Totality

Jonathan P. Beasley-Murray jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu
Sat Nov 19 12:45:15 MST 1994


On Thu, 17 Nov 1994, Jukka Laari wrote:

> What if historicizing is always (?) totalizing? And what if that could
> mean in modern vocabulary 'context specific analysis' or something like
> that?

The first point seems to be Jameson's, and that's the one I'd like to
dispute.  And I think that "context specific analysis" is something quite
different (no mere translation).

> I mean that one can think 'abstractly', that is, without considering the
> relations of subject under consideration to other subjects and their
> relations to some other subjects etc. Or one can think 'concretely' by
> taking into consideration those relations etc...

Isn't a totality necessarily abstract?

> After all, we all have our own totalities in our heads, don't we?

I think emphasizing connections and so forth--the local specificities
that mean that the island of Reunion is somehow connected to my idea of
what I'm having for lunch today--is fine, but is different from
totalization.  It's when we take what we have in our heads (as it were)
for a totality that we run into trouble: then we (I) become the single
guiding principle of these otherwise disparate conceptions and things.
Isn't the real moment of critique the moment when we acknowledge the
insufficiency of any such pseudo-totality, whether it be premised on the
individual, the institution, the State, or the mode of production?

> On the other hand, there is real danger with totalizing thinking as
> Jonathan said. But that is not a 'cognitive' or 'epistemological'
> problem, rather a practico-moral one: how should we relate to our
> conceptions and knowledge?

These questions don't seem so separable to me.  How can you have a
totality at the level of thought, but not at the level of practice?  I
mean, isn't that the standard (circular) critique of marxism based on the
former Eastern Europe: the theory is totalizing, therefore so is the
established State; the established State is totalitarian, this shows the
problem with a totalizing theory.

I'm still intrigued with the ideas of other forms of totality (to make
connections with the "chaos" thread, how about fractal, always
insufficient, occupations of a plane?), but I think the simple Hegelian
totality (back to Althusser's critique) invoked by Jameson among others
doesn't do it for me.

> Yours: Jukka Laari

Take care

Jon

Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu



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