Darko Suvin                                                                                               (1983-86, 12,000 words)

0. I would like to do two things simultaneously in this paper. First, to test and develop an approach to agential analysis of narrative which is based on a hypothesis explained at some length in other places. (1) Second, to test the yield of that approach and hypothesis when applied to–very selected–instances of agential systems in Chinese classical prose (which would at a later stage lead to a longer test confronting one classical European and Chinese novel). I realize how imprudent this latter attempt is for somebody as fully ignorant of the Chinese language and as largely ignorant of its cultural intertext as I am, and I can only hope to offset this by concentrating on aspects and macro-proportions I understand somewhat better.

1. For a System of Narrative Agents

1.0. The first meta-problem that cannot be avoided is one of pertinence. Is it useful to use the complex and sometimes clumsy machinery of (even a non-scientistic variant of) narratology or narrative semiotics to analyze such well-known works as a novel  by Wu Jing-zi (or by Balzac)? (2) My answer is conditionally but clearly positive. Positive, because narratology is, within a cluster of young disciplines such as the theory of literature–or if you wish fictional anthropology–one of the youngest and least developed, so that it cannot afford to refuse illumination of its domain wherever the light might be coming from. Only conditionally positive, because it has to be conceded that the highly interesting cognitive potentials of semiotics have up to now, at least in dealing with narrative agents, been dominated by an a-historical universalism and scientism, by a syndrome I have elsewhere–in the  longer critique referred to, which I must here again do without–called glossocracy (or, if one prefers it, linguistic imperialism). I hope we shall be able to build upon the historical fundaments of agential analysis in Aristotle and Propp, who proceed by means of socio-historical induction from precise cultural processes such as genres and discursive traditions, as opposed to unchecked deduction from very dubious “universal laws which constitute the unconscious operation of the spirit.” (3) Should it prove possible to use semiotics as an analytical technique rather than a technocratic ideology, then it may take a useful, perhaps even a key, place within the polyphony of critical approaches. Particularly within a domain (the agential theory) that has to cope with such vexed knots as character and type, we are in dire need not so much of new as (be it said with some sadness) of coherent and encompassing views. With that in mind, I would like  to  define narrative agents in a first approximation as all nouns or nominal syntagms that can be imagined as separate animate entities, and thus (in contrast to the inanimate objects) as able to undertake an action in a given textual universe. This is not a fully formalized definition perhaps, since it begs a number of unresolved questions: and foremost, what is an action? Nonetheless, it seems to me that its mixture of intuitive and verifiable elements should be sufficient for a first approach.

1.1. If some such delimitation of this field is accepted, the  first significant fact that stands out is its grave underdevelopment. From Bakhtin to Chatman and Culler, two full generations lament the scandalous blanks in even a theory of surface-level agents, the characters. This lament maintains that practically the only advance in this field between Aristotle and the end of the 1970s  was E.M.

Forster’s distinction between “round” and “flat” characters. (4) A possible exception might perhaps have been the attempts of French semiotics and its theory of actants, beginning with l966 (the date of Communications no. 8 devoted to the analysis of récit and of Greimas’s first book). However, in my Versus article mentioned, I have been forced to conclude that, despite its stimulating and pioneering opening of prospects, its only achievement has been to renew the old insight that agential analysis has to encompass several levels. (They were called pratton vs. ethos, viz. function vs. dramatis persona, already in Aristotle and Propp; Propp and Souriau were also perfectly clear about the possibility of distributing participation in their metatextual or deeper agential level among several textual agents, and viceversa.) My conclusion rests on two basic objections to Greimas’s theory.

     First, Greimas articulated the level which he called the actants–the level of function in the action or plot–by means of an undue extension of Indo-European sentence syntax into an eternal analogy to the workings of the human brain. He forgot  his patron-saint’s warning that “there is no language whose vocabulary can be deduced from the syntax,” and that therefore in narrative entities, a fortiori, grammar and vocabulary do not even operate on distinct level but “adhere to each other on their whole surface and completely overlap,” (5) i.e. that in narrativity everything is simultaneously both syntax and vocabulary. Thus, in this domain  Souriau’s pre-semiotic account of “thematic forces” (with due translation from his astrological vocabulary into the pragmatic vocabulary of–as I propose–the Protagonist, Antagonist, Value, Mandator, Beneficiary, and Satellite) seems much more useful. Second, following the master, all Greimasians hesitate between using two and hinting at more (usually three) levels of agential analysis. That possible third level was already mentioned, though not systematized either, by such precursors as Bogatyrev (type) and Souriau (rôle and rôle pur), most succinctly and authoritatively within the vocabulary of the time by Frye (stock type):

All lifelike characters, whether in drama or fiction, owe their consistency to the appropriateness of the stock type which belongs to their dramatic function. That stock type is not the character but it is as necessary to the character as a skeleton is to the actor who plays it. (6)

 The French semioticians simply transferred the whole discussion onto the field of universalist syntax and called it rôle and rôle  actantiel in Greimas, (7) rôle both in Alexandrescu’s discussion of Faulkner and in Bremond’s eternal agential inventory, rôle formel in Rastier, emploi in Hamon, etc. It might be argued that the term used is not of primary importance if the level of analysis is clearly delimited and articulated. However, any basic term will inflect the way we perceive its universe of discourse, and it is therefore at least of some importance: we have learned that language speaks us as much as we speak it, so that, in Confucius’s terms, we must “rectify the names” (zhen ming). Thus, the terminological hesitations and contradictions of the Greimasians are correlative to their never having systematized agential analysis. “Emploi,” e.g., obviously confuses a very particular theatrico-historical species with the genus; nor would I favour “role” either in French or English because of its invitation to huge confusion both with an actor’s part of the text in theatre and with the whilom fashionable sociological theory of role-playing, feeding back into some literary and theatre theories.

1.2. In order to draw the necessary conclusions from the discussions of the last 60 years and bring some order to the present mess, I propose we should accept–mutatis mutandis — both Forster’s distinction between “round” and “flat” agents, and the Propp-Souriau addition of a still deeper level of textual agents (appropriating for it Greimas’s term of actants without adopting his articulation or horizons). I shall call Forster’s agents character and type. “Character” ought to be self-explanatory (yet cf. 1.3 below). “Type” is not only suitably Anglo-French but it could also draw useful sustenance from two sources. First, from the theatre tradition (primarily in English) shrewdly used by Frye, which uses such terms as “type of role,” “typecast,” “stock type,” etc, and has in this century through the conduit of the theatrum mundi metaphor invaded even some rather fuzzy sociology in the disguise of “role.” Second, it can draw sustenance from a confrontation with its wide use in literary criticism, e.g. with both biblical and Lukcsian typology, accepting their richness and rejecting their rigid limitations.

     At this point it would be possible to inventorize at length a number of contributions to a clear definition and delimitation of what I take to be this third, intermediate level indispensable for agential analysis. I shall content myself with acknowledging that for all my disagreement with their ideological horizons I have used hints from the names mentioned so far, as well as from Doutrepont, Todorov, and Ubersfeld, (8) in order to construct the following table which I present as my basic hypothesis, and which I can here defend only through its analytical yield. It should be strongly stressed that the three levels of analysis, numbered in my table from the deepest level upward, are cumulative and not alternative. The two basic ones, actants and types, are to be found in every narrative text; the uppermost one, characters in Forster’s “round” sense, may or may not be present in any given text (that depends on its epistemic epoch and genre). This might already point to the key position of the intermediate level.

     At any rate, in this essay, which does not pretend to exhaust the interpretation of any particular text,  I shall focus on this second level of types. Type can be perhaps best defined as in Whewell: “A Type is an example of any class, for instance, a species of a genus, which is considered as eminently possessing  the characters of the class.” (9) The formal openness of such a definition can avoid any apriorism (biblical, Lukácsian, or other) in favour of sociohistorical contextuality á la Bakhtin, Benjamin, and Brecht. Typicality may in this sense be based on any categorization that has in cultural history been taken (rightly or wrongly from a present point of view) to classify people or agents. Types, thus, can be and have been classified by sex-cum-age,  by nationality, by profession, by social estate or class, by physiology and moral philosophy (Aristotle’s ethos, the Galenic “temperaments” or “humours”), often by what we would feel are combinations of the above categories (Diderot’s conditions, e.g. Father or Judge, seem to contaminate profession, class, and social role), etc.


 Let me offer just one set of examples: the agential semantic field of fighting/warring or fighter/warrior may be articulated as an ideal (but also largely historical) sequence traversing the scale of predicative complexity (see column 2 in my table). At its lower end would be found a mythological personification of War or Ares in Antiquity, or analogous agents outside Europe (e.g.  some emplois in the Peking Opera), or an allegorical personification such as the medieval Ira (Wrath). All such agents are predicatively poor (though not at all necessarily ineffective) types since they have, I think, two traits only: the combative characteristic (wrathfulness, aggressiveness) and the position or Stellenwert in the system of polytheism, cardinal sins, or similar. The Commedia dell’arte maschera of “Capitano” has already about half a dozen traits, say officer, middle-aged, braggart, coward, indigent, and Spanish (though the ethnic trait varies according to local history and prejudice). What seems to me constitutive of any type is that it possesses a relatively small number of traits (I have not found more than half a dozen in any so far examined, but this remains a field to be investigated), which are all culturally congruent or compatible. This compatibility should in every particular historical case be explainable as the result of a feedback interaction between the social reality from which the traits are taken and the criteria of verisimilitude of the social addressees for whom the text is intended. On the contrary, any character in the sense of the uppermost level in my Table, say Falstaff, will unite in him/herself at least two conflicting, i.e. culturally incongruous traits.

1.3. If anything like the above hypothesis  is accepted, far-reaching consequences ensue for the history of narrativity. For in that case, the answer to the question: which agential level is to be found on the surface of the text and which in the presuppositions or depths of the text, is neither single nor eternal, based on a universal syntax and/or the structure of the Homo sapiens brain. On the contrary, it is a changing answer, and the changes are correlative to changes in dominant aspects of those sociohistorical relationships between people of which that text treats, as seen through the presuppositions of both the text’s author and the social addressees to whom the text speaks. Such changes in what we can call a fictional and experimental anthropology (or view of people and human relationships to each other and to societal institutions) happen, no doubt, within a long duration measured in epochs, but they are nonetheless part and parcel of the major, indeed “anthropological” shifts in human history. The Individualistic practice and notion of “character”–in other words, a whole new narrative and analytical level of agents–arises in the European spacetime of Boccaccio, Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Gogol’, in whose texts its coming into being can be palpably traced. Character in the sense of my Table seems clearly to be not only a key ideological notion and fictional device but also a key anthropological categorization, view, or theoria of the world, best fixed by and experimented with in fiction (and painting and theatre). It is born and prevails together–and thus it is in some ways consubstantial–with the bourgeoisie, capitalist economy, the turn of human relationships toward atomization, quantification, and reification including equality before the law, and the whole well-known historical cluster accompanying the rise of this new, Individualist epistémé. Or, obversely, where the Individualist epistémé does not prevail — e.g. in China — neither does the character.

     The startlingly radical change in the historical semantics of key terms such as “individual,” “personality,” “character,” or “subject” would in itself be a sufficient proof of agential historicity. In English, “individual” originally meant the oppo-site of what it came to mean after the 16th-17th century watershed, namely an indivisible unity or community in multiplicity, e.g. the Christian Trinity or “the individuall Catholicke Church” (as Milton still wrote). The singular noun “individual” emancipated itself from explicit and subordinate relation “to the group of which it was, so to say, the ultimate indivisible division” only late in the 18th century–a characteristic example of the new usage occurring in Adam Smith! The full-fledged ideology of “Individualism” emerged then in the 19th century, in the English translation of Tocqueville (characteristically, a French reflection on the young America), who calls it “a novel expression, to which a novel idea has given birth”. And the use of “character” for fictional agents dates in English from mid-18th century. Earlier, if applied to people at all, it had meant their more or less fixed nature, their reputation, or the fixed type and literary genre popularized by Theophrastus, La Bruyère, and Overbury. (10) Such  diametrically contrary meanings before and after the (say) Bacon-to-Rousseau watershed are an evident instance of how the interhuman or anthropological practice of a radically new social construction of reality changes even some basic elements of cultural vision, and thus of narrative and fictional horizons too. In this context, the Chinese practice up to, say, the 18th century ought to be a crucial test.

     To avoid misunderstandings, I shall add that none of my arguments so far speaks to the historical necessity and value–or the obverse–of the rise of Individualistic character, e.g. in Balzac. This is a domain in which we need much more fundamental investigation by scholars willing to admit, and if warranted compensate for, their inevitable initial bias, in order to strike a balance between what seem to me the obvious huge advantages and the obvious huge limitations of that truly historical process. For, the enrichment initially brought by the rise of such a “character” is undeniable, and cognate to the epoch of sudden changeability. A character is defined by having among its more numerous traits at least two culturally conflicting or contradictory ones. Therefore, its kind of behaviour cannot be fully foreseen–as different from the kind of behaviour of a Miser, an ingénue, a Senex, a Miles gloriosus or a Strongman, which is fully foreseeable (though, of course, the concrete or detail behaviour of any such type is not, otherwise one could write only one tale about each type). Nonetheless, without treading further into this minefield, I wish to note two limiting aspects to character.  First, it is as a rule built upon a metatextual (or should one say “bathytextual”?) existence of one or–as just noted–several types; I shall return to this in my discussion of the texts. Second, the victory of the Individualist character has never been complete. It was always confined not only to the Individualist epoch but also to its typical or dominant genres–e.g., to the psychological novel and the well-made play as against the fairy tale, the paraliterature, the farce, the melodrama, and the great bulk of modern avantgarde literature and drama of the last 100 years (which would in this hypothesis look like the beginning of the end of Individualism).

     The instability or “shallowness” of this agential level of characters may be seen in the semantic fact that their inalienable hallmark, the proper name, can be returned to social typicality and become a common noun simply by adding an article or a suffix. Of Molière’s two nearest approaches to character, Tartuffe became “les Tartuffes” in the plural already in his first placet to the King, in August 1564, and not too much later we find mention of “a tartuffe” and “tartufferie”; similarly, as of Molire’s (and then Mozart’s) memorable refashioning of Tirso de Molina’s don Juan Tenorio, that supposed individual readily passes into the notion of “le donjuanisme” and the plural “les Don Juans”: into a pattern or exemplar. Not to insist on the Chinese stage, an overcoded and thus possibly not stringent example, half a dozen agents from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (San-guo-zhi yan-yi) alone have become popular types: e.g., Guan Yu an exemplary –even a deified! — emblem “of unwavering fidelity to his lord” (Ruhlmann 149–cf. S 83), or Zhuge Liang a generical noun for a shrewd and resourceful person.

  1. On the Agential Logic in Chinese Popular Fiction and on Its Types

2.1. I would hope that this or a similar approach might also throw some new light on one of the most vexed problems of Sino-European (and indeed North-South or bourgeois vs. Third World) comparative narratology, the debate about the absence of Individualist “round” characters from classical Chinese prose. As put by probably the most sophisticated theoretical overview in European languages, Professor Plaks’s “Toward a Critical Theory of Chinese Narrative”–which fortunately eschews the embarrassing pretensions of cultural imperialism that whatever is not bourgeois is aberrant–in the Chinese tradition “the uniqueness of the individual figure may derive less from the originality or novelty of individualized attributes, than from the particular combination of commonly-held human attributes brought together in his [i.e. the figure’s, DS] portrayal.” (11) Striving for further refinement, I would say that what is original in Individualist characters is not the attributes, which are by linguistic definition traditional (unless they are neologisms), but their combination around the axis of one or more doxologically incompatible pairs of attributes. Individualism has, of course, no monopoly on causal verisimilitude or presentation of detail. A non-Individualist narrative agent may well have a number of quite detailed traits, indeed an “extreme subtlety of delineation,” without at all ceasing to be a type: “the individuality of characters becomes less important than the interplay and overlapping of types that actually defines the individual’s existence in the first place”  (Plaks 344). In an insight crucial for agential theory in general (which I had ignorantly reinvented in “Per una teoria” [see note 1] à propos of Molière), Plaks brilliantly deduced that this distinction between type and overlap of types corresponds to and accounts for the difference between primary and secondary “characters” (i.e. agents) in Chinese narrative.  This is also of a piece with two further basic tendencies of agential deployment which he notes. First, “the blatant redundancy of characterization…–the constant reappearance of narrative figures with only a change of name and exterior details” (346; I would demur at “exterior,” the more so since Plaks goes on to demolish convincingly the disjunction of inner and outer self). Second, the development in longer Chinese fiction of “groups and sets of figures”–in my terms, a system of very few types which are presented either “purely” or, more interestingly, in various overlapping combinations, i.e. with various differential traits superadded to a common nucleus of traits–“rather than concentrating on the delineation of the individual hero in isolation” (Plaks 345). Examples would include the rebels in Outlaws of the Marsh (Shui-hu zhuan), the women in Jin-ping mei, the various groupings of intellectuals and/or officials as well as of plebeians in The Scholars (Ru-lin wai-shi), or the 12 girls of Prospect Garden and the Bao-yu–Dai-yu–Bao-chai triangle in Story of the Stone (Hong-lou meng). They latch on to a deep tradition of Chinese writing–already Szuma Chien’s biographies are categorized under “Assassins,” “Jesters,” “Money-Makers,” “Harsh Officials,” etc.

 2.2. In this light, the typology in the Outlaws is a revealing basic example. I would divide the axiologically positive narrative types to be found in this novel–all variants of the heroic protagonist-actant from the popular, oral-tale tradition–into three: the few female heroines or amazons, e.g. Goodwife Hu (who are more a concession to a folk taste for the marvellous than carefully explicated); and two main subdivisions of the male popular hero or hao han, good fellow: the cunning (e.g. the yamen scribe Song Jiang) and the strongmen. (12) Most of the about 100 male rebels at Liang-shan and all the female ones  will be a “pure” type.  The strongmen of Outlaws share the basic traits of hao han heroism or protagonism (savage courage, justice, macho generosity and loyalty to their sworn brothers, fondness for food and drink) and substitute strength to the guile of the cunning hao han. On top of this, they are mutually differentiated by personal appearance (physique, dress, quality in battle) which is as a rule related to their expressive nickname, and, I think,  by one further distinctive trait, usually a kind of emblematic fusion of temperament and social background  (Li Kui’s berserk subversiveness, Wu Song’s methodical destructiveness, etc.). Another important way of differentiation is the setting up within one trait  of sub-sets  (most important, of prowess in one particular weapon or guileful strategy rather than in another) and/or of quantitative gradations (Song Jiang’s supreme generosity makes him the outlaw leader).

     However, the narrative agents are here–as in most novels–divided into two groups, central and marginal. As opposed to the subsidiary “pure” types, the few main agents (the consensus doctorum pegs them at eight, all of them male) contaminate the predicates of the extant types, i.e. the cunning and the strong, in different ways. They therefore already seem to be–in a retroactive teleological illusion which I think is not necessarily correct–part of the way toward a “character” in the round sense. In that way, the agents of Outlaws would be comparable–though not quite identical–to Molière’s improvement on and step forward from the Commedia dell’arte, the agents of which are all on the same level of single type. Significantly, it was Rousseau’s reading of the misanthrope in the eponymous play that heralded the new epistémé‘s will to see characters in what everybody until then saw as types by Molière’s own definition.

     A somewhat unexpected and possibly highly significant conclusion emerges: the central, topical agential set as a whole in a Chinese text will equal (or surpass) the contradictory complexity and richness of traits found in a central character in an Individualist (Euro-American post-Cervantes) text of a comparable quality. If one wishes to put it into an oxymoron, in the Chinese (as in any non-Individualist) fictional tradition the group is the collective individual.

2.3. Much evidence of how these two types come from the tradition of protagonists in Chinese popular fiction–and finally from the reality and ideology of the Chinese class system–is to be found in Ruhlmann’s  cited essay. It distinguishes not only popular, scholarly, and princely heroes (though his typology is not always consistent), but also subsidiary types in prose fiction, drama, and historical writings: military heroes and solitary swordsmen, principled and oppressive officials, venerable immortals, various villains, virtuous women, heartless and golden-hearted courtesans, born rulers and romantic protagonists, filial and idle sons, etc. The list could be not only supplemented but also streamlined into a coherent typology with a finite number of coordinated and subordinated differences. I cannot do this here, but I would suggest that, beside subdivisions (officials ranking from low magistrate through judge to prime minister and indeed emperor, villains from cruel highwayman through traitor to the bad “last ruler”) and recombinations (the wicked prime minister combines traitor with supremely oppressive official), most types would have to be grouped around one or more good vs. bad axes. It would seem to me the fundamental Chinese tradition is one of robust moralizing in binary patterns, later complicated by Daoist dialectics and more complex patterns (e.g. the five elements in Cao’s agential system). Thus, should we wish to pursue the development of narrative agents in some further classical Chinese novels, we would have to note how in Wu Jing-zi’s Scholars (to be discussed in part 3) the agential system gets both more complex and presented in more complex ways than in Outlaws, while for Cao Xue-qin’s Story of the Stone I think nobody who does not know Chinese should dare to conclude just how different they are from characters (though I would speculate they were not intended to be European-style Individualist characters, so that even Bao-yu is for all his oscillations of mood not really an internally contradictory agent of the kind that Balzac’s Lucien or Proust’s Marcel are).

     This first discussion seems to confirm the hypothesis of my approach, i.e. that the key agential level, indispensable in all narrative, is the level of types in the sense of the above Table. It should be stressed that this is in the first instance a technical or alethic and not an axiological statement: only in the second instance, having clarified this formal aspect, the interpretation may intervene with a value judgment. Furthermore, my argumentation and exemplification will necessarily be laconic, pretending to a suggestiveness which should be developed further in the reader’s imagination rather than to a fullness for which a monograph would barely suffice.

  1. The Agential System of “The Scholars”

3.0. In this final part of my essay I want to analyze the agential system of the classical Chinese novel The Scholars by Wu Jing-zi (Wu Ching-tzu). I believe that highly significant comparisons could be drawn between it and a classical European novel such as Lost Illusions (Les Illusions perdues) by Honoré de Balzac. These would be restricted to inductions from their agential systems, but it is precisely on that basis that the two texts seem intuitively comparable, since the thematic or topical field of both could be called the disenchantments of the intellectual(s). However, that parallel must regretfully be left for another occasion. Indeed, space will allow me to insist only on some bold outlines and highlights of the groupings in S.

3.1. The “Xian-zhai lao-ren” Preface to the earliest extant (1803) edition of Wu’s Scholars, probably penned by the author himself, defines its topic-cum-attitude–and therefore the main profile and groupings of narrative agents–to my mind quite cogently as follows:

This book as a whole takes career, fame, wealth, and rank [gong-ming fu-gui] as its theme. There are those who are tempted by gong-ming fu-gui and play up to people, humbling themselves; those who, relying on gong-ming fu-gui, become stuck up and arrogant to people; those who pretend not to be interested in gong-ming fu-gui and consider themselves superior, only to be seen through and laughed at by people. There are others, however, who truly reject gong-ming fu-gui; ultimately, the book regards their level as the highest, like the rock which stands against the current. (13)

This Preface in fact develops the chord first struck at the very beginning of the book itself: “…in human life riches, rank, success and fame are external things….[T]heir taste is no better than chewed tallow. But from ancient times till now, how many have accepted this?” (S 1-2). One can begin delineating the agential groupings in the novel on the basis of this opposition between participation and non-participation in the gong-ming fu-gui rat-race.  Of the ca. 300 narrative agents in S, of which between 30 and 60 could be considered more important, a brief analysis striving for an overview can only mention those few whose position within the basic groupings in the text is so strategic that it will provide general orientations for the rest too. These strategic groupings may be examined in two main ways, syntagmatically and paradigmatically.

3.2. The syntagmatic grouping follows or better constitutes the development of the novel’s plot or fabula. It is by now not necessary to go on proving that Wu’s plot has a perfectly valid logic of its own. This could in part be analyzed following the evolution of social ceremonies and spaces, also of dreams, prophecies, and supernatural apparitions in S, but all of them are correlative to the narrative agents (e.g. the positive agents are characterized by laughing and by liking nature and their wives; the negative, by trusting ambiguous or false foretellings; etc.). Wu’s structuring, however, is not based on following the fates of a single group of narrative agents. It effects a cross-cut  composed of various, interlocking pragmatic and axiological agential groups representative for the whole huge and crucially important social class of literati or scholars and for the evolution of its social roles through several generations. These agents have to be linked by internal echoes and correspondences which validate their choice as exemplary and encompassing, in order to be felt by the reader as representative not only when presented singly but also when presented as a collective device that renders an encompassing (Lukcs would say “totalizing”) societal or anthropological perspective and judgment. I can here deal only with the major groupings. This means I shall regretfully disregard the doubtless important pairs of relatives and classmates, or the correspondences between single members of different groups. The same will hold for the very important trajectories of corruption which shift individuals and indeed families from the positive to the negative group, e.g. Kuang Chao-ren (Kuang Chao-jen), or the Bao (Pao) and Qu (Chu) generations (Hsia 229-30 and Wong 79) which almost resemble Gorkii’s Artamonovs (Delo Artamonovykh).

     I cannot discuss here either, but I wish at least to mention, one of Wu’s basic indirect techniques for limning narrative agents, which could be called the “delayed recognition” (time-bomb?) technique. It consists of a gradual introduction of different and often contradictory traits, so that only their cumulation and juxtaposition–including their cancelling each other out, mainly of words by deeds–will give a final picture. This necessitates close and repeated reading, but also makes for the reader’s more active involvement (much as in Brecht’s Verfremdung technique to which it is akin): the reader must weigh the often widely scattered traits by constant axiological judgment of how they form an ensemble.

     Also, I am adopting the five-part division of the novel suggested by Professor Hsia (224) and several others, organized around the “prologue” and “epilogue” of Wang Mian (Wang Mien) and the four eccentric plebeians as well as around the climax of the temple refurbishing in chapters 31-37, with the more episodic parts two and four filling in the remainder (chapters 2-30 and 38-54). I take the axiological status of the narrative agents to be consubstantial with this division; it is the interaction of agents (and their spaces or chronotopes) which constitutes Wu’s basic compositional logic.

     I believe Wu’s system of narrative agents can best be grasped as divided into three axiological groups: the clearly (but not as a rule totally) positive, the clearly negative, and the intermediary (in various degrees). This is a very rich and flexible system. Within it, the agents not only interact pragmatically but also constitute an almost continuous spread where their axiologically extreme groups interlace with the intermediate group. On the other hand, for all of its impliciteness, it is also a system with clear and indubitable values.

     The most positive agents are those who, while still retaining excellence in the traditional intellectual pursuits, totally opt out of the official system–the five plebeians framing the futile bustling about of the book’s insiders. They are not totally perfect either (nobody is, in this radical satire). Wang Mian, the peasant genius of chapter 1, represents a slightly idealized past. Even in it, one had finally to flee officialdom and the emperor by losing oneself in the plebeian mass; but one could at least for a while both be a recluse who lives off one’s painting and be consulted by the founding emperor-hero before he had consolidated his rule. This state of affairs is expressly demonstrated as preposterously impossible in the world of the other 54 chapters of the novel: where Zhuang’s (Chuang Shao-kuang) interview with the emperor must be foiled by the ludicrous scorpion sting, a kind of cosmic confirmation of the politics-as-jungle view exemplified at all levels of power from the envious prime minister down; where very few unofficial intellectuals can live from their work; and where people who pretend to opt out of society either do not really mean it or cannot manage to carry it off. This decay from a semi-open to a more and more closed political and psychological situation is indeed the prerequisite for understanding why all the other positive agents in the novel can–within the heightened pressures of the devolving system–be thought of as positive, although they are manifestly less perfect than the exemplary Wang Mian. They are doing the best that can be done in an increasingly corrupt age by withdrawing from officialdom; Wu’s both ethically absolute and yet at the same time historically pragmatic, unyielding but humane, value-system treats this withdrawal as clearly positive (the alternative would be to treat everybody after chapter 1 as negative, which seems obviously absurd). (14)

     Within the positive group, the four plebeians in the last chapter are to a great extent a highly significant and hopeful sign. But they too are far from perfect. First of all, not only have the traditional four leisure pursuits of the scholar been split off from public service, they have also been split among four people. Second, as opposed to the four commoners’ clearly positive functioning in the novel on the typical level, their characters have been rendered eccentric and to a certain degree genuinely unpleasant by the pressures of the extremely heavy system of social disapprovals and approvals wielded against them (cf. Lin 263). They are in fact–a fact which demonstrates Wu’s uncommon genius–the nearest this novel gets to Balzac-type characters, because they are beginning to live in an approximately Balzacian world. The strategic placing of these five plebeians at the beginning and end of S multiplies their effect: “The opening account of Wang Mien allows us to understand the irony ruling the action of all the dunces; the closing account of the four eccentrics makes us reflect back and understand subtleties we might have missed” (Wong 93). I shall return to the significance of the ending agents in 3.5. Finally, a few narrative agents in the intervening chapters serve as both after-riples of Wang and forebodings of the four plebeians, insofar as they observe the old virtues without being officials–notably a few women, the actor Bao Wen-qing and Filial Guo (Kuo Tieh-shan).

     At the other end of the axiological spread are a number of negative agents, those who subordinate learning to gong-ming fu-gui. They take the lion’s share, say 46 from the 55 chapters (though the chapters are not monolithic, and this little statistic is intended to indicate only orders of greatness, not precise proportions). I shall return to them below.

     The last major grouping is that of the  temple builders — Du Shao-qing, Dr. Yu, Zhuang Shao-guang, Chi Heng-shan, etc. (Tu Shao-ching, Yu Yu-teh, Chuang Shao-kuang, Chih Heng-shan). They occupy a syntagmatically, quantitatively, and qualitatively intermediate position, being treated as clearly more positive than negative but in some ways already tainted. Some of them participate in the official system, or attempt to gain fame and in some cases to make a career; at any rate each and every one of them  is doomed to ineffectiveness, and their supreme attempt at reinfusing vigour into old pieties to swift decay. Chapter 37, the temple consecration, is undoubtedly the compositional climax of the novel, in the sense that the general state of affairs in its world goes continuously downhill after it. No positive agents have a chance of even partial social or collective success any more; in particular, nobody expects the scholars’ efforts to be of any avail any more, so that the focus shifts away from them. However, the consecration can axiologically be treated either as    climax, or as anti-climax. (15) I would tend to see it as a subtle balance between both, correlative to my view that many among the most important narrative agents of classical Chinese prose (and of Wu Jing-zi in particular) are dialectically bipolar ones: their axiological center of gravity is always somewhat–and sometimes much–nearer to, but never quite identified with, one of the two ends of the spectrum.

     Thus, each of the three groups above should be treated not as a static point on the extreme ends or in the middle of an axiological gradation, but as a spectrum. A quantitative metaphor (no more) may indicate the spread of the first group, the negative agents. They range from a 99% negativity–found in conscious hypocrites; bullies like senior licentiate Yan (Yen); careerists and toadies of all ranks, the higher the worse, like Fan Jin (Fan Chin) and Wang Hui; impostors appropriating other people’s writings like Niu Pu-lang and Qu Xian-fu (Chu Hsien-fu); and of course combinations of all these–to a 70% negativity (e.g. the ba-gu essays’ compiler but kind friend Ma Chun-shang).  These various negative agents are the followers of gong-ming fu-gui stressed by the somewhat more orthodoxly Confucian Preface (cited in 3.1), which can therefore serve to effect internal delimitations within this group, as well as to delimit it from the positive one. The second or intermediate group is the clearly more positive than negative, say (as the Chinese habit would have it) “seven parts good and three parts bad” (70% positive), temple consecrators. The third or clearly positive group–accentuated equally by its restricted number, extreme social position, and syntagmatic collocation at beginning and end–is composed by the protagonists of the first and last chapter, who are perhaps 90% positive. Thus, within the overall bipolar spread, Wu’s system clearly tends towards negativity–as befits a satire.

3.3. With these last discussions I have already entered upon a paradigmatic grouping of narrative agents, by which is meant an ideal synoptic constellation in a logical space–a semantic topology–independent of the plot sequence (which can be thought of as its source or its unfolding). The various sets of narrative  types are used in S for the obvious express purpose of constituting a bipolar spread pragmatically and axiologically sufficient to encompass the whole “world of learning”–as the title could be translated (cf. the beginning of 3.4 below). The “world of learning” indicates not only the whole crucial social class of literati or intellectuals but also (by metonymy) the value-system officially paid lip-service to and subversively redefined in the novel as well as  the whole Chinese society.

     My hypothesis is that these sets of types can be organized in a few oppositions, all of which hinge upon learning and morality. Learning is here not to be taken simply as factual or ideological knowledge (either of which in its debased, rote form is indeed the epitome of fake or anti-learning). On the contrary, it is to be taken in the original sense going back not only to Lao-ze and Confucius but beyond them to the tribal values and the first dynasties: the sense in which no opposition is possible between the quantitative and qualitative face of cognition, expertise and wisdom, or–as the European Middle Ages put it — scientia and sapientia. In that precise sense (which only decomposed with capitalism), true learning necessarily entails personal contentment, and no agent in S who laughs long, loud, and sincerely enough is negative. It also entails morality: the possession of true learning, e.g. by those I shall call the three peaks,  is equivalent to an absolutely positive moral choice. This is best seen in the extreme case of the positive characters of chapters 1, 31-37, and 55, who could be represented by the Chinese ideogram for mountain, only here  with 2 higher peaks instead of   1 (where the height indicates value):

      !     !              !
!_!_!           !_!_!  SHOULD BE DRAWN PROPERLY

That choice awaits everybody, the unlearned too, but in the (truly) learned it has been preempted by the very act of learning. A first and partial table of the literati in S, which opposes true learning “pursued for its own sake” (Chang 344) to fake learning pursued for the sake of either career or fame, and in which morality is subsumed under learning (i.e. the learned are also moral, and the fake learned are also immoral), would be:


                                                       OFFICIALS                           NON-OFFICIALS

TRULY      LEARNED Dr. Yu, Prefect Qu (very few) the temple company
FALSELY  LEARNED almost all other  officials the fake poets &  essay publishers

     It is striking that learning in the course of S tends to become disjoined from officialdom: even Dr. Yu’s relative positiveness is correlative to his being teacher rather than magistrate and in Nanking rather than the capital. (16) All the other learned –and moral–officials either are fast disappearing remnants of the good old times (and even Yu dies soon after the temple ceremony) or get ruined by the supremely idiotic central bureaucracy, a national disaster and the quintessence of the “falsely learned officialdom.” The divergence, and at times even the opposition between officials and moral behaviour is, of course, a traditional theme of Chinese writing and moralizing. Now, however, a radical political disaffection becomes established among the intellectuals. A permanent “inverse relationship [is implied] between one’s status (or one’s status aspirations) and the moral quality of one’s behavior. This implication is made more explicit by the portrayal of lower-class people, such as actors and singers, who lead truly moral lives.” (Ropp 203). No wonder the “peaks” assiduously avoid becoming, or even meeting officials.

     Therefore, the above table, which deals only with distinctions between groups of real or pretended upper-class members, does not suffice any longer. Though this is what the literati traditionally were, one of the highly significant aspects of S is that it is showing and richly articulating the crucial historical juncture at which this can no longer be assumed. It is not only learning and morality but also learning and social status, or indeed class, that begin diverging sharply. At this juncture the literati begin constituting a bohemian-like middle class of their own, similar to the European intelligentsia (e.g. the Russian raznochintsy, literally “those from non-noble estates”), and for much the same fundamental sociological reasons. In some privileged cases they even fuse with the lower class; in S this holds for the initial and final (the highest) peaks–the peasant Wang Mian and the four eccentric  city plebeians at the end, whom I shall call the “five plebeians.” To the traditional “bad official” Wu adds a new type, the morally good and learned plebeian. This–the addition of a new type to the universe of discourse and values–is the most radical gesture that can be imagined in the agential domain. A more comprehensive table would therefore have to add the important lower-class agents:

       Class:                         OFFICIAL     NON-OFFICIAL         LOWER-RANK  LITERATI   


 AGENTSvery fewthe temple company5 plebeians, Bao, wives, Miss ShenIMMORAL

NARR. AGENTSall otherthe fake poetsmost other officials  & essayists

  Very interesting sociological-cum-ethical relations seem implied here: the moral fulcrum of S is situated in the ethical alliance between the bohemians and the lower class. This is exemplified in the relationship of the best “temple company” members to women (Du Shao-qing’s and Zhuang’s relation to their wives, Du’s helping Shen Jiong-zhi [Shen Chiung-chih], the girl who sturdily refused to become a nouveau riche merchant’s concubine), and also to some male plebeians (actor Bao or some old  servants). (17) Though Wu realistically focusses on male agents, and though he presents also corrupt or immoral women (e.g. the prostitute Pin-niang), the Confucian patriarchal tyranny is in S decisively tempered by a reliance on the female principle, in the female agents and in nature. The clearest example might be Wu’s substitution of an invented mother for Wang Mian’s father from the source he used (see Kràl, “Some Methods” 92-96). Father figures fare badly in this novel, an extreme but very significant exemplum being the loathsome Wang Hui, emblematically opposed to his son, “Filial” Guo. It should be stressed that women, actors, and servants were at the societal antipode from the officials, since they were the main groups legally prohibited from even attempting advancement through exams. The bohemians’ moral alliance with them transcends thus gentlemanly scorn of everyday mundanity (e.g. Confucian eremitism) and constitutes a clear denial of that basic social norm.

     The vertical divide in the above table, then, rejoins and amplifies the fundamental distinction between narrative agents who are and who are not under the sway of gong-ming fu-gui.  Wu’s agential paradigm seems to me most usefully expressed by means of a “semiotic quadrangle” which would also possess the peculiarity of the left-hand column being the positive or not swayed and the right-hand column the negative or swayed agents:

                                        + (POSITIVE)          – (NEGATIVE)




    or, in terms of representative agents:



Actually, the situation is more complex. In the positive, left-hand column both the plebeian worthies, beginning with Bao and the women and ending with the four plebeian experts of the final chapter, and the temple company should be situated at various points between Learning and Naivety. Similarly, in the negative, right-hand column the fame-seeking bad poets and essay publishers outside officialdom should be on a spread somewhere between Ignorance and Fake Learning. However, I shall here content myself with this first approximation. (18)

3.4. The authoritative Preface mentioned in 3.1 comments also on the novel’s title, which can be rendered as The Unofficial History (or: Historiography) of the World of Literati (or: of Learning). Its comment directly concerns the “unofficial history” half, which is opposed to and exalted above the pretence at “history proper,” the historiography of the rulers (e.g. the innumerable dynastic compilations) and the fiction mimicking such a history of the rulers (e.g. the Romance of the Three Kingdoms). Nonetheless, the Preface accepts those genres’ “concern with the actual, as opposed to the world of fantasy” (quoted and commented in Chang 341), e.g. as in Journey to the West (Xi-you ji). However, the comment has an indirect bearing also on the second half of the title. As mentioned earlier, the literati or scholars had in one, hegemonic sense been synonymous with officialdom, with the upper class power-structure and bureaucracy. The Preface suggests, and Wu’s novel I think carries out, a genre system in which S is (like the Outlaws and Jin-ping mei) situated in thiswordly actuality–not in a predominantly otherworldly fantasy–and yet it is also unofficial:

                                                                      ACTUALITY                           FANTASY

OFFICIAL HISTORY    historiography  ?,    3 Kingdoms
UNOFFICIAL HISTORY     Scholars   Journey

My question mark indicates the locus of an official history which would also be otherworldly. This does not seem possible as either historiography proper or fiction, but only as doxology, as religious mythology; it is perhaps approximated by a heterodox aestheticizing of such myths–say, “the Bible as literature.” In the non-theistic classical Chinese set it seems to be lacking (a zero-group).

