Edmund Wilson

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Thu Jun 22 21:14:33 MDT 1995

Wilson's book--which I haven't read in over a decade--struck me then as
interesting if idiosyncratic intellectual history. It's also not based on
a complete knowledge of Marx's writings--in particular some of the
important unpublished stuff is not considered. Wilson,as I recall, has no
significant knowledge of economics, Marxist or other. For this reason I
would not trust his judgment on Marxism as economics. The "unempirical"
charge is obviously ludicrous to direct against the man whose magnum opus
is a hurricane of empirical research--in fact in my view the empirical and
historical material is Capital is mnore valuable than the economic model.
Wilson was taken with psychoanalysis and while I don't recall this feature
of the book, I wouldn't be surprised if it embodied a certain amount of
Freudo-Nietzschean speculation, which is worth what you will give for it.
I wouldn't take it for free myself, although as a philosophical point Marx
obviously has an ethical critique of capitalism.

Anyway, I think it's worth reading if taken with a tub of salt. For more
on Marx's economic background, read Dobb on Theories of Value Since Smith
or Meek on Studies in the Labor Theory of Value; more rigorously; R.P.
Wolff, Understanding Marx. (Just for starters.) Also useful though quite
hostule--not for economics--is Kolokowski's Main Currents of Marxism, vol.
1; more friendly, G. Lichtheim's books Marxism and The Origins of
Socialism. Incidentally I don't think Wilson had a real good grip on
Hegel, who is far more important for Marx than Vico, the figure I recall
that W emphasizes (this is part of what makes W idiosyncratic, not taht
the Vico connection isn't interesting).

--Justin Schwartz

On Thu, 22 Jun 1995, Steve McDonald wrote:

> Hello,
> I'm reading Wilson's _To the Finland Station_ and am wondering what
> y'all think of this work.  I was semi-enjoying the book until the
> chapter on _Capital_ (ch. 15:  Marx as a Poet of Commodities) and I now
> find myself pretty turned off by what I *think* is an unfair tossing off
> of Marx for not being empirical enough.  (A criticism which is unfair to
> the complexity of Marx's abstraction/analytics.)
> ALso, WIlson *seems* to portray Marx as an unhappy byproduct of
> capitalism who uses philosophy and economics (and morality!) to condemn
> bourgeois power and self-satisfaction.  THis reads like Nietzschean
> interpretation to me, which is fascinating, but in Wilson's book, only
> serves to displace serious consideration of _Capital_ with
> psycho-analytical speculation.
> I dunno.  Several colleagues love this book, and I was wondering if I'm
> getting it wrong, or if there is agreement with my disagreement.
> Best regards,
> Steve
> ----------------------------------------------------
> Steve McDonald          mcdonalds at csusys.ctstateu.edu
> Most of all beware, even in thought, of assuming the
> sterile attitude of the spectator, for life is not a
> spectacle, a sea of griefs is not a proscenium, and
> a [person] who wails is not a dancing bear.  --A. Cesaire
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