Po-Mo critiques

Guy Yasko guyy at aqu.bekkoame.or.jp
Fri Feb 24 21:11:38 MST 1995

Jane Flax's characterization of Marxism ignores the strain of anti-Enlightenment
thought in Marxism.  Not that anti-humanist Marxism satisfies po-mo critics,
otherwise we would see many more Althusserians than we do.  Nevertheless, Flax's
characterization of Marxism denies the possibility of readings other than her
own.  What are we and Flax to make of readings of Marx and the Marxian
literature as critiques of the Enlightenment?  Putting Andy Daitsman's second
question on hold for the time being, one can point to the Frankfurt School's
grave doubts about the project of modernity, phenomenological Marxism, Bakhtin/
Volisinov, Hiromatsu's reading of Marx as modernity's most profound critic, or
Althusser' attack on humanism as incidents in which marxian thought has spilled
over Flax's narrow boundaries.  Coming from the other direction, Flax must also
explain the post-structuralist interest in Marx.  If the boundaries between
critique of the Enlightenment and Marxist delusion are as hard and fast as Flax
would have them, it would seem difficult to justify  reading Marx other than to
find where he went wrong.  However, it seems to me that the post-structuralist
approach to Marx is to perform the usual Derridean operations on the texts --
which is what we find Derrida himself doing in _Spectres de Marx_, ho hum.
(That lit crit-te(u)rs in the U.S. Academy had already done so in their annual
readings of vol.I chapter I of _Capital_ does not reflect well on Derrida; he's
now catching up with his disciples.)  Such  an approach to Marx poses more of a
threat than Flax for at least two reasons.  First, it subordinates Marxian
questions without denying them altogether; they are pushed to the background,
held in reserve while the professors of literature work on the really important
questions. In doing so, the post-structuralist reading is perfectly capable of
dealing with the Marxian "excesses" that I pointed out above.  Instead, Flax
gives us a counter-teleology, one  that truly brings the aufheben of all the bad
things the Enlightenment has dumped on us.  In summary, as vulgar post-
modernism, Flax's critique hinges on a reductive reading of Marxian texts, and
leads to the reproduction of the very problems that she identifies in the

In emphasizing the results of different readings of Marx, I am open to the
charge that my reading  isn't really Marxist.  One could also run through my
counterexamples and separate the "Marxist" and "non-Marxist" elements according
to Flax's definition.  I cannot reply to such an exercise except by asking what
one gains by setting and maintaining Flax's boundaries.  I think Flax's question
is set up to be impossible for a "Marxist" to answer.  One would have to reply
by saying that "Marxism" really will deliver on its promises, in which case Flax
will reply "See folks.  Didn't I tell you about these Marxists."  Or one can
reply as Jameson and Harvey do and turn the tables on Flax by classifying her as
a subaltern functionary of the post-modern superstructure.  Since Flax cannot
justify a claim to clearer vision than the rest of us without resort to what she
has criticized in "Marxism," she can not possibly reply to such a retort.
However, I suspect that such criticisms of post-modernism lead not to
conversions to "Marxism" but to critiques of Hegel.  In other words, one has no
choice but to question Flax's question.  The issue shouldn't be one of who has
the baddest intellectual history, but one of politics and praxis.

I would ask of post-modernists how overcoming modernity within capitalism is
even thinkable.  In order for capitalist post-modernism to be possible, one
would have to assume a liberal division of spheres that would seem to preserve
and reproduce elements of modernist social practice and thought.  (Not that the
combination of anti-capitalism and anti-modernity equals Marxism; after all, to
give but one example among many, Japanese fascists and their academic
apologists, often former Marxists, also held both positions.  One could bring
Heidegger in to this as well.)  If post-structuralism ever develops a politics,
it will find itself dealing with "Marxist" questions.

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