     Within the unofficial-cum-actual history, furthermore, this Preface to S also establishes an opposition between S on the one hand and The Outlaws and Jin-ping mei on the other, which seems both complementary and isomorphic to the above one. S deals with human relationships that are, both in city and country, central to and centrally within the  ruling power-system, while Outlaws deals with a geographical and political margin of the system in an inaccessible marsh  and Jin-ping mei deals with a geographically less obvious but as strongly marked sociological and psychological margin, in a private courtyard. Precisely because it is marginal, the counter-system in each of these latter two novels, in the first case a public and in the second case a private one, can be finally eliminated. S formulates a more radical crisis of the societal system, since the opposition between true learning-cum-morality and the power-structure is irreversible. The sociological locus of these three novels marks the critical radicalness of S:

                                                    CENTRAL & IRREVERSIBLE     MARGINAL & REVERSIBLE

   CITY (PRIVATE)         Scholars Jin-ping mei
(Scholars spans both) Outlaws

          Thus, not only this Preface but Wu’s novel itself seems to me to claim for his horizons of a historiography of the non-rulers–largely based on anecdotal, diary, and joke sources, written or synchronous (19)–a moral and political relevance equal to Confucian historiography and its fictional imitators,  but from an opposed, unofficial or satirical point of view, from downside up or–perhaps better–from the axiological outside, turning the official value-system inside out (wai-shi, I am told, is also translatable as “outside historiography”). This would also explain why this chronicle-novel uses a number of important historiographic techniques, such as the oblique critique  and the biographical sketch or thumbnail characteristic of agents as well as the sparse and allusive unfolding of agential traits mentioned in 3.2 (20): all these devices are part and parcel of a counter-project of equal dignity and equally absolute axiological pretensions. This is, again, radically subversive of the hegemonic cultural opposition which allotted to historiography the public and to fiction the private sphere, and of the whole ensuing genre-system in Chinese literature (cf. Plaks “Towards a Critical Theory” 318-19): the public history has been ruled out of the axiological court. It is seen as a domain where fake values rule: as an axiologically inverted world, a mundus inversus.

3.5. This  investigation should be thought of as quite initial. Nonetheless, it already seems clear that Wu’s novel, together with the powerful social gesture of writing it the way it was written, touches simultaneously many bases–from a meta-reflection on friendly and power-free creativity (e.g., on an unofficial literary genre, xiao-shuo or popular fiction as the “fourth teaching”) (21) to the presentation of an englobing societal model. No doubt, the cognition brought by a significant novel is always richer than its conceptual translation or “ideological equivalent.” Nonetheless, S clearly  explores the inner decay of the traditional moral and ideological (though not yet of the power-wielding) hegemony, the gap–analyzed in 3.3–opening up between two diverging classes: the literati who are fake scholars, careerist pursuers of rank, wealth, and fame, and pillars of the power-system; and the literati who are (to different degrees) true scholars, pursuers of learning opposed to career, and allies of worthy women and plebeians (just as the Journey protagonists were, for all their weaknesses, true questers). It is in this context that the appearance of the four eccentric plebeians, finally the only upholders of the true scholarly  pursuits, acquires the nature of a colon.(22) For all their obvious individual limitations, as an agential group they are something new under the sun–a startlingly open-ended prefiguration of a possibly different state of affairs. In Wu’s classical formulation:

By the twenty-third year of the Wan Li period, all the well- known scholars had disappeared from Nanking….Pleasure haunts and taverns were no longer frequented by men of talent, and honest men no longer occupied themselves with ceremony or letters. As far as scholarship was concerned, all who passed the examinations were considered brilliant and all who failed fools. And as for liberality, the rich indulged in ostentatious gestures while the poor were forced to seem shabby…. Among the townsfolk, however, some outstanding figures emerged. (S 593)


* A first version of this paper, presented at the University of Hong Kong conference “Literature and Anthropology” in Dec. 1983, has been expanded and revised in many details. My thanks go for their invitation, hospitality, and helpfulness to the members of the UHK Department of English Studies and Comparative Literature, my colleagues Aqbar Abbas, Jonathan Hall, Tak-wai Wong, and in particular to Antony and Anita Tatlow. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada made possible my attendance by a travel grant. I am grateful to the discussants of the paper, especially to Dr. Chou Ying-hsiung of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the respondent, and to Prof. Milena Venigerovà-Dolezelovà for indicating to me Słupski’s book, strangely non-existent in all “Western” bibliographies.

  1. See this initial hypothesis in Suvin, “Per una teoria dell’analisi agenziale,” Versus no. 30 (1981): 87-109, which contains a secondary bibliography of over 40 items; also in “On Dramaturgic Agents and Krleža’s Agential Structure,” Modern Drama 27 (1984): 80-97. A full version is in “Can People Be (Re)presented in Fiction,” in Cary Nelson, ed., Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (U of Illinois P). After the first mention in a note, all critical works will be cited in the body of the essay by author’s name and page in parentheses; all translations are mine unless a translator is mentioned.
  2. My use of Pin-yin spelling will be subordinated to fidelity to whatever I am quoting from. The Chinese texts discussed will be cited the first time they are mentioned by the full title of the most accessible English translation and the Pin-yin title in parenthesis, after that by a short form of the English title. Wu Jing-zi’s The Scholars will be referred to as S with the page of the English translation by Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang (Beijing: FLP, 1973), and names from it will be given the first time in Pin-yin with the transcription used in the translation in parenthesis, and after that in Pin-yin only. I am indebted for counsel about, and help in finding secondary literature on, Chinese matters to Prof. Ward Geddes, Adrian Hsia, Paul Lin, and Sam Noumoff of the McGill East Asian Program, and for stimulative insights to the students of my Comparative Literature 1982/83 course on Chinese and European Classical Prose.
  3. Claude Lévi-Strauss, Anthropologie structurale (Paris: Plon, 1958), 75 — to quote a fortunately not quite characteristic formulation by the methodological patron of Parisian semiotics.
  4. Mikhail M. Bakhtin, “Avtor i geroi v èsteticheskoi deiatel’nosti,” in his Èstetika slovesnogo tvorchestva (Moskva: Iskusstvo, 1979; original 1920-24), 10-11; Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse (Ithaca NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1978), 107-08, where three other laments ranging from 1936 to 1966 are also quoted; Jonathan Culler, Structuralist Poetics (London: Routledge, l980; original 1975), 230; E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962; original 1928). Let me add that Chatman exaggerates, for at least two kinds of glaring omissions may be easily found in his judgment: the trajectory from a theory of the “problematic individual” to a  theory of “typical characters” in Lukács’s opus, and the demonstration of larger applicability of Biblical typology in European literature culminating in the works of Auerbach. The two non-Structuralist precursors also mentioned in this paragraph are Vladimir Propp, Morphology of the Folktale (Austin: U of Texas P, 1974; original 1928) and Etienne Souriau, Les Deux cent mille situations dramatiques (Paris: Flammarion, 1950).
  5. Lévi-Strauss, Anthropologie structurale deux (Paris: Plon, 1973), 168-69 and 172. The post-Lévi-Straussian structuralisant semioticians referred to in this segment are: Sorin Alexandrescu, Logique du personnage (Paris: Mame, 1974); Claude Bremond, Logique du récit (Paris: Seuil, l973); Chatman (note 4); A.J. Greimas, “Reflexions sur les modèles actantiels,” in his Sémantique structurale (Paris: Larousse, 1966); idem, “La Structure des actants du récit,” in his Du sens (Paris: Seuil, 1970); idem, “Les Actants, les Acteurs et les Figures,” in Claude Chabrol, ed., Sémiotique narrative et textuelle (Paris: Larousse, 1973); Philippe Hamon, “Pour un statut sémiologique du personnage,” Littérature no. 6(1972):86-110; François Rastier, Essais de sémiotique discursive (Paris: Mame, 1973).
  6. Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (New York: Atheneum, 1965), 172 and passim (original book publication 1957); cf. also Petr Bogatyrev, “Les Signes du théâtre,” Poétique no. 5 (1971): 24 (original 1938), and Souriau, 69 and 7l.
  7. Greimas, rôle pure and simple in “Structure” 256 and two incompatible types of rôles actantiels in “Actants,” 165-66 vs. 167, though his shifting, uneconomic, and overlapping categories also include rôle thématique in “Actants,” 171-75; this is analyzed in detail in Suvin, 90-94.
  8. Georges Doutrepont, Les Types populaires de la littérature française (Bruxelles: [Acad. R. de Belgique, Classe de Lettres, Vol. 22, 1925?]; Tzvétan Todorov, Poétique de la prose (Paris: Seuil, 1971); Anne Ubersfeld, Lire le théâtre (Paris: Ed. sociales, 1977).
  9. William Whewell, The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (London: Parker, 1840), I:476-77.
  10. All the examples and quotes of English historical semantics in this paragraph come from Raymond Williams, Keywords (London: Fontana, 1976), s.v. “Individual” and “Personality.”
  11. Andrew H. Plaks, “Towards a Critical Theory of Chinese Narrative,” in idem, ed., Chinese Narrative (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1977), 309-52, here 347. The unacceptable face of “western” criticism can be represented by John L. Bishop, “Some Limitations of Chinese Fiction,” in idem ed., Studies in Chinese Literature (Cambridge MA: Harvard UP, 1966), 235seqq., while its justified critique in Jaroslav Prusek, “Boccaccio and His Chinese Contemporaries,” in idem, Chinese History and Literature (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1970), 449-66, goes to the opposite extreme of exalting the Chinese vernacular storytellers’ attention to detail above Chaucer and Boccaccio, which seems at least in the case of narrative agents demonstrably inexact (cf. for another, balanced critique Eugene Eoyang, “A Taste For Apricots,” in Plaks ed.). See on the parallel between Chinese and European narrative also Prusek, “History and Epics in China and in the West,” op. cit., 17-34; and André Lefevere, “Some Tactical Steps Toward a Common Poetics,” and Plaks, “Full-length Hsiao-shuo and the Western Novel,” both in William Tay et al. eds., China and the West: Comparative Literature Studies (Hong Kong: The Chinese Univ. Press, 1980). Let me use my first note on historical references to observe that none of them will have pretensions to exhaustiveness; also, instead of drowning in a sea of references I have preferred to list the main ones and recur to them only in case of direct further citations.
  12. Cf. Robert Ruhlmann, “Traditional Heroes in Chinese Popular Fiction,” in Arthur F. Wright ed., The Confucian Persuasion (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1960), 141-76, who opportunely points out that both “the advisers” and “the musclemen” are “fighters who use different weapons” (161); and James J.Y. Liu, The Chinese Knight Errant (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1967), 111seqq. I have also found useful a number of works in the (European) languages accessible to me. Beside the main surveys of Chinese history and literature I would mention on exemplary classification of people Derk Bodde, “Types of Chinese Categorical Thinking,” J of the American Oriental Soc. 59 (1939): 200-19, and on the Outlaws: Patrick Hanan, “The Development of Fiction and Drama,” in Raymond Dawson, ed., The Legacy of China (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964); C.T. Hsia, The Classic Chinese Novel (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1980), chap. 3; Richard Gregg Irwin, The Evolution of a Chinese Novel: “Shui-hu-chuan” (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1966); Peter Li, “Narrative Patterns in San-kuo and Shui-hu,” in Plaks, ed., Chinese Narrative, 80seqq.; V.S. Manukhin, “Khudozhestvennoe obobshchenie v pervykh kitaiskikh romanakh,” in Nauchnye doklady vysshei shkoli — Filologicheskie nauki no. 4(1959):56-66; V.I. Semanov, “Kitaiskii geroicheskii roman (XIV-XVI vv.) i ego rol’ v stanovlenii novoi literatury,” in Realizm i ego sootnosheniia s drugimi tvorcheskimi metodami (Moscow: AN SSSR, 1962), 54-95. An interesting theory of derivation of agential descriptions in the early Chinese novels from traits due (mainly) to the totemic tradition transmitted by oral tales is B.L. Riftin’s Ot mifa k romanu (Moscow: Nauka, 1979), which unfortunately does not deal with major works of fiction. This is partly compensated in his “Stanovlenie kitaiskogo romana,” in Genezis romana v literaturakh Azii i Afriki (Moscow: Nauka, 1980), 151-78, which discusses the colourful nicknames and descriptions of the Outlaws‘ agents as mediated by the tradition of the “forgotten acts” (ishi) or unofficial history genre.

     Let me also add that I understand usefulness often as stimulating disagreement (e.g. with Prof. Hsia, on whom I share the strictures of Prof. J.J.Y. Liu and then some; or with some Soviet critics insisting on prefigurations of realism and contradictory characters; or, in spite of my admiration for insights of the Plaks essay from note 11, I doubt some of its speculations in philosophical anthropology since I find the supposedly specifically Chinese principle of overlapping at work in pre-Individualist Europe too, as far as agents are concerned).

  1. I have taken the quote from Timothy C. Wong, Wu Ching-tzu (Boston: Twayne, 1978), 76, but also the liberty of contaminating it with the translation in Ch’u Chai and Winberg Chai, A Treasury of Chinese Literature (New York: Appleton Century, 1965), 249-50, bearing in mind also the comments in H.C. Chang, Chinese Literature: Popular Fiction and Drama (Edinburgh: UP, 1973), 34l. On this novel, I have also found useful Robert E. Hegel, The Novel in Seventeenth-Century China (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1981); Hsia; Yu-kung Kao, “Lyric Vision in Chinese Narrative Tradition,” in Plaks ed., 227-43; Oldrich Kràl, “Several Artistic Methods in the Classic Chinese Novel Ju-lin wai-shih,” Archiv orientálni 32 (1964): 16-43; Krl, “Some Artistic Methods in the Classic Chinese Novel Ju-lin wai-shih,” Orientalia Pragensia 3 (1964) :79-102; Shuen-fu Lin, “Ritual and Narrative Structure in Ju-lin wai-shih,” in Plaks, ed., 244-65; Plaks, “Towards a Critical Theory”; and the two richest studies, by Paul S. Ropp, Dissent in Early Modern China (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1981), and by Zbigniew Słupski, Ju-lin wai-shih: Próba analizy literackiej (Warsaw: Wyd. Uniw. Warszawskiego, 1979). Kràl’s “Several Methods” was perhaps the first substantial investigation in European languages into agential characterization in the classical Chinese novel, and he even began a division of traits into permanent and transient (23-24) and a comparison to Balzac-type agents — unfortunately limited by a sub-Lukácsian “theory of reflection.” On Professors Lin and Wong cf. Ropp, 208-l0. The translation of The Scholars used (see note 2) reads admirably well but contains a few important cuts. Finally, my arguments about the main agents are fortunately not affected by the scholarly debate about possibly apocryphal parts of S, mainly in its second half (cf. Słupski 46-51).
  2. I agree with Ropp’s comment (209) that had Wu fully shared the standards of Wang Mian, this would have kept him from writing –especially in his inimitable mixture of satire and delight in the world. Ropp’s corollary, that Wang was a Confucian sop to the official ideologists, does not necessarily follow. Indeed, Kràl’s analysis (in “Some Methods”) of how the Wang story was rewritten with respect to the source in Zhu Yi-zun seems to me to establish convincingly that Wu strongly stressed Wang’s peasant values, as against the official Confucian ones.
  3. Only specialists in Chinese literature can dare to participate in the discussion whether the consecration ceremony in chap. 37 is meant to be taken with a lump in the reader’s throat, or sarcastically, or in between — in particular since the relevant, apparently repetitious passages have been cut from S. Cf. the positive opinion of Lin vs. the scepticism of Inada Takashi, discussed in Wong 66-68 and Ropp 180-81, and the uneasy hesitation of Hsia, 337-38. Wong’s view would also seem to be more or less positive if it is to fit into his general thesis of “Confucian eremitism” as Wu’s ideal horizon: yet if the test of any Confucianism, however unorthodox, is loyalty to the hierarchical values of the State, this escape vent does not seem tenable. However, as I go on to hint above, my view is that Wu’s agents are bipolar and not monadic, so that this discussion becomes somewhat secondary, if still important. The “bipolarity” refers partly to general views about “complementary bipolarity” in the Chinese tradition, e.g. in Chang Tung-sun, “A Chinese Philosopher’s Theory of Knowledge,” The Yen-ching J. of Social Studies 2 (Jan. 1939):168 and passim, and Andrew Plaks, Archetype and Allegory in the Dream of the Red Chamber (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1976), chap. 3. It also refers to some unpublished work of mine where I intend to draw parallels between the Asian tradition and the dramaturgical agents in Brecht by means of both the European dialectics culminating in Marx and the more continuous Chinese tradition of dialectics running at least from Lao-zi and Mo-zi on (cf. Joseph Needham, Science and Civilisation in China [Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1956] II, especially 273ff.; Antony Tatlow, “Peasant Dialectics,” in Tay et al., eds., 277-85; and S.J. Noumoff, “La Dialectique et notre temps,” in La Valeur des classiques chinois pour notre temps [(Bruxelles): Institut des hautes études de Belgique, 1970], 131-40) and to Mao Ze-dong’s essay “On Contradiction” and its notion of bipolar contradiction with one hegemonic side to it (in Selected Works [London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1955]) I:36, 42 and passim.
  4. I hope something like my formula of “7 parts good, 3 parts bad” may avoid unchecked ideologicity in judgments about single narrative agents in S. The clearest case is that of Dr. Yu. He is treated as wholly positive by John D. Coleman, “With and Without a Compass,” Tamkang R. 7, no. 2(1976):67, because he “represents the Confucian ideal itself” (and even Słupski believes Dr. Yu is clearly Wu’s “most highly prized figure,” 102). On the other hand, it seems that the excellent critic Wu Zu-xiang can say that Yu, “… cultivating exclusively his own benevolence (hou-dao) and lenience (shu-dao), in reality incites others to wickedness” (transl. from the Polish of Słupski 116). In fact, I suspect Wu Jing-zi was using some subversive modification of moral gradings well known in Chinese tradition–cf. Marcel Granet, La Pensée chinoise (Paris: Albin Michel, 1950), 97-98 and the chap. “Les nombres”; or Ban Gu’s and Ban Zhao’s grades in Qian Han Shu (in Bodde, note 12).
  5. Cf. on Wu’s truly democratic attitude toward women and actors Ropp 64 and 133-40, Hsia 231, and Yao Xue-yin in Ru-lin wai-shi yan-jiu lun ji (cited in Słupski 24).
  6. Cf. for the clearest explication and use of this quadrangle, initiated as a syntactic formalism by A.J. Greimas, the writings of Fredric Jameson–e.g. The Prison-House of Language (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1972), 162-68, and The Political Unconscious (Ithaca NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 198l), 166-68–to whom I owe many stimulating insights. My position toward Lukács’s theory of typification, which is similar to Jameson’s indication of both its pioneering insights and its insufficient articulation and autonomy (e.g. in Unconscious 162), is developed in “Can People…?” (see note 1).
  7. Cf. Słupski 72, 107, and passim, and the works of He Ze-han and Wu Zu-xiang cited there.
  8. Cf. for the use of historiographic techniques Kràl “Several Methods” 26 and Lin 259-64; also Wu Zu-xiang (quoted in Wong 96 and Słupski 29-30) who seems to have most clearly stressed Wu Jing-zi’s innovative use of such techniques, including those of characterization correlative to active reading (for which cf. also Słupski 115-16 and passim). As for some clear debts to the Outlaws, these seem to be largely also refunctioned in the more radical S; the mythical framework of the “falling stars,” e.g., is in Wu a quite inconsequential reminiscence (cf. also Słupski 152).
  9. I refer to Qian Da-xin’s formulation, contemporary to Wu Jing-zi:

In ancient times, there were three teachings, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism. Since the Ming dynasty there is one more–called xiao shuo [or popular fiction]….[A]mong gentry, peasants, workers, and merchants, there is no one who does not practice it. Even children and women–illiterates– frequently see and hear [it performed]. It is their teaching, and compared with Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism, it is more widespread. (cited in Ropp 53, transliteration changed)

The powerful official attempts to suppress many novels and plays, or indeed to stigmatize all colloquial fiction as vulgar, are well known (cf. Ropp 72-73 et passim).–The exact philosophical nuance of Wu’s structure of feeling, probably akin to contemporary “left Wang Yang-ming” currents, and the correlative social addressee of S is a quite fascinating subject, indispensable for a final evaluation of S, which would however demand a further essay if not a monograph; cf. among many other general discussions Ropp and Hegel passim, also Prusek’s book from note 11, Hanan’s essay from note 12, André Lévy, Le Conte en langue vulgaire du XVIIe siècle (Diss. Univ. of Paris VII, 1974), 223-26, 278-94, 320-24, 336-42, 50lseqq., and 535-42, and O.L. Fishman, Kitaiskii satiricheskii roman (Moscow: Nauka, 1966), 11-19, 94-95, and 170-92.

  1. The ending of a fictional narrative (at least in an “epic” as opposed to a mythological or cyclical text) is a special and crucial syntagmatic segment. It is the place where the sum of all the syntagmatic choices reaches its textual end-result, and from which the narration both retrospectively valorizes all the choices from the preceding segments and leaves the social addressee with a built-in directive of how to apply the reading to her/his empirical actuality. Cf. Volker Klotz, Geschlossene und offene Form in Drama (München: Hanser, 1962); and Iurii M. Lotman, “O modeliruiushchem znachenii poniatii ‘kontsa’ i ‘nachala’ v khudozhestvennykh tekstakh,” Tezisi dokladov vo vtoroi letnei shkole po vtorichnim modeliruiushchim sistemam (Tartu: Univ. of Tartu, 1966), 69-74 (also in Ju.M. Lotman, Aufsätze zur Theorie und Methodologie der Literatur und Kultur [Kronberg Ts.: Scriptor, 1974]), and his The Structure of the Artistic Text (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan, 1977), 209-16.
Posted in 5.a EAST ASIA, 5.b NARRATIVE THEORY | Leave a comment


Darko Suvin                                                                                               (1995-2012, 5,960 words)

Parody represents a complicated device of style oriented toward an at least two-dimensional critique, namely on the one hand toward the pre-text and on the other toward its own social context.
Abbé de Sallier, “Discours sur l’origine et sur le caractère de la parodie,” 1733

 1.0. There are two minefields which I want to mention here in order to say that I shall carefully avoid it. The first is parody’s relation to cognate genres often mentioned when discussing it: burlesque, travesty, and of course comedy. Primarily non-political parody is sometimes identified with burlesque (from Italian burla), but on the whole I have not found much clarity in such usages. The only comparison which seems to be both important and clear is one to the pastiche, extremely popular in Post-Modernism. I have dealt with it in another essay, but it is both too long and, being based on texts from medieval Japanese poetry, too complex to be here entered upon.

If we begin to look at history, tribal and oral literature which seems to have been full of parodies, so that the claim has been made they are as old as literary composition. In the Euro-Mediterranean tradition a first flowering occurred in Hellenic times: in mock-epics, where the foil was Homer, and in Athenian comic theatre, culminating in Aristophanes, where the foil was tragedy. The Middle Ages seem to have been another time chock-full of parodies of Church liturgy and ritual in both the counter-festivities of the Boy Bishop and Mystery episodes, culminating in the great Mak episode of the 2nd Shepherds’ Play, while Renaissance literature seems to have retreated into parodying the Petrarcan love-romance, the pastoral, and the courtly tradition. The rest will be dealt with in incidental remarks.

However, even from this first approach, it will be clear that there is one major theoretical rock, threatening to sink our notional ship, which is so hard that I shall here avoid it: parody without a prior literary (or semiotic, say pictorial or performed) text to ridicule, say the anti-Puritan verse of Butler’s Hudibras or indeed prose of Swift’s The Tale of a Tub, and earlier Rabelais’s scathing attacks on scholasticism in Gargantua and Pantagruel (even earlier there were analogous Italian works, say Boiardo’s Morgante Maggiore or Gelli’s Circe). The problem has been sometimes avoided by calling this satire rather than parody, while burlesque is used for either. However, I am not aware of any convincing investigation about this thorny  matter, which requires fundamental definition and orientation within a cultural semiotics. Thus, short of maybe a full semester or term of discussions, I have to leave aside both this crucial matter and the matter of genres cognate or interlocking with parody. I shall concentrate on the usual definition of parody in literature, which is, roughly, a literary composition in which an author’s characteristics are ridiculed by a modified reproduction which clearly allows identifying the source; the derived transitive verb “to parody” means to ridicule by doing so. Its root is in the ancient Hellenic parōidia, which is composed of  para-,  beside, beyond, + ōidē, sung, where the name arose from such a composition being sung “beside”—that is, immediately following upon—another straightforward one. It is usually allotted to the comic mode as opposed to the serious preceding text.

 1.1. The best overview I know of complained in 1977 that we do not really have a satisfying theory of parody or pastiche (Karrer 15, 24, and passim). True, central contributions to a theory of parody probably begin with the Russian Formalists, when Shklovsky proclaimed that parody’s “parallel and contrast to an existing model” (67) is–e.g. in Tristram Shandy–the paradigm for literature in general,  while the more balanced Tynianov still took the Bergsonian automatization and deautomatization of devices in parody as a general principle of literary evolution. And since Karrer wrote, there has come about a flurry of renewed interest hitched on to the bandwaggon of “post-modernism” and proclaiming –in an unconscious parody-pastiche of the Formalists–that not parody but pastiche is the model of all literature (e.g. Rose, Hutcheon; most famously, Jameson). Finally, of course, much sterling work on which we all build has been done both before and after 1977. Still, I do not think all of this has solved our problems. Thus anything short of a long book can today only be a teasing out of one or a few significant problems as a contribution to something more encompassing.  I wish to focus here on the fact (to my mind central, though not exclusive) that parody in literature–and in art in general–seems to present itself as dual, as oriented towards two time-horizons, confusedly implying also two aims or ends for it.

1.2. I  shall begin with a definition of parody both old enough not to be suspected of fashionable trendiness and apparently speaking against my thesis:

                       A deliberate imitation of a literary work that burlesques the distinguishing                             qualities of the original…. The aim of the parodist is entertainment or satire.                           (Barry & Wright 66)

Even this rather confused, circular and heavily formalistic, entry has the merit of identifying, malgré soi, two  constant problems in studies of parody: its aim (Zielsetzung) and its reference. Its dubious duo of entertainment and satire–the ludic and debunking aspects–is ubiquitous: in Weisstein’s formulation, it is parody’s “humorous and/or critical intention” (811); in Rühmkorf’s, the “stylistic and exemplary” (i.e. sociocritical) parody (119); in Hutcheon, the range from playful to scornful (6); and it is assessed as “Komik und Kritik” in Verweyen-Witting (195-99). The entry’s synchronic end, fortunately, forgets its monolithically diachronic beginnings: for, both entertainment and satire cannot but be addressed exclusively to a present readership.  In  both parody and pastiche, it is only in the case of  either an officially hegemonic master-text, such as the Bible in the European Middle Ages (cf. Jackson 229ff. and Stock 88ff.), or in rather esoteric (though quite possible) cases of coterie or inner-circle writing, that such a readership would be overwhelmingly oriented toward connoisseur judging of how “the original” was handled. Even in those cases, I would maintain it is probably extremely rare that the focus of parody could be simply on desecration (or other handling) of a–paradoxically timeless–original: the desecration is at least balanced by the ineluctable fact of being perpetrated right here-and-now, at a nexus of human relationships different from that which gave rise to the earlier text. That nexus is both the reason and the horizon of the critical distanciation (Hutcheon 10) effected by the new product upon the “original” (or perhaps better “hypotext”; I shall return to this terminology). If parody necessarily has a different tone, horizon or value-system from its “source/s/,” the reason and aim for these differences is the author’s and intended readers’ hic et nunc nexus.

Though inductive examples can only suggest conclusions, I propose to take in my first example as the “original”  the beginning of Longfellow’s once famous “Excelsior,” and, as what I have symmetrically to call the “derivation,” Housman’s to my mind rather funny uncrowning parody of it (an equally funny but less gentlemanly French example would be Apollinaire’s parody of Verlaine’s “Il pleure dans mon coeur,” see Hutcheon 45). This example participates in the frequent case of parodying only part of a specific text, as opposed to the parody of a whole text– for ex. the perhaps unfortunately forgotten parody of Victor Hugo’s Marie Tudor whose quality may be gauged by the title, Marie tu ronfles (cf. Issacharoff 315). I shall argue later that a second and more important category of parody (just as of pastiche) is the reference to a diffuse, syncretic, often or primarily anonymous topos of social discourse, and that parodies of “Excelsior” are usually a case in point. In fact it should be noted, also in fairness to Longfellow,  that the complete poem, comprising nine stanzas which lead to the death of the lonely and heroic pioneering youth in the mountain heights, is more an allegory of the misunderstood loner (e.g. artist) than of the Horatio Alger myth, from rags to riches: in other words, it could be read as an allegory of the deadly cost to the individual of upward mobility  in capitalist society, which is nonetheless reaffirmed in the final divine voice from above. But the poem was then throughout the 19th Century unanimously vulgarized into the go-getting myth through an overwhelming fertile misreading throughout its  reception history, by high lit. and popular or trademark reception alike. I shall in the present case call this always synchronic topos one of “excelsioricity,” and argue that most parodyings start from this rather than from any original, past isolated unit–here Longfellow’s 1841 poem (see my brief summary in Section 4 of data from the OED between 1850 and 1902). To adapt Francastel’s precise argument about Botticelli’s Primavera (which is in this reading, intriguingly, both a pastiche and an undoubted novum), “he refers to fragments of separate texts, fluctuating in memories, whose connexion is not part of a fixed code but of an atmosphere; and furthermore, from time to time, to contexts of the new culture and living forms…” (278). If I had scope for a proper spread of inductive examples, I would examine the hypothesis that such recourse to reconstructed scraps of fluctuating social discourse is the general case in parody (and pastiche), of which a direct reference to the “original,” when the hypotext happens to supply a sufficiently durable springboard for parodying, is merely a–so to say –“zero reconstruction” case. This would be, at least initially, Housman’s case.

It should be at least broached here that “Positivist” treatments  comparing one present unit to one past one are identical to (and probably derived from) the copyright-law stance, oriented toward “atomic” units such as one poem. The latest such case known to me is the US Supreme Court ruling of March 7, 1994, on the “2 Live Crew” group’s 1989 parody of Roy Orbison’s rock song “Oh, Pretty Woman” (known also from its use in the eponymous movie). The parody uses much of Orbison’s music and the first line of lyrics: “Pretty woman, walking down the street”; 2 Live Crew shift then to “big hairy woman,” “bald-headed woman,” and “two-timin’ woman” (AP byline in The Globe and Mail, March 8, 1994, E5).  The court ruling was, by the way, that the parody was not theft.

  1. Here then is the juxtaposition of the Longfellow and Housman stanzas:


 The shades of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed
A youth who bore, ‘mid snow and ice,
A banner with the strange device,


 The shades of night were falling fast,
The snow was falling faster,
When through an Alpine village passed,
An Alpine village pastor.

 I submit no reader (not even a specialist in English poetry) can make sense of this qua parody unless the partial reuse of the first two Longfellow lines is collocated within Housman’s telos of ridiculing the abstract and high-flown rhetoric of liberal optimism3/ from the radically blacker perspective of an Oxbridge ruefulness. In other words, the reason/s/ for burlesquing or parodying are the ends, and the textual “imitation” or “derivation” a–no doubt consubstantial–means. (I am speaking here from the perspective of an ideal intended reader; the contingent sequence of creative composition may start from any point that happens to strike the parodist, even from prosody.) Only within a given teleology can the quantity and quality of segments and aspects taken over be evaluated as functional (i.e. successful) or not. Such is the case here, e.g., with the shift from insistent acatalectic iambic tetrameter to tetrameter plus anticlimactic  catalectic trimeter, and also from succeeding masculine rhyme to a cross-rhyming where the feminine rhyme (“faster-pastor”) is a micro-parody of the “imitated” masculine rhyme (“fast-passed”) by addition of the minimal phonetic unit of a semi-vowel. Or indeed, this is the case  with evaluating and even understanding what I would in Housman read as a chronotopic and agential  allegory for his epoch –the night and snow falling faster–, and for Longfellow’s role in it –the Alpine village pastor, the redundant preacher. (Urbanely, Housman neglected Longfellow’s tempting “bore”….)

Thus, it would seem necessary to begin the discussion of parody (and pastiche) by disambiguating a double reference: a diachronic one to anterior propositions (e.g. Housman’s “derivation” from Longfellow), and a synchronic one to contemporary imaginary entries in the encyclopaedia/s/ of possible readers (e.g. the invraisemblance of triumphalist Idealist liberalism). An important difference is that the first referentiality is often to fixed, neatly identifiable denotations in semiotic texts (verbal, pictorial, musical, etc.), such as my Longfellow quote, while the second one is always to a semi-precise system of overlapping connotations which meld currently floating bits and pieces of the supposedly past referentiality with more inchoate but present feelings, discursive networks  or topologies about human relationships. The easier identification of a previous text makes it  technically much more economical, though not necessarily more precise, for criticism to start from that hypotext and then infer the telos for the whole procedure only in a second moment (cf. Karrer 36). But second easily becomes secondary and indeed, alas, dispensable and dispensed with. Thus I fear that both this easier identification and the previous text’s status of hegemonic or “high lit.” from a previous epoch, account for what one must sorrowfully call a major historical delusion in our profession, the “professional idiocy” of substituting semantics for pragmatics, or of being fixated on a precisely delimitable semantic unit rather than adopting a more supple view of the situation which is colouring any and all participating text/s/. Its European roots are in Humanist exegesis of the Bible, then the French and English Classicistic literati’s discussions of hierarchical genres and styles,  and then the ambiguous Romantic shake-up of those hierarchies: in fact, most present-day attempts to define parody go back to Scaliger and A.W. v. Schlegel (see von Stackelberg 59). There is a Chinese parallel in the orthodox Confucian fixed canon of classical texts as “sources” and “origins” for imitation, in particular for yung tien, “allusive borrowings” (cf. an updated critique in Wang 3-10 –and for a related Japanese parallel in the honzetsu and “honkadori” hypotexts in my essay on pastiche). This tradition of looking toward a past as the constant source for imitation or desecration was then taken into both the Chinese and European academic Establishments as  Positivistic source-hunting, and one of its results is a stifling overestimation of “originals,” “timelessness” or diachrony, rather than an orientation toward what a text actually does within necessarily changing meanings of sociohistorical human nexuses.

1.3. What I am arguing, not the least from my own creative practice in poetry, is first of all (but not only, see 1.4 below) that as a rule the telos or end for parody is supplied by synchronic intervening in current relationships, in which the reference to anterior texts  is an important means.  Pace Todorov’s hermetic vraisemblable, the verisimilitude of parody is thus not simply (or to my mind even primarily) a “mask that conceals the text’s own laws and that we are supposed to take for a relation with reality” (3). Pace the much better Ben-Porat, her quite valid analytic distinction (“Method” 247-48) which I would rephrase as one between representing a world found in an artistic model or representing a world found in other, as a rule less focussed,  discursive models, is to my mind in actual parodic practice melded or collapsed. Pace Hutcheon (49 and passim) there is no exclusively “intramural,”  aesthetically self-referential, parody. If parody is to be called centrally an intertextuality, I think the notion of text has to be taken in the widest possible, Ecoan and Angenotian, sense of a congeries of all discourses accommodated and rubbing off each other in given entries of a shared imaginary encyclopaedia. This encyclopaedia is  located in the cultural presuppositional network and is thus not fully or permanently spelled out, though a user is able to call up (by what Tynianov calls “underlining” and Eco “boldfacing”) pieces of its usually “narcotized” discourse in a written form when necessary. A good example might be D.H Lawrence’s “Up […he goes] like a bloomin’ little Excelsior!” discussed below, which refers to an anonymous present topos of “excelsioricity” rather than to Longfellow’s original, past poem.

In sum, it is a shortsighted short-circuit to assume that Housman is satirizing Longfellow’s stanza rather than the “Longfellovian”–i.e. not only Longfellow’s!–stance, bearing or Haltung (cf. Suvin “Brecht”). So that, if Scarron’s Virgile travesti and Boileau’s Le Lutrin parodied Virgil, I read their substitution of bourgeois for aristocratic manners as interested less in Virgil than in 17th-Century Paris; if Gay’s Beggar’s Opera parodied the reigning Italian “opera,” I read it as primarily interested in the underworld of his London, and when Dostoevsky parodied Gogol, I read him as interested in Gogol because of the fate of their Russia and its people. Perhaps even more clear is the case of Cervantes: no doubt, his novel parodied courtly romances such as Amadis of Gaul, but surely its interest even at the time was overwhelmingly in the juxtaposition of his high-flown idealistic hero and the sober, if not sordid, everyday world depicted in Don Quixote—and after Amadis of Gaul and suchlike ceased to be read, the reader’s interest is exclusively in this opposition. Thus, “The idea that at least the parody with a literary model relates only to literature and not to ‘reality’ can only be upheld at the price of a violent sundering of literary life from the Lebenswelt [life as experienced]” (Verweyen-Wittig 101).

Indeed, the proper locus for a theory of parody would, I think, be in an interdiscursive theory of textual variants, adaptations or rewrites within given systems of ideological maxims and horizons connected to specific social fractions, such as the approach I adumbrate in my essay on pastiche (cf. beside theoretical arguments some concrete hints from the great masters Nestroy and Brecht in Rommel resp. Wirth and Verweyen-Witting 140-47).  Within such a theory of rewritings, we could then probably distinguish changes of hypotext such as pure rewriting of lines, omission (Housman’s parody functions in good part by omission of the key word “Excelsior”), or indeed addition. An example of the latter is Bret Harte’s sequel to Whittier very popular long sentimental poem (what Mark Twain called “girly girly romance”) Maud Muller, that ends in the famous couplet:
Of all the words of tongue and pen
The saddest are “It might have been.”

    Harte changed this in “Mrs Judge Jenkins” by strategic rewriting in order to fit a contrary addition, into:
If of all words of tongue and pen
The saddest are “It might have been,”

      Sadder are these, we daily see,
“It is, but hadn’t ought to be!”

 Stressing the chronotope of a parody’s production—that is, both the moment and the concrete environment of who it was intended for, their synchronic sociohistorical situation–is, of course, not a totally new stance in parody studies. To the  practitioners in  and  students of the 18th Century  this  nexus  was  crystal-clear,  e.g., to Diderot or to my epigraphic de Sallier,  and  their stance still echoes in Hegel (1: 578). Even today a number of people suspect or assume, though without much articulation or follow-through, that one can parody a whole class of texts, the style of an age, a plot-schema, a formal system or even a world-view–and therefore, I would argue, a horizon (see Karrer 84). And I could claim a series of at least partial modern precursors. Shklovsky and Tynianov, for example, insisted on the present existence of a model to which parody is opposed (and cf. the stress on the intention of the parodist in Verweyen-Wittig). However, this model was for them usually only another concrete work of art, rather than a stance, value-system, and horizon–which would render obsolete the interliterary vs. extraliterary dichotomy. Given all of this, it is a surprise to see that at the basis of Jameson’s, Hutcheon’s, and most current recollocations of parody and pastiche there still seems to be not only Russian Formalism and French Structuralism but even a reliance on pre-Formalist, Romantic views such as that of A.W. v. Schlegel. An intermediary may be seen in Jonathan Culler who, following Todorov & Co.,  defined parody as formal “imitations and exaggerations of the original” that “produce…a distance between the vraisemblance of the original and its own” (152-53, emphasis DS). The underlined term is both highly characteristic of most theories of parody and highly suspect, and I shall return to it in the final section. In order to show this, I shall leave aside for the moment theoretical debates about individual authorship and originality, and just “do a Raymond Williams” by giving a brief semantic history of the “keyword” in the first quatrain quoted–“excelsior.”

4. I suppose it may sound banal to say Longfellow did not invent any English word used
in his first stanza, not even the Romantically elided word “‘mid” (which the OED glosses with Scott’s Marmion, cf. s.v. “mid prep. 2″). Yet the stories (e.g.) of “shades of night,” “falling,” “Alpine” or “banner” are not banal: the first one goes back to a Hellenic and Latin topos (Catullus used the coming night as death to persuade Lesbia into giving him a thousand kisses), the second one is probably as old as the beginnings of language, the third is Romantically charged, and the fourth was parodied already by Falstaff’s “Under which banner, Bezonian?”. In particular, the story of the bourgeois political, pseudo-theological adverb “Excelsior” is most instructive. The classical adjective “excelsus” could take a comparative and superlative, and did so in Caesar, Pliny, and Cicero as a flourish of style, but the medieval theological substantivized “excelsum” is already a superlative, “the highest [heavens],” probably best known from the Church hymn “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” so that “excelsior” makes as little sense as would, for example, “sublimer.” “Excelsior” seems to have been first “anglicized” as meaning “higher” (an ellipse for “tending ever higher”) by the assembly of New York State in 1778 which put it on the State seal accompanying the emblem of a rising Sun.1/ Then it was popularized in 1841 by our “original” poet, Longfellow, whence it passed into general use by means of “his” poem’s presence in genteel educational writing such as Miss Jemima’s Swiss Journal of 1863 and (one assumes) in school readers. The strivings of the pseudo-Longfellovian allegorical young man on the make can thus be deciphered as a kind of sanitized Faustian urge, without Goethe’s Gretchen and Mephistopheles, or indeed without final empirical success. The allegory, estranged (verfremdet) into a diluted Romantic landscape of mountain ice, was successful with its readers because Longfellow’s perishing but beatified striver, as well as the misreading that glossed over the deadly price paid, figured forth idealized character-types of rising industrial capitalism.

