in the 1920s with I. A. Richards, and later in New Criticism, in which the effects of consumption were studied directly.  The language of the work of art as object then became more overt.  “What effect does this work (‘the poem,’ as it was ordinarily described) have on me?” Or, “what impact does it have on me?”, as it was later to be put in a much wider area of communication studies.

And from there we could go to the raft of “media effects” theorists (on the right and the left) whose interest in culture has to do mainly with how and why it makes our kids violent and asocial and sullen and misogynist and also gay.

But before we go there, let’s just stop and enjoy the long view Williams provides here.  Once upon a time, theorists from Horace to Sidney told poets how to write: “be pleasing and instructive,” they said (boiling things down a bit), “and oscillate between the general and the specific, so as to avoid the extremes of philosophy and history.” These days (where “these days” means “since Kant or thereabouts”), literary theories are theories of reading, of consumption.  We Are All Theorists of Reception Aesthetics Now!  Williams elaborates on the point in Marxism and Literature (1977), where he ties theory-as-consumption to the division of labor, arguing that in bourgeois aesthetic theory

art and thinking about art have to separate themselves, by ever more absolute abstraction, from the social processes within which they are still contained.  Aesthetic theory is the main instrument of this evasion.  In its concentration on receptive states, on psychological responses of an abstractly differentiated kind, it represents the division of labour in consumption corresponding to the abstraction of art as the division of labour in production.

And finally, we get to the last section, “Objects and Practices.” For Williams, the reign of “critical theory as consumption” is closely tied to the idea of the work of art as object, as a static, reified thing, whereas “in literature (especially in drama), in music and in a very wide area of the performing arts, what we permanently have are not objects but notations.  These notations have then to be interpreted in an active way, according to the particular conventions.” In one sense this is uncontroversial, even cliché: Hamlet really is a different text each time you read it, and there have been (and can be) so many different stagings of the play that you could be bounded in a nutshell with it and count yourself a king of infinite space.  But in another sense it troubles Williams’s distinction between “objects” and “notations” (or, to use the term he prefers here and in Marxism and Literature, “practices”), because if notations have to be interpreted in an active way, then they too give rise to a form of critical theory as consumption.

Williams opens the final section by announcing starkly (and a bit histrionically) that “the true crisis in cultural theory, in our own time, is between this view of the work of art as object and the alternative view of art as a practice”; he closes the first paragraph by announcing that “we have to break from the common practice of isolating the object and then discovering its components.  On the contrary we have to discover the nature of a practice and then its conditions.” I don’t quite buy it.  I agree that we shouldn’t isolate the work of art as object from its conditions of production and reception (or just fetishize it the way certain old-tyme art historians do!  shudder—that would be far worse), but I don’t believe that the object/practice distinction gets you everything Williams promises.  To be sure, it puts relations of production back on the table, thus helping to overcome that static and reductive base-superstructure model we set out to trouble in the first place, way back at the beginning of the essay.  Likewise, it opens the door to all kinds of delicious historicizing and contextualizing.  And yeah, it even helps us analyze, “as two forms of the same process, both [the practice’s] active composition and its conditions of composition, and in either direction this is a complex of extending active relationships.” But Williams contrasts this fun and dynamic and active-extending enterprise with a ridiculous caricature of Criticism As Usual, in which texts are sorted into file cabinets: “we identify it by certain leading features, we then assign it to a larger category, the genre, and then we may find the components of a genre in a particular social history (although in some variants of criticism not even that is done, and the genre is supposed to be some permanent category of the mind).” Whew!  Treating the work of art as object sure makes you stupid.  Clearly we have to discover the nature of a practice and then its conditions instead.

It is, I think, a strained and disappointing ending to a remarkable essay—almost as if Williams had ended with the cry, “Let the ruling classes tremble at Marxist cultural theory! The critics have nothing to lose but their objects.  They have a practice to win.” But to his credit, Williams develops the argument further in Marxism and Literature, where—also to his credit—he takes on the brilliant and nuanced and completely forgotten 1936 monograph by Czech theorist Jan Mukarovsky, Aesthetic Function, Norm and Value as Social Facts.  And if you’d like to find out what I have to say about the encounter between Williams and Mukarovsky, you can always read the introduction to this fine volume, which I haven’t hawked on this blog for many months now, mainy because I’m unaccountably shy about such things.

Well, folks, thanks for staying tuned to the Base and Superstructure Network all week.  Let me know what you’d like to see by way of a postscript to this series; I can either visit Stuart Hall’s Land Without Guarantees or I can follow up on the objects-and-practices bit by excerpting and explaining my take on Williams’s take on Mukarovsky.  Poor Mukarovsky’s not on anybody’s must-get-to list; he certainly wasn’t on the reading list for English 501 (nor was Hall).  But I assure you that he’s worth your while if you care about smart, capacious theories of the aesthetic.

I’ll be back on Thursday with a brand new—dare I say emergent?—bloggy feature.

Posted by on 09/12 at 09:45 PM
  1. Knock Knock? Anyone here?

    Must have gone home, or am I early? Oh well.

    This residual-emergent stuff sounds promising. Culture does change and a lot of that change seems to seep in from the periphery.

