Communism Can Only Be Radical Plebeian Democracy: Remarks on the Experience of S. F. R. Yugoslavia and on Civil Society (2011-14) (12,900 words)


The essay is divided into approach and two parts plus a short Communism; plebeian summation. The approach poses the theme of nexus between democracy; S. F. R. communism and democracy as the only hope to oppose the Yugoslavia; disalienation; present neo-fascist turn of capitalism. Part 1 discusses central Gramsci political choices after the Yugoslav 1941–45 revolution, focusing on its popular revolutionary horizon as well as on disalienation of labour in workers’ self-management, and sketching the history of their achievements and then reflux after the 1960s. The three available politico-economic horizons were a Soviet-style police state, “market socialism,” and a fully associational plebeian democracy. Choosing the second solution meant, in the absence of central planning, a slide towards a market without democratic control and swayed by international centres of financial capital plus the six or seven regional centres of power in the “federal republics,” inevitably turning to nationalism. This led to economic and state disaster. Part 2 discusses plebeian democracy in a participatory mode, foregrounding the need for open politics in post-revolutionary societies and what might a real “civil society” be (Gramsci). The conclusion is not only that Marx’s horizon of communism can only be radical plebeian democracy, but also that only communism can be radical plebeian democracy.

Here I need to pour out my heart: you need to hear the truth. (Robespierre 1989, 333)

The counter-revolution is in the management of the finances. (Robespierre 1989, 358)

We shall perish because we did not want to seize the moment marked in the history of humans to found liberty. (Robespierre 1989, 361; fragments from the last speech before the Convent, Eighth Thermidor Year II of July 26, 1794)

Hence arises a possible conflict between what is and what ought to be. . . . (Hegel 1820, 4)

1. Approach

Both democracy and communism, the two great attempts at collective power, have led to violent catastrophes, as Jacques Rancière noted in a recent interview (Rancière 2010). I believe this is because democracy and communism were sundered instead of fused. Thus we need to discuss the lessons of the past for the future. I shall therefore turn to what the S. F. R. Yugoslav object-lesson can illuminate about why and how the fusion should and could have come about.

Socialist or communist revolutions against capital have in their first historical round, identifiable with Hobsbawm’s “short twentieth century” of 1917–89, failed to reach their own horizons, which also means they have pragmatically failed. There were heaven-storming hopes, even great and memorable successes, but the revolutions finally did not overcome the formidable internal and external obstacles which we can in one word call capital—outside and inside the countries of revolution. How can we begin summarizing the lessons of that failure? In three ways, I believe: reconsidering the economics of the “transition period” between the revolution and its goal of a fully just communist society, by taking for its red thread the cruces of accumulation and planning;1

reconsidering our epistemology, which also means methodology—that is, how to understand a fast changing history; and reconsidering the indispensable nexus between communism and democracy. I shall in this essay deal only with this third reconsideration, though it meshes strongly with the other two. The methodology will be implicitly present, while political economy is considered in another essay (Suvin 2015), from which I have borrowed considerations for my part 2.


It should be clear that modern technology, as it has been shaped by the needs of capitalism and warfare, cannot exist without extensive planning; all the mass media heavy drum-fire against planning for the last century is merely a smokescreen for leaving planning to the large corporations and their divisions of the market as well as to governments controlled by them spending taxpayers’ money (see Best and Connolly 1982, 32–40, 207: US government spending rose from 8.2% of GNP in 1913 to 38.1% in 1977, while in World War II it peaked at nearly 50%). In other words, a socialist/communist political programme would at some not too distant point have to plan also the problem of reshaping technology for its own needs, to make it as far as possible disalienating inside each single plant and eco-sustainable outside of it; I deal here only with planning within early socialism. In fact, Lenin took his cue for improvising largely from the central planning introduced in all major capitalist states during World War I, especially the German one whose efficiency he much admired, and “the war economy remained the basic model of the Soviet planned economy” (Hobsbawm 2011, 9). However, this super-productivist economism determining politics had the downside of being totally unfit for industrial democracy.

What happened in Yugoslavia under “market socialism” was a dismantling and jettisoning of planning. Yet intelligent planning was the key to solving the major societal contradictions and aporias of what happens during industrialization after a revolution that dispossessed the (largely foreign) capitalist class, including planning’s hidden twin and political analogue, the place and extent of plebeian democracy from below as its indispensable partner. By 1965, planning by basic proportions was replaced by even vaguer “indicative planning,” and federal plans became largely political pious wishes.

This meant surrender to the capitalist market. However, “[s]tandard economic reasoning tells us that, in a typical underdeveloped country, the market mechanism can produce inferior investment decisions” (Milenkovitch 1971, 294). The major argument against market reliance, developed in both titles by Polanyi, was handily summarized by Joseph E. Stiglitz in his 2001 “Foreword” to The Great Transformation:

[Polanyi clarifies] how free market ideology was the handmaiden for [bourgeois] industrial interests, and how those interests used that ideology selectively, calling upon government intervention when needed to pursue their own interests. . . . Today, there is no respectable intellectual support for the proposition that markets, by themselves, lead to efficient, let alone equitable outcomes. (Stiglitz 2006, vii–viii)

Further, the illuminating discussion of Elson richly argues that if one starts from the production and reproduction of labour power, which is wider than the needful attention to workers in paid labour, then a “politics of use values” could use a dialectical approach to the market. With Marx, the useful aspects of market coordination ought to be recognised, negatively as against the personal subalternity in feudalism and positively as helping the mutual satisfaction of needs, as well as the alienating aspect of enforcement of atomised profit mentality it necessarily carries. Not only do people in the cash nexus not at all matter, but their interests are a priori defined and strictly enforced as isolated, and information is valuable and used only insofar as it contributes to antagonistic competitive advantage (Elson 1988, 15). Probably even more important is the fact that “no economy can adjust solely through a market-led adjustment process because there are key resources which cannot be fully commodified. The most important are labour and the environment.” In families and households, “labour power . . . is not produced as a commodity” but as a mainly “altruistic collective behaviour . . . [in] a resource allocation pattern that is not wholly determined by [market prices]” (17; italics added).

A similar horizon is in Horvat’s position on “market as instrument of planning”: “there is today no so-called free market; it can be proven that planning is absolutely needed for its functioning well.” However, “the market could be one of the possible planning types, and one among the instruments for . . . the allocation of resources needed for consumption”—especially for short-range plans and consumption goods. This can be brought about by planning control of market forces and prices. However, drawing up the plans should be the prerogative of the people, that is, all economic subjects, with full feedback flow of information (Horvat 1967, 108–12; emphasis original). The system of self-government appears here as the ideal possibility of reconciling central planning with both democracy from below and efficient economic development (Kidrič envisaged this already in 1950).

For Kalecki, self-management in industry would be inseparable from central planning not only for emergencies such as initial industrialization (in which case capitalism also abundantly uses it, as in the World Wars and in general in military investments) but also when a higher level of economic growth is reached. The rejection of central planning implies

Putting my cards on the table, I consider integral self-government from below in all human affairs our only hope to oppose the barbarous neo-fascist turn of capitalism in which we are presently living. I have approached this thoroughly radical democracy or democratic communism in essays about utopianism and political epistemology (collected in Suvin 2010, 2011a, 2012a), to which I refer in lieu of further theory here. Further, I believe verbal indicatives are indispensable but insufficient unless faced with at least suggestions of inherent alternative possibilities as optative conjunctives of desire. There is no critical stance to societal history without the foil of utopia as eutopia, the good place, and at that, what Ernst Bloch in 1959 calls “concrete” utopia, in constant feedback with reality, and not a myth of imaginary achievement. Success has meaning only as opposed to failure and degradation as opposed to advancement.

2. Central political choices after the Yugoslav revolution

The experience of S. F. R. Yugoslavia is best divided into three phases (I have argued this at length in my essays [Suvin 2012b, 2013b]): ca. 1952 to 1965, the ascending phase; 1965 to 1972, a failed reform and transition to degeneration; and 1972 to the end, stasis and repression. Internationally, before ca. 1973, political pressures allowed economic growth outside the capitalist metropolitan areas, violating exclusive profit logic. This was followed by a period of erosion, crisis, and breakdown of the “antifascist” phase and eventually the return to “pure” profit capitalism, to all of which Yugoslavia became a prime example. After this date, S. F. R. Yugoslavia as a community still did some good things for hundreds of thousands of people, but it was a devolving caricature of the original idea (see Horvat 1972, 54; Comisso 1979, 124–35).

I propose to discuss first a central political knot after the Yugoslav revolution, and then the politics of a possible disalienating communist democracy.

2.1. Disalienation of labour as self-determination

I ground myself in the Archimedean starting point of Marx’s anthropology of labour, alienation and disalienation in societal life. He did not work out a theory of political disalienation of labour beyond some precious and central theses about revolution and proletarian power (see Feenberg 2002, especially 51–60). Still, in his doctrine it would have to be

“either abandoning rapid economic development, or dependence on permanent foreign assistance” (Kalecki 1992, 62): as we have seen, Yugoslavia after the 1960s managed to combine both these negativities.

The Yugoslav government ad hoc countermeasures that took the place of planning ensured neither market nor planning would work properly. A retrospective survey of problems and opinions on the Yugoslav use of the market and then of the plan is in Korošić (1988, 250–59, 271–79).

based on what might be called the organisation of use-value politics within people’s selfgovernment:

In fact, however, when the limited bourgeois form is stripped away, what is wealth other than the universality of individual needs, capacities, pleasures, productive forces, etc., created through universal exchange? . . . The absolute working-out of [man’s] creative potentialities, with no presupposition other than the previous historic development, which makes this totality of development, i.e., the development of all human powers as such the end in itself, not as measured on a predetermined yardstick? Where he does not reproduce himself in one specificity, but produces his totality? Strives not to remain something he has become, but is in the absolute movement of becoming? (Marx 1973, 488)

Thus, Marx’s key category of “productive forces” ought to be looked at, as against economism, as “the term designating the sum-total of the resources for liberation available to a given society” (Marcuse 1988, 213)—and the most important “machine [or] instrument of production [is] the working class itself” (Gramsci 1955, 134; reprinted in Horvat, Marković and Supek 1975, 232). Or, in late Althusser’s language, following Lenin, Mao, and Gramsci: the relations of production, focused by and on class struggles, have precedence over productive forces (Althusser 2011, 56, 240–45). In that vein, Burawoy rightly notes that “the creative transformation of nature (labor) and the collective self-regulation of society (politics)” are firmly linked, so that the disjuncture of production and politics is counterproductive (Burawoy 1981, 83; see Wood 1995, 19 and passim). Their separation is a quintessentially capitalist move, a new thing under the sun of history stemming from the desire to evade any and all societal regulation in order to ensure their sectarian quest for profits. This is taken over by socialist economism and productivism which reduces socialism to the labour process and relations within it, isolated from the democratic control of society from below.

After his early writings, Marx focused on the analysis of labour and capital as the strategic way of understanding emancipation, and refused politics as a ploy of exploiters. Yet in so doing he assumed that associational democracy would be consubstantial with an emancipated labour process. We have learned that politico-ideological emancipation is just as necessary within and for the process of overcoming class society, and must proceed as a mass self-education process at the same time if the reorganisation of production is to come fully about. Unfortunately, the practice of the endangered and then ossified USSR belied the strongly emancipative aspect of Lenin’s theory and abandoned politics exclusively to the domain of Party/State rule. Inside the European left this stance was countered only by the “council communism” of Pannekoek and Korsch, best developed by Gramsci’s uniting it with post-Lenin political struggle. Even Lukács’s reappropriation of Marx for the analysis of production as reification (in Geschichte) shared the messianic illusion, as he later phrased it, that the revolution in power will automatically abolish societal alienation. “Western Marxism” then stressed the reification, having learned from experience that messianic confidence in the revolution, the Party or even the industrial proletariat is by itself insufficient and can turn pernicious, as Bloch (1959) once phrased it, behind the citoyen came the bourgeois: God help us, who is coming behind the comrade?

Thus we cannot be exempted from discussing how “relationships of production” present within production complexly interact with the aspects outside production: both of these aspects participate, in different ways, in what we categorize as economics and politics, and to call either only economic or only political leads to grievous error. This is true even for capitalism, but it holds in spades for “socialist” societies where “[a] defining feature . . . is the fusion of the apparatuses of the workplace with those of the State” (Burawoy 1981, 113; italics original).

Within such a fusion, self-management poses central questions for a radical democracy. First of all, can the relation between economic enterprises and the state be rethought around disalienating self-government? For, self-determination (Marcuse 1964, 251–52) is broader than the somewhat bureaucratic term of self-management which does not clearly connote the radical liberatory aims and horizon of collective emancipation of one and all. My persuasion is that it centrally needs an integral plebeian civic democracy, both economic and political, intertwining with self-management in the workplace in the manner of a double helix, and encompassing both the traditional negative and positive freedoms, much in the manner of Roosevelt’s “four freedoms” (see Passerin d’Entrèves 1962, 282–305, especially 292–93). The negative freedoms at best protect individuals, the positive ones constitute popular sovereignty. This fusion constituting a radical plebeian democracy is the institutional form of what I mean here by communism.

In this paper I use as a shorthand for people whose interests and practice are opposed to the exploiters and power-holders the term “plebeian,” as Brecht did (also Babeuf and Bakhtin). I could also have used (just as metaphorically) Marx’s term “proletarian,” but it seemed to me that the first designation was not only less abused in history and less tied to the industrial workers of the nineteenth century type, but that it also stressed the element of civic opposition to the state power of a ruling class rather than the equally important position within the production process. In a wider sense, I would mean by either of these terms a congeries of social classes—in propitious cases a historical block—defined as working for their subsistence and not having had political power: the working people (radni narod). The plebeians are the only societal segment whose interests demand a thoroughgoing and radical democracy.

2.2. A plebeian revolutionary horizon and achievements

In a Leninist post-revolutionary system all means of production (except a few remnants, and in the case of Yugoslavia also most agriculture) have been taken over by the state run by a single party which also had a political and organisational monopoly: the Party-State. Power is here wielded—unless counteracted by strong democratic pressures from below— by a relatively small oligarchy, in this case a politocracy. It drew its legitimacy first from the revolutionary achievements of plebeian upward mobility, which changed the life of millions for the better, and the attendant defence of independence, but then increasingly from the population’s standard of living. The system therefore had, unless it were to rely largely on police repression, to achieve a noticeable and ongoing economic surplus, and had to have it distributed in a way that appeared justified to the majority of the population, especially the industrial working class and other city dwellers. Therefore, on the one hand, disposal of the surplus value arising from labour-power—which had to be balanced between industrialisation, defence, and standard—became a crux; in Yugoslavia, as in the USSR, “the source of rapid capital accumulation [was left unresolved]” (Woodward 1995, 75 and passim).[1] At the start, the Yugoslav communists hoped for “fraternal aid” by the socialist countries of the Soviet bloc; instead, they got exploitation and attempts at takeover rammed down their throats. Ironically, Tito then found in the Yugoslav Army and its unique strategic value a source of both military and civilian US and West European aid. This was considerable, and—together with the surrender of their surplus labour, at first enthusiastically post-revolutionary and then customary, by most Yugoslav city dwellers—tended to solve for a good while, say for 20 years, the pressing problem of accumulation source (Lampe 2000, 276; Heuser 1989, 219; Mates 1976, 202–4; Gnjatović 1985, 129 and passim).

However, on the other hand it is central to grasp that, in order to continue at all, capitalism needs an ongoing, permanent “primitive accumulation,” devastating further regions of nature and social life, up to the women, virtual space, genome, and intellect (Harvey 2010, 304–5; and see the pioneering Luxemburg 1968). Thus capital accumulation in Yugoslavia was unable to proceed for two reasons: negatively, because of cultural—including technological—backwardness; but then positively, because it meant the all-round disempowerment and alienation of people. However, the Yugoslav revolution had originally been expressly designed—like all such great plebeian uprisings from the French through the Russian to the Chinese and some following revolutions—to strongly limit these blights by means of “elements of solidarity, social responsibility, [and] control over the market mechanisms, worked into its institutional frame” (Močnik 2011, 149), and even to begin abolishing them. While S. F. R. Yugoslavia eventually embarked upon the road of capitalisation, it did so much too slowly and imperfectly by capitalist standards: in order to bring about full capitalism without a human face, which we are seeing in these last decades, it had to be destroyed.

Was there an alternative to the degeneration and eventual crash? My hypothesis is that there was, and that the only one was a further development of the tradition of the partisan popular revolution expressed in the great slogans, “Death to fascism, liberty to the people” (smrt fašizmu—sloboda narodu!) and “Brotherhood and unity” (bratstvojedinstvo), that is, of an orientation toward a plebeian alliance from below. This had made the Party shy away from Stalinist parasitary and stagnant monopolism with its unbearable cost in terror and people’s blood. The Yugoslav rulers and theoreticians attempted after 1949, with notable but less than full success, to get rid of the officially execrated Stalinism, deeply rooted both in the old Party cadres and the widespread peasant-cum-patriarchal petty-bourgeois mentality, and to go back to the radical Lenin of The State and Revolution (1918), whose libertarianism also struck a deep chord in the traditions of popular self-government and of partisan self-reliance (see Buden 2013; Denitch 1976, 153; Woodward 1995, 52; and for Yugoslav mentalities, Suvin 2013b). The 1945–52 years I have called the double Yugoslav plebeian singularity of partisan

Table 1. Growth of some key indicators, 1953–1961.

Real social product per capita (analogous to GNP, in 1960 dinars) Literacy %, age 10 and above Population % in cities above 20,000 Motor power, KW/ employed person
947 74% 13.8 1.7 (1951)
1,636 82% 22.4 2.12

Source: Wachtel (1973, 3; adapted), with “motor power” added from Bićanić and Hanžeković (1973, 88).

victory—with political centralisation and speedy economic reconstruction of the country following—and then of successful break with Stalinism. This resulted in the major breakthrough of the workers’ self-management idea: Kidrič envisaged a system which would soon combine central planning with a “council” system elected from below and through all levels, up to the federal government (see Suvin 2011b; Borgese 1975), as a potentially democratic way of running independent entities producing commodities— perhaps approaching “a planned economy using a regulated market mechanism” (Brus 1975, 74). In 1953, the Yugoslav economy took off after years of scarcity, and at least one factor of the boom was the enthusiasm created by the Workers’ Councils—which in the seven years after 1950 had 1,129,000 members in a country of under 20 million, of which 75% were supposed to be manual workers from the shop floor (Čolaković 1963, 535). At the same time, the Party changed from a cadre to a mass one, and changed its name at the Sixth Congress of 1952 to League of Communists, signalling a return from Stalin to Marx. Due to pressure from below, the self-management organs in industries gradually gained greater influence over some key decisions, including those about workers’ income (after subtraction of state taxes). Further, the area of operation of self-management was in 1953 extended from industry to state agriculture, trade, construction, transport, and communications, and then also to education, culture, health services, banking, and insurance (it was not applied to the army and security services, public administration, and the administration of justice, where the Party cells were supposed to provide the necessary balances). Soon self-management was timidly introduced to the “parliamentary” or electoral system at the levels of commune, district, republic,[2] and federation; I mention this in 2.2.

The 1957–61 Five-Year Plan had a resounding success. Some results of those years can be seen in tables compiled from official statistics.

In Comisso’s (1979, 56) fair judgment, “data . . . do indeed show a high rate of growth, industrial expansion, an increase in the standard of living, and a shift of employment from the primary into the secondary and tertiary spheres of the economy.” Further, “labor productivity rose an average of about 4% . . . a surprising achievement when employment was also rising” (Dirlam and Plummer 1973, 158). Yet Yugoslavia was still “a relatively underdeveloped, and extremely unevenly developed, economy, with an inadequate infrastructure . . .” (Prout 1985, 5), with a per capita social product about half that of Italy. Furthermore, while improving, productivity was still low. And trouble was brewing because of some central structural contradictions.

A strong harbinger of possible changes was, despite its many compromises, the Party program promulgated in 1958 at the Seventh Congress, which was also notable for the all-time high of 32% worker members. The program had a strongly resonating concluding chord: “Nothing that has been created must be so sacred for us that it cannot be surpassed and cede its place to what is still more progressive, more free, more human” (Pribichevich 1958, 263).

Table 2. Socio-economic indicators, 1950–1970.

  1950 1960 1970
GDP per capita (in 1966 prices) 216 333 520
Infant mortality (per 1000 live births) 119 88 55
Illiteracy (% of population 10 and above) 25 20 15
Population per doctor 3,360 1,474 1,010
Radio receivers (per 1,000 persons) 21 78 166
Autombiles (per 1,000 persons) 0.4 2.9 35
Urban population (%) 21 28 39

Source: Lampe (2000, 295).

2.3. The reflux of the plebeian tide

However, in the 1950s, two momentous changes had become unquestioned and deeply embedded. First, “however intimately the economy, the State and the Party might remain interconnected and controlled by the last, . . . these three basic ‘sub-systems’ had been definitely disaggregated and given separate formal structures with inherent capacities for autonomous growth” (Rusinow 1977, 80). Second, the process of decentralising party control from the top but not transferring power to the lowest levels created a middle layer of state and party officials, who were very anxious to preserve their positions and therefore became pillars of dogmatism and the establishment (Bićanić and Hanžeković 1973, 69); furthermore, these local rulers came to exercise great discretion in economic matters and invariably used their power to pursue the interests of their own region, which . . . amounted to obtaining investments for the construction of industry and then protecting that industry at any cost (Paul Shoup, quoted in Rusinow 1977, 49). The “commune” oligarchy level, for which power was synonymous with opening jobs and extensive economic development, was well integrated with the republican level. Since it was paid out of taxes on production, as time went on it became one of the main drags on self-management and democratisation (see Bakarić 1983, vol. 2, 398)—eventually second only to the republican administrations. These oligarchies below the federal level grew into the root cause for “a non-existent and increasingly evasive ideological and political consensus” (Rusinow 1977, 112; see Horvat 1969, 75), which held up a rational rethinking within the ruling oligarchy. The dilemma was, as always, whether to carry out the further democratisation from below, which would inevitably begin spilling over from economics to politics, or to return to central rule from above. The compromise solution was to do neither but to give more power to the republican administrations—“that is, the creation of a federation which cannot rule over the bureaucratic elements in the republics” (Bakarić 1983, vol. 1, 627). The republican governments, which tended from the very beginning to centralise all in their hands, were eventually left to grow by default into separate “State capitalisms.” The economy stalled and eventually plummeted.

In such a bind, the Western type of market appeared after 1965 to most people in the oligarchy, and of course in the rising “middle class,” as the new saviour; industries which could compete in it had to be favoured. Besides, economic objectives of the “reform” in and after 1965, its key political plank was that the share of enterprises in the net social product should rise to 70% (Bakarić 1983, vol. 2, 173): this failed. Instead, the three main consequences of the 1965 reform were, first, conspicuous economic instability. Most worrisome for societal solidarity were rising unemployment at a time when the better schooled post-war generation was looking for work, and inflation, caused both by high import costs and by domestic factors—such as the low productivity, both in industry and in agriculture, which henceforth became a fixture and led to marked inefficiency of Yugoslav investments as compared to other countries of European periphery (Bajt 1988, 13). The inflation came to average 22% by the early 1970s and began affecting the real wage (see Woodward 1995; Bićanić and Hanžeković 1973; Tyson 1981). I shall develop this in 2.4.

Second, the balance between the federal centre and the republics was drastically and permanently altered in favour of the latter. The transfer of responsibility for social services from the federal centre to the communes, and then increasingly to the republics, both entailed a transfer of loyalties by those served and reduced funds. This was one more factor of the third consequence, increasing societal polarisation reversing the post-war trend. Income growth rates of the upper 10% grew in the late 1960s to more than double of the bottom 40% (Comisso 1979, 96). On the one pole, there was an exodus of workers to Western Europe with a peak at around 1 million people by 1973; on the other, a lightning concentration of capital in the reformed banks which could now be founded not only by local communities but primarily or exclusively by business enterprises. The banks soon accounted for a whopping 45–50% of all fixed-asset investments and, in cahoots with republican authorities, disposed of foreign currency earnings. The government could only resort to ad hoc zigzagging by means of “administrative” monetary policy, a few remaining federal subsidies and investments, as well as temporary extraordinary fiscal measures. While this meant that its remnant redistributive role “helped to keep differences in the social standard of living from growing intolerable” (up to the 1980s), it also meant that federal intervention was done without long-range planning, and “not surprisingly created more problems than it solved” (Comisso 1979, 91, 80). Finally, after initial successes industrial production fell in the 1970s to the fourth source of currency revenues by value, after remittances from workers abroad, tourism, and agriculture. This was a resounding defeat of the industrialisation political plank.

The federal state was economically indeed withering away, and so was rapid economic progress in production and standard of living. The economic consequences came to a head much later, but the political instability and polarisation were immediate—the student revolt in 1968 and the Croatian slide toward nationalism interrupted in 1971—and ominous, especially as their root causes were not addressed. Just as ominous was the turn to International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans, given in 1965 to Yugoslavia as the first “socialist” country.

2.4. Three politico-economic horizons

In sum, I argue in this first part that the oligarchy’s counter-offensive against the trend toward plebeian associational democracy based on self-management develops after 1968 into political disorientation, fruitlessly papered over by a feverish proliferation of measures and laws, and brings about elements of vigorously developing capitalist relationships. Such judgements hinge on what were the alternatives. For if there were none, one could assume the politocracy was doing the best of a bad job: since that had to end as it did, in the downfall and destruction of both socialism and the small state of Yugoslavia, it would follow that this state and societal experiment was doomed from the word go. Having lived through the glorious years of the Yugoslav socialist wager, and then reflected upon its eventual decay from afar, I refuse to believe this. To my mind there existed three possible, theoretically exclusive horizons.

The year 1948 was marked by the rejection of the first one, a Soviet-style police state with totally centralized detail planning, as both intrinsically abhorrent and achievable only by full submission to Stalin.

The second horizon was rendered ever more urgent by what was in my judgement a necessary opening to the capitalist market and therefore to a confrontation with its evolving ideologies, and it might just as well be called by that dubious name, market socialism. It was the minimum common denominator of an intra-oligarchy compromise, and “[its] use as the basic coordinator of Yugoslav economic life was . . . more a decision by default than an act of positive policy” (Comisso 1979, 75; Samary 1988, 155). The market was mystified as “a socialist invisible hand” (Milenkovitch 1971, 285), and vehemently opposed to federal planning—to what Brus identifies as “the model of a planned economy using a regulated market mechanism” for better economic accountability (Brus 1975, 74; see also Horvat 1967). If not corrected by and subordinated to strong planning and fencing-in measures, the market had potential elements of reintroduction of capitalism. And in fact “the Yugoslav market did not follow the path foretold by neoliberal capitalist ideology, from a market regulated by the Party/State to a free market, but to a regulated market broken away from any democratic control and ruled by international centres of financial capital” (Buden 2012).

I cannot discuss here the many improvisations tending toward a kind of co-operative plus state capitalism—in the Yugoslav case, a confederation of major republican state capitalisms—but they were inexorably strengthening the probability of what historically happened: a potential division into comprador bourgeoisies and mafias, actualized as soon as the Cold War confrontation was definitely dissolved.

However, this alternative could be urged as the only one to avoid the police state only insofar as it was wilfully denied and occulted that there existed an already partially mobilized, popular, and quite well functioning germ of a third, properly plebeian socialist horizon. This third possibility was a fully associational plebeian democracy, consciously assuming the conflict between the old (capitalism and patriarchal power) and the new (democratic communism) as its orientation. This would have meant both accepting the consumer market as a reckoning device, that is, in a rather prudent and hedged about way, and denying the capitalist law of value in key sectors affecting the people’s wellbeing in favour of a supple planning. As of 1958, that halcyon time when the Party Program (Pribichevich 1958) called for “the transformation of all State organs into organs of self-government,” this vision was a widespread horizon, a Blochian “concrete”—that is, possible—utopia. It is then that in the republican and federal Assemblies, beside two chambers composed of professional politicians, three chambers were added (for economic policies, for social services and health, and for education and culture) composed from delegates of basic organisations in the field, and having no financial privileges (see Marković 1986, 165–67). There were expectations and pressures at the time for developing self-management across the board: I shall adduce here only two arguments by Branko Horvat and Veljko Cvjetičanin.

Cvjetičanin wittily posed that self-management ought to have developed into a fully self-governing system across the board, expanding from within industry and social services into three dimensions, the horizontal, vertical, and depth one. By horizontal, he meant the very neglected dimension of broadening self-government into the territorial communities, from the basic “communes” to the republics and then the federation as a whole. This would have been important for de-alienating the rapidly growing “lonely crowd” of the urban centres—where the interesting organisational form of residential or housing community (stambena zajednica) was never given sufficient funds nor attention to develop—as well as for de-provincializing the rural communities. “The [second or] vertical dimension of self-management is most sharply opposed to the state apparatus and is therefore the least developed one.” It could have developed in two ways: either as an integration filling the gap between the enterprise plans and the local community as well as central planning; or by economic branches, including “social services” such as health or education, in the form of several permanent central councils, each “a self-management congress or working people’s parliament, relying on scientific analyses and planning. In this case the State organs would truly become [as envisaged by Lenin and Kidrič, note added] auxiliary organs of this workers’ parliament.” The depth dimension meant a direct associational democracy, which is a key to socialism. It would mean creating presuppositions in all societal units for overcoming the division into leaders and the led (Cvjetičanin 1971, 252–54; see Supek 1970, 1979).

Horvat agreed that “self-government has to be carried over to the total community.” Furthermore, he pointed out this democratisation would have to prominently include the ruling Party, voiding the dominant hierarchic, semi-military relationships obtaining in it:

This means that the [Party] must transform itself from an organisation with a centralised initiative into an organisation with decentralised initiative, from an organisation where the leadership exclusively controls the membership into an organisation in which the members also have the possibility of controlling the agencies of leadership and where, in the decision process, communications and directives circulate both up and down. (Horvat 1969, 209; see Milosavlevski 1971, 248–49 and passim)

The development into a fully self-governing system of communist democracy did not come about, in my hypothesis, because both the federal or centralising and the republican or decentralising factions of the ruling oligarchy had one overriding class interest: to avoid endangering their power and class status. They had to ward off introduction of full economic democracy, which would be necessarily accompanied by political democracy (a budding civil society within and for the revolution, as theorized by Gramsci, to whom I shall return) and by the management of open conflicts within the most interesting 1963 Constitution, though not by a multi-party system. The oligarchy’s myopic optimism probably did not allow them to envisage the baneful results of a national economy incapable of making “a strong, concentrated effort [in any field]” (Marković 1974, 104), but at any rate this took second place to keeping power. The weak centre was thus as of the 1960s outflanked by republican ruling classes increasingly at odds with each other, a decisive number of which eventually grew into the role of secessionist compradors. The refusal to collocate self-management in production within a process of disalienation through full self-government—that is, within a plebeian democracy—resulted finally in the downfall of both self-management and Yugoslavia

Table 3. Decline of the social sector, 1960–1985 (change in %).

  Average per annum 1960–70 Average per annum 1970–79 Average per annum 1979–85 Total


Social product (1972 prices) 6 4.5 –0.5 –3.1
Consumption per person (1972 prices) 5.7 4.5 –1.3 –7.7
Real product (per employee in social sector) 4.3 1.8 –3.5 –19.5
Real net personal income (per employee in productive social sector) 6.8 2.1 –4.7 –27.9

Source: Lampe (2000, 323).

2.5. Signs of disaster

The resulting stasis continued for a quarter century (see table 3).

Such an abolition of a unifying centre was (with uncanny unconscious precision) called “depoliticisation”; while possibly a good thing when countering the economically untenable arbitrary centralism of the Stalinist type as well as arbitrary communal parochialism, as a general principle this cut also—and primarily—against legitimate political interests from within the self-management system. It showed a deplorable lack of awareness that every economy is politically framed. An eminent student of self-management concluded bitterly in 1966:

For self-management is essentially a problem of democratic planning. . . . Even in Yugoslavia, the problem is so far being solved that it is not impossible we may yet regard that country as an object-lesson in pitfalls, rather than the brave pilot which it looked like being in the beginning. (Coates 1975, 108)

The most glaring result of the imaginative and political failure after 1965 was the rocket-like rise of unemployment. Woodward shows that even before 1965 the steady growth of ca. 4% in the “social sector” employment failed to compensate for the huge outflow from the peasantry. The numbers of registered job seekers oscillated primarily in function of worker migration abroad, which subsided abruptly with the economic downturn in the West from 1973 on; but this statistic did not count unregistered workers with low skills and low wages shifting seasonally around the country. By 1970, almost a half of all unemployed people were under 25, and the percentage kept rising (Jerovšek, Rus, and Županov 1986, 210).

According to the World Bank report by Schrenk, Ardalan and Tatawy (1979), those not employed inside the country reached 14.7% in 1973, though I would assume the unregistered workers, camouflaged here mainly as peasants, amounted to several hundreds of thousands more (see table 4 and Suvin 2012b).

It appears that the outflow of migrant workers abroad had two components, especially after the mid-1960s: the most highly skilled, and the unskilled or semi-skilled. Drulović (1978, 187–88) counts the “highly skilled” in 1971 as 3% of the migrants, evenly divided between intellectual and manual workers; they were joined by a mass of unskilled workers (over 76%, of which 60% fresh from the farm), and a middle-sized group of lower skilled workers. Rus (in Jerovšek, Rus, and Županov 1986, 210) cites a study by which the share of the job-seekers from two upper skill levels rose from below 20% in 1957 to over 50% in 1982. Research agrees that in the first wave ca. 2/3 of workers left because of too low earnings, especially to afford an apartment, and a bit above 1/3 because of unemployment. Most of such Gastarbeiter (guest workers) lived abroad as a rule in horrendous circumstances, but their average monthly wage was in the mid1960s 750 West German marks (236,000 old dinars), as compared to the ca. 210 marks at home. At that time, about 40% of workers had monthly incomes below 190 marks (Bilandžić 1973, 260); a survey in 1967 found out the workers would have stayed in Yugoslavia had their income been 350 marks, which is almost double (Bilandžić 1973, 252).

Table 4. Employment status of labour force (in 000s, adapted).

  1969 1973 1975
In social sector 3,622 4,222 4,667
In private agriculture and artisanate 4,385 3,479 3,256
Temporarily abroad 572 1,100 900
Registered unemployed 198 229 324
Total labour force 8,777 9,030 9,147

Source: Schrenk, Ardalan and Tatawy (1979, 85).

Thus, I interpret Woodward to indicate that the ghettoized system of self-management necessarily turned inwards, and by protecting those already “in” at the expense of hiring new workers contributed to unemployment. As she notes, normal “frictional” unemployment in developed capitalism was 4–5%, in Yugoslavia as of the first statistic in 1952, it was above 7% (Woodward 1995, 4); counting both those abroad and registered job-seekers, in the 1960s, it hovered near 10%. It was de facto 13.5% in 1969, and 20% in 1975 (though in Slovenia it was practically non-existent and in Kosovo or Macedonia much larger). If we subtract from those securely employed the non-manual (white collar) workers and add to the non-officially employed the invisible seasonal workers, not to forget the rural and urban housewives who would in better times be seeking employment in the social sector, I would speculate the proportion was close to 3:1—three parts of the working class protected by the system (at least until the wild inflation and economic breakdown of the 1980s), one part not protected. Yet, as Woodward rightly stresses, Yugoslavia was officially designed around community through labour, so that unemployment meant moral and material marginalisation. Not counting peasants, to a quarter (or more) of working people solidarity, the central plank of all workers’ movements, socialist or communist, was not extended.

The ultimate political conclusion of Marx’s Capital is that a society relentlessly organized around value-creating labour not controlled by the associated workers necessarily lurches into a polarisation between the rich appropriators of surplus labour and a permanent mass of under- and un-employed: “[N]ot the least terrible [union of opposites discovered by Marx] is that indispensable function of capital to create what is blandly known as the reserve army of the proletariat” (Jameson 2009, 576). Thus the simultaneous appearance of what was in Yugoslavia officially called “the capital relation” and mass unemployment signalled that this terrible union of opposites had again been activated.

Exploitative class society was raising its head.

2.6. Conclusion on political choices after the Yugoslav revolution

What was needed in S. F. R. Yugoslavia, not least for a true socialisation of the means of production, was a full build-up of self-management into an associational substitute for the existing bourgeois parliamentarism combined with backstage Party rule: Brus pithily puts it as “not ‘depoliticisation of the economy’ but ‘democratisation of politics’” (1975, 91–92, and see his whole conclusion 85–103). Due to the deadlock in the Party, this was attempted in a half-hearted and inefficient way, and therefore failed. The political backers of self-management—a minor part of the ruling oligarchy, most of the humanist intelligentsia, and a majority of the atomised and silent industrial workers —lacked an embattled pressure from the plebeian depths which would have been allowed to organise within the bounds of the socialist constitution against the major part of the oligarchy.

3. Plebeian democracy and disalienation

I proceed with the political horizons of a disalienating communist democracy of interest today.

3.1. On the need for politics in post-revolutionary societies

In his magisterial essays on Gramsci, Eric Hobsbawm singled out as a key outline of his political theory the famous letter of 1931:

This study [of the intellectuals] also leads me to certain determinations of the State. Usually this is understood as political society (i.e. the dictatorship of coercive apparatus to bring the mass of the people into conformity with the type of production and economy dominant at any given moment) and not as an equilibrium between political society and civil society (i.e. the hegemony of a social group over the entire national society exercised through the so-called private organisations such as the Church, the trade unions, the schools, etc.). . . . (Hobsbawm 2011, 323; italics added)

I discuss elsewhere some aspects of terminology here, and focus here on the underlined relationship between state power with its coercion and what is here rightly called “civil society.” Quite at odds with the post-1990 fashion, but in the vein of Gramsci, I mean by this non-state socio-political agents that participate in a not only (nor even primarily) coercive but a persuasive hegemony. As in Gramsci, I see here the primary role of the revolutionary party, his “modern ruler,” after the armed shock of the revolution that mingles coercion and persuasion. My thesis is that despite some partially successful attempts (the mass organisations, the People’s Committees, and most of all the self-management system), the Yugoslav Party increasingly failed to understand and develop the necessity of persuasion in hegemony—in other words of setting up a full system of communist democracy—and as of the late 1960s therefore lost its vanguard role and credibility among key social classes, such as the manual workers and the left intellectuals (as it had lost it much earlier in the case of peasants). At stake is here, as Hobsbawm precisely notes, that “in the absence of hegemonic force, even revolutions can run into sand. . . . The struggle for hegemony before, during and after transition (whatever its nature and speed) remains crucial” (Hobsbawm 2011, 328; italics original).

This sense of the “party” has to do with Marx’s final conception of it as a kind of collector and articulator of all societal energies, proposals, and interests of the working class (or the plebeians, as I would say, which certainly includes Gramsci’s wider sense of intellectuals). The Bolshevik tradition, and especially the post-Lenin Comintern tradition, knew only mass reformist social-democratic parties or small revolutionary cadre parties, and therefore “could not yet think in terms of permanent and rooted, but at the same time revolutionary, mass working-class movements” (Hobsbawm 2011, 328). But only such a new understanding and mass practice could make of a revolution “not simply the expropriation of the expropriators, but also . . . the creation of a people, the realisation of a nation . . . as part of a process by which . . . a people changes and makes itself under the leadership of the new hegemonic class and its movement” (330)— Gramsci had in mind Italy, but this also applies to all countries East and South of it, with due adjustment for multiethnic complexities. For, “how can we expect to transform human life, to create a socialist society (as distinct from a socially owned and managed economy), when the mass of the people are excluded from the political process, and may be even allowed to drift into depoliticisation [not casually, as I noted above, a favourite Yugoslav slogan after 1965, note added] and apathy about public matters?” (332).

In brief, “socialism [is no] ‘easy’ system which solves all conflicts by the act of ‘expropriating the expropriators.’ Such utopian simplifications include . . . the view of the extraordinary ease of democratic government of a socialist State” (Brus 1975, 187). For a major example, it should be frankly recognized that the Yugoslav working classes in town and country were at the beginning, as Marx says of the peasants in 1840s France, countrywide “incapable of asserting their class interest in their own name,” and were therefore “being represented” (Marx 1937, chapter VII) by the Party in power. They were poorly communicating among themselves, just emerging out of and in good part still subject to poverty, and further isolated by the Party/State’s neglect of peasantry, its fragmenting stress on the individual competitive enterprises—and later, on republican economic areas—and its jealous mistrust of intellectuals outside the oligarchy.

To clarify what might be a radically democratic (communist) politics, I have to further disambiguate “civil society.”

3.2. Civil society: what is it, what for?

My main interest in this clearing of the ground is twofold: first, to draw a lesson from the yesterday of what passed for “socialism” (and especially S. F. R. Yugoslavia); second, to think about political possibilities compatible with a socialist horizon, though not necessarily fully identified with it, in and beyond the cannibalic capitalism today and tomorrow. In both cases, the potential role of civil society might be a key.[3]

The concept though not necessarily the term of civil society was revived in the societal protest movements that culminated in the 1968 metropolitan antiwar and youth revolts and its outliers, while a later variant in the 1990s, with the term foregrounded, was used as an ideological weapon in the struggles against a stifling “State socialism.” I have sympathies for some root democratic impulses in both of these processes and strong misgivings about many of their factual and ideological blunders—blunders associated in the first case with anarchism without intermediate goals, and in the second and graver case with uncritical support of a supposedly free market economy. Thus, it is by now quite clear that “[in E]astern Europe, civil-society discourse also had the function of keeping out any serious discussion about political economy and the restoration of capitalism—until the latter was a fait accompli” (Therborn 2007, 91); this also held, with some variants, for Latin America. It still holds for many non-government organizations (NGOs) quite corrupted by financial capitalism, especially those from metropolitan countries operating on the periphery. Both the above stances boil down to individualist and capitalist negative freedom, they are both co-optable, and neither is sufficient by itself.