It is therefore understandable, and very significant, that the semantic fates of “excelsior” subsequently diverged in “high” and “mass” cultures. In the increasingly disillusioned high culture, and due to Longfellow’s extreme popularity in Victorian Britain, it is literarily alluded to in Trollope and Hopkins (see OED), and after Housman’s parody-by-omission-of-keyword (itself a theoretically highly interesting case!) it received a possibly final coup de grâce in the renewed parodic citation by D.H. Lawrence: “Up he goes! Up, up, like a bloomin’ little Excelsior!” (Pansies 1929)–where to my mind “Excelsior” does not mean the device on the banner but is a personification of what I have called the inchoate mass of “excelsioricity.”2/ But in the increasingly ad-dominated mass culture, British and especially US, the term “excelsior” was taken as itself an emblem or parable of success and therefore adopted as a trade-mark, a word that is legally private property (you can be sued for using it without permission)! Here it connotes ever-growing excellence for various articles of manufacture: Excelsior soap; Excelsior test cards; and especially the Excelsior wood-shavings, the mattress thus filled, and the machine for filling it and filling other upholstery items (all from 1851-88). In a final twist, the Excelsior wood-shavings  begin then to be “cited” not from literary but from the everyday or pragmatic discourse by such Naturalists as Kipling and James Cain in 1928-34 (all citations and data from OED s.v. “excelsior”).

Midway between the high lit. and pop. lit. register is situated the  strange little article “Excelsior” by H.G. Wells of 1895, reprinted as a rider to chapter 16 of his autobiography (343-46). Its fence-straddling is also homologous to the author’s position of a proletarianized lower-middle class person (his imaginary biographical protagonist is “a young proletarian”) striving to “rise in the world” as taught by the likes of Samuel Smiles. However, this particular protagonist voices his fears of the psychic cost to the “evil lesson of ambition”–what Wells in his prefatory comment pithily calls “this loss of dearness and nearness.” This is not a parody but an embroidery, narratively inverted adaptation of or counter-project  to Longfellow, who has for a change been read well: the young ambitious proletarian “lifts his eyes to the distant peaks, and the sun is bright upon them and they seem very fair.” But nobody warns him of the penalties and “sorrows of success.” Many drop by the way “with bodies enfeebled by overstudy, underfed, who are lost amidst the mountain fogs of commercial morality,”  Wells notes from personal experience; but the young man’s “concern is with those who win,” with the “Nebo incident” of succeeding to look upon the Promised Land (the article was written at the same time as drafts of the Time Machine whose protagonist was early on called Nebogipfel, and there are interesting homologies between the two works). The penalty is, surprisingly, class snobbery against the upwardly mobile, a Spencerian misadaptation of the declassé, which leaves him successful but withered, amid “the Dead Sea fruit of success.” And Wells returns to Longfellow’s climber’s fate at the end of his little allegorical biography: “Happy is the poor man who clutches that prize in the grip of death and never sees it crumble in his hand.” The role of Longfellow’s voice from the sky is then taken by the Wells of 1934, “add[ing] …only one word: ‘Nonsense’.” The double inversion works as the proletarian youth succeeding (not a genteel youth failing) but psychically perishing in the process: more clearly than in the hypotext poem, the price is foregrounded. It is achieved by ellipse and interpolation of new elements but also by subtle inversion of some narremes from Longfellow, so that e.g. his “spectral glaciers shone” becomes Wells’s sun on distant peaks. As in the trademark PR promises, pragmatic success is more readily achieved in Wells; however, as in the high lit. diagnoses, it leads to no contentment. While the article is certainly not a masterpiece, the author’s retrospective poormouthing from the position of one who “got on” does not dispose of the problem interestingly if sketchily raised.

Looking at these examples, and in particular at the trademark ones, it might be difficult today to say where does parody or indeed unconscious self-parody of an unselfconscious social discourse begin or end. It is difficult to sustain parody, remarks justly Cavell, when nothing can be counted any longer to strike a given social group or a society as outrageous (292). I find an excellent example in the English newspapers’ report of May 16, 1996, that a MS. of Bach’s cantata “fetched” at auction half a million British pounds: its title was “O Lord, look down from  Heavens” (Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh drein)… At any rate, if there is an origin/al in the “excelsior” semantic sequence, it is firmly anchored not in God guaranteeing meaning through His Book, His Church, or a Sun-King and His Academy, but in a fittingly anonymous New York State Senate member or clerk misremembering in the flush of revolutionary independence his small Latin. And this unoriginal original is then mass-reproduced by the anonymous discursive and semiotic apparatus of capitalist industry, commerce, and liberal admanship. It is all of this–a cat’s cradle of interlocking sememes, images, and connotations participating in a definite orientation and emotional colouring, and not an atomic stanza, isolated poem or even one writer’s opus–which is the referent of any “excelsior” parody.

I believe that only an approach generalizing from a wider spread of similar case studies would permit us to integrate into our theory of parody Benjamin’s fulminant and unavoidable insight that the behaviour of Nazis toward Jews parodied Leninist class struggle–and I would add that the behaviour of Stalinists toward the original Soviet plebeian democracy did the same (so that Stalin even had to concoct a pseudo-theory that success of socialism equals sharpened class-struggle).

 5. What, then, could we today take as a defining hallmark of parody? Certainly, Tynianov’s insistence on an incongruity between what he very rightly calls its two levels, one “glimmering through” the other, might adequately distinguish it from the “neutral” stylizations of pastiche, where pieces of the two levels fit without incongruity. As Neumann observed, “parody is caricature by means of what is being caricatured” (cited in Verweyen-Wittig 78). The rhetorics of parody is sharply opposed to that of the hypotext. But whence and wherefore comes the use of this rhetorics, caricature or incongruity? Following the “Excelsior” discussion, my second argument–with which I shall leave this thesis about parody–is even more radical: I hope that this set of historico-textual examples might permit us to think about parody (and pastiche) having finally, in social practice if not yet in literary theory, only one HEGEMONIC  referentiality, namely the synchronic one. For Housman and Lawrence to parody “Longfellow,” the latter needs to be non-positivistically present at the precise time of the parody itself for both author and intended reader/s/. What lived of “Excelsior” in 1929 as a  Dawkinsian meme was probably no more Housman’s precisely known poem but an ideologically and affectively sufficiently precise, if meta-stable, fragmentary tag of social discourse and evaluation; had it not been so,  Lawrence could not have used it as a springboard  in Pansies. In other words, a hypotext may be referred to more or less precisely, but it stands for a precise pragmatic and axiological complex and orientation as normatively understood at the moment of parodying: the parodied stanza of “Excelsior” was important because it was a metonymy or exemplum for the “excelsioricity” I have been attempting to describe above, which proved insufferable to Housman and others (cf. Verweyen-Wittig 98 and 167). The rest seems to be, be it said with due respect, a professional  illusion and delusion of chronological anthology-makers and other critics of that monotheistic stripe, concerned with origins in time rather than with relationships between people (for what else is any discourse?). As Condillac remarked in De l’art d’écrire, “you are comparing all these operations [of comparison, judgment, etc.] to streams, and the words source and flow are tropes….” And Valéry, acute as ever: “The origin, in all, is imaginary. The source is the fact within which the imaginary is proposed: water wells up there. Beneath, I do not know what takes place?” (both cited in Derrida 297; see Valéry 592)

Now time-flows (my own trope) do, of course, participate in human relationships; or perhaps better, such relationships are partly explainable by means of, as a swirl of,  various and varying time-flows. Indeed, a synchronic coupe in relationships is from one point of view a constellation of time-flows and the correlative semiotics, dipped into at a precise sociohistorical moment constituted by pragmatic relations between people. But to believe that there is a single origin to practically anything, or that sources–which I myself as a rule find fascinating and indeed pregnant–by themselves explain consequences, is either a monotheistic or a mechanistic, in any case a banally deterministic, fallacy. Fortunately, those coming after can change, and indeed reverse, what originated earlier. How could there, otherwise, be parody?


*/ My thanks go to the SSHRC of Canada for a travel grant which allowed me to come to the Venice colloquium “Parodie, pastiche, mimétisme” in Oct. 1993, and to Prof. Patrick Parrinder who reminded me of Wells’s “Excelsior.”  Unacknowledged translations are mine.

My late and mourned friend Chang Huei-keng gave me much advice on the Chinese “imitation” tradition,  and I wish to dedicate this essay to her memory.

 2/ I do not know how this revolutionary emblem of the rising Sun crossed into the iconography of the Second and Third Socialist International, and thence into the State emblems of all Soviet and “People’s Democratic” Republics. All data on the Latin uses of “excelsus – excelsior” come from Georges-Calonghi, and on English uses from the OED.

 3/ Further interdisciplinary investigation could profitably start from James Thurber’s parodic drawings in Famous Poems Illustrated, which have had quite an echo, e.g. in comics, but this is beyond my essay’s scope.

Works Cited

 Angenot, Marc. “Le Discours social,” in his 1889. Montréal: Le Préambule, 1989, 13-39.

 Barry, Raymond W., and A.J. Wright. Literary Terms. San Francisco: Chandler, 1966.

 Cavell, Stanley. “Being Odd, Getting Even,” in Thomas C. Heller et al., eds., Reconstructing Individualism. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1986, 305-12.

 Compact OED. 1981 edn.

 Culler, Jonathan. Structuralist Poetics. London: RKP, 1975.

 Derrida, Jacques. Margins of Philosophy. Tr. A. Bass. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992.

 Eco, Umberto. “Dizionario versus enciclopedia,” in his Semiotica e filosofia del linguaggio. Torino: Einaudi, 1984, 55-140.

 [Falk, Robert P., and William Beare]. “Parody,” in Alex Preminger et al. eds., Princeton Enciclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1972, 600-02.

 Francastel, Pierre. La figure et le lieu. Paris: Gallimard, 1967.

 Georges, C.E., and F. Calonghi. Dizionario latino-italiano. [Torino: n.p., 1891].

 Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Parody. New York & London: Methuen, 1985.

 Issacharoff, Michael. “Répétition et création.” Riv. di Letterature moderne e comparate 46.4 (ott.-dic. 1993): 313-21.

 Jackson, W.T.H. The Literature of the Middle Ages. New York: Columbia UP, 1960.

 Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism. Durham: Duke UP, 1992.

 Karrer, Wolfgang. Parodie, Travestie, Pastiche. München: Fink, 1977.

 Rommel, Otto. Die Alt-Wiener Volkskomödie. Wien: Schroll, 1952.

 Rose, Margaret. Parody// Metafiction. London: Croom Helm, 1979.

 Rühmkorf, Peter. Kunststücke. Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1962.

 Sallier, Abbé de. “Discours sur l’origine et sur le caractère de la Parodie.” Mémoires de l’Académie des Inscriptions 7 (1733): 398-410.

 von Schlegel, August Wilhelm. Geschichte der klassischen Literatur. Kritische Schriftn und Briefe, Vol. 3. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1964.

 Shklovskii, Viktor. “Sviaz’ priëmov siuzhetoslozheniia s obshchimi priëmami stilia.” Poètika. Petrograd: Opoiaz, 1919; rpt. in his O teorii prozy. Moskva: Federatsiia, 1929, 24-67.

 von Stackelberg, Jürgen. Literarische Rezeptionsformen. Frankfurt: Athenäum, 1972.

 Stock, Brian. The Implications of Literacy. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1983.

 Suvin, Darko. “Haltung (Bearing) and Emotions: Brecht’s Refunctioning of Conservative Metaphors for Agency,” in T. Jung ed., Zweifel – Fragen – Vorschläge: Bertolt Brecht anlässlich des Einhundertsten. Frankfurt a.M.: Lang V, 1999, 43-58.

—. “Haltung,” entry in Historisch-kritisches Wörterbuch des Marxismus, Vol. 5. Hamburg: Argument, 2002, col. 1134-42.

Thurber, James. Fables for Our time and Famous Poems Illustrated. New York: Harper & Row, 1939.

Todorov, Tzvetan. “Introduction” to Le Vraisemblable. Communications no. 11 (1968): 1-4.

 Tynianov, Iurii. Dostoevskii i Gogol’: K teorii parodii. Petrograd: Opoiaz, 1921.

 Valéry, Paul. Cahiers 23–1940. Paris: CNRS, 1960.

 Verweyen, Theodor, and Gunther Wittig. Die Parodie in der deutschen Literatur. Darmstadt: Wiss. Buchges., 1979.

 Wang, Jing. The Story of Stone. Durham: Duke UP, 1992.

 Weisstein, Ulrich. “Parody, Travesty, and Burlesque,” Proc. of the 4th Congress of the ICLA, Fribourg 1964. Ed. F. Jost. Mouton: The Hague, 1966, 802-11.

 Wells, H.G. Experiment in Autobiography. London: Macmillan, 1934.

 Williams, Raymond. Keywords. New York: Oxford UP, 1985.

 Wirth, Andrzej. “Stufen des kritischen Realismus.” Neue Deutsche Literatur 5 (1957): 121-31.

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Darko Suvin                                                                                                    (1996, 23,560 words)

“Bring your knowledge of disaster”

(telegram summoning Ch. Beard to Tôkyô after the great earthquake)

The catastrophe is that things go on as heretofore.

  1. Preliminary: Stance, Constituency, Epistemology

All concepts wherein a whole semiotic process is       gathered up elude definition; only what is without     history can be defined.

Nietzsche, Genealogie der Moral

 0.1. I shall be assuming in this essay that the vantage point or stance of each of us should be foregrounded in order to compensate for unavoidable blind spots, so that it behooves me to begin with identifying, as non-privately as possible, my own bearing (Haltung). Faced with the huge and growing pathologies and pandemics devouring our bodies politic, the injunction “Physician, heal thyself”  preserves its force.

I shall therefore start with some matters I went into at more length in other places, including an earlier issue of this journal (Suvin “Brecht” and “Theses”), which foregrounded precisely the “standpoint theory”–educed by Lukács from some hints in Marx, simplified to unrecognizability by the Stalinist sectarians (thus proving that the corruption of the best is the worst), and revived not at first by Neo-Marxists as much as by Liberation Theologians and Feminists (see Hartsock and Harding) in the guise of a “preferential option for the poor” in one case, and “for women” in the other. This position could embrace the traditional poles of ideology and of philosophy’s self-reflexivity, but it is more ambitious. It claims that epistemologically (i.e. at a level deeper than merely conceptual ideology) one’s assiette dans la vie or mise en situation, in short one’s practical bodily position and bearing as member of given social groups,  centrally codetermines one’s understanding, its limits, and privileged foci. And as to my standpoint, it is the one cited in 0.2 below apropos of Benjamin: that of a person who has left his class without finding another one–but attempting nonetheless to keep by means of work a stance of solidarity in which the dispossessed, exploited, and humiliated have a preferential epistemological claim on us, citizens and searchers, much transcending the merely ethical.

What happens to this point of view in what a poet, missing the true revolutionary radicality, has properly called our indigent times (dürftige Zeit–shabby, needy, mean, paltry, poor, penurious times)?

This is not the place nor am I specialist enough to enter upon the historiosophic debate as to when does our historical monad begin: the 1940s and the 1970s being the two most likely candidates. The 1970s have the imprimatur of at least two great names, Fernand Braudel and Fredric Jameson (plus the whole Lyotardian etc. gaggle of theoreticians of Post-modernism–further PoMo–whom I shall rule here out of court as ideologically self-serving)2/. Braudel tentatively suggests that the historical monad of continuous economic growth, breaking up the constrictions formerly imposed by the ceilings in agricultural output, energy, and transportation,  is situated in the capitalist West between ca. 1820 and 1970. Furthermore, as of ca. 1850 or 1870 (this depends on the country) such a growth, quite atypically, also meant a rise of per capita income, which gave rise to the notion “that society fulfills the will of God, not directly but by maximizing the welfare of each individual” (Meyer 210). Jameson’s well-known position is, after Mandel, that classical metropolitan imperialism passes into multinational capitalism parallel to the new industrial revolution based on nuclear energy, electronics, and the consequent machines of reproduction–TV set, computer, VCR–that through a rise of the tertiary sector and quantified “information industry” condemn us to a world of images, of mass-produced simulacra, rather than one of affects,  deep truths, and alienation. But it could just as well be argued, I think, that the technological and economical presuppositions for this brave new world were all in place after World War 2, and that what characterized the period of ca. 1945-73 (or indeed 1945-89) was a political rearguard action (with important local successes up to 1973–think of the Chinese and Third World revolutions, the 60s’ movements, etc.) fought by the great revolutionary wave of the first third of the 20th Century against the rising omnipotence of World Bank cynicism, or if you wish against the power of the endless capitalist circulation of fake novelties (Benjamin).

At any rate, we are today writing beyond either divide. This poses painful queries and aporias to all of us,  and especially to those (like myself) who have remained suspicious of orthodox pieties, refusing to forget the lessons of 1848 to 1968; and who therefore take as exemplary both Benjamin’s “Jewish awareness of the permanence of threat and catastrophe” (Adorno 231) as well as his insistence on the permanence of an at last weak salvational power. What stance does one take up now, in the world of renewed structural unemployment, a new computerized “putting-out system” destroying the welfare aspect of the welfare-cum-warfare state, monopoly capitalism run wild, and so on? What may our orientation be, in this history? In an interview of the 1960s, Lukács argued we were back in roughly the 1870s (the time of “gunboat diplomacy,” only now we’d have to call it “smart bombs”), where the whole revolutionary movement would have to start again from zero. This optimistic view today seems untenable; though all such analogies are lame, we are closer to a 17th-Century blend of great commercial empires, the affluence of whose ruling classes and entertainment parasites is based on exploiting the rest of the world as well as their own lower classes, with religious wars (and venereal pandemics) raging unchecked in non-essential areas. So why focus in such a fix, as on one of the few key concepts, on the Subject?

Let me try to give a personal answer to the first question, about the stance. It is probably best phrased, metonymically, in terms of a presently sustainable attitude to Enlightenment. In brief, the valid aspect or legacy of Enlightenment is for me confidence in human reason, in the possibility (however fragile) of people understanding their common world. The dubious aspect is the assumption that this is Reason in caps, i.e. that it arrives at asymptotically absolute values or an objective view (in all senses of that term–see e.g. Johnson and others discussed at length in Suvin “Cognitive”). At the root of both aspects is, I believe, the fact that the bourgeoisie sees itself as the representative of the whole people (or nation–and in its confident, revolutionary phase rightly so) and therefore believes that its own revolution and ensuing dispensation is the final one. If final then absolute; if absolute then its value (Reason, Humanity, History) is a lay equivalent of God. The Enlightenment thus attempts to laicize the eye of God. If laicizing means explanation of matter from within itself, being “interpreters of our own enterprise” (Rabelais), this is a great and absolutely necessary phase of liberation. However, adopting the perspective of God’s Eye is not: this remains metaphysics. The aporia is the historical one of coupling enlightenment and reason with liberal individualism. Our subject of The Subject demands facing and indeed going further than this aporia.

0.2. This leads into the second question, about the Subject; and possibly the door that opens onto some central answers would be constituted precisely by some lessons from Benjamin. Though Adorno often diluted them, he was right on (if characteristically stilted) when he characterized his dead friend as one of the first thinkers

to note the tension in the fact that the bourgeois individual, the thinking subject, has become questionable in his very core, without the substantive presence of any supraindividual aspect of existence in which the individual could be sublated intellectually without being oppressed. Benjamin expressed this situation when he defined himself as a person who has left his class without belonging to another one. (230)

To revert to the first person singular (but with pretenses to wide applicability, at least among readers of this journal): I have no idea for which social group I could today speak. I’d like to think of myself as an ally of Liberation Theologians and Feminists, but not being religious or a woman, these cannot be my movements; I can at best contribute critical support from their fringes. I’d further like to think I speak for an oppositional intelligentsia, but that stratum or class is today réduite en miettes, conspicuous by its absence as an organized group, which leaves me with an unhappy consciousness. It seems to me many of our ventures are attempts not to talk rather alone and thus with little correction:  as is certainly the case with this issue. De nobis fabula narratur, in good part this issue attempts to find some deep roots of our present unhappy situation.

This neuralgic crux has been referred to by some theorists, e.g. Paul Smith, as a matter of constituency. As Smith’s commentator notes in his Foreword, theory (all theories to the left of Reagan’s ideologists, I would say) has in the last few decades “fail[ed]…to connect with a mobilized constituency” (Mowitt xiii); in the present historical conjuncture, the revolutionary subjects of all variants of Marxism–from the Second International’s urban proletariat on the barricades, through Trotsky’s and Lenin’s Soviets of workers, soldiers, and poor peasants, to Mao’s, Tito’s, Castro’s, and Ho’s  guerilla vanguard on a long march through the peasant periphery to the conquest of the City, or finally to the unlikely vanguard of campus radicals from Berkeley to Belgrade–have been contained or indeed neutralized. All the successor movements in ethnic or gender battles have in effect, after some hesitations, settled down to fight for a place in the sun, or crumbs from the table of the postwar affluence in Foucauldian micro-politics. While a number of such ventures can be, and often are, just, necessary, and worthy of support, their limitations seem to become apparent in direct proportion to their (very partial) success. Nowhere are these limitations more apparent than in theory:

The critical theory of society has splintered in its practitioners’ efforts to embrace these new “subjects” and, as a consequence, has been politically paralyzed by the loss of its self-legitimating notion of “totality.” On the other hand, the political Right has…[recast] political discourse in its terms…appearing to address the need for revolutionary subjectivity by empowering people to unleash the economic forces that actually enslave them. This potentially permanent fixed counterrevolution has made it necessary to contest both the subject and its problematization…. (Mowitt ibidem)

Smith himself, who embraces the splintering diagnosed above, is at his weakest when disavowing intellectual attempts to grasp the totality of the present world system, most clearly in his misreadings of Marx (P. Smith  3-13) and attack on the most noted Marxist in North America today who has kept faith with such totalizing attempts, Fredric Jameson. Following the worst aspect of Foucault, Smith refers with some sarcasm to Jameson’s notion of an actual or “a hallucinated, utopian [social] whole,”  and actually at one point endorses the Cold-War, CIA-financed intellectuals’ concoction that identifies, in a bad if powerful pun, Lukácsian totality with Nazi-cum-Stalinist “totalitarianism” (91; see to the contrary Jay, Marxism). On the contrary, I would maintain that we need to strive for both extensive totality (understanding the capitalist world-system which beats Western trade unions by shifting to Taiwan or Georgia) and intensive totality (a standpoint able to see the shifting paradigms under the extension). After all, since a total, and negative, world-system exists beyond any reasonable doubt,  to refuse thinking it as such is an act of imaginative and political abdication. In that sense, in our cultural theory Jameson’s insistence on a dynamic and open-ended value-horizon of possible (if largely unrealized) totalization–“the absent totality that makes a mockery of us” (“Actually” 172)–is a sine qua non  reference, a necessary presupposition for criticism and for positive counter-proposals, even for people like me who do not share his ambiguous involvement with PoMo.

However, for the most part (and somewhat confusingly in view of his strictures on Marx and Jameson), to Paul Smith holism equals liberalism and (presumably bourgeois) “humanism,” his error in logic being that a number of (or all) humanists and liberals have been holists, ergo any holism must be such. This is not the place to discuss the whole of his in places useful book, particularly since in this issue there is a generous discussion of its main thrust in Jameson’s essay. I have suggested that I am out of sympathy with some of Smith’s central political (and terminological) choices. Yet his strongest point, inherited from the best Marxists and feminists and which I wish to build on, is the (however imperfect) insistence on the political, and therefore ethical and theoretical, need of agency, which means also of a feedback with experience (cf. 159). But precisely because of this need, the impasse of the “autonomous Self” has first to be resolved:

 …[T]he philosophy of praxis affirms theoretically that every “truth”…has had practical origins and has represented a “provisional” value (historicity of every conception of the world and of life), …without in so doing shaking the convictions that are necessary for action. (Gramsci 406)

Further, some of the most useful feminist critics have foregrounded “the fractured and fluctuant condition of all consciously held identity, the impossibility of a will-ful, unified and coherent subject” (Kaplan 226). Or, “we can illuminate the grip [which this largely unquestioned assumption that…emotions, beliefs, intentions, virtues and vices…attach to us singly (no matter how socially we may acquire them)] has on us by seeing it as forming part of the ideology of liberal individualism” (Scheman 226). In Smith too, the “individual” is rightly seen “as simply the illusion of whole and coherent personal organization, or as the misleading description of the imaginary ground on which different subject-positions are colligated” (Mowitt xxxv). Yet Smith has just as rightly an acute feel for the need of resistance. It would follow that in all cases of oppression, from silencing to murder, each of us has ingent responsibilities toward what is no doubt as a rule both a collective (gender, ethnic, class, etc.) or typical insult but always also an ineluctably personal, subject-bound diminishment of humanity (which is why I take exception when a Fascist like Heidegger inveighs against “Humanism”). How is the need for resistance, for “the presence of subjects as knowers and as actors” (D.E. Smith 105), which ineluctably implies a feedback between individual and collective subjects, to be squared with the collapse of “coherent personal organization”?

 Rather than confront head on the thickets of conflicting terminologies I shall proceed athwart Paul Smith’s stance of uncognizability and dispersion, and attempt to radicalize his option for choice and  intervention by asking two pragmatic, and thus to my mind epistemologically determining,  questions. First, on historical evidence, who (which kinds or groups of people) has in the last 150 years contributed most to human solidarity? Of course, not the political or economic power-holders. Not philosophy, after the Bruno-to-Marx epoch. Alas, not “value-free” science as a whole. Mainly either a/ collective movements of the oppressed and exploited classes in their ascending moments, i.e. in the golden middle between sectarianism and bureaucratization (revolutions, unions, leftwing parties, movements of Black and women, etc.); or b/ fiction, writing, fine arts, music, the stage, some movies, some sciences (perhaps anthropology? theory of physics?). Second, in what way has this been done? Not by discovering any innate human dignity or rights, nor by simply constructing it ex nihilo, but by nurturing and fostering it (as in “foster-parents”), i.e. by postulating its possibility, Ernst Bloch’s tendency-latency, potentially existing in as well as constricted by material relationships but to be actively educed (drawn out) from them. By the way, philosophy has traditionally (since Socrates and Nagarjuna) done this by way of the “thin description,” embarked on Extra-Vehicular Activity in the interplanetary vacuum of purely conceptual thought. However, it seems that such a postulation is better conveyed by what anthropologists like Geertz call the “thick description” of artful narrative (where concepts are in a feedback with metaphors and stories). I suspect there is a close parallel here to the relationship between “thin” Self (consciousness, Descartes’s “pure mind”) and “thick” bodily Subject.

0.3. Here we enter upon an unavoidable problem in epistemology: We have learned that any text or event is most intimately shaped by its context, and in particular that the meaning depends on which contextualization is chosen. This is pithily put by Merleau-Ponty: “He who speaks (and that which he understands tacitly) always co-determines the meaning of what he says, the philosopher is always implicated in the problems he poses” (Visible 90). The context–in culture, the socialized, usually collective subject–co-determines the object; there is no absolute object. Yet there is no absolute relativity either: for a given context, the object can be established with sufficient precision. This epistemology also has its own context, the reason for adopting such a position. I would call it a “two hands” position. On the one hand, it stands against the despotism of an “absolute” truth, centralized manipulation of people, spatial confinement (emblem: the police). On the other hand, it stands against the despotism of an “absolute relativism,” statistical manipulation of people, informational tutelage (emblem: the credit computer). Of course, police can use the computer too: their absolutist fusion is fascism.

However, does the salutary and modesty-provoking relativization of acknowledging and foregrounding one’s own (personal and collective) standpoint rob it of any–except a capriciously “me-too”–validity? Is it simply a surrender to this era’s narcissistic and tribalized relativism, in which (as long as the market circulates!) I have my right and you have  your right, and we are all pluralists–either sincerely or just by making a virtue out of unbreakable constraint? Or may some standpoints and bearings be found that are more equal than others? In other words, if we accept the standpoint theory as a (so to speak) fundamental syntactic gambit, is there a semantico-pragmatic hierarchy of values that may be, in an analytically posterior but politically and ethically mandatory move, used to judge between various standpoints, once these have been identified? In still other words, how do we avoid the Deconstructionist mise en abyme or bad infinite recurrence of saying that this hierarchy is itself dependent on a standpoint, say a macro- or meta-standpoint?

I cannot pretend to have an answer. We are at a point in history when it is obviously too late and too early for any grand, unified theory of anything, or even for a modest approach to it. But I think there are some horizons within which a solution may be found. They would encompass the historical lessons to be drawn from both the voluntarist and the estheticist dead-ends, from the Leviathan and the animula–the dead ends of historiosophical Hegel without his dialectics vs. the critical Kant without his ethics; or of Lukács vs. Shklovsky, if you  wish. A solution would then have to be sought in a distinction between the short-duration and closed-group standpoints vs. the long-duration and genuinely open, dialectical or inter-group standpoints. The latter would, no doubt in historically complex combinatorics, be able to function–albeit provisionally and flexibly–as representatives of a humanizing totality, and thus found a hierarchy of values. That hierarchy would cut out of potentially infinite rhizomes constituting our imaginary encyclopedias (Eco, “Dizionario”) a pragmatically here-and-now privileged tree, whose branchings would be a guide for decisions. Yet a most important lesson we ought to have learned is that all (hard-won, unavoidable, indispensable, and rightly cherished) operative certainties must be desanctified by keeping in mind that they are just that, so that formal mechanisms must be found for preventing operative necessities from fossilizing into longue durée dogmas (the fate of both Social Democracy and Leninism, as it was of classical revolutionary liberalism earlier on). This means that heresies are to be encouraged and cherished, that the Activist and the Fool must not only coexist (as an ecclesia militans with ecclesia triumphans), but actually enter into a loving friendship.

Cognitively speaking, a first, very provisional conclusion is therefore that acknowledging one’s own situatedness in “the same world as is the object of our inquiry” (D. E. Smith 127) and  stance (including orientation) toward given knots in it does not at all preclude understanding. On the contrary, a non-neutral and non-absolute (e.g., non-eternal) cognition will have the strengths of a pragmatic situatedness of its knowers into bodies, situations, horizons. A “situated knowledge” is defined by Haraway, in her eponymous and as usual pathbreaking article, as being “simultaneously an account of radical historical contingency for all knowledge claims and knowing subjects, a critical practice for recognizing our own ‘semiotic technologies’ for making meanings, and a no-nonsense commitment to faithful accounts of a ‘real’ world” (579; cf. Code 250-64 and passim, D.E. Smith 121-27). One could quibble about some terms here, signalled by Haraway’s own quotation marks. But as I have been arguing all along, a tertium datur between the untenable horns of Individualist Subject vs. No Subject is to be sought–and may be found. Though Haraway’s article speaks about feminist objectivity and she distances herself from “bourgeois, Marxist, or masculinists projects” (593), I believe it is cognitively exemplary beyond feminism  when she asks for a perspective of partiality (pun intended) and formulates this new objectivity (and I would say subjectivity) as “[being] about limited location and situated knowledge,” thus “allow[ing] us to become answerable for what we learn how to see” (583).

My conclusion could then be pertinently summed up in two cognitive imperatives: against absolutism, historicize!; and against relativism, cognize! This would leave no room for either essentialism or nihilism.  While this may be a “soft” or indeed transitional epistemology, I think that in industrialized societies, with rapid circulation of novelties, only a dialectical, i.e. dynamic and non-theologized, cognition has a chance of being valid. And thus I arrive at the Subject.

  1. Subject as Social Allegory vs. Self as Interiority and the Pivot Formulation of Descartes

 Mercure: Qui va là?
Sosie: Moi!
Mercure: Qui, moi?

Molière, Amphitryon

 1.0. The present most unhappy situation, suggested in 0.2, may lead us to repeat (e.g.) Sloterdijk’s suggestive question: “Is a certain coming about of the ‘I’ (Ichwerdung) perhaps essentially just as catastrophic as the explosion of a nuclear reactor?” (120) Indeed, is not the immensely powerful invention of the disembodied, lone, inner-oriented Cartesian Self strictly analogous, homologous or even consubstantial to the invention of the “value-free” atom, thus leading in a direct line to the atomic bombs and reactors of our century, and lending itself to a fair characterization as a super-Chernobyl of historical or world-line pollution?

As one of the central notional categories registering the deepest shifts in social formations, and in particular the shift first into and then out of the ideological hegemony of competitive or market capitalism, the whole complex of “subjectivity” has been –as researchers have traditionally complained–buffetted and polluted by hurricanes of obfuscation (cf. on the historical semantics, the indispensable Williams ss.vv. Experience, Individual, Personality, Subjective). Thus, unless one wants to assume this spiritual pollution, there is no alternative but to propose a terminological thesaurus of one’s own. E.g., a major piece of present-day ideological pollution can be immediately cleared away by the founding Marxian refusal to postulate “‘Society’…as an abstraction vis-à-vis the individual. The individual is the social being.” (Marx, Economic 137-38); this is paraphrased by Bakhtin as  the refusal of “binary opposition [between the ‘social’ and] the ‘individual,’ and hence…the notion that the psyche is individual while ideology is social….[All the] properties and attributes of the ideological individual [are social].” (34)

But after destruction, we have to proceed to at least preparing the grounds for reconstruction. Its semantics have at a minimum  to be clearly articulated as to their inner syntax and pragmatic suitability. In order to have a chance at extricating it from the pollution opening with a memorable bang in Descartes, I shall posit that any such thesaurus has to incorporate the historical long duration (Braudel’s longue durée) and eschew either/or dichotomies in favour of both/and hierarchies.

1.1. As I argued in the Propositions for this issue, this mental hygiene can be achieved by differentiations within the semantic field of subjectivity. 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, maple tree or province) by three principal means: definite description, proper name or indicator (pronoun, adverb, etc.). The second is a human “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 her inner life, at the heart of an intimacy to which nobody, outside of himself, can have access…. (Vernant, “L’individu” 24)

I shall return to what I see as the crucial matter of interiority. But here I wish to note a  startling fact: 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, overtly constituted by sociality,  implies other Subjects. But the Self implies Another: Platonically–The Other, transcendentally–God. (Incidentally, this entails that all the worthy talk about The Other, and the ethics deriving therefrom, are still essentially predicated upon the individualistic Self.) The search may be called theology, or–from Bacon and Descartes on–Science, it is in all cases proceeding upon the One True Way. The consequences, from politics to epistemology, were to be huge.

1.2. What this effects is a diametrical inversion of vectors. Earlier–in literature and art up to and including  Boccaccio, Giotto or Rabelais–the Subject was, for others as well as for himself, a twodimensional limit-zone where collective bodies or groups (often in the allegorical guise of general types) meet and interfere: a king, an old man, a choleric, a buyer of love for property, etc., finally stripped down to Everyman, all of this goes to make Lear; Agamemnon was rather distinct from Menelaus, but both were largely determined by being rulers, warriors against Troy, and Atreides. Now, the subject begins to be seen, first by herself 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 threedimensional sphere seen from the inside. Soon, by need for validation and morphological analogy, 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 initially and most clearly 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 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”  (when shamefaced laicized synonyms such as individual sensu lato, personality or  ego are substituted for soul).

All of this is, of course, centrally a politico-economic, historical trajectory. While the heroic individual of the Renaissance still participated in the plenitude of material life, like Rabelais’s giants, from the Reformation on he (sic) devolved into a Self whose freedom was increasingly interior, located into an “‘inner’ sphere” of  consciousness, observing rather than intervening: “Nothing which is in the world and stems from the world  can attack the ‘soul’ and its freedom; this terrible utterance [of Luther’s], which already makes it possible entirely to [depreciate] ‘outer’ misery and to justify it ‘transcendentally,’ persists as the basis of the Kantian doctrine of freedom” (Marcuse 56 and 57, and cf. his whole essay “Luther and Calvin”). In the philosophically influential Descartes variant, the topological image of the mind/ consciousness as “inner arena” of ideas was, as Richard Rorty proves,  the principal, epoch-making invention. Human relationships are now, for the first time, construed as experience occurring in the depths of a three-dimensional Self (cf. Toulmin, also Suvin “Soul”), which was–precisely–consciousness. Subject becomes subjectivity, the world begins to split into subjective and objective states, with the attendant huge problems of their possible relationships (cf. Bordo 49ff.). The depth of consciousness grows vertiginous with the Romantics, and as it were self-destructs in Freud.

This most novel idea of Selfhood flew in the face of all human experience and notions, and needed to be validated by a transcendental grounding (or is it assumption?). Whence did the Truth get into the Center? A mouth-stopping validation is the best answer: Truth was put there by an omnipotent God. In the huge social breakdowns of the late 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 Thaïs 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.

The Promethean spark of the quondam 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)

I shall not indulge here in philological reconstructions of what Descartes “really” meant; his opus seems rich in doubts, hesitations, and caveats. But this is irrelevant for European intellectual history: its “Descartes” is the juncture of transplanting 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” (R. Rorty 50). This redistribution of social interfaces into the interiorized Selves brought about “a new form of identity,” remarks Vernant, in which the human individual is defined by an unremitting obsession with his interior, e.g. by  “his most intimate thoughts, her secret imaginings, his nocturnal dreams, her sinful impulses…” (“L’individu” 36-37). The new space of the Cartesian cogito “as precondition and foundation of all knowledge about the world, the self, and god” (Vernant, “Preface”  40)–the “Je suis” as locus of individuality and subjectivity, the soul as “moi”–is quite unheard of in all non-individualist cultures, e.g. the Hellenic, East Asian, and even European medieval one.

As the rigid roles of the ancien régime broke down in the full assumption of power by the bourgeoisie, the full-fledged ideology of individualism emerged. It is a political practice and doctrine according to which the human individual (in this “soulful” sense of a unified and lasting Self) is the final building brick of the body politic,3/ just as other, identically individual entities (e.g. the unsplittable atom) are the final building blocks of all other cosmic levels. 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-individualist tradition–i.e., for 33 of the 34 world civilizations, if I remember Toynbee’s count well. Two or three centuries after Descartes, the “individualistic self-experience” (Voloinov /Bakhtin 89) grew to be one of the lonely Self, and Schopenhauer justly proclaimed such individuation a curse.

  1. Deconstruction: Hello and Goodbye

[The final result of ’68 has in French philosophy been] to engender a hyper-individualism which is perfectly comfortable with the existing social forms.

                                                                                                                 Ferry-Renault, “Sujet

2.1. As is well known within the small world of Western academy, our literary and cultural studies have since the 1970s  been beset by a confrontation between the traditional “humanists” and the newfangled “deconstructionists.” The Subject (subjectivity, agency, author/ity) has been one of the main campaign theaters, with battle cries of, approximately, “free individual and self-expression” vs. “the I is dead” (“das Ich ist unrettbar” was already Ernst Mach’s conclusion at the turn of the century). From where I stand both sides have partially good but finally unsatisfactory arguments, and the only theoretically satisfying horizon would be some approximation to a shamelessly Hegelian sublation, i.e. negation plus assumption of both (which practically we may not get in these unpropitious times, so that we have to go on “pluralistically” using orts and scraps of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis). I shall limit myself to a much simplified discussion of the Post-structuralists and Deconstructionists.

Their strength lies in the “de-” prefix, in the denial of late-liberal illusions. One can only applaud their assault on metaphysics and essentialist individualism, even if in comparison to Marx and Nietzsche–say Marx’s fundamental and constant critique of the Christian and bourgeois “cult of the abstract man” (cf. at least Marcuse 128ff.)–it was both belated and less well argued. Historically, the balance-sheet of individualism is by now badly in the red. Descartes had substituted for the authority of the Church’s Augustinian God that of the secular I of the cogito (cf. Negri 90-94, Taylor 128ff. and 156ff.)–while letting God back in by a somewhat peripheral garden gate, as the only imaginable outer validation of the I’s interiority, just as the bourgeoisie could continue only under the wing of an absolutist State. “The Discours is truly a bourgeois novel” about a lonely “I” in the demonic world of the malin génie (Negri 109 and passim). In Robinson Crusoe and his novel, or already in Prince Hamlet though not necessarily in the play Hamlet, we may see this consciousness –“the  Western, transcendent, and masculine norm of autobiographical selfhood”  (Brodzki and Schenck 4; though there are interesting exceptions to the masculinity in the “thick” constructs of art, beginning precisely with Shakespeare and Defoe). Yet the bite on reality  of this founding individualist myth shrinks in the fullness of bourgeois time from the rich sceptic traffic with the world of a Montaigne, through the illusionist space of perspectival geometry,  to an empty space, “ab-solute, un-bound from the world which no longer supports it, and as the reciprocal term of God” (de Certeau, Heterologies 94, and cf. Bordo 68ff.). Kant, that exemplary philosopher of the autonomous and rational Self, has the great advantage of beginning to demonstrate how intellect participates in constructing knowledge. Still, so far as I can see, his “critique” never overcame some central aporias, e.g. what makes experience and in particular identity possible or how is the Subject’s standpoint constituted within history and/or society, and thus led to the dead-end of what is usually called “the problem of the Thing-in-itself” (Ding-an-sich). It then becomes visible that whatever Descartes’s “I think therefore I am” might have been, it was not (as both he and Kant fervently hoped) a supreme because direct certainty (cognitio… prima et certissima). Based  on Descartes’s own later comments, Nietzsche pointed out that

 …cogito, ergo sum presupposes that one knows what is “thinking” and further what is “being”: thus, if the est (sum) were true, this would be a certainty based upon two correct judgments, adding to it a certainty that one had, to begin with, a right to any concluding, a right to the ergo–thus, in any case, no direct certainty (Werke 641; Heidegger disputes this critique, but in any such confrontation my money is on Nietzsche).

