Saturday, June 24, 2023

Unlike most realists, Marx does not see art as precious because it reflects reality. On the contrary, it is most relevant to humanity when it is an end in itself. Art is a critique of instrumental reason. John Milton sold Paradise Lost to a publisher for five pounds, but he produced it ‘for the same reason that a silkworm produces silk. It was an activity wholly natural to him.’ In its free, harmonious expression of human powers, art is a prototype of what it is to live well. It is radical not so much because of what it says as because of what it is. It is an image of non-alienated labour in a world in which men and women fail to recognise themselves in what they create.

The aesthete, then, possesses more of the truth than the political left generally imagines. The point is not to substitute art for life, but to convert life into art. Living like a work of art means fully realising one’s capacities – this is Marx’s ethics. It is also the basis of his politics: socialism is whatever set of institutional arrangements would allow this to happen to the greatest extent. If artistic work is a scandal to the status quo, it is not because it champions the proletariat but because to live abundantly in this way isn’t possible under capitalism. Art prefigures a future in which human energies can exist simply for their own delight. Where art was, there shall humanity be.

Self-realisation, however, must be more than individual, which is the reason Marx adds a crucial rider to this humanist case. You must realise your powers reciprocally, through the equal self-expression of others. Or, as The Communist Manifesto puts it, the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all. This is the way he converts an essentially aristocratic ethic into communism. Oscar Wilde would do much the same in his essay ‘The Soul of Man under Socialism’, in which layabouts like himself who don’t have to work anticipate a socialist order in which this will be true of everybody. In his belief that the political goal is to get rid of labour rather than make it creative, Wilde is closer to Marx than William Morris is, though Morris was a Marxist and Wilde was not.

There are difficulties with the self-realisation thesis, as there are with any form of ethics. It seems to assume that human powers are positive in themselves, and the only problem is that some of them are being blocked. But the urge to shoot down schoolchildren should be restrained whatever the harm to your creativity. The idea also implies that our various capabilities are in harmony with one another, which is far from true. Like postmodern culture, it errs in seeing diversity as inherently valuable. But why should a life rich in a variety of impulses be more worthwhile than one devoted to a single activity? Emma Raducanu may have led a fuller life if she had played less tennis, but people have good reason to envy her all the same. 


As cash transfers became increasingly popular as a fix to the American welfare state, UBI’s status diminished in the United States, while in Western Europe it gained adherents. The cause for this, the authors argue, was a growing European “left-wing anti-statism and a new post-work sensibility.” Across the continent, large swathes of the Left had come to accept the postindustrial fate of the West, brought about by the increase in free-trade-facilitated international competition, as an unchangeable fact of life. Fordism was apparently bleeding steam, and intellectuals on the order of André Gorz were saying adieu to the working class. The proliferation of European post-work organizations in the late 1970s and early 1980s — the Dutch Council Against the Work Ethic, TUNIX in Germany, as well as French and Italian groups — testified to the Left’s move away from a vision of revolution centered on the industrial working class. In the philosopher George Caffentzis’s words, the excitement surrounding the possibility of a basic income revealed “a failed politics” whose platform presumed that “behind everyone’s back, capitalism [had] ended.”

Of course, UBI’s appeal was premised not on capitalism’s end, but the supremacy of markets. Nowhere was this clearer than in UBI’s surprising discursive turn to the Global South. Jäger and Zamora’s decision to focus on the developing world is both unconventional and welcome. Far from ushering in a postindustrial, post-work, postcapitalist society, in India, Mexico, and Brazil UBI proved itself a useful method for intensifying market relations without actually investing in development. While Julius Nyerere had argued that poor nations could not escape poverty “without industrialization,” the UN, the IMF, and the World Bank pushed poorer nations to adopt transfer payments in lieu of heavy capital investment. In place of an industrial policy to create national independence, transfer payments became the go-to policy in a development scheme that would, ultimately, maintain and reinforce preexisting structures of market exchange. 

Eagleton goes up and down, and ends with an absurd note and a bad joke. He needs to see art as teleology: the avant-garde must be a high point rather than a product of immaturity and desperation, honest without being articulate.

For the second, the Brahmin left, Oxbridge bankers and Oxbridge philosophers, and the servants in the first class carriage.