However, my hypothesis is that this was and remains an ideologized abuse of perspectives which are richer and deeper. The term has since grown into a designation for many different movements and strivings for civic self-government; I trust that its potential usefulness surpasses the needed misgivings, and wish to inquire into such uses. As indicated in part 2, I believe they have to be grounded in Marx’s anthropology of social individuals and their self-emancipation which has primacy over the state, while dispensing with his idea that a post-revolutionary state would have no power struggles, and therefore no politics.

The democratic impulses perverted in the 1960s and 1990s remain useful on condition that the key parameter now be creative labour and full control of the labourer-creators (the proletarians) over the fruits of their labour, personal and associated with others. On that basis, we need and can construct a model with full respect both for a right to individual self-determination against any collective and for the right of an open society to survive and cherish supra-individual values; no primacy obtains here, simply, as the Communist Manifesto has it, “an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all” (Marx and Engels 1972, 353)—and vice versa. Such a plebeian and associational concept of civil society seems to me utterly indispensable for two reasons. One is to establish what was missing—beside radical self-management in the economy—in “really existing,” and eventually suicidal, “socialism.” The second is what is missing, beside radical self-management in the economy, in “really existing” and currently suicidal capitalism. In other words, Acton was right for all societies: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Since power (but not violence!) is quite indispensable, it therefore always must be tamed from below, by checks and balances through open debate: politics.

This horizon of a fully participative democracy tends to use but also subsume all local and central elected bodies: as in Aristotle’s model (1995), the citizens must both rule and be ruled—the only good leaders are good citizens, and to be good, citizens must lead. Other models have also to be consulted: the village community, when not patriarchal; the medieval communes; and especially “the new forms of democracy generated within . . . the workers’ movement (council communism, revolutionary syndicalism)” (Cohen and Arato 1995, 7)—as well as within the feminist and kindred movements. To the violent commands of the state (in last resort by force) and of capitalist employment (in last resort by hunger) all of them oppose the great plebeian principle of solidarity.

Some key pointers towards a radically democratic civil society can be found in the Marxian concepts of self-determination (that includes self-management in the economic sphere and the commune in the political one), in polyarchic checks and balances from the bourgeois revolutionary tradition, and finally in Gramsci.

What then is civil society? I know of no satisfactory definition, but a delimitation can be attempted, using extant discussions: Civil society is that part of the societal whole or sociocultural life-world, of people living together, that is active in politics but does not directly flow out of the economic apparatus (enterprises, later corporations) or out of the state power apparatus. Like economic and state power, civil society is concerned with societal power and relationships based on appropriation of surplus labour from plebeians. Its specific domain involves rules about exercising power as a supplement of and/or in conflict with the state apparatus or the economic apparatus, that is, the adjudication of competing interests of societal interest groups. As of the seventeenth to eighteenth century absolutist monarchies, the concept of civil society developed in differentiation from and sometimes in opposition to the state apparatus in an age of ascending bourgeoisie and capitalism, while the term came from such an identification by the Scottish Enlightenment, and it was at the time identified with bourgeois liberalism. This was taken up and in many ways changed by Hegel in Elements of the Philosophy of Right (1991), and then again by Marx in and after his critique of Hegel’s stance; I plan to expand upon this history in another place. Yet my definition implies that the term and concept is useful today only if analytically extricated from the organization of economics (production, circulation, consumption, and finance)—which does not at all mean that civil society can or should avoid intimately interacting with economics. The predicate “active in politics” differentiates civil society from the nuclear family, though the central features of the family (its authoritarian vs. democratic organization, thence its amiable or repressive nature) have indirectly and subliminally much to do with central features of the civil society, and have to be included in any thorough investigation.

In the last 100 years or so—longer in the United Kingdom and the United States—it has become necessary to differentiate civil society also from what is being very loosely called “political society,” that is, political parties and legislative organizations such as parliaments. The reason for differentiation is the failure of those parties and organizations to stand by themselves against state power or capitalist power. Against the hopes of the earlier liberals, this failure includes classical liberal parties; against the hopes of Marx, Luxemburg or Lenin, it includes the early socialist parties of the Second International and then the communist parties of the Third International, especially when they came to share or monopolize state power. Civil society works through various means to clarify the public political and economic interest as well as the constitutive need of personal freedoms, entitlements, and legal constraints on authority; it opens a space for politics from below seeking to clear up burning problems of human relationships and societal power through open debate, and thence to influence their solutions by the real powers of economies and the state. In the German tradition, this is often called “the public sphere,” unfortunately, its most prominent spokesperson, Habermas (1989, 234 and passim), sees it as liberal modernization devoid of class conflicts.

Civil society may be quiescent or almost non-existent in countries with low productive forces, grave penury, and weak civic traditions; or it may be subservient to the “free market” ideology, in opposition to stasis and repressive state domination; or it may be a critical force influencing for the better economic and/or state power, and in some cases acutely opposing either or both. Where it comes about, civil society tends to evolve into a third societal sphere of more or less lasting associations (professional and/or voluntary) and forms of public communication and interaction, eventually also of social movements. It has a democratic root in the self-constitution from below according to personal and group interests, though these interests as well as the goad of efficiency may override and abuse the democratic vector. Especially since the decline of revolutionary parties and states, civil society ideologically exists mostly between the polar opposites of rightsoriented liberalism, which is in a large majority and at best seeks to mitigate the excesses of capitalist and/or state power without questioning its domination, and communitarianism, a small minority usually compatible with radicalism and socialism, which seeks to change some important facet of capitalist and/or state power.

As a rule, economic and state power is indifferent to or indeed irritated at pressures to limit any of its prerogatives, so that it strikes to repress plebeian democracy, bypassing eventual laws and regulations by non-implementation, evasion, bribery, and if necessary outright repression up to martial law. Equally, political parties are as a rule implicated in state power or—today—wedded to some capitalist fraction; lobbies and think-tanks funded by branches of capitalism or its ideological offshoots (co-opted churches, etc.) are rich and numerous. Civil society needs therefore its own lobbies and indeed thinktanks, where unfettered intelligence and devotion can take the place of wealth. They can only function well when backed by vigorous associations, access to the mass media (usually dominated by capitalists or by the state and therefore unsympathetic), a somewhat self-limiting state bound by division of powers (Rechtsstaat) rather than a discretionary and weakly fettered apparatus (Massnahmenstaat), and eventually wider social movements.

3.3. Gramsci’s civil society: hegemony and consent today

For Marx’s followers in the Second and Third International, his later concentration on the “anatomy” of capitalist production had, paradoxically, a two-pronged result. In immediate practice, the economic horizon of needful capitalist collapse was taken for granted and requiring no further theoretical investigation, so that the revolutionary parties could concentrate on the ongoing “physiological”—that is, political—reality, the rise of the working class. And in the furthest post-revolutionary horizons (which drew near with Lenin and found a first articulation in him), economics not only displaced but totally negated politics as open power struggles. It was then easy for ruling communist parties, in a situation inescapably requiring the “commanding heights” of state power, to fixate on economy as the be-all and end-all. This shelved Marx’s radical break with all state apologetics—from Caesaropapism or theocracy to Hobbesian monocracy as a lesser evil—where the state represented the rule of violence and class interest against the common good and rule of reason.

Much more might be said about the tension in Lenin between the utopian participatory democracy of The State and Revolution and the harsh centralization a civil war and economic collapse forced him to adopt (I approached it in Suvin [2013a]). His stance assumes the relationship of an avant-garde, practically non-alienated, party to alienated and primitive civil society. Within this tension, the theory that state and law shall die out could at moments of harassed impatience become an alibi for indisputable political subordination to the party-state (Zolo 1974, 42–43, 263–64, 277–78)—in other words, for officially monolithic unity which disallows subdivisions, mediations, and conflicts, and represses a mature conflictual unity; in the hands of his successors in the USSR, it became wholly such. Late in his life, Lukács (1991, 113 and passim) therefore concluded that the theory of politics was a kind of black hole in Marxism, so that the Bolsheviks could easily substitute the tactics of ruling for it. To the contrary, he realised politics must even in socialism—and I would add as far into the future as thought can reach— remain a protocol for societal decision-making and adjudication of disputes, that is, for allocating resources and power; but by then he was already treading in Gramscian footsteps.

Two anti-democratic problems in Bolshevism were representation (of the working class by the party) and civil rights. I shall limit myself to their most important rectification: that of Antonio Gramsci.

Expanding on deviations from determinism pioneered by The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (Marx 1937) and the later Lenin, Gramsci became the most prominent Marxist thinker before the 1960s to grow uneasy about the base-superstructure dichotomy in vulgar “economist” and determinist Marxism, from works such as The Communist Manifesto (Marx and Engels 1972) and the “Preface to the Critique of Political Economy” (Marx 1973). After Hegel’s transmogrification of the Scottish philosophers and Marx’s transmogrification of Hegel, Gramsci effected a third redefinition in which “civil society” (società civile, not borghese!) remains the active locus of history-making but comprises “not ‘all material relationships’ but all ideological-cultural relations” (Bobbio 1987, 148; the inside quote is from Marx). His civil society comprises not only the educational system and the communications media but also those social norms that embed production relations (his model is the Catholic Church in feudalism). When discussing the communist party, he notes it is crucial that this updated figure of Machiavelli’s Prince undertake a thorough ideologico-cultural reform which focuses on but subsumes economics: “The programme of [a radical, note added] economic reform is precisely the concrete form in which every intellectual and moral reform presents itself” (Gramsci 1975b, 133; 1975a, 1561).[4] Civil society “correspond[s] to the function of ‘hegemony’” by the dominant group, while “the State and ‘juridical’ government [corresponds] to ‘direct domination’ or command . . .” (Gramsci 1975b, 12; 1975a, 1518–19).

Hegemonic consent is in Gramsci superior to and more efficient than direct domination through state force or coercion. This stress destroys historical fatalism, that bane of vulgar Marxism, and turns to Marx’s and Lenin’s active collective subject of history who understands and pursues an end. Most important for civil society, this stress of Gramsci’s founds it in a certain autonomy and importance of political relations among people, “in a historically very wide range of societies—for instance, as he liked to recall, the difference between the leaders and the led” (Hobsbawm 2011, 330; see Gramsci 1975b, 144ff.; 1975a, 1752ff.). He recognized that “in [the special political dimension] of society more is involved than power” (Hobsbawm 2011, 331), and called it the formation of consent—which also means a dialogue with dissent. Power remains necessary but not sufficient.

For the present purposes, Gramsci’s most important suggestion might be his dialectics between state and civil society. Building on Russeau and Marx, he concluded that in the post-revolutionary state, there should be “the will to construct within the husk of political society a complex and well-articulated civil society, in which the individual can govern himself without his self-government thereby entering into conflict with political society— but rather becoming its . . . organic complement.” This is “the creation of a ‘civil society’ which it was not historically possible to create [earlier],” the aim being to “make state life become ‘spontaneous’” (Gramsci 1975b, 268–69; 1975a, 1020): civil society was the site for developing alternative consents and eventually hegemonies. This would, to my mind, apply a fortiori to capitalist societies which lack developed civil societies. For all these reasons, Hobsbawm was spot on when he called Gramsci “the most original thinker produced in the West since 1917” and “[the pioneer of] a Marxist theory of politics” (Hobsbawm 2011, 316, 319):

Gramsci is a political theorist inasmuch as he regards politics as “an autonomous activity” . . ., and because he specifically sets about investigating “the place that political science occupies or should occupy in a systematic (coherent and logical) conception of the world in Marxism” (Prison Notebooks) . . . Politics is for him the core not only of the strategy of winning socialism, but of socialism itself . . . (Hobsbawm 2011, 321)

Gramsci’s supple but finally class-based approach may also neatly cut the knot how to understand “civil society” (and Marx’s bürgerliche Gesellschaft [civil or bourgeois society]) (see Suvin 2015). Within class society, this is a battleground for class interests, possibly by way of complex mediations, of varying factions within and sometimes against capitalism. When the bourgeoisie is fully hegemonic, it becomes an integrated part of bourgeois or capitalist society. To the contrary, when radical opposition movements, especially with a participation of the working class, are strong, it may be anti-capitalist. Indeed, I find it difficult to believe that a really effective and permanent civil society could exist below a certain strength of such enabling radical movements. All depends on the active subjects of history and how well they both recognize and pursue their class interests toward disalienation.

3.4. Brief conclusion on plebeian democracy and civil society

My conclusion about plebeian democracy and civil society as its indispensable wing is twofold, according to my two main interests: to learn from yesterday, to think about today and tomorrow.

First, about yesterday, there is no reason to suppose that when the utterly alienating politics of class domination, coupled with a repressive state, are abolished by a revolution, this must or could mean the end of politics. Though Marx often implied this would be the case, Gramsci did well to return to politics—that is, decisions of how to allocate labour—as a central long-duration human need. With the exception of Gramsci and some cognate writings, absent from the official Marxist mainstream, one must ruefully concur with the eminent Italian theoretician of Law Ferrajoli:

What was lacking in the Marxist political reflexion was not a critique of the bourgeois State and not even, finally, a theory of the socialist State, however skeletal . . . [but] a reflexion on power and the techniques of its installation and practicing from the point of view not of those who wield the power but of those who undergo it: ex parte populi [as seen by the people] and not only ex parte principis [as seen by the rulers]. (Ferrajoli and Zolo 1978, 19; see Zolo 1974)

We have learned aboveboard politics is needed to prevent a resurgent state apparatus, prominently including the police and the military, from becoming as strongly, if differently, alienating. The need for associated people to have a voice from below was diametrically opposed to the “socialist” hegemony of the state political sphere over concerted human decisions.

Second, about today, the need for politics is diametrically opposed to the capitalist hegemony of the oligarchic market sphere—driven by profit considerations that override the obviously ensuing collateral or future horrors—over the human interests for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Further, the need for a strongly oppositional civil society is rendered crystal-clear by unbridled financial capitalism that ushers in ecological and societal collapse.

Thus, the only way to prevent corruption by absolute power, by politocracies or by capitalists, is to have open political confrontation and discussion. The horizon of these politics —that is, of civil society—would include what Barber calls “strong democracy,” with the key addition of norms for economic life too. His definition, which I here minimally simplify, runs:

Strong democracy can be defined as politics in the participatory mode where conflict is resolved [on the basis of a few founding shared principles] through a public process of ongoing self-government and the creation of a political community capable of transforming dependent, private individuals into free citizens and partial interests into public goods. (Barber 1984, 132; italics added)

While this could probably be rendered more precise, here my only deviation from Barber is in adding “on the basis of a few founding shared principles,” since I don’t see how the conflict with, say, Nazis or the Ustashi could be resolved only by discussion. But I fully agree with his conclusion: “In strong democracy, politics is something done by, and not to, citizens. Activity is its chief virtue, and involvement, commitment, obligation, and service—common deliberation, common decision, and common work—are its hallmarks” (Barber 1984, 133).

The ideal horizon of the interaction of civil society with the state and capitalist powers is to strongly influence and largely tame them both. Should this plebeian impulse fail, what would remain is the alternative between radical revolution and despotic barbarism.

4. In sum

“Marx’s act of intellectual insurrection” led to an often dreamed of, but before him not that clearly established, horizon: “communism as the never-ending self-critical return of the democratic revolution” (Kouvelakis 2003, 352), and vice versa.

This sketches a two-way street: my title “communism can only be radical plebeian democracy,” therefore also means “only communism can be radical plebeian democracy.”


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[1] This is the best work on S. F. R. Yugoslavia political economics extant; the terms for the competing horizons are taken from Löwenthal (1970) who was generalizing from two communist revolutions: the semi-peasant one in the USSR and the peasant one in China, both possessing important parallels and as important differences with Yugoslavia.

To avoid cumbersome repetitions of the CPY and/or LCY (the Communist Party of Yugoslavia), I shall use for them, in spite of my reluctance at god-words, Party with capital P. I prefer “etatist” to “statist” for a belief in or devotion to the State, which I always capitalize. Unattributed translations are mine, also tacit corrections from extant translations into English where I had the original in Yugoslav languages.

I acknowledge an important stimulation for my categorisation from Ivana Momčilović and Slobodan Karamanić about singularities, and from Kržan’s “Nacrt” lecture (2012).

[2] The term “republican” is in this essay used, in conformity with Yugoslav practice, to mean the six federal republics.

[3] There is a vast body of literature on various denotations and connotations of civil society in political philosophy generally, say from Tocqueville through Arendt and Ricoeur to the present, and in the specific debates, say on Hegel or on the 1990s’ wave. I neglect it here in order to isolate and highlight those useful for our needs today, as opposed to the useless or pernicious. As an example, this essay does not deal in direct polemics with a large group (best known in works by John Keane) that couples civil society with the so-called free market. From extensive debates which often lack conceptual clarity, my bibliography below lists only the works cited.

[4] Quotes from Gramsci have been checked with the Quaderni edition (1975a) and in places slightly modified. His prison notes were in the circumstances understandably beset by varying and confusing terminology, even by incomplete and partly conflicting views, so that interpretation has to be stronger than usual. It is dubious that one could find in him a fully unified and worked out conception of civil society or indeed of the state. This does not detract from the fertility of his outline.

Since he did not repudiate a base-superstructure model, Gramsci logically had to place civil society (as well as the state) into the superstructure. Lucien Goldmann, Raymond Williams, and all the neo-Marxists after the 1950s will later reject this civil-engineering model in favour of the cybernetic model of feedback, where this argument is, without Gramsci’s unnecessary stacking into watertight boxes, much more elegant. Having been a small part of this remodelling, I can testify that Gramsci was of great encouragement to it.

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THE USE OF LUCIO MAGRI (2014) (3290 words)

Magri, Lucio. The Tailor of Ulm: Communism in the Twentieth Century, translated by Patrick Camiller (London: Verso, 2011).

Magri, born 1932, was a leading member of the Manifesto group which was kicked out of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) in 1970 and, together with Rossana Rossanda, its most prominent theoretician; he rejoined the PCI with the small Left PdUP party in 1984 and fought against its harakiri in 1989. He was then a deputy in Parliament of the small Rifondazione Comunista party, and retired in 2004 to write this final book. Among his copious journalistic and analytical works, this is, as it were, his political testament. He committed assisted suicide in Switzerland in 2011. Il Manifesto still exists as the only general daily in Italy that can be read without revulsion.

In the Introduction plus 21 chapters Magri weaves together three strands: a chronological history of “some decisive events” in and around the PCI from 1944 to its suicide, the world political and economic context, and theoretical analyses or at least doubts and questions, which culminate in the final impressive Appendix of 45 pages, written in 1987 as the position paper of the Left at the final PCI congress. I must be brief about the well-known international context of the Cold War, USSR degeneration, and the constant US pressures which were especially virulent in Italy, ruled de facto by three forces: the Catholic Church, inner political forces, and the US ambassador who set the limits of what could be done (prominently: not to let the too strong and dangerous communists into the government after 1948). No doubt, Magri has interesting views about the world context: he pins the blame for the Cold War squarely on the USA and stresses the real danger of nuclear holocaust say up to 1961; he singles out the major rigidities and stupidities first of the 3rd International, including Lenin’s attacking focus on the “centrist” Kautsky and Austromarxism, predicated on a non-existent revolutionary imminence in Europe, and then the much heavier ones of Stalin’s forced collectivisation, 1930s’ terror waves, and the permanent cultural deformation into apathetic masses and cynical bureaucracy; but he gives short shrift to the thesis that fascisms in general were simply caused by bolshevism – certainly the Italian one was not. However, like the whole PCI, Magri overestimates the positive role of the USSR as “the ‘driving force’ of world history” at least in the late 1950s, since its usefulness was by then confined to being a power alternative to the USA for countries such as Egypt and Cuba, with many serious mistakes right up to the entry into Afghanistan. He rightly approves of Khrushchev’s “peaceful coexistence” thesis, but the critique of his “destalinisation” is brief and tepid in view of what I would call a class revocation of the CPSU alliance with the Russian plebeian masses. Finally, Magri has much sympathy for Mao’s slogan “to rebel is justified” but concludes that Deng’s line, while meeting great pragmatic success, was a Thermidor or counter-revolution. This strand is only touched upon as background, and the only factual mistakes I found in the book belong to it.

Magri rejects the two dominant readings of PCI history: that it was from 1945 on “a social-democratic party without saying or perhaps even knowing it”; or that it was, despite its role in the resistance and in laying the fundaments for democratising Italy, “a prolonged hand of USSR policy and intimately tied to its model.” Neither of them can explain the most relevant facts of this history; both obliterate what was unique and interesting in it. Rather, the PCI tried seriously, though imperfectly and fitfully, to tread a “third road” toward socialism: a fusion of reforms within a parliamentary democracy with bitter class struggles from below and an explicit critique of capitalism.

The historical overview begins with Togliatti’s 1944 return to Italy from Moscow and his appeal for a wide antifascist coalition and resistance. The PCI’s strong role in these and its subsequent correct (if not quite clarified) slogan of a new – that is, non-insurrectional – way to socialism resulted in a mass party of two levels, held together by a strong common belief: a backbone of professional cadres, at first coming mostly from partisans, schooled in Stalin’s Short History of the Soviet CP(b), much Engels, some Lenin and Marx, and much Togliatti; and the other members, of whom a good many were activists, comprising leading intellectuals and defectors from the high and middle bourgeoisie as well as many workers from industry and agriculture. These proletarians were at the beginning “often without full elementary schooling…, who learned writing in the Party sections, read a first book, got an idea of national history, and fascinated by a new passion filled the city squares each evening in spontaneous discussion groups to get a sense of things.” It was confronted with formidable and unslackening pressures from enemy bosses: a “largely incompetent and parasitic bourgeoisie,” the Vatican and its capillary organisations from each village to universities, the US as world military and economic power, and their unanimous apparati of mass persuasion in a pitiless Cold War. The PCI as an original “people’s party” was quite different from the Leninist vanguard idea. At its height it comprised 2.5 million people including half a million youngsters, most of whom took their bicycle or scooter to the Party session, to read the daily Unità, attract new members, eat perhaps chitterlings or play boccia (bowls) in the trade union hall, a part of that “counter-society.” In 1956, after Khrushchev’s “secret speech,” Togliatti defined the Party strategy somewhat further as “structural reforms” won by struggle from below and enshrined in the legal system empowered by a progressive Constitution.

Magri argues that the death of this vital 1960s’ PCI as a coherent organisation was avoidable. That decade was still open. He divides it into 1960-65 and “the long 1968” lasting nine years. In both cases, amid a short-range crisis, “the PCI could or would not take a leading or directly encouraging role,” but it was clearly in some ways involved, influenced by and influencing them, and had to bear their breakdowns. The first half of the ‘60s saw the “economic miracle,” based on a mixed economy of independent State corporations and private ones, a technological leap forward into Fordism in some industries such as steel and petrochemicals, and extra-profit from relatively low wages (in 1969 only 6% higher than in 1938 while productivity had risen over 50%), allowing for competitive exports. The workers and peasants paid the bill for it and profited least, responding with a wave of new struggles from below through the very independent Left CGIL trade union strengthened by full employment, and as a rule bypassing political parties. Nonetheless the new prosperity, however relative and one-sided, gave rise to consumerism, with mass acquisitions of small FIAT cars, home appliances, and TV sets transmitting a strictly censored RAI monopoly.

Magri gives a stimulating sketch of this Italian neo-capitalism and its fusion of modernisation and backwardness, as well as of the bitter and uncoordinated protests of 1968-74 – first by workers, accompanied by white-collar employees and technicians, and then by students and a new, strongly leftist young generation smarting especially from the semi-feudal inefficiency of universities – that wanted to bring about a new social order from below. He concludes that the PCI missed the opportunity to understand the synergy of innovations from above and from below in new needs and life-styles, and to insist on a political restructuring based on flexible planning and tax policies, strategic public investments, and workers’ participation in decisions. However, its understanding depended on really listening to the protests from below by reforming the party’s decision-making process. This seems to me the key to answering the central question: “how was it possible that a force that came to ripeness in the 60s and that followed an autonomous and ambitious project… began to decay and finally dissolved itself?”

I shall slight the well-known developments of the Berlinguer era, faced with the post-1973 crisis which destroyed the last hindrances to full capitalist restructuring, and made even “keynesianism in one country” impossible, as discovered early on by Mitterrand. Magri rightly condemns Berlinguer’s early “historic compromise” thesis as a mistake but finds his last years very promising and unfortunately cut short. Not until the PCI dissolved itself in 1989, under the nondescript Occhetto, did its ill-prepared left wing at last dissent, much too late. As a result, by the end of the 1980s around 800,000 former members despaired of politics (my estimate would be closer to 2 million, or four fifths of PCI at its height). As to those remaining in politics, to the above question one could then add a corollary: How come that the middle cadre (e.g. the 1990s PD leaders coming from the Communist Youth, such as the ineffable D’Alema and Veltroni) were not even socialist, never mind communist, but turned into full-blown Atlantists and neo-liberals?

Here we enter into Magri’s theoretical strand, to my mind the most interesting one. There was a history of PCI before his, and several volumes have been published just after this 2009 book of his. Not slighting the pioneering historical insights from his privileged oscillation between a marginal insider and a marginal outsider, the lessons for our present and future are to be found in these reflections. Except for the final Appendix, to which I will return, this strand is not formulated as a coherent longer argument but as comments on concrete historical dilemmas, which has its advantages and limits. But its core seems to me the discussion of the two “genomes” or determining inheritances of the PCI, the Gramsci and the Stalin genome.

“Gramsci(anism) as genome” is his influence through writings – and through a few top leaders who were his collaborators – on “the gradual shaping of the identity and strategy of Italian communism,” rendered possible by a conscious and risky operation of salvage and publication of his prison writings masterminded by Togliatti, who is here defended from accusations of having bent that publication to tactics of the moment, though he naturally had his own slant on them, did not emphasize their divergence from Stalinism, and confessed late on that Gramsci had been reduced to the PCI needs while he “thought much further.” But the founding of an independent and very competent Gramsci Institute eventually rectified that bending, and without Togliatti we would have had no Gramsci as a worldwide cultural authority. His genome in the PCI consists for Magri of two main chromosomes or foci: on the 19th-Century Risorgimento as “an unfinished revolution” without agrarian reform and mass participation but with a compromise between the bourgeoisie and parasitic rent-gatherers; and on the polemic against vulgar Marxism which meant “a relative autonomy and weight of the ‘superstructure’, thus major attention to the role of intellectuals, political parties, and State apparatus.” However, his Americanism and Fordism and his passion for the Turin consigli was in the decisive decades backgrounded, which led to a refusal to face the huge modernising changes in neo-capitalism as well as to a party far from the “collective intellectual” Gramsci found necessary as a partner for movements from below.

Stalinism as genome is my own diagnosis of the directly contrary strand in the PCI, transmitted to it by the founding leaders returned in 1944 from Moscow and the whole experience of the Third International in the preceding two decades. Its fulcrum lay in Togliatti’s contradiction between a flexible strategy in Italian power struggles and a “bolshevik” discipline from above on the party cadre, though without Stalin’s paranoia and terror. Indoctrination in Manicheanism was of course largely due to Cold War pressures but became a forma mentis in the ruling majority, blocking definition and development of the “third way.” The ideological rigidity of the leadership persisted through the Khrushchev years, stymieing understanding of developments in the USSR and its bloc and privileging compromises with bourgeois parties in Italy over dialogue with workers and students. This included a strong defence of the USSR, stressing its undoubtedly real achievements in industrialisation, culture, and international relations (as in Togliatti’s interview after 1956), but excluding the at least as important black zones.

The unhappiness in PCI cadres, including a majority of the Central Committee, became clear from 1961 on, yet it was never allowed to grow into an open debate, remaining encoded in articles and speeches opaque to the party as a whole. The Manifesto group was first marginalised and then excluded for the sin of publicly debating what everybody at the top knew was at least a problem. A stronger participatory democracy might have led to an openness like that of the Bolshevik party between 1917 and 1921, with real currents, competing programs, and democracy from below (as Magri puts it: “for a responsible pluralism and not rigid fractions”). But most important, without it the PCI had no ear for similar deep yearnings in the youth and the workers: only some intellectuals grew interested in Yugoslav self-management, or in Mao’s initial impulse in the Cultural Revolution, or in the Polish debates about planning. The self-censorship of the non-Stalinist Left at the PCI top, often identified with Ingrao, amounted to sterility, for it never held even informal internal discussions but left the “Amendola” bureaucratic Right as victors by default. On the international scene, this also meant that the PCI had little to say about the Sino-Soviet conflict except to try and minimise it. And inside Italy, at a time of huge social clashes in the mid-60s, the number of worker and young members in the Party fell drastically. The openness of many party intellectuals to “Western” Marxism, from Marcuse and Sweezy through the UK New Left to Mallet and Gorz, remained without political consequence, while obversely the badly digested models of Che or Mao led some exasperated young people into counterproductive armed groupuscules.

What was the alternative, say of an updated Gramscianism for the 1980s-90s? An articulate statement of it is to be found in the 1987 Appendix, “A New Communist Identity.” It asks “what remains from the strong identity of Marxism and the Left in general” at a time when industrialism loses ground to services and non-material goods, when productivity depends ever more on organisation and consumption rather than on general labour or capital, and when this system is exported worldwide from metropolitan countries as an international division of labour corroding the poorer countries? The working population is being fragmented into different categories, and a huge cultural offensive has persuaded the political Left, as well as the peace, ecology, and women’s movements, that capitalism is no longer the problem but a necessary horizon. On the other hand, today’s technologies and access to information make possible both reduction of work and decentralisation of power – that is, “today the idea of communism in its original and richer meaning of emancipation is for the first time historically mature,” without the fixation on economistic progress and on the State as the only alternative to a dominant market. It is what Brecht in the 1950s called the possible habitability of our planet.

Magri then discusses ecology (”Development and Nature”) and “Superfluity and Poverty, Needs and Consumption” in two overviews that could still today provide a useful basis for updating. In the first section he stresses that capitalism cannot deal with the environment, since that needs long-term planning and a distance from the profit motive. In the second one, he argues that qualitative instead of quantitative production is within reach but foreclosed in favour of a “production of illusions and of the ephemeral” that denies the needs of health, education, or space planning. He then focuses on work, whose subsumption under and metamorphosis into capital is the determining Novum or novelty of the epoch, and the mobilisation of whose energies has led to the successes of the 20th century as in Japan (and some sectors of Italy). The redistribution of labour is to him the central social theme, and he concludes that even in a post-industrial future the class conflict between labour and capital will persist, if in new ways, having to do with the quality and quantity of employment and with the possible prospect of liberation both of and from work. Pragmatically, the destiny of workers will depend less on trade unions and more on political projects and instruments involving the State and the strategies of technological development and of education. “Is this [aspect] of a radical but up to now barely sketched Marxist critique of capitalism – the liberation of human labour from its commodity character – not a sufficiently solid basis for a new communist identity?”

“The Helplessness of the Sovereign” is rightly the longest Appendix section. The sovereign is of course Rousseau’s “people,” and its historical avatars in all movements from below within capitalism, culminating in revolutions from the French to the Chinese. So this is a reconsideration of democracy as real political freedom, “which is impossible as long as all citizens do not have a minimal education, income, and security.” The workers’ movement has since Marx traditionally fought both for liberal constitutional freedoms and for more radical and deeper forms of democracy. However, the social-democratic parties totally forgot about those deeper forms, while “really existing socialism” with its Party/States, total centralisation, and identification of dissent with class enemy led to a grave defeat, proving that “the full development of political democracy is not less but more important for socialism than it was for capitalism.” And today’s capitalism has for its structural precondition the irrelevance of politics, used as a hollow ritual for decisions reached by the new rulers, a small economic and technocratic oligarchy in the international economic and political centres, bereft of any democratic influence. This is a new world of direct global power by financial capital and multinational corporations, which would logically need an international opponent, “a collective political subject able to implement a long-range overall project… [with] a new political sovereign.” And that opponent would need a Gramscian party (or group of parties) as “stimulus and synthesis of a complex system of autonomous and permanent political movements.” This does not mean denying Lenin’s and Togliatti’s call for liaison between democracy and socialism. To the contrary, these two elements represent a necessary feedback: “Is this not a strong basis to re-establish a communist identity also for… institutions and politics?” The section ends, however, on a realistic note that the sociopolitical forces needed for this project are in a deep identity crisis, whose overcoming will require years or decades of rethinking.

Since the paper was written to counteract Occhetto’s defeatism, it ends with a discussion of “The Party Form.” In brief, Magri concludes that what is needed for real societal reforms is “an autonomous organised subject” able to change while acting, so that the Gramscian theme “of a mass party that is also a fighting party, a collective intellectual, cannot be laid ad acta.”

My overall judgment on this Appendix is that a new communist manifesto (to my mind much needed) could do worse than to incorporate it in an updated version. And the book as a whole is necessary reading for those who want to think about anticapitalist refounding (whether similar or different). We cannot, as the readers of Brecht’s early would-be flyer from Ulm, wait for several centuries. However, for an overall judgment on Magri it will be necessary to take into account also his articles and speeches, of which several volumes have recently been published. Probably Perry Anderson’s necrological conclusion (in New Left R. no. 72 of 2011) is right: that Magri was the most prominent revolutionary intellectual in Europe able to think in harmony with the mass movements that came about during his lifetime.

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15 THESES ABOUT COMMUNISM AND YUGOSLAVIA, OR THE TWO-HEADED JANUS OF EMANCIPATION THROUGH THE STATE (Metamorphoses and Anamorphoses of “On the Jewish Question” by Marx) (2010-11)(9000 words)

–To the memory of my Praxis colleagues at the Faculty of Philosophy, Zagreb: Rudi Supek, Gajo Petrović, Branko Bošnjak, Predrag Vranicki, Veljko Cvjetičanin, Milan Kangrga

–For Boris Buden, who fought for truth and justice

The State everywhere presupposes that reason has been realised. But in this very way it everywhere comes into contradiction between its ideal mission and its real preconditions.

Marx, 1844

Part 1. Introductory1/

1.1. The Basis of Theses

I have taken over the basic epistemological approach to people, the State, and emancipation from the first part of On the Jewish Question (Zur Judenfrage, publ. 1844, MEW 1: 352-61) by Karl Marx. He counterposes–in the terms of his age, which at times do not correspond to today’s historical semantics–political and legal emancipation to complete emancipation. Marx’s approach here uses Feuerbach’s term “species-being” (Gattungswesen, that is, the natural being of the genus Homo sapiens), to which I shall return. This way to speak about human potentials rather than about privatised individuals has however  much deeper roots, in the French Revolution and in Spinoza’s discovery that human freedom is primarily threatened by a belief in a predetermined, holy teleology, consubstantial to power and rule. I take that this approach transcends Marx’s epoch, and that at its core would in today’s semantics be: what is the relationship of special political (primarily State-building) alienation to general social alienation as well as to “species-specific” de-alienation or disalienation as the individuals’ emancipation or classless freedom? I believe that the relationship between emancipation and alienation remains a constant horizon for Marx. True, he still lacks here the key field between theory and practice: the economy, where commodity reification and fetishism will appear as the antagonists of freedom. But this is no Althusserian coupure épistemologique, as the new terminology will be a more precise reformulation of the old one from which it evolved.

The very important lack, however, means that the limit of my theses is that they do not address economic relationships. Their conclusions would have to be supplemented (and perhaps significantly re-metamorphosed) with further considerations, starting primarily from Marx’s rich considerations about alienation and exploitation of living labour, which I approached in my essay “Living Labour”: I would have to advance from its conclusions. But the State and politics must be dealt with first.

I must stress that my attempt does not deal in Marxology, although I did take it into account in Part 1.2. In terms of genre, this is a reworking, a genus of its own. It is a quintessentially Marxian stance: he starts with reworking Hegel, and then continually and gluttonously reworks himself and other partial and incomplete cognitions (for example, Adam Smith or the experience of the Paris Commune). Since Marx’s argument in the 1840s is literally inapplicable today (who cares about the State of King Frederick William IV?), I am violently tearing out, assembling, and re-functioning these passages for today’s purposes. I start from a dozen passages by Marx that I completely or incompletely metamorphosise, and the resulting metamorphic text then demands to be supplemented with other considerations. This makes the whole of my essay anamorphic in relation to that of Marx: rotated into the dimension of Post-Fordism, the new Leviathan. The text is therefore mine, written because of Yugoslavia after the 1941-45 revolution, and uses Marx as an indispensable stimulus and catalyzer–because his style is consubstantial to some fundamental methodological insights into philosophical anthropology that I would like, mutatis mutandis, to preserve.

In the 1840s’ situation of the Prussian State and Europe, Marx’s essay asks this question in form of emancipation from the fiction of “the religious State”. My hypothesis is that, regardless of great differences between the Europe of early capitalism in 1844 on one hand, and on the other the world after  1945–a situation of full imperialist capitalism and after the first anti-capitalist revolutions–I can usefully apply the following basic operator to post-revolution Yugoslavia: replacing Marx’s official “religion” with “communism (official)” everywhere and seeing what comes out of this.  Of course, I do not claim that communism is simply a religion–although it is an annunciation of this-worldly salvation (see Suvin, “Inside”) and its organised professional avant-garde easily translates into an analogue of the Church. But it is a sufficiently robust analogy, the basis of which is the existence of an explicit and articulated doctrine that contains all central values for the orientation of humanity in the present historical moment. The justification for its use can only be its fruits.

For the analogy to work, subsidiary metamorphic operators should also be used: replacing “religious” with “ideological”, and “political” (in Marx’s lay meaning of opposition to the religious State and government) with ”social”: through society or the social, humanisation or disalienation is achieved. The reigning alienation is not to be understood, looking backward, as a Fall from Earthly Paradise (neither Eve and Adam’s nor the Noble Savage’s) but looking forward to the natural possibilities of the human generic being—the disalienation draws its poetry, as Marx will say, from the future. (Today we could formulate the alienation as three interlocking alienations: that of labour, that of language, and finally that of freedom and sense of life—but this transcends the brief of the present Theses.) However, an important limit of my two analogies should also be considered, which is marked by using the image and concept of the two-headed Janus.

Contextual tact and flexibility should also be applied. First, in selecting only some passages, which are not just crucial, but also roughly applicable to Yugoslavia after the revolution. And then in translating between epochs and contexts; for example, Marx’s early chiasmic rhetoric (if A: B then NonB : NonA), which is nice, but not always efficient as real–not only rhetorical–proof, should be used in supple ways and cautiously. I quote the passages according to the English translation, available in Spring 2011 on WMAW/1844/jewish-question; this translation is useful because, among other things, it is itself (unavoidably) a half-step towards a reworking of Marx’s speculative historiosophy  into English empiricism, and thus useful for my epistemological purpose. In the following multiple translating, before metamorphosing it into my own text, I often corrected the English text using the German original which has been identified after each passage. (I debated whether to quote the German text too, but since it can be readily found, I preferred not to overload the apparatus.) Through the discussion of these passages, the method and argument will gradually crystallise.

Just as Marx distinguished between earthly and heavenly reality of religion, I start with “communism” in the sense of official, “State” communism in SFR Yugoslavia as a belief, as an ideological vulgate on and of the State.  The obverse of “religion”, Marx’s “atheism”, for him the true orientation towards complete human emancipation unlike illusory religion, is the true emancipatory communism (to which Marx will explicitly arrive immediately after the Jewish Question). One should take care here to discern whether this denotes theory, practice or both (with Marx this was not a problem since he hadn’t got that far yet).

I was thinking about naming this little tractate “Sing Me a Song of Translation”. It involves not only shuttling between three languages (German, English, and the Croatoserbian in which it was originally written), but also among three time epochs, translating Marx’s discourse from the time of the already tottering Sacred Alliance into our own discourse of looking backwards from 2011 to post-revolutionary Yugoslavia from 1945 to the mid-1970s (the possibility for subsequent degeneration is based on the consideration here but will not be dealt with explicitly in this essay).

1.2. An Excursus on Marx and His Evolution

Though the following theses are not an exegesis, they presuppose an exegesis of some essential parameters of Marx and his evolution, and therefore of the specific weights and significance (Stellenwert) of the short text used here, the first part On the Jewish Question. The Theses develop the basic dichotomy and opposition of bürgerliche Gesellschaft against Staat from early Marx.

  1. 21. “Bürgerliche Gesellschaft”

Marx started with this opposition in his 1843 Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right in: “The general law is[:] the bürgerliche society and State are divided. Therefore the Staatsbürger as well as the Bürger, member of the bürgerliche Gesellschaft, is divided.” (MEW 1: 281)  I am here faced with the fundamental and already metamorphic problem in form of the classic translator’s dilemma of how to translate bürgerlich. The central denotation is “civil,” the adjective derived from civis, citizen, but does this aim at „the citizen as a subject, that is member of the State“, or „the citizen as a member of the bourgeoisie or the middle class”? As in the above quotation, Marx occasionally uses the term Staatsbürger, which is the first denotation, but he also has to add in apposition the member of the bürgerliche society. While by this we might today mean the whole of the people minus the State apparatus, this second term also participates in and oscillates between both poles of the translator’s dilemma: is it something like “civil society” or like “bourgeois/ middle class society”? The terminology here expresses Marx’s persistent probing around the not yet completely clear joints of reality. A few months later, precisely in On the Jewish Question, Hegel’s undeveloped opposition between the citoyen and the ambiguous and limited bourgeois (cf. Rehmann 5-6 and passim)  will have become Marx’s brilliant and deeply significant, though again not fully developed,  dichotomy between  the citoyen as bearer of the French Revolution and the bourgeois as bearer of both every political counterrevolution from 1794 to 1848 as well as of anti-feudal capitalistic development of production and the corresponding miserable human relationships. Since Marx’s texts were at the time only beginning to push toward clarity on this convoluted but also crucial issue, each individual instance of bürgerlich should be examined to see which of the two above translations, or of their contaminations, may be more correct (Rehmann 6-7 maintains that the sense of „civil society,”  which Marx uses when writing in French, is predominant). In English and Italian, bürgerliche Gesellschaft is unambiguously translated as civil society, società civile, perhaps also because in the Hegel of 1821 it is a translation of civil society by 18th-century liberals (as Marx explained in the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy) such as Adam Ferguson and Adam  Smith. I unfortunately have no French translation, but the very “orthodox” Labica-Bensussan dictionary  explains that société civile is Hegel’s term, société bourgeoise being Marx’s (see 182 and 414), which is, to put it very mildly, insufficient.