See also the less sweeping though acute objection: “I maintain that Cogito ergo sum has no meaning because that little word sum has no meaning….’I am’…is no answer to any intelligible question.” (Valéry 9: 54)

Nothing fails like success. Around the end of the 19th Century, the Cartesian practice of “maîtres et possesseurs de la nature” (Discours 100) leads to a massive shift (first in the France and USA) from the sovereign Victorian–e.g. Emersonian–character, which is good or bad, to the mass-society personality, which is famous or anonymous (in tandem with the non-individual but private corporation personalized in its trade-marks, which is profitable or unprofitable), i.e. from ethical ideas to commodified PR imagery in which “That which appears is good, that which is good appears” (Kipnis 21). This mass-produced Self, moving  on the upswing of the Kondratiev cycle from production-directed  to consumption-directed goals,  increasingly shed  the  liberal contradiction that the highest Self  also implies self-mastery  and self-sacrifice for class ideals,  and  stressed self-expression and self-gratification, which yet must (in a  new contradiction) remain sufficiently pseudo-exemplary–replicable or empathizable–for the personality to remain attractive and “fascinating” (see Susman’s meticulous reconstruction 271-82 and passim, also Meyer). With the rise of cinema and TV, this soap-opera personality melded what Benjamin had analyzed as 19th-Century fashion with the Tocquevillean authoritarianism of US democracy (cf. Suvin “Two”) to rapidly colonize first the lower classes in the metropolis and then the whole globe, reorganized into political nation-states linked by satellites and computer banking. We see the latest avatar of this–as I write–in the media foo-faw around the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

2.2. In the upshot, repeating known truths is never superfluous. But we did not quite need the Post-structuralists (whose arrowhead became the Deconstructionists) to point out that the bourgeois dispensation has in four centuries never clarified–theoretically or practically– what (where, how) is this “I”; and in particular, how is its shibboleth of freedom to be taken: I am free for or of what? Truly, the “free” individuals are free from most old attachments but then centrally free to sell themselves on the labour market, which is lately not buying much. Their “rounded,” three-dimensional richness is finally a supermarket and cinerama effect; this is, no doubt, preferable to the empty shelves found at the bottom of the World Bank totem-pole but it is in no way similar to the equally empowered billiard-ball entities demanded by the analytical geometry of human bodies and forces freely colliding on a level-field market and magically producing a social space of dignity for all, as demanded by bourgeois theory from Descartes through Hobbes to Adam Smith. What Freud called blows to men’s narcissism or self-love, evicting the billiard-ball from the centre of cosmology with Copernicus (and even more so Bruno), of biology with Darwin, and of psychology with himself (221), are then on the one hand logical and necessary dethronements of the still semi-theological ego. Yet while true freedom from poverty and oppression remains a very precious goal, the series of bourgeois disenchantments into freedom finally reconstructs the Subject into a sellable Self. The cogito is thus revealed as a two-faced, thoroughly ideological  coinage: its welcome desanctification of fossilized Church dogma has as an increasingly painful obverse the alienation of the cogitators (except for those statistically irrelevant few who possess Descartes’s private revenues) into more-or-less one-dimensional sellers of labour-power–including us “value-free” professionals. This should be kept firmly in mind all the time, since outside our little academic world (and indeed at the top of its own power structures) a thoroughly capitalist Cartesianism has never lost its hegemonic constraining capacity, and seems even to be returning onto the theoretical terrain in the present Right-wing rollback (at least in France, see Le Doeuff 122).

However, it is entirely possible to acknowledge  a reasonable cultural relativism dethroning the idea of individuality without abolishing the Subject à la Heidegger. Already John Dewey could remark that “The idea that human nature is inherently or exclusively individual is itself a product of cultural individualistic movement. The idea that human nature and consciousness are intrinsically individual did not even occur to any one for much the greater part of human history [and geopolitics, one could add].” (Freedom 21) Nearer to us, Gadamer concluded: “The self-consciousness of the individual is only a flickering in the closed circuit of historical life. That is why a person’s pre-judgments (Vorurteile, prejudices) much rather than his judgments constitute the historical reality of her being.” (261) The Post-structuralists share the only hermeneutics available to us non-PR intellectuals in this historical epoch, which Ricoeur has well named the hermeneutics of suspicion (soupçon); but they exasperate it and indeed take it ad absurdum. Beginning with a simple “structuralizing” denial of subjectivity–e.g. the famous Barthesian and Foucauldian “death of the author”–this tendency advances to a Derridean polemic strategy wherein by (his) definition the subject is not saying–or doing, though the Post-structuralists speak usually about speaking only–what it seems to be saying, or even what it thinks it is saying (see Ferry-Renault, “Sujet” 109). At best, we are in for  either a new literary genre, Derrida’s poem-in-prose as philosophy (cf. Cavell 306-09ff.), or a substitution of multiple schizophrenic subjectivities à la Deleuze and Guattari– protons and electrons (maybe even neutrons, not to speak of charms and quarks) in lieu of the unsplittable atom of the bourgeois Self that culminated in Victorian or Wilhelminian patriarchy. But all of this brings its own crippling problems, of which I shall here mention two.

2.3. First, it is by now time to foreground the unacceptable face of Deconstructionism, which I would identify with the influence of the post-Kehre, post-Humanismusbrief Heidegger. I am reminded here of Ernst Bloch’s late and terrible suspicion, whose exact quote I cannot at the moment locate, but which said roughly: behind the citoyen, we have seen, came the bourgeois; Gnade uns Gott (merciful god), who is coming behind the comrade? We can today answer: the bureaucratic despot, or something similar. Now Ferry and Renault, following Bell and Lipovetsky, have applied this proto-deconstructionist suspicion to the French Post-structuralists and Deconstructionists themselves:

Has the 60s’ philosophy really been as “revolutionary” and “deconstructive” as it pretended to be? Or hasn’t it rather efficiently accompanied an ongoing social movement [in the West during these last two decades], characterized by the take-off of liberalist individualism and of consumer society…? (“Sujet” 113-14; cf. also their 68-86)

Though one would have to say that the Sixties’ movement–even in France–was too contradictory to be judged as a monolith, Ferry-Renault’s conclusion about the social conformism of French philosophy issuing from it, cited in the epigraph to this section (“Sujet” 114), on the whole, alas,  rings true. It seems simply an application to the “Nouveaux Philosophes” of the lucid observation at the beginning of our century, again by John Dewey, that “[t]here is a subterranean partnership between those who employ the existing economic order for selfish pecuniary gain and those who turn their backs upon it in the interest of personal complacency, private dignity, and irresponsibility” (Intelligence 411).

The pre-industrial world believed in a fixed and monophonic Truth, and Paul of Tarsus thought the elect would see this Platonic classical Idea “face to face,” while in a more sophisticated variant Thomas of Aquinas called it  the “adequation of intellect to the thing” and Lenin “the correspondence between our ideas and objective reality” (cf. Eco, Limiti 325). If this classical idea is well lost together with all variants of monotheism, from the Vatican to the Kremlin; if we have indelibly learned that  we are rather at Paul’s “through a glass darkly” (an impure, refracting glass at that); still the second horn of the dilemma, “A chacun sa vérité,” is equally untenable. For one thing, it is internally  contradictory (let me  call this “the paradox of the Cretan truth-teller” or the tu quoque boomerang), for another, it is demobilising for any collective (i.e. efficacious) action, for a third, it leaves in practice very non-relative institutions (State apparati, banks, nationalist demagogies, etc.) free to do as they want. This, to my feeling dominant, PoMo stance is “the very paradigm of every sort of [buckling under and] compromise with the existing status quo” (Guattari 40). Furthermore, the exclusively privatized adversarial stance engendered by the shift from the validity of the theme and argument of a proposition to the unmasking of the proposer’s personality is not only singularly unlovely but “it may easily legitimate some forms of a disquieting intellectual terrorism,” not absent even from Foucault or Althusser (Ferry-Renaut 116). The civility of the critical but finally subsumptive rather than competitive-adversarial mode seems to be dispensed with in most (though thankfully not in a few of the best) Post-structuralists. I would even say that uncritical repetition of Heidegger’s somewhat hysterical dicta against science and rationalism, presumably by reason of their reference to pragmatically verifiable truths, bars the way to consistent thinking and agency, and is thus deeply obscurantist.  This is, again, to be found in the weakest moments of both Foucault and Althusser, not to mention the ridiculous sloganeering of Lyotard (“rendre la philosophie inhumaine,” cf. Ferry-Renaut 111-12) and innumerable imitators, which does not even shock the bourgeoisie any more–one can well imagine the gloating smirk on the face of an intelligent banker or bureaucrat should he chance to glance at it. My feeling is that Derrida is more cautious here, while the closest (though not very close) approximation to a dialectics of de- and re-construction might be found in some places of the Deleuze-Guattari opus.

Second, even the bad patriarchal ego was able (as Jameson remarked in a 1993 lecture) not only to have an unconscious, to sublimate etc., but clearly had possibilities of action. Fragmenting the atomic ego may be a necessary first step and pleasant polemical device,  but if we want to do anything in this world of bodies and institutions–most pressingly, to contribute our small bits and bytes toward changing the world away from what the Robinson Crusoes have changed it into, i.e. in the direction of an inhabitable planet–we shall have to find ways of reintegrating agency into the electron cloud for given purposes (much like in Stanislaw Lem’s novel The Invincible). In fact, all of us do cut out a Porphyrian tree with branchings for key decisions from the potentially unending rhizome of our cultural encyclopedia. As Eco has wittily remarked, when Derrida asked him for a letter of support for the Collège International de Philosophie, “I bet Derrida assumed that: –I should assume he is saying the truth; –I should read his message as a univocal program…; –the signature which he asked me to put at the bottom of my letter should be taken more seriously than Derrida’s at the end of ‘Signature, événement, contexte'” (Limiti 27). For efficacious Post-structuralist theoreticians, their end forgets their beginning. And one of Barthes’s favourite lexemes, dérivé, turned into a catchword by Lyotard, derives after all from the Latin de-ripare, the obverse of ad-ripare, to get to an (uncrossable) river-bank or shore, which metaphor when sufficiently deadened becomes our “arrive”: in order to drift from somewhere one first had to arrive there; so that I would hope that after a period of drifting in the desert (sous rature, so to speak) one might if not arrive then at least again glimpse some approximations to a Promised Land. Or even, quite modestly, to what William Morris called “an epoch of rest”–a middling, restful land, without the mass murders, hungers, drug poisonings, air, water, and food adulterations, and the myriad other hegemonic insults to people’s flesh and imagination.

  1. To Position a Survivable Polity, Non-Interiority, Valencies for Subjectivity


Seid ihr wirklich im Fluss des Geschehens? Einverstanden mit
Allem was wird? Werdet ihr noch?
[Are you really within the flowing of events? Consenting to
All that is becoming? Are you still becoming?]

                                                                                                   Brecht, Der Zweifler (The Skeptic)

3.1. As my quote in 0.2 characterizing Benjamin’s position may have suggested, I feel/think that my position (and that of many of my readers) is quite similar to his self-characterization  as a person who has left his class and cannot (though he sometimes thought he could) find another practical constituency. Certainly as far as the Subject is concerned, our basic problem seems to me identical to the much maligned project of Left-wing Modernism: how to find–in lieu of Adorno’s no more tenable “bourgeois individual, the thinking subject”–some “supraindividual” (and in my opinion also “infraindividual”) possibility of agency, i.e. a Subject, which could practically and cognitively use and valorize at least some of our personal experiences without demanding a sacrifice of the personal intellect and civil dignity. If there is to be a politically acceptable “post-Modernism” (a question on which the jury is still out), it would have to set sail again, with all due corrections of course and crew, on this so far shipwrecked project.

Of course, in our epistemological crisis where despondency and obfuscation embrace, just what this project may now cognitively and politically (therefore, if you wish, ethically) be is much easier defined by negatives than by positives. Insofar as our enchantments (e.g., the socialist and then the feminist one) were insufficiently critical and self-critical, our disenchantments are legitimate and cannot be simply “sublated.” But this does not authorize us to abandon the quest for a communal positionality or survivable polity–in good politics as well as in good logics: ex propositionibus mere particularibus nihil sequitur, it does not follow from a particular historical defeat, however huge and painful, that long-duration necessities–such as, that the survival of Homo sapiens sapiens has precedence over the profit principle–are no longer necessary. We need to transcend the simple-minded Post-structuralist opposition of the bad old, centered, stable subject vs. the good new (good because new?), decentered, drifting subject. Rigid patriarchal stability of the personally named enterprise vs. riding the commodity tempests of Global Capitalism Inc. “like to the leaves in Vallombrosa”: the exhilaration may be in both cases real, but it is very limited and limiting. A plague on both your houses! As Jameson formulates it in this issue and in another unpublished document: the opposite of the centered subject does not have to be the schizophrenic subject, but could be the collective one. His exemplar is then Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason in which the group is a circulation of positions, so that at a certain time everyone in the group is the center but overall no one is the center. Sartre’s theory of group formation thus “decenters the individual subject not by dissolving centrality but by making it omnipresent:…the hierarchical fact of centrality is here overcome by its absolute extension and as it were democratization” (“Representations” 57). The last term is crucial: capitalism has most efficiently created a “fully commodified agency” of the collective but privatized–i.e. publicly irresponsible and irrefrangibly despotic–corporation (see Newfield 677-78 and passim). The choice today is not between individualism or collectivism: our choice is between oligarchic and democratic collectivism. Democracy is here not the USIA ideology nor the US “middle” classes’ selling of their original independent agency for a very small mess of lentils,  shareholding in corporate oligarchy (see Newfield 679-80). It is the political unfolding of a Subject-type that reconciles a generality without rigidity to a singularity without privatized marginality–what Brecht discussing his play Man is Man called, in opposition to the Nazis, a “good collective.” His friend Benjamin’s yearning may thus be given a first, if brief and sketchy, image and figuration.

Half a dozen years ago, in my first clearing of the ground for an approach to the Subject, I went through some of the milestones of its history, from  the breakdown of the people’s collective body that Bakhtin thought to have identified (in Rabelais) through Hobbes and Freud to Foucault and some feminists. My conclusion was that if we still lack a viable theory of the Subject, is this not the case because we have first to estrange the whole doctrinally individualist approach, to hold it at arm’s length and eventually break it down, in order to break out of its epistemological and political horizon of Death? And how can this breakout happen if not by means of some updated, i.e. democratic, notions of collectivity? This still begs many central questions, to begin with how do we not only affirm the overarching opposition of vitality vs. necrophilia, but also locate precise social groups and actions with respect to this divide. And I concluded that if my whole argument held, Bakhtin could give us the perhaps essential pointer that the subject should not be looked at as a monad. Indeed, one way of formulating the dead end of what in Fichte’s term can be called the “perfectly sinful” capitalist society is to say that in it “being human coincides with the physical individuality”: “And this same principle: ‘Me and therefore not the others,’ each person in this society practices against each person, and this for each and all thing-tokens of any commodity which that person needs for its own existence, and therefore all around itself for all that its existence altogether is” (Sohn-Rethel 113 and 201). To the contrary, the personal individuality should be understood as a limit-zone of collective bodies and subjects (Suvin, “Subject” 187).

This is not merely or primarily a utopian wish (in itself a beginning of wisdom). I do not know any tenable discussion of subjectivity which would not conclude it is constructed in relationships between non-isolated people. Bakhtin reminds us that individuals communicate by means of the “social material of signs” which “can arise only on interindividual territory” (Voloinov 12). Wittgenstein has reminded us that private normativity and private language are impossible (349ff.). Child psychologists from Piaget and Vygotsky, and lately feminists, have reminded us just how contradictory is the Cartesian position that, on the one hand, reason is distributively universal (well–at least for adult upper-class Western males), yet on the other, cognition is introspection of an individual mind for whom any embodiment and all traffic with other “I”s is irrelevant (cf. Code passim). As against this hegemonic individualist position–which runs through Rousseau, Kant, and Mill to the Reader’s Digest–, clearly our central experiences are all relational, our lives are interdependent, and even (especially!) the most intimate recesses of our personalities are constructed through these relations and interdependencies (cf. Baier).

3.2. A central correlative of the hypothesis of a primacy of autonomous individuals (ontogenetically and phylogenetically so easy to falsify), which we must postulate to account for its intuitively small  possibility is the experience of apparently solitary labour, shared by all of us isolated–usually male–professional intellectuals from Descartes on. Indeed,  the most  illuminating account of that first crisis “of a  bourgeoisie that has to give up… comprehending in itself the general social interest,” Negri’s Descartes politico (here 69), argues  that Descartes’s discourse flowed out of the terrible defeat of the heroic and “thick” Renaissance project; so that bourgeois productivity, caught between revolts of labouring classes and royal power, could be saved only by separating the world from the Subject. The Self knows no labour, only cogitation. Where Code observes that the “constructors of autonomy-centered theories” must have dispensed with child-raising labour (85), I would add physical labour in general. I shall return to this crucial topic in the next section.

Within any stance denying the billiard-ball Self, its distinction outer-inner is, for better or worse, if not quite lost at least radically reconfigured. Biologically, the separation of organisms from “their” environment is only allowable for strictly limited analytical purposes (biologists then have to speak of an “inner environment” inside the organism); in fact, a complex mutual enfolding is the usual case. In terms of human societies, interaction through labour never required depth psychology, only many-tiered “flat” (horizontal and vertical) coordinations–Deleuze and Guattari might say plateaus. Haraway  gives us a fascinating pointer how a multiply permeable self– therefore not a Self in my terms–is figured in the discourse of immunology (and today of AIDS). In it, “What counts as a ‘unit,’ a one, is highly problematic, not a permanent given.” This new kind of Subject is “able to engage with others (human and non-human, inner and outer), but always with finite consequences… situated possibilities and impossibilities of individuation and identification… partial fusions and dangers” (“Biopolitics” 15 and 32; cf. also Dawkins 83ff. and passim). The shift from Outer (interplanetary or intergalactic) to Inner (psychological) Space was foreshadowed in “New Wave” science fiction from the 1960s on; alas, in J.G. Ballard or Harlan Ellison it often identified  inner space as a kind of Jungian archetypal jungle, so that for more sophisticated and politically literate figurations one has to go to Lem and the Strugatski Brothers (Ursula Le Guin and Philip Dick waver between these poles, inclining after the collapse of the 60s’ movement toward the former; cf. Suvin Positions). Twenty years later, this shift has permeated the PR discourse of NASA and biomedicine (see Haraway, “Biopolitics” 26-27 and passim).

Now, it is astounding how well this can be fitted in with Karatani’s book on the origins of 20th-Century Japanese orientations, which can be learned from precisely because the Japanese Meiji (19th-Century) restructuring of a whole society had to effect in two generations an abbreviated recapitulation of four centuries of European economic, power, and ideological development; so that even the despotic deviations of that recapitulation brutally show up the underlying skeleton of its European model (a bit as the abbreviated “ontogenesis”  of the embryo recapitulates in a differing, much foreshortened context the “phylogenesis” of the species). In Karatani’s witty central argument, “Interiority was not something that had always existed, but only appeared as the result of the inversion of a semiotic constellation” (Origins 57). Interiority–which we can also read as the Cartesian cogito in interiorized space whose only quality is its imaginary extension (62), i.e. depth–is a “discovery”: e.g., Rousseau caps the trend I mentioned in 2.1 à propos of Shakespeare and Defoe by discovering that language mediates the immediate “inner” experience (68, based on Starobinski). In the ultimate triumph of Karatani’s favourite Marxian figure, inversion–the camera obscura of ideology–, interiority grows into a system which “was not, in fact, inside us, but rather [it was] we who were incorporated within it” (70). Exactly the obverse of the Hellenic city-state: “To imagine the world does not consist in rendering it present inside our mind. It is our thought which is of the world and a presence in the world.” (Vernant, “Preface” MS 17, and cf. Richard Rorty 47)

Thus, getting out of this bourgeois interiority, the system of Self, and then redefining a two-dimensional but multivalent Subject is ineluctably on today’s historical agenda. Let us hope we can do this athwart the military-scientific power complex diagnosed by Haraway in its presently most dangerous sector, the biomedical one.

3.3. Anticipating my argument about labour, I am positing that cognition is a material practice. If so, any cognitive agency, producing or creating through labour, is necessarily concrete people, within specific historical relations, material resistances, and thus social constraints. Subjects are always  located in a very specific nexus of human relationships, direct or very indirect (e.g. mediated by humanly constructed technology and finance as frozen forms of human labour, cf. Marx, Grundrisse 690-711), in a particular spacetime with a limited choice of available or affordable agents and actions. This is also why, as suggested in 0.2, the “thick descriptions” or Possible Worlds of fiction or fine arts are to my mind much more useful than purely conceptual cogitations (e.g. much philosophy; so that I can read Derrida with pleasure as a Mallarméan prose poet but not as philosopher with any transferrable system). Sharing some of the empirical world’s limitations and resistances, the Possible Worlds of storytelling can traffic much more richly with our usual, i.e. hegemonic constructions of the world, in a mutually verifying and falsifying feedback (even though the cognitive increment does not come about in “scientific” ways).

As to the empirical actions of a person, they rarely–after the industrial revolution, never–happen within one unchanging nexus. Therefore, as a rule they do not swallow  or even engage the whole person but only–to borrow a term from chemistry–some of its “valences” for a given type of action: the teaching valence for teaching, the fishing valence for fishing, and so forth; on the present physical model of the divisible and recombinable atom, one might think of such possibilities as based on infra-individual units less akin to various Freudian layers or drives than to free protons-electrons or maybe even charms-quarks. The successful Althusserian interpellations can then be thought as outside pressures keyed into the suitable free locks in the atom of personality. I see no difficulty in such interpellations redefining the hierarchy that constitutes the personality by means of their docking onto a suitable slot, on the model of the cell’s protein or the rotating space station: personality engineering was practiced by shamans much before we acquired the metaphors from molecular engineering or science fiction (or Sloterdijk). If I were to write a book about freedom and personality, such Harawayan topologies (cf. her “Biopolitics”) would underlie the argument presented in 2.2. I could even find a somewhat too oligarchic pointer in Nietzsche: “…perhaps it is just as permissible to assume a multiplicity of subjects, whose interactions and struggle is the basis of our thought and our consciousness in general?… [An] aristocracy of [equal “cells”], used to ruling jointly and understanding how to command?” (Will 270)

My reader may dismiss this mix of metaphors about human imagination and therefore agency as a too “thick” fancy. I could defend myself by citing not only chemistry, atomic physics, cell biology or immunology but, say, Richard Rorty’s pragmatism, the insights of feminist critics such as Kaplan about “fluctuant identity” (see 0.2), the misnamed “object relations” theory of Melanie Klein and others, Tinbergen’s study of instinct, or indeed venerable discussions in philosophy. But in fact, this can of worms was logically opened by the radical shift away from the body politic discussed in 1.2. If the supra-personal group, consanguineous or territorial, is not the locus of agency and responsibility, and indeed of intention and value, why stop the disintegration at a person? Because it has an “individual” body in Huxley’s sense? But that body may well be seen, e.g., as subject to “outside” possession–by a demon, a slave-owner or a pater familias–and thus split between different and changing responsibilities, say after exorcism or emancipation. Physical agency is in possessed persons (in both senses of the adjective) divorced from legal personhood: slaves were “speaking cattle” for Aristotle, and women empty-headed ninnies for the same Victorians who accepted the fiction of “corporate persons.” This indicates that delimitation of which bodies are persons is tricky in all dimensions, inferior, superior, and even lateral: is a chimpanzee, a robot or an Alien also a person? In just what ways?

To strengthen the infra-personal hypothesis, I could further jump from demonic possession and slavery to quite contemporary processes, such as Artificial Intelligence or even the division of economic firms into competing sub-units (cf. a survey in Elster ed.). AI authorities have found it necessary to postulate the mind as a “society” of quite circumscribed sub-“agents” organized into larger “agencies” and those in turn into higher-level systems, where the levels can rapidly shift for a needed action (cf. Minsky, also Minsky and Papert). Yet finally I could not dispute the gentle reader short of an essay the size of this one (“Cognitive,” to appear elsewhere). Still, I think we have sufficient evidence, from Freud and Sartre to present-day cognitivism, that there are mental processes about which we are still deeply in the dark but which cannot be even limned except by postulating a shifting congerie of sub-personal units in the cognizing subject, i.e. by fragmenting the unsplittable Self. Nonetheless, such shifting, changing, even contradictory Subjects would in given cases (depending on the presuppositions and interpellations) be quite ready for agency. And to any given type of agency there would correspond a sufficiently unitary Subject–thereby explaining the experience most of us have that we possess some unity, that the loving or painful impingements of reality are happening to a Subject with a unique body and memories that may at its best attain to what Nietzsche has in his meditation on Schopenhauer wondrously called a “productive uniqueness,” which cannot be simply dismissed as individualist ideology.

As Jameson suggests in this issue, such types would be correlative (and insofar as they certainly have some kind of substance, beginning with a semantic and ideological one, they would be consubstantial) to their field of action, constituting, e.g., a mathematical, scientific or aesthetic–but also a fatherly or collegial–Subject. The most important of such Subjects would be anchored in the historically most durable institutions such as the law and codified religion (both of which also insert speech into political decision-making in the guise of rhetorics), medicine (which inserted semiotics) or warfare. Further,  a lot of work has been done both in sociology and theatre studies on the notion of “role,” which should be reread with the intention of freeing it from its unwarranted presupposition of marginality to a central “actor.”  In fact, I strongly suspect we already have a good approximation to the mercurial Subjects of my preceding paragraph in the nomadic collectives and personalities from both the successful neo-capitalist “power-elite” (as Wright Mills concluded long ago) and the neo-tertiary-sector (cf. e.g. Poster’s somewhat enthusiastic view of computer writing,  114ff.), whose twists and turns have so stymied all “nuclear”–e.g. old-fashioned trade union–expectations.  As I suggested above, the Post-structuralist theory comes from an one-sided, unproductive absolutization of the neo-tertiary personal experience (most clearly in Baudrillard), since university teachers belong to it. It remains, as the Left from the feminists to Smith and Jameson has been asking, to make the new Subject  available for democratic resistance and reconfiguration, against the horizon of a survivable community.

  1. Briefly, On Body Politics

                                                                           Those who believe in substantiality are like cows;                                                                             those who believe in emptiness are worse.

Saraha (9th Century C.E.)

4.1. 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.” “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). This may lead us to notice that if in the sentence [ego] cogito ergo [ego] sum, the first and outstanding problem is the “I” (ego), yet a correlative, and in some ways even anterior or constitutive problem is cogito/sum, the relationship of mind and body. As almost all commentators have underlined, the sovereign epistemological Self, which will by the time of Kant also understand itself as ethical,  is in Descartes predicated on a reason “autonomous… in two senses”:

First, the quest for certain knowledge should be… undertaken separately by each rational being; and second, that quest is a journey of reason alone, unhindered–and hence also unaided–by the senses…. [Descartes’s] account of knowledge-seeking is of an introspective activity that depends neither on the embodied nature of a knower nor on his (or her) intersubjective relations. (Code 112)

What has less often been foregrounded is whether there is (as I think) a necessary linkage, within this understanding of understanding–or this meta-epistemic stance–, between the two “narcotizings,” that of the body and that of the epistemic or primary collectivity. (Of course, nobody but the crassest solipsist denies the secondary social collectivity of the knowers’ communicating the results of inquiry, certainly not Descartes.)  Yet it seems probable that the loss of body as validation for inscribing the Subject’s time, space, and name into the socially recognized chronotope and identification (e.g., gender, class, race…), necessarily devalues what Marx called “the ensemble of social relationships” constituting the embodied personality. The body’s sensual perceptions unified by a personal brain and participation in a network of interpersonal relationships are simply the two faces of the same very permeable interface (of membership in one another, as Paul of Tarsus the communal organizer–for once laudably–said). How would, e.g.,  the thinking ego be fed, kept from fever by shelter and clothing, supplied with pen and paper to fix its cogitations, and indeed taught the language for them, without a whole array of (often female) caring and/or employed family members, teachers, helpers, suppliers, and so forth?  Is there not an analogy here between a factory organizer and a cogitating pure mind? Descartes’s very Platonic despisal of the body’s desires and sensuality as epistemic prison, and indeed his logically following downgrading even of the brain, with its inferior imaging and perceiving, in favour of a pure mind (cf. Bordo 89-95), is diachronically a direct continuation of the original Christian horror of body and fixation on the soul; but sychronically,  it is an absolutist project to master and eliminate the inimical and potentially rebellious mob of unruly passions: “even those who have the feeblest souls can acquire a very absolute dominion over all their passions…” (Treatise on the Passions, Works 1: 356). Only when properly subdued, senses and emotions may be practically indulged in, particularly in the company of women. On top of the division of labour into physical and mental, there is in Descartes a “sexual division of mental labour” wherein it is the woman’s task “to preserve the sphere of the intermingling of mind and body…. [She] will keep [soft emotions and sensuousness] intact for [the Man of Reason].” (Lloyd 50)

The Cartesian full split between the res extensa and res cogitans is thus a pseudo-materialist translation of the body vs. soul theologeme which both modifies its terms and preserves its deep structure for an ostensibly lay, bourgeois rather than clerical, philosophizing. It fully  preserves the complete occultation of body and labour inherited from ruling-class idealist blindness (see on the latter the luminous pages of D.E. Smith 77ff.). The thinker is for Descartes in fact a God-like demiurge in no place or time, his “I” has no name or face. In the 19th Century this pernicious stance will be exfoliated to say that Truth can be found either inside the objectivized space-filling stuff (body) for each of us, as best seen in art, or alternatively outside –though through–the thinking stuff for all of us, as best seen in science. The logical horizon of the first stance is primary solipsism (from which Descartes himself was not always that far, see e.g. his replies to Gassendi’s reasonable materialist doubts, Works 1: 212ff.) and it entails the pretence of Romantic artists that they are not thinkers. The logical horizon of the second stance is secondary scientism and it entails the pretence of Positivist scientists that they are value-free.

In this suppression of matter the stubbornly material bodies are reduced to “absolutely dominated” objects. The Cartesian space is (absurdly) divided into the pure billiard-ball Self, an isolated subject of power and knowledge,  outside whom remains the world, “nature”–but a nature as corpus vile, “reduced to the status of an inexhaustible fund against the background of which its products appear and from which they are wrested” (de Certeau, Practice  157). The mind is then posited as a mirror to nature, though it is not clear what authorizes this metaphor (cf. R. Rorty). The body, evacuated in the first Cartesian Meditation, returns as dead, inert object, to be policed in its desires (especially the sexual ones) by a ferocious conscience (cf. Vernant, “L’individu” 36 and Karatani, Origins 79, 89, and passim) and dissected by an all-powerful  anatomist, correlative to a metaphysics of Death (cf. Barker 95-112 and passim).  As amply shown by Foucault, the discourse of clinical medicine predicated on the isolated individual is (I argue this in “Subject” 195) defined by the horizon of death:  not only do death and disease “scientifically” constitute each body’s individuality and intelligibility, but Death is the end as well as the essence of abstract human life. This has in our century been proved both by Nazi doctors and by practically all big business (chemical, pharmaceutical, tobacco, agrobusiness, etc.) precisely on our systemically tortured, infected, poisoned bodies.

Thus, the apparently highly esoteric philosophical problem of cognitive certainty with which Descartes began, finally, when pursued under the aegis of a monotheist craving for Oneness, threatens the value and even possibility of a shared world. While the latter is simply a self-defeating proposition, even if sufficiently mystifying within our circles of an epicyclical intelligentsia, the former leads to today’s frenzied individualism, masqued as the dernier cri of PoMo fashion, becoming the cynical obverse of oppressive hegemonies. The Western narcissism of unique Selves has in the last 20 years even abused the body as an alibi for the “me only” stance, constructed with help of much pop psychoanalysis, and in some French feminist theory also linguistics, that displaces relationships among people onto the purely sexual or purely aesthetic (cf. Kipnis 85ff.). But the bodily stubbornly remains enmeshed with the political, as a collective standpoint. The exemplum of Japan may again show (but we have so many other examples, from precisely the analysis of the Cartesian moment through Foucault to the Greenblattian “self-fashioning”!) that the modern subject  was established “in tandem with…the modern state,” its economic and educational pressures, as its frère ennemi, obverse or complement whose shocked retreat into inner-oriented depths forgot “that ‘interiority’ is itself politics and that it is a manifestation of absolute authority”  (Karatani, Origins 94 and 95). For “politics [especially liberating politics, note DS] rests on the possibility of a shared world” (Haraway, “Cyborgs” 10)–shunned by individualists such as Japanese or other intellectuals while hollowed out and usurped by the State as protector and policer of Foucault’s “controlled insertion of bodies into the machinery of production” as “an indispensable element in the development of capitalism” (141). Shared-world politics would mean that institutions whose ultimate horizon is private profit regardless of destructions of our senses and sensorium (whose nexus is the brain), are merchants of death in all the literal and metaphoric senses of that phrase. Such a  structural “worship of death” (Haraway, “Cyborgs”  20) was part of the reasoning behind my conclusion in “Subject,” and in 3.1 above, that the final horizon of doctrinal individualism was Death, so that it is indispensable to get rid of it before it gets rid of all of us.

But how may we break out of this deadly subject vs. objects split? As far as I can tell, with help of at least two key strategies. One, as mentioned in 3.2, is a focus on labour, whose bearer is, of course, the body. One of the decisive contributions of Marx’s is his replacement of Feuerbach’s, and Kant’s, passive and one-way pivot for people’s relationship to reality, perception (itself ambiguously oscillating between universality and individuality, just as Descartes did), by the interactivities of labour. This provides at least the horizon for using Vico’s contention that people can understand history because they have created it: for Marx, labour is the “objectification” of generically human life, since “[man] duplicates himself not only, as in consciousness, intellectually, but also actively, in reality, and therefore he contemplates himself in a world that he has created”  (Economic 114). “[I]t is not the isolated individual who is active in labour,” comments Marcuse: “in and through the objects of labour, men are shown one another in their reality” (23, and cf. the whole discussion 7ff. passim). Finally, the meaning of labour is to find, beyond the here and now, lineaments of alternative worlds of things and relationships “visible for each ‘I’ under a plurality of aspects,” the possibility of “taking possession of an indefinite [i.e. plural, note DS] time and space; and one could easily show that the signification of speech or that of suicide and of the revoluonary act is the same” (Merleau-Ponty, Structure 175).  This is directly opposed to the commodified social relationships of capitalism in which persons as bearers of  labour-power  “are necessarily present and active but in which they do not appear as such” (D.E. Smith 133).

However, the body is not only a substratum subjected to political economy, whose crucial hegemony, that occupies between two thirds and one quarter of the weekly time for all “gainfully employed” bodies, Marx rightly challenged–but therefore also followed –step by step. The quite indispensable Marxian paradigm would have to be expanded following Nietzsche’s kindred insistence: “Essential, to start from the body and to use it as the red thread” (Werke 635)–a stance in fact prefigured in the young Marx’s Epicurean assumption that the development of the senses is the central criterion for both hominization and alienation,  and continuing as a basso ostinato throughout his opus. As best envisaged–to my knowledge–by Merleau-Ponty (Phenomenology, also Structure), embodiment is both a lived experience of being body and a realization that the body is the site of cognition or understanding, which is itself inextricably tied to embodied action as preparation, surrogate, response or feedback validator for it. Reintegrating the body into our knowledge theory by means of its being the co-determining anchorage for stance and standpoint–to begin with, for personal and possessive pronouns as well as for all deixis and all metaphors of vision and orientation–is, I would conclude, indispensable for any further clear thinking about the Subject.4/ (A third focus, de Certeau and a host of other extrapolators from linguistics would argue, should be speech, but I would prefer it integrated into Bakhtinian  ideology or Foucauldian discursive genealogies. At any rate, such focal categorizations are pragmatic matters and my suggestions are open-ended.) As Jameson says toward the end of his essay here, these foci might offer “some more adequate approach…to agency and praxis in general” (“Representations” 57).

4.2. From Marx to Foucault, we have been shown how the blood-soaked birth of the capitalist labour-force and of bourgeois subjection (e.g. sexuality) has, by physical eviction of villagers off their land or physical surveillance of city-dwellers,  reconstituted the shape of human bodies and subjects more intimately and thus more radically than any Oriental despotism. Today’s threats of molecularly engineered species modification, lurking behind the noble curative phrases of the human genome mapping, is a logical continuation of this line: we may well be in for an electronically enhanced version of Wells’s Lunar society (The First Men in the Moon, varied in much SF of the last 40 years).  Diachronically, this latches on to the no doubt remedial but also oppressive medicalization and medical construction of subject Foucault has so relentlessly pursued in his whole opus. But even brute physical force was always accompanied by ideological rationalizations; and the ruling classes of economically complex, industrialized societies have learned from the World Wars that it is on the whole more profitable and less dangerous to have wars and counter-revolutions on the periphery only. Beyond physical force, the relative importance of ideological constructions of subjectivities has grown enormously in the last 200 and especially in the last (say) 60 years. The discourse of the media, from the mass press through radio and cinema to today’s electronics, is perhaps now the dominant divulgator of such constructions. But the actual terms for these media were invented elsewhere: at a first remove, in theatre and literature; but going further into the depths of our cultural encyclopedia, we encounter the privileged eldest discourses of (I think) warfare, religion, medicine, and law. I shall in spite of my technical ignorance attempt to supply a few hints only about the legal subject.

Jameson speculates, though in a prudently conditional clause, that it might perhaps underlie other “conceptions of subjectivity” he had mentioned, the epistemological, logical, and psychological one (“Representations” 56).5/   At any rate, the legal subject is clearly the pivot between State power and both the oral and written discourses of individuation. While the martial, the medical, and the religious (or at least the magical) subjects predate class society, Athenian law is consubstantial with the rise of the State (and with the first “mass medium,” Attic tragedy, as exemplarily foregrounded in its first, religious-cum-political-cum-legal masterpiece, Aeschylus’s Oresteia trilogy). “Above all, the individual appears at the heart of the [polis] institutions through the development of law” (Vernant, “L’individu” 29). The Athenian codification of, and indeed bifurcation into, criminal and civil law has remained effective until today: in the first sector, the passage from consanguineous (clan) vendetta to civic tribunals constructs “the notion  of the criminal individual…as subject of crime and object of verdict (jugement, judgment, sentence)”; in the second sector, the institution of a personal testament (third century) allowed the posthumous transmission of goods by the “will” of a particular, irrespective of the “house” or “dynasty” (ibidem 29-30). Further systematic developments of such (of course, strictly limited) juridical personalization will come in the Roman State, where jurisprudence became the hegemonic discourse and whence it was transmitted to all subsequent European discourse. For one example, the notion of judgment clearly underlies the Christian idea of Judgment Day. For another, the Roman (political) law is the precondition for the idea of laws of nature. For a third, this idea together with its source in the statutary pole of law, seems the precondition for ethics, certainly for the Kantian categorical imperative that is formulated as the inner correlative to the Copernican vision of astronomical order.

In modern European thought, the key testimony occurs in Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding , where it is unambiguously stated that “person” (as different from an individual substance and a human being)

is a forensic term, appropriating actions  and their merit; and so belongs  only  to intelligent agents, capable of a law, and happiness and misery. This personality extends itself beyond present existence to what is past, only by consciousness–whereby it becomes concerned and accountable. (Book 2, ch. XXVII)

Almost each clause of Locke’s has rightly been the subject of wide and ongoing debate (cf. A.O. Rorty ed.), but beyond noticing how the English 18th-Century practice had evacuated the military, medical, religious, and theatrical antecedents, I wish to discuss the stress on radically individual agency and on continuity with a past. Locke anchors all other attributes of agenthood (intelligence, feeling, consciousness) in legal practices such as appropriation and accountability. His insistence on the past and memory is necessary for the juridical purposes of liability: “In this personal identity is founded all right of reward and punishment” (ibid.). However, from the times of Balzac on, ambition in big cities can be discussed in terms of personal qualities –looks, education, energy, etc.–as the Self’s capital to be wisely invested (Bourdieu). Therefore we have today, in a society “hotter” than Locke’s largely land-based one and which has instituted “futures trading” in all stock-markets and planning in almost every company and State,  no choice but to focus on, or at least integrate equally, choice and future. This reveals that what a society defines as agency and person depends on its hegemonic priorities (cf. A.O. Rorty 5).

