Monday, January 27, 2014

Marx, Marxist, marxists...

After reading Marx and most of the blog posts already presented, I am struck by how my impressions of Marx diverge from Marx’s own words in The German Ideology.  Continuing our, perhaps over used but endlessly entertaining, metaphor from the first class, I showed up to the party. Over heard some partially disparaging rumors about Marx, and then introduced myself to him proper. In this week’s readings, three factors struck me as particularly productive and or insightful. By productive, I mean that I now understand why Marx himself may not have been a marxist. A proverb whose true meaning escaped me until as recently as my Saturday readings.  These three items center neatly around ideology, Marx’s ontology, and finally the ubiquity of marxist thoughts in my daily course readings.
Marx’s ideological and ontological insights fit neatly together.  Contrary to earlier rumors and whispers of Marx,  I found his empiricist, at times strictly empiricist, conception of reality mildly surprising.  Of course, given the heavy materialism, attacks on the Hegelian idealists, and emphasis on false consciousness, my surprise is perhaps born of my own ignorance.  After all, the suggestion of false consciousness perfunctory assumes a true consciousness which is inherently suggestive a one discoverable reality. Yet, the vigor, and frankly sass, with which Marx regards such idealists was refreshing: “The most recent of them have found the correct expression for their activity when they declare they are only fighting against “phrases”. They forget,however, that they themselves are opposing nothing but phrases to these phrases, and that they are in now way combating the real existing world when they are combating solely the phrases of the world.” (Marx, The German Ideology, p. 36).  A note that has been repeatedly sung by authors in our field like Dana Cloud.
In one recent, also Saturday, reading concerning a critical approach to interpersonal communication, Marx’s contributions to critical theory unhindered by failed predictions became obvious.  Lannaman (1991) critiques the interpersonal communication field for assuming the isolated monadic nature of the individual. Questions of intentionality, consequence, and awareness are largely uninterrogated in interpersonal communication. Other stones left unturned include questions of the material and cultural positions of interviewed participants. A critique that can easily be extended to cognitive psychologists etc.. Of course, Lannaman draws off of Althusser more than a pure Marx reading of marxism. But both Lannaman and Marx critique the individualist assumptions of liberalism.  For Lannaman and Marx, contemporary interpersonal communication scholars commit the sins of past historiographers when the take “Every epoch at its words and believes that everything it says and imagines about itself is true” (Marx, The German Ideology, p. 71).
Such a use and reading of Marx suggests two things. First, though in fields sympathetic to critical study Marx and marxist critiques of the perception of the liberal and enlightened individual are common, outside of our offices and bookshelves this assumption continues and informs the foundations of entire fields.  Perhaps, we might add this analysis to Sunkara’s  “Why the Ideas of Karl Marx Are More Relevant Than Ever in the 21st Century.” Finally, Marx’s empiricist and positivist approach to a single material reality foreshadows later authors who may disagree with his ontological assumption.

Lannaman, J.W. (1991). Interpersonal communication research as ideological practice. Communication Theory, 1(3), 179-203.

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