Each of the above solutions has significant flaws. Those associated with the use of “citizen” I have suggested above. “Civil society” does not have those flaws, but has two other major ones. First, in the major European languages, civil means civilian (as opposed to military, and in English “civil law” as opposed also to criminal), then committed to public interest (as in French civisme), and finally civilised, cultured, with a connotation of a narcissistic national, even class-related self-praise. Second, “civil society” has been taken over from English around the 1980s as a propagandistic term used by advocates of parliamentary (hence bourgeois) democracy to denote lack of freedom in officially “communist” countries of the Soviet bloc or Yugoslavia, with the purpose of wringing from the regime a return of opposition parties and the restoration of private ownership over central means of production. However, no matter how abhorrent some of us might find this one-sided, ideologised abuse of both Hegel’s and Marx’s perspectives, which are richer and deeper (if often mutually contradictory), a plebeian and associational concept of civil society seems to me utterly indispensable in a discourse about what was missing in “really existing socialism.” We therefore cannot leave this category in the hands of its kidnappers but must use it, cleared of abuse and properly articulated, within Marx’s radical perspectives of direct democracy. Binoculars do allow a better view of artillery or sniper fire at, let’s say, Sarajevo, but I doubt that is reason enough to discard binoculars.

I would therefore propose to use “civil” for Marx’s bürgerliche in most cases. (Due to the neuralgic memories of abuse this may have to be modified by some compromise formula in my Croatoserbian version.)

22. Marx 1843-75: Political Emancipation and the State

Thus, in the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right Marx uses Hegel’s terms in order to identify–contrary to Hegel–the opposition between the “holy” State apparatus interests of governance, coercion, and ideology, and the profane social and economic interests of the rest of society. The latter are ruled by bourgeois individualism and egotism (as in Hegel), yet they are opposed to the State as real life versus abstract universalism. Further, Marx was an avid reader of Rousseau and the Jacobins as well as “the modern Frenchmen” (MEW 1: 232—meaning utopians and communists such as  Babeuf and Buonarroti, Saint-Simon and his school, Fourier, Proudhon, and Cabet) and supporters of  radical popular sovereignty; thus, Marx diametrically opposes Hegel’s allotting of priority, rationality, and absolute importance to the State. Hegel’s topology of bürgerliche Gesellschaft is in Marx first overturned, becoming a precondition for the State; and  then this antithesis as a whole has to be transcended by a total politicisation of civil society which would abolish both itself and the separate State (compare MEW 1: 326-27 et passim).

On the Jewish Question is a big step forward because it introduces the theme of „false holiness“, which was to culminate in the theory of commodity fetishism in Capital: false, but extremely important as it dominates the mind of the masses.  On both sides of Hegel’s dichotomy of social life between State and civil society, man is a “plaything of alien powers,” under “the rule of inhuman elements and relationships” (MEW 1: 355 and 360), human “species-being” is alienated; in particular, “civil society” is Hobbes’s war of all against all (MEW 1: 356). Marx’s reading of Feuerbach and the human Gattungswesen terminology about the species or generic essence of man resonates here, but he reaped the maximum benefit out of this single-minded focus on human sensuality (MEW 1: 345). First, Feuerbach’s anthropology, although applied to religion only, was and remains revolutionary in its view from the bottom up, that is, basing and centering the creation and understanding of social beliefs and relationships in material and sensuous humans. His stance was a useful topological device of separation and rupture, opposed to Hegel’s view downward from the height of the Absolute reconciliation (here the State)–so that Engels’s later comments on Feuerbach are not sufficient. Marx aspired to such a radical anthropology even before he read Feuerbach, and it remained his absolute and fixed guiding star throughout, including his work on Capital. Furthermore, the epistemological limitations of Feuerbach’s humanism have been largely evaded in the last quotation from Marx in this essay (see MEW 1: 370) which stresses power in society: he transfers the notion of species to politics, where instead of reposing upon the intersubjectivity of sexual love, it reposes on the Hegelian “life of the people” (cf. Kouvelakis 289). The limits are fully transcended a year later, in the essay on ”Alienated Labour” from Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, with the laconic formula “Gattungsleben [the species or generic life of man] is productive life”: the direct usefulness of Feuerbach for the transition into the critique of political economy comes here into view (MEW Ergänzungsband 516—see Zolo 122, and a bibliography on the relationship Marx-Feuerbach ibid. 90). In On the Jewish Question the civil society stands for all economic and ideological aspects under the political State’s and the ruling class’s structure of power (see also Thesis 10 on Feuerbach, MEW 3: 7). And I shall further suggest that this focus on the emancipation of people and their productivity–in the widest sense of all creativity–is not only constant in Marx’s thought, but also very pertinent to later contradictions, after the proletarian revolution, between that emancipation and the “socialist” State.

I shall here briefly deal only with the perhaps most important stages in his development of this emancipatory or libertarian opposition. In the important German Ideology, within the “civil society” in all social formations there is an ongoing conflict of classes, which depends on material production relationships; still, the “civil society” itself remains the “true hearth and arena of all history”! Here this society is resolutely liberated from the narrow context of the bourgeoisie and Hobbes–although it is from the bourgeoisie that both the term for as well as the first full form of such a society come from: “civil society [bürgerliche Gesellschaft] comprises the whole material traffic [that is, relationships, DS] of individuals within a given developmental stage of the relationships of production” (all MEW 3:36). Moreover, it is here, I think, that Marx for the first time proposes the thesis according to which the precondition for a free development of personalities is their rule over contingency and reified relationships, namely, a communist organisation of society (MEW 3: 424-25, and cf. 69-70).

Similar positions are to be found in the Communist Manifesto, with the important addition of discussing class economic interests protected by the State. But in The 18th Brumaire further developments can be found in the analysis of Bonapartism and its complete subordination of  legislative to executive power. The deep structure is that of the youthful critique from the 1840s, with the State as the antagonist and negation of the civil society, but now also as an apparatus for regulating the economic class conflict. Marx induces from historical experience that, in a stalemate between classes, the executive can appear completely autonomous in relation to civil society (MEW 8: 197); after a further historical experience of 150 years I would add that in our “hot” society this is inherently  unstable and may last no longer than one generation. This horizon is clarified and developed in two other vital writings: Marx’s admiring 1871 analysis of the Paris Commune, and his 1875 critique of the German Social Democratic Party.  In The Civil War in France, written in English, Marx rejects the earlier assumption that the proletariat should form a non-bureaucratic State centralism after the fall of the bourgeois State apparatus, and most resolutely advocates a federation of communes, therefore decentralisation, the reason being that–as in On the Jewish Question!–the quasi-religious sacralisation of the State, which has replaced medieval Heaven and Church, must be smashed. In the note “The Character of the Commune” (WMAW/1871/civil-war-france/drafts/ch01.htm#D1s1), Marx dismisses the State, “this supernaturalist abortion of society,” and its “Holy State Power,” and praises the Paris Commune counter-project of “the reabsorption of the State power by society as its own living forces instead of as forces controlling and subduing it.” As Zolo’s research has cogently argued, Marx’s analysis of revolutionary changes in the Paris Commune opposes the economic and social element to the political and bureaucratic one: this historical overview “matches the opposed pair ‘civil society’-‘political State’ that Marx has ever since the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right used to express, even though with partly diverse and tentative semantic values, the basic contradiction within that formation.” (176-77) This stance is in Marx the presupposition for his focus on the organisation of associated labour in the Commune and the organisation of the entire nation on the basis of self-government (which is exactly what this essay of mine also wants to be).

Finally, in the Critique of the Gotha Program (Randglossen zur Programm der deutschen Arbeiterpartei) from 1875 it can be seen, by contraries, how important it was for Marx to resolve  his youthful dichotomy of State vs. civil society through communism, as the only possible way out and horizon. In this perspective the State is no longer simply power over society, but–contrary to the anarchists–it becomes after the proletarian revolution the executive organ of universal social functions. Such a project can be approached, he avers, only in a scholarly way, which suggests his conclusions from Capital about gradually but resolutely abolishing “the commodity form,” that is, abstract labour to produce commodities for the market. The goal or telos of the process is to make it possible, “after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour … has vanished,” that “the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be entirely transcended and [that] society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” (WMAW/works/1875/gotha/ch01.htm)

I conclude that the term “civil society,” in opposition to the State as apparatus, recurs in Marx’s political thought. After the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, it was gradually but surely liberating itself from its Hegelian matrix, where civil society meant the corrupt egotism of private interests, and approaching the meaning of interaction between politics and the sphere of social and economic relationships, the relationships which ultimately co-determine production. Civil society becomes co-extensive with those activities where social decision-making is not incorporated into the State as apparatus. The central oscillation remaining in Marx is then whether civil society is necessarily also co-extensive with class struggles, as is clearly the case in both absolutism and capitalism. His notions such as proletariat and communism as abolition of class society do not fit into the opposition between civil society and State but represent its utopian and scientific supersession (Aufhebung). Let me add that I would today doubt this “annulment of politics” aspect of Marx’s oscillation, which was then exclusively developed by Lenin in The State and Revolution.

Part 2. The Theses Developed

–ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MARX, PASSAGE 1 (MEW 1: 352): ): “The question of the relation of political emancipation to religion becomes for us the question of the relation of political emancipation to human emancipation.”

–COMMENT: Since politics has become a substitute of religion as self-awareness by the government, Marx’s relationship lay politics : religion should be metamorphosed into our relationship social : officially political. But a further complication arises:  social or complete human emancipation (soon to centrally include for Marx economic emancipation from misery and exploitation) is identical to Marx’s vision of communism, which I shall awkwardly, but I hope clearly, call “true communism” here. To my mind, this is a horizon of total social justice and disalienation, politically implemented through free self-determination of every person in independent working and territorial communities with no State.  This means that the relationship of such complete human social emancipation to the official political emancipation is also a relationship of true communism, or of the original Marxian project (we may call it C1), to official Party and State communism (we may call it C2).  True— Partizan, plebeian—communism with direct democracy relates to, but is very different from, actually existing Party and State communism.  Here then is the beginning of my reworking of Marx for the chronotope of SFR Yugoslavia.


Thesis 1. The problem of the relation of complete social emancipation of people to official (and partly real) State and political emancipation is the problem of the relation of real plebeian, directly democratic communism that liberates and empowers people vs. official State and Party communism, emancipatory only to a degree.

Gloss to 1: It follows that the problems of emancipation in Yugoslavia were a version of constant conflict and permeation between two currents within the socialist and communist tradition from the Industrial Revolution on: should sovereign democracy, and even organisation, flow from bottom upward or from top down? On the first extreme of the spectrum are both Marx and the anarchists, on the other Stalin, while Lenin, perforce, moved from the first pole in his theory up to 1917 toward the other one in his extremely endangered application after 1918. This dilemma is explicated in Mao’s harsh initial slogan of the first Cultural Revolution in a communist State: “Bombard the headquarters [with criticism]”.


–ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MARX, PASSAGE 2  (MEW 1: 353): “The limits of political emancipation are evident at once from the fact that the state can free itself from a restriction without man being really free from this restriction, that the state can be a free state [pun on word Freistaat, which also means republic] without man being a free man…. It follows from this that man frees himself through the medium of the state, that he frees himself politically from a limitation when, in contradiction with himself, he raises himself above this limitation in an abstract, limited, and partial way.”


Thesis 2. The limits of social emancipation are evident at once from the fact that the State can free itself from a restriction without people being really free from this restriction, that the State can be politically free or a parliamentary republic without people being free. It follows that when people free themselves through the medium of the State, they free themselves only in a limited way.

It follows also that when the State freed itself from the restrictions of capitalist class rule while preserving, in Marx’s encompassing anthropological sense, a capitalist organisation of production and distribution and bourgeois law, the working people or plebeians were not really freed from the restriction of the “capital-relationship,” that is, the exploitation of labour and all particular egotisms that arise from it on the side of the exploiters and the exploited. This is accompanied by other class alienation factors: the legacy of patriarchal despotism, different gender roles, city vs. country, intellectual vs. manual labour (readers can supply additional factors).

Gloss to 2: But in this entire essay it is very important, and not to be disregarded, that the actual chronotope of Yugoslavia is doubly philosophically “impure” in comparison to Marx’s orientation.  It is first impure in general, as any praxis in comparison to theory, since it involves practical politics with all the necessary compromises, anachronisms, etc. It is also impure, second and especially, since it involves a “transitional period”  from capitalism to communism like the one that Marx–only initially, but fundamentally–characterised much later, in the Critique of the Gotha Program. Consequently, we are not dealing with a largely closed and stable historical chronotope, such as the early 1840s, but with tempestuous ebb and flow on a much more complex terrain. An example: the revolutionary enthusiasm and plebeian tradition of the National Liberation War 1941-45 were in the beginning able to completely neutralise the capital-relationship (note for example the economically ridiculous radicalism of nationalisation of small family-owned stores and taverns after 1946/47). Contrarywise: this initial enthusiasm abated naturally somewhere around 1960, for biopsychological reasons of the revolutionary generation’s wear and tear, and it was not being continually reinvigorated by a permanent revolutionising of human relationships, both in production–because of a ghettoisation of self-government at company level while blocking its ascent to the summits of power–and in public life or civil society (in the sense of citizen, citoyen, participation).


–ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MARX, PASSAGE 3 (MEW 1: 353): “It follows, finally, that man, even if he proclaims himself an atheist through the medium of the state – that is, if he proclaims the state to be atheist – still remains in the grip of religion, precisely because he acknowledges himself only by a roundabout route, only through an intermediary. Religion is precisely the recognition of man in a roundabout way, through an intermediary. The state is the intermediary between man and man’s freedom. Just as Christ is the intermediary to whom man transfers the burden of all his divinity, all his religious constraint, so the State is the intermediary to whom man transfers all his non-divinity and all his human unconstraint.”

–DS METAMORPHICALLY (I use an additional operator: Marx’s „atheist“ = today „true communist“):

Thesis 3. It also follows that people, when they proclaim themselves socialist/communist through the medium of the State–that is, when they proclaim the State to be socialist/communist—still remain non-communist, because they acknowledge themselves only by a roundabout route, only through an intermediary. Non-communism is precisely the recognition of people through an intermediary, by an indirect, and not by direct route. The State is the intermediary between people and people ’s freedom, just as religion (a Christian would say Christ) is the intermediary to whom the working people  transfer all their communism and all their unconstraint.

It further follows that belief in the State is in a sincere (not Stalinist and counter-revolutionary) communist government a homologue of religion in Marx’s Prussia and the like: it replaces further communist emancipation of the working people by a supernaturalist principle of emancipation.

It finally follows that a sincere (not Stalinist and counter-revolutionary) communist party is to be understood as a key attempt at neutralising the deleterious effects of this etatist intermediary after the revolution. However, for this purpose it needs to change from an instrument primarily of violence to an instrument primarily of learning and education (including educating the educators) for the most complex task of permanent revolutionising.

Gloss to 3: This mediation is not, and cannot be, seriously undermined by a representative (parliamentary, essentially class) democracy, but only by associative plus direct democracy. I shall worry at this in the following Essays.


–ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MARX, PASSAGE 4  (MEW 1: 355): “Political emancipation is, of course, a big step forward. True, it is not the final form of human emancipation in general, but it is the final form of human emancipation within the hitherto existing world order. It goes without saying that we are speaking here of real, practical emancipation.”

–DS METAMORPHICALLY (”political” vs. “human emancipation” is State vs. human emancipation here):

Thesis 4. Political and legal emancipation through the State is, of course, a big step forward. It is the final step of human emancipation possible in the hitherto existing world-order and macro-framework of States and classes.



Thesis 5. What are the limits of applicability of this entire metamorphic transfer of Marx from the 1840s to Yugoslavia after 1945? Two clusters of arguments indicate that these limits exist.

5.1. The first cluster is that after all there are limits to the analogy religion = communism (Marx’s “politics” is consequently “society” for us, and what is called politics in our chronotope is not  affected by this since it is the zone of tension between the State and the rest of  society— or the  civil society). Other lengthy but secondary distinctions would be needed here, which I shall avoid simply by using scissors: by dealing only with those passages from Marx that I need; for, this brilliant text of his is anyway just a crucial incentive, catalyst, and indispensable base for a reworking. 

Gloss to 5.1: A large-scale forgetfulness of one’s object would be a very questionable practice, but since this is not a text about Marx but through him, I would vigorously defend this method.

5.2. The other cluster is that, in a largely differing historical reality, similarities to Marx’s chronotope walk hand in hand with significant differences. The knot of Yugoslavia and the world in the time of multilateral revolutionary dynamics in productive forces and production relationships is much more convoluted that the static Prussian-European one when Marx wrote his diatribe. Neither the economy nor the government nor ideology were in the 1940s what they used to be in the 1840s.

Thesis 6. The reflections so far lead to a thesis fundamental for a cognitive understanding of SFRY: the Party/State government was a two-headed Janus (at least in 1945-72). Diametrically opposed to Marx’s State in the 1840s, the Party/State government of Yugoslavia was not only a factor of alienation, but concurrently also the initiator and lever of real liberation–up to a certain important limit (the liberation is important and the limit is important!).

Liberation: banishment of occupiers and collaborators–capitalists, bureaucrats, and mercenaries–hence the independence of the country (Tito) as a prerequisite for all other moves toward self-government; nationalisation and creation of a unified planned economy (Kidrič); realisation of a bourgeois revolution in a patriarchal-comprador and despotic country. Such liberation included equality for all before the law including women and the young; mass rise of young peasants (to power during the revolution, to urban employment after the revolution); mass creation of industry and the working class as well as the intelligentsia; realisation of even a Welfare State with social security (employment, education, health-care, electrification, a serious although inadequate attempt to build housing and urban infrastructures, etc.). It opened the doors to full freedom or disalienation, its emblem was policy (to adapt Rancière). It was a road to C1.

Limit: at the same time, the Party/State government was an intermediary, custodian, and protector of a liberation that, with numerous zigzags, increasingly turned towards oppression; that is, the oligarchy became a class in statu nascendi*. It closed the doors to the freedom of Marx’s “final human emancipation,” its emblem was the police (to adapt  Rancière). C2 was fossilising and fencing in C1.2/

6.1. These two principles, horizons, and currents clashed within the leadership of the Yugoslav Communist Party and the State: so far so good. But their potential dialectics was suffocated by a “bureaucratic” tradition (in Marx’s sense) of monolithism and non-transparency, here of Stalinist origin. Add the economic, as well as ideological, pressures of capitalism from outside, and then increasingly from inside as well (as per the immensely popular song “Tata, kupi mi auto”–“Daddy, Buy Me a Car”), stir and shake well in a closed vessel, and there’s the SFR Yugoslavia for you. 


–ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MARX, PASSAGE 5 (MEW 1: 359-60): “Criticism is, therefore, fully justified in forcing the state that relies on the Bible into a mental derangement [Verrücktheit, pun on craziness vs. displacement, DS] in which it no longer knows whether it is an illusion or a reality, and in which the infamy of its secular aims, for which religion serves as a cloak, comes into insoluble conflict with the sincerity of its religious consciousness, for which religion appears as the aim of the world. This state can only save itself from its inner torment if it becomes the police agent of the Catholic Church. In relation to the church, which declares the secular power to be its servant, the state is powerless, the secular power which claims to be the rule of the religious spirit is powerless.

It is, indeed, alienation which matters in the so-called Christian state, but not man. The only man who counts, the king, is a being specifically different from other men, and is, moreover, a religious being, directly linked with heaven, with God. The relationships which prevail here are still relationships dependent of faith. The religious spirit, therefore, is still not really secularised.

But, furthermore, the religious spirit cannot be really secularised, for what is it in itself but the non-secular form of a stage in the development of the human spirit? The religious spirit can only be secularised insofar as the stage of development of the human mind of which it is the religious expression makes its appearance and becomes constituted in its secular form. This takes place in the democratic state. Not Christianity, but the human basis of Christianity is the basis of this state. Religion remains the ideal, non-secular consciousness of its members, because religion is the ideal form of the stage of human development achieved in this state.”

–DS METAMORPHICALLY (taking Thesis 6 into account!):

Thesis 7. Criticism is, therefore, fully justified in forcing the State that relies on Holy Writ to understand it is in a deranged and crazy position in which it no longer knows whether it is a fiction or a reality, and in which the dubiousness of its empirical aims, for which ideology (C2) serves as a cloak, comes into insoluble conflict with the sincerity of its communist (C1) consciousness, for which communism appears as the purpose of the world. This State can only save itself from its inner torment if it becomes the police agent of the institutionalised Party.

Gloss to 7: In the two-headed Janus perspective from Thesis 6 above, the idea of the State as the police for the Party is true only for one completely negative–monolithic and despotic–face of government in SFRY: this was completely and “purely” striven for by the Party conservatives, who are therefore non-Stalinist Stalinists. But with this reservation and to that extent (which is yet to be determined)–it is true. The only alternative: the State should—gradually but steadily—wither.

7.1. For the etatised, oligarchic, police face of the so-called communist State, what counts (gilt) is alienation, and not people. The only people who count are those of “a special mould” (Stalin), moreover directly linked with ideology (with Heaven). The relationships that prevail here are still relationships of faith. The religious horizon of official communism is, therefore, still not secularised or laicised.

But the “State-communist” (C2) horizon cannot be really secularised, for what is it in itself but the alienated form of a transitional stage in the potential development of human emancipation from millenary State power, patriarchal violence, and class exploitation? These alienations demand a schism between the earthly and the heavenly horizon, operative also in the period of potential transition from class society to communism as well. The State-communist stance can be realised and abolished (aufgehoben) only insofar as the stage of development of human emancipation of which it is the ideologically alienated expression makes its appearance and becomes constituted in a this-worldly, disalienated spirit. This may take place in such a socialist society where direct plebeian self-government would prevail over etatism and other alienations. The basis of this State would then not be State communism but the human basis of communism (C1).


–ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MARX, PASSAGE 6 (MEW 1: 360-61): ): “Political democracy is Christian since in it man, not merely one man but everyman, ranks as sovereign, as the highest being, but it is man in his uncivilised, unsocial form, man in his fortuitous existence, man just as he is, man as he has been corrupted by the whole organisation of our society, who has lost himself, been alienated, and handed over to the rule of inhuman conditions and elements…. That which is a creation of fantasy, a dream, a postulate of Christianity, that is, the sovereignty of man – but man as an alien being different from the real man – becomes, in democracy, tangible reality, present existence, and secular principle.”

–DS VERY METAMORPHICALLY (but within Marx’s vocabulary):

Thesis 8. Real and integral political democracy is communist (C1): it restrains and humanises the necessary State. State communism (C2), however, empirically knows man in his uncivilised, unsocial form, man in his fortuitous existence, man as he has been corrupted (verdorben) by the whole organisation of our patriarchal and capitalist society, alienated, handed over to the rule of inhuman conditions and elements. Official communism may dream of and postulate the sovereignty of man as the highest being, but that is an alien being, different from the “really existing” man. In real communism (C1) this creation of fantasy and dream would however be tangible reality, present existence, material principle—carrier of self-determination and self-awareness. Marx’s “transitional period” is the growth of people from C2 to C1. This is the criterion for any measure and institution in it.


–ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MARX, PASSAGE 7 (MEW 1: 354-55): “Where the political state has attained its true development, man – not only in thought, in consciousness, but in reality, in life – leads a twofold life, a heavenly and an earthly life: life in the political community, in which he considers himself a communal being, and life in civil society, in which he acts as a private individual, regards other men as a means, degrades himself into a means, and becomes the plaything of alien powers.”

–DS METAMORPHICALLY (this alienation is not transferrable to Yugoslavia tel quel, at least not before the 1970s):

Thesis 9 (alternatively to Thesis 8). Where the communist State government has developed into a closed ruling elite or politocracy, people  lead—not only in thought, in consciousness, but in reality, in life—a twofold life, ideal and real (heavenly and earthly). They live in the State community in which they consider themselves communal beings, and also live in the civil or bourgeois society in which they consider themselves private individuals, regardless of all other individuals that are being treated as a means, and in which they become degraded and playthings of alien powers.


–ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MARX, PASSAGE 8 (MEW 1: 357-58): “The so-called Christian state is the Christian negation of the State, but by no means the political realisation of Christianity. The state which still professes Christianity in the form of religion, does not yet profess it in the form appropriate to the state, for it still has a religious attitude towards religion – that is to say, it is not the true implementation of the human basis of religion, because it still relies on the unreal, imaginary form of this human core. The so-called Christian state is the imperfect state, and the Christian religion is regarded by it as the supplementation and sanctification of its imperfection. For the Christian state, therefore, religion necessarily becomes a means; hence, it is a hypocritical state. It makes a great difference whether the complete state, because of the defect inherent in the general nature of the state, counts religion among its presuppositions, or whether the incomplete state, because of the defect inherent in its particular existence as a defective state, declares that religion is its basis. In the latter case, religion becomes imperfect politics. In the former case, the imperfection even of consummate politics becomes evident in religion. The so-called Christian state needs the Christian religion in order to complete itself as a state.“

–DS METAMORPHICALLY (with a supplement):

Thesis 10. Similarly to a State which professes religion, the so-called communist State is the communist negation of State, but by no means the social realisation of communism. The so-called communist State is the imperfect State, and communism is regarded by it as the supplementation and sanctification of its imperfection, so that communism necessarily becomes a means, and the State – a hypocritical State. The so-called communist State needs communism in order to complete itself as a State.

Gloss to 10: In that case, the official Party-State communism (C2, although the official interpretation in Yugoslavia avoided the term ”communism”!) becomes an ideology in the negative sense of an alienated view of reality.  Since it still invokes the original communism of Marx and of Lenin at his best (C1), C2 becomes hypocrisy as well, like to the Christian Pope preaching evangelic love for fellow-man (to stay with Marx’s parallel) from the magnificent St Peter’s Cathedral and the State enclave of the Vatican to masses gazing at the wonderful colonnade. The closing of doors to Marx’s integral emancipation (lineaments of which were becoming visible as an integral self-determination in economics and politics) transforms even the very real contributions of the first Janus’s head increasingly into hypocrisy. Yet that hypocrisy remains “a tribute which vice pays to virtue” (La Rochefoucauld).

C2, the “religion” of government, is in comparison to C1 always a partial–and eventually becomes a fake–achievement. It is within this discrepancy that the Zagreb magazine Praxis appears, as an example of the conscience of communism (C1)—which itself is also one-sided, being oppositional and militant instead of sovereign and triumphant, etc.

Thesis 11. In (important!) contrast to other-worldly religion, this-worldly communism understands the second sentence of Thesis 10 as a temporary postponement of perfection—until the productive forces of a people are developed and outside threats eliminated (which practically means sine die or, so far as we can see in the ever worsening capitalism, when hell freezes over). I suppose that this aporetic gap gives rise to important strategic modifications for the future to Marx’s political horizon itself, which are to be based on philosophical anthropology and very costly experiences. Centrally, there is a need to supplement the necessary orientation towards the role that economic production and consumption—albeit in the long term pivotal—plays in disalienation with the role of democratic power outside direct production.

Gloss to 11: In fact, communism has no sense whatsoever unless it preserves the horizon of a radical this-worldly salvation, namely mass production of a qualitatively better life, and not only social-democratic reformism. But how? C1 is politically a matter of developing, within communism and as the essence of communism, efficient and intertwined forms of both associative and direct democracy, in the interaction of State and the rest of society, and economically a matter of developing efficient and intertwined forms of many-sided and pyramidal planning on the basis of critical feedback from such a democracy.  Philosophically, it is a matter of resisting all pretences to the One Final Truth, and all attendant corollaries of Oneness from top down; these are best seen in Stalin’s monolithism and his ubiquitous vertical chain of the “single command” system [odinonachalie], but are well and thriving in all Churches and capitalist corporations.

Religion (monotheistic) is beyond repair; Marxism and communism (C1) are not.

Thesis 12. Communism cannot abolish politics, that is oppositions within the civil society between citizens of a State or other community. Marx gave to politics the exclusive sense of antagonistic collisions, in the final instance based on class interests; this strand runs from the passages discussed earlier to, for example, The Misery of Philosophy, and culminates in the Communist Manifesto conclusion that “Political power, properly so called, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another.” (Tucker ed. 353) After the 20th Century revolutions, however, we know also of “non-antagonistic contradictions within the people” (Mao). Without civil-society politics to resolve them, only the State remains for that job–a necessary, but very one-sided politics from above. This became the major fault of Leninism, growing out of a backward patriarchal reality.

Today we may redefine politics as existing outside class antagonisms too – that is, in the relations of production –  so that its germs could well be present in and intertwine with class politics (what else is C1 in the “transitional period”?). The State cannot really be abolished until its necessary functions were taken over by associations of producers as well as associations of citizens–civil society–in manifold institutions of direct democracy from below (see more in Suvin, “Communism” and the following essays).

Gloss to 12: We are talking here about the self-determination and self-awareness of individuals interacting within the social totality (according to Hegel at his best). These terms are derived from individuals, as active and reflexive aspects of their sovereign being, and they can be understood as self-government of oneself and of human collective affairs against the horizon of mortality.

If self-government is understood solely as a translation of these terms into the language of mass administration (self-management, as in Kardelj), this remains a necessary but not a sufficient step.


–ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MARX, PASSAGE 9 (MEW 1: 357): “In periods when the political state as such is born violently out of civil society, when political liberation is the form in which men strive to achieve their liberation, the state can and must go as far as the abolition of religion, the destruction of religion. But it can do so only in the same way that it proceeds to the abolition of private property, to the maximum, to confiscation, to progressive taxation, just as it goes as far as the abolition of life, the guillotine. At times of special self-confidence, political life seeks to suppress its prerequisite, civil society and the elements composing this society, and to constitute itself as the real species-life of man, devoid of contradictions. But, it can achieve this only by coming into violent contradiction with its own conditions of life, only by declaring the revolution to be permanent, and, therefore, the political drama necessarily ends with the re-establishment of religion, private property, and all elements of civil society, just as war ends with peace.”

–DS METAMORPHICALLY (and, in the end, totally different but within Marx’s vocabulary):

Thesis 13. In periods when the State government is born violently out of society, when liberation through the State is the form in which people strive towards their liberation, in this time of special self-confidence, the State seeks to suppress (erdrücken) its prerequisite, the society of citizens, and to constitute itself as the real fullness of man, devoid of contradictions. But the State can achieve this only by coming into violent contradiction with its own conditions of life, only by declaring the revolution to be permanent, and the drama necessarily ends with a change in the character of the State or a change in the character of the society.

Gloss to 13: I think this corresponds to the ongoing dilemma of SFRY. Extraordinary: although Marx cannot be literally applied to it, he formulated the dilemma of its government as coercive power brilliantly indeed! As we know, the drama ended with a change in the character of the State (in the worst possible version of the Yugoslav Secession Wars between feuding mini-classes and captive peoples), because no change had come about in the character of the citizens’ civil society (no full direct and associative democracy) in order to empower a full vertical association of producers.


I have two conclusions, one based on Marx and the other on experiences from the October Revolution onwards:

–ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF MARX, PASSAGE 10 (MEW 1: 370): “Only when the real, individual man re-absorbs in himself the abstract citizen, and as an individual human being has become a species-being in his everyday life, in his particular work, and in his particular situation, only when man has recognised and organised his >own powers< [Rousseau, Contrat social] as social powers, and, consequently, no longer separates social power from himself in the shape of political power, only then will human emancipation have been accomplished.”


Thesis 14. Only when real, individual people re-absorb in themselves the abstract citizen of the State (Staatsbürger) and when individual human beings have become in their empiric day-to-day life, work, and relationships integrally human beings, only when people have recognised and organised their “own powers” (Rousseau) as social powers, and, consequently, no longer separate social power from themselves in the shape of State power, only then will human emancipation have been accomplished. 


Thesis 15. However, whenever C2 suppresses C1 (Stalinism, today PR China), we arrive to a counter-revolution that annuls the beginnings of disalienation (Enlightenment, Welfare State, attempts at self-government). The metamorphosis of Luxemburg’s slogan “socialism or barbarism” in conditions of hegemonic world capitalism is: “Communism (C1) or counter-revolution into savagery”.


coupure épistemologique: epistemological break

mutatis mutandis: having changed what needs to be changed

in statu nascendi: just being born

tel quel: as is

sine die: without defined or any deadline, irony for “never”


1/ Footnotes don’t go well with Theses, I have avoided further ones, except for the following afterthought. This goes for the apparatus too, so that from the large library on the subject treated here I have cited only the indispensable Kouvelakis and Zolo, also the best treatment of the polysemic minefield of civil society in Hegel that I found in Bobbio 143-50, 185-87, and passim, though I do not agree with his stance on Marx.

2/ Two years after writing this I stumbled upon two cognate matters:

First, data about the 4th Century  theologian Ticonius, according to whose commentary upon the Apocalypse the Christian Church is a “bipartite body,” divided into a black and a clean aspect (fusca vs. decora), the first of which belongs to the Antichrist and the second to the Saviour. He was clearly influential on Augustine of Hippo’s concept of Earthly and Heavenly City—which Marx may have remembered in the Jewish Question. It was no big surprise, I dealt with the salvational parallels as well as differences of communism and religion already in “Inside,” but the exasperated split into two notional bodies is a pleasing boomerang.

Second, a sentence in Engels’s letter to Bracke of Apr. 30, 1878: “[W]e should not forget that all transfer of industrial and commercial functions to the State can today have a double meaning and double effect, according to the particular circumstances: a reactionary one, a regress to the Middle Ages, and a progressive one, a progress to Communism” (Marx-Engels, Briefe 236).


Works cited

Bobbio, Norberto. Which Socialism? Transl. R. Griffin. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1987.

Kouvelakis, Stathis. Philosophy and Revolution: From Kant to Marx. Transl. G.M. Goshgarian. London: Verso, 2003.

Labica, Georges, and Gérard Bensussan. Dictionnaire critique du marxisme. Paris: Quadrige/PUF, 1999.

Marx, Karl. The Civil War in France. WMAW/1871/civil-war-france/index.htm

[Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels.] The Marx-Engels Reader. Ed. R. C. Tucker. New York: Norton, 1972. [cited as Tucker ed.].

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. Briefe über “Das Kapital.” Berlin [DDR]: Dietz V., 1954.

—. Werke. Berlin DDR: Dietz, 1958ff. [cited as MEW with volume number].

Suvin, Darko. “Communism Can Only Be Radical Plebeian Democracy.” (forthcoming in International Critical Thought).

—. “Inside the Whale, or etsi communismus non daretur,” in his Defined by a Hollow: Essays on Utopia, Science Fiction, and Political Epistemology. Oxford: P. Lang, 2010, 473-502.

—. “Living Labour and the Labour of Living” in his Defined by a Hollow: Essays on Utopia, Science Fiction, and Political Epistemology, Oxford: P. Lang, 2010, 419-72.

—. “Socialist” Yugoslavia: Splendour, Misery, and Potentialities. [book MS, circulating]

Zolo, Danilo. La teoria comunista dell’estinzione dello stato. Bari: De Donato, 1974.


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— To the memory of Franco Fortini, a great poet and critic of my times

and for my landsmann Sezgin Boynik, who revived my interest in the Formalists

[…] doubt wisely; in strange way

To stand inquiring right, is not to stray;

To sleep, or run wrong, is….

John Donne

We have to live now amidst and with crass defeat, in a kalpa when dominant meanings of socialism and communism have suffered an epochal, though not necessarily irreversible, death: it follows, to upgrade Dostoevsky, that if God and Communism are dead, everything is permitted. It is therefore high time to consider more fully the complex and sensitive matter of how life can (and necessarily must) live in feedback with death. I shall start my consideration with the use in Jewish and Christian traditions of the term and image of a stumbling stone or rock, continue with matters of estrangement, and finish in Death vs. Eros.

  1. The Monotheistic Denunciation of Disbelief: Stumbling into a Trap
  2. Thiswordly Salvation through Estranged Perception

2.1. Values and Religiosity

2.2. Shklovsky‘s Stumbling to Refocus, or Poetry Is What Makes the Stone Stony

  1. Brecht: The Estrangement Effect Is Most Intimately Political (Critical or Mythical)

3.0. Context

3.1. Textual Syntax and Reference

3.2. The Potent (and Bipolar) Estrangement

  1. Brecht and the Stone – Stumbling or Other
  2. A Parthian Shot: On Death and Creative Eros

Alas, death has been a blind spot in canonic Marxism.

Marvell, To My Coy Mistress




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We have to fight for the right to invent the terms which will allow us to define ourselves and to define our relations to society, and we have to fight that these terms will be accepted.

Stokely Carmichael, Black Power

Living in this age of planned impoverishment, I can only shore some fragments of what may be useful understanding against our ruins. My title, paraphrased from a poem cited later, is thus not a claim of achievement but an orientation and spur toward a horizon. But a horizon is only of use if one attempts to move towards it.

  1. Approach to Poetry: Topological Cognition, and a Communist Politics

Fatti non foste per viver come bruti

Ma per seguir virtute e conoscenza

[You were not born to live like brutes,

But to follow virtue and knowledge]

Dante, Inferno 26

1.1. Poetry and Cognition (Understanding)

1.2. On Poetry and Politics (Communism)

1.3. On Poets in Alienated Time(s)


  1. The Stance of Emancipation: Brecht’s Theory, Hölderlin’s Verse, Fortini’s Criticism

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.

  1. Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

2.1. On Brecht’s Stance and Bearing

2.2. On Hölderlin and Transition

A famed example of poetic procedure and of major cognitive dignity may be found in the opus of Friedrich Hölderlin, and I’ll take as example his great poem Brod und Wein (Bread and Wine, 1801), and focus on the last 11 lines of its stanza 7:

Nur zu Zeiten erträgt göttliche Fülle der Mensch,
Traum von ihnen ist drauf das Leben. Aber das Irrsal
Hilft, wie Schlummer und stark machet die Not und die Nacht,
Bis daß Helden genug in der ehernen Wiege gewachsen,
Herzen an Kraft, wie sonst, ähnlich den Himmlischen sind.
Donnernd kommen sie drauf. Indessen dünket mir öfters
Besser zu schlafen, wie so ohne Genossen zu sein,
So zu harren und was zu tun indes und zu sagen,
Weiß ich nicht und wozu Dichter in dürftiger Zeit?
Aber sie sind, sagst du, wie des Weingotts heilige Priester,
Welche von Lande zu Land zogen in heiliger Nacht.

Only at times can mankind bear the divine fullness.
Dreaming them is life from then on. But the errance
Helps, also sleep, and the need and the night make for strength,
Until heroes enough in cradles of brass have grown to be,
With hearts as strong, and in other ways alike to the heavenly ones.
Thundering they come nearer. Meanwhile it seems to me often
Better to sleep, than thus to be companionless, so to wait
And wait and what’s to do in this while and to say

I do not know and what poets are for in an age of want?
Yet they are, you say, like to the wine-god’s holy priests,
Who wandered from land to land on through the holy night.

(Translation by Susan Ranson much emended by me; site/germanliterature/19th-century/hoelderlin/brot-und-wein-bread-and-wine)

2.3. On Fortini and Poetic Justice


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O great academics! Still, let’s search more diligently and not despair.

          Augustine of Hippo

The highest thing would be to understand that all phenomena are already theory.


Brecht can be supremely useful to us–people engaged in thinking through and doing something about the present catastrophic state of the world; and what is useful is his method. This is Fredric Jameson’s thesis in his to my mind path-breaking book. It is, I think, the most lasting contribution to come out of the hullabaloo that was the 1998 Brecht centennial.  But what does he mean by method?1/

               One of Jameson’s formulations may provide a first springboard: “there existed a Brechtian ‘stance’ [Haltung] which was not only doctrine, narrative, or style, but all three simultaneously; and ought better to be called, with all due precautions, ‘method'” (132). This builds on but considerably expands Lukács’s famous assertion in History and Class Consciousness that “orthodox Marxism… refers exclusively to method”–precisely because it adds the crucial factors  of stance (involving the whole body) and narrative (involving a more than exclusively conceptual articulation of a possible world). But then I would like to ask why is it necessary to stress this is not simply doctrine. Clearly, doctrine as a set of tightly– as it were “horizontally”–linked political-cum-philosophical concepts, not falsifiable by strategically placed “vertical” references to embodied situations from which they once sprang and to which they should in any Brechtian (and Jamesonian) “meshing thinking” (eingreifendes denken) be applied, has failed us in this century. We are now yoked to the victorious doctrine of “free trade”, but this is both a lie in its premises and a horror in its results. The opposing doctrine of Leninism was probably in some important aspects flawed when extrapolated west of Russia and after 1900-1921, it was certainly misused within Russia itself, and it is at any rate inadequate to the physical and mental technologies of Post-Fordism. What, then, is to be inherited, what is transmissible from the socialist past, which includes many glories, and even whose bad errors carry indispensable lessons for the future? What may be “a place-keeper” for what Jameson in a somewhat different context calls the metaphysics, but we may call the doctrines, “that have become impossible” (12)?

Jameson’s answer in Brecht’s case–yet Brecht is taken by him as exemplary for the whole inheritance–is: method. But as usual for him, it is arrived at through a rich (and richly persuasive) intricacy that requires the discussion of at least a few of the key foci “to be read into, or read out of” a complex argument (as Brecht said about Coriolanus and Shakespeare in general). What I take to be its key links have to do with what Brecht may mean or convey to us and with why this is significant beyond literary or theatre philology. These two facets to my mind come together in: what was and is the social and indeed class locus from which and to which Brecht speaks? In whose name or names, and then to whom, could he–or did he–speak? After considering a few such foci (other important ones, for example Brecht and Subject, Brecht and modernism, sympathy vs empathy and other emotions, Brecht’s and Jameson’s “representability of capitalism”, must be slighted), I would return to see  what illumination we may derive from Brecht’s and Jameson’s “method.”

