Jon Beasley-Murray jpb8 at
Mon Aug 14 12:37:09 MDT 1995

On Sun, 13 Aug 1995, Donna Murch wrote:

> i am trying to work through a particularly difficult section of outline of
> a theory of practice.  if you have a copy, the pages i am looking at are
> p.74-76.  I am interested in bourdieu's critique of Sartre's subjectivism.

I'm not sure if I quite understand what the problem is.  So maybe I'm
*really* off-base here, but here goes anyhow...

> Sartre continues, "It is not by chance that materialism is serious; it is
> not by chance that it is found at all times and places as the favourite
> doctrine of the revolutionary.  This is because revolutionaries are
> serious.  They come to know themselves first in terms of the world which
> oppresses them....The serious man is of the world and has no resource in
> himself.  He does not even imagine any longer the possibility of getting
> out of the world...he is in bad faith."
> Now, to me it would seem that this contradicts the earlier passage.
> Conscioussness is determined from without, not within.  Knowledge through
> negation.

Yes, it does.  And it seems to me that this is a critique, by Sartre, of
"actually existing revolutionaries" (as it were).  As Bourdieu puts it,
this is a "disapproved form" of seriousness, this "spirit of
seriousness."  This is then to be contrasted with the earlier, truer,
revolutionary consciousness that is not in bad faith.

> Bourdieu would seem to take issue with the inability to
> encounter "seriousness" in any form other than the "spirit of seriousness."
>  Now, given that one of Bourdieu's primary objections to subjectivism is
> its concentration on individual, subjective strategies versus "durable"
> strategies and disposition - this seems odd.

Well, I think he's taking issue with the dialectical (probably in fact
undialectical--whatever) understanding here per se.  He refuses the
subjectivist version of the opposition that suggests that on the one
hand there is authentic, self-motivated autonomous agency, while on the
other there is the leaden spirit of seriousness, dependent and craven
upon the other in a form of reactive bad faith.  Equally, and elsewhere,
he refuses the objectivist version of this same opposition that suggests
that only the structural is authentic, and that the subjective is a
dependent epiphenomenon.

Rather, Bourdieu seems to suggest a more fully dialectical resolution of
the contradiction between subject and object, rather than these
pseudo-resolutions that merely prioritize one or other of the terms.

Meanwhile, I wonder what you think of his own (possible) theory of
revolution on pp. 82-3 of the same book.  I think he later regards the
formulations there as profoundly unsatisfactory, and suggests (without
ever saying so in so many words) that the only truly radical moment is
that at which the dialectic breaks down altogether.  For Bourdieu's
dialectic is not a revolutionary one--even in the passage 82-3--it is
essentially a reproductive dialectic--every novelty is in fact a
repetition, if with difference.

> donna

Take care


Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at

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