Benjamin, Adorno, etc.

Valerie Scatamburlo valeries at YorkU.CA
Thu Aug 31 23:01:11 MDT 1995

On Aug 31,  3:10pm, Kenneth Mostern wrote:
> Subject: Re: re:Benjamin, Adorno, etc.
>   Do I have to argue why class comes first and not
> > other categories?  I could if necessary, but I'm in a hurry right
> > now.
> I would say, Ralph, that that's exactly what you have to argue.  I
> believe that class is the most basic determinant of the social (the old
> instance formulation) , but the problem is that in the U.S. "most basic"
> and "first" (which implies a sort of temporality) are quite different
> things, and that clearly race comes first.  The specific narrative sense
> in which this is true is that nearly every Black marxist I know of started
> by analyzing race (of course this is rarely, but not never, the case with
> white marxists); that a proletarian movement in the U.S. would find
> itself by working through the mystifications of racial politics first
> seems to me inevitable, indeed (from the point of view of white
> proletarians) mandatory.
I can understand the implications of these arguments but what I really don't
get is the privilegeing of one over the other - class, race and may I add
gender all intersect in the case of most people - and it is the lived,
embodied experience of people which are lost in the abstract
characterizations of "class".  The category of class is after all raced and
gendered, the category of race is gendered and classed and the category of
gender is raced and classed.  There seems to be an inexplicable downplaying
of this - Kenneth please be advised that I am not implying this about your
postings - but I do recall statements such as "class" determines
"consciousness", etc.  My problem with this kind of theorizing is that it
treats class as some objective entity which exists apart from the ravages of
everyday life.  Class, race, and gender configurations are positionalities
which are experienced by embodied subjects - i.e. the people of history.  I
think much of the abstract theorization about class, Marxism, etc. often
loses sight of "real" people and I think that this in and of itself is a
remarkable shift away from Marx's dialectical ontology.  I once took a course
with Dorothy Smith, herself a Marxist, femininst sociologist who took issue
with social theories - of any variety - which theorized without ackowledging
the existence of people.  I think the way in which "class" is often invoked
on this list must be problematized for obvious reasons.
While I agree, at least partially with Lenin's formulation that without a
revolutionary theory , there can be no revolutionary politics, let me add
this to the fray, the following:

In his classic text "The Wretched  OF The Earth", Frantz Fanon claims that
"if the building of the bridge does not enrich the awareness of those who
work on it, then that bridge ought not to be built...The bridge should not be
'parachuted down' from above; it should not be imposed by a 'deus ex machina'
upon the social scene; on the contrary it should come from the muscles and
brains of the citizens."

Now, if one were to interpret the "bridge" Fanon discusses as a metaphor for
theory, well one can get the picture...

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