    One question I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about is just how it is that a big swath of American popular culture has been driven by African-America. Whatever this “energy” is, it is pretty powerful. Not, mind you, enough to send capitalism to the cleaners, but powerful nonetheless. I recall, but cannot cite, that John Szwed had a remark in Downbeat back in the 60s to the effect that (academic) intellectuals hadn’t given due consideration to jazz because the music was just too successful. It was hard to reconcile with the notion the notion African-American as an oppressed group. Since then, of course, everyone and his Aunt Sally has been claiming they knew it all along, but it’s taken awhile. And it’s still not clear to me that Amari Baraka’s Blues People has been properly studied, though it’s known well and widely enough.

    But, it seems to me that there has to be a psychological component to explaining this—shades of Freud!—as the following (shameless plug) abstract indicates:

    European-American racism has used African America as a screen on which to project repressed emotion, particularly sex and aggression. One aspect of this projection is that whites are attracted to black music as a means of expressing aspects of themselves they cannot adequately express through music from European roots. Thus 20th century expressive culture in the United States has been dominated by an evolving socio-cultural system in which blacks create musical forms and whites imitate them. It happened first with jazz, and then with rock and roll. The sexual revolution and the recent floresence of blacks in television and movies suggests that white America has had some success in using black American expressive forms to cure its affective ills. The emergence of rap, from African America, and minimalism, from European America, indicates that this system is at a point where it is ready to leave Western expressive culture behind as history moves to the next millenium.

    There’s a reason I called that essay, “Music Making History.” Don’t really understand the psychocultural dynamics at play, but it’s something we need to deal with.

    And now, and now the question I ponder is whether or not manga and anime are going to do for the visual culture of this century what African-American music did for the musical culture of the previous century—provide an world-wide expressive idiom. What’s this psychocultural dynamic about?

    Posted at 3:40 AM, blues time, on Theory Late Tuesday going into Wednesday

    captcha: “place,” as in “space is the place” (Sun Ra)

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  09/13  at  03:42 AM
  2. I don’t know whether I agree that the difference between winning consent and manufacturing it is inconsequential. After all, winning consent is the essential mechanism by which representative democracies work, and so is not a bad thing in itself, while manufacturing consent is a distortion of that process, and it is implicit in the idea of manufacturing that people are being lied to and essential information is withdrawn in order to push the picture that is preferred by the elite.
    In my view, the difference is similar to the one between winning a match in some sport with an honest fight and by cheating.
    The important point I think is that winning consent presupposes and requires an active population; when consent is being manufactured, the aim is to render the distinction between active and passive moot, because even the active citizens are not in a position to form their own judgement, lacking the information.

    So what if millions of Americans believed on September 12 that Iraq was involved in the attacks? (By the way, how do you know that?) I don’t get your point. That only shows that the program of deception goes back well before september 11, and it isn’t only Fox that was engaged in it but also the NYT for instance. How else would those millions of Americans have got that idea in the first place?

    Posted by  on  09/13  at  05:29 AM
  3. But Gus, you’re agreeing with me:  when consent is manufactured, it renders the distinction between active and passive moot.  And when consent is won by means of mass deception, it troubles the distinction between the essential mechanism by which representative democracies work and just plain cheating.

    I wish I had those immediately-post-9/11 polls at my fingertips.  But even if I did, I wouldn’t attribute the “Iraq was involved” belief to a simple program of deception.  After all, the sanctions-and-bombing aftermath to Gulf War I had been simmering for a decade by that point, and despite the emergence of al-Qaeda and its attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and then the U.S.S. Cole, millions of ordinary Americans still considered Iraq public enemy number 1.  Of course, there’s also the fact that the “Iraq was involved” contingent includes, besides Cheney and Rice, some of the worst-informed citizens of the U.S. of A., people who don’t distinguish clearly between Iraqi and Palestinian and Lebanese and Pakistani—let alone Sunni and Shi’ite.  But that’s yet another question troubling the notion of “consent.”

    Posted by Michael  on  09/13  at  08:01 AM
  4. I’m way out of my league here, but a few questions occur to me regarding the residual-dominant-emergent paradigm, if one is to accept it: As the dominant culture either incorporates or attempts to extinguish the emergent cultures, thereby filtering artifacts to the residual pile, is it evolving? Is it devolving by extinguishing elements it shouldn’t? Or is it merely cyclical—alternating between being functional and dysfunctional?

    Seems like the answer to how (whether?) the dominant culture evolves would dictate the sane individual’s reaction to it.

    Posted by  on  09/13  at  10:42 AM
  5. Michael, I may be totally wrong, but I always thought that, if not for Williams then for some of his students, the residual strains of a culture often possess counter-hegemonic potential.  This may be my Benjaminian impulse, but those rural aspects of culture might be, say, reminders of the Diggers or Levellers, or the traces of religion might be transformed into a liberation theology.

    Maybe I’m confusing Williams with Laclau & Mouffe, but I understood dominant/emergent/residual culture as strains that could be yoked either to a hegemonic or counter-hegemonic strategy—which is to say that no idea or text or way of life is inherently liberatory or oppressive until it is performed and woven into a larger net of practices and beliefs.