In spite of this longue durée history, as Nietzsche’s meditation on history argues, literal equality–preeminently the one before the law–strives to abolish history, which consists of unique existents, in the eternal return of the same (Benjamin). Literally, this equality is of course untenable, and the tension between practice and ideology has been incorporated into the law itself, e.g. as one between the casus and the statute, or–in different ways–between contract and corporation law for the burgeoning “corporate individual” (cf. Newfield 664-74). The latest moves in this age-old gambit are revealing: what have been somewhat ironically called conversions to “juridical humanism” (Ferry-Renault 112-13) of the ex-68ers such as Foucault, who earlier proclaimed that “one has…to get rid of the subject itself” (Power 117), come hand in hand with the ideology of the end to history. This might serve to indicate also how the juridical (legal) subject is from Plato on certainly the key to the “political subject,” more usually talked about in terms of ethics (Kant) or power (Machiavelli, Hobbes). As Balibar convincingly argues, the Roman juridical figure of the subiectus (person submitted to imperium, sovereign authority) reaches through Christianity right up to the theory and practice of the citizen, i.e. up to today.6/ But I would have to confess that I know of very little contemporary argument about the political subject that usefully follows or indeed corrects Rousseau, Marx, Nietzsche, Weber, and/or Lenin. And yet it is evidently a matter of highest concern right now how at the time of these names (i.e. since the rise of modern nation-states and Braudel’s commercial capitalisms) there comes about on the basis of the legal subject first the citizen, then the homo oeconomicus (who in our century acknowledges and subsumes labour under the State), and finally the chauvinist. A huge array of legal studies in our time (say from Pashukanis and Rawls to Negri), at the crossroads of philosophy and politics, awaits examination here.


4.3. The huge problematic of the body finally may be seen to become a key for socialized perception and imagination, and for envisaging not only the Subject but also all agency as stances. I have proposed in “Soul” that the relations of bodies to their perception of the mutually enfolding world can be (provisionally, if you wish etymologically) called aesthetics, while for the interplay of collective and personal bodies no other word but politics will do; and I would assume these are today two key agential fields, because they are both, quite ineluctably, both personal and non-personal. We could call them transpersonal vectors, bearing transpersonal or collective subjecthoods: just try to imagine solipsist politics, sex or art! As to imagination and its topologies, I pursue this matter  in “Cognitive.” Keeping to minimal, yet I hope suggestive, indications, I must here content myself with this much, aware that my approach may well not have entered into large areas of possibly central importance.


  1. On Japan and the Subject: Mirage and Historical Estrangement

Epistemology without history is empty,                                        history without epistemology is blind.

Imre Lakatos

 5.1. No doubt: the title of this section is ridiculously inflated: it will be apparent that entire bookshelves would be needed to do it approximate justice. Further, I am only a fascinated latecomer and bricoleur at the periphery of this topic (the professional local habitation and name for this is, a comparatist). Nonetheless, having persuaded Discours social /Social Discourse to devote an issue on the Subject partly to contributions from and/or about East Asian (primarily though not at all exclusively Japanese) points of view, I owe the reader some reasons, however initial. I do not at all pretend to explain a “text of Nipponicity”; nor even one of “Nipponic Subject”; nor finally, at least, of what the Japanese (or East Asians or Buddhists) have said about the Subject. Rather, I would like to begin with some reflections on why we “Westerners” (but then, seen from Japan, China is west and North America east) may be –should be! –interested in East Asia, which in my case means mainly Japan. (Of course, Japanese culture has been catalyzed and largely shaped by the powerful ancestral force of China, in whose cultural sphere the Subject has traditionally been shaped both by the kinship system and by the other –e.g. Confucian –power hierarchies.) After that, I shall get to some actual Japanese intellectual history.

And so: why talk today about East Asia, the culture and the mode of life it embodies and implies? Especially in an age where (though all such analogies are lame) we are closer to a Braudelian and Wallersteinian 17th-Century blend of great commercial empires, the insolent affluence of whose ruling classes and entertainment parasites is based on exploiting and immiserating the rest of the world as well as their own lower classes, with religious wars and venereal pandemics raging unchecked in non-essential areas. So why should we in such a fix care about far-off foreign parts, où le bat ne blesse pas? (“I think it clever of the turtle/ In such a fix to be so fert’le,” wrote Ogden Nash.) Well, in a nutshell, because by going outside the Ptolemeian ramparts of our glorious but still limited and in some ways–as Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud agree–very sick cultural tradition, Blake’s rose with the invisible worm within, we might arrive at the indispensable distance for focussed seeing.

A useful way to begin might be with Sloterdijk: “It is an open secret among the experts that for more than a century a great part of Western intelligentsia, as the saying goes, ‘asianizes.’… [The] discoverer exposes himself to a counter-discovery by the discovered.” The “world talk about world literature” (82-83), started by translators from Persian, Sanskrit or Chinese and codified by Goethe, was an ecumenical consequence of the colonializing inclusion of the mysterious East into the very unmysterious world division of labour. But while this led to its desperate endeavours, from Russia to Japan, to catch up with the West’s heavy artillery of naval guns and cheap consumer goods (Marx), the uneasy intellectuals of the West discovered the Wisdom of the East, just being pounded into the dust by those guns.

Perhaps we should not be too ironical about all those well-meaning continuators of Voltaire and Goethe who somewhat romantically exalted the just or the natural East. This periodical issue is in part a continuation of their well-founded belief something of great significance was to be learned in the East (though we know it was without a shadow of a doubt unjust and unnatural–no more than the observers but differently from them). Yet primarily, what we bourgeois or anti-bourgeois Euro-Americans thought we were finding in the Soul’s Passage to India or points East of it, whether truly there or only–as often–a mirage, can tell us what we needed to find; and why: “Dreamily entering upon a sunken East and conjuring up an Asian Antiquity as normative cultural model for present-day life, the West searches in an alien past for the possibilities of its own future” (Sloterdijk 86). In other words, as already prefigured in Swift’s Japan reached after Laputa, the antipodean islands and science-fictional (utopian or dystopian) countries or spacetimes are estranging mirrors for us (see Bloch, “Entfremdung”). This implies, as Sloterdijk further argues, that the West is by now in a post-monotheistic age “which cannot find in the holy writings of the Judeo-Christian tradition the concepts that our times need for a competent self-understanding,” that its “double commitment to self-determination and high technology seems to have left us with a global mess,” and that therefore the “Eastern turn… puts into play no less than a world-cultural alternative, which remains such even when the real contemporary East has been modernized to non-recognizability by its adoption of Western techniques of mobility (Mobilisierung)” (87-89).

One does not have to agree with all of Sloterdijk’s PoMo hyperboles and his subsequent ontological speculations to see that he is getting at a very important point: the nostalgia we rightly have on this devastated planet and with our devastated Subjects for what I have elsewhere called a “non-bourgeois” or if you wish non-capitalist mode of human relationships (“Soul” 505ff.) –though in the USA this had traditionally been coded within the master discourse of religion as a quest for Nirvana, from the disillusioned New England intellectuals à la Henry Adams (cf. Christy ed. 43 and passim) to the San Francisco Beats. Our best traditions, from Athens, the Hebrew prophets, and Jesus of Nazareth to the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and “really existing” socialism, may have contributed, and certainly seem to have led straight into, the present intolerable dead-end. This is why “the most alien Eld is not more alien to us than what was a short while ago our Own” (Sloterdijk 91). True, we have no right to forget that most pre-capitalist modes of production entailed total despotism over the great majority of lower classes, genders, castes, and so forth, while all the modes entailed grave physical disadvantages (toil, short life-span, etc.): I should not like to have lived before the Enlightenment. Nonetheless, today we may –legitimately, I think –well focus on the crucial plenitude of being we lack. For, in those societies the labour of the individual was not abstracted into a capitalized “universal equivalent,”  so that in Marx’s famous “Asiatic mode”:

[t]he communal system on which this mode of production is based prevents the labour of the individual from becoming private labour and his product the private product of a separated individual; it causes individual labour to appear rather as a direct function of a member of the social organization (33-34).

I think it is from traces and exfoliations of this  “direct functioning” within a transparent (if unacceptably hierarchical) society, e.g. the attendant pragmatic phenomenalism of East Asian cosmology and politics –a stance which can in the West only be found within art –that there springs forth the sensual and epistemic fascination registered by Sloterdijk (though in individualist fiction, from the mendacious Loti and his Madame Butterfly on, this is usually translated into the sentimental code as the only available bourgeois discourse for sensuality and fascination). But Modernist painters–let us think e.g. of Modigliani or of the cognate African masks in Demoiselles d’Avignon –seem to have had more success with cognitive appropriations, where the strange redefined our (European) eyes, and so have theatre people from Meyerhold through Yeats and Brecht to the present day. In particular, Japan’s “layered” pattern of human relationships has preserved some structures of feeling characteristic of a “shame and honour culture, as opposed to guilt and duty cultures… which necessarily make reference to the moral subject’s intimate personal conscience” (Vernant 44) –i.e. characteristic of the Subject before it became a Self, and dating if not from tribal society, as some sociologists imply, then at least from the early Middle Ages (cf. Suvin, “Soul” 518-19). While today, under the domination of the banks and car or camera factories, these structures of feeling are peripheral and may well be on their way out, they have been frozen into forms of culture –behaviour and art–which make it accessible at least for the fertile misreading we Westerners seem to be engaged in.

5.2. My comparatist valence cries out for an approach to a phenomenology and typology of Sloterdijk’s “asianizing,” either in the discourse of fiction or of academic studies or of the culture at large, but this can’t be done here–not even for the protagonists of the contention around the Subject, such as Foucault or Derrida. Conversely, I shall attempt a sketch of some Japanese bearings on the Subject: first, as a help to the reader of the ensuing contributions on that topic, and second, as an indication of what such estrangement (Verfremdung) by way of Japan may mean for us here and now. “Can we imagine a mode of being in which the system subjects would be no longer propelled by their self-enhancement (Steigerung–increase, advancement, heightening, intensification, increment)? Do we have any prospect on the Subject’s forces becoming something different from exterior acceleration, enrichment, research, and empowerment?” (Sloterdijk 94) These questions, ours today and as old as European modernity, may receive  some proposals for answers from Japanese orientations.

My discussion will follow the bent of the contributors by confining itself mainly to philosophy. True, as Professor Sakai has discussed it here and elsewhere, it is difficult to do so without entering into very interesting but quite bewildering thickets of Japanese terminology; he discusses here the “Shukan-subject, shutai-subject, and the shutai That Is Not a Subject,” and adds to this the propositional (grammatical) subject shugo, and other ones. I am incompetent to discuss this, and leave the reader to his, Professor Karatani’s, and Professor Noé’s  ingenious and painstaking interpretations. However, Sakai’s as well as Karatani’s rejection of any linguistic determinism may help us to distance ourselves from the Nietzschean stress on the centrality of language. That may have been useful at the outset, but I believe it has been badly overdone since–Nietzsche’s  final reduction of it to racial physiology (see the quote in Karatani’s essay of this issue, 25) should have been a sufficient danger signal. Among other things, when Nietzsche identifies Descartes’s cogito with European grammar, he forgets that in spite of this grammar “Descartes was nonetheless the first to make such a statement.” I shall therefore adopt Karatani’s conclusion that exclusive reliance on linguistics (developed in the West) leads to a “long, unproductive debate” concerning the subject (Karatani 25). Perhaps it is possible, nonetheless, to see  that we can learn from the Japanese discourse on the subject–which uses the resources provided not simply by a very different language but by specific non-ego-centered, group-oriented cultural stances where the subject is always assumed to be en situation (cf. Nakamura, and Suzuki 11ff. and 162ff; and cf. Suvin, “Soul” 519-22)–what may happen in at least two respects. First, when the grammatical subject cannot be used to explain philosophical or practical ones but has to be foregrounded as itself a curious cultural construct. Second, when ontological (or professional philosophical) discourse and everyday discourse (“grammar”) diverge, a condition which we have–for better or worse–by now managed to reach in Europe too, in spite of the Indo-European grammar. Japanese distinctions may then stimulate us to understand (or to better) our own ones.

As Karatani further notes, though there were no Cartesian theoreticians in Japan, “the critique of Descartes has become the mainstream of Japanese philosophy; this tendency is perhaps best represented by Nishida Kitarô” (24-25). I would venture to explain this by the overwhelming invasion of Cartesian practice and pragmatic individualist discourse as an equivalent of post-Meiji modernization. I know of no better document for the shock of its wholesale invasion into Japanese life than the discussions in Natsume Sôseki’s 1905-06 novel I Am a Cat (Wagahai wa neko de aru), where the satirical cat observes debates between advocates and opponents of individualism, and I shall therefore (in spite of the fact that one could endlessly quibble about any translation from the much more polysemic Japanese) quote excerpts from the opponent at some length:

In the old days, a man was taught to forget himself. Today…he is taught not to forget himself, and he accordingly spends his days and nights in endless self-regard. Who can possibly know peace in such an eternally burning hell?… [For this sickness] the only cure lies in learning to forget the Self…. (3: 318-19)

Modern society is centred, to the exclusion of all else, upon the idea of individuality. When the family was represented by its head, the district by its magistrate and the province by its feudal lord, then those who were not representatives possessed no personalities whatsoever. Even if, exceptionally, they actually did have personalities, those characteristics, being inappropriate to their place in society, were never recognized as such. Suddenly everything changed. We were discovered to possess personalities, and every individual began to assert his new-found individuality. Whenever two persons chanced to meet, their attitudes betrayed a disposition to quarrel, an underlying determination to insist that “I am I and you are you”….It follows that men have no genuine living-space left between them which is not occupied by siege-engines and counter-works. Too cramped to live at ease, the constant pressure to expand one’s individual sphere has brought mankind to a painful bursting-point…. (3: 337-38)

Without entering into an exegesis of Sôseki’s complex and somewhat Swiftian co-text, let me stress the demonic and hellish imagery of “personalized,” self-regarding restlessness as well as of the painful lack of spaciousness: this is the post-Cartesian individualism as seen by a high-Meiji-era Japanese still rooted in the old relationships. In fact, these passages (but it would be possible to take a host of other, fictional and non-fictional, testimonials) are written from a stance that could quite well imagine Sloterdijk’s non-self-increasing, non-automobile Subject. It seems to me kindred stances inform, in manifold and usually ambiguous ways, the works of Japanese philosophy, including Nishida Kitarô (1870-1945) and Watsuji Tetsurô (1889-1960).7/

Some of their central concerns are ably presented in the contributions to this issue, and I shall take good care not to second-guess Professors Noé and Sakai. But what may require some explanation is how come Nishida and Watsuji are usually brought to the fore when formal philosophy in Japan is discussed (though Piovesana argues [85] their coeval Tanabe Hajime, a philosopher of science and mathematics as well as of politics, is more significant than Watsuji). No doubt, these were the first modern Japanese who in philosophy “tried to build up a system of [their] own” (Piovesana 88), but after all, both of them are, grosso modo, Idealist philosophers: the rather difficult Nishida, with his key concepts of basho (place) and mu (“Oriental Nothingness,” cf. Hisamatsu)  at the crossroads of Zen Buddhism and early phenomenology, the more versatile theoretician of culture and ethics Watsuji at the crossroads of Heidegger, Husserl, and–as exemplarily brought home by Sakai’s discussion of Watsuji in China–Japanese Confucian nationalism. Regretfully, we cannot either afford to forget that at least Watsuji was an active theoretician and propagator of the Japanese “imperial fascism” (he converted to democracy in his late fifties, after the US occupation); while Nishida has been criticized as quite compatible with it, his idealist romanticism was at least in part after higher game. So, to repeat, though all knowledge is potentially useful, and in particular the philosophy of Nishida is highly challenging, why always speak of Nishida and Watsuji–why the Right-wing monopoly, so to speak?

When I posed this question to a friendly Japanese expert, his answer was: “Because the Left-wing people were murdered!” Probably there is more to it: many critics, from the Meiji materialist Nakae Chômin on, have noted that the hegemonic tradition in Japan abhors confrontation and clear-cut theses and favours religion or even mysticism; and after 1945, the dead end of Stalinist orthodoxy and the sectarianism of both the Communist and Socialist parties must be taken into account. But what Brecht called crude thinking (plumpes Denken) is always a useful corrective to overcomplications. Here are some stark data, with the source pages in Piovesana: In 1911, the anarchist publicist Kôtoku Shûsui or Denjirô and 11 others, including his wife, were hanged under the “Law for the Preservation of Public Peace” for an alleged plot to kill the emperor (55). In 1923 Ohsugi Sakae, a Nietzschean syndicalist and communist, was strangled by a police captain at the time of the earthquake riots (170). The pioneer non-Stalinist Marxist theoretician, poet, and writer Kawakami Hajime was imprisoned for being a communist in 1933 (173); he was lucky to survive where many others were tortured and executed. Possibly the most original Japanese Marxist, the cultural critic and humanist philosopher Miki Kiyoshi,  who studied with Nishida, Rickert, and Heidegger,  was arrested in 1930, dismissed from the university, and died in 1945 as political prisoner, “nobody knows how, at the early age of 48” (179-80).  His follower, the philosopher of science and ideology Tosaka Jun–whose critique of Nishida is cited approvingly by Karatani in the present issue–, had a very similar fate, dying in prison the same year (190). (By the way, both Miki and Tosaka had begun to conceptualize problems of subjectivity, see Piovesana 250-51 and Koschmann 615; I believe the introduction of Miki to non-Japanese readers is an urgent desideratum.) And these are just the best-known names.

At any rate, as the very well informed Piovesana concludes, one constant of Japanese philosophy, across all ideological fronts, has been a deep concern about questions of individuality. True, this has “not result[ed] in a really new anthropology” (251), but it has led to waves of discussions about shutaisei (subjectivity or autonomy).  Before the World War, e.g., Nishida’s disciples and two groups of literary critics organized a debate about “Overcoming the Modern,” foregrounding Japanese imperialist ideology as against Cartesian duality and rationality (Karatani, Origins 191). But the debate that developed immediately after the war, in 1946-48, will be taken as representative because of its strategic timing and because there is an able discussion of it in Koschmann on which I am relying. It seems to have dealt centrally with how transindividual entities–history and social structure –relate to human agency. The experiences of militarism and war mandated a rejection of “feudalism,” i.e. not only of a concentric set of hierarchic communities submerging the individual (as preached e.g. by Watsuji) but also of a certain personality type defined as including “mystical irrationalism;… male supremacy, red-tapism, bureaucratic formalism, inefficiency, irresponsibility, narrow-mindedness, inclemency, inhuman oppression, exploitation, and blind obedience” (Odaka Kunio, cited from Sakuta’s essay in Koschmann 629). But the unique breakdown of the State and of the blind belief in political authority could lead to the opposed extremes of “blind privatism” (613) or of Stalinist resurrection of historical necessity reifying people’s agency. As I read Koschmann’s summary of what was a debate between various factions of the Left–he calls them “scientific materialism,” “existential Marxism,” “orthodox Marxism,” and “modernist ethos” –grouped around some journals, its basic lesson is the consubstantiality of the stances taken toward shutaisei and toward the political horizons of the time. And debates  about a new selfhood continued unabated between what came to be the New Left and the Old Left throughout the citizens’ and students’ protest movement around 1960 and 1970. The subjective is the political, to coin a slogan that would not have displeased Aristotle: the close feedback between theoretical and political horizons, we may conclude, is more difficult to occult in a culture less overlaid by post-Cartesian individualism, less fixated on a post-Cartesian inner Self as the unique building brick of the universe and subject of action.8/

5.3. The conclusion of the previous section holds, of course, in spades for Buddhist thought. While this is present in many countries to the east of India, and today all over the world, it has been historically developed in interesting ways by the wilful Japanese sects and thinkers. I am even more of a fascinated outsider here than anywhere else in the domain of the Subject, but so far as I know it, the Buddhist solution–centrally, that the Self is an illusion, as are all material entities–has if nothing else the advantages of a consistently extreme position. While I do not share its basic anti-materialist and thus anti-body tenet, even from a diametrically opposed stance (since sometimes les extrêmes se touchent–the trick is in defining what are the extremes) I have come to believe that much can be learned from Buddhist philosophical positions, say the one about false attachments. The Buddha’s (Gautama Shakyamuni’s) root atheist insight about the horrors of suffering, its extension and intensity,  and its corollary that evil is unhappiness, is a major (dare I say Epicurean?) premise that can be shared by those of us who do not subscribe to the minor premise of baseness of matter and senses. Confusingly (for me, at least) but endearingly, while proclaiming all is illusion, at least the Mahâyâna Buddhism accords the highest praise to compassion (karuna), which induces the most enlightened persons, the bodhisattvas,  to forgo the supreme remedy of nirvana in order to help mankind. The Buddhist “non-self” or anâtman–ably expounded in this issue by Professor Loy on the example of how the possibly most interesting Japanese Buddhist thinker, Dôgen, may provide answers to today’s problems (cf. also Kolm and Nagasawa)–can therefore be taken to dismantle either the billiard-ball Self, or any subjectivity and agency. Those who cannot accept the second, most sweeping (and probably within Buddhism most consistent) alternative, can still use the first one.

In particular, the Buddhist view that any person is a set of dozens of simple elements (themselves perhaps not totally illusory?) categorized in complex ways according to different criteria is “infinitely more refined than the crude divisions into two or three elements imagined by Westerners [from Plato, through Descartes to Freud]” (Kolm 255). This is useful even if, again, one does not accept the unnecessary metaphysics of saying that therefore there is no person but only fluxes of events, as if this did not depend on whether (e.g.) you wanted agency or not. Such elements can form aggregations (skandhas) of material things such as a person’s body (comprising also her ideas, thoughts, and mental images), or of sensations by the six senses (the sixth being perception and sensation of the above mental events; in fact, from Berkeley and Hume to Mach a number of Europeans have suggested rather similar notions of persons as “bundles of perceptions,” but did not follow it through with Buddhist consistency). Again most endearingly if confusingly, a central concept and indeed interest and imperative of Buddhism is knowledge as illumination or enlightenment (chiken in Japanese): “Buddha” means “the Enlightened One,” and we can all achieve Buddhahood–if we let go the illusory and painful Self.


  1. An End (finis, not telos)

Only he who builds the future has a right…to pass judgment on the past.

The personal is the political.
Maxim of the feminist movement

“…[T]he classic conclusion, in which a book’s central arguments are rehearsed imperturbably for one last time, as if closing the door on everything that has been said, is inappropriate in a work of history,” concluded Braudel after 2,000 pages (619). Since to my mind all our arguments are ineluctably historical, this holds a fortiori for any work of a much smaller scope. But I would like this to be a final twist of the essay’s spiral, picking up some problems in the light of what has been argued in it earlier and looking at their horizons.


6.1. While the issue for which this is written was being prepared, a book appeared called Who Comes After the Subject?, initiated by Jean-Luc Nancy and co-edited in the somewhat changed English version by Eduardo Cadava and Peter Connor, with numerous contributions by a representative array of French philosophical luminaries of the day. Far from feeling “scooped” (the intentions and addressees of this issue are rather different), I am happy to have had the opportunity to reflect on it while writing this, e.g. on the important contribution by Balibar cited earlier, and I would like to cull a very few questions from it. If this were a survey of the volume–but it is not–, I would start by noticing that the briefest contribution, two pages by Deleuze, is to my mind the most magisterial one (this is a compliment), arriving as it does at its end upon the declaration that “the notion of the subject has lost much of its interest on behalf of pre-individual singularities and non-personal individuations” and upon further horizons of this whole “field of questions” (95).

Nancy’s “Introduction” identifies the book’s question as the sign of a rupture in philosophy and history, which would yet like to avoid the dilemma of “the subject’s simple liquidation” and “a ‘return to the subject’ (proclaimed by those who would like to think that nothing has happened…)” (5). I agree that the only wise strategy is tertium datur (Hegel is not a dead dog): the one-sided exaggerations of technocratic structuralism and of somewhat overcholeric thinkers such as Foucault, a useful  author before he descended into orthodox Heideggerianism, are by now behind us; while a return to Kant or even phenomenology (not to speak to the crassest German Idealism) can only be of any conceivable use if it is a reculer pour mieux sauter, productively cannibalizing them. However, I then secondarily think it is unwise (because impossible) to jettison all existing terminology; an impulse to reinterpret, if need be subversively, a term like The Subject seems to me to do better justice to the long-duration continuities of human history, while avoiding PoMo Babylonian flashiness (what Derrida here calls “the vested confusion of the doxa,” 98). However, I am not sure what is the use of all this talk about “rupture” (except self-puffery that goes before a fall): every age since, say, 1800 is both a continuation and a rupture, depending on what one wishes to envisage. Have the Gulf War or the Yugoslav Nationalist Wars been a rupture with the Opium War of 1839-42 or the Balkan War of 1912? Is dying from Agent Orange, Chernobyl radiation or AIDS more dignified and palatable than the great plague epidemics of Boccaccio and Defoe?  Maybe because of the new technologies involved? Has the hunger and cold of  the  homeless not only in Bosnia but also  in  San  Francisco broken  with  the  hunger and cold before 1960 or  1940?  Is  the worldwide division into Disraeli’s “two nations” of the rich  and the  poor  not just as lopsided and bad today as at the  time  of Chinese  or  Roman  emperors? Is it growing smaller?  Isn’t it even ethically and politically (though not sensually) worse because human creativity has in the last 100 years finally given us the means to make this planet habitable? And  since the answers to my rhetorical questions are clear, what is the function of the self-congratulatory “rupture” slogan today? Wouldn’t elementary modesty require that we think rather with Benjamin and Brecht about an ongoing normality of catastrophe in order to estrange it and begin coping with it?

If we did, we would have to start asking quite referential questions about agency and responsibility, directly dovetailing philosophy and politics. For example: Who is murdering the citizens of Sarajevo? Serbian guns? No: guns do not aim and discharge themselves. Serbs? No: many people of Serbian origin (the best) have chosen to remain in the hardships of Sarajevo and defend a non-ethnically-cleansed, bastardized, joyously intermarrying polity. And so on. So what kind of Subjects are those brainwashed murderers (and their ethnic counterparts on all other sides of those wars)? Where is the locus of responsibility and intentionality: in their selfish genes? No. In their (anti-nationalist, but alas quite inefficient) schooling in Tito’s Yugoslavia? No. Obviously it must be in some vectors going through desperate people rather than emanating from their hard center.

Thus on the one hand we could analyze this as a subjectless web of fluctuating pressures within global economic and political conjunctures (the World Bank loans and the impoverishment of a fairly well-off Yugoslav population, the separatist sympathies and financial intervention of Germany and the Vatican, the withdrawal of both the menacing Russian and supporting US empire) encroaching upon each other. And on the other hand there are potential collectives who get, in Eco’s terms,  “narcotized,” e.g. the working class or the patriots of a federal Yugoslavia, or “boldfaced” as selfish elites (equally in the Slovenian, Croatian, and Serbian power-centers) construct “threatened ethnicities.” From different stances both the subjectless fluxes and the collective Subjects are potentially mobilizable (“true”) for practice and for explanation. Finally, if one needs a support and constituency for action, preferably on a large scale, one would have to arrest the flux and name a collective in any particular chronotope for any particular agency (Slovenian or Croatian elites engineering separation from Yugoslavia, or Serbian elites engineering Great Serbia). So while it is true that totalizing collectives are today, after the demise of what ought to be called “really non-existent socialism,” in disrepute among theoreticians, obviously they practically exist (e.g. the World Bank with all of its arteries, veins, and capillaries). Alongside with Foucauldian micro-collectives, their quicker and more complex modus operandi is what may have to be re-theorized in the age of computers.

6.2. This means, however, that cognitive communities thrashing out epistemological-cum-political stances are more than ever needed for the task of exploring the varieties of infra- and supra-personal Subjects, of understanding the construction of these new, sometimes very dangerous but sometimes very exciting, collective Subjects. This has been clear in science since Bacon and theorized since Peirce: “the very origin of the conception of reality shows that this conception essentially involves the notion of a community” (quoted in Eco, Limiti 336-37, and see Eco’s epistemological conclusions from this against the  Derridian unlimited dérive in the whole essay, 325-38, also 27-28). Thus, Peircean pragmatism is a good ally insofar as it substitutes for the Cartesian “pure observer”  epistemology the epistemology of an agent in a community of agents. However, in order to follow the rapid changes around us and to inflect them in a liberating way, I doubt this can be confined to what sociologists call “found communities” (families, nations, professional groups) which supply identities at the cost of orthodoxy and boundaries of admissibility for people and for stances. To my mind, an existing professional doxa similar to that proposed by Fish (if I understand him well) is much too involved in little power-grabs of its own to seriously square off against, e.g., the business ethos or nationalist pride. As always, valid cognitive communities are “chosen” rather than “found” (cf. Hartsock passim and Code 276-77). Themselves dynamic, by definition non-monolithic, and subject to the often healthy pull of overlapping subcommunities (cf. Nelson 148-50 and passim), they exist on the unstable interface between pragmatic and utopian realities, the powerful status quo community as found and the productive or creative future-oriented community as chosen.

“Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will,” proclaimed Sorel and Gramsci. Optimistically, I think of this issue, including my contribution to it, as a very modest approximation to such a cognitively productive community.


1/ My thanks go to Marc Angenot, Anna Antonopoulos, Caroline Bayard, Catherine Graham, Fredric Jameson, Andrea Levy, and  Yamada Kazuko for discussions and indications of much relevant secondary literature; for financial support to the SSHRC and a Canada Council Killam Fellowship; and in Japan to Rikkyo University and its professors Gotô Shôji and Michael Feldt. I cannot expatiate upon my debts to this issue’s contributors, but I have learned much on the Subject from work with them. All non-attributed translations into English are mine. Japanese names are given with family name first.


2/ In an essay whose body and bibliography have grown uncomfortably large, I have to be impaled on one horn of the dilemma whether to expressly differentiate within the sometimes very self-contradictory authors–e.g. Nietzsche–as well as polemicize with the to me unacceptable ones–e.g. Lyotard–or whether to simply leave out what I found useless. The first is philologically proper but uneconomical and often boring, the second may come across as abrupt obiter dicta and somewhat arrogant. Time and space being what they are today, I have decided for the second horn, and my polemics will (with few exceptions) mainly be by omission. However, omission from the bibliography may also indicate that some modern classics, mentioned by name only, are omnipervasive in our–my–discourse (so that they can be found in the apparati of other works cited, including mine). As to the rest, I imitate Molière and je prends mon bien où je le trouve.

3/ Usually, however, it can be observed that there are limitations on those 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 micropolitics of “human rights” (from Blacks to gays and indeed “animal rights”), taking note of the failures of revolutionary changes of the capitalist framework, consists of efforts to break down these limitations yet staying within that framework.

4/ In this cluster of problems the present extraordinary fashion of denigrating vision would have to be faced. As Jameson suggests in this issue, the original Foucauldian and then feminist onslaught on vision–including image, e.g. in movies–unfortunately  relied much too one-sidedly on the “essentially theological tradition of the sinfulness of looking as such, and the relationship of that visual libido to the sinfulness of the body in general” (“Representations” 55); it should be added that the main perpetrator of this translation of monotheism into psychoanalysis,  Mulvey,  has laudably had second thoughts though the harm persists (a stimulating brief critique is in Kipnis 8-10, 108-09, and passim, and a critique of Foucault in Jay, “Empire,” now in Downcast Eyes). Cf. beside the fundamental Merleau-Ponty (all titles below) Berger, Bryson, Code 140-53 and 252-53, Jonas, Keller and Grontkowski, Lowe, Strawson 90ff., and the splendid pages by Vernant in this issue on the close link between vision, cognition, and sight as presence to the community (40-44), which could well be extended from the Hellenic polis to all other non-individualist civilizations (cf. Suvin “Soul”). Having been much preoccupied with this in my work on theatre, I sketched  in “Theses” some first questions about the necessity of vision with an acknowledged seer and with the proper (e.g. Brechtian) distance for understanding–without a Truth in the depths–as well as in an alliance with other senses. From that point of view (sic), I find the argument that vision necessarily means alienation and subjugation useless for discriminating when it actually does so–e.g. often in Cartesianism and post-Cartesian “objectivism” relying on an absolutized “mind’s eye” (cf. Haraway, “Situated” 581).

5/ I confess to sharing deep suspicions against that (seemingly dominant) post-Cartesian individualist psychology which usually does not concern itself with relations between people but with the individual’s mental events (perceptions, sensations etc.). I would much rather follow the lead of Mauss and talk about possible bodily “syntaxes of gestures”–walking, eating, erotics, etc.–into which “psychological” phenomena are embedded or indeed resolvable and which can be understood as given stances. Even Freud, whom–despite what I see as the nonsense of his key concepts, beginning with the Oedipus complex–, I revere as a great if mistaken Columbus of our mental life, great novelist, and great literary and cultural critic, assumes the bourgeois individualist body as his basis and horizon. Therefore, he has little to say about class or race, what he says about women is best forgotten, he limits his dethroning of consciousness mainly to an apparatus of a few, relatively neatly divided thermodynamic levels (cf. Suvin, “Subject” 192-94), and the practice of psychoanalysis has been coopted for adjustment to rather than questioning of the status quo. Turning to it connotes usually “a lack–of a mass movement or of successful counterhegemonic strategies” (Kipnis 103). Jung’s horizons seem to me unacceptable for much the same reasons as Heidegger’s. Even so, I have found a number of texts in psychology, from James and Piaget to Bruner, as well as in psychoanalysis, fascinating, and I attempt to use some of them in “Cognitive.”

6/ See on “subjection” also Barker. I wish to eschew here debates by historians of philosophy (and Blut und Boden  etymologists like Heidegger) whether the post-Cartesian “subject” is really in a straight line of descent from Aristotle’s hypokeimenon (the underlying), which with Balibar and Williams I strongly doubt. At any rate the legal-cum-political subiectus, the subjected person, seems to me at least as important as (and probably the origin of) the subiectum, the subjective person or indeed the underlying existent. Again, we could take the foreshortened process in Japan as an example: “The modern Japanese subject… emerged through the conflation of [being subject to the feudal Lord], whose historical origins had been forgotten, with the psychological ego” (Karatani, Origins 95).

7/ The interested reader may wish to consult, as I did, their works available up to 1962 in European languages from Piovesana’s bibliographies on pp. 93 and 140; general secondary bibliography is on pp. 266-74 and on particular writers in the respective chapters. Other important works have been translated since, e.g. by Nishida: “Die morgenländischen und abendländischen Kulturformen in alter Zeit vom metaphysischen Standpunkte aus gesehen,” Abhandlungen der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 1939, Philosophisch-historische Klasse, Nr. 19 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1939), 3-19; Die Einheit des Wahren, des Schönen und des Guten, Sendai: 1940 (both missed by Piovesana); Intelligibility and the Philosophy of Nothingness (Honolulu: U of Hawaii P, 1966; rpt. Westport CT: Greenwood P, 1973); Fundamental Problems of Philosophy (Tokyo: Sophia U, 1970); Art and Morality  (Honolulu: U of Hawaii P, 1973); Intuition and  Reflection  in Self-Consciousness (Albany: SUNY P, 1986); Last Writings: Nothingness and the Religious Worldview  (Honolulu: U of Hawaii P, 1987); a new translation of his Inquiry into the Good (New Haven: Yale UP, 1990); and La Culture japonaise en question (Paris: POF, 1991). For other English and German translations of less than volume length and secondary literature see the survey by Schinzinger and the commented anthology by Ohashi ed., 508-19 (both deal also with Tanabe and many others, but exclude Miki and Tosaka). See for further comment also Maraldo and Heisig, eds.

8/ A whole further domain would be subjectivity both in and seen from Japan by psychology and psychiatry, often also within sociological and anthropological perspectives. I can only list below some secondary literature for further orientation by those interested, in Blankenburg, Caudill, De Vos, Doi, Kawai, Kimura, Lebra, Mita, and Reynolds. It might also be pleasant to mention, especially in Montreal where we are well acquainted with it, that the butô dance movement is closely akin to the protest movements of the 1960s and ’70s mentioned above so that its bodily metamorphoses can tell us much about the pains and joys of dismantling the nuclear Subject–cf. Klein 31-34 and passim.

9/ In his latest book Spectres de Marx (éd. Galilée, 1993) Derrida wishes to reactualize the lesson of “a certain Marx,” most urgent in face of the new consensus that glosses over its spreading “plagues”: “never on Earth have so many men, women, and children been enslaved, starved or exterminated.” I am very happy that my essay converges with such bearings (of a book I have only had time to superficially peruse, and quote mostly according to review echoes) and with their horizon that intellectuals have responsibilities toward suffering people and economic justice. Derrida’s appeal for a “new International” is here a key strategic move. It is, however, not clear how he thinks this link “without coordination, without party, …an alliance without institutions” (141-42) could effect “a (theoretical and practical) critique” of such matters as “international law or the concepts of State and nation.” Surely at least a loosely linked (to begin with, telematic) focussing of cognitive forces is a precondition for any impact beyond evanescent academic effervescence–which is a welcome oasis but also a debilitating ghetto unless transcended. For a “practical critique” to intertwine with lectures and books, intermittent and non-freezing groupings (and what else are e.g. the Deconstructionists?)  and institutions (to begin with probably teaching  centers and publications) and a solidarity around concrete, democratically chosen objectives seems absolutely needed. Otherwise, we shall have vague horizons without political agents or Subjects of resistance.

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Darko Suvin                                                                                                           (1984, 7000 words)

0. This essay presupposes that any text unfolds a thematic-cum-attitudinal field, and that fiction does so by necessarily presenting relationships between fictional agents. According to the way these relations are presented, a fictional text is either metaphorical or narrative. I wish to discuss here what is the basis and hallmark of this differentiation. To that purpose, I shall first discuss metaphor, mention briefly larger “metaphorical texts” and textual paradigms, and then focus on the connecting link between a metaphoric and a narrative text, the parable, in order to find out what is the differentia generica of narrative texts or narrativity. My hypothesis is that all texts are–by way of their paradigm, model, or macro-metaphor–based on a certain kind of metaphoricity, but that the narrative texts add to metaphorical ones a concrete presentation in terms of space and time, the chronotope. (The upshot of my argument would therefore, more precisely, lead to calling these subdivisions “only metaphorical” vs. “metaphorical-cum-narrative,” but it might be confusing to start by changing accepted meanings.)

  1. On Metaphor

1.0. In one of the most recent and most illuminating syntheses of metaphor analysis, Umberto Eco notes that the incomplete l97l bibliographie raisonnée by Shibles registers ca. 3,000 titles, and  yet that these thousands of pages contain only few which add anything fundamental to the two or three basic concepts introduced by Aristotle.1/ I shall therefore in my first part, dealing with some basic properties of metaphor, focus only on those key aspects which are indispensable for my argument, without at all pretending to a complete survey, much less a new theory of metaphor. I simply wish to derive from the discussions of metaphor which I found most useful (Aristotle, Beardsley, Bellert, Black Models, Black “More,” Eco “Metafora,” Henry, Lewis, Richards, Ricoeur “Process,” Ricoeur Rule, Shelley, Whalley) the basic orientations necessary for envisaging similarities and differences between metaphor and narrative.

Both on imagery and on feeling in connection to metaphor, I am in sympathy with the horizons of Ricoeur (cf. “Process”) that cognition, imagination, and feeling presuppose each other. Already from Kant on, it seems clear that one major kind of Urteilskraft or power of judgement consists in imaginative reflection upon a field of representations, searching for universals under which a particular might fall, though Kant then waffled on the possibility of this subsuming the particular under a determinate concept. Since this disclaimer is part of Kant’s general sharp distinction between concepts grounded in the object and our subjective (teleological or aesthetical) judgments, I believe it should be disregarded in favor of Ricoeur’s stance. However, I would wish for some clarification of his oscillation between invoking metaphors for space or seeing and suggesting that metaphor literally evokes iconic or pictorial images (142seqq.), as well as for further analysis of the distance between knower and known, which I do not believe is or can be entirely abolished. PHAPS CF. MORE ON HONECK 60-67.

1.1. This domain, as all of its students know, is both a “somewhat boundless field” (Ricoeur “Process” 141) and a minefield. I am trying to leapfrog most of it by adopting a probably incomplete, working definition of metaphor as a unitary meaning arising out of the (verbal) interaction of disparate conceptual units from different universes of discourse or semantic domains. It should be added that metaphor presents a complex cognition not by literal or analytic statement but by sudden confrontation: it is a language deviance that results in the perception of a possible relationship which could establish a new norm of its own.

