Normativity and stats (was Marxism and academia)

colin s. cavell cscpo at
Thu Aug 18 19:52:28 MDT 1994

Date: Thu, 18 Aug 1994 09:29 -0500 (CDT)
From: Andy Daitsman <ADAITS at>
Subject: Normativity and stats (was Marxism and academia)

Andy Daitsman writes:

>Which brings us back to questions of epistemology: how do we know the universe
>around us?  How closely does our knowledge of reality approximate reality
>itself?  Lurking behind these questions, for a revolutionary at least, is the
>most important one: how can we hope to change reality if we don't know what it
>is that we are changing?
>I guess Colin and Louis have that question answered to their complete
>and total satisfaction...


   Questions of epistemology and ontology are indeed essential, and less you
jump to any further erroneous conclusions about my beliefs, I will state
clearly for you that reality is not an unproblematic phenomenon.  But, so as to
inform readers as to where your particular ire arises from, let me reprint
some of your initial comments responding to Louis Proyect's comment, followed
by my observation, to which you responded to me in private demanding some
explanation, to which I responded that such a discussion might only be
beneficial if it were posted to the list.

<<<On Tue, 16 Aug 1994 at 09:00 -0500 (CDT)
<<<Andy Daitsman <ADAITS at>

>>Louis Proyect writes:

>My main beef is with what Perry Anderson calls "Western Marxism". This
>trend includes the Frankfurt school, Althusser, Sartre, Lukacs et al.
>This is a sanitized version of Marxism which is apparently quite
>acceptable in the academic world. This form of Marxism has very little to
>do with Marx's original goal: the abolition of capitalism.

>>I humbly suggest that you are missing the point...
>>Misfortune continues in this tale.  The Marxist dialectic predicted certain
>>historical outcomes, such as the ultimate proletarianization of the entire
>>workforce, a final crisis in capitalism, and a world revolution of the
>>proletariat over the bourgeoisie.  Of these three predictions, perhaps the
>>first has been fulfilled, but even that did not happen in anywhere near the
>>way in which Marx predicted it...
>>As far as revolutions, well, real existing socialism has already collapsed,
>>hasn't it?...
>>In other words, too close a reliance on original or orthodox Marxism
>>means using an outmoded and outdated discourse to try to understand a society
>>that no longer exists.
>>See ya,

<<<   I believe Andy has proven your point.
<<<                                                      Regards,
<<<            		                              colin s. cavell


You apparently disagree that Louis's point, couched in Anderson's
observations, was proven by your remarks.  Your inability to see what I saw is
exactly why I decided to wait until you made reference to this disagreement on
the marxism conference, for it appears that our ontological and perhaps
epistemological referents are incommensurable.

But as regards your current assertion that I, along with Louis, have answered
the question of what is real to our "complete and total satisfaction," let me
state, for the record, that I made no such claim.  However, Andy, YOU did make
certain statements about reality and asserted them quite unproblematically
such that 1) Louis "misses the point" [for myself, I don't know if by this you
are asserting that what really is at stake in this discussion is a) how we
discourse about the failure of socialism? or b) how problematic it is to know
what reality is? or c) how upset some academics get when their revolutionary
credentials are challenged?, etc.), 2) with regard to Marx's prediction of
the proletarianization of the entire workforce, it did not "happen in anywhere
near the way in which Marx had predicted it," 3) "real existing socialism has
already collapsed" (although you do, presumably as an afterthought, ask for
confirmation of this "fact"), and 4)relying on "original or orthodox Marxism
means using an outmoded or outdated discourse to try to understand a society
that no longer exists."  Note also that we could divide this last claim into
two statements of fact, if we wanted to question whether your assertion
implied that the same motivational forces at work in the 19th century have
ceased or been altered in some manner.

So, you see, Andy, it is you who appears to see certain aspects of reality
unproblematically.  I only juxtaposed your words to those of Louis' and made
an observation.  I did not claim it to be the reality; indeed, I prefaced it
with the statement:  "I believe...."


                                               colin s. cavell

Colin S. Cavell				"This union [of workers] is helped
Department of Political Science		on by the improved means of
Thompson Tower				communication that are created by
University of Massachusetts		Modern Industry, and that place
Amherst, MA  01003			the workers of different localities
Internet:  cscpo at	in contact with one another."
Voice:  (413) 546-3408 (H)		-- Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
        (413) 545-3683 (W)                   "The Communist Manifesto"


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