    Posted by  on  09/13  at  10:55 AM
  6. On the borders of the “thinkable,” I’m reminded of a joke attributed to Zizek, which he would try to work into his talks. Back in the day, there were big wars fought about social organization: fascism, capitalism, communism. It was a live question as to how the world was going to be run, and this permeated popular culture, with war and espionage movies re-enacting these world-historical struggles. Recently however pop culture seems obsessed with killer asteroids and the like. So, Zizek would muse, it seems now more thinkable that the world will end by asteroid collision well before there is an end to capitalism.

    Captcha: “music” as in “of the spheres.”

    Posted by John Protevi  on  09/13  at  11:33 AM
  7. Ok, this is what I’m making of this so far. Residual is a description of elements leaving dominance or currently residing within the dominant culture, and emergent is a description of elements approaching dominance (whether they succeed or not). Determination sets the table of possibilities for emergence, and disposes of residuals. Dominance describes the degree of an element’s acceptance within the determined superstructure. Hegemony describes a sort-of inertia possessed by dominant elements that both resist emergent elements, while narrowing the bandwidth of residual elements? Getting close?

    Posted by Central Content Publisher  on  09/13  at  11:49 AM
  8. I think Luther Blissett has a point--that this

    the alignment of the residual with the religious (boo!) and the rural (also boo!)

    doesn’t take account of Williams’ admiration for such “residual” forms as the 19th century Labour Churches, the overlap or interpenetration of Methodism and (especially Welsh) working-class organization etc. I don’t have a cite at hand, but I vividly recall his real anger at the kind of elite humor that consisted in no more than imitating, or caricaturing, rural or regional variants of speech.

    Posted by  on  09/13  at  12:34 PM
  9. “Complaints that a man explaining his life’s work, in as precise a way as he could, was not instantly comprehensible, in a clubbable way, to someone who just happened to drop in from his labour or leisure elsewhere…”

    Michael, thanks so much for this series on Williams. I have to admit I fit the description of the guy Williams singled out above (in his essay on Lucien Goldmann referred to in an earlier comment by Colin Danby) when I read Marxism and Literature, and having you as guide leading the exploration of this essay has really helped me (to the degree it can) come to terms with what the hell Williams is driving at in that book.

    Thanks for being a teacher.

    Following Colin Danby, I’m confused about why, after loosing some designated processes of art and thought from the superstructural, Williams doesn’t go back and release its other supposed constituents by the same method of analysis into the comfy domain of the hegemonic. It’s not at all clear to me why they can’t all be adequately tended to by his notions of residual/dominant/emergent, if he has a mind to do that. On the one hand he insists that to deny the superstructural its place is to fail to recognize reality, but on the other hand the whole movement of the essay is away from depending on just that recognition in a specific instance of a pretty important feature of it as originally construed. I can see that he wants to keep the idea of base and superstructure around as a club to beat on totalizing theories that ignore intention, but is that a good enough reason? Is there some way in which the alternative he’s produced fails to guard against that tendency?

    On another note, and in the spirit of the quote above, I’d like to ask you about the specialist’s use of the term “alienated” Williams uses in the Big Finish to the essay. I’m sure it doesn’t come out of nowhere except to those of us to whom it comes out of nowhere, and although I can sense the invocation some uniquely blessed Marxist formulation, I don’t know what it means here.

    Posted by  on  09/13  at  12:36 PM
  10. I still think the distinction between manufactured and won is a crucial one, albeit highly problematic. When, for instance, mass deception becomes government policy, I think that distinction is rather important. To take another example, the troubled distinction “between the essential mechanism by which representative democracies work and just plain cheating” that exists “when consent is won by means of mass deception” is so only because it obtains within a representative democracy that values coercion as inappropriate. The point is that grappling with the question of manufactured vs. won can provide valuable insight into the context within which we try to grasp ‘truth’ that can’t be obtained any other way. This is not to say that the answer is ever clear. But we should be careful to distinguish a disagreement from that which we disagree about. None of this discussion (or the whole intellectual endeavor) makes sense, after all, if ‘false-consciousness’ doesn’t obtain to some degree. Thus Gramsci’s distinction between traditional and organic intellectuals and Benjamin’s between the “arena where the ruling class gives the commands” and the “open air of history.”

    Posted by  on  09/13  at  01:36 PM
  11. In graduate school I read 1000 pages of Hegel and found only one joke (quite a good one).  Reading Heidegger I didn’t find any jokes at all.  Did he ever tell a joke?

    Now this Williams guy.

    If he’s a Brit it would seem he would have to be funny but now it turns out he doesn’t like dialect humor.

    What sort of humor did he like?  Did he ever write a good joke?

    He must have had at least some residual humor, since he lived in the country that brought up Ronald Firbank.

    What’s his best shot humor-wise?

    Personally, I think that the distinction between this world and the next must be maintained for humor to function.  It creates cognitive dissonance to have those two worlds simultaneously in focus. 

    But for radical Islamic, American fundamentalists, and for communists, there is only one world, so perhaps the notion of humor goes out the window with the Gilles Deleuze.

    At any rate, someone clue me in to his funny bone and how it operated. 