       It follows that it is not necessary to think of metaphor, romantically, as either peculiarly imagistic or peculiarly emotional (cf. Manzoni, Shklovskii O teorii, Richards, and della Volpe), though the metaphor often contains a visualisable image and always embodies a value-judgment correlative to an integral, i.e. also emotional, involvement.

        1.2. If “connotation” is taken to mean the difference between an ideal dictionary entry and an ideal encyclopedic entry about the same term, i. e. any meaning of a term which is “normally” thought of as secondary (Eco, “Metafora” 206-08 and passim), then metaphor “create[s] new contextual meaning by bringing to life new connotations” (Beardsley 43). Its synthesis does not obliterate discordances, but in order to have any unity at all, its two terms have to share some connotations. In the canonic example “This man is a lion,” the meaning of the lexeme “man” and the lexeme “lion” which are the metaphor’s two terms gets to be extended by the context or intratext of the metaphor as a whole. From literal dictionary meaning current in a given culture and sociolect, the meaning modulates into some selection from the encyclopedia of cultural commonplaces, presuppositions, and categories (cf. also Eco Lector, passim). This is usually an encyclopedic entry current in a given sociolect and ideology, but it can also be a new entry, invented ad hoc by the metaphor’s author and enforced by its context.

       The sum of all the cultural topoi and categories implied and presupposed by a text constitutes the ideological system of its social addressee. The maxims of this system encompass the connotation chosen in a metaphor. In “This man is a wolf,” e. g., the “normal” connotation of a wolf in our epoch would probably be cruelty, a connotation encompassed by the ideological maxim of Social Darwinism where man is necessarily wolf to man. On the contrary, under the maxim of a tribal society, where wolves may be totemic ancestors or reincarnations of people, the above metaphor will work in a totally different, axiologically quite opposed way. The two semantic domains and cultural categories of “wolf” and “man” which in a metaphor act as lenses and filters for seeing each other, will be very different; a fortiori, so will be their interaction, which in a feedback spiral uses the movement between these domains to emphasize some and suppress other traits potentially present in “wolfness” (lupineity) and “manness” (humanity). “The wolf-metaphor…organizes our view of man” (Black Models 4l) and vice versa: when wolf and man are projected upon each other, a new whole emerges (cf. Richards, Black, Models 38-42 and 236-37, Eco “Metafora”). This does not necessarily imply (as in Black) that the interacting domains must both be equally illuminated by the metaphoric process: in Plautus’s “Homo homini lupus,” man is already more stressed, while in Leonardo’s Time as swift predator of all created things, or in “eddying time,” time clearly dominates over its predicates–we will not spend much thought over just how is a predator or an eddying temporal.

       The two semantic domains interacting in any metaphor can work upon each other because the connotations of their representative terms within the metaphor have a common ground. Aristotle (chap. XXI: 1457b) defines metaphor in two main ways, the strongest way being “transference by analogy”:

. . . for example, to scatter seed is to sow, but the scattering of the sun’s rays has no name [in GreekJ. But the act of sowing in regard to grain bears an analogous relation to the sun’ s dispersing of its rays, and so we have the phrase ‘sowing the god-created fire’.

In modern language, Aristotle has here picked out the single semantic property or seme of scattering and used it as the common ground between the relation sowing/grain and the relation sun’s beaming/light rays. All other semes are neglected in order to establish this common ground; however, while suppressed, they continue to function subterraneously as qualifying dissimilarities: in this case such is, far example, the action of the hand in throwing grain, which also implies a person sowing, the corpuscular nature of the material being scattered, etc. (cf. Henry 65-67).

1.3. The discussions of 1.2. hold fully only far what is variously called the high-grade, full(-fledged) or true metaphor (Whalley 491 and 494; Black, Models passim; Lewis 140-41ff.)–a unique presentation of previously non-existent meaning. On the other end of the metaphor spectrum is the low-grade metaphor, which transposes pre-existent meaning. In the ‘full-fledged’ metaphor new meaning, accessible to us in no other way, is being formed and thus explored. We have no other ways at hand far thinking through the relationship such a metaphor refers to; if it fossilizes or dies by lexicalization into a ‘literal’ lexeme, we shall far the time being cease thinking about that relationship (cf. also Köller 40). For an example from cultural-cum-ideological history, animales comes in classical Latin from anima = breath; when this is later lexicalized into the dead metaphor of ‘soul’, the dead-end quandary of medieval theology, whether animals bave souls, could arise (and SF has to go back to Greek far its lay naming of beings with souls or conscious intelligences — psychozoa). To the contrary, if a low-grade metaphor – such as the late Latin word for and root of  ‘arrive’, adripare, whose literal meaning is ‘come to a shore’ – dies, no great harm is done since we bave other ways of thinking about the relationship of bodily translation in space up to a final point. I shall have occasion to return in section 3.5. to the parallel between this polarization of high vs. low-grade metaphor and my opposition of true vs. fake novum. Here I would just like to note that the low-grade, or indeed fake, metaphor can be recognized, first, by the lack of textual preparation and sustainment of the metaphoric confrontation; and second, by the fact that inserting a copula such as “to be” or “to seem” will destroy the metaphoric confrontation or fusion and reveal the emptiness of that metaphor. Using Whalley’s example “When the play ended, they resumed/ Reality’s topcoat” (494), if we put “Reality is (or: seems) a topcoat” (or viceversa), it becomes apparent that the resumption of a topcoat upon leaving theatre is already a re-entry intro extra-ludic reality of which any topcoat is a part. Thus, the supposed modifying term is contained in the first term, and we do not enter upon a synthesis of discordant semantic domains. Instead, we are here faced with what is in relation to the full metaphor only a formal mimicry.

       Therefore, the full-fledged, “interaction” or transformational metaphors cannot be paraphrased without a significant loss of cognitive yield (Black, Models 45-46); while the low-grade, “substitution or comparison” metaphors can be exhausted by paraphrase into commonplaces–e.g., “on leaving theatre, spectators pick up coats and reenter reality.”

l.4. If we do not confine cognition to analytical discourse only but assume, in a more realistic vein, that it can equally (and in all probability necessarily) be based on imagination, then metaphor is not an ornamental excrescence but a specific cognitive organon. Its specificity of reference is still poorly understood, but metaphor seems to be directed toward and necessary for an insight into continuously variable processes when these are being handled by language (which is composed of discrete signs) (Hesse, Ortony; curiously, Thom [120, 159] founds mathematics in the same insight). If metaphor is such a dialectical corrective of all analytical language, it necessarily 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 case of full-fledged metaphors) develop “the before unapprehended relations of things” in ways at that moment not formulatable except by way of metaphor (Shelley 357, cf. Shklovskii, Khod 115 and O teorii l2). Exploding literal semantic and referential pertinence, turning heretofore marginal connotations into new denotations, it proposes a new, imaginative pertinence by rearranging the categories that shape our experience. Metaphor sketches in, thus, lineaments of “another world that corresponds to other possibilities of existence, to possibilities that would be most deeply our own…” (Ricoeur, Rule 229). In so doing, it redescribes the known world and opens up new possibilities of intervening into it.

       In more analytical language, the sum of all literal statements which can be educed from a full-fledged metaphor will be both too restricted and too abundant. Too restricted, not exhaustive: people are perhaps cruel like wolves, but how should one formulate the hesitation between “people are instinctive” and “wolves are conscious”–connotations or implications simultaneously also present within the over-determination of this, as of any metaphor–in sense-making literal propositions? Too abundant: for “the implications, previously left for a suitable reader to educe for himself, with a nice feeling for their relative priorities and degrees of importance, [will be] now presented explicitly as though having equal weight” (Black, Models 46). Thus, literal statements are both frozen into connotative univalency and ponderated into cognitive equivalency; in order to acquire  analytical functionality, such propositions are left with a binary choice between the 1 of true and the 0 of false rather than with a spectrum of possibilities. To the contrary, cognition through a full metaphor, reorganizing the logical space of our conceptual frameworks, increases understanding of “the dynamic processes of reality [dinamismi del reale]” (Eco “Metafora” 212). It is, thus, not necessary to think of any such imaginative cognition as a mystical insight or magical transfer but rather  as a hypothetic proposition with specifiable yields and limitations. Parallel to other forms of cognition–say, analytic conceptual systems, plastic representation, music or mathematics–metaphoric cognition can be partly or wholly accepted or rejected by feedback from historical experience, verbal and extra-verbal.

       The potentially cognitive function is, then, not an extrinsic but a central quality of metaphor. Technically, it is graspable as the distinction between vehicle and tenor (first introduced, though not fully clarified, by Richards). Following refinements by students of parable (cf. Bultmann, Crossan, Dithmar, Funk, Jeremias, Jones, Linnemann, Via), I propose to call vehicle the metaphoric expression as a whole taken literally, and tenor the meaning it refers to.2/

1.4. What can, then, be considered to be the basic conditions for a full-fledged metaphor? I think there are three:

       (1) it is coherent or congruent: the connotations admissible in interpretation must have a cultural-cum ideological common ground;

       (2) it is complex or rich: consonant with (1) above, it uses all the connotations that can be brought to bear, “it means all it can mean” (Beardsley 144);

       (3) it contains or embodies a novum: “it constitutes a set of conclusions which would not follow from any conventional combination of words…” (Bellert 34); it is “not inferrible from the standard lexicon” (Black, “More” 436); it is “the emergence of a more radical way of looking at things” (Ricoeur, “Process” 152). This novum 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.

     We may call these basic conditions the three axioms of coherence, richness, and novelty. 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). While I agree with Bellert not only that among the conditions for metaphor are consistency and novelty but also that any metaphor necessarily contains a multiple reference to what in a given sociolect and ideology is taken for reality, I do not think it is necessary to erect such a partial “reference to reality” (38) into a separate condition or axiom, since it is already implied in my second and third axioms as the norm against which both the richness and (as I just argued) the novelty are necessarily measured: Occam’s razor again.

  1. Fictional Texts as Paradigms and Possivble Worlds

2.1. This argument can be opened up in the direction of larger texts by adopting Bellert’s delimitation of a metaphorical text. It is “a text not supposed to be interpreted literally…but assumed to have an interpretation different from that which would follow merely from the application of conventional semantic rules to the constituent expressions and their combinations” (25). I would point out that this delimitation holds for a text of any kind, and there is no reason to confine it to lyrics or small forms.

     Thus, the interpretation of metaphorical texts can, on the one hand, not even begin unless an intertext of the literal or conventional senses of its constituent propositions is first assumed. On the other hand, the metaphor is defined by violating at least one semantic, syntactic or pragmatic conventional rule in a meaningful way, by a “paradigmatic deviance” (Ricoeur “Process” 144). A shuttling operation is established between the metaphor’s initial semantic im-pertinence, its pars destruens, and (in successful cases) the pars construens of its final heightened pertinence.

I shall proceed by assuming that I can also largely leapfrog an argument I developed at length elsewhere (Suvin, “Science Fiction”) on such “metaphorical texts” larger than one single sentence-metaphor or micro-metaphor, as well as the equally boundless and mined domain of narratology, by means of a pair of extremely foreshortened devices. First, by referring to a large bibliography; second, by adopting an incomplete working definition not only for metaphor but also for narrative.. I shall get to a definition of narrative in the latter half of this paper, in order to proceed, by logic of size, from metaphor through the “small form” of parable to narrative.

2.2. My argument in “Science Fiction” tried to show how there is a theoretically almost unbroken continuity between a single or micro-metaphor, a sustained series of metaphors (the métaphore filée), a metaphor theme, and finally the model or paradigm (a property of each and every fictional and indeed doxological — e. g. scientific — text). If one accepts that metaphor is a cognitive organon, then both it and the model  or paradigm are heuristic fictions or speculative instruments analogically mediating between two semantic domains. To take the example of a scientific text (an example a fortiori applicable to any fictional text), such a metaphorical mediation prevails between the atom and the solar system in Bohr’s early model of electron orbits. While believers in orthodox 19th-century scientism would claim that model differs from metaphor by controlling a coherent theory, i. e. a set of linked and falsifiable concepts and not merely presuppositions, I believe this claim has by now been refuted (Hesse, Ricoeur “Hermeneutics,” and cf. on the debate also Black Models and Hoffman). There is an unbroken theoretical continuity between the “strict” or natural-science and the “loose” or sciences humaines verifiability (Thom et al. 53-55). In other words, the verifiability proper to the model seems to me in principle to repose on what I have called the three axioms for metaphorical texts: coherence, richness, and novelty–even if a scientific model will as a rule be more coherent and less rich than a fictional one (cf. Gentner). Thus, by the time the term “model” is applied to a fictional text, say a writer’s opus, I can see no useful difference between saying “Balzac gives us an insightful model of the French society at his time” and saying that his opus is something like a complex and not yet fully understood macro-metaphor.

     An example very pertinent to this discussion is given by C.S. Lewis. He argues that Flatlanders–beings living in two dimensions–can be a useful metaphor for understanding the fourth dimension. The analogy would go: as Flatland is to the sphere of our three-dimensional life and understanding, so our three dimensions are to the fourth. Therefore, the Flatland metaphor can make us begin cognizing the fourth dimension, by way of understanding at least some of its implications: e. g., we should not be surprized if a four-dimensional being could control our space and time, since this what we could do to the Flatlanders (139-40). Mischievously, Lewis omitted to mention that his example is taken from a remarkable science-fictional parable, Flatland (1884) by Edwin A. Abbott. This novellette, however, uses the geometry vehicle for ethico-political tenor, so that the dimensions and cognitive limitations in physics signify also those in ethics and politics. Clearly, in this case “englobing metaphor,” “model,” and “narrative text with metaphor-like paradigm actualized in a metaphoric series” mean the same thing.

2.3. The discussion of Flatland can serve to indicate also a crucial coinciding: both metaphoric and narrative texts can in contemporary semiotics be treated in terms of the implied possible worlds. Eco in fact also uses the example of Flatland when discussing that concept in his Lector (148-54). To summarize a long argument very briefly, whatever possible worlds might be in logic, each and every fictional text implies in semiotics a possible world, specifying a state of affairs which differs from the “normal,” and analyzable as if based on counterfactual conditionals or “as if” hypotheses (Eco Lector 122-73, and cf. Elam 100-14, Pavel “Possible Worlds” and “Incomplete Worlds,” Petöfi, and the special Versus issues no. 17[1977] and 19[1978]). As different from the logicians’ possible worlds, the fictional ones are not exhaustively posed but are created by the reader on the basis of interaction between the fictional “counterfactuality” and feedback references to his/her own presupposed factuality. The world of any fictional work is understandable only as the reader’s  set of cultural and ideological norms–the social addressee’s verisimilitude, be that an illusionistically mimetic or a frankly conventional one — changed in such-and-such ways. Most pertinent to my argument, if both metaphorical and narrative texts entail possible worlds, then the main differences between a single metaphor and a fictional text would have to be correlative to the latter’s quite different articulation. The paradigm of a longer fictional text must be sufficiently articulated in its syntagmatic development to permit exploration of the text’s key hypothesis–which is also its founding metaphor–as to its properties, most prominently the relationships between people it implies; i. e., to permit falsification of its thought-experiment. In any prose tale, it must 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.

  1. On Chronotope and Parable

3.0. Any argument about continuity between a micro-metaphor and a longer literary text needs, then, to be supplemented by an argument about their clear differences. It is here that I believe Bakhtin’s inexorable insistence on narrativity is quite indispensable. The central thesis of this paper is that the necessary, and I believe the sufficient differentia generica.between metaphoric and narrative texts can best be grasped by formulating it in terms of Bakhtin’s chronotope. I propose to discuss briefly this concept of chronotope, and then look at its key cognitive status with help of a fictional form which is generally acknowledged to be somewhere between metaphor and story–the parable.

3.1. I shall assume to begin with that what Bakhtin means by chronotope is by now well enough known for me to content myself with a few pointers and to isolate one or two necessary foci. At the beginning of “Formy vremeny i khronotopa v romane,” Bakhtin explains that in the chronotope, “spatial and temporal marks are fused into a meaningful and concrete whole. Time here thickens, grows denser, becomes artistically visible; likewise, space becomes more intense and drawn into the movement of time, plot, history” (235; Imagination 84)3/. A chronotope is, then, the method for “artistically assimilating time and space in the novel, and thus for assuring its unity” (“Formy” 236, Imagination 86). In particular, what we might today call the kind of agents (and actions) to be found in any narrative is correlative to a given concrete chronotope: “the image of man in literature…is always intrinsically chronotopic” (“Formy” 235, Imagination 85). To give just one significant example, “[t]he rogue, the clown, and the fool create around themselves their particular little worlds, their particular chronotopes” (“Formy” 309, Imagination 159).

       The richness of Bakhtin’s analyses in a “historical poetics” of the chronotope and the potential fruitfulness of this concept are well-nigh overwhelming; the obverse is that possible traps are abundant too. Here I wish only to record my basic disagreement with Bakhtin’s theoretically unsupported and practically (one is grateful to see) contravened contention that time rather than space is thg dominant principle in the chronotope. Thus, Bakhtin’s best developed chronotope, the Rabelaisian one with its roots in pre-class, agricultural societal relationships, is magnificently characterized as follows:

This time is profoundly spatial and concrete….Time here is sunk deeply in the earth, implanted in it and ripening in it. Time in its course binds together the earth and the laboring hand of man; its pace is impelled, perceived, smelled…, seen by people. Such time is fleshed-out, irreversible (within the limits of the cycle), realistic.  (“Formy” 357, Imagination 208)

And the artistic world of another from his great triad of favorites, Goethe, “is the budding seed, utterly real, present and visible, and at the same time filled with an equally real future that grows out of it” (Èstetika 232).I trust these two examples can serve to point out that such a time of “productive growth” (“Formy” 356) is consubstantial with and not dominant over space, as well as to prepare my discussion of the parables of sowing.

       It is curious to note in the present context Bakhtin’s unqualified — though, as far as I can tell, never argued — disapproval of metaphor. It is most evident in his non-dits, such as his total refusal to discuss lyrical poetry. (This is one of the main differences between Bakhtin and the critic who has best continued his space analysis, Lotman.) But it can also be glimpsed in a few overt statements. In the popular-cum-Rabelaisian chronotope, e.g., human and natural events are equally grand, so that the same words and accents can be used for both, “and in no sense metaphorically” (“Formy” 360, Imagination 211). In Homer’s style, again, metaphors (and “tropes in general”!) “have not yet utterly lost their straightforward meaning, they do not yet serve the purposes of sublimation” (“Formy” 367, Imagination 218; emphases DS). But by the time we get to the love idyll (in the 18th century, or maybe even in the ancient pastoral?), the potentially positive aspects of the idyll as such are for Bakhtin weakened and blurred by reducing life to “a [completely sublimated] love…, conventional, metaphorical, stylized.” This bad, metaphorical character of the idyll is only counteracted by an orientation eschewing convention and focussing on “the real life of the agriculturist,” based on labour: “the element of agricultural labour creates a real link and community between the phenomena of nature and the events of human life (as distinct from the metaphorical link in the love idyll)” (“Formy” 375, Imagination 226-27; emphases Bakhtin’s). I must regretfully note that I find this mixture of vulgar sociologism, vulgar (anti-)Freudianism (“sublimation”), and vulgar muzhik-worship untenable. It should suffice to confront Bakhtin’s example of the good Georgics with Virgil’s other, pointedly unmentioned and thus disqualified “idyll” of Bucolics, to make this clear. In the final analysis, the metaphor is for Bakhtin identical to an effete and by definition upper-class sublimation, to “the official sphere of speech and literature” (“Formy” 386, Imagination 238). He perceives all tropes as diametrically opposed to those other “forms of indirect use of language” serving for laughter: “irony, parody, humor, the joke, various types of the comic, etc.”–because the tropes do not reinterpret “the point of view contained within the word…, the modality of language and the very relationship of language to the object and to the speaker” (“Formy” 385, Imagination 237). I would basically disagree with such an one-sided tropology, but I want to note here only that this allotment of monologic authoritarianism to the all-pervading lyrical voice explains Bakhtin’s banishment of it into outer darkness. In a way, he conceded metaphor and lyrics to his Formalist enemies: he conceded much too much.

       Finally, it is very noteworthy that the already mentioned discussion of Homer explicates also when can a trope be redeemed, placed among the sheep rather than the goats, so to speak. This is the case when its image is not enmeshed into “sublimation” but retains an independent existence, which is judged by nearness to narrativity: Homer’s razvernutye sravnenia (drawn-out or sustained comparisons) become “almost [underline DS] an introductory episode, a digression.” Narrative equals “autonomous significance and reality”  (“Formy” 367, Imagination 218); trope equals the opposite.4/

3.2. For easier comparison to Aristotle’ canonic example of full-fledged metaphor, the analogy of sowing quoted in 1.2, I am choosing the three parables of sowing from Matthew 13. This has also the advantage of allowing me to use some insights from the witty analyses of that text (Gerhardsson, Marin, Ricoeur “Hermeneutics” 54seqq.; cf. also on parable in general Angenot, Bultmann, Crossan, Dithmar, Funk, Jeremias, Jones, Linnemann, Via) while taking a different tack from them.

       The common ground within each of the three parables embedded in Matthew 13:1-43, is–exactly as in Aristotle’s classical example of the analogical metaphor and as in Bakhtin’s rhapsodic description of the Rabelaisian, people’s chronotope–the seme of implanting or taking root (successful or failed). It arises out of the basic analogy between sowing the good seed and preaching the kingdom of heaven, which is carefully explained in the framing parts of the text. As Ricoeur rightly remarks, “[t]he parable is the conjunction of a narrative form and a metaphorical process“; he then observes as correctly that the problem of “how a metaphor may take the mediating form of a narrative” is “only partially” solved by the contemporary theory of metaphor (“Hermeneutics” 30-31). For, the classical (lyrical or micro-) metaphor is a local unit of discourse, operating at the level of sentence or lexis, whereas the parable is a literary genre (even if a small form) operating at the level of text composition, Aristotle’s taxis (ibidem 92-93). I submit that the major significant accretion to metaphor effected in parable is that the relationship between sowing/good seed and preaching/kingdom of heaven is actualized through a narrative action leading to a change of state in a determinate spacetime. This can be exemplified on the briefest of the three “sowing” parables, the Parable of the Mustard Seed:

  1. …The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field:
  2. Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof. (King James Version)

The vehicle of this parable is a minimal story involving precise space and time, whose characteristic is the deployment of hyperbole and paradox by which the least shall become the greatest given some preconditions. The space begins with the very small seed, fitting into a man’s hand; it is cinematically (both in the sense of moving and of movies) enlarged by way of the connecting “shot” of sowing to the horizontal dimension of a field (Luke 13:19 speaks of a garden); in it, the mustard seed grows after a lapse of time–tacitly filled in by the hearers from their empirical norm–to a large tree, whose greatness is verified by the last cinematic shot of many birds finding enough place to lodge in it. The spacetime dimensionality unfolds thus from the point-like seed, through the implied hand and the two-dimensional field, to the dimension of vertical development (accommodating both the upward arrow and the arrow of time) and to a final four-dimensional shot of birds flying into and finding protection within the tree (in Mark 4:32, “under the shadow of it”). As important, the story’s spacetime is consubstantial to changes through action: first the sower taking the seed into his hand and sowing it out over the field, second the growth of the seed into a tree, and third the arrival and nestling of the birds.

     Now whereas in a metaphor like “The chairman plowed through the discussion” there is certainly an action (the metaphoric focus is a verb), a micro-metaphor or sentence-metaphor cannot, I would maintain until proof to the contrary, envisage a sequential change of state, a succession of events tied to a mutable chronotope (cf. Bakhtin 84 ff.). Though the metaphor compensates for this impossibility by a  point-like flash of insight, the cognitive necessity of subjecting aspects and elements of any complex proposition or hypothesis to detailed scrutiny can only be satisfied by a story. It is, therefore, not action (by a narrative agent such as the plowing chairman) which differentiates story from metaphor; it is the development of space and time from seed to field to tree and from sowing through growing time, which add story to metaphor and form the parable — so much richer and more persuasive than an unsupported metaphor would be. The story–the plot–is the organizing backbone of the whole message. Varying Ricoeur, I would say that the kingdom of heaven is not as who but as how (i. e. what changes have happened when-and-where); indeed, “the metaphorical power of the parable proceeds from the plot” (“Hermeneutics” l25). It is the plot that functions as an analogue model, a developed cognitive vehicle, of the tenor (the kingdom of heaven), and not the mustard seed by itself. Precisely because of this model-like function of the plot, the parable shares in the basic common traits of model and metaphor, those of being “heuristic fictions” and “redescriptions of reality” (Ricoeur ibidem 95, 125, and passim), while adding to it chronotopic, story-telling articulation in which agential and spatial relationships will be unfolded as choices. Any narrative (even a small parable) is an articulated, i.e. multiply falsifiable thought-experiment.

3.3. The other two parables of sowing in Matthew 13 are significantly longer. The Parable of the Sower (13:3-8) involves four alternative actions: seeds devoured by the wayside, scorched because of weak roots, choked by thorns, or triumphantly bypassing all these threats and bringing manifold fruit. Its plot, thus, suggests alternative time-streams and possible worlds, based on qualitatively different spaces. Of the alternative chronotopes, the three initial ones traverse the spread of bad agricultural possibilities: “the whole plot is articulated following an almost land-registry-like topology (topique)” (Marin “Essai” 59). The chronotopes progress axiologically from the wayside, through the stony places (or rocky places, ta petrode), to the ground covered with thorns. In other words, the plot traverses the bad ground beginning with the wayside and continuing with the transitional space between wayside and field where rocks and thorns delimit the field: the plot (the story) is plotted upon the plot (the seeding ground), the tenor in time apparently derived from but in fact projected on the vehicle of space. These chronotopes are opposed but also lead up to the climax of the one and only perfect possibility–the seeds falling onto the agriculturally good or deep ground (literally: the beautiful earth, epi ten gen ten kalen). By the same token, the four locational and axiological chronotopes which make up the plot delineate four alternative possibilities in the zero world of the implied reader. They are typical, i. e. they are supposed to exhaust the pertinent possibilities of the seed’s destiny; so much so that when the parable is explained in 13:18-23, its tenor is four types of narrative agents, or four sub-types of “hearers of the word” (Gerhardsson 175; and cf. Suvin “Per una teoria”). I do not see how any single metaphor could accommodate four views.

       In the final parable of this group, that of the Tares (l3:24-30), there is furthermore a violent change of chronotope: the sowing and the (potential) springing up of good seed alone is first supplanted by the addition of tares, which spoilage is then presented as undone at the envisaged future gathering. The plot is here incipiently dramatic, because both the seeming inner contradiction of the Mustard Seed (smallness of seed vs. greatness of shrub) and the “objective” antagonists of the Sower parable (birds, rocks, thorns) have been replaced by the agential conflict between the wheat-sowing Protagonist and the tares-sowing Antagonist: again, the most typical “good guy” and “bad guy.” True, the Protagonist does not enter into a face-to-face conflict with the Antagonist, but explains to his Satellites (present servants and future reapers) how the Antagonist will be outsmarted at gathering time; however, this only serves to stress the temporal and substantial depth of the conflict. The mingled didascalic actions and dialogs define an already complex sequence of reversals, leading in a full seasonal sowing-to-reaping cycle from clean through contaminated field to a final cleansing by fire. I do not see how any micro-metaphor, however drawn out, could accommodate more than two agents (i.e. more than one action).5/

  1. Prospect on Narrative Texts

4.1. Should the above hypothesis about the constructive elements and factors necessary for a bridge between sentence metaphors and narrative texts prove defensible, it seems intuitively clear that it would be less difficult to pass from a small narrative form such as the parable to any other, larger narrative form, such as the short story and the novel. This extension may be approached, first, from the metaphoric side. As Ricoeur convincingly argues, “[m]etaphoricity is a trait not only of lexis but of muthos [story or plot] itself” (Rule 244). Frye had already formulated this precisely (except for the use of the wholly redundant concept of “myth”):

     …whatever is constructive in any verbal structure seems to me to be invariably some kind of metaphor or hypothetical identification….The assumed metaphors in their turn become the units of the myth or constructive principle of the argument. While we read, we are aware of an organizing structural pattern or conceptualized myth. (353)

       Second, however, the passage from parable to larger narrative forms could be approached from the narrative side too. In the space at my disposal, I can do this only deductively. We may provisionally define a narrative as a finite and coherent sequence of actions, located in the spacetime of a possible world and proceeding from an initial to a final state of affairs . 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 (I am spelling out the last element from the seminal discussions of Eco, Lector 70, 107-08, and passim, where it already seems implied). Since all of these elements have been found in the above discussion of parable, there is no generic difference between it and any other narration.

4.2. Thus, the one major addition to a metaphoric text, the differentia generica which in fact constitutes the narrative as a mega-genre of fictionality, is the existence of a chronotope, consubstantial to the action of several agents in a developed plot. As BAkhtin concluded in 1973, looking backward at his chronotope across four instructive decades, it is the backbone of the siuzhet, of what we may today call narrativity. Still insisting that in chronotope the narrative “event does not become a figure (obraz),” he defined chronotopes as “the organizing centers for the fundamental narrative events…. It can be said without qualification that they are of fundamental significance for the formation of narrative (siuzhetoobrazuiushchee znachenie). – Thus the chronotope, functioning as the dominant means for materilizing time in space, emerges as a center of concrete presentation, of incarnation, in any novel” (“Formy” 398-99; “Imagination” 250). Indeed, I would add, as the dominant means for constituting narrative in the first place. For, in its long history, the siuzhet has at different times managed to do without many elements or aspects: overt action, individuality of narrative agents, linear causality, etc., etc. Yet I cannot imagine any narrative — epic or dramatic, to use familiar terms — that would not have some form of chronotope. The undoubtedly present and important differences between forms and genres of narrative texts (say from parable to roman-fleuve, or further to Aeschylean tragedic trilogy or the Comédie humaine) are in that perspective “merely” differentiae specificae. It should be therefore possible — though not necessarily always useful — to read any longer narrative as an enlarged and otherwise modified parable. Useful examples of different length are literally innumerable. To mention only a few discussed in scholarship recently, this would include the development of the metaphor of “nightingale” from Boccaccio’s novella V/4 to Lope de Vega’s play El ruiseñor de Sevilla (studied by Segre 106-08 within a series of interesting similar confrontations); Dickens’s Little Dorritt as a paradigm of imprisonment (Olsen 44); Proust’s 80-odd pages in A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleur as the development of the metaphor (Henry 136-37) and parable of girls as flowers; or Eco’s mention of Le Rouge et le noir as a Bonapartist parable (Lector 48). The to my mind most convincing interpretation of King Lear also concludes (one generation before Ricoeur’s stress on plot as vehicle) that “all along the bare contour of the story has been expressing the play’s most inward meanings….The story is a parable.” (Danby 194). But then, all fictional (and non-fictional) texts are in this view “analogical mappings” (Gentner 109) of one semantic domain upon another. If further, and more particularly, any narrative text can be read as parable, by subtracting the chronotope each can also be read (pace Bakhtin) as a much enlarged and much transposed — metaphor.


1/  Eco “Metafora” 191. All further references, keyed to the final bibliography, will be entered in the body of the essay by last name with page. My thanks go to Marc Angenot for our indispensable discussions; to Irena Bellert for nudging me (not with complete success) toward the straight and narrow path of precision; to Clive Thomson, for the invitation to the 1983 Bakhtin conference at Queens University; to Elena Sala di Felice, for kindly drawing my attention to Manzoni’s important note on metaphor; and last but not least, to Mike Holquist, friend from the far-off chronotope of Yale SF and Bakhtinian mystagogue.

2/ INSERT NOTE FROM met-mat:  A confusion of central importance is unfortunately present, from Richards on, between tenor — or topic — vs. vehicle employed in the meaning “Subject vs. Modifier” (used by psycholinguists such as Hoffman and Ortony and also by Ricoeur) as against the meaning “metaphor focus vs. the metaphor’s semantic referent” (used by most students of biblical parable). I am in favor of the latter use, though I acknowledge the whole question still awaits clarification. I shall for present purposes eschew the probably indispensable semiotic formalization of this approach, which would have to speak about semic fields, isotopies, Porphyry’s trees, or meaning quadrangles if not hexagons (cf. Eco “Metafora” and Henry).

2/  The intensely charged language of Bakhtin is not univocally translatable; perhaps the best one can hope for is pertinence for given purposes. For my purpose, I have used but in places modified the meritorious Emerson-Holquist translation in Imagination when citing “Formy.”  It seemed both fair and useful to retain the indication of their pagination too.

4/ I do not know whether such a “metaphorophobia” was and can only speculate that it might have been one of the main reasons that Bakhtin never wrote anything of note on Shakespeare. It might seem unreasonable to demand even of this myriad-minded theoretician to do everything, and yet I must at least record here my conviction that Shakespeare’s is the crucial corpus on which Bakhtin’s historical poetics (though not necessarily his anthropology etc.) will have to be verified or falsified.–At the Bakhtin conference mentioned in note 1, the paper of Professor Anthony Wall and an anonymous discussant after this essay was presented both posed the problem of Bakhtin’s own abundant use of metaphors. I cannot at this juncture explain the discrepancy, but I can note that by exemplifying Lawrence’s “never trust the teller, trust the tale,” it strengthens my case.

 5/ For the differences between the analytical levels of actants (redefined against Greimas to the non-syntactical terminology of Protagonist, Antagonist, Satellite, etc.) and of types see Suvin, “Per una teoria.”


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—. The Rule of Metaphor. Toronto: U. of Toronto P, 1978.

Segre, Cesare. Semiotica filologica. Torino: Einaudi, 1979.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. A Defence of Poetry, in C. Kaplan, ed., Criticism: The Major Statements. New York: St. Martin’s P, 1975, 354-80.

Shibles, Warren A. Metaphor: An Annotated Bibliography and History. Whitewater WI: Language Press, 1971.

Shklovskii, Viktor. Khod’ konia. Moskva-Berlin: Gelikon’, 1923.

—. O teorii prozy. Moskva-Leningrad: Krug, 1925.

Suvin, Darko. “Per una teoria dell’analisi agenziale.” Versus no. 30 (1981): 87-109.

—. “SF: Metaphor, Parable, and Chronotope,” now in his

 Thom, René. Paraboles et catastrophes. Paris: Flammarion, 1983.

Tomashevskii, B.V. Teoriia literatury–Poètika. Moskva-Leningrad: Gos. izd., 1928.

Via, Dan O. The Parables. Philadelphia: Fortress P, 1967.

Vico, Giambattista. La scienza nuova…. Bari: Laterza, 1974.

W[halley], G[eorge]. “Metaphor,” in Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Eds. A.  Preminger et al. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1972, 490-94.

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INTERVIEW WITH DARKO SUVIN*                                                                 (18,700 words)

By Sezgin Boynik, May 2014, Lucca

[This piece is forthcoming in Rab-Rab {Helsinki] July 2015]

Sezgin Boynik: Can you tell in which way the discussions concerning Brecht and Formalist issues in late fifties and beginning of sixties were related to politics and to Marxist theories, in general and particularly in Yugoslavia?

Darko Suvin: I started writing about literature, fiction, poetry and drama roughly in the second half of the fifties. I finished my studies in ’55/56 and then went to army service. So I started to write somewhat as a student, but mainly after 1957. At that moment I didn’t know much about old battles (socialist realism versus modernism) that had been fought and won by modernism, more or less. If you read Sveta Lukić’s book Savremena jugoslavenska literatura 1945-1965 (published as a whole in 1968, but his theses were known earlier) you will see these things. The battle was won on the basis of a compromise between the Left intellectuals and the Party politicians. The political top was not much interested in arts or literature, they realised these were politically of secondary importance if you hold all newspapers, radio, and TV. So they offered a quid pro quo: as long as you writers and intellectuals don’t question present-day power; we will let you in peace to write in whatever form you wish. This implicit compromise had two components (of course I realised this retrospectively, I didn’t know it then): first of all there was a genuine revulsion against the arbitrary Stalinism, both on the top of the party (Kidrič, Djilas, Tito, Kardelj, probably also Ranković, but he never spoke much publicly, so you couldn’t guess what he really thought) and in the masses — not so much in between, in the middle party cadres where Stalinism was strongest. And second, the central Party Agit-Prop commission lost all effective power even during Djilas’s heading it in the early ‘50s, it was dismantled in the drive against USSR Statism, and especially after his ouster in 1954.  Even though Agit-Prop commissions remained in each federal republic’s central committee, they didn’t do too much, they were more or less vatrogasci (they put out fires), but they weren’t good enough to start any fire on their own. I knew some guys in the Agit-Prop of the Croatian central committee, for example Marin Franičević, a good poet from Dalmatia in his youth, or Vojin Jelić, from Kninska Krajina, a very interesting and tormented novelist – but they just didn’t know what to do in cultural politics, and they had practically no research apparatus. Of course they were all in the Partisans and many of them, depending on age, in the Left underground movement even before the 1941 occupation by the Axis. They were all brought up on Lukács in the best case and Todor Pavlov (a Zhdanovian esthetician in USSR) in the worst case. The best knew also what Second International people wrote about culture, such as Plekhanov and Mehring, and some Lenin, as filtered by Stalinism. And they knew oodles of Engels, and of course of Stalin. Retrospectively, Engels is all that remains from those theories, and he never wrote specifically about the arts (though when he incidentally did, he could be illuminating, I remember a bit about Ibsen having the background of values from free Norwegian peasantry). I think also some Lukàcs about French realism remains; his really first-rate work up to the mid-20s we didn’t know, I discovered it in the 60s. Engels is a great genius in my opinion, but he was not applicable without great changes to a mutated capitalism and world: a great genius with great mistakes, such as finding dialectics in nature or believing in scientism.

In brief, the climate in SFR Yugoslavia was in the 1950s very open, right up to the late 60s, to all kind of neo-Marxism. We young ones were at that time calling it an ‘open Marxism’: I theorised the openness in theatre by using Brecht’s “open forms” (also the title of Eco’s first theoretical book, which I used). It was like a plant on which you could graft many new things — the Soviet selectionist genetician Michurin was very popular, also the American Burbank. For example, I remember one of the things which made me less than popular in the Faculty of Philosophy (that is, Arts) in Zagreb: we had a debate on the first theory of literature which was published in Zagreb, based on an introductory book by several hands coordinated and edited by two professors, Zdenko Škreb and Fran Petre – the former was a Germanist and the latter a real “cemented” or hard-line Slovenian Party member, follower of Ziherl, the Slovenian Zhdanov, who  fortunately didn’t have that much power. So we had a discussion in Hrvatsko filološko društvo (the Philological Society, a kind of professional organisation of people dealing with “language arts”) at the beginning of the 1960s. I was then a young assistant in Dramaturgy and Theatre Arts, I stood up and said, “The whole book is based on the idea of difference and interaction between form and content, could you please explain to me how do these work in literature? Is it for example like a glass of water, the glass is form and the water is content? And if so, how we could differentiate the form from the content in the novel?” They were extremely offended, because they had no answer; and I suppose I got the reputation of a disrespectful extremist. What we learned actually is what every critic already knows, that you cannot disjoin these two. If you write about anything, say in my case about Krleža or Brecht, you start where you can, what struck you as salient when reading, because criticism is not a science but an art, and you go where you can, following certain protocols of evidence and consistency. The basic modernist idea, which was theorized by the Formalists, is that the izjava (the message) of any work of art is to be understood through its form, and at that point the relationship of form to content becomes uninteresting. You can say that what remains from content are themes, for example Balzac has a theme of avarice in Gobseck. But the same theme would have a totally different effect in another novel by Balzac, not to speak of Molière, because it was written up or about in different way: in other words, it had a different form.

My generation came to know about Russian Formalists through the work of Aleksandar Flaker in Russian studies, who was my personal friend. I knew him from political conferences before I came to university; he was a very active and engaged researcher. He published a fantastic book, Heretici i sanjari (Heretics and Dreamers) in 1954, which was an overview of all non-socialist-realist writings in Russia in twenties. Also there were other critical approaches which Škreb mediated from postwar West Germany, such as those by Wolfgang Kayser, maybe second-rate stuff but useful in order to know what is grotesque and such studies (it is actually important if you think that half of Krleža, our great writer, is grotesque, not to speak of Swift or satire in general). So there were no problems in grafting other plants on the sturdy tree of Marxism, we had no fear; we thought that truth will win because of its inner persuasiveness, we didn’t need a police, we just needed to upgrade the plant through its own inner juices. In  short, the most important thing my generation learned – say in movies through Eisenstein — is that any statement about art, including the politics of art, is to be arrived at through form. Somewhere I wrote that this is “the ABC of any materialist approach to art,” but there are 25 other letters, then you go on, to DEF etc. But if you don’t begin with Formalism you don’t get anywhere, while if you do begin with this, you have more chances to deal with your material and ideological circumstances.

