Everybody here/comes from somewhere/that they would just as soon forget/and disguise…
Okay, so the first step of doing this “right” is actually writing an entry every day. And I’m down with that.
Today’s entry is going to be my attempt to drive a friend and fellow PhD student insane: I’m going to point out why I think Marxism isn’t such a wonderful thing for the study of rhetoric.
Now before I get too deep into this, I will willingly concede that almost all of us use the term “hegemony” now, and there are a number of Marxist based ideas that spread across the discipline. That, however, makes sense in a second way: Marxism is a commentary on capitalism, and other commentaries on capitalism, had they arisen independent of Marxism, would almost assuredly have noticed some of these same concepts.
And other than “he was wrong, since the revolution should have happened by now,” I like Marx, as a thinker. His work with Engels is essential to understanding political thought in the West. I think some of the things Marx said are a touch on the obvious side (but again, I’m the guy who almost got punched in a lit class because I said Williams’ “Red Wheelbarrow” was only respected so much because he was the first person to be vague and poetic at the same time in a published venue, so I do on occasion blurt things out that people don’t like). It was clear long before Marx said it that the masses were “duped” by the few (just as Machiavelli pointed out in his reflections on power and fear).
The economic additions that Marx makes are a fascinating step, but again, it’s not as if the earth moved and the skies parted because Marx put into text “human workers are capital.” Slave traders knew that for years and years and years.
But at the same time, I have deep respect for Marx as a thinker. Here’s my problem with him: you have to be worried about the West, and about Western thought, for his ideas to take on primacy.
I had this discussion with someone when talking about Native American baskets at one point last week. This person—bless his heart—was trying to read the pre-colonial production of baskets by a tribe through a Marxist lens. And it was troubling him.
So I pointed out “Marxism is about capitalism, and these basket makers weren’t capitalist.” It froze him up.
It shouldn’t freeze anyone up to think that systems exist that aren’t Marxist.
Marx was responding to capitalism specifically. He wasn’t responding to everything that ever existed or ever happened. Why do we only remember Kairos half the time? Would that be Kai? Ros?
And the fact that Marxism has such a grip on part of our field that people become frustrated when they have to NOT be Marxist for a second irks me. Particularly when Marxism, as a theory, is based on a concept that didn’t work. If Marx had really figured it all out, the revolution would have happened. It was an unavoidable end in his theory. This is not to say that thinkers after Marx haven’t reworked his ideas in interesting new ways, but the foundation of the work is still, to some degree, a buggy (I won’t say faulty—Marx sealed it off himself as potentially untenable) premise.
It’s like people who spout Burke quotes randomly. Yes, everyone views the world from behind a series of terministic screens.
But people were talking about subjectivity before Burke gave it a fancy name. Burke shouldn’t be a godhead, just because he slapped a pretty name on something that is an obvious concept. At least not when the comment is a one-sentence throw away like “it’s sort of like Burke’s terministic screen.”
I wish people in our field would spend more time building new knowledge and less time trying to make the same old knowledge fit everything they see. It’d make us more productive. And I hope someone shatters my teministic screen and kicks me in my means of production if I ever start abusing theorists as my own personal mapquest to the world of understanding.