    Did he at least like Peter Sellers playing John Williams as a Swansea librarian in the film Only Two Can Play?

    Tap.  Tap.

    Posted by Kirby Olson  on  09/13  at  01:48 PM
  12. So basically Williams is saying that if we treat literature as a set of practices, then we may teach it in hopes of bringing about economic transformations, ja? Sweet!

    Seriously, I second peter ramus’ gratitude. I have swilled deep at the font of Althusser (it goes down easy) but he will no longer have the same intoxicating effect. I am hereby exterpellated.

    Posted by  on  09/13  at  02:10 PM
  13. Peter, as a hypothesis, I think for some literary Marxists, Marxism boils down to a simple hermeneutic—it’s a way to unmask the rapacity of the ruling class by showing that their self-representations conceal an opposite reality.  So “superstructural” would denote institutions and practices that are cultural in the sense that they make powerful meanings, but sufficiently sub-literary that they can be dispatched with the crude hermeneutic.  (And the crude hermeneutic is satisfying—it gives you a concept that interprets and criticizes the world at one stroke.  See in that regard RW’s slightly condescending reference at the bottom of page 7 to “militants.")

    Obviously that kind of interpretation gets you nowhere with literature, but if Williams were to free everything from the subliterary category, the energy of Marxism in this simple-unmasking sense would be lost.  He would also lose the dramatic energy he gets from levering literature away from superstructure, but never *quite* separating it.

    I think this is someting you can see in a lot of theorists—a thoughtful, sensitive exploration of a particular realm of culture or practice provides a glimpse of a material-and-cultural world in which divisions like base/superstructure or high/low culture or modern/primitive don’t hold up.  But this is destabilizing, because this complex world does not come pre-moralized, and because its analysis would require counter-disciplinary study.  So these folks cut short an insightful analysis of a particular realm with a dogmatic insistence on a crude schematization for the larger social ontology.  (Economy often functions as the sign of the crude, a role some economists are only too happy to embrace.)

    This is particularly problematic if you come out of political economy as I do, because the crude hermeneutic assumes that the task of political economy is over—the ruling class is rapacious and powerful and that’s all we need to know.  (One clue that you’re in the presence of this thinking is that people give you a simple Power Theory of political economy, emphasizing the capacity of capitalists to do anything they want.)

    Page 16 is Williams at his most insightful, worried about how aesthetic theory tends to isolate works and features (which is how I read “alienated,” as a term that simply ups the rhetorical energy of the earlier references to loss of connection and relation).  This is totality at its most useful, in the sense that it asks what kinds of relations and circumstances have been suppressed by a specific kind of analysis.

    Posted by  on  09/13  at  02:46 PM
  14. Um, Michael, have you had a look at the review of the book on the amazon page to which you link?

    “Barry Faulk has put together a unique blend of perspectives of Cultural Studies from media, literary criticism, art, to the political.”


    Posted by Jonathan  on  09/13  at  03:56 PM
  15. As the dominant culture either incorporates or attempts to extinguish the emergent cultures, thereby filtering artifacts to the residual pile, is it evolving? Is it devolving by extinguishing elements it shouldn’t?

    Hard to say, V. Ed.  Some dominant cultures get better (whatever “better” means to you), some don’t.  Ours seems to have gotten queerer in the past 40 years even as it’s swung to the right.  Go figure.  But the emergent non-incorporated things don’t go onto the residual pile; the residual pile, as I understand it, consists of formerly dominant things that are still hanging around, and some of them are Good Things too.  Which brings me to Luther Blissett:

    Michael, I may be totally wrong, but I always thought that, if not for Williams then for some of his students, the residual strains of a culture often possess counter-hegemonic potential.  This may be my Benjaminian impulse, but those rural aspects of culture might be, say, reminders of the Diggers or Levellers, or the traces of religion might be transformed into a liberation theology.

    You’re totally right, Luther (as is rootlesscosmo), and in Marxism and Literature Williams has good things to say about the emergence of the domain of the aesthetic in the late 1700s (because it is anti-instrumental, and remains so today even if it is all caught up in bourgeois aesthetics and the apparatus of “taste").  I should have said so, but I was already running over 4000 words and didn’t want to quote any more Williams for the day.  That was kinda lazy of me.  Be that as it may, though, this one essay does indeed load the dice in favor of the emergent.  But I still should have noted that this isn’t a permanent feature of Williams’s thought.

    John and the Zizek joke:  OMG!!!!  I hope our government will protect us from the Islamosexualcommunimexifascist asteroids! 

    Tom, I think we agree on the importance of won v. manufactured.  But then, I also think it’s important to determine how many angels of history can dance on the head of a pin, so don’t go by me.

    So basically Williams is saying that if we treat literature as a set of practices, then we may teach it in hopes of bringing about economic transformations, ja? Sweet!

    Ja, Pat! and thanks for reading this post with the special U.No. Decoder Ring.® The “practices” shtick works every time, which is why (as I’ve noted before on this blog) I have managed to abolish capitalism in State College—without resorting to asteroids.