SB: While describing relation between Marxism and Formalism in Yugoslavia you said that you were then not scared by innovations, can you develop that?

A: Of course we thought of ourselves as the avant-garde, as friends of the novelty. We are the novelty in backward peasant and patriarchal Balkans, and therefore we were communists. That was the idea in the young Left intelligentsia. I theorised this later for SF literature by adapting for it Ernst Bloch’s Novum.

The problems in the Party were different; they had their hands full with economy and foreign policy. Also, culturally speaking the Party was very provincial in Yugoslavia; they just didn’t know what was happening in the world. For example I was a kind of protégé of Marijan Matković, a prominent middle generation dramatist who was editor of the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences’ periodical Forum in Zagreb where I published. He was a “krležijanac” (disciple of Krleža), formally rather a pre-Modernist realist, and an extremely loyal fellow-traveller of socialism. I gave him some stuff about Brecht, and he made a grimace and exclaimed, ‘Darko, Brecht in Yugoslavia!?!?’. This was ambiguous, maybe we weren’t yet up to Brecht, maybe he was too severe for us, but at any rate he was asynchronous to us (in his opinion; I disagreed). Or when I translated Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade in the early 60s, he refused to print it: ‘I cannot spend socialist money for a piece against socialism’, was his reply. I tried to persuade him that the debate between Marat and Sade was exactly one of the things we needed to graft on our tree, but I failed.

Q: You have published in 1965 a text on Brecht where you say that in Yugoslavia there is still resistance toward Brecht …

A: The staid theatre people hated him, both the bourgeois and the Party…

Q: …yes, and you say that in Yugoslavia in the mid-sixties Brecht was thought of as too sociological, and not enough Formalist to be taken into consideration.[1]

A: Well that is my vocabulary. Because in Russia in the twenties there was a big battle between sociologists and Formalists. The synthesis of that was a kind of socio-formalism with people like Bakhtin and Voloshinov. You may know that Bakhtin, who was censored, has published much of his writing under the name of his friends Voloshinov and Medvedev; at any rate the decisive ideas in those books were his. Some reactionary US Bakhtinists say that these things published under the name of Voloshinov and Medvedev are Marxist and Bakhtin was anti-Marxist, so he wouldn’t have written them. But this is nonsense, Cold-War stupidity. Even Formalists like Eikhenbaum, Tinyanov, and Shklovsky were also interested in sociological aspects and Marxism. I think that both approaches in itself are insufficient, both Formalism and sociologism. In literary studies, sociology means relationship of writings to its own production and politics; Formalism means inner workings of writings (or art) in general. The inner workings of art apply in the moment of writing and in the moment of reading, so in the moment of production or in the moment of consumption. But of course these workings are shaped by so-called sociology, that is to say by ideology: what and how do you choose to write, what and how do you understand. Therefore you cannot have a Chinese wall and say, here is society and politics and there is pure art. Pure art sounds fine, but it is only a fin de siècle fantasy, at the end of 19th century, l’art pour art. I think this is intrinsically nonsense. There is a group of poems in English called “nonsense poetry”; that is great fun, but it’s not really nonsense, it is just a refusal of dominant sense. Or for example zaum poetry in early 20th-Century Russia; or even Alice in Wonderland, one of the greatest books in English literature. It does not make sense only in the sense of Dickens and George Eliot, or even worse of bourgeois and if you wish capitalist positivism. But surely there are other ways of making sense.

SB: Apart from not having sense, these limit cases of literature always have some social background. They are always somehow related to the ideology.

DS: Partly what they want to do is some experimental probing of limits of literature. For example, is it true that the limit of poetry is a word? Well maybe not, maybe it is a syllable. But at least it is a valuable experiment, even if it is proved as a negative experiment.

SB: In which way it was negative?

DS: A “negative experiment” in science is a failed one which is useful because it points out which way not to go further. And the limit of poetry is a word, not a syllable, because the syllable has no semantic dimension. But why not try it and see how it works, as say in Khlebnikov. I see no problem for anybody in power to let the kids play with these kinds of experimentations. By the way if you look at the political attitude of Futurists in Russia, they were communist sputniks .

SB: What do you mean by communist sputnik?

DS: The original Russian meaning of sputnik, before the little machine sending beep-beep from the sky in 1957, was “fellow traveller”: one who will go together with, accompany the Communist Party, in Croatoserbian suputnici. They were intellectuals, much too undisciplined (maybe fortunately, we have to say today) to be Party members, but agreeing with the Party line. I read in a book published in Russian in sixties, called Lenin and Literature, how Lunacharsky persuaded Lenin to go to a recital of Mayakovsky in 1921. After the recital Lenin said that it was very interesting; it was “hooligan communism” –  khuligan in the very Russian sense as dangerous people on the margins of society, bohemians… Which I would gloss as: why not bohemian communism, each class should have their communism! If there is workers’ communism, intellectuals’ communism, why shouldn’t there be a bohemian communism? We are all alienated by class society, even the workers are no saints… So why not put together our fragments and hope something more coherent will emerge? Consider that bohemians as a social class were anti-bourgeois, they were poor for one thing and also despised (if you see the opera La bohème, taken from a French novel, they are all starving). They are poor because they still don’t want to or cannot sell their services to the bourgeoisie. Sometimes they are on the Right, mostly on a kind of anarchoid Left, but always against the dominant class. Considering this, we can talk about the contribution of the bohemian class to the revolution.

It would be interesting to examine swearword nouns in general, the obverse of your positive slogans. Bugger, say, the contemptible word for homosexuals, came from the French bougre applied to Albigensian heretics, whose religion was supposed to stem from Bulgaria (bogomils). Hooligan itself was adopted from Irish Gaelic as an English slur on the Irish rebels (houlihan). And loot is Hindustani slang for plunder, which entered English in 18th Century when the East India Company simply appropriated the Moghul emperor’s treasury, evaluated today at 273 million British pounds (of which the modest company chief in India Clive took personally only 8%). The same holds for thug, only it was Indian rebels that time (the “Thuggee” sect). By the way Lenin and the Dadaists met in Zurich in 1916 …

SB: I am not sure whether they met, but they were living in same quarter in Zurich in 1916.

DS: Well, yes, we have no data they met (except in Stoppard’s play).[2] But why were they living in same quarter? They were against the war, they were against imperialism and the whole old world, and they had to flee where they could. These two groups were what the surrealists would call ‘communicating vessels’. To refuse that kind of energy is one of the greatest mistakes of later Leninism, not to speak of Stalinism: it refuses the energies available to it, it refuses present energies from workers and from intellectuals, because the new class thinks it is enough to have power. Speaking in Gramsci’s terms, they had constraint by force, but they didn’t have a consensus. The communist party in Russia had a majority consensus in 1917/1918, and following the Civil War which they won, this consensus lasted until roughly 1926 or so. After that the party ruled mostly by police terror. Why? Because they lost the energies from below – of course, not only or even mainly from the marginals but from the workers and intelligentsia (the peasants were never wholeheartedly for communists in Russia, as different from Yugoslavia, where they were the pillar of communist power from 1942 to 1949, the ill-guided attempt at working cooperatives).

SB: My understanding of formalism is related to what you are explaining now. If intrinsic processes are not sufficient to explain the transformations happening to an art form, then in any case we will need some extrinsic factors such as a social field or ideology.

DS: I think that terms such as intrinsic and extrinsic are misleading. Adorno once said “The social is where it hurts”. That is a gloomy way to put it, but the social is primarily inside us.

SB: I agree with that. But I want to say that many formalists and socio-formalists were dealing also with explicitly political issues. For example LEF in 1924/5 published a special issue on‘Lanage of Lenin’, the Futurist Kruchenykh published one year earlier small booklet with same title, etc, which is somehow related to the limits of the language, what we were talking about earlier, but also with the effectiveness of that language. So in any case even intrinsic Formalists were not entirely interested just with the shape of the artistic forms.

DS: But these were only their personal opinions in politics. What matters is that if you want to understand anything in art, whether it is music, painting or especially literature, you have to talk about transformation. Writing is composed of the stuff of everyday life, because we use language in our everyday life communication, but it is composed in such a different way that it gains a cognitive autonomy: you can understand life in and around you better. When I was starting to write in fifties and in sixties the best people called this structuralism, or structuralist poetics. My dissertation on Ivo Vojnović has the subtitle ‘genesis and structure’, because I found I had to do a genesis, which I think is a very good thing in a dissertation. I would recommend to any doctorate to deal with the historical coming about of its subject-text: look at biography, letters, and all available material of its incubation period, which will help to understand the genesis. Then you understand in which situation it was produced, and then you can see what it is, how it reproduces and changes elements of its environment in what is actually a form, or structure. Structure is the sophisticated French version, maybe sublation, of form. Structure deals with limitations or inner constrains of the formal properties (as Lévi-Strauss described them in his work on kinship relations). The problem with a rigid understanding of structure is that it evacuates history: how do structures then change? In fact, how did they originally even come about? This is connected with the issue of variations, to begin with in the Darwinist development of species. I have in literature – and especially in theatre performance, where this is a focus — always been fascinated by variants. What is an original, what is a variant? I have arrived at the position that I don’t think there is any original: this is a theological problem …

SB: I didn’t understand why it is a theological problem…

DS: Well in monotheism your origin is in God, all origin comes from God. By the way I am in a perverse way rather fond of some well-articulated theologies, such as some variants of the Catholic and even more the Buddhist ones. Some of these variants lasted for half a millennium or longer as the only way of systematic thinking available in important civilizations, so they got to some insights that shouldn’t be sneezed at but maybe taken over and re-functioned. But if you are atheist then there is no origin; there are just variations, Epicure’s aleatoric (that is, historical and situational) swerves of atoms.

SB: Isn’t that also one of the main questions of Formalism which is dealing with historical transformations, or historicism? But before that I would like to know what you think about Formalist involvement with the literary movements. Because I have an impression that the advancement of their methodological approach had partly to do with their involvement in the most advanced literary experiments. For example Jakobson wrote a book about Khlebnikov, Shklovsky on zaum, and so on, they were always engaged with the newest forms in artistic productions.

DS: They were a theoretical parallel to the Futurists, again a case of “communicating vessels”. But then they had also other interests. What was the supreme paradigm of Shklovsky in the novel? It was Laurence Sterne. Why? Because Tristram Shandy is always written in variants: my uncle Toby said that, and afterwards he said this, while this was happening, then it turned out like that, etc. It is sequence of variants or cases; it foregrounds what is hidden in a smooth pre-planned plot. In Aristotelian Poetics this is called episodes, situations not fully defined by the overall plot but with a certain autonomy, as in Brecht. All Formalists were fascinated by Gogol, a grotesque writer who proceeds by episodes, as Bakhtin was by Dostoevsky. The Formalists started by analysing and deconstructing phonetic features of poetry through Futurists and similar vanguardists, but then they had to invent their forebears. So who can serve better in Russian literature than Pushkin, Gogol or Dostoevsky? In the novel they reacted against realism, just as Mayakovsky’s plays reacted against Stanislavsky.

SB: Also they were against Symbolism, and especially literary theory coming from Symbolists.

DS: Symbolism is an inadequate response to realism. It’s a kind of uncle who tried to kill his brother but didn’t manage: they were not successful, we the sons we will kill the father  (remember the Russian fascination for the Hamlet constellation!). Basically they downgraded the Tolstoy-Turgenev line, wrongly believing that even Chekhov fit into it (but that was so only in Stanislavsky’s interpretation of his plays, which Chekhov disliked). Now here is a dilemma: as you know, Lenin loved Tolstoy, and he wrote a very interesting essay about Tolstoy, regarding him as a “mirror” –  the metaphor is dubious – of the peasants’ horizons  in the budding of Russian revolution, which in my opinion is correct, though insufficient. It is a pity that Lenin didn’t have time to be a literary critic; he would have been a very good one. So we have (in Russia and elsewhere) in fact two vanguards in modernism: one is the Leninist party, and the other is Modernist artistic movements. It is very interesting to see the relationships between these two vanguards: except for a few examples, they generally refused to learn from each other, they were arrogant or suspicious. One exception on the political side is Gramsci, who understood the role of culture (in the widest sense, including advertising and brainwashing) very well, and was even a quite interesting theatre critic. Another exception on the intellectual side is Brecht, who tried very much to collaborate with worker choruses and the communist party. To my mind, the two most important Marxist thinkers after –  and in the wake of but not confined to –  Lenin of the 20th Century are in fact Gramsci and Brecht. I could add Benjamin but he is very much influenced also by Jewish mysticism and the Frankfurters: unthinkable without Marxism and very usable in it, but not quite inside it.

But who had the main influence in the workers’ choirs for whom Brecht was writing his plays? It was the social-democratic party, not the communist party. Both Brecht and Benjamin thought hard about becoming members of communist party, but in the end they did not formally join, they were sputniks. They didn’t want to be members of a party already rather ossified in 1928/29 when they were seriously thinking of joining. At that time and in the thirties the German Communist Party was in terrible shape, all good people were kicked out by Zinoviev and later Stalin, or they were exhausted by fractional sects and fights. But ideologically Brecht considered himself as communist; or, as one of his friends described Brecht in USA in 1941-1947: “a party consisting of one person, closely allied with the communists”. I think this good definition of a sputnik is the best political definition of Brecht. As the early feminists were talking about a failed marriage of Marxism and Feminism, in general here too we have a failed marriage of Marxist avant-garde and artistic avant-garde. Surely this has to do with arrogance on both sides: partly by politicians who didn’t have sufficiently sensitive antennas to understand Brecht and Benjamin, or Pilnyak, Belyi, and even Mayakovsky, who was rudely criticized for his theatre plays, which I think contributed to his suicide.

SB: I have looked at the index of ‘Lenin on Literature and Art’ book where Mayakovsky is mentioned five or six times in very contradictory terms. Sometimes Lenin got furious at his poems, and in another instance Lenin thought that his poems are a better contribution to economy than the dull economist is offering.

DS: That’s the poem about too many conferences, Perezasedavshiesia. It is a sociologically interesting but I think innocent little poem, not very important. Though I may be wrong, it has a wonderful Gogolian grotesque image of the bureaucrat splitting in half to go to two conferences.

SB: Going back to your previous answer that in fifties and sixties you were not afraid of novelties in merging Formalism and Marxism and that you were seeking for novel artistic expressions in Marxism, I would like to know what was for you a novel artistic expression at that time in Yugoslavia?

DS: Miroslav Krleža. He was the idol of us youngsters. In high school we were all krležijanci, anybody who thought about art at all, or about committed art and Left-wing art, was a krležijanac. We didn’t know much about painting.

SB: What about initiatives such as Exat, New Tendencies …

DS: Let me rephrase it this way: I didn’t know much about art. Even though I am very much interested in visual art, it is a new language to learn, and I never had time to do it systematically. Still, I am an inveterate goer to art events. For example if you look at my book covers, chosen by me, they are usually some art works or paintings. A book published in Belgrade has a painting by René Magritte, whom I like deeply, Nena and I went to several exhibitions of his all over the world (he too practices estrangement!). But at that time most energies were concentrated on literature. Some people at the Faculty of Arts in Zagreb had a review called Umjetnost riječi (word-art or Wortkunst), where I published a theoretical text on science fiction at the beginning of sixties. Those times were very active, with lots of contradictory positions. I concluded in my latest book, largely dealing with the self-management epoch in Yugoslavia (Samo jednom se ljubi, Belgrade 2014), that the golden age of self-management was between 1958 and 1968. Here I am talking about self-management in production related to economy and politics. But in culture, self-management started a bit earlier, though it was sabotaged by the party. The first attempts at autonomous periodicals in the beginning to mid-fifties, as one in Zagreb Faculty of Arts, also in Slovenia, were forbidden. Even though at that time first attempts at self-management were made in factory organizations, the cultural attempts were thought of, I believe wrongly, as a bit dangerous. What you don’t understand seems menacing. Thus you ossify.

However, from another aspect, the intelligentsia which was introducing the self-management experiments in culture was not “organic”, as Gramsci would say, to workers and peasants; it was the classical intelligentsia coming from petty or indeed, though rarely, from high bourgeoisie. Many of the best people from these classes decided to adopt the Popular Front version of Marxism (for example my father, a doctor who went with the partisans). However its majority was in favour of socialism because it benefited them in economic terms, they had financial privileges, also it was patriotic, and their professional work was prized. There were a few people, like the Praxis philosophers and sociologists, who really believed (so did I) that in SFR Yugoslavia we had a kind of Hegelian sublation of all the best in the bourgeoisie without the worst, that is to say  the citoyen without the capitalism. That was the Party cell in the Faculty of Arts in Zagreb, people like Frangeš, Prelog or Gajo Petrović, hugely influential writers and teachers. All was then new and open, very contradictory. Petrović and the excellent sociologist Rudi Supek edited then the bimonthly Praxis, but this started just before I left. Of course I read and mostly shared its views, I think they were politically right to insist on self-management and energies from below and contest creeping Stalinism from above. On the other hand the philosophers were rather exclusive, they didn’t interact with us “art critics.” Furthermore, they went in for a weird symbiosis with Heidegger, thinking he supplied the philosophical horizon lacking in Marx, so they were forever talking about Being,  Dasein, Sosein, ontic, etc. That was similar to Sartre’s thinking that Marxism applied to mass problems but not to individual problems, so it had to be compensated by Husserl and company, but to my mind (now retrospectively) much worse: Heidegger is the great reactionary thinker of the 20th Century, the brown Plato; his affinities to Nazism are not casual, I don’t believe you can combine him with any Marxist horizon. (This is I think proved by similar attempts in the French deconstructionists.)

Finally, in regard to the Faculty of Arts itself, the Praxis people didn’t have an adequate cultural policy. If you read my Memoirs of a Young Communist you will see that we in the Student Union had a cultural policy — I wrote a position paper about it which I still think was pretty good — that the upper echelon of professors was not happy about. We wanted to end the semi-feudal position of full professors (in Italy they call them barons). Those power relations were based on very concrete interests and a strong will to dominate, even in each little and unimportant field of culture and philology. There was so much libido involved in those fights, it was unbelievable. Whereas we in the Student Union said, let’s have a teaching collective in each section (Odsjek), and the head of collective would be elected each year, or each two years, he or she could be professor, docent (junior assistant professor) or anybody; normally it should be someone who has already published a book, so we acknowledged professional competence. This came to naught, the “barons” had much energy and the Party little for cultural matters, thinking it was all superstructure anyway, while we students and later young assistants were naive and easily deflected onto professional matters. The Praxis people thought in lofty general terms and didn’t want to waste their time on such piddling matters as pedagogy in the Faculty of Arts. So my relations to them were sympathetic but distant, they didn’t defend me when I was attacked. They behaved, maybe unavoidably, as an embattled little sect.

The main trouble with the Party was that, not having an adequate cultural policy, they didn’t know what to do with contemporary collective creativity. Instead they wanted to give the heritage of the past to the masses; so you had cheap novels of Balzac and Fielding and Tolstoy, you had free exhibitions, cheap theatres, literature, cinema, discounted visits for trade-union groups, etc.; however, everything shown was belonging to the past or to a present stylistically continuous with the past, that is, pre-Modernist (this changed in some fields from the mid-50s on). They knew how to deal with that, because Lenin liked Gorky, and Marx and Engels liked Balzac. But they didn’t know how to deal with the new stuff. So it was easy for the Zhdanovians to call Joyce, Proust or Kafka decadents. I must say in Yugoslavia there was little of that, maybe from 1946 to 1951.

SB: Are you talking about the post-1945 situation and the fifties?

DS: This begins in the workers’ movement even earlier. It is a philistine or subaltern tradition which passed from the Second International to the Third International, basically: let’s take the best that exists and give it to the masses. But what is the best in this case is what the bourgeoisie has done, sifted, and codified. Remember the huge laudation of the bourgeoisie in The Communist Manifesto: ‘the bourgeoisie built things more imposing than the Cologne dome, etc’ — that logic was still active in the fifties in Yugoslavia. But that logic of a productive bourgeoisie is not valid anymore, the bourgeois logic is entirely destructive now; it is responsible for imperialist wars, huge desolations, mass killings —  just look at the two world wars, at the hundreds of “small” mass killings since 1945, at West Asia today. You can’t admire solid bourgeois virtues anymore, they don’t exist; now it is all suicidal. The First World War is to my mind the beginning of modern history, everything changes after that, violent barbarism is in command (which then infects “really existing socialism” too). The Left cannot any more seek anything affirmative in bourgeois horizons, though of course I am all for Enlightenment and citoyen virtues – but updated as socialist or communist.

SB: What was your cultural policy at that time? Concretely I would like to know how you thought of Krleža’s formal innovations in relation to cultural policy you were interested in.

DS: You have to know that Krleža begins his literary career as a quasi- or semi-Expressionist at the time of World War 1; he wrote long Whitmanesque unrhymed expressionist poems, expressionist plays and prose. In the thirties Krleža was involved in a conflict with the Socialist realists, that is the orthodox (illegal) communist party, regarding art and literature, known as “the literary conflict on the Left” (sukob na književnoj ljevici), and this was a reason why he never went to Partizans. He was generously rehabilitated after the war by Tito, not by Djilas who hated Krleža and even reportedly wanted his execution. (Djilas was a real maximalist; first he was a maximalist inside the party and later on he was a maximalist against the party. To my mind he was a good historical writer, by the way, but a very limited politician and bad political writer.) At any rate we didn’t know much about Krleža’s involvement with the 1930s cultural struggles, this was only clarified in the sixties. However, he learnt his lesson, and later didn’t meddle in non-artistic politics. After the war Krleža evolved this Enlightenment plan of summing up all knowledge about the Yugoslav lands in a Yugoslav Encyclopedia (Enciklopedija Jugoslavije), was given ample finances for it, edited this huge work, and wrote more novels and a play. I knew Krleža slightly, I visited him, and we had discussions. An example: a congress by the Union of Writers of Yugoslavia was due in Titograd in 1964.  I went to Krleža and said, why don’t we organize some small group including you, Marijan Matković, and your disciples, and propose something about the current cultural policy. He looked at me with pity and said: ‘Have you seen the TV performance of my play Gospoda Glembajevi a few weeks ago?’ (One of the principal actors in it was Fabijan Šovagović, who was from rural Croatia; in his way not a bad actor, but not for drame du salon of Ibsenian provenience.) ‘They do not know how to wear a tuxedo!’

That response of his was the same as Matković saying ‘Brecht in Yugoslavia, Darko what are you thinking of? We are not ripe for it.’ Though I think he was wrong, we had a mass basis for understanding Brecht in self-management, had we had much support and patience to show the working people how to understand itself (maybe different from how we understood it). True, it was not a traditional working class; it was a peasant-derived new working class, lacking for example common workers’ traditions such as trade union organizations, etc. They had to be constantly lifted out of the momentary serious problems of personal and their enterprise survival, lodging in cities, education, and so on. And my elders and betters implied that first we have to do the job of the Enlightenment, and maybe after one generation we can get to the Brechtian, that is truly communist agenda. I disagreed, I thought both agendas were the same: communicating vesels again, or maybe the DNA double helix.  And I think I may have been right: postponing communist elements means they never come.

SB: But isn’t this a contradictory position, to ask for cultural policy in such a situation; to insist for a cultural policy for workers who were lagging behind the self-management? Wasn’t the party behind the mass movement which initiated self-management?

DS:  There would be no contradiction in cultural policy had the Party allowed changes to happen. To begin with, let me point out it was only one little group at the top of the Party who were in favour of self-management; it was proposed initially in 1948-1950, by people like Boris Kidrič, when they were afraid of Soviet invasion and they were still enemies with the West. So they needed a mass basis, to activate the people four or five years after the war, and they picked up the workers’ spontaneous idea to have factory councils. Basis democracy was the way to mobilize and motivate for reconstruction and unity very tired and exhausted people in the post-war situation. Later on Kardelj and Djilas claimed that they were mainly responsible for this idea, but whatever their input the genuine articulation was clearly Kidrič’s. And it worked for 10 or 20 years. Maybe they had difficulties in first five years to make people to understand what all this change was about. Then they passed a law in 1958 that it was possible to veto the director, the manager, and through such experiences self-management got a more concrete shape. Though we cannot talk about full workers’ management; it would be more appropriate to call it workers’ participation, but there was great participation: I calculated in my book on SFR Yugoslavia Samo jednom se ljubi that perhaps 25% of the 4 million workers at the time passed in a dozen years through membership of the Workers’ Concils.

SB: Even if there was a platform also to discuss art in relation to the self-management theory, it seems that there were not so many attempts to do that.

DS: There were two problems. Number one is kulturna zaostalost, which means that we were really backward, except some artists and writers around Krleža and the pre-war Belgrade Surrealists; people didn’t even know that somebody like Brecht existed (you must know that before post-1945 mass education  the majority was illiterate or with a bare 3-4 years of elementary schooling). Maybe I better say the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia didn’t know, for when I published my book on Brecht in 1970 I got a letter of thanks from a woman worker saying she sang Brecht songs (I suppose with Eisler’s music) in the workers’ choir before 1941. Brecht means also Bloch, Benjamin, all Weimar culture; they only knew that Lenin disliked Mach, where actually he was half right and half wrong. Lenin was right on the political fallout of the Machists in Russia, but he was not right about Mach himself. There is no modern physics without Mach, and there is no Einstein without Mach; basically Leninists, as different from Lenin himself, never digested Einstein. What does Einstein mean? In science he means whatever his equations mean; but in philosophy he means that your situation co-determines your world, the place you are situated in (your locus).

SB: It radically contextualizes the position.

DS: Exactly. Here we get to the second problem, which is an ideological aberration. Engels and Lenin are always based on the assumption that there is a general and overarching scientific truth, but of course one which we don’t fully know yet, because we are fallible people who fell from Eden — or translated into Marxism, we fell into class society, so we cannot know the full truth — but we are getting there asymptotically. That is a method which can work, as Marx would say, in a society based on the steam engine (capitalist competition), but it cannot work in society based on electricity and electronics.

SB: You just mentioned asymptotic. I have read in your early article, published in journal ‘Delo’, on the asymptote in Krleža which opens up unforeseen possibilities or radical futurity, through Lenin. Can you say more about this?

DS: Well this is a fantasy Lenin – which doesn’t mean some important aspects of his cannot be caught in this way. These early plays by Krleža, the Legends, which I argued amounted to the image of an asymptote to infinity, were all written between ca. 1917 and 1920, nobody knew anything about Lenin, except either what the bourgeois press wrote about him, as a maniacal sadistic killer, or hymnic praise. Krleža accepted the “demonic” aspect, but turned it into the tradition of the fallen archangel, the rebel Lucifer; he uses the ‘lighthouses’ metaphor for Michelangelo, Goya, Lenin and Columbus. Krleža then visited Russia as you know in 1925, at the time when a very solid bureaucracy was beginning (there is a short story in his Glembayevs cycle, where one of them is a communist and goes to Russia and becomes part of the State trust). Krleža was very dubious about all kind of things going on in revolutionary Russia. I think he knew Stalinism from the inside, at the very beginning of it. I have a feeling that he was rather pleased with Bukharin but I don’t know. So the Party could not expect much politically from Krleža after 1945, he did what he had to do at the Ljubljana congress of Union of Writers at the beginning of fifties where he gave a great keynote speech about socialist misunderstandings of culture, which he camouflaged by talking about the Second International. Clearly he knew that there was continuity between Second and Third International, culturally speaking. Politically there was a big difference between them, indeed opposition: shall we make revolution or shall we not. But culturally they were living in the same world. Lenin was living in the world of Kautsky, more or less. Yet at the same time he was Einsteinian enough to forge the hypothesis of ‘weakest link’: the weakest links of imperialism are backward countries. That was totally Dadaist; everybody in the Second International told him he was crazy. It was a great flash of genius, and this is what happens: Russia, China and Yugoslavia are all proof that Lenin’s crazy idea could work. In other words, the working masses of Western and Central Europe, Germany, France, England and even USA, at least tolerated, and often supported, the World War of imperialists against other imperialists. So the Russian Revolution showed that Marx, who reasonably for 1848 and maybe even for 1871 claimed that the revolution will happen in the West, was wrong. This is the thesis of Gramsci in his article Revolution against Capital, which he wrote in 1917/18, that the Russian revolution is a revolution against Das Kapital. This was to say that Lenin had to change some basic concepts of Marx regarding revolution, but sticking to the main trunk of Marx (to go on with my botanical analogy), which was getting rather dry at that time. Lenin was grafting new stuff on that trunk which helped its energy to vitalize, to flow.

SB: How would you describe this main trunk, is it the concept of class struggle?

A: No, the main trunk is to me alienation and dis-alienation; it is the concept of freedom, self-determination of each and all. But in order to be dis-alienated, to gain the freedom, we have to have conscious class struggle. In my terms, dis-alienation is the horizon towards which to move, the goal; class struggle is the – alas — necessary vector of how anybody can move from the present alienated locus towards that horizon (see “Locus, Horizon, and Orientation:  The Concept of Possible Worlds as a Key to Utopian Studies (1989)” in my Defined by a Hollow). As Brecht once wrote, in order to have a handful of rice, the coolie has to bring down three empires. Since we are living in the world of class struggles from top toward the bottom leading to huge barbarisation, we have to reverse this and turn it the other way around, as class struggle of bottom against the top and against barbarisation. This is actually an Einsteinian idea. In my opinion, Marx is the great forebear of Einstein as far as situated thinking goes. Marx still has some elements of the old, as “iron laws of society” in preface to Capital, which I think is more Newton than Einstein. This is actually Roman Law (lex), which Newton transferred to a physics based on eternal truths. Einstein deconstructed the eternal truths, just as Marx deconstructed the eternal truths of Smith and Ricardo and the bourgeoisie.

SB: We have skipped one topic that I would like to know more about; namely the concept of history and critique of historicism in the work of Russian Formalism. This anti-historicism, which is often discussed in Viktor Shkovsky as the zig-zag history of literary changes, etc. is somehow related to the discussions of Marxism.[3]

DS: I am not so sure about their anti-historicism, they were very interested in history inside literature but refused its mechanical dependence as a “superstructure” on an economic “basis” (which was right) and then exaggerated the autonomy. After all, they came from a very backward Russia and didn’t have the tools of a Williams or Jameson. Also, the Formalists are a very heterogeneous group, very much differing from each other. Shklovsky is different from Eikhenbaum, Tynyanov is different from Jakobson, and so on. But if we take a common denominator, I don’t think they were anti-historicist. They are against a certain dominant kind of historicism, that of Ranke who defines history as “wie es eigentlich gewesen”, as it really happened (he also wrote a book on Serbia and Bosnia). This typical German historicism is basically a laicized Protestantism, some kind of opus dei in Germanos, of God working by way of the Germans: a monolithic and determinist historical method, based on totally teleological conceptions. You have to understand that this concept of history is actually a quasi-delirious teleology, and its insistence on first-hand data is subordinated to that. Since Formalists have criticized these kinds of approaches to history thoroughly, me and my generation, as many others, have benefited immensely from them. In one of my first essays, published in Umjetnost  riječi, on science fiction, I had used the Shklovskian theses you speak about, of inheritance from junior uncle to nephew (or niece), in order to propose a sophisticated way of treating the history of literary genres, and I still believe this is correct.[4] How do historical changes come about in Formalism? They come about when a dominated (or oppositional) style of yesterday – the junior uncle — becomes the dominant style of today. But how does that huge reversal happen? That is a class struggle for heaven’s sake, you only have to put a little bit of Marxism into it and everything is clear. Of course the Formalists didn’t say this, they were not interested in macro-politics. There is a wonderful apocryphal anecdote, which I like to quote, an imaginary dialogue between Shklovsky and Trotsky, the most intelligent Formalist and the most intelligent Leninist. Shklovsky said to Trotsky, and the first half is a real sentence of his, “I do not care what flag flies on the fortress, I am a literary critic and I don’t care about the war ,” to which Trotsky replies “But war cares about you.”

SB: But Shklovsky himself was in the war!

DS: Yes he was; he was SR [Socialist Revolutionary] commissar and commander of an armoured battalion, and afterwards he was for a time in Berlin. In his personal life he cared a lot about the war, and this dichotomy is interesting in a negative way, the dichotomy between a personal and official posture. When he is a Formalist, then the Holy Ghost comes down upon him and he does not care about war anymore…

But formalist historicism is all about that zigzag transformation of dominated to the dominant, which is about a real driving force in history. I would like to see a whole history of literature written through this dynamics. I tried to do that in my writings on science fiction. But concretely to trace and discuss these transformations, or to prove the theses of Formalists, you need a huge group of scholars, some kind of Einsteinian Socialist Academy of Science, which does not exist anywhere. Raymond Williams tried later to do this with his “Social Theory of Literature”.

SB: I was just going to ask about the concept of ‘residual elements’ in Williams, to whom you refer frequently in your texts.

DS: Exactly. Williams is my maitre à penser, not the only one. I have others too, Lucien Goldmann, Krleža, Brecht, Bloch, most important Marx, and so on. Finally my contemporary Jameson.

SB: Can you please schematize the relation between the historical concepts of Formalists and the Marxist sociology of Williams?

DS: Well, Formalists gave you a form, and Marx gave you classes.

SB: No, I meant the relation between the concept of ‘residual elements’ of Williams and the idea of uneven historical transformations in Formalists?

DS: The Formalists didn’t know enough about society, except when they were studying the history of their subject, for example the history of Russian poetry or something similar; but in general they didn’t have much knowledge of social history. When Shklovsky is writing about Sterne he does not care about England in 18th century, for him Sterne is an extra-temporal or eternal paradigm, an exemplum. Williams comes from a Left which was ideologically not Leninist. He began as a kind of Leftwing or Left Labourite modification of F. R. Leavis, an interesting literary critic, a petty-bourgeois rebel who fought against the dominant high bourgeois tastes (he loved for example D.H. Lawrence). At some point Williams read Marx, not through Lenin but through Leavis or through the class struggles that he knew very well in Britain, coming from a Welsh worker family. Of course you know that Marx himself got the idea of class struggle primarily from England and France. True, struggles between classes go on everywhere all the time, see for example Heine’s poem The Weavers or Brecht’s Questions of a Worker Reader; but in Germany they were masked by the (exactly “residual”) feudal elements. And when we talk about Williams we have to remember this historical importance of class struggle in England, from at least Cromwell’s revolution on. So I think that the concept of residual in Williams is coming from two sources. One is English or UK history, that is quite clear, the Non-conformists are residual; and second, it comes from Marx and Engels who said that Balzac by being on the Right and hating the bourgeoisie, understood it very well, and his descriptions could be used by the Left. What is Balzac? He is ideologically residual – not in his writing technique, his technique is on the frontline of the future, but his ideology is completely reactionary, a bourgeois monarchism. I found Williams very congenial, I read all he wrote before I met him while on sabbatical in Cambridge in 1970/71, he was then in Jesus College. Also I saw him in the seventies-eighties when he was teaching part-time at Stanford University, he would stop often in Montreal where we arranged a lecture for him, for example on Brecht’s St. Joan of the Stockyards we were performing at McGill. He was also interested in science fiction, he wrote even a novel of politics set in future and some historical novels, also an essay on utopian science fiction. But I think his magnum opus is The City and the Country.

SB: In your article ‘Can People Be (Re)presented in Fiction?’ you say that ‘Formalism is the A and B of any integrally materialist approach to art, from which should then proceed to C, D, and so on, ’ this C and D meaning dialectics.[5]

DS: Yes, I mentioned that earlier; also meaning semiotics and narrative analysis (agents, chronotope). I would today stress more this historical component, or dialectical component as understood by Marx (not by Hegel). As you know Marx took dialectical logic from Hegel but adapted it to the circumstances of capitalism, which means to a macro-historical situation. I have been struck by Braudel’s longue durée vs durée événementielle (long before Badiou). Duree événementielle is for example the French Revolution, it lasts ten, maybe fifteen years, as one generation. Longue durée is the key for solving the problem which Marx faced in his famous passage about Greek literature in the introduction to Grundrisse:.[6] how can we still enjoy the Greek tragedy? We can, I would say today, because we are in the longue durée of class society. That means that a duration of the last five thousand years is united by some macro-continuities, for example by dominant and dominated, killers and killed, exploiters and exploited. Of course there are big differences between the Homeric aristocracy and Wall Street today (the former risked their lives and the latter never do); but on the other hand, dialectically speaking, in this history there is also continuity; you can find this in Benjamin’s idea that ruling classes have their continuity. This could be seen very clearly in the transformation of the bourgeoisie: they entered the scene of history as anti-aristocratic, but soon started to act as an aristocracy, because they took the same role of a ruling class. This is a clear example of continuation of domination. In order for this to happen ruling classes need certain apparatuses of domination. Althusser didn’t invent the ideological apparatuses, discussion regarding ideologies and apparatuses existed before him, but maybe he, for the first time, put these two concepts together. For example the salons in and around Napoleon’s time are ideological apparatuses, as centres of a kind of power forging the tastes of what is acceptable or not in discourse – say, on art. If you adopt the key of longue durée versus the short  duration  versus the medium duration (one has to have a hierarchy of durations), then the way how we understand historical transformation will change. If you look at my book Metamorphoses of Science Fiction you will see that in the theoretical part there is one scheme describing how science fiction deals with time. Time/temporality is for me a very important issue.

SB: How do you treat these different temporalizations, distinct durées in your theoretical work? Do they co-exist, or are they in some kind of constant struggle, in kind of contradictory relations?

DS: They are in dialectical relations. Of course they co-exist. I would say today that of my three levels in agential  theory, the actants are long duration and unchanging, half a dozen narrative functions. I can’t imagine any narration without actants, in history or pre-history or even species-specific, as Feuerbach would say. The types are probably a long duration of class history but they change according to major “geological” shifts – some become marginalised and a few new ones arise; and the characters are related clearly to the individualism, which begins partly the end of the Antiquity, as in Plutarch’s characters for example, Alexander the Great versus Caesar. Christianity adopted this as the concept of one single soul; whereas Greeks had many souls, or Socrates had his daimon speaking to him about his community, the politeia; but characters then got backgrounded until the Renaissance, the rise of the cities and merchants. So to answer your question I would say that dialectic is  methodologically the starting point, but one must historicize, as Jameson said “always historicize!” This means that the durées sometimes mesh and more often are in contradictory oppositions.

SB: But I was speaking more of teleological historicism …

DS:  As I argued earlier, teleological historicism is essentially a theological problem. If we are not willing to accept the theological answer, then we have to find an alternative to teleology. Either we get communism or we get savagery, to adapt Rosa Luxemburg. That is to say, instead of teleology you have a bifurcation, Hercules on the crossroads… It is a time and a vision of catastrophic choices. This also means social struggles never end. I have realized while writing my last book on socialist Yugoslavia, that I cannot imagine any society without politics, and I think Marx was wrong there (maybe we should say semantically imprudent).

SB: Can you clarify this …

A: Marx thought that politics was all about class conflict; so that after the abolition of class conflict there will be no politics. But if politics means primarily how society or any collective distributes its material resources, when, how much, for what and to whom, then it will always exist. There is a novel by Wells set in a future where all our problems are solved; but still there is a conflict between scientists and artists.  The scientists want to go to Mars or Venus and so on, whereas the artists want something else here and now. I think that human wishes and desires will always be larger than our material bases. So, do we now build a huge expensive accelerator, or do we go to Pluto, or do we let the sea into Sahara? There must be politics to solve this. In class society you solve this with violence, and in classless society by argument: as Brecht said in The Caucasian Chalk Circle, with pencils, not pistols. But important problems to be solved will remain in classless society. In that case you need politics to solve them, as Montesquieu said by “pressures, checks and balances” — I am a big fan of Montesquieu.

SB: You describe this dialectics needed for an integrally materialist approach to art, referring to Bakhtin and Mukařovský, as social formalism.

DS: I would not call it that now. These are traces of my intellectual genesis.

SB: Then in the same text you offer a criticism of Greimas’s theory of actants by proposing instead a Marx’s model of history from ‘18th Brumaire’.[7]

DS: Marx speaks of “character mask”, which is a type: the capitalist, the worker, etc. In the 18th Brumaire you have the best description of how Marx characterizes the classes.

SB: What you find as most objectionable in Greimas’ model of actants is lack of any social and ideological context.

DS: I am less and less fond of the word ideological; I would rather say historical, and if you wish a lack of historical semantics. I mean by this even macro-historical: I think it is perfectly fine if you have chosen to talk about overarching transformations happening in the time span of one or five thousand years. But you must have some kind of fundament, what the French would call assiette, a place where you are seated, a seat in history. For us time is history, we don’t exist outside of that. This does not mean that you are Robinson on your island and history is an ocean, or any other metaphor in which you are here and history is there. History is in your language, in your dreams, in your body, everywhere. If you have grown up during the war and you ate badly, history is then in your bones – you will have trouble with your health when you are forty or fifty. Only when you are striking and the police shoot at you, history is at the moment outside and getting forcibly into your inside. The so-called biological inside or “inner environment” is 90% historical. That’s why I think that the discussion around genetics is one of the greatest bourgeois operations of ideological obfuscation. I have nothing against genes, but it is used in very reactionary ways to obliterate the importance of history. A good  example of this is Dawkins’s book Selfish Gene. I rather like his conceit by which individuals are nothing but seed-pods for chromosomal propagation, but on the whole it is sheer nonsense.