Here, Bruges is a good example of the European garden. Yes, Europe is a garden. We have built a garden. Everything works. It is the best combination of political freedom, economic prosperity and social cohesion that the humankind has been able to build - the three things together. And here, Bruges is maybe a good representation of beautiful things, intellectual life, wellbeing. 

The rest of the world – and you know this very well, Federica – is not exactly a garden. Most of the rest of the world is a jungle, and the jungle could invade the garden. The gardeners should take care of it, but they will not protect the garden by building walls. A nice small garden surrounded by high walls in order to prevent the jungle from coming in is not going to be a solution. Because the jungle has a strong growth capacity, and the wall will never be high enough in order to protect the garden.  

The gardeners have to go to the jungle. Europeans have to be much more engaged with the rest of the world. Otherwise, the rest of the world will invade us, by different ways and means.

[Josep Borrell apologises for controversial 'garden vs jungle' metaphor but defends speech.] 
The myth that Look Back in Anger marked an absolute breach with all that went before has been dispelled over the years. But Soden points out that Coward didn’t merely manage to carry on, he found himself in tune to a surprising degree with the Angry Young Men, the satire boom and the sexually liberated 1960s. He didn’t like postwar England any more than John Osborne did, and he quite liked Look Back in Anger. For his part, Osborne wanted to put on a production of Design for Living, which, like his own play, dramatises a love-hate triangle. Edward Albee got Coward’s work back into print in America and Coward enjoyed Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, in which the amount of screaming and hurling of household objects is no greater than at the end of Private Lives. Soden also sees parallels with Orton: the dark sexual undertow and the delight in playing with the conventions of farce.

[Osborne] died just after his 65th birthday, on Christmas Eve 1994, and was buried in his Turnbull & Asser smoking jacket with his old copy of “Hamlet” stuffed in a pocket. (It had every part crossed out except Hamlet’s.) He died a club man, an Anglican, a country gentleman, a collector of teddy bears. Not the world he was born into, or that which his early work seemed to inveigh against, but a vanishing world that Osborne identified as England. Only those who had missed the nostalgia in “Look Back in Anger” saw him as a sellout. As Jimmy Porter says of the remnants of Edwardian England in 1956, “if you’ve no world of your own, it’s rather pleasant to regret the passing of someone else’s.”  


Far from ushering in a postindustrial, post-work, postcapitalist society, in India, Mexico, and Brazil UBI proved itself a useful method for intensifying market relations without actually investing in development.

The book seems less about welfare for markets than welfare for the rich, and restricting the market. The "sovereign consumer" is in the "global north". Like Rodrik's defense of military dictatorship, opposing the creation of a new bourgeoisie in Turkey.  It was left to Milanovic to describe the spread of capitalism to the world. 


The aesthete, then, possesses more of the truth than the political left generally imagines. The point is not to substitute art for life, but to convert life into art.

John Milton was not an "aesthete", and neither were most of the names Eagleton lists that Marx loved and quoted and riffed on. Eagleton's inability to consider the relation of posing to thinking, and his need simply to celebrate adults who never wanted to grow up, Tzara or Benjamin, and we can add Picasso, Duchamp, Wilde, Coward, Osborne, on down the list, all they way to Elvis and Warhol, is just stupid.

Turning life into art is fascism. The desire to turn life into art is born of desperation, and art made out desperation can be very good. Aesthetes are fans, who make art out of fandom, and the become fans of themselves. 

Before the passages quoted above

Marx is one of the sources of what we now call cultural studies: the single work of fiction to which he devoted most space was the bestselling sensationalist novel The Mysteries of Paris by Eugène Sue. He was also one of the first exponents of the historical study of literature. He championed what he called ‘the present splendid brotherhood of fiction writers in England’, among them Dickens, Thackeray, Gaskell and the Brontë sisters, claiming that they revealed more social and political truths than all the moralists and politicians put together; but like his collaborator and financial backer Friedrich Engels he was wary of literary works that had political designs on the reader. He used the term ‘literature’ to cover all writing of high quality, yet he scorned those who confused the kind of truth appropriate to poetry and fiction with other modes of knowledge. To demand a philosophical system from poets and novelists struck him as absurd. Truth for a writer was not abstract and invariable but unique and specific.

Art is a fine-tuned empiricism, "containing at once the object and the subject, the world external to the artist and the artist himself." Marx was a classicist with no interest in fantasy. He would have hated Benjamin, and all the crap that followed.

on Jäger and Zamora, previously

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