    Peter, I second Colin’s reply to you, which—like his comments in part two—makes me think of the Stuart Hall line about how comfortable it is to rely on Marxist certainties because they let you know, before you go to sleep at night, that the economic is still determining in the last instance.

    And Jonathan, I see you’ve discovered my little secret. . . .

    Posted by Michael  on  09/13  at  04:52 PM
  16. This series has been a fascinating read, but the engineering part of my degree wants to know if there is anything in the literature about how well any of these ideas actually map to the real world?  In fact, back up—is there any literature about how you would even go about trying to judge that mapping, because nothing easy and obvious comes to my mind.

    And getting ahead of myself, if its not possible to judge how well these theories map to reality, then why is this field still so active?

    I realize these are entry-level questions, so feel free to just point me in the right direction.

    Posted by kevin  on  09/13  at  05:44 PM
  17. Let’s look at American musical culture for a moment or two. What’s the dominant musical culture? What’s it mean to be the dominant musical culture?

    We could, for moment, look at at CD sales, concert sales, and allied merchandising; you know, the nitty gritty economics of the music business. It’s not clear to me that any general kind of music dominates. But I rather suspect that hip-hop, country, and rock all outsell classical or jazz by considerable margins. So in this crude sense, we should look for dominance in those popular forms.

    But we could also look at the non-profit “footprint” of various kinds of music. I think the Western classical tradition ("long-hair" music in the pre-hippie era) wins that one hands down. All those symphony orchestras are non-profit organizations, and many of them have endowments; most of them depend on various public and private subsidies. This tradition is still, I believe, at the center of music education in primary, secondary, and post-secondary schools. Conservatories, music schools within universities, and music departments emphasize that tradition above all others. Jazz may well place second by this criterion, with other kinds following behind.

    So, we have two different economic criteria, and get different notions of dominance. Which criterion is best? But why suggest that one should be priveleged over the other?

    We could look at yet another criterion: column inches of editorial and news content in, e.g. The New York Times. My guess is that this mirrors non-profit footprint. If so, why?

    Now, of course, musical culture isn’t the culture, but it’s not trivial either. And all sorts of passionate prose has been written about the liberatory effects of jazz and rock, not only in this country, but in Eastern Europe and the territory of the former USSR.

    I don’t quite know what to make of this. Does anyone? Really?

    This particular problem is the one I think about when I think about “culture” and society and who wins and looses and how change happens. I like your exposition of Williams, Michael. It’s been clear and informative. But will Williams really help me understand the music biz? That’s what I want to know.

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  09/13  at  06:24 PM
  18. For a look at the economics of music education in the US these days, I recommend Alex Ross’ recent New Yorker article. It may be true, roughly speaking, that the economic footprint of “classical” music is about equal to the sales volume of “demotic” musics like rock, hip-hop, and country. But there’s an apples-and-oranges, or basis-and-superstructure, quality about comparing a cultural practice (with its linked institutions etc.) that requires heavy subsidy--and is at risk because one form of that subsidy, to music education, is shrinking--with another cultural practice that thrives as a commercial enterprise in a developed capitalist economy. I’m not at all sure Williams is directly useful to understanding these differences (though his later work on the possibilities of television, and the limits to those possibilities imposed by the “dominant” culture, may be relevant.) At the very least he distinguishes, as I think we need to, between (to put it crudely) art and business; if we want to analyze the peculiar hybrids that are the art businesses (music, movies, downtown Manhattan galleries et al.) we should probably start by clarifying what they’re hybrids of.

    Posted by  on  09/13  at  07:05 PM
  19. damn, torn between desiring both Hall and Mukarovsky?  Flipping a coin, it comes up Hall.  Thanks coin, you rule.

    When this recent series began i was a bit skeptical about its value and merits for me, as more than just an exercise in reading and comprehending.  Today i find myself absolutely fascinated by the posed questions.  For that i thank you Michael. 

    Beginning yesterday, and following up today, and later this evening, i have been in a series of meetings regarding the formation of a layered think tank that addresses issues of sustainability and community.  Seven hours in so far, with three to go, and more tomorrow even, we are struggling with these very questions of addressing culture(s). 

    One layer of the group, and the best funded (damn it) is deeply committed and involved in creating broader consensus among fundamentalist and evangelical Christian congregations and communities of faith for increasing the importance and value of care and service for the Earth--Creation Care/ Restoring Eden.  We have been discussing the apparent awareness (and here is that totalizing view of the hegemonic “we know” question) that there is among these large populations an emerging younger culture whose values and interests are being expressed and realized through substantively different symbolic/linquistic constructs.  In reaching out to these people through online activism, face-to-face grassroots, and programmed information materials (activities for which we have money available in grants), we are debating what it is that we need to share and in what way can we express our knowledge and views that would be the least antogonistic and most well received.  {a point to John McGowan for his posts and threads last summer on the pragmatics of activism in the face of theory}.  We are seriously at odds and the debate is intense by the way.

