Marxism, philosophy, and the list

Jon Beasley-Murray jpb8 at
Fri Jan 27 14:13:12 MST 1995

On Fri, 27 Jan 1995, Louis N Proyect wrote:

> Getting back to the more germane question, which was the focus of Justin
> Schwartz's post: does philosophy matter? I think that it does and I think
> that although the audience for Marxist philosophy is nowhere near as broad
> as it was in the 1930's or the 1960's when Herbert Marcuse could speak to
> thousands of students on campus, there's still a big potential.

The difference between the 30s or the 60s and the present is best
characterized by a change in the "public sphere" overall, rather than
merely the fact that Marxists (or more generally, those on the left) are
nowmore arcane or esoteric.  The academy has become more autonomous
(though the attacks from the right in the 80s have tried to undermine
that--even though here it is the right on the offensive, I think the left
should think twice about what it is defending) and the "middlebrow"
sphere of political and cultural discussion has practically disappeared
(though on the other hand, that sphere was not without its exclusions,
and especially this was a male and white domain of "public" comment and

I sympathize with Louis' call for a popularizing discourse--one could
also look to Marx himself for fine examples of accessibility and
readability (though not all the time and in all contexts, of course).


> The only thing that I find disturbing about the "philosophizing" that
> goes on in this list is that seems to be blissfully unaware of how arcane
> it is to someone even like myself.  [more deletion...]
> I suppose this is besides the point to many of the people on this list
> who read and contribute to academic journals out of professional
> necessity. And, after all, the Internet e-mail lists, in some sense,
> exist as a way for pedagogues to collaborate professionally. Whenever I
> burst into the type of chit-chat that typifies this list, I feel a little
> like a buildings and grounds worker crashing a faculty cocktail party.

If this is a faculty cocktail party, then I certainly don't belong here.
And, Louis, I suspect you'd admit that things here aren't always as prim
and proper as your description "chit-chat" suggests.

The list fashions its own contexts--professional collaboration is surely
one, and in such circumstances the "difficulty" that results at least
inpart from specialization and abstraction is quite appropriate, but I agree
with Louis that I hope it isn't the only mode of discussion.  For a
start (and even within the parameters of the academcy), the list is
supposed to be interdisciplinary, a project that requires some
"de-specialization" and willingness to work at both understanding and
communicating what may seem intimidatingly different.  Sadly, at times,
the list self-disciplines itself too much--the economists switch off when
the philosophers speak, or vice versa (for example), often leading to too
many running dialogues between two people.

Though there is room for this too (for listening into such conversations
can be informative), I hope we don't reach the situation where no one
feels they can jump in, add their 2c., or say "what are you talking
about?" or whatever.  Though this list may at times approach the
atmosphere of a faculty cocktail party, it can never fully close in on
itself, as it is fully open, to anyone, or to any question or comment.
Louis has always stood up for his rights on this list as a metaphorical
builings and grounds worker... I hope that more will take similar
approaches, and that no one feels intimidated or unable to raise the
topics that interest them.

> Louis Proyect

Take care


Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at


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