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Marxism 93, London, 1993; Modernism: Poetics, Politics, Practice, King’s College, Cambridge, 1993

conference at Birkbeck College.

He will be remembered by all who knew him for his
amiability, his modesty, the ever renewed breadth of his interests,
and above all, for his intellectual generosity. We will miss him.

His publications include:

1978: Marxism and Education: A Study of Phenomenological
and Marxist Approaches to Education (RKP)

1982: Education, State and Crisis: A Marxist Perspective_(RKP)
1984: Marxism, Structuralism, Education: Theoretical
Developments in the Sociology of Education (Falmer)
1986: The Politics of Multicultural Education (Routledge)
1989 (2nd ed., 1993): An Introductory Guide to
Post-Structuralism and Post-Modernism (Harvester)
1991: Education and the Ideologies ofRacism (Trentham Books)
1992: Jacques Lacan (Harvester)

Peter Osborne

Marxism and Modernism
Two events on successive weekends in July afforded avid conferees the opportunity to compare and contrast Marxism and Modernism in widely differing circumstances.

The Socialist Workers Party organised Marxism 93 ,in London
to introduce their numerous new recruits to ‘the socialist solution’, and to stimulate and consolidate the commitment of longer
standing members. From the point of view of attendance the event
was a great success. All the auditoria were packed, with as many
as twelve sessions running concurrently.

Marxism 93 was advertised as a week of political discussion
and debate. Alex Callinicos gave a Marxist interpretation of the
Holocaust, an introduction to historical materialism and criticised
the policy of UN interventions. Tony Cliff and Paul Foot put the
Party’s politics to the people and guest appearances were made by
left luminaries such as Christopher Hill, Tony Benn and Robin
Blackburn. Due to the nature of the event, which was not intended
to be an academic conference, but a political rally, the level of
discussion did not really do justice to the issues. The SWP has a
line on almost everything from Islamic fundamentalism to Robin
Hood, a line which is closely towed, with the disquieting consequence that consensus tends to function as the precondition and
not the telos of any debate.

The exoteric approach to political education was evident from
the lapidary nature of the questions posed and the answers
supplied. Last year’s notorious entries, ‘FoucaultlDerrida: enemies of Marxism?’ (answer: yes) had given way this year to the
tame, but equally unambiguous, ‘Postmodernismlcultural materialism; alternatives to Marxism?’ (answer: no). There were some
surprises however. The answer to the teasing question, ‘Operabourgeois entertainment or radical culture?’ was radical culture.

Bored with Neighbours, according to Anthony Arblaster, revolutionaries everywhere were now flocking to Cosi Fan Tutte. This
unexpected valorisation of opera, as an oasis of near extinct
revolutionary aesthetic practice, seemed perverse in the light of
the wholesale refusal to analyse mass culture. Gareth Jenkins
seemed happier to have insulted Adorno than to have read him.

Had he done so he could have pointed out that so-called ‘high’

culture is no more exempt from commodity fetishism than ‘low’

culture. Besides which the question of the revolutionary potential
of art cannot be reduced to the question of which areas of culture
do or should or did appeal to the workers.

Another surprise, given that the talks were not designed to
appeal to academics or sophisticates, was the readiness to invoke
Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle or chaos theory in considering
the alleged determinism of Marx’s theory of history. The presupposition behind this seemed to be that philosophical theory is
bourgeois and elitist whilst scientific theory is inherently democratic and intelligible. However, one contribution to the ensuing
discussion bucked the trend by quoting Lenin, quoting Engels,
quoting Hegel that, ‘freedom is the recognition of necessity’, a

speculative insight which felt out of place in a discussion where
the self-evidence of theoretical physics was preferred to the
difficulties of the dialectic.

Modernism: Poetics, Politics, Practice at King’s College, Cambridge was very much an academic affair. It had the cosy atmosphere of a symposium, because the forty-two contributors, mainly
from the field of English Literature, made up a considerable part
of the audience. The prohibitive price of the tickets prevented
many students from participating. Last-minute visitors were
turned away at the door, on the grounds that the conference had
been sold out in advance, although there were plenty of seats
available inside. Perhaps the corporate clients of the sponsors had
failed to turn up again.

Proceedings began with Gillian Rose performing ‘The Comedy of He gel and the TrauerspieZ of Modern Philosophy’ , arguing
that Absolute Spirit must be read as the venture of recognition
rather than the perfectibility of pneuma. Simon Jarvis spoke in the
same session on reciprocity and soteriology, melding Marcel
Mauss with an Adornian materialist understanding of literature.

Jacqueline Rose adumbrated certain analogies between Woolf’s
idea of nationless women, and the problem of Zionism in Dorothy
Richardson. In the evening Suzanne Raitt and Laura Marcus cohosted a chat about ‘Modernism and the New Biography’. On
Sunday, Helga Geyer-Ryan deconstructedjustice from Homer to
Kafka in half an hour. As if this were not enough she also
insinuated the demise of Marxism as an intellectual discourse
(and the collapse of Eastern Europe to boot) from Derrida’s
critique of WaIter Benjamin. This extraordinarily ambitious paper followed Drew Milne’s sober, but high-speed, essay on
revolutionary art and the philosophy of history. Milne drew on
Marx’s critique of neo-classicism in The 18th Brumaire and
Benjamin’ s reflections on history to evaluate Ian Hamilton Finlay’ s
provocative use of classical motifs.

Despite some very interesting contributions ‘Modernism:

Poetics, Politics, Practice’ suffered from too many speakers and
not enough discussion. The situation was not eased by the
arbitrary juxtaposition of the papers, which precluded dialogue
between the speakers, a dialogue which might have justified there
being so many speakers in the first place. For instance, Diana
Collecott on ‘H.D., Hellenism, and Saphhic Modernism’ was
programmed to speak with Andrew Michael Roberts on ‘Men and
Traffic: Economies of Masculine Desire in Konrad’s “Karain”
and the Nissan Primer Advert, “Car Wash”‘. Any continuities,
and there were continuities, were fortuitous. It is one thing to
diagnose a fragmentation of discourses, and quite another to
create one. In this respect Marxism 93 was a better organised
event, with fewer speakers, longer papers and more time for
questions afterwards.

Gordon Finlayson
Radical Philosophy 66, Spring 1994

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