    Another layer involves the academe and its corporate relationships.  To promote dramatic visions of necessary social and economic changes in creating a sustainable, nearly self-supporting regional future, we must access both the political power and create consensus among those who would be most threatened (economic development done old school) and those who are as yet unwilling to regulate and fund obvious infrastructure alternatives for energy, transportation, and food.  We have, at this moment (and time is critical) the attention of the regions leadership from the Governor, through the several universities, throughout the business communities, and the health care industry (including support from a major health insurer).  To achieve the formation of a working and funded think tank, for these purposes, presupposes that we are able to receive funding from corporations and interested philanthropic groups, who for the moment have more to fear (of the unknown) than to celebrate (for example we have a VP of the major utility provider on the panel, whom we feel we need to have on the panel, although we are proposing vastly increasing support for individual solar energy generation and use?).  Thus the question {rhetorical) above,

    After all, if you can convince people that they have no power to affect things like national health care policies or decisions to go to war, you’ve won a good deal of the field right there.

    becomes very important as we strive to broaden consensus for action that marginalizes profits for sum for the greater good of the many.  damn hegemony… but i have no choice but to see this “through” (captcha).

    Posted by  on  09/13  at  07:19 PM
  20. to speak of class fractions and factions

    And given the layered and polyphonicsome-appropriate-suffix-I-can’t-think-of-right-now nature of the animals who are the individual actors in this spectacle, no surprise that these “fractions and factions” are often simultaneously resident in the same mind. From my (very) outsiders view, this has been one of the struggles I have had with thinking about the practical consequences of “theory” - people seem to be viewed as acting at a minimum as bounded rationalists. [And I had always thought of that as “bounded” by their access (or lack thereof) to information and/or their (un)willingness to invest time and energy into further analysis or gathering more information. Societally-reinforced constraints on what analyses they would even pursue, or what information is even deemed relevant to seek seems to be a similar, but not identical type of bounding.]

    I guess in the context of this post, I would say that there are some mighty loooonnnnngggggg tails on some of the residual “cultures” that operate on individuals - and not all at a level even accessible by conscious introspection. Maybe they all just cancel out as “noise” at a societal level, but they are certainly among the elements of human nature that the manufacturers of consensus pitch their wares at.

    Speaking of which (M-of-Cs, and holders of contradictory ideas), “compassionate conservative” Michael “Axis of Evil” Gerson will be joining the Minitrue Faux Liberal Team 2WaPo team, so that we can observe smoking guns turning into mushroom clouds and whatnot firsthand from the comfort of our own homes. The New Yorker reported that friends of Gerson say he has a “pre-ironic residual sensibility” - so he seems well matched with Richard “I’m a funny guy” Cohen.

    Posted by  on  09/13  at  10:01 PM
  21. I’ll be back on Thursday with a brand new—dare I say emergent?—bloggy feature.

    Just make sure it exhibits “cool radical emergentness and even cooler resistance to incorporation.” or as a recent correspondent had it: scintillatingly hip and meta-everythingness. [Note: precise words of said correspondent had to be retrieved from Google cache, as he appears to have selectively lost whole days, weeks, nay, even months of work due to some unknown calamity on the Internets.] And please try hard to do it in an effortless grace kinda way, since it would be literally unthinkable to not have this blog continually reinforce the studied Indier Than Thounessof the cognoscenti.

    Posted by  on  09/13  at  10:09 PM
  22. Stuart Hall please!

    Posted by  on  09/13  at  10:17 PM
  23. I say Mukarovsky because he’s brilliant and brave!

    JP, what in the world are you talking about? 

    Posted by effortless grace guy  on  09/13  at  11:25 PM
  24. the engineering part of my degree wants to know if there is anything in the literature about how well any of these ideas actually map to the real world?

    Actually, yes, Kevin.  In Policing the Crisis (1978), Stuart Hall et al. argued that the postwar liberal-conservative consensus was unraveling, and that a new “authoritarian populism” was emerging in which traditionally conservative appeals to Law and Order (and the obligation of the lower orders to obey their betters) would be uneasily combined with free-market capitalism and a strange evocation of the bucolic idyll of Merrie Olde England.  The next year, the Thatcherite revolution began.  The Reaganaut hegemony, mutatis mutandis, followed the year thereafter, and the rest, as they say, is history.

    Those guys were way more accurate than Criswell.

    So I suppose I’m going to have to do that Stuart Hall post after all.  I’m thinking that I should space out these Theoretical-Type Tuesdays, one per month, because they’re really kind of exhausting, don’t you know. . . .

    But will Williams really help me understand the music biz? That’s what I want to know.

    I’m sorry for missing your first comment, Bill, and thanks for posting it in blues time.  I think the short answer is yes:  the second half of this essay, when we’ve finally jettisoned base-superstructure (though we still need it, as Colin says, for understanding and unmasking nasty things like laws) and gotten to residual- dominant- emergent, hegemony, and objects v. practices, would seem to be useful for any kind of cultural analysis.  And the history of jazz, with its (partial, fitful) incorporation into dominant American musical culture—from the mainstreaming and whitening of the Fletcher Henderson/ Duke Ellington big bands to the belated canonization of bebop to the massive indifference with which most post-Coltrane music has been met—makes every kind of sense in this framework.  Just remember, romance without finance is a nuisance—but cultural theory without economism works just fine.

    Posted by Michael  on  09/13  at  11:46 PM
  25. "for communists, there is only one world, so perhaps the notion of humor goes out the window with the Gilles Deleuze.”