Poetry, Narrative, Embodying, Allegory

It is clear enough that not only is Brecht a poet, but that had Brecht not been a (major!) poet or wordsmith, he would not have been anything else of significance. Jameson distances himself from “Western critics from Adorno on” who have insinuated Brecht was “(just) a poet” (6), but his brief is not to go into detailed appreciations of any single work, genre or mode. His approach is perhaps what Benjamin would have called a commentary (that starts from the prejudgment that the commented text is a classical one): a close reading indeed but one that shifts from the closed single “work” of I.A. Richards and Company to the details characterizing a whole opus, when and where the poem–or prose, or play–passage speaks to Jameson’s purpose. A network of references athwart the hidden monadic theological assumptions of “organic” literary scholarship and based on the contradictory unity of Brecht’s stance is thus put in place. We still get splendid analyses by the way; for verse, perhaps the best example is Jameson’s pithy comment on “The Cranes” (142-3), the classical poem in two voices fitted into Mahagonny, whose bittersweet lyricism is by itself enough to dispel the cliché–anyway repudiated by the mature poet–that Brecht is emotionless. Equally revealing are throwaway asides, like “the two fundamental Brechtian works Saint Joan and the Three-penny Novel” (151), at which my response is “right on!” Jameson’s stream of associations proceeds through concepts, but their kinetoscopic lope becomes strangely similar to a Joycean poetic narrative.  Pages 81-85, for example, proceed from Opposition through Contradiction to the V-Effekt, move from Brecht through Hegel, Marx, Post-Modernism, Barthes, ethnomethodology, Sartre, Judith Butler (the weakest link), and Gramsci back to the “Street Scene”,  to end  Part 1 of the book with a culminating bang: “[all this] is the proof that reality is theoretical, but also that Brecht’s theory… is what is ‘really’ or ‘in reality’ Brechtian in Brecht”!

Yet as earlier critics have indicated, poetry supplied a further crucial form for Brecht’s stance, the ballad: as in his admired “Sir Patrick Spens” and, no doubt, as in the great German heritage both of the Romantics’ Kunstballade and of the penny-dreadful Moritats sung by itinerant balladeers which one finds imitated in “Mack the Knife” and so many other “songs” in the plays.2/ The ballad develops through episodes, it has an inbuilt plebeian estrangement technique easily switching from impersonation to third-person narration and generalizing comment, it is both lyrical and epical: one could do worse than choose it as another major template for Brecht’s literary stance. It goes alongside the parable, the casus–roughly, Jolles’s elementary verbal form where a judgment of conduct also questions the norm–and the proverb, on which Jameson focuses with much illumination (99-105, 118-22, 131-40).

Brecht’s poems tell stories as often as draw up catalogs or survey inner and outer landscapes: from the great Hauspostille (Devotions for the Home) ones–“Marie Farrar”, “Evelyn Roe”, “Ballad of the Pirates”, “Remembering Marie A.”–to such final poems in the Buckow Elegies as “The Solution”, “When in my White Room at the Charité.” Especially after his emigration, the most effective poems combine these approaches with historicizing and making memorable (in all the senses) exemplary personal moments, say his “priapic” or sex poems, such as the extraordinary sonnets he exchanged with Grete Steffin. Very many are verse narratives either of a “case” or of a major historical complex, as the much undervalued verse updating of The Communist Manifesto for an age of World Wars. And “epic theatre” (a term repudiated by Brecht) mainly meant that a play should, in its dramaturgic skeleton as well as in performance, tell a clear and rich story, specifying complex circumstances and their effect on human flesh and behaviour as clearly as, if more sparingly than, a realistic French novel might: in which sense Jameson’s parallel with Balzac (13, 154-55) is well taken. Brecht infuriated his “Socialist Realist” critics by disregarding Marx’s future-oriented dialectics where poverty is not only poverty but also revolt, for in his commitment to observation, Brecht could not–as a sincere realist,  yet whose “realism is achieved by means of Cubism” (46)–find a believable referent for successful revolt  west of Moscow.

The crux is here whether “storytelling–or, better still, embodied storytelling, the acting out–thereby becomes the realm of some deeper truth…” (27); whether Brechtian (and indeed any) storytelling is potentially a privileged method, “rigorously non-formalistic, and thereby evad[ing] the philosophical objections to sheer method…” (28). In the example of historicizing, say, is “retelling individual events as though they were historical ones… a new mode of self-knowledge?” (57) By the end of the book, this overriding question, in the early pages carefully hedged in by interrogatives, is to my mind triumphantly answered: yes, storytelling is what I would call a cognitive method–which no doubt means that our usual philosophical and scientistic prejudices about what may be cognition and method will require a thorough refurbishing. Centrally, as Jameson hints when discussing narratology, there is an “ultimate irreducibility of narrative as such”: in both narrative and its analysis, “it is impossible to complete the act of abstraction”, to reduce understanding to “pure” conceptuality (101). Figuration, topology, shapes must intertwine with the no doubt indispensable conceptual categories for real cognition of today’s complex human situations.

But how is this general narrative “method” to be reconciled with the political interests of Brecht’s class and generation? Jameson makes a convincing case that a privileged way to do so, and in fact employed by Brecht, is allegory. One should be careful to point out that this is a new type of “open” allegory. Indeed, it is paradoxical to talk of allegory in an age skeptical of if not flatly inimical to doctrines, since allegory has traditionally been a way of squaring fiction with, and often subordinating it to, a doctrine or mythical orthodoxy. This can be seen in Aristophanes, in Buddhism, and in medieval Christianity–which was in Germany never cleanly broken by an “anti-Gothic” Renaissance as in Italy, France or England, but rather transmogrified into that Catholic, Protestant as well as folk Baroque which is at the root of Brecht’s cultural tradition. Theoretically speaking, there can be no significant classical (doctrinal)  allegory in our age. But practice is slyer than theory, and an allegory despairing because of the absence of the proper, supremely significant Law (Kafka) or–theatrically speaking–a Mystery-play set in a Limbo that knows no Heavens (Beckett) is a most significant part of avant-garde horizons in our century. Brecht had considerable esteem for both Kafka and Beckett, but he wanted to offer more hopeful counter-projects to them. Faced with the realist (including “Socialist Realist”) thesis which short-circuited the tension between phenomena and doctrine, and the antithesis which allowed doctrine only as a kind of “negative way” revealing hell by its absence (the theoreticians of these two enemy brothers being Lukács and Adorno), Brecht chose a paradoxical third way for his balladic parables: to show doctrine–or, significantly, some experimentally verifiable elements thereof–as sensually present in the everyday actions of those committed to its horizon of liberation, rather than as a Platonic essence beckoning from the classless future. Brecht saw hell on earth just as clearly as those who despaired (it was for him encapsulated in Breughel’s vision of Mad Meg), but identified it, as of Mahagonny, with the “snare city” of consumer capitalism and war of all against all, out of which those who watch Mother Courage or Shen Te should find a way: Jameson calls it Brecht’s Tao, and it is also meth’hodos, pursuing the Way out of exploitation and war.

               Such allegorizing shuttles back and forth between abstraction and concreteness, so that there is in it “both a little more and a little less than a concept… it keeps the procedure open” (100). This disposes of the usual complaint against concepts, from Nietzsche’s onslaughts on Socrates onwards,  that applying to all subsumed cases they don’t apply fully (sensually, experientially) to any case. Jameson’s dictum comes in a discussion of the somewhat murky Brechtian category of Gestus: since nobody knows how to translate it out of German (a sign just as bad as the untranslatability of the many coy French puns in Derrida), I would myself try to see Gestus as a feature of stance (Haltung), as its collective (theatrical) application. An excellent example of Brecht’s use of allegory, sensually concrete and yet clearly doctrinal, is Menenius’s patrician parable of the Belly and Members, gleefully refunctioned by the plebeian glance in Brecht’s rewrite of Coriolanus, and performatively revealed by the various stances developed toward it by the dramatis personae in that scene.

               Brecht’s central narrative tool, and I think central allegorical genre, of “open parable” must therefore recomplicate the classical–say Synoptic Bible–subservience of  story to intended meaning in allegory, and create a genuine feedback, where the story is a cognitive toolkit in its own right, testing the doctrine. From among the inexhaustible ramifications of parable, I shall here only remark that the feedback Brecht constantly struggled for can also be seen as one  between personal (but class-bound) interest and even the best imaginable doctrine. If we, further, remember his deep engagement with popular culture, his allegories could today be also taken as alternatives diametrically opposed to the hegemonic machines steeping us in fuzzy, rival but always  subaltern, allegories pretending to be none, from Mickey Mouse and the Lion King through allegories of the projective Nation (to which Jameson earlier devoted a seminal book) to Superman and the Invisible Hand of the Free Market.


History is Real: Allegories of Class Collectives, Self-government, “Autonomization”

Brecht’s life was shaped and “overdetermined” by the huge political  earthquakes of World War 1, the Leninist “storm and stress”, Fascism, Stalinism, World War 2, Cold War. Only semi-ironically, a well-known poem of his was directed to “Poor BB”, and it ends with “the earthquakes to come” amid which he hopes to keep his pleasures glowing–in the emblematic image of cigar, uniting oral metonymy and genital metaphor. Next to Russia (and the cordon sanitaire of east-central Europe, from Finland to the Balkans), Germany, that “middle kingdom” of Europe, felt the stress of the moving tectonic plates most strongly: Brecht saw the World War and attempted revolution as closely as one could without being engulfed by them. He landed in a Berlin hospital for undernourishment in his mid-twenties, he watched the social-democratic directed police shooting at workers on May First, and an anecdote has him even listening to Hitler in Munich beer-halls before the first attempted putsch in 1923. For sure, he concentrated grimly on “the housepainter” between 1931 and 1945: almost–or quite–directly in the magnificent failure of Roundheads and Peakheads (Jameson notes its magnificence), and then  in Ui, Schweyk, Terror and Misery of the Third Reich, and innumerable other poems and writings–not least one of the great pamphlet-essays of our age of obfuscations, Five Difficulties in Writing the Truth; but also in Mother Courage, that clear allegory of fake profit in warfare, and very possibly even in his exasperated response to the “blond beast” empathizing, the splendid and still fertile Lehrstücke.3/

The movement of tectonic plates provoking all such earthquakes, we ought to have learned, occurs in magmatic depths we do not understand well. We can only say that something like  Fordism and the Welfare-Warfare State was transforming with equal intimacy our categories of economy, technology, and belief (ideology, or brainwashing if you wish).  On the Left, Brecht was together with Gramsci (to whose stances toward culture-cum-politics he has astounding similarities)4/ the first lonely thinker to realize this meant an epoch-making break in history. And the kinship to Gramsci is also striking in a matter of overriding importance for both: the steadfast, life-long, and central orientation in all of Brecht’s life-worlds  towards not only collectives, but also self-governing collectives. This was the steady bark and compass amidst the hurricanes he met “who had hats on.”

Here too, much more than doctrine is involved: Brecht’s just could not work at any major project without a group of friends for dialogue partners; even though he was then as a rule the first among equals (the only true equals he acknowledged were people whose special skills he did not share: Neher the painter, Eisler the musician, Weigel the actress). This began with his Augsburg high-school group, probably culminated in size and complexity in the Berlin days, and continued even in emigration where a couple of women collaborators fled from country to country together with Brecht, Weigel, and their children; and in East Berlin (GDR) he had his old friends, half a dozen of highly capable theatre assistants as well as official pupils from the Academy of Arts. Brecht’s works contain many lines, phrases or stage arrangements he had  accepted from suggestions or drafts by collaborators, but anything he incorporated was given the unmistakable imprint of his stance and rhetoric, which had by then permeated the group of collaborators anyway.5/

               The collective way of working, the “workshop” with partners and disciples, is comparable to any painter’s studio before romanticism or movie studio today; and if the publishers’ profit striving and the German editors’ doctrinaire individualism could ever be overcome, many Brecht works should be attributed to “Brecht and His Workshop”–as Giotto’s or Rembrandt’s works are without causing fuss. As usual, Brecht’s originality was to have returned, with suitably large changes, to pre-capitalist ways of behaving. This was above all a method which acknowledged that ours is a century torn between the manipulable “masses” of capitalist demagogy and its kindred entertainment industries (see Brecht’s essay “The Theatricality of Fascism”)–and the only efficient alternative, self-governing collectives as creative working groups. One can see how such a collective should work in the exemplary behaviour of the Boy in Brecht’s two playlets, He Who Says Yes and He Who Says No: in a situation of dire and demonstrated necessity, he consents to sacrifice his life in order to prevent the wipeout of the whole community. But dire necessity–say war or civil war–is, or ought to be, the exception and not the rule in human affairs (Stalin thought otherwise). As a rule, the group is here to protect its member–and especially a child, its future. After reasonable consultation where arguments are evaluated according to how they fit the concrete situation, and total necessity is not proven, the Boy withholds consent in the second playlet. The whole group follows his better argument. This double parable indicates Brecht’s halfway house between the special, limit-case of Lenin’s Party, whose Great Law  (doctrine) must be followed for dire survival, and Luxemburg’s Councils (Räte, soviets), which would be the norm for collective decisions of self-governing socialism.  In the “cold Chicago” of the lockouts and Depression, Brecht embraced the Leninist translation of Dantean hell into opposed frontlines of  class  struggle,   as the political embodiment of his permanent epistemological “actant” Contradiction (see Jameson 81ff.). But conversely, Galileo can only constitute a Science to Make the Life of People Easier (a friendly, in fact socialist science), when flanked by an allegorical mini-collective comprising a manual worker (the lensmaker Federzoni), an ethical peasants’ son (the Little Monk), and a curious youngster (Andrea), so that in the end his real treason is to have sundered curiosity from ethics and labour, to have taught Andrea “pure science” of the bourgeois, atom-bomb kind.  Brecht could only go about constituting the Berliner Ensemble by making it a Luxemburgian Council, abhorred and isolated by the Stalinists in power.

Jameson therefore rightly collocates a brief chapter on Brecht’s “autonomization” effects in narrative (43-51) into the part that deals with doctrine (Lehre, the Teaching). Semantic and syntactic form are consubstantial with the message here, the montage procedure (even thematically foregrounded in Man is Man) shows off different possibilities for choosing according to different interests and values. Jameson argues that Brecht’s formal categories “apply… to the collectivity itself” (71): the forms are allegorically linked to the postulated and induced audience; this justifies the central refusal of a catharsis assuming a “general human nature.”  What Sabine Kebir calls the “Courage effect”–not decreeing conversion to “rightness” on the stage but letting the contrary of it transmit an awful warning to the spectator–opens up a possibility not only of appealing to those not sharing the doctrine, but also (as in the Yeasayer /Naysayer) to question the doctrine as to its concrete rightness. Brecht’s maxim ran, “The learner is more important than the Teaching”; and real learning can only come about when the concrete particularity of the embodied situation counteracts the leveling force of conceptual reason, allowing actors and agents the choice of how best to fit the new situation, while the allegorical exemplarity escapes one-dimensional naturalism  and makes their choice exemplary for us. Thus, each autonomous–as it were self-governing–situation acquires equal rights before the judgments of embodied reason submitted to the audience as a “Control Chorus” (as in The Measure Taken).

Precapitalist Wisdom and Technology, Artisan Intellectuals, Luxemburgian Two-way Media

Jameson’s repeated references to peasantry in Brecht’s worlds are among the most stimulating and provocative ones of this book. His argument is subtle and worthwhile: on the one hand, “the immemorial peasantry… stands behind so much of [Brecht’s] work”; on the other, Brecht also participates in a technological modernism with his “delight in aeroplanes and in the radio, the dimension of ‘workers’ to be added to that of ‘peasants’ in any Gramscian aesthetic alliance” (3). Here fruitful discussions may begin, for in whose name or voice, and therefore to whom (to which classes or maybe congeries of class fractions) Brecht speaks is of a piece with how and to whom he might be useful. I doubt that Brecht’s world is a village one. Given that we have to characterize Brecht’s stories, perhaps his friend Benjamin’s  essay on “The Storyteller”,6/ which allots classical precapitalist storytelling to travelers, peasants, and most of all artisans, might be of help.

Travelers, mostly involuntary, are everywhere in Brecht, from Baal, Kragler, and the early pirates through the caravan and mercenaries (see Jameson 165) of The Exception and the Rule and Mother Courage, almost an “eternal Wandering Jewess” damned by capitalist war, to Galileo himself, moving–not too unlike Brecht–from the cozy but philistine Venice to the big, excitingly dangerous but also rewarding Florence and finally hauled before the inquisition at the centre of power, Rome. (Can one avoid thinking of a conflation of Los Angeles and New York here, if only in the sense that Brecht was playing through the political possibilities for an intellectual, as a general staff plays through possible campaigns?) The big town or mass city–Berlin, whose shock reverberates through the icy Primer for City-Dwellers–is impersonal and depersonalizing, strange and most dangerous, but not unmanageable: at worst a cold jungle, swept by the winds from Lake Michigan. After Hitler, the antifascist victory is in the Chalk Circle‘s counter-project to class power tied to Grushe’s march –Titoist or Maoist avant la letter–through villages and icy mountains, a plebeian hegira looping back to victory in the city. As Jameson notes, in Brecht “it is nature which is minimal, and the city, with its jungle and grim profusion, which [is rich]” (134).

Thus Brecht’s world is not a village one but the road or forest of Baal or the estate of the Chalk Circle or Puntila.  The semblance of peasant wisdom is deceiving–when peasants are found in the plays they are grasping and scared. Nor is there much industrial  working class  around: what one might call the totem-field of Fordism is represented, as Jameson notes  (cf. 139 and 165-67),  by machines and by the  “poverty of the poor” (in Saint Joan of the Slaughterhouses, a title allegorically preferable to Stockyards, for the slaughter concerns proletarians as well as oxen and swine, as foregrounded in the emblematic case of the worker who falls into the bacon vats). The  unemployed are a Hellenic chorus of millennial plebeian suffering, oppressed more than exploited: they do not strike, they are locked out. But Benjamin’s artisans do fit the early industrial small town (like Augsburg, traditionally “merchant urban”–just as Sechuan before Shui Ta, see Jameson 139), open to the countryside river for swimming and the disreputable plebeian suburbs of Baal’s taverns and sexual freedom. For all the workshop stress on productivity, which was–together with teaching–Brecht’s central stance (Jameson concludes his book on this note, 174-78), his storytelling fits Benjamin’s worry how to repristinate values based on communal experience and tradition (in the active sense) in an increasingly reified world of mass production of commodities and people to consume them. As Brecht most revealingly observed in The Three-penny Lawsuit,  a snapshot of the  Krupp factory (that is, immediate or surface experience) doesn’t advance knowledge any more: a blueprint and organigram is needed. Brecht’s simplified world of small town and wayfaring is an attempt at such a blueprint, and his hero is the small-town artisan-flyer, like the Tailor of Ulm in the splendid eponymous poem, while Yang Sun from the Good Person is a dire villain because he wants to fly by grinding the face of the small town, embodied in his bride-to-be Shen Te. Similarly, the bearer of his “heroic cowardice” (124) is the intellectual, an artisan commanding the technology of thinking–Me-ti, Keuner, Azdak, and the failed social experimenter Galileo. Jameson rightly observes that Brecht’s fascination with China, which he discusses at illuminating length, and with East Asian esthetics in general, relates to precapitalist culture (62) adopted as counter-world to the Chicago of slaughterhouses and fierce class struggles while Americanization was still being emulated by Stalin’s industrializing Russia.

Jameson splendidly argues that Brecht’s  objective correlative to the machines, or even more to technology, lies in the “starkness, which emerges from the radio play” (165-66 and elsewhere). I would point out that this was precisely the one aspect in which, as both Brecht and Benjamin noted, intellectuals were, in their class essence of artisanal creativity, “objectively” allies of proletariat: they share the delight of the master of the machine or tool or style when it works. This formal spareness reinforced tendencies in Brecht already there from his beginnings, but in the Hauspostille finding outlet in heretic reversals of the severe clerical forms (the psalm, the Loyolan “exercise”, the canticles accompanying the liturgic year). Similarly, Brecht translated the esoteric Buddhist–not simply Zen–world-reduction of medieval Noh into the starkness of both Taylorism (the minimal psychic movements indispensable for efficiency) and early Leninism. Jameson devotes pioneering and revealing pages to this epoch (say 1916-31) of radio and Lindberghian monoplane. I would call these, just as  the ubiquitous automobiles, space-binding machines of collective communication, and only add that it is also the time of silent film–whose importance for Brecht is underscored by the recent discovery that he was the director of the remarkable short 1923 movie “Mysteries of a Barber-Shop.”  Lindbergh, Taylor, Chaplin: the “Americanization” that swept post-1918 Europe also brought the records of vaguely  New Orleans “pop jazz” records–whose improvisational techniques Brecht thought of as exemplary–and the micidial “Spanish flu.”

But then Fordism issues in mass unemployment, Hitlerism, and war, the conveyor-belt leads to accelerated destruction of oxen and people (to the tune of “Work faster” from the Good Person), Lindbergh turns out to be vitiated by his very individualistic heroism opposed to the working collective that produced his plane, and in Brecht’s mid-30s’ “Street Scene”, judging the responsibility for the  car accident may be read as a parable of Fordism derailed. The enthusiasm for Lindbergh’s flying car, the airplane, left Brecht even before the arrival of the Luftwaffe dive-bombers and of the USAF bombing Dresden and Hiroshima; the enthusiasm for cars never did. New technology did not necessarily link self-governing collectives into a plebeian democracy from below, as was assumed by avant-garde enthusiasts, say Mayakovsky in The Bedbug for two-way radio (independently picked up by Brecht’s radio-theory that explicitly invokes utopia) or Tretyakov for two-way Soviet newspapers; it could equally be, and was, used by the Warfare and Police State. As of the coming of Hitler, the new technology is seen from the skeptical point of view of the servants,  like Matti, the car driver of the rich Puntila, diametrically opposed to the engineer as technocrat of “scientific management.” Brecht’s probably most important stage (co-)direction was, as an improvised movie shot at the time by a very young Syberberg confirms, his 1950 adaptation of The Private Tutor, the bitter story of the intellectual as lackey of a boorish upper class.

Twists and Turns, Today

Brecht is then not to be understood simply as gristle for academic sausage mills, not even similar to his closest English parallel combining drama and politics (but not poetry!), G.B. Shaw. Jameson’s parallels to  Pound and Eliot bring about useful estrangements of the Left through the Right: but their plays are too slight, even Murder in the Cathedral. Nor can Brecht be dealt with as Eliot superciliously proposed we deal with Blake (quoted in Jameson 23): a great poet landed with an aberrant mythology, which we should endure by suspending our disbelief just so long as it takes to get at his poetry. (This was Martin Esslin’s position, except that he was writing, as it were, under Pitt, and had to disjoin the poetry and the thought horizons more sharply.) True, Brecht is taught in literature or theatre classes and there is a “Brecht industry” (in which I have toiled); theatre makes everything theatrical, Brecht complained, and academic studies make everything academic. To this Jameson opposes with full right a central distinction  between Brecht and “any number of other ‘great writers'”: “some more general lesson” of joyous enablement, the lesson of his “method” (29). Beyond philology, this is his “portable” (105) use.

One of Jameson’s felicitous choices is to dwell at length on Brecht’s Me-ti collection of aphorisms and anecdotes, accurately subtitled The Book of Twists and Turns. One very instructive anecdote, “Tu Wishes to Learn Class Struggle and Learns Sitting”, recounts how the impatient neophyte revolutionary Tu (read Ruth Berlau) came to Master Me-ti and got instructed in proper sitting instead:

 …for we are just now sitting and we want to learn while sitting. Tu said, If one always strives to take up the most comfortable posture and get the best out of what there is, in brief  if one strives after enjoyment (Genuss), how can one then fight? Me-ti said, If one does not strive after enjoyment, does not want to get the best out of what there is nor take up the best posture, why then should one fight?7/

While accepting the doctrinal goal, “struggle of classes”, Me-ti (guess who) insists its raison d’être must durably inform the behaviour of those learning how to go after the goal: “progressing is more important than being progressive” was one of Brecht’s aphorisms. Progressing or sitting engages the whole body,  a sensorium not reduced solely to cerebral ideas but rather using these as points of orientation. The judgment to be passed on this might be the one passed on the engaging Boy in He Who Says No, whose refusal to die when not absolutely necessary is called “not heroic but reasonable.”

How, then, to summarize at least central elements of Brecht’s method? I would point out three that the method comprises or entails. First, as Jameson strongly argues (70, 90), a number of his categories–often marked by neologisms (stance, Grundgestus, estrangement…)–have cognitive significance on a par with, but usually much richer than, a specialized, “only conceptual” philosophy. They are transportable but not a “system”, since they follow the rule that can be educed from the Yeasayer /Naysayer analysis, and which, as I have argued elsewhere,8/ requires our stance to correspond to our situation, and to reach the stance by a careful observation of the state of affairs, taking into account the embodied nature and the interests of the actors that constitute it. This rule of Brecht’s coincides with positions developed in the same period by Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, or by Bakhtin: “there is no essence outside of a concrete situation” and “any empirical situation partakes of imagination or ideology” (cf. Jameson 168-70).

Second, this orientation to practice (Jameson stresses it time and again) is to be taught by teachers-learners, Brechtian Sages very similar to Chaucer’s Clerk of Oxenforde: “gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.” It resembles a Nietzschean joyous knowledge,9/ yet one informed by a militant Marxist socialism acutely aware of the necessities to adapt any -ism, especially one’s own, to new types of experience in the mass capitalism of world wars, as humanity enters upon the Novums of “a whole new world of relationships, like the new world of Galileo’s physics or the new world of socialist construction, into which writer and reader alike must penetrate by means of daring exploration, and appropriation” (168). Brecht’s personae or “faces” combine the Teacher-cum-Chinese Sage  with the Trickster (indeed sometimes the sly Rogue); as Bakhtin noted, each of them carries around itself its own world of relationships.

Third, as one would expect from Jameson’s life-long engagement with utopia, he does not fail to point out the “utopian and salvational” aspect of Brecht, in which pragmatics and pedagogy converge: not nearly so tinged with Gnostic religiosity as either in Benjamin or in Bloch, but running just as deep–as befits the salvational nature of socialism. It is a utopia of communal creativity or productivity (people can produces shoes or love, Brecht held), of constructing the Novum through Marx’s “living labour”, diametrically opposed to the capitalist definition of productivity as what yields profit (see Jameson 174-77). Brecht operates in a tension between a warm and a cold pole,  each of which elicits a major tour de force from Jameson. He comes at an almost Kropotkinian sense of co-operative instinct through the “sublime” line in the Chalk Circle “Terrible is the temptation to goodness” (173-74); and at a hard-boiled plumpes denken (crude thinking) through the great Brecht-Weill finales to Acts 1 and 2 of The Threepenny Opera (144-48 and 133), which demand that the little people get a cut from the big loaf here and now–and envisages the horrors which in fact consumed our century in pursuit of this absolutely overriding demand, equally Leninist and Fordist. The astoundingly many deaths in Brecht indicate how strongly subjectivity is for him intertwined with death: we have a large lesson to learn from him there too.

What Way of thinking or method is, then, the key to successful acting (in all its senses)? Toward the end, Jameson rightly considers that Brecht’s insistence on change has been co-opted by the whirligig of capitalism (168-70). In these times, Brecht’s slogan, “Change the world–it needs it!” should be emended into something like, “Change the world away from the profit-motive warfare–or we shall all perish!”. But: the emendation would itself be based on Brecht, on his admirable hardboiled optimism. This too Jameson clearly transmits. The author of Brecht and Method takes, I believe, his place alongside the great and most fruitful ancestors of Brechtian commentary, Benjamin from the “German takeoff” seminal phase of Brechtian criticism (in all senses) 1929-39, and Barthes  from the “world takeoff” phase after 1954. The field of forces within which Brecht is triangulated speaks for itself: the most frequent names in the Index are, beside these two, André Jolles and his “short forms” as “radicals” for Brecht’s forms, and the political epistemologists, so to speak: Hegel, Lenin, Lukács, Marx, Sartre (less frequent but by no means absent: Adorno, Lacan, Deleuze).10/

At the end, however, perhaps the reader should compare this whole Brechtian and Jamesonian focus on method or Way with the robuster attitude of Marx: “Truth includes not only the result but also the way…. [T]he true inquiry is the unfolded truth, whose scattered members are gathered up in the result.”11/ In this Post-Fordist epoch (but not necessarily beyond it!), we may well be condemned to investigation only, to the membra disjecta with no concrete political results. So be it, then we must have the method. But Marx’s observation may remind us that, if we apply Brecht’s imperative to historicize, method without concrete results is worth just as little as results arrived at with wrong methods. Brecht’s very particular joy of and in fruition, which he pursued as single-mindedly as orthodox Christianity rejects it, encompasses also the–always provisional–fruits. He left us both.


1/ Fredric Jameson, Brecht and Method, Verso, London & New York 1998, ISBN 1-85984-809-5, hardbound B£ 19. Jameson’s writing exemplifies what it wishes to convey in how he conveys it, so that quotes from his particularly rich texture will be used here by page number in parenthesis.

I have to mention, so as to  get it out of the way, that D. Suvin is briefly accorded generous praise in two  or three  places. I trust it is not necessary to rehearse again how pernicious it would be to accept the academic critics’ aping of bourgeois scientificity and its strict sundering of Subject and Object. As Jameson notes (27-28), Brechtian storytelling denies the conventional split between historic objectivity and private subjectivity: and so does Jameson’s own work. Instead, the Subject-Object dialectics–as in Brecht’s praise of “the third matter”  uniting Pavel Vlassov and his Mother in the eponymous play–means that not only may a Subject treat itself as Object but that  allegorical Objects are the most important Subjects. My judgments follow my view of Jameson’s judgments and not his views on secondary matters such as this or that critic–unless these become politically strategic,  in which cases I tend to agree with him: for example about the philologically shoddy and militantly capitalist work of John Fuegi (with the proviso that Fuegi is clever and very efficient in driving a wedge between women and the rest of the Left, and should not be dismissed so blithely as Jameson does).

               2/ Brecht’s musicality, beginning with his youthful guitar-picking, is thoroughly followed in the admirable Albrecht Dümling, Lasst euch nicht verführen, München 1985.

               3/ In relation to the Lehrstücke, Jameson is one of the few English-language critics to have recognized the path-breaking theses of Reiner Steinweg. He gives also some hints for the proper approach to the great oratorio of Die Massnahme (The Measures Taken is, in spite of the wrong plural–there is only one measure that counts, the wiping out of the Young Comrade–the best shot at this untranslatable title) which is, together with The Horatians and the Curiatians, one of the two culminations of these  “learning plays.” In it Eisler played Bach to a certain Leninism and Brecht figured the “militant Church” severity of it. Nobody has yet managed to find a proper use for it: neither the Left critics, who attempted to wash their hands of it, not seeing that clean hands often get cut off, nor the “centrist formalist” ones, who saw the affinity to Jesuit militancy but not the thisworldly tensions around mortality, born of a different doctrine.

               4/ See W.F. Haug, Philosophieren mit Brecht und Gramsci, Hamburg 1996, which one hopes to see translated into English.

               5/ Much ink has lately been spilled in vain trying to prove that the collaboration in texts Brecht wrote or staged came mainly from women (this is quantitatively inexact), and at that from women of whom he had carnal knowledge (and it is exact that Hauptmann, Steffin, and Berlau were among his most assiduous collaborators). However, when he and his collaborators remembered, they were generously acknowledged (often they did not bother), even if one clearly could, especially after Brecht’s 1954 breakthrough to world fame, fault the money distribution. Most important, the group–Brecht’s “workshop”–was not only united in the belief they were working for the common (vague) goal of a world revolution, but it is also clear that Brecht gave the collaborators, both in their work and in their lives, as much as he got. To tell women who stuck with him, not without tensions, through thick and thin that this or that critic today knows better how their lives should have been conducted seems arrogant. See for the most balanced account, which does not divorce feminism from class politics, Sabine Kebir’s Ein akzeptabler Mann?, Berlin rev. edn. 1998, and Ich fragte nicht nach meinem Anteil, Berlin 1997 (on Elisabeth Hauptmann); cf. my review article of the latter, “Sabine Kebir, Ich fragte nicht nach meinem Anteil,” Brecht Yearbook 24 (1999): 386-96 (German as “Über Frauen und Brecht,” Weimarer Beiträge no. 3 [1999]: 449-58).

               6/ Walter Benjamin, “Der Erzähler”, Gesammelte Schriften II/2, Frankfurt 1980 (English as “The Storyteller”, in his Illuminations, New York, 1969).

               7/  Bertolt Brecht, Werke, Grosse kommentierte Berliner und Frankfurter Ausgabe, Berlin & Frankfurt 1998, Vol. 18: 176-77.

               8/ Darko Suvin, Lessons of Japan, Montreal 1996 (essay 5: “The Use-value of Dying: Magical  vs. Cognitive Utopian Desire in the ‘Learning Plays’  of Pseudo-Zenchiku, Waley,  and Brecht”).

            9/ Parallels have been convincingly presented by Reinhold Grimm, Brecht und Nietzsche, Frankfurt, 1979, and Christof Šubik, Einverständnis, Verfremdung und Produktivität, Wien, 1982; further work is to be expected on how they were modified and subsumed in Brecht’s life and work.

               10/ I must complain at the incomplete and strangely organized Index. Incomplete: it does not mention stance, Noh play or the poem “The Cranes”, it does not excerpt the very rich footnote pages; strangely organized, for it puts categories under individuals (!), so that “Weimar” comes subordinated to “Weill”, “modernism” is divided between Adorno and Brecht, “capital/ism” between Brecht and Mother Courage (but absent from Marx and his Capital), peasants between Brecht (where they come under the misleading “working class and peasants”) and Mao. “Allegory” is only found under Brecht though it is obviously one of Jameson’s master tropes for culture in general, here much advanced by confrontation with Brecht. It would be much preferable to itemize both names and key notions or in a redone index, with outright errors also corrected.

               11/ “Zur Wahrheit gehört nicht nur das Resultat, sondern auch der Weg…. die wahre Untersuchung ist die entfaltete Wahrheit, deren auseinandergestreute Glieder sich im Resultat zusammenfassen.” (“Bemerkungen über die neueste preussische Zensurinstruktion”), English in Karl Marx, “Comments on the Latest Prussian Censorship Instruction”, Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society, ed. and trans. L.D. Easton and K.H. Guddat, Garden City NY 1967; my quote  somewhat modifies the text from their p. 72.

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Darko Suvin

1. This book was first conceived and worked upon in Yugoslavia in the 1950s and 60s; it was written in its present form in North America and England in the 1970s. To those who might know the existential and ideological contexts of those spacetimes in sufficient detail, it might explain most elements of the book’s profile. However, since this may not be very interesting for the impatient reader of the 80s, and since every book ought to be its own best defense, in this brief Preface for my Japanese readers I shall confine myself to two matters only, which strike me as needing some bridging explanation. Appropriately for a book in which one of the main themes concerns the parallels, differences, and passage from spatial to temporal and then finally to a spatiotemporal imagination, these two matters will flow out of the passage of time from 1977, when this book’s manuscript was completed, to today, 1987 (which is, of course, also a passage in ideological space); and with the passage of geopolitical space from the English-language to the Japanese-language reader (which is, of course, also a passage in time since in spite of jet planes we still don’t live in synchronous times all over this shrinking globe, and Japan strikes me as being a very engaging and provoking mix of the 16th, 19th, and 21st centuries in terms of European social-time reckoning).

            Of course, with a total stay in Japan of less than two months, I am not really competent to speak about anything Japanese. I will nonetheless do so out of the sublime ignorance of what the classical Chinese called foreign barbarians and the Japanese, in a geo/graphic spatial metaphor, the gaijin, the outsiders. Those standing outside often cherish the illusion that a glance from a sympathetic, concerned, but not uncritical outsider may stumble on some visions which long familiarity has dulled for the insiders: as Hegel taught us, what is known (bekannt) is not necessarily cognized or properly understood (erkannt). The seamy yet exhilarating aspects of Japanese megalopolis and silicon-chip technology are today in fact being appropriated by the latest interesting US SF development (the only interesting exception, after the feminist SF, within a desert orgy of crass commercial lowering of standards in the SF of the Star Wars era), the cyberpunk of Gibson and Co., as a metaphor for new existential modes of alienated life. For me personally or if you wish intimately Japan is, furthermore, not only a very real nitty-gritty country which is one of the wonders and delights of my life experience (and I don’t mean primarily Nara temples but the back streets of Tokyo, such as at Nishi-waseda, and the people found there) and where I by now have dear friends and esteemed colleagues; it is also the country of a unique tradition culminating, say, in the Bunraku, the Tales of Genji, Hokusai’s Views of Fuji ukiyo-e, and  the subtle Japanese language. All of these I despair of ever mastering yet I persist in studying and  using — and probably abusing — in my other guise of writer of haiku, tankas or sedôkas as well as of some short stories (not SF but parables).

            Among other things Japanese — indeed chronologically for me the first of all the things Japanese — I am a largely ignorant but warm lover of Japanese SF, who has read (I think) all that has been translated into European languages, from Russian to English. The works of Kobo Abe, of Shinichi Hoshi, of my friend Sakyo Komatsu, and of so many other significant SF writers of whom I know only by hearsay since the translations are so few, testify that such experiences must be heard by us all, that they have already added a special poetic shudder to world literature — without imitating the dominant US models. Such works are much too little known by us ignorant foreigners, who should learn much more about your SF works and worlds. Only so can we become engaged in the common enterprise of making our little inhabited world inhabitable.

2. In the light of all this, my reflections will focus on the relationships of SF to technology and to politics.

            Japan has been the first nation to experience the terrible fruits of “value-free” bourgeois science: first at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, then in the pollution and ecocide of the beautiful country not only of so many clear cultural beacons of mankind but, most important, of the gentle, long-suffering, patient — sometimes I feel too patient — , talented, and all in all most admirable Japanese people. (I don’t dispute that the terrible societal pressures of school etc. brainwashes most males into good retainers of the large corporations; but allow me for the moment to speak as a lover rather than a critic.) It may therefore be less difficult here to understand what has by many of my (bourgeois or liberal) reviewers been felt as excessive moralizing or prescriptiveness of my position about art in general and SF in particular. I deny that it is moralistic: it simply says that art flows out of and finally (with many crucial mediations which no critic can forget) returns to the encompassing horizon of relationships between people; and that if in proportion to its significance it clarifies such relationships, it makes them more understandable and therefore potentially manageable, and so makes life lighter. This is to my mind a statement of fact, but of course it is also normative in the sense that it establishes potentialities against which all actual achievements cannot fail to be judged. The nature of norms is, I trust, open to debate: mine are, if one needs a label, neo-Marxist, yours, gentle reader, may be less explicit or different: but to positivistically deny the existence of norms strikes me as perverse and deeply alienated. Life progresses through choices, and for us people (Homo sapiens) choice also means responsibility.

            Does this mean we should abandon the technology that led to Hiroshima and today’s physical and mental pollutions? Not necessarily. But I think the much more terrible prospects of molecular engineering, computer control of all our financial transactions (the Gestapo and the Belsen doctors were naive in comparison to that!), etc. etc., all mean that we must put it under rational control and wrest it out of the hands of the mad military and the capitalist profit-makers. We must resolutely abandon the notion of a purely mathematized, quantified, value-free, non-qualitative science. We cannot and should not go back to the Middle Ages, to magic and alchemy: I for one would not want to live in a world without water closets, electricity, smallpox vaccine or even telephones and airplanes (how could I come to Japan or talk to my Japanese friends then?). But we can learn from the derided “qualitative physics” that we are not masters but stewards of our planet, which will finally rebel if we vex it too much (we can already see that in the new diseases, the failing of the ozone layer, the African drought, etc.). We keep it in trust for humanity as a whole, comprising not only the powerless nations and classes of today (the four whales that hold up the world: women, the workers, the lovers, the learning) but also the past and the future generations. Writings which cannot speak (in the properly oblique, roundabout, parabolic ways of fiction) to the relevance of our existence in such a world are irrelevant to the world. Writings which do speak about and to it are exercises in mental hygiene: they are what I mean by liberating cognitive statements. And only cognition, true understanding, can lead us to an intelligent politics of the human species — which has nothing in common with the derisory antics of parliamentary parties but means, as in ancient Greece (and China or Japan), “the affairs of the polis, the community”, its sickness or health. Marx has as much in common, for me, with Aristotle and Confucius or Me-ti (as their negation but also dialectical absorption of the positive aspects of a genuine conservatism) as with Jefferson. But all of them would have agreed that (as the ancient Romans put it) salus rei publicae suprema lex, the salvation of the body politic is the supreme rule. While I don’t at all wish to have art (nor SF) be deadly earnest preaching, while I think there is a place for readable escapism of non-pernicious kinds for our voyages on the Yamanote subway line or the Shinkansen high-speed train, I must impenitently maintain the stance of this book that there is no value-free description, either in SF or in SF criticism. Pretending that there is one means simply that you are unwilling to discuss the presuppositions of your values. This seems to me unworthy of an intellectual (and as Gramsci and Brecht noted, every being that plans for tomorrow and makes choices is an intellectual).

            How do I, then, think one should approach SF? Perhaps this can be in brief explicated here  by transcribing the speech I sent to the SF Research Association when it gave me its annual Pilgrim Award:

     “From my earliest reading of Verne, Wells, Thomas More, and the Groff Conklin anthologies which circulated from hand to hand in postwar Yugoslavia, I have as a socialist been fascinated by the “it ain’t necessarily so” aspect of SF — which, for me does not start with Gernsback, Verne, or even Shelley, but with the universal legends of Earthly Paradise and the Promethean impulse toward a knowledge to be wedded to self-governing happiness on this Earth.  Of course, this embraces also all the narrations which deal with analogs to such radically new relationships among people — however narratively estranged into other worlds and other figures such relationships might be, for the good and sufficient reason that one needs a complex optical system in order to see oneself.  Bearing in mind that every SF narration is a dialog with the reader here and now, this also embraces all the stories that deal with radically worse relationships than the reader knows, since his/her reaction to such stories — by the rule of minus times minus makes plus or of negating the negation — recuperates these new maps of hell for the positive vision.