    Q: How many social democrats does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
    A: Reformism never changes anything, comrade.

    Q: How many Marxists does it take to replace a lightbulb?
    A: The self-emancipation of the lightbulb must be the act of the lightbulb itself!

    Colin Danby, I’m a little bit confused.  I agree with you that Williams is inconsistent in rejecting a deterministic model of the superstructure in literature, but applying one to law, etc.  It seems to me, though, that the logical way for him to fix this would be to elaborate a more, if you will, dialectical model of base and superstructure in law, etc., rather than giving up on any notion of relations of production determining culture in the last instance.  I can’t tell whether I’m disagreeing with you here or not.

    Posted by  on  09/14  at  12:05 AM
  26. Oh, a couple of good ones I blanked on.

    Q: How do we know Stalin was mediocre?
    A: He was always picking Trotsky’s brains.

    Q: How do we know Trotsky was clever?
    A: He had an open mind.

    Captcha: “may”.  “October” would have been more appropriate.

    Posted by  on  09/14  at  12:08 AM
  27. Ah!  Fucked up the first two!  “Screw in” and “replace” should of course be “change” - that’s the only way the first especially makes sense.

    Posted by  on  09/14  at  12:13 AM
  28. I can’t believe you forgot the one that actually does involve “screwing in”:

    Q.  How many Marxists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

    A.  The lightbulb contains the seeds of its own revolution.

    I read that in Heidegger’s “Letter on Humanism,” if I recall correctly.

    Posted by  on  09/14  at  12:26 AM
  29. Michael: what a treat to encounter a really apposite quote from Dizzy Gillespie. Nice one.

    (Capcha: “Miles,” as in “Ahead.")

    Posted by  on  09/14  at  01:03 AM
  30. JP, what in the world are you talking about?

    Very artfully asked, signore.
    But as if I’m in the know!
    Was it maybe “the feigned bewilderment that reveals the feigned bewilderment” ? Well, something like that, I find this whole place very confusing.

    Posted by  on  09/14  at  01:49 AM
  31. "whitening of the Fletcher Henderson/ Duke Ellington big bands” --

    Do you mean that Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller made the really huge bucks because they were white people copping the Henderson and Ellington styles?  I hope so, because I can’t figure what you mean if you don’t. 

    “Tone color” and skin color don’t really correlate.  “Sweet” music appeals to African Americans as much as it does to white people (as does smooth jazz, across all economic categories), and I really don’t think it’s because of some sort of transhistorical Kenny G hegemony.

    Non-figuratively speaking, Duke Ellington’s band actually had to blacken themselves to please corporate employers.  When they appeared in movies in the ‘30s, Ellington’s light-skinned players had to wear dark-skin makeup.  (The great clarinetist Barney Bigard, a “Creole of Color” from New Orleans, and the Puerto Rican valve trombonist Juan Tizol.)

    Very much enjoying the posts & comments—thanks.

    Posted by john  on  09/14  at  03:10 AM
  32. ----Do you mean that Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller made the really huge bucks because they were white people copping the Henderson and Ellington styles?

    Yeah—and I believe Henderson actually sold some of his arrangements to Goodman in the early 30s.  But while we’re on the subject, here’s to good old Benny for recording with Billie Holiday and hiring Lionel Hampton.  And jamming with Ellington and Basie musicians at the historic 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall, which rocked. 

    Posted by Michael  on  09/14  at  07:15 AM
  33. Michael: Can you define the difference between “winning” and “manufacturing” consensus?

    Posted by  on  09/14  at  07:56 AM
  34. Bow-tie hegemonism.


    Posted by  on  09/14  at  08:16 AM
  35. Posted by Bill Benzon  on  09/14  at  10:12 AM
  36. Michael—you’re right—Henderson did sell arrangements to Goodman (and may have even worked as a staff arranger), and Goodman DID have good hiring practices.

    Nothing against Goodman OR Miller for their music; thanks for the clarification.  (Glenn Miller, by the way, has been repeatedly cited by African American musicians as a Great One—he’s the only white guy named in Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” and I once heard an interview with Grandmaster Flash who named him as one of the musicians whose records his parents owned and he loved.)

    Bill—interesting about the origin of the notion of “America’s music”!

    Posted by john  on  09/14  at  11:19 AM
  37. p.s.  Miller, btw, was a fairly early adopter of Basie and Page and Green and Jones’s 4-beat style (the All-American rhythm section!), when Lunceford and Dorsey were still playing the old 2-beat style.

    Posted by john  on  09/14  at  11:34 AM
  38. Another one, John, is Gus Helmecke. Charlie Keil’s been interviewing jazz drummers and a lot of the older ones say that they’d go to hear John Philip Sousa’s band so they could hear Helmecke, who played bass drum. He had a lot of schtick and really drove the band.

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  09/14  at  11:59 AM
  39. I don’t think that Heidegger ever wrote down a joke.  I doubt if he ever made one.  At least not a conscious one.  I only care about the jokes, and then extrapolate from there.

    Hegel has one very nice joke in the Phenomenology. It’s not night club material, but it’s still pretty good.  However, I’m not going to tell it unless somebody asks.

    I’m still tapping fingernails to hear if Williams ever made one.  Har har.  Referring to jokes or joking doesn’t count.  He has to tell an actual joke of his own making.

    Solzhenitsyn in One Day in the Life says that Denisovitch was spending eight years at hard labor for having told a joke about Stalin.  Sadly, he doesn’t tell us the joke.

    Luther told jokes all the time in the Table Talks, or so it’s reported.  And there was frequent mirth.  But I was never able to find an actual joke with an actual punchline.  I’ll keep looking.

    I enjoyed the Marxist lightbulb jokes.  I’m going to try and commit one of them to memory now.

    Posted by Kirby Olson  on  09/14  at  02:45 PM
  40. Re: what Americans believed on Sept 12 about Iraq, I’d direct you to the following CS Monitor article:


    Relevant quote:

    “Polling data show that right after Sept. 11, 2001, when Americans were asked open-ended questions about who was behind the attacks, only 3 percent mentioned Iraq or Hussein. But by January of this year, attitudes had been transformed. In a Knight Ridder poll, 44 percent of Americans reported that either ‘most’ or ‘some’ of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens. The answer is zero.

    According to Mr. Kull of PIPA, there is a strong correlation between those who see the Sept. 11-Iraq connection and those who support going to war.”

    Posted by  on  09/14  at  05:54 PM
  41. Thanks, Lee.  It appears that my memory fails me here.  I knew about the “strong correlation between those who see the Sept. 11-Iraq connection and those who support going to war,” of course, because it’s still with us.  But I really ought to check that post-9/11 polling data.

    Posted by Michael  on  09/14  at  09:23 PM
  42. I’ll admit I don’t understand the distinction between legitimation and construction and how the distinction admonishes chomsky’s vulgarly narrow notion of “manufacturing consent”

    Posted by  on  09/14  at  10:54 PM
  43. Thanks Michael for sharing these excellent readings. I’d be interested to know what you’ll then make of Spivak’s (among others) move to hold on to the question of totality (as Marxist methodology should do) but read more textually the kinds of intellectual/economic epistemologies that are used to assert “value”, “property”, or indeed, “base/superstructure”, and to question the outsides required to think *them* in a totality. Because it seems to me that eventually, in the question of the modern, we have to recognise the constant presence of the colonial (whether we concentrate on the economics or the aesthetics). And I guess as someone working today, where that cat is very much out of the bag, I read Williams’ “residual humanism” without quite as much fondness, as a kind of mourning of a declining empire. But then, if you choose Hall, maybe we’ll get to that in a roundabout way?

    Posted by Danny  on  09/15  at  03:15 AM
  44. The use of the term “manufacturing consent” as the title of Herman and Chomsky’s book always struck me as a misnomer.  The book is a model of media production:  how, against their standard self-portrayal as heroically oppositional and embattled by power, the media filter out alternative interpretations and frameworks for analysis in the service of the powerful.  If I remember correctly, the book remains somewhat agnostic about how the media’s “official” message gets consumed.

    Posted by  on  09/15  at  03:16 AM
  45. Michael

    Thanks for the answr and the pointer.

    “So I suppose I’m going to have to do that Stuart Hall post after all”

    Yes, please smile

    Posted by kevin  on  09/15  at  09:58 AM
  46. To Kalkin:

    Re “It seems to me, though, that the logical way for him to fix this would be to elaborate a more, if you will, dialectical model of base and superstructure in law, etc., rather than giving up on any notion of relations of production determining culture in the last instance.”

    That’s a logical way to go.  If you’re an eager dialectitian, base-superstructure is a simple opposition begging for synthesis, which may be more or less what “totality” is here, and why RW was concerned that the move toward totality tightens the analytical screws rather than slackening into vague it’s-all-connectedness (what a Hegelian might call a Bad Totality).

    You can see Lukacs and Jameson, in different ways, trying to make this move in a way that preserves what’s important about determination and cancels what’s mechanistic.  My worry is that by the time they do this, “relations of production” have been emptied of content and become another mask for the world-spirit.  I don’t know RW’s work well enough to say for sure, but there are words to suggest he doesn’t want to go that route so he’s boxed in—one way to read an article like this is to ask why someone as thoughtful as RW makes the moves he does.

    This gets to what “determination in the last instance” means.  If it simply means keeping pressure on your cultural analysis to think about material, social life as people are living it, that’s fine by me.  If it’s an argument that there’s an historical dynamic inherent to the base that drives shifts in culture, there are fundamental logical and epistemological problems, and we need to reopen the whole notion of Marxism as a theory of history and what “theory of history” properly means.

    Posted by  on  09/15  at  02:52 PM
  47. Thanks for the return of Theory Thursday! I got hooked on your blog after the Althusser last year, and have been hoping for more ever since.

    Posted by  on  09/17  at  04:26 PM
  48. I don’t think Williams would have considered rural/religious bad.  Remember The Country and the City?  Or the fact that he was from a rural (though mining, not agricultural) family?  And that in his treatment of religion, he is probably closer to Eagleton than he is to Grayling/Dawkins?

    Posted by  on  06/18  at  05:11 PM





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