     Looking back upon my criticism of SF, it seems to me that I have tried to mimic in it this stubbornly contrary and contesting backbone of the narrations I was writing about.  I have contested Henry Ford’s saying “History is bunk,” and tried to persuade my readers that an understanding of the living, even if subterranean, traditions of the past is the only way to give the present a chance of evolving into a tolerable future.  I have contested the saying, whose equally immortalizable author I forget at the moment, “SF is what I mean when I point at some books,” and tried to persuade my readers that any general statements about SF have to be a negotiation between empirical evidence and logically as well as sociohistorically defensible notions and systems of notions.  I  have contested the twin orthodoxies that SF is either the singer of technological progress/breakdown (as the case may be) or a thin disguise for the expression of eternal and mythical human-cum-cosmic verities.  Instead, I have tried to at least approach a systematic argument on how history and society are not simply the contexts of fiction but its inly interfused factors,  shaping  it at least as intimately as shores shape a river or blanks shape a letter.  Finally — and possibly as a premise to all the other stances — I have contested on the one hand the academic elitism wrinkling its none too perfect nose at the sight of popular literature and art, and on the other hand the fannish shoreless ocean of indiscriminately happy passages to continents full of masterpieces miraculously emerging year upon year.

      And yet, SF is not only ‘it ain’t necessarily so’ but also ‘things could be otherwise’; not only militant but also (at least in approximation) triumphant.  Taking my cue from the matter at hand (as any materialist should), I  too have tried to be positive about it and about its criticism, and to say something about those writings which help us to illuminate our interrelated existences: of More, Cyrano, Morris, Wells or Zamyatin, but also of Čapek, Dick, Le Guin, the Strugatskys or Lem.  How much I may have succeeded in that in my own writings, or in coediting some books, but above all the journal Science-Fiction Studies, is for you to say.”

3. But then, some of my well-meaning middle-ground critics asked, if you think SF should do such-and-such, why don’t you deal with the significant modern SF? Why stop at theory plus ancient history? I have two answers to this correct question. First, the present cannot be understood outside of a double perspective, synchronic (theoretical) and diachronic (historical). This book tries to supply such perspectives for future work. Second, we are all limited by time, money, sympathy, and so on. I did here what I could with the means at my disposal, and I am happy to see that some of my colleagues, in particular (though not exclusively) many of the collaborators of the periodical Science-Fiction Studies, have been able to use some of my instruments for work of their own. Furthermore, I have after 1979 committed two more books on SF which not only apply but also, I trust, significantly build on the horizons of this one.

            The first one is Victorian SF in the UK: The Discourses of Knowledge and of Power, published in Boston 1983. This monster of 500 pages focusses on all the SF books published in Britain between 1848 and 1900, beginning with an annotated bibliography of ca. 400 titles, continuing with an identification of most of the authors, and ending with a long study of the social discourses involved: who (which social groups) was in these texts talking to whom and for what axiological and ideological purposes; and finally, how can such books therefore be most usefully read as participants in this social discourse, which I found polarized between Power and Knowledge. This second book could thus supply a partial answer to those of my critics (mainly from the Left) who have rightly, if somewhat impatiently, complained about the lack of concrete institutional discussions in the present book. But that book is a frame-setting overview, and it never pretended to be a complete and detailed history (which would have to be written by a team with the necessary, and today non-existent, financial and other presuppositions, rather than by a single immodest know-it-all).

            The second book, just appearing as I write this (London, 1987) is Positions and Presuppositions in SF, a collection of my essays written at the same time or after the present book. They  attempt to deal, first, with further developments in SF theory, in particular with the thesis that all SF narrations are extended metaphors and parables about the relationships in the author’s world. They also discuss, second, some central modern writers in the world (Lem, Dick, Le Guin, Yefremov, Asimov, the Strugatskys, the Brauns, C. Smith) as well as some crucial issues in SF criticism and teaching. Both of these two later books of mine would then explain further how I think one should approach SF.

            In an ideal world, of course, they — as well as some further essays not collected in them, about Weinbaum, utopias, etc. — would have been presented to the Japanese reader at the same time. In the real world of commercial and other strictures, I can only hope that such curious readers — who would take the moldy slogan of “a sense of wonder” so seriously that they might in its name be willing to put into question their own presuppositions while weighing those of the present book — will like the book whose Preface I am now concluding so much that I will be able to say to my kind Japanese publishers: “Now, since you had a succes with the first book, why don’t you publish what I’m writing in the 1980s?”.

Dômo arigatô!

                                                                       Darko Suvin, Montreal, March 1987

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Andrés Lomeña


AL: I would like to locate your ideological position in literary theory. I suppose that you feel close to Terry Eagleton and Fredric Jameson (even Slavoj Žižek). Moreover, I suppose that you disagree with aesthetic purism (Harold Bloom) or certain relativisms (Stanley Fish and his interpretative communities, poststructuralism and deconstruction). I would like to know your reflections on current literary theory—for instance what about the New
Historicism of Stephen Greenblatt?

DS: I remember a splendid note of Lenin’s in his Philosophical Notebooks, where he says that to an intelligent materialist critic an intelligent idealist critic is nearer than a stupid materialist one. So allow me to begin by doubting, not the existence or importance of, but the exclusive nature of ideological kinships. For example, I’ve followed step by step almost the whole of Jameson’s opus, especially since we collaborated in the journal Science-
Fiction Studies and other venues, while I have used Eagleton’s Theory of Literature as the best introductory survey in my graduate teaching at some point but otherwise not learned too much from him. On the contrary, I’ve been deeply influenced by and am still writing in the wake of his teacher, my friend Raymond Williams.
I loved some of Bloom’s early works, say on Romanticism, but when he became an ideologue pure and simple, that stopped. This is the problem with most postmodernists: while declaiming against absolutisms, their supposed relativism is more absolute than that of most modernists. I do make an exception for some so-called deconstructionists such as most Guattari and the later Derrida (after the Marx book). My criterion is simple: what can I learn and build upon from any critic? A little from Greenblatt, almost nothing from
Fish, a lot from the materialist feminists, how to charm people by bringing together philosophy and pop culture from Žižek (and of course how to fight against the prohibition against talking about communism).

AL: Metamorphoses of Science Fiction is a masterpiece. I think that the first world edition was in 1977. We have lived through a lot of events since then: the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Dayton agreement, September 11 attacks, war  in Iraq and Afghanistan, financial and economic crises, Wikileaks’ revelations, and so on. Also literary theory has changed: the rise of feminism (Nancy Armstrong, Elaine Showalter, etc.), the rise of gay, lesbian and queer theory (Judith Butler), and so forth. What would you change of your book in order to update it? Or perhaps you would prefer not to add or modify anything (I see there is a Croatian version in 2010, maybe that is the answer to my question).

DS: It was published in 1979 but written in the preceding ten years. I don’t think the book can be updated: it should remain as it is, branded (as Brecht said, like calves on the ranch) by its historical date: the epoch of hopeful High Modernism. What must and therefore can be updated are some of my views— though NOT my values. I dislike renegades. I have done this, as concerns both my epistemological approach and, in particular, some aspects of the Fantasy genre, in numerous articles of the last fifteen years, the longest of which is the “Afterword” to the Festschrift for me edited by Patrick Parrinder, Learning from Other Worlds (Liverpool University Press 2000). It also has a checklist of my publications where interested readers can follow the post-1979 developments.

AL: What do you think about “theory of fictional worlds”? For instance: Heterocosmica: Fiction and Possible Worlds by Lubomir Dolezel, or Fictional Worlds by Thomas Pavel, even Postmodernist Fiction by Brian McHale. I ask you this because there is a strong connection between fictional worlds and science fiction as a genre; I think that sociologists of literature should study how society creates different fictional worlds (that is, connections between types of societies and ontological properties in fiction stories).

DS: You’re quite right about the kinship. If you had looked at my work after 1979, say the four other books on SF, you’d have found me using a variant of Possible Worlds’ theory. I knew both Dolezel and Pavel, I had my students read them, not quite casually: we were all immigrants to Canada, with experience of different worlds… McHale is too postmodernist for me, in panic flight from orientation: he refuses ontology (that there is a real world out there) in favour of hermetic epistemology (that we can only live in imaginary worlds, so to speak). And my methodologically most advanced book on SF, Victorian SF in the U.K. 1848–1900, is an attempt at a Williamsian “social history of literature,” indeed within a certain class spread in authors and readers.

AL: In your opinion, what will be your legacy? How to follow your enterprise from a Marxist perspective (or post-Marxist, as you prefer) in a world ruled by late capitalism and the end of history (Fukuyama)?

DS: I think Fukuyama has been proved totally wrong, don’t you? The present crisis of senile capitalism is proof that history goes on, as murderous class conflict at that. Our alternative is socialism or barbarism (for the bland “socialism” maybe we better substitute a “communist direct democracy”). In that perspective, my legacy is of secondary importance. In one case it will be forgotten as an aberration, in another maybe cherished as a far-off precursor who didn’t quite have all the tools but at least identified a field and
a stance toward it.

AL: I know that you are not a novelist, you are an accurate thinker. Anyway, I really enjoyed your book as a really good novel. By the way, could you tell us three or four books, fiction or non-fiction, that you consider compulsory to read?

DS: You are not quite right, I’ve published four books of poetry and some short prose. This should be as accurate as any scholarship, only less exclusively notional.
My four books: Marx, Das Kapital; Brecht, Saint Joan of the Stockyards; Saramago, The Cavern; Andrić, The Bridge on the Drina (but I could name 40 others, only fanatics can exist on less than that, the One Final Book).

AL: Any conclusion?

DS: Early on, I wrote an essay in praise of open endings.

AL: Thanks so much.

This interview originally appeared online at .

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Darko Suvin                                                                                                (1990-96, 16,200 words)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

To Jean-Pierre Vernant, and to the póthos of

Ce texte, je ne vais pas l’expliquer. Je vais seulement énoncer
quelques … sorties du texte.
(I am not going to explain this text. I shall only utter some …
departures from the text)
Barthes,”Les Sorties du texte” (untranslatable pun)

sind die sätze, die
vor euch gesagt sind, benutzt, wenigstens widerlegt? ist alles
durch erfahrung? durch welche?
brecht, “der zweifler”
(…Are the sentences,which were
Said before you, used? at least
Refuted? is all provable?
Through experience? what kind of?
Brecht, “The Doubter”)

0. Entry: Barthes and the Tool-kit: Organic Body vs. Organon

0.1. Roland Barthes’s volume of fragments on a supposedly imaginary Japan, The Empire of Signs has, to my biased and largely theatre-oriented eye, at its centre some sections or fragments devoted to the Bunraku puppet-performances (which were, in fact, originally published as one essay called “Les trois écritures” in Tel Quel 1968). These are the sections “Les trois écritures,” “Animé/inanimé,” and “Dedans/dehors,” on pages 63-82 of the French edition (48-62 of the English edition). Japanese classical theatre (not only Bunraku) is my eventual convergence point, but I shall in this occasion undertake a lengthy detour by way of Barthes. I wish to examine how his text may — partly by contraries and partly by indirections, both proceedings which he would, no doubt, appreciate — lead us toward different understandings of individuality consubstantial with a different cultural macro-framework prevailing in Japan, which can be seen in terms of immanentist religion and group orientation. For my present purposes, then, I want to focus not so much on his fascinating and apposite observations about puppet vs. naturalist theatricality (mainly in the first fragment) — though Barthes as a very important, if incidental, theoretician of theatre is quite unduly neglected. I want rather to see what may be extrapolated from his observations on performance to the crucial or root discussion of the whole volume, that of exteriority vs. interiority and of its most important human application, “Western” animation or soul-possession versus its “Japanese” blessed lack. Further: while Barthes is in Japan seeking, and with a sigh of relief finding, the absence of meaning, I believe that Homo sapiens is a meaningful animal. As Barthes himself realized in his frequent Fourierist utopian moments, “l’écrivain est un donateur de sens: sa tâche (ou sa jouissance) est de donner des sens, des noms” (RBRB 81: “the writer is a giver of sense: his task (or his enjoyment) is to give senses, names”), so that I have to ask: What do Barthes’s insights nominate and mean? Reading him against the grain, I have to add: often in spite of his terminology and horizons?

In other words, the fact that I engage with this book means that I allot it not simply a symptomatic but primarily a cognitive value. Yet some of its most important conclusions, and almost all of its horizons, I cannot share: they do not make sense to me. One could try to split Barthes up into Barthes 1 and 2 (for example: the oppressed intellectual versus the Byzantine Parisian), and accept no. 1 while rejecting no. 2. Indeed, one could play 1 off against 2. This, however, is a pastime for more hopeful political and epistemic times, when one can afford rejections. Today, I must be more modest or defensive, mainly proceeding in a subsumptive (culturally accretive) rather than polemic or antagonistic (politically activist) way, and content myself with disentangling what I can use by questioning my author’s semantics (cf. also Suvin, “Utopian”). It is probable that his alloy of insight into phenomena and — literally — nonsensical systematization (visible even in the adopted compromise of fragments) is a disease of language. “Qui lingua^ ferit, lingua^ perit” (“they who offend by language perish by language”) might be my motto for the deconstructionists, whose precursor Barthes began growing into with this book, rightly abandoning the false scientificity of Hjelmslevian semiotics. However, I shall resist the temptation to treat The Empire of Signs as a stage in this author’s or a school’s development. Since I want to use Barthes rather than explain him, or explain him away, I shall further slight here some (by no means all) of his precise terms and many of his networkings in order to construct a reticulation of my own, suggested by and cannibalizing him.
0.2. An initial look at all our tools (including mine) is mandatory here. What do Barthes’s oppositions of East vs. West or Japan vs. Europe imply? Mainly two matters. First, that in spite of his search for a system he is still (and as another foreign visitor half a generation later I can readily sympathize) under the tremendous impact of spatial dislocation: Japan is in terms of bodily impressions — jet lag, unreadability of script and behaviour, different evaluation of gender and age, etc. — indeed halfway to the Moon for a European. It is the nearest approximation to a science-fictional planet we can actually live in, with deeply strange yet tantalizingly permeable relationships forcing us to constant decipherment on pain of anomie. Its signic syntagmatics hint at an elusive Other Paradigm (cf. Angenot), directed at our senses rather than at the Cartesian mind/soul — a good paradigm which may also be a breathtaking absence, the blissful paradigm of a Zero Paradigm. The familiar Morean polysemy and phonetic play (approximating standard Japanese poetic practice) of Greek eutopia (good place) vs. outopia (no place), both pronounced [jutoupija] in English, is at work here. Yet when we impute our utopian horizons to a new locale (say, as the series of hypotheses about the Country of the Eloi by Wells’s Time Traveller), we should at least watch out, and compensate, for our blind spot (Wells’s Morlocks).

This leads into a second set of implications for and in Barthes’s oppositions which is more complex; and at the outset I wish to say, in his defence, that he had real enough reasons for his escape into a signic utopia. One reason I share: it is a pulsional, “visceral” (but of course most rational) disgust at the deadly bourgeois mode of living. In several interviews Barthes was to note that The Empire of Signs constituted a counterproject to the stifling hegemonies around him in Europe, including scientism and pieties across the political spectrum. The passages are very revealing, not the least for the significance in, e.g., his confusion between atheism and polytheism as well as some other semantic glitches:

[Japan] for me expresses the utopia of a world both strictly semantic and strictly atheistic. As many of us do, I profoundly reject our civilization, ad nauseam…. I felt the necessity of entering completely into the signifier, i.e. of disconnecting myself from the ideological instance as signi fied, as the risk of the return of the signified, of theology, of monologism, of law. (G 83-84)2/

The Japan I wrote about was for me a countermythology, a kind of happiness of signs, a country which, as the result of a very fragile and quite unusual historical situation, finds itself plunged into modernity and yet so close to the feudal period that it can maintain a kind of semantic luxury which has not yet been flattened out, tamed by mass civili zation, by the consumer society. (G 158)

…le Japon est [le pays où l’auteur] a rencontré le travail du signe plus proche de ses convictions et de ses fantasmes, ou, si l’on prèfére, le plus éloigné des dégoûts, des irritations et des refus que suscite en lui la sémiocratie occidentale….Le signe japonais est vide: son signifié fuit, point de dieu, de vérité, de morale au fond de ces signifiants qui règnent sans contrepartie. Et surtout,…la grâce érotique dont [ce signe] se dessine [est] apposé partout….
Japan is the country where the author has encountered a sign-work nearest to his convictions and phantasms, or, if you prefer, the most distanced from the disgust, irritation, and refusals that Western semiocracy raises in him….The Japanese sign is empty: its signified flees, no god, no truth, no moral is to be found in the depths of these signifiers that reign with no counterpart. And most of all, the erotic grace by which this sign is drawn is everywhere applied….
(F, Barthes’s inner front cover blurb in the Skira edn.)

And he concluded, with intelligence and wry honesty: “This is our situation, we have to live amid the unlivable. As Brecht used to say…: ‘That’s the way the world goes, and it’s not going well’.” (G 87)

And yet, in my eyes Barthes did not draw the necessary consequences from such possible positions. This can be exemplified in the elegant balancing act attempted in his series of phenomenological sketches or égratignures: that of walking the razor’s edge between Orientalism and Liberalism. It is the razor of finding a true yet understandable Other, a personalized Blochian Novum. Orientalism is constituted upon the recognition of an exotic Other, almost always inferior in some ways (childishly carefree, bloodthirsty, Rousseauist, unserious, etc.) and inevitably tending to a bad “race” — a demonized scapegoat for the broad imperial current leading to Nazism (and “Tennô-Fascism”). Liberalism is constituted upon the metaphysical premise that there is no true Other, a repression: “The Colonel’s lady and Judy O’Grady/ Are sisters under the skin” (Kipling on British classes in the Raj’s India — notice that he didn’t say “Neeraj Choudhuri and Judy O’Drury”). Everybody is capable of being remade into “us” (the subject-position definers, i.e. the political and discursive power-wielders — Europeans in the 19th, North Americans in the 20th Century): and everybody therefore ought to be — shall be — remade in our image, into the monotonous likes of us, into brothers despite the skin. Orientalism is the philosophy of the Catholic conqueror from the absolutist State, Liberalism of the Protestant missionary from the market-circulation State (Anglicans were in the middle: democratic Liberals at home, absolutist Orientalists abroad). While each of these positions offers some partial insight to be recuperated (in the first case, that there is a real Other, in the second, that she ought to be understood as having a position equivalent to Ours), both these dangerous horns are, the dilemma as a whole is, to be repudiated. The difficult narrow path to the far-off Other, blazed in Europe by Montaigne’s essay “On the Cannibals,” must be explored and broadened instead. Not primarily for better communication: but for understanding, through the estranging (verfremdend) mirror and dream of strangers, how we must better live.
0.3. Centrally, we live from and in capitalist imperialism; we inherit 400 years of bloody wars and the untold miseries of psychophysical oppression. Art or science cannot clean our hands: “There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism” (Benjamin 256). After such knowledge, what forgiveness?

It should, then, be clear, that — for any purposes which take up abode outside of Barthes’s vocabulary of those years — his quite basic, indeed founding dichotomy of Japanese vs. European (or “Western”) is unfortunate and insufficient. True, right at the beginning of his book he cannily affirms he is not writing about Japan but about an imaginary country à la Garabagne: a fictional object formed of verbal and graphic signs and fashioned into a system. He declares, refreshingly, that he is not lovingly gazing at any “oriental essence” but simply lifting from the Orient a stock of traits whose manipulation will allow him to play with “an unheard-of symbolic system, entirely detached from our system” (F 7). But this perhaps well-meant excuse soon wears thin. The warning of the first page is not repeated or incorporated into the book’s deep structure, and so it is forgotten by the fascinated reader, say, ten pages later. And what did it mean in the first place, paradigmatically? The description of any country or locus is always a negotiation between describer and described, and to that extent (we have learned) always imaginary. All countries are imaginary in this sense of partaking more or less of the describer’s imagination, her knowledge and desires, so that my own implied Japan of pre-bourgeois experience, of a sensual or sense-conveyed and sense-conveying aura, is no doubt partly also a wishdream. The saving grace is in the adverb: not all countries are only imaginary. To paraphrase Blair, some countries are more imaginary than others.

Let me take a stringent example: when Swift — surely an expert in imaginary countries — entitles the Third Book of Gulliver’s Travels “A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Glubbdubdrib, Luggnag, and Japan,” he is bringing about a deliberate confusion between Garabagne-like, newly invented and empirically impossible countries (such as the flying island of Laputa) and the exotic but empirically possible Japan, already identified as existing in travelogues and other entries constituting the English reader’s “encyclopedia” in his time. But he does so for a tongue-in-cheek validation of satirizing England and the European civilization (cf. Suvin, Metamorphoses ch. 5): Swift’s purpose is to elicit from the reader a negation of his hyperbolically negative countries. Barthes’s series of philosophico-semiotic speculations or meditations has a direct (or perhaps only somewhat metaphorically oblique) cognitive goal, his confusing lacks Swift’s double-negation purpose and seems simply disingenuous; seen from the end of the book, his initial excuse looks as a somewhat supercilious, privatized gesture equivalent to “don’t bother or confuse me with facts — or with the possible effects of my language.” Even worse, coming from somebody attentive to the body and its pleasures or oppressions, it can be read as an equivalent to “there are no facts (referential anchorings) outside language — and possibly graphical signs.” Finally, even or especially in linguistics, Swift’s procedure of semanticizing the differential traits is central and mandatory: how is it possible to even begin fashioning and understanding an “unheard-of” new semiotics (which Barthes will identify as one without meaning) except as the Other of some very much heard-of semiotics centred on deep meaning — as a “freedom from the tyranny of the centre” (G 86)? Can this tyranny be overthrown by some of us elegantly walking away from it?

Thus, the Hegelian laicization of Biblical teleology moving the Absolute Spirit spirally upward was in Barthes simply inverted: the spirit is meaningless, the next stage is an almost Buddhist escape from it. So far so good. But while Hegel’s orientation may have been repudiated, his Archimedean point in Europe was retained. Barthes’s pseudo-spatial East-West opposition (it would be fascinating to compare his use to a more frequent use in Cold War lingo 1947-89 as applied to NATO vs. Warsaw Pact!) goes back to a Hegelian historiosophic monolinearity only from whose privileged spacetime point of view the East is, e.g., east (from the USA or Canada, Japan is west). This has to be radically rewritten. For, a warning implicit in Barthes’s signic empire is that he who wishes to go off at a tangent from history may be condemned to relive it, and she who evacuates all referentiality is condemned to remain blindly glued to it. Genuine sympathies toward a certain Japan do not save you from falling into an upside-down ahistorical essentialism, not wholly exempt from the pseudo-cultural “continental” racism of “The West” vs. “Japan,” only favouring the latter. Still, if I wanted to interpret rather than use Barthes, I’d claim that at his best, i.e. in his Brechtian parallels and ascendancies, he had to bring in expressly (for example) the “bourgeois” stage contract: and presumably he would not deny that a certain bourgeoisie, petty and large, exists in Japan too — though not, et pour cause, in his wishdream Japan. However, I wish to proceed at my own peril rather than behind Barthes’s authority (though with much gratitude to him).

0.4. Without Barthes’s subterfuges, I shall try out two mutually supplementary proceedings. First, I shall posit that there is a good amount of reason and indeed cognitive constraint in a “weak essentialist” starting from such cultural monads as “Japan” and “Europe” (cf. Suvin “Two Cheers”). There obviously exists a historiosophic difference and yet accessibility between them. The difference as well as the accessibility (e.g. discursive availability) of one to the other could be taken as proven simply by the evidence of history, corporeal and discursive — such as the non-discursive fact of Barthes’s having written and disseminated The Empire of Signs. But if a minimal argument is needed, the similar beginnings in tribal societies and similar endings in capitalist industrializations of these two monads (as of all the others we today know of) might suffice. A somewhat technocratic formulation of this by Adorno runs: “No universal history leads from the savage to humanity, but there is one that leads from the slingshot to the megabomb” (312). This leaves everything else, i.e. the intermediary stage as well as the modalities of arriving from those beginnings to these (provisional) endings, liable to variation — but also to comparison.

But second, I am positing that the “cultural monad” approach is insufficient; if absolutized, as in Barthes, it usually turns positively pernicious. The vertical cut has to be supplemented with horizontal cutting. Given the sufficiently similar point of convergence in capitalist industrialization correlative to some variant of a bourgeoisie, though not necessarily (and in fact not) entailing identical capitalisms or bourgeoisies, I shall begin with a central opposition of “bourgeois” to “pre-bourgeois.” I am banking on the “bourgeois” pole being sufficiently clear to at least delimit and allow us to begin understanding the somewhat vague “non-bourgeois” pole, which is in fact my own (as it was Barthes’s) wished-for focus and goal. I hope that such elective affinities to my object strengthen both our subjectivities at the point of their (mainly implicit) friction. Therefore, I propose to substitute “pre-bourgeois” for Barthes’s “Japanese,” and “bourgeois” for his “European.” Barthes’s occasional invocations of Brecht as analogous to Japan might be a signal (since Brecht is, of course not “pre-” but attempting to both prefigure and be “post-bourgeois”) that the historiosophically proper term for my purposes would probably be “non-bourgeois,” without a time-sequence indication. This would also dovetail with my doubts about the usefulness of (necessarily monotheist) teleology. Nonetheless, history is real, and for the purposes of getting my discussion eventually back to Japan this would unduly complicate matters.
0.5. I proceed then to some isotopies educible from Barthes’s triple “Bunraku chapter” and its notions of the body. True, such binary dichotomization not only shares in but probably exacerbates certain cognitive limitations inherent in Aristotelian two-term logic, and it should be read more as a particular argument (cf. Haraway 12) than as a full account. Still, this fits well with Barthes’s own notion of “sorties du texte” — tangential departures from the pre-text — cited in my epigraph, and it is a useful initial instrument of cognitive orientation:


BOURGEOIS                                                      PRE-BOURGEOIS
“Animated” body                                                Substantive body
Organic unity, simulation of                          Sensuous abstraction/eduction from parts
Physiological essence                                        Plastic functions
Body governs single actor,                               Body is governed by various
the artist serves                                                   sovereign craftsmen
Unity of individuals on the                              Unity of performance in the
stage (character & actor)                                   spectator
Performance media & sign-systems are:
— continuous, fusing                                   — discrete, adding up

While there are many stimulating points here to which I hope eventually to return, at present my main interest is in what I take to be the three furthest generalizations which can be, in Eco’s Peircean terms, abduced (or maybe abducted) from Barthes’s formulations:

Body as fetish                                                             “Lovable” body

Model: truth (= inside the                                  Model: caress (= relationship
individual, in his deep cen-                              between two foci — people
ter = nucleus of indivisible                                or semiotic aspects = bi-
atom)                                                                     polar molecule)3/

Soul                                                                         Sense

I shall devote one section each to Truth and Soul, while the Lovable Body will provide a ground bass for my comments, get qualified by a section on the traps of cross-cultural anthropology and (non-)politics, and eventually issue in a final section on Aesthetic Body, with a codicil on Sense.
1. Body as Ostension of Inner Truth or as One Pole of Caressing: A Noh-Play Scene

From Philip Sidney’s “Look into thy heart and write” (still communicated to him by a public, upper-class Muse of poetry) to the innumerable European repetitions perhaps best epitomized in the (of course, US-American) immortal words of the plebeian Jimmy Durante, “Let it come straight from heart,” we have an embarras du choix as evidence for the “nuclear truth” model. From a presumably equally wide choice evidencing the “bipolar caress” model in Japan (e.g., a goodly part of Japanese poetry could be used — cf. my Essay 2 and Essay 3), I shall use only one example, from the Noh-play Senju:

Geni ya Azuma no hateshi made
Hito no kokoro no oku fukaki
Sono nasake koso miyako nare.

The translation by Shimazaki Chifumi reads: “Indeed, in the remote corner of the East,/ In the heart’s innermost, a deep-lying/ Tenderness belongs to the Capital [i.e. Kyôto, DS]” (83). On the face of it, this would seem to speak against Barthes, and testify that already in this 15th-Century play, attributed to Komparu Zenchiku, there is a well-defined Japanese interiority that vouches for the protagonist’s deepest affection. In this lyrical “Woman Noh,” the shite Senju, a tender-hearted courtesan whose thoughts are spoken here by the Chorus, is trying to comfort a young high-ranking nobleman from Kyôto (a place associated to his days of power and glory), now held prisoner in the eastern city of Kamakura and destined for quick execution. The lines cited come at her first entrance, and allude by metonymy to her sentiments of sympathy and regret for the prisoner from Kyôto. And there is no denying that her sentiments are being hidden from the nobleman both by reason of shyness (referred to in the line immediately preceding: “Hazukashi-nagara mimien — Shyly I approach him”) and because the two of them are probably being spied upon by the shogunal jailers. Thus, there is clearly an opposition here between seen and unseen, manifest surface covering and hidden under-the-surface covered. But first of all, the sentiments are not hidden to the audience: they are fully externalized by the chorus, and in fact the argument could be made that neither the shite-actor nor the Senju-“character” has to or indeed can have any sentiments. The shite speaks and dances, the chorus chants, so that it is a disease of the language of bourgeois sentimentality which leads us to take the inferential walk imputing sentiments to a dance specialist and a non-existent person. True, deep sentiments are present in the Noh performance: they are, however, the audience’s sentiments.

Second, do these lines really entail simply a centred “deep-lying heart’s innermost”? Again, the strong locution “oku fukaki,” which suggests something like “deepest depths,” would seem to speak in favour of that. Yet to begin with, “kokoro” in Japanese does not allude to the physiological organ of heart, it means equally what is in English expressed by heart, mind, feeling, spirit or conception, i.e. something like the aware and feeling essence of personality (to get ahead of myself, where there is no atomic “soul,” awareness is awareness of one’s emotional personality, not split between body and soul, or reason and feelings). “Kokoro,” a person’s disposition, is described positively as “akaki” (bright) or “kiyoki” (clean, pure), negatively as “kuraki” (dark) or “kitanaki” (dirty); manifestly, it is envisaged as intrinsically visible from the outside — though it can be overlaid by layers of the perceiver’s ignorance, the perceived’s dissimulation, and other difficulties of understanding — rather than intrinsically a mystery of the spheric centre. The covered-up or concealed “dirty disposition” is that shameful, axiologically “deep” offense against the community that is sometimes hastily translated into the Western term of “sin” (cf. Sansom, History 80 and Japan 496). Thus, while a strong personality speaks here, connotations of anatomical interiority, which would magically induce “depth” psychology, are weakly and dubiously present.

And further, “oku fukaki” itself is caught in a complex web of homonymy and parallelisms, which make it simultaneously bear the vector of verticality and a vector of horizontality. First of all, both “oku” and “fukaki” (or cognate expressions) were stock adverbs used together with mountains or bamboo groves in the tanka (and later also the haiku) tradition, such as “oku-yama ni” in the Kokinshû (e.g. KKS “Autumn” 4: 215) or the great Saigyô’s dozen or so poems with some variant on the traditional line “fukaki yama ni,” both meaning “in the mountains’ deep.”4/ Second, in syntactic parallelism to “Azuma no hateshi — the Eastland’s farthest ends,” this also means “the farthest Northland” (as is well known to all lovers of haiku from Bashô’s famous haibun volume Oku no hosomichi, usually translated as Narrow Road to the Far North). Now the island of Honshu curves first roughly east and then roughly north, and the Japanese word for “northeast” is “tôhoku,” literally “east-north”: east, the direction of the rising sun, has traditionally dominated Japanese orientation (Palmer 89). To the standard Sinified connotations of the North with the cold and darkness — the opposite of the splendid Capital — this geopolitics adds that it is the frontier against barbarians and even further from the western Kyôto than the eastern Kamakura. The meanings of distance from the nation’s centre are thus accentuated. But that centre is not the centre of a geometric figure but more of an asymmetrical “focus” or “antipode.” It is on a surface vector, not vertically inside (indeed, in value terms the capital was thought of as being high, certainly not deep) but horizontally distant, on a flat expanse which was traversed by the prisoner in battle and captivity and which he yearns to retraverse in freed return. This second meaning interferes with and chips away at the first “oku fukaki” meaning of vertical distance, which could have suggested pointing downward from surface into depths, already disturbed by the qualitative rather than localized connotations of “kokoro.”

This argument would accord well with durable Japanese topologies of shamanic origin, which some theories have as composed of a horizontal (flat) cosmology and a vertical one going straight up or (more rarely) down, into the ground or the sea (see Blacker 28-29 and Grapard 199ff.), and referring to one or more further layers and not to spheric interiority. Barthes was right, there is no organicism in the Japanese (or East Asian) tradition by virtue of which the capital would be something like a heart: even Buddhism, though coming from the cradle of organicistic thought, India, did not manage to make serious inroads into the Chinese and Japanese indifference to the microcosm metaphor. Finally, the last line from the Senju quote could denote a refined emotion for or (among other possibilities) worthy of the Capital.

Thus, one could just as well translate these three Noh lines, with somewhat less Europeanized vocabulary, eschewing the reification of “the heart’s innermost,” as:

Indeed, even in the furthest East,
Even in the furthest North or deep within our spirit,
A tender sympathy for the Capital lodges (or:
A tender sentiment worthy of the Capital is found).

The coordinate system here is multiplex, not one-directional. Depth does exist, but it is not necessarily individual, nor especially oriented from surface to spheric centre — it can also be from surface to height (as in going up, and then descending from, mountains; more rarely from surface to bottom, as in the sea) or from outlying reaches horizontally to centre (as necessitated by the historical development of the Japanese state expanding from the Inner Sea area east and north, because of which the shogun’s seat too — the site of this play — was pitched in Kamakura, away from the Imperial capital). Both of these common experiences are present in what Eco would call the Japanese “encyclopedia” of the 15th Century, when — it should be remembered — plays were performed equally in the old capital Kyôto and the outlying provinces. In short, while there is vectoral depth, there is no centripetal “nuclear truth” in these lines. On the contrary, though one of the semantic foci or poles in them is triplex (east, north, and deeply within the spirit), they seem to me good enough preliminary evidence of a “bipolar caress” model.

2. Selfhood: The Soulful Individual, God, Teleology, Devil

2.1. However, how could it be said by Barthes that (even his imaginary) Japanese have no soul, while they obviously have strong personalities, strong feelings, etc.? Isn’t “soul” just the theologically founding term for individuality, which everybody possesses? Isn’t Barthes then being involuntarily patronizing, celebrating its absence? The answer, as I suggested at the beginning, lies in unpacking our language, in what one could call — in a paraphrase of Ernst Bloch — “differentiations within the notion of individuality.” I shall proceed here upon the tracks of Jean-Pierre Vernant’s and Paul Ricoeur’s approaches to such differentiation in the Colloque de Royaumont “Sur l’individu” of 1985. To simplify, streamline, and sometimes contaminate them, they distinguish three notions, which can in French be elegantly called “l’individu stricto sensu,” “le sujet,” and “le soi” (or “le moi”). The first is a not further divisible physical token of any logical type, and especially of a biological species in Julian Huxley’s sense of “indivisibility — the quality of being sufficiently heterogeneous in form to be rendered non-functional if cut in half” (cited in Dawkins 250); in that sense, I translate it, with hesitancy, as individual (for that word is often used also in the ideologized bourgeois sense of Self — the third notion here). It designates any Something (this goldfish, bonsai tree or province) by three principal means: definite description, proper name or indicator (pronoun, adverb, etc.). The second is a human (and I would argue even an animal, or at least mammal) “individual” communicating in her own name, expressing himself “in the first person” with traits that differentiate her from others of the same logical type-token and biological species-variety-race (etc.) — most importantly, from an ethnic, class, and gender group. To the individuation above, this adds identification, and I shall call it the Subject. For a Subject, the pronoun “I” is no longer a shifter, an itinerant marker applicable to any speaker, but it is anchored in a fixed stance or bearing; this makes dialogue possible, where — however — the anchoring is reversible, “I” can be understood as “thou” and viceversa (cf. Ricoeur 62). Finally, the Self (ipse, Selbst) is constituted by the practices and stances

which confer upon the subject a dimension of interiority…,which constitute him from within as…a singular individual whose authentic nature resides wholly in the secret of his  inner life, at the heart of an intimacy to which nobody, outside of herself, can accede…” (Vernant, “L’individu” 24)5/

To ground this a bit in terms of literary genres: the biography and the epic would correspond to an individual (usually a Plutarchian, i.e. famous, type — the warrior, the statesman, the Amazon). Here, e.g. in Homer, the “individual” (in the first above sense) body of a hero is permeated by superindividual powers such as desire (eros), domination (kratos), and fear (phobos), which “invest…but also transcend and surpass any single bodily envelope” (Vernant, L’Individu, la mort 21), so that the same body or individual “may also, when the gods lend a hand, rise or fall in the hierarchy of life-values whose reflection and witness it is…” (ibidem 25). The autobiography, the pre-bourgeois lyric or diaries such as the Japanese nikki genre, where the writer as a rule looks at herself in publicly normative stances (cf. Konishi 114-15), correspond to the Subject, which can perhaps be deciphered as a type seen from within (e.g., the poet, the lover, the hermit — cf. Suvin, “Can People”). Often, in the nikki as well as in the monogatari and later tales, the female author is identified as “Daughter of X” or “Mother of Y” (X and Y being males) while male protagonists are identified by rank and not proper name (solely, e.g. Middle Counsellor or Minister of the Left, or predominantly, e.g. using the rank hôgan for the main legendary hero Yoshitsune). Possibly most telling is the case of the greatest prose author of them all, Murasaki Shikibu: “The ‘Murasaki’ is a nickname derived from the heroine of the first two sections [of The Tale of Genji], and the ‘Shikibu’ indicates that a male relative had a post in the Bureau of the Rites” (Miner, Poetics 191). Not too much should perhaps be made of this anonymity: the Japanese medieval noblewomen obviously had quite strong and distinct personalities or Subjects; but semantic repression participates in reality. Obversely, Vernant remarks that in Hellenic lyrics the first-person subject gives his own sensibility the status of “a model, a literary topos … [so that] what is felt individually as interior emotion…acquires a kind of objective reality” (30-31). Only the genres of confession, beginning with Augustine of Hippo, the intimate memoir, and the profoundly changed post-Renaissance lyric and prose epic (i.e. novel) would correspond to the Self. To anticipate, the Self is initially semanticized only in relation to God, as the soul, defined by Plotinus as that which is found when “everything is taken away” (see Vernant, L’Individu, la mort 226); then it is fully developed in the richness of thisworldly relationships as the interiorized character seen simultaneously from inside and outside, as public and private, therefore stereometrically or “in the round.” No doubt, all kinds of grey zones, precursors, and anachronisms must be conceded to this scheme if it is to work. Nonetheless, it seems to be at least getting at a very significant, perhaps central set of distinctions. In this optic all classical Hellenic and Asian literature, from the tragedy to the Tale of Genji, seems to be fully or predominantly of the first two kinds, featuring individuals or Subjects as types rather than a Self as character (cf. Benedict 195-97 and passim; by the way, this is not at all a judgment of quality: The Oresteia is to my mind on the whole more significant than A Doll’s House, and The Story of the Stone [Hung-lou meng] than Madame Bovary).

And so we begin to glimpse a startling correlation: only monotheist cultures seem to have invented the Self and its whole host of attendant ways of understanding and organizing the world. “The notion of person will appear in Christian thought” (Meyerson 476). It is not necessary to enter here into why and how this happened: one can simply remark with Vernant that for the individual “uncoupled from sociality….[t]he search for God and the search for Self are two dimensions of the same solitary ordeal” (“L’individu” 36). The Subject implies other Subjects. The Self implies Another: Platonically — The Other, transcendentally — God. The search may be called theology, or — from Bacon and Descartes on — Science, it is in all cases proceeding upon the One True Way. (Parenthetically: all talk about The Other, including mine, and all talk about ethics which does not enter upon the dialectics of personal and collective, is therefore still essentially individualistic, even if laudably bipolar rather than monolithic.) The consequences, from politics to epistemology, were to be huge.

2.2. What this effects is a diametrical inversion of vectors. Earlier — in narration, say, up to and including Boccaccio and Giotto — the Subject was for others as well as for herself a twodimensional limit-zone where collective bodies or groups (traditionally transcribed as types) meet and interfere: a woman, an adult, an aristocrat, a member of the Ono clan, a beauty, a famous poetess, etc., all of which goes to make Ono no Komachi. The Japanese Subject had been “inscribed” first of all into its clan: if female, possibly into a prominent male kinsman’s (family-head’s) name, if male, possibly into rank; Agamemnon was rather distinct from Menelaus, but both were largely determined by being Atreides — rulers and warriors against Troy. Now, the Subject begins to be seen (first by himself and then by others insofar as they recognize they are Subjects too) as the central point around which the world becomes that point’s environment (cf. Suvin, To Brecht, Part 1, elaborating upon Lukács), a three-dimensional sphere seen from the inside. This evolution may be glimpsed in a number of plays by Shakespeare: Lear is a King, a choleric Old Man (Senex), yet the buyer of love in exchange for property turns into everyman, hovering on the brink of depth psychology. Soon, by morphological analogy and validating necessity (of which more anon), a central point is found inside the Subject itself which relates to the individual body as that body does to the rest of the environment. That central point, the irreducible principle of utter alterity or originality whose loss would be the death of Self, and thus a fate worse than bodily death, is — as I suggested in 2.1 — initially and most clearly identified as soul (though in “humanist” laicizations shamefaced synonyms such as the personality, ego or the individual sensu lato are substituted for soul — cf. Williams, ss. vv. “Individual” and “Personality”). A cosmological and political doctrine according to which the human individual (in this “soulful” sense) is the final building brick of the body politic, just as other individual entities (e.g. the unsplittable atom) are the final building blocks of all other cosmic levels, is then the ideology of individualism.6/ The clairvoyant reactionary Tocqueville first identified individualism in the USA, where its semantics were invading all other collective categories (such as time and space), as “a novel expression, to which a novel idea has given birth” (cf. the discussion of character and individualism in Suvin, “Can People” 686-88). Individualism as ideology “engender[s] the cosmico-political dimension and public space itself starting from the sole ethical selfhood…without the originating social dimension” (Ricoeur 72). In Aristotle’s Politics, we may remember, the only Subjects who could be sundered from the polis, which is superordinated to individuals as the whole is to the part, were gods or beasts (I:2:1253a) — in human terms, divine magi or monsters. Thus, all the descendants of Robinson Crusoe in the narratives of political economy and similar fiction brought about by the bourgeoisie would be monstrous for any non-individualistic (e.g. the Hellenic or East Asian) tradition.
2.3. This most novel idea of Selfhood, which flew in the face of all human (or in the apt theological vocable, all “gentile,” i.e. gens or tribe-derived) experience and notions, needed to be validated by a transcendental grounding (or is it assumption?). No doubt, the idea that Truth was situated in the Center of, say, a mystic geometrical body reared its Pythagorean (etc.) head much earlier. But such a notion is not only not immediately apparent but counter-intuitive: surely the truth of a tetrahedron is that it has so-and-so many sides of such-and-such a kind. While recollocation of so-called immediate sense-data into sense-making but in some way “hidden” categories of the “mind’s eye” seems to be a prerequisite for any and every cognitive endeavour, why should our categories be inward-looking ones? This Hellenic idea lacked a sufficiently powerful myth of origin. Whence did the truth get into the Center? A mouth-stopping, transcendental validation is the best answer: Truth was put there by an omnipotent God, Who is as central to the whole universe as that particular truth to the body it occupies. In the huge social breakdowns of the Roman world empire, whose fears and horrors may be comparable only to our century’s, where polytheism foundered together with the notion of equal political rights of citizens and communities, this validation from the new universal Lord of (Christian) monotheism won out. For every individual this amounts to the incarnation of truth; it is signalized and symbolized by the Son’s incarnation into Jesus, by the breath of the Holy Ghost “in-spiring” such inner truth. In the logocratic tradition of Christianity, mediated by a Holy Scripture and its exclusive interpreters and enforcers, this is the verbum vitae, the Word of Life in direct genealogical relation to the Creator, Truth as the offspring of monotheistic authority. In spite of Bacon’s reply that Truth was the Daughter of Time (i.e. of understanding through experiment), Romantic anthropology held fast to this Central or Nuclear Truth of Man, a supreme value which has to be unveiled as the dazzling Thai”s and Phryné or shelled as peas from the pod. Every individual was a subject of the Lord, but he also had a divine right to be himself because she had a divine spark in herself.

This Promethean spark — the soul — thus persisted after the Catholic Lord had been supplanted by Protestantism and humanism:

In modern Europe the idea of a planned creation of the world order by one single God was secularized, and thus prepared in the interior of people the way to creating a system of formal rights, a rationally organized bureaucracy, and a unified monetary system through the absolute monarch as the free subject of responsibility. The ideational mediation was here exercised by none less than Descartes, who separated spirit from matter and undertook the construction of the world of experience through the cognitive subject (reason [and Self in my sense, DS]) following the principle of the “cogito.” (Maruyama 56)

It was Descartes (or at least the “Descartes” of European intellectual history, cf. Suvin “Polity” passim) who transplanted from theology to lay philosophy the image “of a single inner space in which bodily and perceptual sensations…, mathematical truths, moral rules, the idea of God, moods of depression, and all the rest of what we now call ‘mental’ were objects of quasi-observation” (Rorty 50). Of course, “There was nothing farther from Greek culture [or from other non-individualist cultures, e.g. in East Asia, DS] than the Cartesian cogito, the ‘I think’ set forth as a condition for and foundation of all knowledge of the world, of oneself, and of God” (Vernant, “Introduction” 11). Concomitantly, Descartes’s philosophical soul apprehended metaphysics and cognized through a reason opposed to the fallacious bodily senses. As he wrote, “this ‘me,’ that is to say, the soul by which I am what I am, is entirely distinct from the body.” The locus of individuality and subjectivity shifts to the “Je suis,” the soul as “moi”: “I am a thinking thing,” proclaim the Meditations, whereas “I possess a body with which I am very intimately conjoined” (Works 1: 101 and 190). Two or three centuries later, there remained the lonely Self. Which may be leading us to understand why Barthes so urgently needed to get rid of this Nuclear True Self.

The West Asian notion of a single personalized God (with capitalized inital approximating a proper name), a (male) Creator from the chaos of base (female) matter, a “master-will external to [the] creation” (Mote 8), is significantly absent from East Asia. Such a Yahweh, God the Father or Allah is a transcendental guarantor of sense who cannot be imagined apart from a purpose or ultimate goal for his Creation and its Creatures. While polytheism entails pragmatic phenomenalism, monotheism necessarily entails teleology as its orientation in time and history, to the final triumph or revenge which will make sense (possibly after the death of all of us) of the indignities suffered by the righteous. It is not a very logical construct — in Christianity, Creation is a small temporalized interval within eternity, and it is taken back at the Last Judgment — , but exactly this proton pseudos is the original sin of historiosophy in the Euro-American tradition, most clearly in the Middle Ages and in the Romantics. In Hegel, a perspicacious Japanese critic has observed,

world history is narrated within a fundamental identity, and successive, heterogeneous “worlds” are appropriated into this as “stages.” Exteriority or difference…is sublated within interiority, as contradiction. Hegel’s spirit is in this sense the unification within a centralized, linear perspective of what had been a network of communication with multiple centers and directions. (Karatani, “One” 616).


The central spatial truth about Man’s interiority becomes here the sense-making trajectory of the World in time. But if this is so, what can be the cause of the retardation in righting the suffering? And in a universe of personalized intervention, who is the cause? Enter the Devil, an entity neither Hellenes nor East Asians have especially needed. The Demon (a sorry semantic variation on the original daimon, a polytheist entity not too dissimilar from the Japanese kami) is an agential personification of antagonistic conflict, separating it into neat oppositions so exclusive that they can be personified. The concept of polarized Good and Evil as absolute or elemental duality seems not to be present in the Japanese cultural tradition (cf. Benedict 189-91, Pelzel, Loy passim, e.g. 182ff., 218, 295ff., and the exemplary comparison of St. John’s vs. Nichiren’s apocalypses in Sansom, History 427; I draw some consequences from it in Essay 4). Conversely, in Christian tradition it is not possible to have at the centre of the main mass (though never a circle’s centre!) of the dark, female, cold, etc., force a fragment of the bright, male, hot force — and viceversa — as in the Chinese yin-yang system (though the old legends of Lucifer as archangel hint at it). A universal scapegoating principle has been found as an empty category, into which women or Jews or Blacks or communists or reactionaries may be readily thrust. Every proper Christian individual can also be seen as situated between the dark and bright angel, ferociously and ceaselessly scrutinizing his consciousness of Self for traces of perdition. “A new form of identity,” remarks Vernant about this short circuit between exteriority and its redistribution into all Subject interiors, “is brought about at that point: the human individual is in it defined by his most intimate thoughts, her secret imaginings, his nocturnal dreams, her sinful impulses, the perpetual obsessive presence in his interior of all forms of temptation.” When Augustine speaks of the “abyss of human consciousness,” this marks “the starting point of the modern individuum and personality” (Vernant, “L’individu” 36-37; see also Hadot). It only remains to equate, as of Calvinism, perdition with poverty (which makes some sense at least), and the modern marketable individual will be born out of the spirit of monotheism, moving on the tracks of teleology.

3. Traps and Amiabilities: Bodily Anthropology and Politics

3.0. The foregoing discussion of some main implications of the “Bunraku chapter” validates Karatani’s thesis that “Barthes’s project [in The Empire of Signs] was to reexamine Western thought in terms of an exteriority free of the sovereignty of the thinking subject, which would be called ‘Japan'” (“One” 624-25); in my terms, Barthes’s Japan was a place freed from the domination of Individualism, so that the Subject would need no Self, no interiority with a “soulful” centre, and therefore no God (or Devil) and no teleology. Karatani sees Barthes’s Japan as “a place of absence” of the transcendental meaning (which would be connected with the individual through the privileged conduit of Soul). I have attempted to very roughly sketch this in, and it can also be understood as the opposition of the “corps aimable” (lovable body) to the sexual repression of the body by the Father and his interiorized Word of Life.

But if Soul or Self disappears 7/, the Subject’s body does not. It remains the Subject’s anchorage and validation for saying “here” or “now,” for inscribing the Subject’s time and space into the socially recognized time and space. This holds not only for location and dating but also for the name (cf. Ricoeur 64-65). The Japanese way of prepositioning the clan name (e.g. Ki no Tsurayuki: “of the clan Ki the individual member Tsurayuki”) inscribes the Subject first of all into the superordinated group, and the habit of name-announcing (in the battles, or in the nanori of Noh plays) tells us why: so as to know what relation — of enmity, deference, etc. — the addressee not only could but is constrained to take. This has not disappeared in Japanese capitalism: even today, introductions are often done by prepositioning the institutional “umbrella” to the profession, in the form of “This gentleman is from such-and-such a university” or “I am from such-and-such a TV company” rather than “He teaches literature” or “I am a producer” (cf. Maruyama 102). Of course, roles are today much richer in Japan, and not exhausted by one’s official position, but then they often have to be disambiguated by specifying in which role one is speaking (Maruyama 140).

In sum, the body, phenomenologically pinpointing and validating the “inscription” of its here, now, and name into the central collective categories of space, time, and agency, grows in a devaluation of Self not less but much more important. How does it relate to other bodies, how does it perceive the natural and social universe? We can call the perception question (even etymologically) aesthetics, and expect that Barthes will have illuminating matters to say about it. But first, his understanding of the relation between bodies in “Japan” will be examined.

3.1. Clearly, sexual relations belong here, but — though they subtend and suffuse much of The Empire of Signs (see RBRB 159) — the intensely private Barthes did not choose to textualize them. His definition of the “Japanese” body could be, in fact, taken for his own ideal: “Over there the body exists, acts, unfolds itself, shows itself, gives itself, without hysteria, without narcissism, but according to a pure — though subtly discreet — erotic project” (F 18). The sexed body is one “text” which Barthes here refused to translate and articulate in natural language (he would later devote much of his writing to attempts at distinguishing the “erotic body” from the philologically discussable “pheno-text” body). It is a wise instinct: for the attempt would have exploded the whole project for colonization of semiotics by linguistics on which Barthes’s imperialist use of terms like “language” and “text” here still relies. The body’s erotics remain either fugitive general statements, as the one just cited, or presuppositions, traces, and hints, e.g. about the semiotic of arranging trysts and the accompanying delicious body language (cited in 4.1 below; and see the three handwritten notes on F 23, 27, 33; anecdotal lore about Barthes’s stay I have heard in Japan is much richer). On the other hand, however, collective bodies and their shaping of individual bodies (cf. Suvin, “Polity” and “Subject”) are scarcely acknowledged in the book. This is its central blind spot. And yet even in Europe such collectivities stood in a most intimate relation to Barthes’s subjectivity (e.g. the Tel Quel circle, the homosexual scene and its shifting position in French law and practice, the various bureaucratic educational apparati in which he participated).True, in Europe this relation is severely repressed by the unceasing barrages of individualist ideology: but the author of Mythologies was capable of looking beyond them. And in Japan, the welter of collective bodies would seem to have been quite evident. It was a series of collective bodies that paid and hosted Barthes’s stay in Japan: he was sponsored by the French government representatives, lectured at universities, was interviewed in newspapers…8/ This is seen from maps and photographs in the book, but never articulated. It is almost as if, enclosed between the Gaullists and the Stalinists, politics (for there is no other word that will do for this interplay of collective and singular bodies) had become a taboo discourse and domain for Roland Barthes. It seems totally evacuated from The Empire of Signs. Barthes’s variant of an “empty centre” sign-system knows only individuals and million-bodied crowds divisible into anthropological and esthetic body “classes,” distributively (but not collectively) accessible and beautiful in the “great syntagm of bodies” (“Des millions de corps,” F 127-33). Aisthesis (sexuality and aesthetics) yes, politics no (the lucid Barthes was later to acknowledge this quandary in an imaginary conversation with Brecht, see RBRB 57, also 172). It was a basic and weighty choice.

This is, I think, why Karatani can go on (not unjustly) to reproach Barthes that his critique of the despotic European 19th Century — in my terms the reign of the triumphant bourgeoisie — forgets that the “Japan” discovered by him is not transhistorical or eternal but also a 19th-Century creation, in its way equally despotic (“One” 625). Karatani’s objection, if sustained, would largely nullify any liberating power of Barthes’s book. I shall attempt to examine in my final section, on the evidence of the body in Japanese theatre (even that drawn from the proto-merchant-class oriented Bunraku — the evidence would be much stronger in the case of the undoubtedly pre- and non-bourgeois Noh, and I shall approach this discussion in Essays 4 and 5), how far may Barthes be rescued from it. My hypothesis is that Karatani’s critique (incidental to some weightier considerations in his essay) is partly but not fully applicable; that the Japan seen by Barthes is not only a Meiji-period creation. There is, of course, no absence of meaning but probably a surfeit of multiple meanings in Japan; only a gaijin (foreigner) protected from them through his ignorance and the privileges of his affluence, the deference and real helpfulness (one could also say amiability) shown by most Japanese to a distinguished and elderly visitor, and most of all kept outside the circuit of meanings by his lack of practical ties and commitments to any Japanese group (even to an ad hoc collective body), could have ever thought otherwise. In that sense, Barthes behaved as a photographic negative of the typical European ethnologist or utopographer: where the latter was an “objective” observer getting at the frame of meanings through particulars, he got at the subjective particulars refusing the possibility of any frame except a zero-frame (which the author of Writing Degree Zero, confusingly, at times equated with no frame, as if white or bleached were not a colour — cf. Jameson 68-69). Yet my hypothesis that Homo sapiens is a sense-making animal (shared by Barthes in some other books, cf. the quote in 0.1) requires that such a frame for sense be supplied.

Why is, to take up and possibly refunction Karatani’s terms, 19th-Century Japan in some ways radically different from 19th-Century France? A very short answer summing up a long (and disputed) argument would be: because the Meiji “restoration” was not the French Revolution but (something not foreseen in Marxist theory though not at all incompatible with it) a change of social formation initiated by a fraction of the ruling class of the ancien régime for historically explicable reasons. Diachronically, this latched on to the peculiar, very long duration, ruling-class continuity (no abrupt social revolution seems to have taken place in the Japanese islands for at least one thousand years). This has resulted in accretive layering in many domains. Tsurumi Kazuko posits even that “in the highly modernized society which Japan is today, there exist the primitive, archaic, medieval, modern, and supermodern patterns of feeling, thinking, making things, and human relationships,…piled on top of each other as geological layers” (5). This is a tad systematic for my taste, but the layering from medieval times on (with significant tribal remnants, which I suppose is what Tsurumi means by her “primitive” and “archaic”) is well-known in theatre or poetry. As she too sugests, however, much more fundamental and significant is the layering in behavioral patterns in relationships among people: for — just as the Noh, the tanka or the haiku touched upon in my following essays — they may well have preserved (and I think did preserve) structures of feeling that have vanished in practically all other urbanized and more or less affluent societies; and (paradoxically) these structures are still able to show themselves rather clearly in certain aspects and situations. For example, the claim that “to this day Japanese aesthetic perceptions and Japanese views on such matters as the true nature of love derive essentially from the court traditions of a thousand years ago” (Miner, Introduction 4) may be somewhat hyperbolic, but what matters is that it can still be seriously made. Indeed, if it were not so, I fail to understand how could there still be literally millions of faithful and enthralled audiences for and part-time participants in Noh and Kabuki performing (there is an estimate of two million students for various components of Noh in 1971 [Harris 73], and today there are probably more) or haiku and tanka writing. It is these structures of feeling that Barthes’s sensitive antennae caught.

3.2. Why did Barthes find a “lovable body” in Japanese theatre — and culture — as opposed to the fetishized body in bourgeois culture? This could be glossed as meaning that the fetishized body is either demonized as impure, or — in the Fascist populism of projected identification — reified into the stars of spectacle: theatre, mass media, spectator sports, and politics. I would like to concentrate here on the first alternative, and look at it from the well-known anthropological observation that East Asian societies have, parallel to an absence of monotheist teleology and God-Devil dualism, never invented sin — or its internalized Protestant and lay equivalent, guilt (cf. Delumeau). In the Chinese case, as Needham formulated this, the world was seen as “an ordered harmony of will without an ordainer” (cited from his Science and Civilization in China [1956], 2:287, in Mote 8). In Japan the multiplicity of kami-ordainers and their only intermittent presence, may, I would speculate, be functionally equivalent to the lack of an ordainer as a denial of transcendentalism and affirmation of immanentism or phenomenalism. At any rate, a number of writers, notably Benedict (222-25), have identified Japan too as a society where order or norms are kept through shame rather than guilt (Barthes was one of them, see G 123). In a “shame and honour culture, as opposed to guilt and duty cultures…which necessarily refer to the moral personality’s intimate conscience,” the Subject’s value, his “face,” is inscribed onto, or at least strongly dependent on, his or her body. Just as in Hellas, to that body belong “his name, his lineage, his origins, his status within the group along with the honours connected to it, the privileges and respect that he may rightfully expect, as well as his personal excellence, all of his qualities and merits — beauty, strength, courage, nobility of behaviour, self-mastery…, demeanour, bearing…” (Vernant, “Introductin” 18). Shame is an other-directed rather than inner-directed activity; it is directed towards being seen by other members of your social group rather than by God speaking through your conscience. Conflicts in a shame situation are metonymic, as of part to whole, and tend to supersession, rather than antagonistic, as of God to Devil, and tending to victory of one side (I develop this further in Essay 4). The characteristic Euro-American bodily destruction is murder, usually expressing inner impulses, the characteristic Japanese one suicide, proving one’s sincerity (makoto) to others (cf. Pinguet, Wolfe).

Now it is one of the basic commonplaces of Japanology that group-consciousness in Japan — while not at all preventing identification, heroism or great personalities, rather the contrary — nonetheless right up to the present envelops the Subject much more completely than in countries where capitalism was ushered in by a bourgeois revolution, such as western Europe or northern America. Taking some hints from Hellas, we could see personal and bodily experience as differently organized: the Subject is “an open field of multiple forces” (Vernant, “L’individu” 32), which seeks and finds itself in the various collectivities. A Japanese philosophical way of putting it is: “the wave which is produced and disappears…would be the ordinary self of man….[S]uch an ordinary subject revert[s] back from wave to water — i.e., return[s] to its source — and re-emerges as the True-Subject or True-Self…” (Hisamatsu 97). Individualism as an ideology was a “Western” export into all pre-bourgeois societies, and still seems to have a tough time to fully develop in today’s Japan. Sometimes this is ironically called “community at home, the Japanese way of doing things” (Najita 402); in standard works such as Nakamura’s it is called the emphasis on a limited social nexus, which entails that interpersonal relationships — in the family, in other limited, “clannish” groups, and on the scale of the nation as a whole — take precedence over or indeed largely constitute the individual (ch. 35). In theatre (including the Nô world) such a group is the ie, a fusion of kinship lineage, occupational specialization, and hierarchical — patriarchal — monopoly. This often means “a blind subordination to authority” arrogating itself the representation of the whole group, so that, as Hegel observed about Eastern religions, “the single Substance alone is True, and…an individual is only capable of assuming true value by uniting itself with Substance [i.e. with the Universal, DS], when this individual, however, is no longer a ‘Subject’…” (in my terms a Self — Nakamura 12-13). Such a social nexus has two complementary consequences. First, the Self is by no means a clearcut building brick of the universe, so that traditionally the Subject is not even externalized or objectified (and I don’t want to even enter upon frequent similar discussions of the grammatical subject, or of the recomplications in modern Japanese intellectual discourse — cf., e.g., Miyoshi & Harootunian 649 and a detailed discussion in Sakai):

The Japanese people, in general, do not give objective representation to the self as subject of action. In Japanese, “mizukara” (self) is not a noun but an adverb, that is, it is not perceived as an abstract conception. The word “onore” (self) is often used as a noun, but it is rare that it is used as subject. The Japanese have therefore never used words which mean self — for example, “ware,” “onore,” “mizukara” — as philosophical terms…. Thus, the Japanese people have seldom confronted objective reality as sharply distinguished from knowing subjects. This attitude may be called their common way of thinking. (Nakamura 574-75; cf. Suzuki 111ff. and 163ff.)

Obversely, every gaijin is stricken with uncomfortable awe upon seeing just how intimately relations of rank and intimacy have infiltrated the syntax and semantics of Japanese language, in a feedback cycle with people’s consciousness. This density of social networks impedes the Subject’s direct relating to general or impersonal Truths. There are even claims that historically “the Japanese on the whole have not been fully aware of th[e] relation [between the particular and the universal]” (Nakamura 535-36), so that they have deficient logical or abstracting powers. The great Japanese Confucianist Ogyû Sorai remarked: “The great sage rulers of the past taught by means of [particular] ‘things’ and not by means of [universal] ‘principles.’…In ‘things’ all ‘principles’ are brought together, hence all who have long devoted themselves to work come to have a genuine intuitive understanding of them.” (Nakamura 537) The most cherished Western abstract principles, applicable to every individual Self regardless of its personality, are unknown in this way of thinking: “There appears to be no close Chinese or Japanese analogy to [the abstract idea of Justice]” (Sansom, History 81).

All of this can be best seen and documented in Japanese literature. It is difficult to find in the virtuoso tankas and haiku that the poet’s subjectivity is being upheld as the touchstone of happiness or suffering, beauty or goodness, as certainly happens in Europe already with Sappho, Catullus or Ovid, and even more so from Petrarca on. The subjective, individualistic time is in Japan recuperated into the cycles of cosmic and social time; even aging and loss are socially recognized commonplaces which the tanka poet approaches (to put it into a medieval European slogan) as non nova sed nove — by new variants of the same thematic field. The classical Japanese “narrative agents” are oriented outward, towards others, as in the Shining Prince Genji’s many loves, or in Sei Shônagon’s and Kenkô’s zuihitsu, “encyclopedic” (or should one say miscellaneous) sketch-collections of bric-a`-brac observations. They do not constitute a closed interiority only within which they may be authentic, as in the novels from Don Quixote on. “I think, therefore I am” (or even: “I feel, therefore I am”), would make as little sense to a pre-Meiji Japanese as for a pre-Augustinian Hellene or Roman. This is properly (and has been) matter for book-length studies, but I want to solidify this rapid sketch with two indicative references.

First, for classical literature, with Miner’s persuasive overall argument that in Japanese collections of verse, as a rule, the Western “single identifiable personality [is] dispersed in favor of multiple personality and narratorship… [, with] integrity assumed to exist at the collective level” (“Collective” 43). Japanese poetry reveals “a conception of collective integers, of large, composite wholes that the very brevity of the poetic units either made possible or was in fact responsible for encouraging” (“Collective” 53-54). In other words, the identity of the poets, named and anonymous, who participate in a tanka collection or a linked-verse sequence as a kind of extended family or improvised clan, is in a feedback with the participation in this polyphonic enterprise. The group enterprise allows them scope for a voice both recognizable as individual and continually blended with other cognate voices. Miner’s general conclusion is that, distinctively, Japanese literary entities are (I abbreviate his suggestive series for my purposes): “1. interdependent, not discrete; 2. varied, not equal in status; 3. defined by relation to other also unequal units and to a larger, composite whole…” (“Collective” 54). Second, for modern (Meiji-period) literature, beyond what Karatani has persuasively identified as its invention of the previously unknown interiority-exteriority split (Origins ch. 1 and 2), I want to briefly adduce Maruyama’s persuasive framework for its “desperate attempt to grasp the reality of an ‘I’ which was being simultaneously endangered by two gigantic forces that propelled the Japanese ‘modernity’ forward — the ‘family’ (ie) and the bureaucratisation.” He pinpoints four main circumstances that determined modern Japanese literature:

[F]irst, the character of the Japanese language, which is no doubt extraordinarily rich in words expressing emotional and sensual nuances, but at the same time poor in words for theoretical or general concepts. [S]econd, and relatedly: the tradition of Japanese literature to express human feelings by means of seasonally changing nature, respectively to observe most precisely people’s behaviour and relationships and to lay hold in extremely refined language of their tiniest emotional movements. [T]hird, [Japanese] Realism… easily combined with […the] tradition of absolutizing concrete reality and sticking to direct sensual experience.. ..[F]ourth, the literati were…’superfluous’ existences, which had deviated from the ‘normal’ way of an imperial-Japanese subject. (Maruyama 66)

This list gives much food for thought as to the character of Barthes’s convergence with the epistemology of both the traditional and (as Karatani well argues) the Meiji-period Japanese literature.

3.3. Of course, there are traps here, of great danger. Nakamura rightly objects against some of the huge generalizations which I have been surveying in 3.2 that they cannot define any essential “Orient,” since e.g. the European Middle Ages had some very similar characteristics (12-17; cf. Barker, especially his remarks on Hamlet’s empty interior, 36-37). I would be inclined to accept this, and take all the above traits as manmade in a contingent history, which might be traced back to smaller human power in face of nature, the social formation of “Oriental despotism,” and other factors, none of which is confined to Asian soil. Surely the very long duration of pitiless upper-class dictatorship — say the Fujiwara or the Tokugawa eras — has something to do with people’s habit of obedience to it and its infiltration into or indeed moulding of language (such as the inescapable “politeness registers” of all Japanese propositions). Nonetheless, even when we have disposed of any “racial” causality, more important queries remain. And centrally, should what we would today feel as an at least semi-fascist collectivism be revaluated at the expense of bourgeois individualism, now that the latter is triumphantly threatening to destroy our globe, or should that individualism be praised at the expense of such a stifling collectivism?

The question is badly put and as such allows of no intelligent answer. Should we say, with Foucault, that knowledge generated by the centred Self is simply an avatar of power, so that Said’s determination of maleficent Orientalism could be a metonymy for all such knowledge? I think knowledge is not wholly reducible to the apparatus which produced it, and that Foucault’s assumption of a deep genetic taint or authoritarian Original Sin is over-hasty. But even if Foucault’s indignation were right, would we therefore have to go back to the Right-wing chauvinism of kokutai, and attribute the really specific traits of Japanese culture or semiotic constellation to either race or an unchanging nature outside social history? The attraction of kokutai, the ideology of a specifically Japanese “national body,” was that it was originally “neither something fully interior nor fully exterior” so that it could be used to conjure away the limits of State authority in relation to its subjects (Maruyama 48) — and to the Subjects in my sense. Tennôism, the (mostly fictitious) central position of the imperial house was proclaimed to be “the nucleus of State order [which was] itself made into the nation’s spiritual axis” (Maruyama 45). This was eventually theorized in a sophisticated variant of near-Fascism, as in Nishida Kitarô’s eulogy of the emperor precisely as the locus of nothingness (see S. Tsurumi 67), or of straight Fascism, e.g. in Watsuji Tetsurô’s pernicious worship of the State, transposed from Hegel’s Prussia to the Japanese empire as “the expression of the absolute whole which is the same as absolute negativity or absolute emptiness,” and opposed to Anglo-Saxon selfishness and Hobbean individualism as ethics to quantification, as Gemeinschaft to profit society (Bellah 581 and passim, and cf. the brilliant analysis by Sakai). (Lest I be accused of vague metaphoricity when I speak of Fascism, let me note that the undoubtedly perspicacious and dialectical Watsuji studied in Germany and belongs, I think, to what J.-P. Faye has called “the left wing of Fascism,” e.g. Pound, Jünger, or Heidegger — the S.A. rather than the S.S. faction, in German terms.) In sum, should we really conclude that Oriental despotism is better? Surely the thrust of Karatani’s article on the “two 19th centuries,” say Benthamite and Meiji, is to warn us against plumping for either horn of this dilemma; and I would answer we should not. A dose of if not individualism then certainly individuality (i.e. the self-affirmation of one’s Subject) and civic consciousness (i.e. the recognition of the dignity of other Subjects) — values consubstantial with the great bourgeois revolutions — might just be what an average Tokugawa, Meiji, or even present-day Japanese subject needed. Obversely, the war of each against each would obviously destroy Japan more quickly than most other nations (much of Watsuji can be understood from this). My conclusion is that we should exclaim “A plague on both your houses,” with the lovers Romeo-Juliet, their amiable bodies, and their fantastic theoretician Mercutio.

Now, one of Barthes’s central epistemological passages is the amateurish reading of mu (emptiness) in his fragment “Centre-ville, centre vide.” It identifies as consubstantial with (this version of) mu the invisible emperor, a sacred “nothing” and nobody who is “an evaporated idea, existing there not in order to irradiate any power but to confer to the urban movement the support of his central emptiness” (F 43-46, underlined DS). Now mu or so-called Oriental Nothingness has many characteristics the debate about which fills volumes, and it is difficult to make a semantically non-empty statement about it. The nearest one could come, however, would probably be that it means also (as Nothingness should) “without inner or outer” (Hisamatsu 82). Furthermore and clearly, in the light of the deeply repressive history and ideology only faintly hinted at in the preceding paragraph and culminating in the tennôist axis becoming a part of the world fascist Axis, Barthes swallowed a goodly dose of second-rate (or, as in the case of his Nietzschean affinities to Nishida and Watsuji, first-rate) Right-wing metaphysical politics. His mu reading thus reproduces as a deep insight “the epistemological structure of the Japanese [post-Meiji] State” (Maruyama 50), falling, as it were, from the Law of the Mythological Father into the Law of the Deified Grandfather. To do so because it was served up in a pseudo-Buddhist sauce and kanji calligraphy seems to me at the least profoundly naive, and at the worst profoundly misleading. It casts grave doubt on the whole enterprise of evacuating sense: you expel meaning and power from the centre, it recurs as imperial traffic direction…9/

4. Illuminations: Body as Aesthetics

4.0. Is, then, The Empire of Signs merely the sign of another, Nietzschean empire? I trust not. In spite of his unsatisfactory framework of explanation, Barthes may have through a Kantian aisthesis caught aspects of a non-bourgeois structure of feeling. That is predicated on believing, as I do, that a spread running from topological orientation and emotions as implied in body language through space arts and music to sung lyrics and fiction, i.e. from non-conceptualized through not fully conceptualized understanding, may be just as cognitive as conceptual verbalization or mathematics, though in different, complex and still poorly understood ways (this is argued at some length in Suvin, “Cognitive”). As Nietzsche also observed: “Thou sayest ‘I’ and art proud of this word. But the greater one …is your body and its great sense [Vernunft — intelligence, understanding]: it does not say ‘I’ but it performs ‘I'” (28-29). Yet no doubt, the corollary of the potentially cognitive character of X (standing for anything) is the potential use of X for lying and mystification. Metaphors may be used for lying, music in concentration camps, and the fetishization of image as against word, or of aesthetics against politics, has since Brecht and Benjamin been recognized as a hallmark of fascism. There be tygers here; but in certain circumstances, there is much grace in a tiger.

A further query might be raised as to the place of such non-conceptual cognition in Barthes’s opus and in this particular book. Isn’t it enclosed within an unsatisfactory (anti-)system as a small ghetto, a vent for the unsatisfied which combines attention to human sensuality with disinterest in political de-alienation, in a manner reminiscent of the famous sex-cum-art quarters of major Japanese cities of the Edo period, e.g. the Yoshiwara one in Edo city, with its courtezans, kabuki, and ukiyo-e prints? My feeling is that this is often so, and that this should not be forgotten, but that I can pick up and clean up the somewhat tainted raisins from Barthes’s cake, and reuse them to my taste.

4.1. For, on the bright side, Barthes is much stronger and more believable as an attentive observer of lovable bodies than as theoretician (witness the clever disaster of his Elements of Semiology, which he was just sloughing off in Japan). The materiality of the body, understood as the materiality of signs — or better, of signifiers — is something Barthes can relate to directly, without bothering about the signified, without having to exorcize the “inner truth.” As with Janus, the negative face whose gaze empties the centre is accompanied by the positive face whose gaze caresses the body, and which may be well glimpsed in the fragment “Sans paroles” (F 17-18). For complex historical reasons of the Cartesian tradition as well as of Barthes’s individual history, the negation is associated with language, with the Word, demonized in Manichean fashion as The Other of the body (rather than as an instrumental part or function of the body). “Living in the interstice, freed from all full sense,” having lost his “mother tongue,” dispenses Barthes from all its identifications which are also alienations — nationality, status, normality, etc. (He would have been totally unable to enjoy Japan had he filled in its “empty meanings” by learning Japanese!) On the other hand, while this interstitial status makes for poor theorizing that throws language out with the soul, it allows Barthes some — to my mind — quite significant insights into sense. It supplies him with a vantage point from which to challenge bourgeois logocracy (in theatre, say, that of Realist dramaturgy), whose slogan is: “There is no communication except by word.” I have indicated earlier how direct a monotheistic filiation can be found for this slogan, which is a technocratic translation of verbum vitae. To the contrary, in Barthes’s Japan:

It is not the voice (with which we identify the “rights” of the person) which communicates (communicates what? our — necessarily beautiful — soul? our sincerity? our prestige?), but the whole body (eyes, smile, the lock, gestures, clothing) which enters with you into a sort of babble which the perfect domination of codes has stripped of all regressive, infantile character. To settle a rendez-vous (by means of gestures, drawings, proper names) takes, no doubt, one hour, but during that hour, for a message that would have cancelled itself out in an instant had it been said (simultaneously essential and insignificant), it is the whole body of the other which had been reconnoitered, assayed, received, and which has unfolded (to no true end) its own story, its own text. (F 18)

I wish to close this essay with what I think may be recuperated from a decoding and recoding — better, desemanticizing and resemanticizing — of Barthes starting from the “Sans paroles” fragment.

Some careful disentangling may be necessary here. As I suggested above, it is a logically illicit, hyperbolic trick to pass from a voice that in a given situation — i.e., when one is ignorant of the language — cannot be used for communication (“Ce n’est pas la voix…qui communique….”) to a metaphysical opposition between bad voice and good body (by which is meant “eyes, smile…gestures…,” that is the body minus verbal apparatus). There is a conflation and confusion in this book between saying that the utopian body (in later works described as the body of jouissance) is “the whole body,” a totality of all human sense channels and sign-systems, and saying that it is what remains after subtracting verbal communication, that dominant form of bourgeois or post-Cartesian rationality and explanation. A formulation that fits better human communication, and its foregrounding in the exemplary theatrical reality, is (as a rule — with exceptions such as dance and mime, which Barthes never addresses) that it is not only, but then also, the voice which communicates (cf. Hoff’s well-taken critique of his depreciation of voice as preventing a full appreciation of Bunraku). Though Barthes does not, it seems to me, fetishize images, his devaluation of voice and language (coming at the heels of, possibly as a penance for, his phase of linguistic imperialism) is perilously near to a fetishization of the body: his awareness of that proximity is present, I think, in his preemptive denial of being regressive.

The second clash of denotations and connotations has to do with infantile vs. adult. Barthes pointed out above that the body’s semiotic, non-voiced “babble” is not infantile, simply unripe: “[T]he infantile phase… consists in not reflecting on language…: obviously, this refusal to turn language back upon itself is an open invitation to major ideological impostures” (G 144). To the contrary, the utopian body — or, I would say more precisely, the body’s bearing or stance — is ostended in its own right and as its own goal, sensually and cognitively. But elsewhere at that same period, Barthes seems to equate babble with nonsense: “l’appareil du sens n’est pas détruit (le babil est évité)” (“Sorties” 58 — tr.: “the apparatus of sense is not destroyed, babble is avoided”). He was to comment on this, tongue in cheek: “Il faut que le babil japonais ne soit pas régressif, puisque les Japonais sont aimables” (RBRB 154: “Japanese babble cannot be regressive, since the Japanese are lovable”).

This account of corporeal channels of semiosis could be somewhat (not fully — there are too many opaque spots and double entendres in Barthes) disambiguated and re-presented as:


Infants have a valid biological excuse for their lack of mastery of the language code; the bourgeois have none for their lack of mastery of the gestual code or (combined with voice) the holistic stance; and indeed historically one would have to assume they fell into this monophony from some kind of a more intimate union of natural language with body or haptic language, e.g. the one adumbrated by Eliot’s “dissociation of sensibility” or any such similar Right-wing or Left-wing accounts of the original sin of the bourgeoisie contracting out of its popular or plebeian matrix. When children, before their full bourgeois socialization, “babble” in pre-speech mode, or when they later take up holistic bodily stances, they do so spontaneously or as it were “naturally,” without a self-reflective knowledge of the “language” used. Bourgeois acculturation substitutes for this an inimical, repressive second nature that fragments the original wholeness, privileging the sole voice (by which, again, Barthes does not mean singing but only verbally articulated voice). Pre-bourgeois, “Japanese,” acculturation latches on to the children’s gestual babble (and at some stage their verbal babble, which after all supplies the vehicle for this metaphor), but now with a knowledge of “codes” or semiotic conventions that enables self-correction of ideological blind spots and an undogmatic facing of new situations. The upper right case is wholly negative, the worst case — that’s us, the Parisian or “European” addressees of Barthes’s original notes and book. In a mirror symmetry to this dystopia or hell, the lower right case is the best case, the positive utopia or earthly paradise which can only be glimpsed by Barthes in an imaginary Japan.

Isn’t this somewhat Rousseauist, the children — and the Japanese — “trailing clouds of glory” (Wordsworth) before being corrupted by bourgeois civilization? No doubt; and yet that is not the point. To particularize the argument from the end of 4.0 and change its metaphor: The point is where can one get to from this somewhat improvised springboard. I prefer to desemanticize Barthes’s original ideological aspect and to begin with approach a discussion of channels of semiosis as a technical or syntactic one: semantically neutral, it shows us preconditions for de-alienated communication. The semantic fulness of the lower right case is then for the moment secondary — as befits the good nowhere of utopia.

4.2. Returning at the end to the earlier mention in 0.5 of the (in Barthes notionally subordinate) section on Bunraku, “The Three Writings,” the relation of voice to bodily movement in theatre may be educed, with leads from Barthes but possibly taking his vector beyond him, to carry on to emotion, labour vs. art, and a chance for gestural critique of ideology. Such a reading of Barthes clearly dovetails with what Brecht was getting at; if you wish, I am “boldfacing” (Eco) the Brechtian aspect of Barthes. Most important, theatre as an activity (performing) is here being taken, in a very Brechtian way, as simultaneously an experimental laboratory for and condensation of everyday life: these are confrontations of bourgeois and non-bourgeois behaviour-patterns.

   BOURGEOIS THEATRE                                           BUNRAKU
(BOURGEOIS PRACTICE)                                 (NON-BOURGEOIS PRACTICE)10/

   Body dominated by voice                                   Body separated from voice

    Gesturer identical with                                        Gesturer separate from
gesture                                                                    gesture

     Activity of gesturer (actor)                                  Activity of openly ostending
conditional on activity of                                    gesture as activity
hiding it under the charac-
ter’s gesture

       Gesturer, hidden under the                               Gesture emotional (causing
character’s emotion, indu-                                 emotion), gesturer is not
ces the same emotion in                                     Stage role induces emo-
him/herself                                                         tion in spectator

        Gesture depends on emotion                           Gesture causes emotion
Conflation, fusion of ele-                                  Separation of elements/media
ments/media on stage to                                 on stage, addition in
infect spectator spectator

          Only art exhibited, labour                              Both labour and art exhibit-
suppressed as impure                                     ed, no shame in physicality

          Strict separation art:labour                            No profound separation art:
analogous to class hierar-                               labour, art is a (crowning)
chy bourgeois:worker                                      kind of labour

           Emotion contagious, submerges                  Emotion fluctuating — strong
passive spectator identi-                                  but dependent on active
fying with central charac-                                traffic with spectator;
ter/s/ “striated” stage media

           No psychic distance                                          Fluctuations of distance

           Empathy only                                                     Sympathy/antipathy

           Necessarily ideological                                      Critique of ideology possible

Clearly much work remains to be done in spelling out and clarifying the connecting links and implications within the above isotopies. But if The Empire of Signs had given us nothing else but a possibility to reopen this discussion today, it would suffice as proof of its usefulness.

It should be, finally, remembered that the French sens has three main connotations: those of meaning, corporeal sense(s) such as sight and touch (from which are derived “sensuality” and “common sense”), and orientation of movement (Barthes himself occasionally remarked on “the precious ambiguity” of the first and third connotations, calling them “signification and vectorisation” — “Sortie” 52). The third connotation is mostly lost in English. Nonetheless, senses as making sense seem to me a valid line of materialist defense and possibly even of a new advance — if not arrested by refusals of meaning or sense.11/ Barthes may, at the end, not transcend the abyssal depths (a metaphor that runs from Augustine to Heidegger) of the individualist Self — how could any of us do that? His systematic tendency is to proclaim, with Mallarmé and Nietzsche, that the abyss is empty — a negative but still monotheistic theology. Yet, like a motorcycle rider on the vertical walls of the circus, he is skating over the abyss on the strength of his nimble centrifugal wit. And the resulting “horizontal,” ludically skewed glance may have its values. Duly heeding the needful caveats, which I have tried to develop in the wake of Karatani, further uses of a “recoded” Barthes should be found. As I mentioned, this might be profitably done on the material of Noh plays, and in the proximity of Brecht’s stance.


1/ My special thanks go to Jean-Pierre Vernant, for materials (including an unpublished typescript) and discussions on the subject of the Subject, of which he is both a pioneer and a master. The analogies between his descriptions of Hellas and my speculations on Japan, based on the tertium comparationis of non-individualist or pre-bourgeois culture, are my responsibility (yet let us remember that Barthes had been a student of Classics).

2/ In subsequent quotations, F will indicate L’Empire des signes and G Le Grain de la voix; both are cited largely using but also changing the English translations adduced in the “Works Cited.” RBRB will indicate Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes, any non-attributed English translations being here, as elsewhere, mine.

3/ Some lines of Haraway’s own “binary dichotomization” chart of notions or “production” of body in bourgeois vs. postmodern biomedical thought (12-13) could be profitably compared to this chart, here in particular “Depth, integrity” vs. “Surface, boundary” and “Individual” vs. “Replicon.” Further dicussion of caress would have to come to grips with Sartre’s l’Etre et le Néant opposition between desire-caress and thought-language, obviously fundamental for Barthes too.

4/ E.g. Saigyô 34, 56, 69, and 86, cf. Konishi’s comment 81-82, and for religious implications Grapard 199-201 and passim. A suggestive piece of evidence for “depth” as a horizontal vector in Japanese verse is given by two successive translations of Tamekanu’s tanka “Edo ni moru” from the Gyokuyôshû (early 14th Century) with the participation of the same translator. In them, the final lines “Suzushisa ni fukaki/ Take no oku kana” are first translated as “…where the coolness/ Is deep within the bamboo grove,” and later “radically adapted” into “…the coolness further deepens/ The back of the bamboo grove” (Brower-Miner 366 vs. Konishi 406, the latter translation edited by Miner; italics mine). Further uses of “fukaku” and terms with the same stem in such meanings (far back, deep grasses) can be found in Carter ed. 202 and 214 for the 14th Century, also 310, 319, and passim.

5/ I suppress some matters in Vernant which do not fit into my argument. See for a much longer discussion of this Cartesian Self Suvin, “Polity,” and the whole special issue “Non-Cartesian Subjects, East and West,” in which that essay was published.

6/ Usually, however, it can be observed that there are limitations on groups admitted to fully individual status, roughly similar to the Athenian exclusion of women, children, slaves, strangers, and other “speaking cattle” from democracy. Much of the Foucauldian micro-politics latching on to “human rights,” from Blacks to gays and indeed “animal rights,” consists of breaking down these limitations.

7/ This matter of “the soul” in the Chinese cultural sphere (as in the Mediterranean Antiquity) is complex, much debated, and studded with semantic traps. So far as I understand it, invisible principles of life were certainly present, but usually multiple, often quite material, and as a rule “unsuited as a carrier of Ego” (Liebenthal 334); the Buddhist ghosts and demons, e.g., are different incarnations in material transmigrations (ibidem 337). My use is limited to the main denotation in any Western or post-Christian encyclopedia: the Soul as transcendent equivalent of an atomic human Self.

8/ Barthes submitted his annual report for 1965/66 as “Directeur d’études” of the “Sociologie des signes, symboles et représentations” in Annuaire 1966-1967, École pratique des hautes études, Section des sciences économiques et sociales, 239-40. In it, he lists under his “Activité scientifique,” beside a seminar in Morocco and one review, his “mission au Japon, auprès des Instituts français et des Universités (mai 1966).” I am beholden to J.-P. Vernant for a copy of this report.

9/ Strangely enough, in Barthes’s first (and masterly) book, Michelet, he already evinces the same attraction to the empty centre, finding it in Michelet’s medieval French kingship, whose “strength comes from its emptiness” (27), and indeed in Michelet’s France which Barthes deciphers as being composed of the Ile-de-France negative (!) nucleus and the outlying “positive” provinces (29) — an everted Rutherfordian atom, as it were. He even sees Michelet as identifying all the feeble kings (as well as Thomas à Beckett and Jeanne d’Arc!) with the people and Christ (34). This strange Barthesian nostalgia for a holy, feminized monarchy finally found its existing representative in the tennô.

10/ These two columns or isotopies can at the furthest level of useful generalization be called Pseudo-Nature vs. Counter-Nature (“l’ acteur est sauvé s’il fait partie de la contre-Physis, condamné s’il appartient à la pseudo-Physis,” RBRB 131; cf. Suvin, To Brecht 118-19). An even pithier formula of Barthes’s runs: “Il demande à l’acteur un corps convaincu, plutôt qu’une passion vraie” (RBRB 180: “He requires from the actor a convinced body rather than a true paasion”).

11/ Here a whole post-Fregean or Ricoeurian discussion would be needed to differentiate meaning and sense, but this too must be reserved for another occasion. I attempt to approach this discussion in relation to Shakespeare criticism in Suvin, “Modest.”

Works cited

Adorno, Theodor W. Negative Dialektik. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1966.

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Darko Suvin                                                                                                        (1995, 16,360 words)

Critique is not a passion of the head, but the head of a passion.
(Karl Marx)

0. One of the central and centrally vexed questions of the theory of the Subject, and of epistemology (theory of knowledge) in general, is the relationship of “emotion” and “reason” in people. I propose to discuss here some key problems of this relationship with help of new insights in several converging disciplines. My approach begins by centripetally assembling and strengthening arguments that deny the split between emotion (and/or imagina­tion) vs. cognition; and I shall conclude by doubting the rele­vance of this whole — and any homologous — unhealthy polarization. This would mean that the concept and connotations of reason should be envisaged anew so as to acknowledge the major role of topological thinking within it, from which conceptual systems sediment as in many crucial ways quite indispensable but also inadequate precipitates.

I do not believe that Robinson Crusoe (after all, a castaway) is a paragon for shared knowledge, nor that in today’s specializa­tion run amuck there can be any overview without standing on the shoulders of many predecessors; and I shall proceed by focussing in most sub‑sections on carefully selected, privileged midwives for understanding — from some history of philosophy (Kant, Hegel), philosophy of cognition (Johnson) and a feminist contribution to epistemology (Jaggar), through discursive rhetorics (Angenot) to psychology (Gendlin) and metaphorology (Black, Ricoeur), with a dash of sociology of knowledge (Weber), AI theory (Minsky), Neo‑Marxism (Williams, Jameson), and cognitive psychology‑cum‑lin­guistics (Langacker, Petitot) thrown in for good measure, while other major stimuli (Marx, Brecht and Benjamin, Freud, phenome­nology, hermeneutics) remain mainly implicit. Of course, this essay does not at all pretend to exhaustive coverage or even survey, either insofar as the possible disciplines or insofar as the interlocutors inside the selected disciplines are concerned. My foci were in both cases chosen for vividness and what I take to be salience, as instances which are themselves meta‑instanc­ings for my argument that arguing by induction, by instances, and finally by analogy is cognitively legitimate.2/

  1. Cognitive Reason vs. Non‑Cognitive Emotion?: A Division Denied

 Because M. Proudhon places eternal ideas, the categories of pure reason, on the one side and human beings and their practical life, which, according to him, is the application of these categories, on the other, one finds in him from the beginning a dualism between life and ideas, between soul and body, a dualism which recurs in many forms. You can see now that this antagonism is nothing but the incapacity of M. Proudhon to understand the profane origin of the categories which he deifies.
Marx to P.V. Annenkov, 28/12/1846

1.0. Knowledge as Union of Conceptual and Non‑Conceptual Modes

The first and main obstacle to be disposed of is the still domi­nant bourgeois polarization of reason and emotion, the former faculty carrying “objective” and thus generally valid knowledge and the latter carrying “subjective,” inner feelings only — what­ever the value allotted to either of these terms, between the extremes of Romantic fixation on and Positivistic downgrading of the “emotion” pole. This has resulted in the meaning of emotion “in Psychology” being defined by the OED — begging as many ques­tions as its sources, which are here a medical journal, Emerson, and Victorian non‑fiction writings — as “A mental ‘feeling’ or ‘affection’…, as distinguished from cognitive or volitional states of consciousness”  (508, under 4b.). My thesis is, on the contrary, that a useful way of getting at what may perhaps be recuperated from this intuitive dichotomy is to postulate — fol­lowing a great deal of evidence — a much more fertile distinction between conceptuality and non‑conceptuality as modes or subdivi­sions within the overarching domain of people’s cognition, knowl­edge or understanding of their common world and existence. Tech­nically speaking, I propose that the class of “not conceptually expressibles” is not cognitively empty: e.g., that a quartet, a sculptural frieze, a theater or video performance, a metaphoric system or indeed a personal emotional Gestalt may be no less cognitive (though, no doubt, in different ways) than a conceptual system. Obviously there may and will be cognitively empty or banal symphonies, paintings, metaphors, and emotions galore, just as there  are concepts and conceptual systems galore to which almost all of us would deny a cognitive status: Bouguereau and other pompierristes are cognitively neither better nor worse than the 19th‑Century “sciences” of phrenology or prehistoric race theory, and the same holds for — say — 20th‑Century S&M pornography or Great Man charismatics vs. sociobiology or “Creation theory,” since all zeros tend to be equal. Obversely, both the conceptual and the non‑conceptual ways of understanding, when they are truly such and not institutionalized mimicries, share the quality of allowing people to deal with alternatives, i.e. with not merely or fully  present objects, aspects, and relationships (to adapt Blumenberg’s “freie Verfügung über das Ungegenwärtige,” 90). The  entities which were not present to people’s perception and re­flection now become available for evaluative inspection, choice, and subsequent intervention,  by means of a cognitive organon: conceptual, emotional or whichever. (I shall in fact end up by arguing that as a rule there is a fusion of the conceptual and non‑conceptual in articulated cognition; but in order to get there, I shall start by arguing for the possibility of non‑con­ceptual cognition.)

What can thus, in my hypothesis, count as understanding, cogni­tion or knowledge (the multiplicity of terms is itself a testimo­ny to the obscurity of this domain)? Anything, I would posit, that satisfies two conditions, or two aspects of one condition. First, that it can help us in coping with our personal and col­lective existence. Second, that it can be validated by feedback with its application in the existence, modifying it and being modified by it. I see no permanent or “anthropological” reason to allot (or withdraw) a special privilege to any human activity or faculty here, e.g. to words, numbers, geometrical figures, ar­ranged sounds, concepts, metaphors, movements or what have you; though it might almost go without saying that particular social groups in particular historical chronotopes  will always have specially privileged activities, sign‑systems, etc. Since, as Spinoza has taught us, any determination is best clarified by negation, I shall try to delimit such a concept of knowledge by positing two antonyms to it. The passive antonym — people’s state lacking knowledge — might be called nescience, ignorance or (in the time‑hallowed sensual metaphor) darkness. The active antonym — people’s state impeding knowledge — might be called misapprehen­sion, misinterpretation, mistaking or obfuscation. No doubt, these are two positions on a single globe and their spheres of influence are also spheres of confluence:  a true or full cogni­tive passivity is almost impossible for Homo sapiens sapiens, one is almost always actively mistaken or misinterpreting. Any excep­tion runs into the Socratic paradox that only when one knows that one doesn’t know X is one really nescient — and yet simultaneously scient or cognizant of one’s nescience as the first step on the road to cognition. Thus, the emotion of love, hate or fear might in some situations be just as ignorant  or obfuscatory as the conceptualized systems of racial superiority or State worship or individualism, while in other situations all of these might also be illuminating or cognitive (racial superiority in the case, say, of pigeon‑breeding, love for a life‑furthering partner or cause, emperor worship in the ancient China of the Three King­doms, individualism as opposed to the Verona vendettas of the Mon­tagues and the Capulets). In short, while it would certainly be aporetic and what’s more ridiculous for this conceptualized essay to deny the potential cognitiveness of concepts, anybody who has ever found that her or his love, fear or feeling of “being left out­” were justified will begin suspecting that it is possible to have cognition without conceptual systems.

Indeed, while the place of conceptuality within knowledge (by the way, both correct and incorrect knowledge) is universally recog­nized, a large part — probably a larger part — of our knowledge is in that sense not only conceptual. “[E]motion, like sensory perception, is necessary to human survival” (Jaggar, “Love” 155). It can and should be verbally discussed by means of concepts but it is only rarely, if ever, fully reducible to concepts and especially to conceptual systems. I do not wish to stress here such central “tacit” bodily (not only sensori‑motoric) under­standings as that of walking or riding a bicycle, though their value will be acutely felt when attempting to gain or regain them. The “topological” knowledge of how to do an intricate dance and how to model a sculptured face;  or how to find the proper inflections in a passage of Brecht, Zeami or Shakespeare; or how to read a script, a photograph, a score — is nearer to my concerns here: I cannot see in these anything that is primarily conceptu­al, but I would have ingent difficulties in understanding how they could be banished from cognition.

Obversely, I would also have difficulties in believing that even the few highly specialized pursuits, with specially invented sociolects, which claim pure conceptuality — such as philosophy  and (together with the mathematical sociolect) theoretical sciences — do not necessarily include also such non‑conceptual modes of understanding as, e.g., intuition or passion. This may be so far best studied in the case of the verbal cognition that scrambles up conceptualizing, i.e. metaphoricity. The relation of non‑conceptual and conceptual systems may be analogous to the connection by means of a thick bundle of nerves between the base of the brain, which is supposedly more associated with emotions and certainly responsible for the neuro‑chemical bath regulating the whole organism, and the frontal lobes, supposed to be the seat of the “intellectual” or conceptualizing functions (cf. Bohm and Peat 218‑19). None of this is to say that emotions are in the last 2,500 (or is it 50,000?) years more important or more valu­able, while conceptualizing is less valuable or only valuable as expression of emotions.

1.1. Division Street, Propertarian Middlesex

An acre in Middlesex is better than a principality in Utopia.
Lord Macaulay

How did we, then, get into this less than helpful, indeed obfus­cating division of reason vs. emotion, into these dualistic —  intellectually scandalous but powerfully hegemonic — ontological isotopies where reason is seen as: masculine, analytic, proper to the mind, cold, objective and universal, public, etc., while emotion would be: feminine, synthetic, proper to the body, warm, subjective and particular, private, and so on? Obviously this is not an eternal but a historical way of slicing up the world of human faculties or people’s traffic with the Lebenswelt, and while genealogy may not be a sufficient explanation, a most rapid look at it promises to help us gain the proper estranging (ver­fremdend) distance.

The invention itself of stringently clear and delimited concepts as pivot of cognition seems to be due — at least in the most influential world‑historical instance of Europe — to Plato’s Socrates (cf. Weber 319). Though I would impenitently maintain this is one of the most magnificent tools of humanity, on a par with fire and story‑telling, its immediate imbrication into and long‑lasting cooptation by class‑society metaphysics, claiming eternally unchanging validity and hierarchical  “highness,” was most unfortunate. It lent itself to the further decisive break with emotion or “dissociation of sensibility” with the coming to power of the capitalist ratio, exclusively oriented by profit and founded upon book‑keeping, and with the complex reorganizations of the cultural encyclopedia attendant upon this new episteme or structure of feeling. Already the socio‑economic rise of the still politically underprivileged bourgeoisie had meant the coming to the fore of a Cartesian and Baconian epistemological individualism which split up the world into the exemplary or allegorical individual (Crusoe) and an objective reality  “out there” facing his  understanding (or, distributively, that of all individuals), yet in principle accessible to his reason. This mechanical or metaphysical materialism employed the new, powerful tools of analytical geometry and arithmetic calculation, but it could also draw upon a considerable tradition of “high” power vs. “base” matter, apparently a longue durée class‑society constant. It may be enough to recall Aristotle’s position that slaves were talking cattle while women’s souls were at best less rational and more turned toward the passions or appetites (Politics 560), reinforced by Judaism’s and Christianity’s dogmatic formulations  which equated the inferior (woman) with flesh, senses, and pas­sion as against the superior (man) who was spiritual, rational, and intellectual. The decisive twist of the screw was then the organization of labour by capitalist rationalism, which becomes the shaping principle of the European social formation, leading among other things to the calculability of — increasingly dynamic — technological factors (cf. Weber 347‑50): “Like the Platonic and Aristotelian dualism of slave society, Cartesian dualism reflects a divided society, characterized by a small, ruling stratum that exploits and appropriates the wealth created by the producers” (Berman 240, and cf. 233‑35). The post‑Carte­sian bourgeois tradition in practice and theory meant the domina­tion of a redefined, thisworldly rational thought as the individ­ual’s principal faculty for understanding, for getting at the eternal “objective” truth. While up to and including Spinoza, Locke, and Hume, or even Rousseau, passions were still taken — for better or worse — to determine human impulses, the interaction of which organized social life, by the time of the full domination of the bourgeoisie they are collapsed into “the drive for the ‘augmentation of fortune’,” as Adam Smith put it (cf. Hirschmann 108). The obverse of this calculating rationality, sentimentality or “mysticism,” was left to women, wimps, parsons, and lower classes.

This is the major result of the rich century ca. 1760‑1860, a period that cannot be dealt with here except to mention there were also submerged counter‑currents in it, of which Hegel’s dialectics will be discussed in the next sub‑section.  However, even Hegelianism soon degenerated into epigonic dogmatism, so that only a very few marginal  figures such as Marx and Kierkeg­aard drew proper lessons from it. A similar fate befell even the less radical Kantianism in the triumphant positivist Objectivism of 19th‑Century capitalism. Though I shall also have something to say about an important breakthrough which can be educed from Kant in section 2, he was still enthralled by the English empiricists’ “atomic” mental representations, and he had retained the Carte­sian ontological split between the bodily and the rational. Thus, for all his refinements and partial agnosticism, Kant rigidly separated cognitive faculties into “the formal, conceptual, and intellectual, on the one hand, and the material, perceptual, and sensible, on the other” (Johnson xxvii). His reason (Vernunft) ruled virtuously over the necessarily blind affects, passions  or appetites; though he proposed to avoid feudal despotism, inner‑directed reason was supposed to stoically command them inside the character’s conscience, as in a marriage of convenience or pater­nalistic household (cf. Grimminger 133 — the topos stems all the way from Aristotle). The consolidated 19th‑Century hegemony, whose pernicious rule is still with us today in politics, science, and everyday life, adapted the Aristotelian and Carte­sian line into a paradigm which I shall approximately character­ize through this summary by Mark Johnson:

The world consists of objects that have properties  and stand in various relationships independent of human under­standing….[T]here is one correct ‘God’s‑Eye‑View’ about what the world is really like….and correct reason mirrors this rational structure. ‑ To describe an objective reality of this sort, we need language that expresses concepts that can map onto objects, properties, and relations in a liter­al, univocal, context‑independent fashion. Reasoning to gain knowledge of our world is seen as requiring the joining of such concepts into propositions that describe aspects of reality….There is nothing about human beings mentioned anywhere in this account — neither their capacity to under­stand nor their imaginative activity nor their nature as functioning organisms…. (x)

The European tradition of a deep chasm “between our cognitive, conceptual, formal or rational side in contrast with our bodily, perceptual, material and emotional side” (xxv) culminates in such “Objectivism,” for which reason means the analysis of a perma­nently delimited object within a single neutral — value‑free and simultaneously eternally valuable — framework for inquiry. For all the changes since Descartes, dominant Euro‑American philosophy and capitalist practice, up to and including computerized corpo­rations and analytic philosophy (cf. Rorty 8‑9, whose pragmatism extends only to the latter), have held fast to it. Kleist called it the difference between metaphor people and formula people (Blumenberg 89).

1.2. The Dialectical Breakthrough

In spite of this sketchy reconstruction of a coherent objectivist or “reason‑emotion splitting” tradition, neither practice nor philosophical traditions are monolithic. Not only are most major names themselves rich and internally contradictory, but also, even though almost always severely repressed, there is an alter­native lineage: alongside Plato and Aristotle there are Epicure and Heraclitus, alongside Descartes  and the mechanists there are Gassendi, Spinoza, and Diderot; and these Benjaminian contraband side‑paths (Pach‑ und Schleichwege) broke out onto the royal road with Hegel. In what his self‑conscious language calls “a qualita­tive jump…[at] a time  of the birth and transition to a new period” (15), and in what I take to be a startling anticipation not only of Marx but also of the most interesting 20th‑Century strivings, Hegel provided a sophisticated and supple stance from which to proceed toward an adequate present understanding of the emotion vs. reason conundrum.

Hegel’s strategy was  to incorporate the already acute Romantic refusals of calculating bourgeois rationality by refunctioning a Kantian distinction and opposing a necessarily negative Verstand (literally “understanding,” to be understood as analytical intel­lect) to an axiologically positive Vernunft (literally “reason,” to be understood as sublating wisdom?). In the Foreword to the Phenomenology, he proposes to show the coming about of science or knowledge (Wissenschaft — cf. Suvin “Two Notions” and “Utopian”). Feeling and intuition (Anschauung), religious ecstasy or muddy enthusiasm, do not suffice; their “insubstantial intensity” (15) is in fact shallow, casual, and arbitrary; indeed, to stop at them would be animal (26, 13‑14, 56). A grasping (begreifen) of reality through concepts (Begriffe) is quite indispensable. True, this most wondrous and tremendous power of negating the original holistic but superficial intuition is also irreducibly allied to death. We could say that insofar as the Verstand holds fast to the static Aristotelian principle of identity in which A = simply A, it is an apotheosis of possessive individualism, of Hegel’s “pure I.” Merely analytic and individualizing (i.e. atomistic), this intellect kills. And yet, it is an indispensable step for achieving clarity and rigour, apostrophized by Hegel in one of his poetic, almost Nietzschean passages:

Death, if this is what we want to call that unreality, is the most terrible thing, and to hold fast to what is dead requires the greatest strength. A strengthless beauty hates the intellect (Verstand) because it demands what beauty cannot accomplish. But only that life which does not shy back from death and does not keep itself pure from desola­tion, but rather bears them and encloses them in itself, is the life of the spirit. The spirit gains its truth only…by looking upon the countenance of the negation, by dwelling on it. (29‑30)

This antithesis brings movement into unawakened or brutish thought and sets its course upon the return loop of such a spiral of experience (Erfahrung), toward  reconciling contradictions in being.  Conceptuality as negation of mere feeling or of intuition is thus both wrong — when claiming to be final and absolute — and yet right — when “a phase (Moment) of truth” (343). It then leads to Vernunft which is “the thinking that follows reality in its contradictions,” subsuming identity and non‑identity. Having his own agenda as a professional philosopher, Hegel sometimes sounds as if this overarching knowledge or Wissenschaft  must itself be primarily conceptual (e.g. 44, 57). But on the whole, though in his time he rightly refused obscurantist appeals to muddy (reli­gious) feeling, his fluid dialectics give a place both to cogni­tive division and cognitive unity, as “perhaps the central and most ‘mind‑blowing’ idea of the Hegelian system” (Taylor 116 and 49, and cf. passim). Despite the post‑Marxist fashion for deni­grating Hegel (whose historiosophy certainly merits it), I pro­pose to start from some of his dialectical insights.

 1.3. Cognitive Emotions: Epistemology and Hegemony

The 17th‑Century chasm between emotion and reason was largely created to deny the medieval religious syncretism of truth and dogmatic value. Now, discrete facts were sundered from value or evaluation, which is inescapably tied up with emotional orienta­tion. The overriding presupposed, and supposedly value‑free, system of modern “positive science” was an equally monotheistic jealous god, tolerating no other values beside itself. It is the heretical and subversive movements of socialists, psychologists (psychoanalysts, and only lately clinical and cognitive psycholo­gists), and feminists in the last 150 years who have most system­atically developed alternative approaches across this chasm. The influence of two of the earliest great doubters of free‑floating ideas and pure conceptual systems will (I hope) be felt in my own position rather than in retracing theirs. This is, first and foremost, Karl Marx, whose project might be fairly described as taking “[Hegel’s] idea of reason [and superseding it] by the idea of happiness” (Marcuse 293). Aristotle characterizes happiness as “the highest of all good achievable by action,” and action itself as the end or telos aimed at by passions in an immature person and opposed to the telos of knowledge (Ethics I.3‑4). Marx’s project denies all such opposition between passion and knowledge, achieving in its own passionate cognition that overriding, indis­pensable synthesis between Rationalism and Romanticism which is still a beacon if not the horizon for any enterprise such as this one (cf. also Gendlin, “Critique” 266‑68). Second, it is Sigmund Freud: in spite of my grave doubts about his essentializing approach and much of his systematics, which entail refusing the centrality of an “Oedipus Complex” and of any “depth” topology of the soul, the great achievement of his mostly intuitive narrative can be seen in his rich descriptions of “overdetermined” experi­ence, of the quite metaphoric condensation and  displacement (Verdichtung und Verschiebung) characteristic of dreams, jokes, etc.; one formulation encapsulates it as the reinstatement of “the economics of affects…as an economics of the unconscious” (de Certeau 218; cf. also  a critique in Suvin, “Subject”).  As to the women’s liberation tradition from, say, Woolf on, in this sub‑section I shall attempt to strengthen my case by using a number of propositions from an excellent brief overview by Alison Jaggar in “Love and Knowledge: Emotion in Feminist Epistemology.” Her article is to my mind of general epistemic validity, not to be segregated into a feminist enclave, and it will at a couple of crucial junctures  be conjoined with the Neo‑Marxist positions of Raymond Williams.

Jaggar points out that the concept itself of emotion, both as paired off against reason and in its inner articulation, is not only different in different societies but indeed invented as a closed semantic field only in some of them. I would instance that in Japanese culture the term and concept of “kokoro” means equal­ly what is in English expressed by a person’s disposition, heart, mind, feeling, spirit or conception, i.e. something like the aware and feeling essence of personality (since the Japanese have no Christian concept of “soul,” awareness is awareness of one’s embodied  personality, not split between reason and emotions — cf. Suvin “Soul”). Jaggar continues by a working delimitation of emotions which I too shall follow, excluding “automatic physical responses and nonintentional sensations, such as hunger pangs,” and backgrounding the term of “feelings” as too suggestive of physiological sensation (148), whereas emotions are disposition­al, i.e. both oriented toward certain targets and not necessarily only momentary. Most important, emotions are not in some kind of totally non‑rational limbo or “dumb”; they comprise not only feeling but also orientedness or intention. This “cognitivist” view of emotion has illustrious precursors; William James wrote: “so surely as relations between objects exist in rerum naturâ, so surely, and more surely, do feelings exist to which these rela­tions are known” (1: 245). Emotions are here identified “by their intentional aspect, the associated judgment” (Jaggar 149). Of course, asking just how does the feeling or affect and the cogni­tion interact in any specific emotion is to find out that this considerable advance is still partly caught up with the old mechanical dichotomies, whereas to my mind (if we cannot manage without binaries yet) a chemical osmosis or cybernetic feedback would be a much more appropriate, Hegelian model.

In this perspective, Jaggar embarks upon some discussions that seem most cognate to my interests here. First, emotions are clearly social constructs which use biological potentialities in a number of culturally overdetermined ways. In that sense, per­sonal concepts and emotions relate to the dominant social con­cepts and emotions as Saussure’s parole and langue.  Centrally, Jaggar argues that “[i]f emotions necessarily involve judgments, then obviously they require concepts, which may be seen as so­cially constructed ways of organizing and making sense of the world” (151). In a consubstantial parallel, “emotions provide the experiential basis for values,” so that these two induce each other (153); values and value judgments are in close feedback with emotion. I would doubt that the concepts required for emo­tions are necessarily very clear, but certainly emotions are in each person hugely inflected by the semantic hierarchies we are most powerfully socialized into (e.g. the undoubtedly strong macho emotions about female virginity or chastity). As for values or evaluations, they are both intimately inflected by concepts and in immediate experience, no doubt, emotional.

It is illuminating, I think, to prolong this argument with help of Gramsci’s and Raymond Williams’s hegemony, an overarching  “structure of feeling” unthinkable without emotions. Parallel to and subtending many kinds of direct political control, social group and class control, and economic control, Williams argues, hegemony is a complex of interlocking forces that

[while not excluding] the articulate and formal meanings which a dominant class develops and propagates…sees the relations of domination and subordination, in their forms as practical consciousness, as in effect a saturation of the whole process of living….It [hegemony] is a whole body of practices and expectations, over the whole of living: our senses and assignments of energy, our shaping perceptions of ourselves and our world. It is a lived system of meanings and values…which…constitutes a sense of reality for most people in the society…. (109‑10, emphasis added)

Within this magnetic field of an always “already there” hegemony (or, more rarely, a battlefield of competing hegemonies), emo­tions necessarily tend toward what Jaggar optimistically calls “active engagements” and what I would more prudently call bear­ings or stances (cf. Suvin “Brecht: Bearing”). Though the domi­nant notion about emotions is that they must be largely involun­tary and private, they are never only such. In the most signifi­cant cases (e.g. in art, which is among other things an education of cognitive emotions), they  are indeed active engagements of the whole personality, integral psychophysical stances. As social constructions they are perhaps similar to deeply socialized roles which “we ordinarily perform so smoothly and automatically that we do not realize we are giving a performance”; only to a rather limited degree are we entitled to disclaim responsibility for them. As is also found in Marx (and any self‑reflective activism), emotions are necessary concomitants of any horizon of action. This is particularly true for long‑term emotions, which are obviously not simply point‑like feelings or affects. It is thus not very useful to apply the hackneyed “action/passion dichotomy” to emotions. Once we are outside the Cartesian ego, it is possible to see that they are neither fully intentional nor fully non‑intentional or irrational but matters of a holistic practice which is falsified by undue dichotomizing (cf. Jaggar, “Love” 152‑53 and passim).

Second, not only are evaluation and observation not to be sun­dered, but both of them are closely related to emotions; observa­tion too “influences and indeed partially constitutes emotion.” If emotions are partly intentional stances, this intentionality is deeply enmeshed with observation, “an activity of selection and interpretation,” e.g. in the choice of what to focus on and privilege or of the interpretive frame. What will in a given situation be taken, by given agents, for undisputed facts depends (pace Hume) on socially constructed “intersubjective agreements that consist partly in shared assumptions about ‘normal’ or appropriate emotional responses to situations” (154).

Third but not least, there is a range of subversive and poten­tially productive emotions incompatible with the dominant percep­tions, intentions, and evaluations. Such emotions may follow on our convictions or they may indeed precede them: “Only when we reflect on our initially puzzling irritability, revulsion, anger or fear may we bring to consciousness our ‘gut‑level’ awareness that we are in a situation of coercion, cruelty, injustice or danger” (161). The feedback between emotions and conscious re­flecting on them is particularly necessary for societal groups struggling for a “perspective on reality available from the standpoint of the oppressed…[as] a perspective that offers a less partial and distorted and therefore a more reliable view” (162), and their potentiality or horizon is to be epistemologi­cally privileged (cf. also Hartsock; Jaggar, Feminist; Jameson; Lukács; Suvin, “Subject” and To Brecht, ch. 4). This means in turn that people who wish to solidify this point of view have to make sense of what Jaggar has encapsulated as the epistemic potential of emotion.

In sum,

it is necessary to rethink the relation between knowledge and emotion and construct conceptual models that demonstrate the mutually constitutive rather than oppositional relation between reason and emotion. Far from precluding the possi­bility of reliable knowledge, emotion as well as value must be shown as necessary to such knowledge. (Jaggar, “Love” 156‑57)

As already mentioned, this does not confer any magical efficacy on emotions as compared to concepts. Like concepts, emotions have an “epistemic potential” (163). But both may be erroneous; both need subsequent validation, though possibly in incommensurable ways (e.g., asymmetrically, by each other). “Although our emo­tions are epistemologically indispensable, they are not epistemo­logically indisputable. Like all our faculties, they may be misleading, and their data, like all data, are always subject to reinterpretation and revision.” (163) But both participate in Williams’s “structure of feeling,” a crucial site of social knowledge and conflict, which he defines as:

not feeling against thought, but thought as felt and feeling as thought: practical consciousness of a present kind,…as a set, with specifical internal relations, at once inter­locking and in tension…. [S]tructures of feeling can be defined as social experiences in solution….[Yet this solution] is a structured formation…at the very edge of semantic availability…. (132‑34)

  1. On Topological Cognition

Our discussion will be adequate if it has as much clearness as the subject matter admits of….We must be content, then, in speaking of such subjects and with such premisses to indicate the truth roughly and in outline….
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, I.3

2.1. Topological Imagination

 If understanding, cognition or knowledge is — as I began to argue in 1.0 — a term that should cover anything which allows people to deal with not merely or not fully here‑and‑now objects, aspects, and relationships, making them available for evaluative inspec­tion, reasoning choice, and useful intervention,  then it is a series of interlocking events, a process that “provides a means by which we have a shared, relatively intelligible world” (John­son 209). Our personal and collective coping with the world and its existents validates or invalidates this process at crucial points. Powerful interests of social groups and classes may have illicitly inflected the undoubted necessity of concepts into a metaphysical necessity of the concepts being, first, “literal” (i.e., definite, discrete, and fixed), second, frozen into univa­lent conceptual systems, and third, the sole constituents of cognitive meaning (cf. Johnson xxiii). No doubt, concepts — e.g. of object categories — intervene in the work of organizing any shape behind what we perceive, but such work is not reducible to their linkage into conceptual systems. As against this, I  sug­gest there is at least one  distinct mode or level of cognitive operation which yields highly meaningful orientation — i.e., knowledge — and yet is not only and not always conceptual. Using in this section the handiest review of the field by Mark Johnson, yet also in some places modifying and even tacitly contradicting it, I adopt the usual and perhaps unavoidable term of imagination for this mode. In a first approach, this may be defined as the mental consideration of events, objects, and relationships not present to the senses here and now, and the human faculty for doing so. I use the term faute de mieux and with some unease due to its high degree of polysemy, where meanings range from having it embrace practically all mental operations beyond simple per­ception (see OED) to Romantic restriction for “creative genius” only. Still, I would propose a middle way by which conceptuality is a very specialized offshoot or precipitate of imagination, unable to escape fully from the mother‑liquor.  I hope this may be a cautious sublation of the tradition from, say, Aristotle to Spinoza, which divides  mental operations into specific “facul­ties” (e.g. of perception, imagination, and intellection). From it, I wish to  salvage not so much the fact of such distinguish­ing, though we seem stuck with something like it, but rather the recognition that all of these capacities may contribute to genu­ine knowledge (cf. Johnson 139‑40).

Though Kant, as I quite briefly suggested in 1.1, was badly served by his reliance on Empiricism, which believed knowledge was produced as in early manufacture: the raw materials of per­ceptions, acquired from the outside through our senses, being then articulated within each of us; yet I think he contributed a major pointer to a way out of the present dilemma by allowing for two ways of articulation: by concepts and by spatio‑temporal schemata for experience. True, in the first case, the Kantian argument that knowledge of objective experience is organized by means of concepts, which enunciate and stabilize the properties of a series of perceptual representations, builds upon the Empir­icist tradition, so that “The concept ‘dog,’ for example, is a rule specifying the properties any object must have if it is to be a ‘dog'” (148). Concepts are then combined in propositions of judgment; e.g., “My dog is faithful” shows “dog” participating in “faithfulness.” In retrospect from full‑blown Objectivism we would have to reject all self‑contained, billiard‑ball‑type  entities. Thus we would view the perceptions themselves as at least to an important degree dependent on people’s embodied psychic apparatus — e.g. in the registering of perceptions, their hypotyposis (bringing under or allotment to concepts), and the inalienable emotional aura determining the availability and urgency as well as qualitative feel and connotations of such perceptions or sensations (vividness, salience, etc. — cf. Nisbett and Ross). Our finest traffic with reality fails to provide value‑free or “theory‑neutral” data, the raw materials of reason are already imbued with emotional evaluations and interests.  But Kant admitted a second means of articulating knowledge, a struc­ture of spatial and temporal organization for all our experience. For him this was tightly tied to concepts, and this is in the final instance probably correct (see 3.4). Yet there are distinct advantages to analytically isolating the space‑time schemata as a counterpoise to logical formalism. They have therefore largely been (re?)interpreted as being adjoined to and going beyond concepts (see, e.g., Johnson 148, and 165ff.). James remarked, “The time‑ and space‑relations between things do stamp copies of themselves within. Things juxtaposed in space impress us, and continue to be thought,  in the relation in which they exist there.” (2: 632) In other words, the space‑time relationships participate in the very setting up of our “life‑world” percep­tions. Since this most intimately cognitive activity is expressly not conceptual, and not necessarily verbal either, it seems to me a quite major breakthrough, which ought to be borne in mind as a basis for a not only conceptual cognition, and as a complement to Hegelian dialectics.

Such primarily non‑conceptual cognitive structures have been admitted by psychology as organizing our “scene and event knowl­edge” (Mandler 465) since the path‑breaking work on “schemas” in children by Piaget in the 1930s. They have by now diversified into sophisticated  “frames,” “scripts,” and even “stories” by artificial intelligence theorists (cf. Schank and Abelson, Min­sky),  where the schema involves personal participation in an institutionalized event with a temporal dimension, and into “personae” incorporating typical characters as knowledge struc­tures (Nesbitt and Ross 35). This approach is interestingly developed by Lakoff and Johnson in their studies of “image‑schemata,” such as space orientation, balance vs. weighting or vectorial force. It is implied in the illuminating work of Gend­lin, to which I shall come later. It could also be brought into the vicinity of Bakhtin by calling it chronotopic. However, that term would still seem too general. This kind of cognitive imagi­nation has to encompass Piaget’s dynamic interrelations in a schema such as “object conservation,” that encompasses knowledge of relations between mass, volume, position, and alternative actions, as well as instances of the kind mentioned in 1.0 — e.g. the knowledges necessary for Minsky’s “birthday party scenario” or for the “script” of buying a weekly choice of cheeses, which includes walking, driving a car, recognizing a colour or a smell, counting money, and so forth. Therefore, I propose to call it, more precisely, topological imagination. This uses the OED senses transferred from the denotation of topology as a “qualitative geometry” of situation in space — and in a time analogized as a space — that typically involves transformation and yet continuity (invariance in some respects), and includes the sense 3d, “The way in which constituent parts are interrelated or arranged.” While in orthodox Piagetism one would not call (e.g.) landmarks, routes, and configurations topological, for my purposes of oppos­ing analog qualities to conceptual systematicity they are ele­ments of topological cognition (cf. Piaget and Inhelder vs. Mandler 451).

The topological imagination (which is, of course, not at all reducible to vivid images) can therefore encompass orientation, articulation (into shapes), and the dialectics of variance‑cum‑invariance — in short, relations to an entity’s stances, inner structuring, and shifting continuity in space and/or time. It is not to be sundered from the qualitative aura and connotations stemming from our interests, and it is  in close and constant feedback with the bodily perceptual capacities, motor skills, attitudes, etc. Since “an event becomes meaningful by pointing beyond itself,” to other event structures actual or possible in past or future experience or in semiotic space, the always strongly orientational topological imagination is also intention­al, i.e. directed at or toward some value‑laden “dimension or aspect of one’s existence” (Johnson 177), and participates in the deeply cognitive induction‑deduction cycle constituting meaning.

One could find very many other arguments in favour of a cognitive status for topological imagination. I shall here mention three:

  • Fredric Jameson’s repeated recurrence to the concept of “cogni­tive mapping,” extrapolated to social structure from Kevin Lynch’s remarkable study of people’s interest‑inflected spatial imagination, presupposes an imagined and imaginary social totali­ty that was to have been mapped; Jameson calls this unrepresent­able (“Mapping” 356), but it is obviously a cognitive construct of the highest hypothetical order. Therefore I would rather call it (literally) unconceptualizable or — better, since Jameson gives an excellent partial conceptualization for it — not fully and systematically conceptualizable, but imaginatively presentable as a feedback between two wholes: our global capitalist Lebenswelt and an ambitious plea for (and, in other writings of Jameson’s, sustained attempt at) a global topology of it.
  • Such neurological disturbances as “the phantom member” or apraxia (inability to imagine and therefore execute bodily action in spite of an intact nervous system, see Merleau‑Ponty 117ff., Suvin “Performance,” and Wood) testify that imagination is cru­cial for any literal and metaphorical stance and movement with the intention of manipulating objects, envisaging subjects, and all other orientations.
  • Lakoff’s mental exercises in “image‑schema transformations,” such as shifting path‑focus to end‑point‑focus, changing objects from multiple to mass and back, envisaging a trajectory or ex­panding and contracting images of container vs. contained (see his case study 2), are non‑propositional and non‑conceptual yet clearly cognitive mental operations.

 If this rough outline has merit, imagination is richer  if messi­er than conceptuality. Topological imagination might represent the submerged ten elevenths of the iceberg of which conceptual systems show above the surface. Though this metaphor, as well as those of “background,” “context,” and my earlier one of the base vs. frontal lobes of the brain, has the merit of indicating the foundational primacy of imagination, it may insufficiently indi­cate how intimately concepts are interfused or shot through  by it. Possibly the analogy of innervation or sanguine system in our flesh would come nearer. If nothing else, all this points out two crucial matters. First, that I take it as established by metapho­rology from Vico and Nietzsche to Eco and Ricoeur that concepts are, verbally speaking, precipitates or a caput mortuum of meta­phoric work. In fact, even the term “conceptuality” (the concept of “being a concept”) adjoins to its overriding univocity some metaphoric echoes. Second, that — in diametrical opposition to Christianity, Descartes, and the whole idealist filiation down to most of Kant and to Hegel’s Absolute Spirit — understanding is necessarily embodied, which  also means macro‑culture‑bound, class‑bound, and engendered. Though in my opinion all imagina­tion, and even more clearly concepts, can transcend some limita­tions of such embodiment, the degree to which  they can truly do so (rather than pretend to be doing so) is unclear: certainly existing but  certainly finite (0>n>oo). Finally, there is a clear choice: meaning and reason are to be grounded either in God or in (personal and collective) human bodies: tertium non datur. We would therefore have to conclude that imagination supplies much (though not all) of the indispensable delimitation and articulation for all knowledge, for “the connecting structure by which  we have coherent, significant experience, cognition, and language” (Johnson 165).

Of course, as Johnson points out, a huge amount of further work remains to be done if one adopts this stance: we then need a theory of categorization of human experience, which “is basic to any theory of cognitive structure, for it explores the way we organize our experience into kinds” (191, see also 171‑72 and 213 — cf. Lakoff, Bloch), and theories of the attendant central tools of metaphor, metonymy, and narrativity (e.g. in dialogue with Bakhtin, cf. Suvin “Metaphoricity,” and with Ricoeur). As Aristotle’s Poetics (as well as the ancient South and East Asian commentators) knew, these are  the very foundations of the pleas­ure of thinking, cognition or understanding, very much including art (depiction and narration). I shall deal with the possibly basic instance of metaphoricity in one of the later sections of this essay. But in the meantime I would adopt as a central hy­pothesis Johnson’s conclusion: “Instead of being nonrational, imaginative structures form the body of human rationality. There­fore, if imagination is not strictly algorithmic [i.e. a set of rules, usually in algebraic notation and digital], then this cannot be essential for rationality, either.” (169)

 2.2. On the Dialectics of Proposition: Not Only But Also

 The distinction between exclusive conceptuality and topological imagination may be furthered by considering propositions. I am using this term in the OED 4a. senses: “(a) the making of a statement about something; a sentence or form of words in which this is done, a statement, an assertion. (b) In Logic, a form of words in which something (the PREDICATE) is affirmed or denied of something (the SUBJECT)…,” sometimes extended to what is more strictly a judgment (1448). Clearly, the first sentence quoted embraces non‑verbal statements too (e.g. “body language”), beyond the main sense of a “statement,” that of a full or definite declaration in words (1889). Johnson enumerates five senses which concur in having any proposition assert something by means of a finite number of clearly delimited elements, but then advances a different sense by which a proposition can be “a continuous, analog pattern of…understanding, with sufficient internal structure to permit inferences” (3‑4). Since I cannot see how concepts could consist of “continuous, analog patterns,” this controversial, added sense is the only means of doubting the monopoly of conceptuality on knowledge. The first group, the usual philosophical and logical senses of “proposition,” put forth conceptually univalent statements, whose basic form is typically of the  “My dog is faithful” shape mentioned earlier. They may form an algorithm (e.g. a syllogism) of the digital or binary kind that is characteristic for at least the Socratic use of concepts, which culminates in the “Yes, yes — No, no” (Mat. 5:37) dichotomy of monotheism — the template for all other dogma­tisms, such as the “objectivist” one, in the Western tradition.

I am here operating with the distinction pioneered by computer theoreticians, extended by Gregory Bateson, and encapsulated by Watzlawick, between analog and digital modes of communication and understanding. An analog operation “can be more readily referred to the thing it stands for.” It prevails not only in animal mood indication but in human “body movement, …posture, gesture, facial expression, voice inflection [and…] rhythm” (Watzlawick, et al., 62‑63). Its ubiquity and flexibility makes of it the privileged mode for rendering “contingencies of relationship” (66). What it cannot present (at least not explicitly) is perhaps similar to what Freud’s dreams could not represent: the causality as against succession (e.g. “if‑then”), the tense or time‑horizon indication, and the conceptualized abstraction (65; but see sub‑section 3.4 for advances on Watzlawick’s skepticism). Digitaliza­tion therefore seems to me necessary for important but particular purposes, and it also seems to always be an ingent simplification of processes from reality: e.g., the analog wavelengths of light are cut up in various cultures into digital oppositions of co­lours. The analog — spread or spectrum‑like — kind of process is clearly characteristic of topological imagination. I would agree with Johnson (96‑100 and passim) that, if the analog kind of proposition is articulated to judgments and their attendant values, it permits inferences, which have been justly called “the birth of reason” in the child and “the great business of life” (Reid in 1788 and Mill in 1843, cited in OED, s.v. “Inference” 2).  If so, an analog proposition is a form of reasoning that may satisfy Mill’s logical condition of advancing from known to “distinct” truths (cited in OED, ibidem 1.a; cf. Nisbett and Ross). The way is then open for it “to enter into transformations and other cognitive operations” (Johnson 4), such as the orienta­tion, articulation, and dialectics of shifting (though not what Hegel would call “muddy”) identity that I argued for earlier. Music, sculpture or body stances — not to forget metaphors and narratives — are therefore potentially cognitive modes of imagina­tion, in ways not only significantly different from purely con­ceptual systems but also constantly complementing or undergirding them. Even in natural language, “(1) meaning…begins in figura­tive, multivalent patterns that cannot typically be reduced to a set of literal concepts and propositions; and (2) the patterns and their connections are embodied and cannot be reduced to a set of literal concepts and propositions” (5; see my discussion in 3.4).

In that sense, knowledge may typically come about by complex, dialectical interaction between analog and digital, non‑conceptual and conceptual, fully focussed and multiplex modes:

Take, for instance, a skill like skiing. Our ability to ski is tied up with all sorts of perceptual and motor‑program schemata that have plenty of internal structure. The term “skiing” calls up (potentially) all of these structures as part of its meaning when it is used in an utterance. (189)

Replacing motor programs with hyperactive imagination, I claim the same holds for, e.g., theatre performance (see Suvin, “Per­formance”) or poetry. Ricoeur has repeatedly elucidated how in poetry the reduction in “referentiality of ordinary discourse” (which is, I think, coextensive with clichetized, closed concep­tual systems)  “allows new configurations expressing the meaning of  reality to be brought into language,” and obversely that poetic discourse necessarily brings to language “modes of being that ordinary vision obscures or even represses” (Interpretation 60).  Though in our meta‑language, striving for precision, such matters must begin to sound formidable, the learned detour is there for the purpose of a much closer feedback with people’s everyday practice. In that  non‑elitist sense, as Gramsci and Brecht stressed, each person is a philosopher and every planning of action has to do with reason. Especially today, faced as we are with a concerted assault on reason, nothing in this essay is to be taken as speaking against it.

In this perspective, there are many collective, cognitive mean­ings not reducible simply to the binary mode fostered by concep­tualization. While the “either‑or” logic is necessary at a number of crucial junctures, the “not only but also” logic (Brecht’s nicht nur sondern), dialectically subsumptive rather than adver­sative, is not only older but also richer and more frequently applicable. In Williams’s proposed epistemic concept “structure of feeling” the first, binary mode of cognition supplies the “hard” element of structure, and the second, analog mode of cognition the “soft” but primary  element of feeling, an emotion­ally imbued yet not merely individual imagination, which is precisely why it seems to me superior to Foucault’s exclusively conceptual and systemic “episteme.” What all of this implies about priorities that emotions may (in some respects) have in relation to concepts will be faced in the Conclusion.

 2.3. Analogical Reasoning, Verisimilitude

 In this perspective it is also useful to revisit reasoning by analogy, which I shall do by incorporating in this sub‑section some illuminating arguments brought forward by Marc Angenot. It is an operation treated with the greatest suspicion by the hege­monic tradition, which has defined reasoning as a partially redundant horizontal chain of “literal, univocal, context‑inde­pendent” (see 2.1), and non‑contradictory propositional judg­ments. Yet this one‑dimensional syntagmatic chain has huge in‑built problems both as to its coming about and in its internal aporias. As to the former, unless one takes Plato’s Ideas or the monotheistic God literally, it is not clear how it ever could have arisen from brute matter in the fully hermetic form of logical space. As to the latter:

All “normal” reasoning standardizes its data by effacing variables, bracketting the contingent, and mediating between different levels, so as to permit the compatibility and derivability of propositions…, the passage from qualita­tive threshold to the quantifiable, the reduction of mul­tidetermination to univocity, the polarization of ambiva­lences, and the axiomatic introduction of preponderances and hierarchies in places where to begin with only disparate tendencies were perceived which were not co‑intelligible. (Angenot 154)

Thus, this “classical model of reasoning” is brought about by a series of strong interventions levelling the analogical mode onto a conceptual projection, where “the proof’s purity was  in pro­portion to its poverty” (154). This holds particularly for the traditionally “noblest” form of reasoning, deduction. Already reasoning by induction and examples were rather suspect as too plebeian, while the final mode, reasoning by analogy, was margin­alized as unformalisable. Yet it is not clear why it should have an inferior cognitive status. Of course, any proof by analogy is only as “right” as its constituent parts and relational presuppo­sitions — e.g., the standard 19th‑Century bourgeois analogy be­tween father‑child and capitalist‑worker, extending to the aca­demic position of professors in loco parentis to students. But then, the same holds for reasoning by deduction and induction. All of them, though in different ways, owe their efficacy to cultural and ideological verisimilitude. Just what is the differ­ence between the verisimilar on the one hand, and the true and necessary on the other, has never been clarified since it reposes on the ideological maxims or common sense of a given period, so that one can at best oppose deep and long duration maxims to short duration ones (which is, no doubt, of great importance for any particular investigation). Beginning with Aristotle, “the theory of topoi is essentially a reflexion on the implicit, in its twin character of occultation and regulation” (163). Regard­less of how general the validity they pretend to, all of them formalize social experiences and relationships in culturally highly specific ways. We have rightly learned to suspect the self‑evidence of any such ahistorical stance, e.g. an eternal distinction agent‑action (Yeats’s knowing the dancer from the dance).

I believe this sub‑section has, among other things, added an important cognition to our arsenal: the difference in all seem­ingly factual propositions between the horizontal and vertical orders or modes of establishing the correctness (veracity) of a proposition. I call “horizontal” the concept‑driven reliance on the syntagmatic chain of formalized, presumably literal, univo­cal, and non‑contradictory,  propositions; and I call “vertical” verification a frequent experience‑driven interruption of such a chain in favour of confrontation with other (possibly non‑concep­tual and thus less formalized) derivations from material empiri­cal evidence. This is analogous to Locke’s distinction between “mental truth,” which is always hypothetical, vs. “real truth,” which depends on experience (see James 2: 664) . It participates in the widespread modern complaint (e.g. in Husserl’s The Crisis of European Sciences) that scientific rationality has become alienated from praxis, in other words that a collective human project has by now been so coopted as be at best indirectly related and at worst inimical to the need for a livable world.

Both the  horizontal and the vertical mode rely on a system of “topical” presuppositions (cf. Angenot 187), that makes possible the melding for which I shall argue in the Conclusion. If think­ing is, in the first and possibly still best metaphor of European philosophy, Heraclitean fire, then reason might be the flame and emotion the consubstantial heat. I would conclude, with Johnson, that “we [might] expand our notion of logical correctness” (12); and with Angenot, that

[reasoning by analogy] is not a less rigorous type of rea­soning than deduction; it corresponds to a different way of thinking and a different establishing of proof, which is here regarded as a transfer of evidence….[It] constructs around the object being proved a relational structure capa­ble of being perceived as isomorphic to another structure situated in a quite different field. (197)

In its clearest form, it is a rigorous homology of the rule of three (A:B = C:D) kind, and it can render much more closely the sinuosities and contradictions of people’s relationships to each other, their institutions, and universe — and indeed of their natural languages — than grand universal syllogisms. I shall return to this in the discussion of metaphor; as Blumenberg notes, “analogy is the realism of metaphor” (88). The undoubted affinities between analogical thinking and emotion‑suffused evaluation can once more be seen as qualitatively different from deductive conceptualization but no less (potentially) cognitive.

2.4. Operativeness, Eduction From Psychotherapy

 Assuming the class of “not conceptually sayables” (or even not only and not primarily conceptually expressibles) was not empty, as advanced in 1.0 above, I have been worrying in this essay at the question which part of that class may be cognitive, and in what ways. One precondition for cognitiveness is articulation which allows operativeness or manipulability. Articulation means the division of a cognition or cultural unit of knowledge into definable parts together with some syntactic indication of the parts’ relationships to each other and some pragmatic indication of their relationships to other units or articulated parts there­of. It is because they are suitable to recombination that the articulated units may participate in cognitive operations which make sense of some segment or aspect of our Lebenswelt. Thus, when Jaggar speaks of the emotions’ inner articulation, when Kant speaks of spacetime schemata, when psychologists (with some philosophers and some sociologists such as Goffman) differentiate this into scripts, frames, and personae, or when the language proposed here speaks of topological imagination as one epistemic way of articulating knowledge, it is implied that such analog‑type mental operations — in spite of having a crucial non‑concep­tual aspect — can permit subdivision, anamorphic transformation, and rearranged aggregation or re‑constellation of units of under­standing (sememes, if you wish) into valid cognitive operations, such as intentional orientation or reorganization of identity and indeed of categories. While concepts seem to be already enmeshed with some basic topological categories, and while  the greater part of institutionally formalized knowledge will at some (possi­bly early) point in its operating advance from this to a concep­tually systematized organization of knowledge, the non‑conceptual mode will, I believe, always remain a part of the resulting structure — at the very least as a system of presuppositions and implications (e.g. about what domains and stances are proper for a scientific discipline). This non‑conceptual, analog aspect of knowledge is not only prior to the great phylogenetic and ontoge­netic divide of language, as has been shown both by child psy­chologists — from Freud’s fort‑da to the systematic observations of Piaget — and  by ethologists. Even simultaneous to the use of language, topological cognition reigns supreme in all the bodily activities, crafts, techniques,  and arts I hinted at earlier, from swimming to painting. Furthermore, it accompanies, founds,  and infiltrates all language in the form of metaphor (which Goodman nicely defines as “a calculated category‑mistake,” 73), rhetorics (cf. Angenot), and narrative organization.

 I want here to add to the post‑Piaget turn (and one would have to mention also parallel Soviet experiences of Vygotsky’s and his followers such as Luria) the illumination from a philosophical approach to therapeutic psychology in the work of Eugene Gendlin. In numerous contributions of the last three decades (from Experi­encing through “Critique” and “Thinking”), Gendlin has been appealing to self‑ordering patterns in “experience (situations, practice, the body, intricacy…)” to argue that syntactically definite and pragmatically precisely oriented univocal forms of a more than conceptual  nature are always already at work in thought (“Thinking” 28‑29).3/  I shall in this sub‑section mostly use his long study “Thinking Beyond Patterns,” to which all citations refer unless otherwise noted. Arguing with Dilthey that experiencing is an implicit understanding (34), he also reveals his own standpoint from experience: “Today…[the] old forms still exist, but often as official demands….But body‑life is no longer carried forward by them. Our more complex and partly undefined situations are another ‘social reality’.” (“Critique” 275)

 Gendlin reminds us that practice, the sum of people’s relation­ships to each other and the universe, is richer: “practice must always be permitted to surprise the theory” (45). He would have agreed with the great Japanese Confucianist Ogyû Sorai’s remark: “The great sage rulers of the past taught by means of [particu­lar] ‘things’  and not by means of [universal] ‘principles.’…In ‘things’ all ‘principles’ are brought together, hence all who have long devoted themselves to work come to have a genuine intuitive understanding of them.” (Nakamura 537; cf. Lee 148) Convincingly inducing from experiences of his therapeutic prac­tice, Gendlin pleads for a revaluation of cases or instancing, as opposed to hypotyposis that strives to filter or “drop out” all elements that do not fit a concept; of story‑telling; and of what one could call pre‑implications. In his own wonderful “Stories from psychotherapy: The bodily ” (86‑98; see especially the “house on stilts” metaphor, 92), the underlined three dots stand for the patients’ groping toward full cognitive formulation. The apparent blank in a sentence is syntactically clearly defined and modally clearly oriented but semantically not yet formulated. This groping forms something new, simultaneously continuous with and different from what was realized before. It is what James in an analogous discussion called a “feeling of tendency” or “a sign of direction in thought”:

 …a gap that is intensely active. A sort of wraith of the name is in it, beckoning us in a given direction….If wrong names are proposed to us, this singularly definite gap acts immediately so as to negate them. They do not fit into its mould.  (1: 251; cf. 249‑57)

 The gap is eventually exfoliated and evolved into a powerful semantic turn that will, at least in ideal cases, “maximize (reinforce, nurse, feed, help one savor) the mood” (100). This accords astoundingly well on the one hand with poetic practice, as testified to by all accounts of how a poem is written with help of rhythmically and modally precise blank spots (e.g. the famous essay by Mayakovsky) and remarked on by Gendlin too (61‑66), and on the other with the macro‑structures of feeling that Williams defines as “pre‑formations” preceding semantic figures, as “social experiences in solution” and as “structured formation[s]…at the very edge of semantic availability” (133‑34, see end of 1.3). With the help of such proceedings, Gendlin attempts to “think the actual situations” (112) as an implicit and intricate multiplicity, whose possibilities fan out to other possible situations. Or, more personalized: the initially unclear [], where the “silent sensing” situation contains implicit possibilities of language, opens up through a series of precise if zigzagging (because not logically deductible) steps, unfolding its latent protean intricacy. “Each such step arises from a bodily sensed [], her bodily sensed social reality” (“Cri­tique”  288 and 283). Each step retroactively revises the meaning and the time‑horizon of preceding steps. The AI theorists might have said that the frame’s terminals have only loosely attached default assignments functioning as variables or a special kind of reasoning by example (see Minsky 212‑13). This also does away with a fixed nuclear Self. As in Laplace’s explanation to Napole­on about God, any post‑Freudian “unconscious” becomes here an unnecessary hypothesis (cf. “Critique” 277‑89 and “Thinking” passim).

 The (pre‑)implications resident in an individual or collective situation for each of us, and which have to be teased out  of it by means of not primarily conceptual analysis, are a founding notion of Gendlin’s. What we retroactively see was implied is the eventual articulation through “carrying‑forward” steps: “A situa­tion is the implying of further events”; it “consists of implicit action‑possibilities”; “it sets itself apart because it implies a change in the stories that it now implies” (118‑19).  These implications are what is to be cognitively defined, in the sense of rendered sufficiently definite. They are different from logi­cal or mechanistic determinism: “The whole series cannot be predicted from one step, because each step carries forward an implied change in implying” (121). In a bodily sensed way, which makes nonsense out of the dichotomies body/mind or emotion/rea­soning, the situation implies statements about‑to‑be‑said (cf. 130‑32) — the semantic blanks induced by the subject/situation feedback and awaiting cognition. “Body, situation, and language imply each other, but that means we cannot do with less than all three….The body provides the focal implying without which there would not be situations or language….Indeed, all the functions of implicit intricacy in language and situations are functions of the body.” (132‑33)

 Finally, Gendlin claims that such inventing and filling in of semantic blanks, which redefines a poet’s, a psychiatric pa­tient’s or indeed everybody’s meanings‑in‑situation, is more realistic or adequate to the situation. In the language of my sub‑section 2.3, the horizontal order of veracity for a proposi­tion (relying on the sequence of formalized and non‑contradictory conceptual arguments) is at all crucial points which require new formulations of a newly arisen situation backgrounded in favour of “vertical” confrontation with the material reality. This is cognized largely by means of topologically articulated emotion  (cf.  the mentioned patient’s “house on stilts” feeling, and Gendlin’s discussions of spatial imagery in 88‑89 and 106‑07), by means of a “structure of feeling.” The “truth” resides in the bodily “implying of situations” (121), in what Ernst Bloch would call the dialectical tendency‑latency of human reality (144ff.). And since “anything concrete belongs to other systems as well” (“Critique” 295), Gendlin has some interesting though preliminary reflections on how it would be necessary to move from personal experience to larger economico‑political, collective situations determined by social forces, such as the US Federal Reserve Bank’s restrictive policies which have radically affected the bodily situation of millions by destroying their livelihood (295‑96). The evidence of senses here becomes quite insufficient: as Brecht remarked, almost no “statement about reality” (cognition) can be drawn from a photograph of the reified Krupp factory (18: 161‑62) —  “artful” statistics, graphs, and narratives would have to be also called in.

 2.5. Briefly on Metaphoricity, With a Pointer to Narrativity

In an earlier and lengthier study (Suvin, “Metaphoricity”) I adopted a working definition of metaphor which I would render slightly more precise here as a unitary meaning arising out of the interaction of disparate semantic units from different cate­gory domains; and I argued that metaphor presents a complex cognition not by literal or analytic statement but by sudden confrontation. Whether verbal or visual (e.g. on the stage, cf. Suvin, “Brecht’s”), metaphor results in the perception of a possible relationship with a new norm of its own, and it always embodies a value‑judgment correlative to an integral, i.e. also emotional, involvement. From literal dictionary meaning current in a given culture and sociolect, the new metaphoric meaning modulates into an imaginary entry from the encyclopedia of cul­tural commonplaces, presuppositions, and categories (cf. Eco Lector  and “Metafora”); or indeed into a newly posed entry, invented ad hoc by the metaphor’s author and enforced by its context. Such determinations hold fully only for the so‑called full or true metaphor, a unique presentation of previously non‑existent meaning. In it experiential orientation accessible to us in no other way is being formed and explored: we have no other ways at hand for “thinking through” the relationship such a metaphor refers to. The full‑fledged, interaction or transforma­tional metaphor cannot be paraphrased into conceptual proposi­tions without a significant loss of cognitive yield (Black Models 45‑46), as opposed to the low‑grade, substitution or comparison metaphors which can be exhausted by paraphrase into concepts and commonplaces.

As Ricoeur has not tired to remind us, however, metaphor is not an atomic unit but the function of “the operation of predication” in a complete sentence (Interpretation 50, and cf. Rule). In the language of 2.2 above, metaphor is a function of an analogical proposition permitting inference, transformation, orientation, and other cognitive operations (that “transference by analogy” is the strongest form of metaphoric functioning has been clear since Aristotle’s Poetics, 1457b).  The sum of all the cultural topoi and categories advanced, presupposed, and implied by the sen­tences and propositions of a text constitutes the ideological system of its social addressee, whose maxims encompass the conno­tation chosen in a metaphor. In “This man is a wolf,” the stock metaphorological example, “The wolf‑metaphor…organizes our view of man” and viceversa: when wolf and man are projected upon each other, a new whole emerges (Black Models 4l and passim; cf. Eco “Metafora”) in feedback with, e.g., a Social‑Darwinistic or obversely a totemic system of maxims about wolves/people.

Thus, the delicate negotiation between immanence in and tran­scendence of discourse is at stake in metaphor too. Another argument by Ricoeur upgrades Frege’s distinction  between sense and meaning (Sinn und Bedeutung) into one between sense and reference. Sense results from a largely horizontal, semantic, proceeding and identifies an entry in the imaginary cultural encyclopedia subtending what one could in short call the meta­phoric proposition. Reference is “[the proposition’s] claim to reach reality” (Ricoeur, Hermeneutics 140), even if often a redefined reality, and it adds to sense an emotional and imagina­tive, pragmatic verticality which in the final instance can also be connected to bodily stances. If metaphor is thus a specific cognitive organon, what is its specificity of reference? Despite much solid spadework documented in my “Metaphoricity” study, this seems to me still poorly understood. I believe metaphor is di­rected toward and necessary for an insight into continuously variable and internally contradictory processes, Eco’s “dinamismi del reale” (“Metafora” 212),  when these are being handled by language, which is composed of discrete and fixed signs (Hesse, Ortony; curiously, Thom [Paraboles, 120 and 159] founds mathemat­ics in the same insight). If metaphor is this dialectical correc­tive of all analytical language centered on concepts, as all language it also refers, among other things, to what a given culture and ideology consider as reality. This means that some conclusions educible from any metaphor — e.g., “people are cruel,” “wolves are conscious” — are pertinent to or culturally “true” of given understandings of relationships in practice. The metaphor can affirm such an understanding or, in the best case, develop “the before unapprehended relations of things” in ways at that moment not otherwise formulatable (Shelley 357). Cognition through a full metaphor reorganizes, on the basis of topological analogy, the logical space of our conceptual frameworks. It is only from the point of view of Objectivism or positivist meta­physics that the literal coincidentio oppositorum of metaphor is Goodman’s “category mistake” or an absurd impertinence: a Man is a Man is a Man and NOT a Lion. Exploding literal referential pertinence and literal semantic statement, frozen into univalency and binary‑choice linkage, metaphor proposes a new, imaginative pertinence by rearranging the categories that shape our experi­ence. This imaginative cognition is not to be reduced to mystical insight or magical transfer but rather  thought of as an analog (rather than digital) hypothetic proposition with specifiable yields and limitations; parallel to other forms of cognition, metaphoric analogies can be partly or wholly accepted or rejected by feedback from historical experience, verbal and extra‑verbal.

In my study I also went at length into what might be the basic conditions for a full‑fledged metaphor. I proposed there were three: coherence or congruence, complexity or richness, and novelty. This means that metaphor is necessarily (at least in part) historico‑referential insofar as it disrupts the synchronic cognitive system current when it was coined. The criteria for deciding which metaphors are to be seen as dead, remotivated or farfetched are all drawn from historical semantics and pragmat­ics. Beardsley — who admits only the first two — notes that such axiomatic conditions may be considered as analogous to Occam’s razor in literal, e.g. scientific, texts (145). These conditions are the presuppositions of metaphor — i.e., they are simultaneous­ly inside it and overarching it. They allow for Ricoeur’s argu­ment that “the relation between literal and figurative meaning…is a relation internal to the overall signification of the metaphor,” i.e. that both denotation and connotation are legitimately cognitive. Ricoeur concludes that “such semantic innovation marks the emergence of [conceptual] thought,” that “new possibilities for articulating and conceptualizing reality can arise through [it]” (Interpretation 47 and 57).

In that sense metaphors, when expanded into metaphorical se­quences and metaphorical texts (i.e., as I argue in “Metaphorici­ty,” finally into narratives which add a chronotopic organiza­tion), both literally and technically create for their addressees another, Possible World, as a dialectical fusion of vertical and horizontal, syntagmatic and paradigmatic reference: “the poetic world is just as hypothetical a space as is the mathematical order in relation to any given world”; both are “a second degree reference, [in…] the fictive dimension revealed by the theory of models” (Ricoeur, Interpretation 59 and 68). Metaphor may thus sketch in lineaments of “another world that corresponds to other possibilities of existence, to possibilities that would be most deeply our own…” (Ricoeur, Rule 229). On its own and as under­lying any narrative, metaphor is one of humanity’s great cyber­netic machines for interpreting the world — not only Wittgen­stein’s “all that is the case” but also Bloch’s “not yet” (to mention what I take to be the two poles of modern philosophical revision of classically undialectical categories, allowing for more elastic boundaries, bases for category membership, prototyp­ical status for members, etc.).

Without entering upon a fuller discussion of narrative text, it may be provisionally identified as a finite and coherent sequence of actions, with correlative agents located in the spacetime of a possible world, proceeding from an initial to a final state of affairs, and embodying a paradigm or macro‑metaphor. Its minimal requirements would be an agent, an initial state changing to a commensurate final state, and a series of changes consubstantial to varying chronotopes (cf. Eco, Lector 70, 107‑08, and passim), unified by a plot with metaphoric tenor. In comparison to “propo­sitional metaphor,” narrative permits much more detailed and articulated exploration of its key hypothesis —  which is also its founding metaphor — as to its properties, most prominently the relationships between people it implies. Such evaluation of its thought‑experiment is always in feedback with the reader’s vision of empirical reality. The intense flash of metaphor is too brief to be judged by anything except its fruits, the “thick” and immediate shock‑effect of a “category‑earthquake.” In any story or tale, however, it ought to be possible to verify examined aspects of the central propositions which have by means of coher­ence, plenitude, and novelty created the narrative universe of that tale. In so doing, both metaphor and narrative redescribe the known world and open up new possibilities of intervening into it: they are — potentially — what Brecht called “meshing thought” (eingreifendes Denken).

  1. Concluding Horizons

I do not like the following model very much, but something of the sort seems needed.
Minsky, “A Framework…”

 3.1. The Archimedean point from which the fruitful intricacy of cognition may be raised is the proposition that our social exist­ence is both source and goal of human concepts and emotions. The horizon of this proposition is a pragmatics of social produc­tions. Only pragmatics can insert into this discussion the empir­ical situation of people and their relationships within given epistemological (cognitive and ideological) presuppositions, conventions, economical and institutional frames, etc.4/ Exclu­sively conceptualized veracity, I began to argue in 2.3, implies a horizontal chain of mutually reinforcing concepts which, like any other syntagmatic system of abstract symbols, cannot by itself provide any meaning. While conceptual chains have histori­cally — e.g. when based on Baconian experiment — led to world‑historical breakthroughs in understanding, this type of veracity is by now showing the drawbacks of (as a poet can best note it) being “spitted on fixed concept like/ roasting hogs, sputtering, their drip sealing…” (William Carlos Williams, Paterson). However, this rejection of Objectivism and of pure logical for­malism does not land us in the quagmire of absolute relativism. There are important material, historico‑political constraints built into all human productions (actions), that largely deter­mine what inferences and propositions can be held, though them­selves up to a point in significant feedback with socialized imagination. Refunctioning terms from Putnam, who builds on the Lockean opposition of “theoretical beliefs” and “experiential beliefs,” I propose to call the horizontal consistency of concep­tual cognitions with each other “coherence,” while the vertical recourse to experiential beliefs consistent with practical tryout could be called “fit” (54‑55, and see Johnson 211‑12). As I further argued after Gendlin, horizontal coherence can be saved from pure conceptual chimeras (Hirngespinste, “brain cobwebs”) by interrupting, verifying, and supplementing it at strategic points by means of an imaginative fit immediately rooted in topological imagination and closer to bodily emotions.

We have of, course, witnessed in this century only too many variants of polluted emotions: “The sources of [a person’s] feelings and passions are just as muddied up as the sources of his cognitions,” noted Brecht (15: 295). Indeed, his life‑long advocacy of interruptory Gestus may be the most illuminating systematic inquiry into this verticality (cf. Benjamin), within his struggle against uncritical empathy which led to a “theatral­ics of fascism” (and of “patriotic” nationalism, and of Stalin­ism). Therefore I have repeatedly stressed that emotions, the body, analogy, imagination or topology are by themselves no talisman guaranteeing cognitivity. What I argue for is the inter­active feedback between vertical (topological, analog, referen­tial) fit and horizontal  (purely conceptual, binary, sense‑producing) coherence. Hegel’s dialectical three‑step of conceptu­ality (the Schoolmen would have said scientia) negating mere feeling or shapeless intuition but then being itself sublated —  preserved and simultaneously subsumed — under a thinking wisdom (sapientia) that follows the contradictions in reality seems to be an early approximation to such spiral induction‑deduction with goodly space for analogy. What such a feedback unity in topologi­cal imagination, based on common topical presuppositions (see 2.3), produces could be called figuration in Jameson’s sense. He notes that this englobes, e.g., Lévi‑Strauss’s Amerindian myth shapes, the Deconstructionists’ — to my mind, quite one‑sided, though at times destructively useful — emphasis on all discourse being tropes, and Freud’s insight that instincts always already “come with their own figuration, …bound in the forms of certain fantasies.” so that “reality is always figured” (Theory 113‑14 and 162).

3.2. Yet at this point I have to confess that we seem to be caught in an unresolved halfway house between two discourses, the old emotion vs. reason one and a newer one on conceptual imagina­tion in mutual induction with topological imagination. This impurity may not be too exhilarating but I shall argue it is not only a faithful reflection of the mess we are at, inside the present historical epoch, but also allowable for my present purposes.

I started from the muddy opposition emotion/reason and argued that the dumbbell constellation of dry, calculating, male reason vs. fluid, intuitive, female emotion had a goodly Hellenic and Hebraic  pedigree. Yet the post‑Cartesian foregrounding of this dichotomy arose with the coming to power of the bourgeoisie and precluded further useful reasoning about how to cope with our world. I therefore incline to think it would be better if we scrapped this polarizing configuration  entirely (e.g., I’d much prefer the Buddhist identification of the six senses as vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and cognition), perhaps putting an at least provisional embargo — say during the next century — on the term of emotion. However, only a qualitative reversal of social practice would give us that opportunity. No individual can radi­cally alter language in its central classifications before such time; at best, I might persuade my readers we should redefine a few of the important categories of the doxa. Then, by the middle of this essay I arrived at my second discourse, which features the more graspable and fertile difference — not dichotomy — and feedback between topology and conceptualization within imagina­tion and cognition. It proposes a topological imagination, func­tioning by analogy and having much better chances (if they will but be used) to draw corrections from a dialectical verticality that plumbs experience. Of course, to develop this we should have to scrutinize much further the close relationship to topological imagination of conceptualized thought, and conversely of the body bearings, stances or orientations; upon both of them there are inscribed our class, gender, and other identifications, and they seem to me to meet in at least two key points: first, in the categories of intention and interest; second, in the activity itself of categorization. The latter is “a basic ability…that almost certainly must  be posited as a primitive of psychological functioning,” so that on the one hand  “in its basic sense [it] cannot be distinguished from schema formation” (Mandler 466), but on the other hand it is also highly culture‑specific, shaped in and by historical epochs and sociolects (cf. Lakoff’s arguments, e.g. about the category of anger in English, 68). At the latest since Marx, we should have detheologized our discourse so as to draw full consequences from a defining of human potentiality as historically delimited: in the double sense of  concrete histori­cal  possibilities and  concrete historical alienations from them (cf. Marcuse Luther 28‑29 and passim). If we embarked on such scrutinies, I believe we would end up by making much better sense of our feedback relations with the world. However, at the moment I have to balance bits and aspects of this second discourse with the first or dichotomizing one, which threatens to reproduce itself parasitically in my new proposals too. History is real, the hegemony also.

But, as Beckett tells us through the exemplum of the two thieves on the Cross: do not presume, yet do not despair either. I think a number of differences between the two discourses are very tech­nical, and thus doubly foreclosed for me and my readers. First, we are probably (and I am certainly) not competent to enter into many of those details. Second, for my possibly foolhardy purposes of clearing the ground for a discussion of cultural texts and social discourse, even this halfway house would be a great deal further along the road than where I set out from.

3.3. How is, for example, the intense va‑et‑vient traffic between topological imagination and conceptuality to be grasped? It can only be conducted by a “chromosomal” transfer of traits (units of articulation) through shared intentions, observations, assump­tions, inferences, etc.,5/ adumbrated by Jaggar as a “mutually constitutive rather than oppositional relation between reason and emotion.” Beyond already presented arguments, such as the unity of our social existence and of the sensorium, and the ubiquity of categorization, this is made possible by two further central reasons. First, concepts are all founded on judgments, many if not most of which, e.g. judgments of logical quality — assertion and negation — , depend on evaluation (cf. Bloch 42) and thus, I would conclude from this whole discussion, on interests and emotion. Even our central categories such as spatial orientation (up‑down, left‑right, here‑there), pressure and weight (gravity), similarity and difference, etc., largely involve imaginative structures of understanding which are of a topological, very often metaphoric, kind. Thus it is the melding of conceptual and topological that brings about the “wise,” hypothetical, cognitive space; the best studied examples we have of it are the thought‑experiments of art (metaphoricity, narrativity, music,  the spatial arts, etc.), but it is at least equally present in the practice of action (e.g. in love, or in great movements of polit­ical liberation). I believe all of this is implied in the Fifth (and the Ninth) of Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach: “Feuerbach, not satisfied with abstract thinking, appeals to sensuous contempla­tion; but he does not conceive sensuousness as practical, human‑sensuous activity” (Marx‑Engels 108).

Second, topological imagination is strongly socialized; it is not reducible to inchoate feeling or biological instinct. As I argued earlier by way of Angenot, both topology and concept are based on historical topics. In the sense proposed in 3.1 and 3.2, concepts are obviously also (and always already) historical. There is no eternal ahistorical matrix for anchoring the nature of knowledge, truth, rationality, or indeed reality. For one thing, e.g., what is a fact notoriously depends on the filter for or  frame of recognition, chosen by changeable imaginative inclinations and constraints which are as a rule shaped into ideologies. For another, the frame of categories is itself a quintessentially historical and indeed ideological construct. There are, however, some “long duration” concepts that may last through an entire social formation, and a few that may last through several, in topologically mutated but still recognizable shapes. I would not shy away from saying that, within an entirely historical horizon of material relationships, there should be a place for (possibly very few) long‑duration concepts that may last  through the entire history of class society — e.g. “war.”

Obversely, one could go on to argue that beyond judgments of quality, even the logical judgments of quantity (what is singu­lar, particular or general) are, at least in their presupposi­tions and horizons, deeply enmeshed in history, evaluation, and indeed ideology. On the one hand, a sanitized rational generali­ty, the representative in logic of bourgeois society, is deemed superior to particulars, e.g. in the equality of individuals before the law. “The Law forbids sleeping under bridges with equal majesty to beggars and millionaires,” quipped Anatole France; the Law also allows a single mother to compete for a job on “equal” basis with a bachelor. On the other hand this individ­ualism is extolled as superior to any claims of totality, which is implicit in the very definition of mental operation, and yet which is in a bad Cold War pun equated to the muddy category of totalitarianism. In spite of this obfuscation, a central axiom of economy in reasoning argues in favour of stressing totality, in the sense of a semantic thesaurus with provisional hierarchies of categories, while complementarily “[w]ords expressing totality, such as all, always, forever, never, and only, are the key ingre­dients of many popular songs…whose meaning is aimed at stirring up all sorts of strong feelings” (Bohm and Peat 218). Finally, we have one brain and body, the senses and the sensorium mesh. Finally also, I agree with Jameson that the “mode of production” — in the widest Marxian and Brechtian sense in which one produces not only shoes but also love, not only pianos but also music (cf. Suvin, “Brecht: Bearing”) — is “a total synchronic structure” which is for the foreseeable future the “ultimate and untranscendable” (Jameson, “Marxism” 149) imaginative horizon of illumination. It does not have to be treated as a master code, but as a user‑friendly code: on the penalty of “the obscurity of nearness, so convenient for every ruling class” (Bloch 67), the lack of appropriation because of the lack of distanciation, which means slavery to the eternal consumption‑cycle return of the masters’ wars, depressions,  and other daily catastrophes.

3.4. Let me indicate, finally, that some interdisciplinary depth developments seem to bear out my approach. Potentially perhaps the most sensational is a remarkable turning point in or out of recent linguistics (since it perhaps should by now be given a different name) which may be represented by some implications of Langacker’s “cognitive grammar.” Radically jettisoning the logi­co‑algebraic formalism of classical linguistics as a self‑en­closed horizontal chain of propositions (Hjelmslev, Benveniste, Martinet, etc., down to Greimas — see their thorough demolition by Coquet), this approach derives all linguistic concepts from positions and configurations in “basic domains” of perceptive and representational space. All that is necessary for such a deriva­tion are the topological properties of dimension, articulation, distance, degree of intensity, etc., and their sufficiently precise mathematical processing. This is elegantly based on the cognitive operation of scanning, that by registering qualitative contrasts finds shapes by means of borders drawn against a basis, and by which all things or entities  of and in language may be defined as “regions” in some domain. There are various types of scanning, and they all dovetail with Thom’s definition of mor­phology as a system of borders or qualitative discontinuities. Since Langacker proposes to satisfy the constraint of informa­tionally finite local scannings as well as of defining the routes of propagation from local to global, this morphological cognition may be transformed into conceptual cognition in the sense of a theory of scripts or frames, or indeed of Lakoff’s and Johnson’s schemas (also of Kosslyn’s work in cognitive psychology, etc., see Danesi).  In the best synthesis of the field that I could find, Petitot has put forward very strong arguments for integrat­ing this on the one hand with Jackendoff’s cognitive linguistics and Talmy’s “force dynamics” in cognition, and on the other hand with Thom’s mathematical models of morphogenesis or shape‑changes latching on to the mathematical theory of catastrophes. Even if one doubts that this is the final solution to all gaping problems on the borders of linguistics and psychology (for one thing, there is more than a touch of illicit extrapolation toward bio­logical essentialism in some protagonists of this paragraph), the way may be thus open for a materialist “bottom‑up” treatment of language and cognition. In it, concepts and topology (or reason and emotion) are no longer even notionally to be sundered, and the brain’s analog ability of topological orientation, articula­tion, and anamorphosis is basic to and permanently involved in all digital conceptualization.

Such a horizon would take us beyond that of Jaggar’s brilliant and seminal essay. Yet located where we are now, we still have to argue for an emotion which is ontogenetically and phylogenetical­ly prior to conceptuality, but axiologically a necessary intimate component of all reasoning or cognition, topological or conceptu­al. Her indication that the clarifying feedback between emotions and conceptual reflecting on them is particularly necessary for oppressed societal groups is for me still central, even if re­phrased as a feedback traffic between the submerged topological and visible  systematico‑conceptual parts of an iceberg. This plebeian point of view from below belongs, I would add, to social classes and groupings where it is in people’s interest, in order both to  survive under and work to change exploitive and humili­ating conditions, to yoke together and mutually clarify “gut feelings” and cognition; as opposed to people in the upper class­es who have a strong vested interest in their isolation and muddying. True, in  hegemony‑ridden practice the plebeian imagi­nation and plebeian interests are repressed and as a rule coopt­ed, thus often not recognized by themselves. Nonetheless, their potentiality or horizon must be given a preferential epistemolog­ical option. Obversely and complementarily, this means that those of us who wish to turn such an orientation into a stable stance have to begin by taking seriously “the epistemic potential of emotion” (Jaggar, “Love” 163) — and of the topological imagina­tion.

The only useful definition of reason, taking off from the OED sense 10.a: “intellectual power…employed in adapting thought or action to some end,” necessarily includes emotion — for how could one adapt thought or action to some end without evaluation, intention, and similar epistemic goads or stimuli? In that case, reason should be added as yet another pseudo‑synonym to the cognition, knowledge, and understanding from 1.0. I strongly wish to retain and indeed expand the concept of reason (as well as others developed to deal with its internal articulation and connections, such as inferences or entailments). But in face of the terrible ravages of capitalist ratio and bureaucratic binar­ism, this can today only be defended on the understanding that “the structure of rationality is much richer than any set of [disembodied] logical patterns…” (Johnson 5), or any horizontal recombination of such exclusively conceptual sets considered without the vertical body stances, evaluations, emotions, and other imaginative, topological interactions with collective reality.


1/ My thanks for support in research leading to this article go to the SSHRC of Canada as well as to the Killam Award of the Canada Council; for our indispensable discussions to Marc Ange­not, Chang Huei‑keng, Fredric Jameson, and particularly to Gene Gendlin, whose generous comments made me rewrite much of the emotion vs. concept argument, even if not radically enough for his taste; and for critical reading to Paul Coates. All transla­tions from non‑English texts, unless otherwise indicated, are mine.

2/ In particular, I have for practical reasons chosen not to instance here from a great number of fields and approaches which I suspect could also be useful. Let me mention only — exemplarily — the post‑Marx analyses of capitalism, the Durkheimian micro‑sociology of group “rituals,” and the post‑Weber sociology of knowledge and religion or myth, where I am aware of substantial contributions by (e.g.) Mauss, Mannheim, W. Mills, Garfinkel or Goffman. But such fields may be endless: Mauss already implies anthropology, and what would Lévi‑Strauss be without topology (spatial and tonal)?

3/ As can be seen from his title, Gendlin is actually dubious about the terms “form” and “pattern,” and assigns them usually to logical or conceptual thought only. But then he rightly finds (e.g. in 77, 102, 145‑47) that he can use them for non‑conceptual articulation too, and I shall follow the latter practice which does not surrender the terms to Objectivism. The ellipse in the first quote is Gendlin’s.

4/ See Suvin, “Performance” 11‑13 and passim (with a lengthy bibliography). Investigation of socialized action, I argue there, englobes  formalized semiotic procedures. They were not addressed in this first approach, but considerations of signic meaning and systems, in particular the central organon of historically in­duced Possible Worlds, would at a later stage of discussion become indispensable.

5/ I would situate here also entailment, which I would attempt to redefine (just as inference and reason itself may be redefined by foregrounding their hegemonically recessive  senses), in this case by using the recognized but downplayed sense of entailment as “material implication” (rather than the strictly conceptually necessary, “strong” implication — see OED 519).

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