SB: If we assume that history is everywhere, then any literary theory which avoids history is actually violence toward the literature it analyses. Could you say about Greimas that too?

DS: The basis for Greimas’s analyses and his system are Lithuanian folk stories. In Lithuanian folk stories the main agent is usually a Catholic priest; is that not historical!? Whereas a few hundred kilometres or years away that would be an orthodox or a protestant or an animist priest; which would make things completely different. I find Greimas very obnoxious, though he has one advantage: he has brought his system to the point where it becomes so self-contradictory and top-heavy that it is ready to collapse into materialism and history, which is what I try to do.

SB: When you discuss the text through three agential levels, then the problem of representation alters from the usual discussions which consider the artistic work as reflection of reality. Thus I would like to know your position regarding the discussions on realism?

DS: When Aristotle speaks about mimesis, he at some point asks, referring to zither I think, what kind of reflection is that when you represent somebody’s state of mind by musical sounds? It certainly is not a reflection in the ordinary sense of how a mirror works. The worst book Lenin ever wrote is Materialism and Empiriocriticism, or at least half of the book. The pars destruens is ok, as I said, but his pars construens is terrible, very Engelsian at his most reductive. I much like Gramsci’s finessing this in his Quaderno 11 (1930-32). He substitutes “translation” for Lenin’s infamous “reflection” as the basic principle of Marxist philosophy. This gets interesting: for him it is a principle of productive convertibility between two texts (so this is a general approach not confined to translating texts between two different languages, though he himself did that from German). His exemplum is that there must in fact exist a convertibility between the specific languages of philosophy, politics, and economics since all three share the same stance towards the world. This is then, I would say more precisely, a general  epistemological principle that gives dogmatic priority to none of such languages: and though he doesn’t say so aloud, out goes the primacy of economic basis as against philosophical or political “superstructure”! For example, he situates Lenin’s term of “hegemony” into a translatory oscillation between philosophy and political practice (the Greeks would allot the latter to sofrosyne, practical wisdom).

You see, reflection is based on the metaphor of mirror, whether it is an ordinary mirror or a mirroring in water, as with Narcissus. But once you start to reflect on reflection, even the simplest reflection has seine Tűcken, as Marx would say, its complications or malices or vagaries: for example, left becomes right in mirroring. What did this mean; that a revolutionary party becomes right-wing in literature? Of course not (necessarily)! But you see it is a very complicated question, the change of shapes or anamorphism (much beloved by the Baroque). What Stalin and Zhdanov meant by reflection is some kind of imagined political correctness: to say good things about us, and bad things about enemies. That is a self-reflection – to reflect our own opinions, horizons, and point of views, to repeat and confirm them. In this case what is being reflected is nothing material, it is the apparatus idea of the ruling party; not the things or relationships between people. We have several questions here. There is a very good book written by another Lithuanian, Jurgis Baltrušaitis, an art historian who wrote on many different varieties of morphing, such as anamorphosis, metamorphosis, etc. Anamorphosis is describing distortions; like in the famous Baroque park Bomarzo near Rome, where all wall horizons are distorted. Well, in any mimesis, which is a metamorphosis (and it is not a coincidence that my best known book is called Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, which means changes of shapes in it), there are various way of producing distortions,  such as one to one, one to two, upside-down, inversion, eversion, conversion, subversion, etc. Then there are convex and concave mirrors, as in fairgrounds (and one of my latest books is again not by chance called Defined by a Hollow). This business of mimesis is horribly complicated; just imagine imitating a state of mind by playing music, by having the chorus dancing. It is a simple fact that the dance does not imitate in any precise way the war before the Troy; it is a dance that must follow its own laws of a body traversing space – gravity, kinds of leaps and turns, etc., even if you give spears to the dancers. It is absolute petty-bourgeois stupidity to say that imitation is a kind of one-to-one relation. Let me take the canonic Socialist Realist example: Gorky’s Mother (a book I am sentimentally fond of, and it is not the author’s fault it got into such a canon). Gorky wrote about the mother of a revolutionary in Russia, because there were revolutionaries in Russia outside of literature. But not all revolutionaries, probably not even too many, had a mother that would carry on their work.  So what Gorky did is to make a type, which is a Mother of the Revolutionary, and very near to an allegory, the Revolutionary Mother, if not indeed The Mother of the Revolution. If we agree that type is kind of form, then it has its own laws, just like distortion (say perspective) in painting has its laws. Therefore you must investigate the form, and that is the materialist part. Form is not, as my elder colleagues at Faculty of Arts would have said, the glass outside holding the water inside.

SB: Brecht said that if something had a good form we have to take its content. You are quoting this as well.

DS: All of us are children of our epochs. Brecht for example thought that he was doing anti-Aristotelian theatre. Because German Aristotelians, both in theory (such as Gustav Freytag, a theoretician of drama) and in theatre practice claimed their basis lay in Aristotle’s Poetics. In fact they were not Aristotelians, they were 19th-century bourgeois Positivists. So Brecht being anti-Aristotelian meant anti what was meant by Aristotelianism when he was young. Brecht is also a child of his time, of the discourse of his time. In fact if you read his poetics, in many ways he is Aristotelian as well, as I mentioned his overall structure is episodic, etc. Aristotle didn’t theorize enough the episodic nature of theatre, but he recognized it as such. Brecht wouldn’t have the concept without Aristotle. So if Brecht was speaking in terms of form and content, it is because he was raised in a German school in the first decade of 19th century, poor guy! And so were the listeners to whom he was trying to get something across.

SB: But it seems that he wanted to break from that legacy.

DS: Of course he saw the limits of that education very soon, he almost got kicked out of school when he wrote against the World War. But one question is centrally important here: what is estrangement (his Verfremdung), is it form or content? It’s a way in which form makes you look at your world.

SB: You write that the most formalized analysis can become precise, instead of formalistic, if only enters into feedback relation with the environment?

DS: I am great admirer of the feedback metaphor. This is a cybernetic metaphor which Marx didn’t have. I understand it as two entities which interact. A changes B then B changes A, which become A1, and so on.

SB: Feedback is possible because there is a flow of information from one source to another.

DS: Exactly: flow of information, or of anything else. This is a semiotic concept, which begins with thermodynamics.

SB: If we talk of reformulations of reproductions of agencies, then usually discussion goes toward the re-articulation of artistic text, which you also mention occasionally.

DS: You have here basically the old question: which one is first, chicken or egg? This is what some anthropologists, such as the interesting Gregory Bateson, called a double bind. Whatever you answer will be a wrong answer. The solution is that you have to step out of the double bind, that is, to say “I don’t agree with your question.” Thus, the question whether artistic work is a reflection or not, is also such a double bind. In some ways it is, in some it is not, and anyway what is meant by reflection is most imprecise and unproductive. We have to recognize it as such and refuse to recognize it as valid question.

SB: How is it possible to do that?

DS: By using imaginative freedom. My entire last book (Samo jednom se ljubi) has advanced to foregrounding this concept of freedom, meaning dis-alienation.

SB: Can you tell briefly how Brecht became your intellectual and artistic horizon in the fifties in Yugoslavia?

DS: Very simple, through student theatre. I was deeply engaged in student theatre, which was one of the democratic forms of self-expression in socialist Yugoslavia. First I was involved in the Zagreb Youth Cultural Society Goran Kovačić, which had its own theatre troupe. Later on it became the famous SEK (Studentsko eksperimentalno kazalište, Student Experimental Theatre), whose main director was my friend Bogdan Jerković. I was a kind of dramaturge (art director) of SEK, and we were part of the international body of Western and Central European student theatres, which was an incubating space for the ‘68 movement. You know the ‘68 youth and student movements didn’t come out of nowhere, they were incubating since the fifties. So we had four festivals each year, at Easter time in Parma, Italy; in middle of May in Zagreb, in June in Erlangen, West Germany, and in October, we had it first in Istanbul, but the Turkish police didn’t like that, so we shifted it to Nancy, in France. It was called UITU (Union Internationale des Théâtres Universitaires).  The head of the student theatre  and festival in Nancy, Jack Lang, later on became a famous Socialist Party minister of culture. At that time there was a big Brecht renaissance in two student theatres of West Germany, Frankfurt and Hamburg. This was in the fifties, the time of SDS (Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund, people who were later demonstrating). They also produced some very  interesting discussions, with theoreticians in Germany such as Karlheinz Braun or Claus Peymann (who much later became intendant of Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble), and in France some like Chéreau who later went to direct films. They were focusing mostly on the peripheral Brecht; not Galileo, not Mother Courage, but Lehrstűcke (his 1930s’ “plays for learning”), the early Drums in the Night, Der Tag des Großen Gelehrten Wu, one of his school’s adaptation in 1940s from Chinese, and mostly on early anarchist Brecht. After I saw these plays I started reading Brecht.

We had a huge scandal in Erlangen when Brecht’s son-in-law, the great actor Ekkehard Schall, came as a guest and recited some of Brecht’s most communist poems in 1961 just after the Berlin Wall; right-wing students in the audience booed it with hate, a real theatre scandal in a nice 19th-century theatre. I was vice-president of UITU, an organization consisting mainly of Western Europe countries and Yugoslavia. The Russians were outside that organization; only in some exceptions, Polish student theatres would come to UITU events. Therefore the Student Union of Yugoslavia forbade me to be president, they were afraid of Russian disapproval; it was part of Tito’s balancing policy. So, to answer your question, I haven’t met Brecht inside Yugoslavia, but in Germany, Italy or France; as you know Brecht’s greatest world success was with Mother Courage in 1954 in Paris, when Roland Barthes and a whole group of intellectuals became Brechtians. After that I was collecting books and publications related to Brecht. I was spending my per diems of 25 DM for buying books while abroad in these UITU meetings. These festivals had also debates. I was head of the debate programme of the Zagreb May IFSK festival (Internacionalni festival studentskog kazališta), which I have eternalized by putting into my mentioned book the cover-image of our publication, made by Mihajlo Arsovski, famous Macedonian graphic designer in Zagreb. I was editing the IFSK Bulletin with these debates, heavily influenced by Brecht. For us Brecht was anti-Stalinist and anti-capitalist, that is to say totally analogous to socialist Yugoslavia.

SB: Were you at that time then drawing this parallel between Yugoslavia socialist self-management and Brecht?

DS: No, then I was not thinking about the Yugoslav situation as a problem. I was, as all of us, very naïvely of the opinion, quite wrong, that the revolution had happened, we have solved all antagonistic problems, and we are left only with material difficulties, cultural backwardness, and remnants of the past that would be solved due to science, our wise leadership, and all that. OK, that was crap, we all had to mature! But I think Brecht was identical to the furthest horizons of the Yugoslav revolution, that is to say radical refusal of alienation. Verfremdung actually is a refusal of Entfremdung – the estrangement counteracts alienation. By the way this was very well discussed by Ernst Bloch in his essay Entfremdung /Verfremdung.[8]

In the student theatre there was a very interesting fight between formalists and nihilists, say the Brecht wing and the Grotowski wing; Grotowski was soundly beaten. Then he went to New York and became world-famous by being followed by US theatre people such as Schechner and company. And he beat Brecht worldwide just based on American ideological export. Of course Grotowski has some interesting things, he is a great director of actors, he knew quite a bit about Asian theatres, and he has this kind of Catholic existentialist background, which has its own strength. But I didn’t like that much, it’s all revelling in Christ’s passion – blood, sweat, and snot, no women allowed except as mourners. Thus, when I came to the USA for 1967/68, I had to decide whether I wanted to continue with theatre criticism. During that year I taught in Amherst, Massachusetts, which is five hours by bus to New York. Nena and I went on weekends to see all plays of that season in New York, Broadway, off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway, and the leading theatre journal, TDR, gave me the money for all the often expensive tickets. At that time, ever since the US public was shocked by success of Sputnik in 1957, a lot of money was being thrown at the universities, to invest into research. Of course most of the money went to the weapons industry, arms technology, space, hard sciences, and similar, but even the small portion given to Humanities and Social Sciences was relatively huge. So there was no problem getting funding and grants for halfway decent proposals. But I didn’t like the atmosphere and horizons of the US theatre, and to systematically criticize for years something you don’t like is counter-productive, you become what is in German called a nörgler – a nagger or moaner; that is boring to read and boring to write.

Therefore I returned the money, and I stopped being a theatre critic. There were also other reasons, one was that I was busy with my academic work (lecturing and writing). However, I could have stayed in New York City. Because universities were hiring a lot of teachers, in ‘68 I had four contracts awaiting signature on my desk. One was to stay in Amherst, at Massachusetts University; it was a progressive State, the only US one with protective labour legislation and so on; another in San Francisco; and a third one on the outskirts of New York City, on Long Island. And the fourth contract was from McGill University in Montréal, Canada. Now I liked the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, but I didn’t much like the USA. It was a very violent country, with wonderful oases which you could also call ghettoes – the campuses. In New York a lot of things were happening, like later the siege of Columbia University; I went to see that, but I didn’t much believe in those student revolts (paradoxically: the rich kids were striking, and the proletarians in police uniforms were putting down the strikes). Of course their strong revulsion against both consumer capitalist and Stalinist forms of human relationships was  correct, and they pioneered the revulsion against life being absorbed by getting more and more things, against reification – though that was easy in a country of most abundant production. They were sincerely on the Left without quite knowing what this was or should imply (say clearer ideas, more organisation). When a strike happened in Amherst I felt my duty was to solidarise with the students, but they were basically anarchists, they were only against the war and sexual or drug repression, and what they were for was unclear. However, I didn’t believe in smoking marijuana, it obfuscates the mind which we need. Certainly some of the general US fights were worthy fights, those against the Vietnam War and against racism, but they were not fights in which I could as a foreigner participate, not my fights. So at the end I went to Canada and I didn’t become a theatre critic. A few years later I experienced some of the 1968 student leaders, whom I defended, turning into Post-Modernists and attacking me.

SB: Why did you leave Yugoslavia?

DS: They didn’t vote to prolong my assistant status job in the Faculty of Arts after six years, in spite of my having had a special dispensation to teach courses and published 5 books.  There were all kinds of intersecting reasons, personal and political, the nationalists were already on the rise, the Party didn’t protect me; I fell between two stools so to speak. I believe I got about 47 votes as against 25, but out of a 100 members of the faculty Council (all teachers), the rest was absent, and we operated under a utopian self-management rule that you need to get an absolute majority of 51 votes. There were some irregularities in the meeting, so I sued them and might well have won. But you cannot be in a university on the basis of a court ruling instead of peer approval, I believed, and I was very disgusted. On top of some other conflicts I had had earlier with theatres and so on, I concluded I could very well be an alienated intellectual anywhere in the world. So though the Faculty got frightened and gave me a one-year paid leave (at the time I was also very sick and mainly in hospital), I resigned in 1967 and applied for a job through friends in the USA —  which I then got in Amherst as described above. I had been in the USA in 1965/66 on a Ford Foundation grant, had had lectures all across the country and followed courses at Yale University, and refused with patriotic indignation offers of employment in various places. Now I had to come back with tail tucked in.

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SB: I would like to continue the discussion with your translation and analysis of Brecht’s verse poem ‘The Manifesto’. You relate it to cognitive faculty of estrangement: “Poetry is here not only in strong opposition to the stifling superficial babbling of the reigning, totally ideologized doxa of the capitalist media or brainwashed common sense; it is above all a “stumbling block” (formulation of the poet Giampiero Neri) to the hegemonic babble—one which forces the reader/stumbler to stop and look at what is really happening at his feet. (p. 19-20)”

A: Brecht did a transposition of Marx’s Manifesto of the Communist Party into verse; which of course, if you believe in form being meaning, makes it a different animal. This is theoretically too interesting, because the style of the Communist Manifesto is also very artistic, it is a prose pamphlet style. Otherwise it wouldn’t have lasted for 150 years. Brecht was turning it into a verse translation/adaptation in 1944, when the Red Army was approaching Germany (later on he doubled the initial adaptation). He read everything he could get, both US and German émigré literature, and was struck by the fact that no one rebelled during the defeat of Hitler when the Nazi army was on the front, so a rebellion by workers should have been on the cards but did not happen. He was horrified by this, and thought (rightly) that the German working class had forgotten Marxism. Therefore it had to be re-acquainted with it in a way which would be interesting, that is to say in verse. In my opinion he also thought that Marxist prose, due to the abuse by the social-democratic (and I think also communist) party in banalities did not work so well any more. He was giving it a new lease of life, so to speak, by putting it into verse. He used the hexameter form based on some German translation of Lucretius’s De rerum natura from 1820s, which he had known in the Weimar era and taken with him into emigration.

This raises the huge question of the relation of poetry to history. I wrote in that analysis: “Surely, charity begins at home: poetry cannot exist without a relation to its own history. The poet — and the translator — must be cognizant of it, but not necessarily the synchronic reader who has to fry today’s potatoes today. For the reader, the relation is basically one of poetry to what Marx and Engels called the only science they knew — the history of relationships among people, in different social formations, in the struggles of classes differently shaping each formation.” I wish I could go on, but this needs a semestral doctoral course… Maybe this can be approached a little by the essay I recently wrote and which I propose you print in the same issue of RAB-RAB as this interview, “Epistemology,  Science, Narration/Poetry”.

SB: Can we describe the adaptation of ‘Manifesto’ by Brecht as an instance of estrangement? In your text on the adaptation you describe it as a stumbling block, which is a term used by Russian Formalists.

DS: Yes, that is a term used by Shklovsky. That is what Formalists called zatrudnenie formy, making the form difficult, which prevents distracted reading. It is based on the simple idea that unless you concentrate on text, you will not understand it. If you stumble over a feature, you come to pay attention (or perhaps you throw it away). Furthermore, the form is difficult not only or primarily because it is baroque and complicated, but because it introduces new images and concepts. Then you ask “what is this?”, you de-automatise your relation to the artwork. On the contrary, if you automatise the concept as a cliché, and discuss it through automatically expected images and concepts, then nobody will pay full attention to it. So the text or its style has to be refreshed  by putting it in some other way, which will be vivid enough to make the reader stop (stumble) and ask about the text. As I said, Brecht also introduces some new things that were not in The Communist Manifesto. Of course they are Marxist terms, concepts, and images, but certainly they were not in the original Manifesto. For example he introduces the “God of Profit”, something like Moloch or Baal. He sits there ruling the people, he is blind but very powerful. Literally, he is a blind God sitting in a temple, certainly a vivid image. Marx himself was not bad at finding vivid images, ‘the spectre is haunting Europe’ for example. That spectre is more or less a spectre of Hamlet’s father, because Marx loved Shakespeare whom he recited to his children when they were riding on his shoulders on Hampstead Heath. There are also spectres in German tradition, but with Shakespeare it is related to revenge righting an old wrong. Also Marx speaks often about theological or supernatural caprices of the Capital, a dead thing bearing fruit and so on. Therefore it is easy to make a parallel with a religious entity out of it. Of course Brecht reworks also Mammon from Bible, false god of gold and riches, since he was a very close reader of Bible, the Luther translation which is the beginning of modern German literary language.

SB: In your book on Brecht you criticize the work of Lee Baxandall on Happenings as nihilist estrangement, as no more than a renewal of sensual perception without cognitive values. Or you even say that this is a right-wing estrangement.[9]

DS: Well mythology is primarily, for us at least, an estrangement. By right-wing I mean basically some kind of mythical approach. For example Hitler believed in the occult science of I think seven moons, six of which have already disappeared, each in a catastrophe where the Earth changed; in the last one the Aryans had to retreat to North Scandinavia, but before that they were ruling all Europe, and they should come back and start to rule again. This myth I would say is an estrangement, of course this is not a part of the normal bourgeois world, but from the Right. So, there is nothing in estrangement which makes it automatically progressive or left-wing. It is a technique of perception. If you gave me a little time I could find you more sophisticated examples of right-wing estrangements from literature. Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantoes, say, have a section against usury, which is the right-wing, traditionally Catholic name for capitalism. Right-wing is, to put it in general terms, a reaction against French revolution, freedom, equality, and democracy from below; it can easily be ideologically anti-bourgeois too. Fascism has always had a left wing, such as the SA of Nazi Germany whom Hitler had killed in 1934. They were sincerely anti-capitalist, so they thought, and horrified that Hitler made a compromise with capitalist industrialists. They really thought that it was a national socialist party. So, right wing estrangement exists too.

As to nihilist estrangement: by the way, I was a good friend of Baxandall, he was a left-wing guy in New York. And I got interested in these Happenings while in New York City. I saw a few, and they also published very good small pamphlets describing various Happenings by Kaprow and others. After studying them I wrote that critique for TDR (Theatre and Drama Review). Basically I understood happenings as a-political estrangement, that is to say, they are dealing with individual re-orientation to the world, and whether this has anything to do with politics is none of our business. Once we re-orient you can go out and do whatever you want, something or nothing, left or right. I thought that this was a variant of estrangement which was formally interesting, and up to a point maybe even useful, but certainly insufficient. I didn’t know what to call it except nihilist estrangement, by which I was referring to Nietzsche — certainly not to the Russian nihilists who killed the Tsar.

SB: Baxandall’s theory of Happenings is actually similar also to his interpretation of Eastern European political cinema (particularly of Makavejev) which he calls cine-marxism.[10]

DS: In these writers it is all approximate, because they didn’t know too much about Eastern Europe.

SB: Apart from not knowing, they were also reproducing certain Western stereotypes of Eastern Europe avant-gardes. For Baxandall, Makavejev’s estrangement techniques are better than Godard’s, because he has a sensual, non-mediated, and non-cognitive approach.

DS: I am all in favour of sensuality in arts. It can provoke a gut reaction. But gut reaction is, more or less, semi or un-conscious. How do you then go on, what can it orient you toward? Everything or nothing. Also I don’t think that Baxandall is right about Makavejev. True, there is a little bit of what Baxandall was getting at. I can tell you that Makavejev was very much impressed by Deleuze and Guattari. While I was staying with him in Paris in his apartment I saw on his working table their Anti-Oedipus book, which he praised to me as a great revelation. I have some very basic doubts about them, even as I think that A Thousand Plateaus and also Guattari on his own are better. Certainly not all of Makavejev is as Baxandall wants to portray it. For me Makavejev is a utopian communist, as redefined by the New Left.

SB: In your text you describe this nihilism as pseudo-biological values substituting for the historical ones.

DS: Exactly. For they are not truly biological, as I was saying earlier that 90% of what is inside us is not biological. I don’t have much to add to this text; probably today I would define more accurately what I meant by nihilism, but in first approximation it may be OK. I wrote somewhere that political economy, including politics pivoting on political economy, is our version of the Greeks’ ananke, destiny. As you know in Greek tragedy destiny decides what will happen, that Oedipus must do this and that, and there is no escape from it. Our version of it is probably pretty near to the Greek one, but where the ancient Greeks said destiny we say political economy. It is what the actantial system calls the Mandatory, the supreme power which determines your world. I think that even the Marxist concepts of political economy describe a horribly alienated way of life. Of course, in order to change it, you have to first describe it. But in order to describe it well, which is from a value-based point of view, you have to have lot of doubts about it – as Marx had. You simultaneously posit and deny, a tough thing to do formally.

SB: Can you tell bit more about your concept of cognitive estrangement, how it is related to knowledge and politics?

DS: Brecht said once, in his optimistic phase before Hitler, that he wanted to make his audience into an audience of statesmen – in other words, people who are able to build and rule a State (there are astounding parallels between him and Gramsci, unbeknownst to both). We should today add to these people who know how to build a State also people who know how to keep and maintain this State as a non-State, a dialectical democracy from below. But Brecht was not so far wrong. What he meant is roughly similar to Lenin saying (in his fiercely utopian State and Revolution) that every cook, svaka kuharica, which is female, is going to be able to rule the State. In other words Brecht and Lenin take the plebeian society or classes and believe they can do what was the prerogative of rulers, which is to know how collectively to rule and maintain the State or a society. How do you do that? You must learn a lot, about finances, about military matters, about psychology, etc, which the ruling class knew, in their own brutal and imperfect ways. You cannot say that Disraeli or Bismarck didn’t know how to rule. But we are talking about different kinds of learning and knowing. For plebeians or proletarians, to know how to rule is, if you boil it down to a minimum common denominator, to make people willing, interested, eager and able to learn by saying that what exists now is not the only possibility. So this is cognitive estrangement. For example, to see that what exists as State is not what it seems it is but is a machine of exploitation, or a killing machine. It is maybe a very rough kind of estrangement, but still it is an important estrangement. Basically today the State is two things: a machine for extracting money out of the ruled in favour of the rulers, for keeping and maintaining this exploitation and killing of people, and a killing machine; it kills people in prisons or in the wars. Marx somewhere says that each government has two basic departments, the army and the finances. That is, how to extract money from people and then how to dominate them and other people by means of moneys you have extracted from them, which is by an organized army. That is true for any State that ever existed.

SB: So cognitive estrangement is to rethink about the world where we are living in.

DS: Yes, to rethink, not only conceptually but also sensually, to see anew and to understand what you see something as (this is what the mature Wittgenstein was about). I arrived to this through defining science fiction. I disliked the adjective scientific, a futurological function, which was in the West identified with militarism – science and futurology work for the army. And in the East it was identified with a Stalinist type of pseudo-Marxism, which was also supposed to be a science. In both cases there was a 19th-century view of science that I disliked, which is this asymptotic arrival at absolute truth or certainty instead of situatedness. So cognitive, as adjective of understanding, suited me better than science as describing estrangement. It refers to a process, as cognition which has to be gained. But science usually meant something which already exists, and we had to apply it successfully. And the Stalinists added that only the stupid bourgeoisie thought science was confined to natural sciences; whereas we know also that there is the social science of Marxism.

SB: What you explain is part of your two horizons, Einstein and Lenin…

DS: Yes: Einstein with Marx as precursor, and the best Lenin, which is the Lenin of State and Revolution.

SB: Is communism a horizon for all utopologists?

DS: Yes and no. Empirically no, utopological stances span the whole political gamut, though most of it is somewhere on the Left. But if you want to be radically consistent, and you refuse the status quo, then it is the final horizon. However, let us be careful and first define what we mean by communism! I wrote an essay three years ago, which I haven’t managed to publish in English yet but should come out in Critical Quarterly, about the Janus nature of communism. There is the sense of Marx, Brecht, Bloch, Gramsci and the best Lenin, which I call C1; it is plebeian communism by direct democracy from below, the original Soviets. And then there is what was “really existing” communism as it ruled after the Russian, Yugoslav, Chinese, Cuban, and a couple of other revolutions, which I call C2; it is State communism by an elite (soon becoming a  bureaucratic oligarchy and a ruling class) from above, and this is  ambiguous: at first mainly liberatory, it grows into an alienated and corrupt form of C1. So what I am talking about here as a horizon, which means a final line when you look as far as you can, or as a Weberian “ideal type”, is C1. This communism as the coming about of de-alienation is of course the horizon of all utopologists.

SB: I found your text on Engels and Utopia very useful and interesting.[11]

DS: The essay on Engels is one I really like, I would today write it in the same way. It seems to me that I proved, at least to myself, that there is an unsaid part (a non dit, as the French say) in Engels, a blank where I put my question marks – if you remember – which falsifies his argument. I can understand why he and Marx were on the one hand very respectful towards people like Owen and Fourier, and on the other hand quite exasperated by their followers in practical politics of the 1840s. So, you have to say they were socialist, they were well-meaning, they had good insights, but they incorporated something that was insufficiently thought out. How do you call that which was insufficiently precise? Well, they called it as it was called by everybody back then in England, which is utopian, and it meant  being nowhere (u is no, topos is place), being up in the air. That to my mind is, if you read Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, a bourgeois definition of utopia. It is wonderfully put by Macaulay, great ideologist of England in 1820 and 30’s, he wrote the Indian Education Act, and so on: ‘An acre in Middlesex is better than a principality in Utopia’. One is concrete and empirical bourgeois possession, worth a lot of money (London is in Middlesex); whereas the other is fumisterie, as the French would say, hot air. Well, this is very convenient from the bourgeois point of view: utopias are cobwebs in the mind, get solid possessions! But that totally denies the emancipatory potential of utopia, which is exactly put by Raymond Ruyer: ”les choses pourraient  être autrement, things could be different”. Thinking this way then, in Utopia you would have more than in Middlesex. You would have other and better things. Maybe you would not possess acres in Middlesex, but you would have use of the fruits of the whole country, plus solidarity with the other people who grow and use them. The whole Lockean tradition of knowledge and possession is turned upside down in the terms of utopia. This is the first point, that Marx and Engels had to find a bad adjective for Fourier and Owen, but not as being reactionaries and enemies, simply using a term available to them then that would describe them as not sufficiently “scientific”. However, there are two problems here, and beyond the bad definition of utopia there is also a bad definition of science. The bourgeois definition of science is perpetual progress in the asymptotic form; it is the science (both science of society and natural science) which led to – or gave no problems in being used for — Auschwitz, Hiroshima, today the bombing of Ukraine. I don’t buy this! That’s why I didn’t like to use word science, and instead used the wider term cognitive, referring to the striving to understand.

This procedure of splitting a single semantic concept into a good and bad pole was first used by Hesiod in Works and Days, so far as I know. Of course you could use the same Hesiodean procedure I used for communism also for science, and have S1 as wisdom and S2 as corrupt bourgeois positive truth which can be capitalised. I wrote an essay about that too, called “On the Horizons of Epistemology and  Science” (Critical Quarterly 52.1 (2010): 68-101; //onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8705.2010.01924.x/full). What does this procedure or stance basically imply? It implies that originally, in pre-class or lower-class or even liberatory intellectual semantics, there was a first usage and interpretation of the concept which was usable for de-alienation. Then in bourgeois or monopolistic capitalism, a second usage and interpretation came about, which was totally alienating and must be rejected if the human species is to survive barbarism. It is a historically well-known and most important development in semantics, in which for example sub-iectum, that what is below you and on which you base yourself, becomes the “subject” that looks at the now inert object; Williams has several more such examples in his wonderful Keywords.

SB: You mention also a heuristic aspect of this estrangement.

DS: I am very much taken by little games in psychological optic illusions, for example when you have a line which is put between arrows, and then you have same line which is put in reverse arrows. The lines seem longer between reverse arrows though they are exactly identical. If you extrapolate this to the huge illusions we are living in, then heuristic is to say “take a centimetre measure and you will see that they are the same.” This is heuristic to my mind: take a value system, measure by it, and you find X.

SB:  What about your novum? In your chapter ‘SF and the Novum’ from Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, in order to delineate the singular condition of literariness of a SF you propose a term novum as “differentia specifica” of the SF narration. You distinguish SF “by the narrative dominance of a fictional ‘novum’ (novelty, innovation) validated by cognitive logic.” This specific novelty of SF, as far as I understood, has one very productive epistemological effect, which keeps the notion of empirical (i.e. science) and the notion of fiction (i.e. utopia) as in some kind of strange irresolvable tension. Further, this tension and unfamiliar relation implies also certain estrangement through novum of SF.

DS: Well, we hadn’t yet got to turbo-capitalism which is full of fake novums every year. So what I later added to this text from my Metamorphoses of SF book, in an essay in Defined by a Hollow, is to again split it into the fake novum (continuous with the capitalist  status quo) and the true novum, radically different. As you may notice, I love such dichotomies, though I think that this could be refined. So it would be nice to have a reasoned typology of novums, I wish somebody would do it.

SB: In the reprint of your text in 2008 on defining the literary genre of science fiction (originally published in 1973) you add a new line concerning the discontented social classes. What was reason of this? The earlier text defines the literary genre of utopia as: “Utopia is the verbal construction of a particular quasi-human community where socio-political institutions, norms, and individual relationships are organized according to a more perfect principle than in the author’s community, this construction being based on estrangement arising out of an alternative historical hypothesis.” Now  you add: “it is created by discontented social classes interested in otherness and change, in it, difference is judged from point of view or within their value system”. How should we describe an interest of social classes in relation to the specific narrative of SF, which is novum? Is this an echo of Marxist thesis that class struggles are engine of history?

DS: The earlier definition was up in the air without any social anchoring, it was supposedly eternal rather than longue durée (a fossile remnant of scientistic universalism). The addition is in historical longue durée, “as carried by a discontented class”. It is not enough to say simply a discontented group, then you can have reactionary utopias as well. I read a number of them by Russian White émigrés, for they too can be discontented. It must be a sufficiently important social class to produce a viable ideology. In other words if we accept a socio-formalist vocabulary, I lacked the social part in first definition.

SB: From your ‘Memoirs’ on Yugoslavia: “In another place I hope to speak about the Communist Party vocabulary which on the one hand soon grew rather wooden but on the other had surprisingly spontaneous aspects.” What would you say about political slogans from the perspective of conceptual discussions we had until now (estrangements, novum, etc.), especially about slogans in Yugoslavia?

A: I never researched that in any systematic way. First of all I know of no collection of political slogans, there is no corpus of material on that issue, so that research still remains to be done; it may of course be difficult to collect this corpus. Second, I fear we would need  a rather elaborate theory on ideology and language in order to do this. So I personally won’t do any serious research about it. But I did remark on this issue here and there. For example in Samo jednom se ljubi I briefly discussed how the wartime (and later) slogan “Brotherhood and unity” (Bratstvo i jedinstvo) melds the French revolutionary fratérnité with the necessities of 1941, of countering murderous fascist and quisling chauvinisms in an extremely divided ex-Yugoslavia (not so dissimilar from today’s frozen exploitation). The brotherly unity has a connotation and a denotation – one can illustrate this with the old model of the atom: connotation is the nucleus, and denotations are all electrons dispersed around the core. Connotations in this case are Croats, Serbs, Slovenes, Bosnians, Albanians, Montenegrins, Macedonians, all ethnic groups; and the denotation is that which can bring about the unity, which is nothing else but the Communist Party, an Aristotelian unmoved mover. It is a core which didn’t assert itself openly; throughout the whole NOB (Liberation War) there is no talk about the Communist Party, except in very confidential documents. There are three reasons for this: most Yugoslav communists were formed in illegal circumstances during the monarchist regime when communists would be shot at sight without further reasons; so they had that reflex of secrecy in order to survive. You have to read Krleža’s memoirs about meeting Tito in the late 1930s: it was in some village, veiled with mystery and precautions, Tito had a revolver in his pocket. The two other reasons were not to offend Stalin and the Western powers. I think this was a correct strategy until 1945/46, which afterwards turns to its opposite. It becomes what I call in my latest book abominable secrecy (mrska tajnovitost), meaning bureaucratic secrecy.

The French revolutionary liberté was present in the parallel slogan of “Death to fascism, liberty to the people” (Smrt fašizmu, sloboda narodu). Both of these are parallel constructions, much like the distichs in classical Chinese poetry, with identical syntax but variant — in this case strictly antithetic — semantics in the two halves. Thus, the unitary brotherhood fights for freedom (quite rightly not for égalité, which is both philosophically and politically dubious).

Or take the wonderful voluntary work brigades’ slogan at the Youth Railways 1946-48: “We build the railway, the railway builds us” (Mi gradimo prugu, pruga gradi nas)! Of course this establishes the ideal horizon only, people are always more complex than slogans; I was there in all three years; you can read it in my Memoirs. This is a full-fledged case of feedback, similar to what we were talking about earlier. It means that while people change and renew things around them, these things and doings change and renew the people who do them. All three slogans are strokes of genius. No doubt, some agitprop section staffed by (published or not yet published) writers first coined them, but those particular ones survived a kind of Darwinian selection to prove very durable memes. I wish I knew who imagined them.

As you rightly remarked to me, there was also the Partizan song “Padaj silo i nepravdo, narod ti je sudit zvan”, I well remember its mellifluous music. It has an especially good text, alluding to the Hvar Island revolt in the 16th Century, very Benjaminian (it can be found at http://lyricstranslate.com/en/jugoslovenske-partizanske-pesme-padaj-silo-i-nepravdo-lyrics.html). And yes you’re right, “Fall down thou violence and injustice, the people is called to be thy judge” is the program of NOB, both a national liberation struggle and a plebeian revolution. This whole matter of the Partizan cultural revolution by means of songs, dances, little theatrical sketches, and a lot of improvised printed leaflets with articles, poems, and even black-and-white drawings is now being investigated, for example by the excellent Slovene essayist Miklavž Komelj. It is the matrix within which the slogans of the time should be considered.

*          Copyright (C) Darko Suvin 2015

[1]          “Naši ‘socijalistički larpurlartisti’, kako ga više ne mogu, kao što su to ždanovci činili, nazivati formalistom, sada mu paradoksalno zamjeraju sociologiziranje, nedovoljni formalizam, neučestvovanje u ‘vječno-ljudskim’ problemima’.” Darko Suvin, ‘Paradoks o čovjeku na pozornici svijeta (praksa i teorija Berta Brechta)’, Forum: Casopis Odjela za suvremenu književnost Jugoslavenske Akademije Znanosti i Umjetnosti, 1965: 7-8, p. 586. (ed. note)

[2]            Tom Stoppard, Travesties, London: Faber & Faber, 1978.

[3]          “These ruptures in literary history takes place for reason that have nothing to do with chronology. No, the real point is that the legacy that is passed from one literary generation to the next moves not from father to son but from uncle to nephew”, Viktor Shklovsky, ‘Literature without a Plot: Rozanov’, Theory of Prose, Dalkey Archive Press, 1990, p. 189-190. (ed. note)

[4]          Darko Suvin, ‘Naučna fantastika i utopizam,’ Umjetnost riječi, 1963:2, pp. 113-115. (ed. note)

[5]             Paradoxically, all the lessons of Russian formalism without which we can’t begin making sense of action, belong here under the heading of materialism (albeit a partial and inconsistent, not yet a dialectical one). Formalism is the A and B of any integrally materialist approach to art, from which we should then proceed to C, D, and so on.” Darko Suvin, ‘Can People Be (Re)Presented in Fiction? Toward a Theory of Narrative Agents and a Materialist Critique beyond Technocracy and Reductionism’, Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, (eds.) C. Nelson and L. Grossberg, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988. (ed. note)

[6]             “In the case of the arts, it is well known that certain periods of their flowering are out of all proportion to the general development of society, hence also to the material foundation, the skeletal structure as it were, of its organization. For example, the Greeks compared to the moderns or also Shakespeare. It is even recognized that certain forms of art, e.g. the epic, can no longer be produced in their world epoch-making, classical stature as soon as the production of art, as such, begins; that is, that certain significant forms within the realm of the arts are possible only at an undeveloped stage of artistic development. If this is the case with the relation between different kinds of art within the realm of the arts, it is already less puzzling that it is the case in the relation of the entire realm to the general development of society. The difficulty consists only in the general formulation of these contradictions. As soon as they have been specified, they are already clarified. … But the difficulty lies not in understanding that the Greek arts and epic are bound up with certain forms of social development. The difficulty is that they still afford us artistic pleasure and that in a certain respect they count as a norm and as an unattainable model”, Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy, Translated by Martin Nicolaus, London: Penguin Books, 1973, p. 110 – 111. (ed. note)

[7]          Suvin, ‘Can People be (Re)Presented’, p. 667.

[8]          Ernst Bloch, ‘Entfremdung, Verfremdung: Alienation, Estrangement’, translated by Anne Halley and Darko Suvin, TDR/The Drama Review 15.1, 1970, pp.120-125.

[9]          “It is a beatific vision of the discontinuous flux of things, related to a consciousness of the limits of philosophical humanism and of the positive meaning of alienation. As such it is the horizon of all consistent nihilist estrangement”. Darko Suvin, ‘Reflections on Happenings’, To Brecht and Beyond: Soundings in Modern Dramaturgy, Brighton & Totowa NJ: The Harvester Press, 1984, p. 253. (ed. note)

[10]        Lee Baxandall, ‘Toward an east European Cinemarxism’, Politics, Art and Commitment in the Easth European Cinema, ed. David W. Paul, London: Basingstoke, 1983.

[11]        ‘”Utopian” and “Scientific”: Two Attributes for Socialism from Engels’ (1976)’, Defined by a Hollow: Essays on Utopia, Science Fiction and Political Epistemology, Oxford: Peter Lang, 2010.

Posted in 4. SFR YUGOSLAVIA | Leave a comment


Darko Suvin                                                                             VERSION 8, 2,950 WORDS (2012)

These are some reflections as keystones for a usable epistemology. They are initial and amendable.  These presuppositions and positions are divided into general or methodological approaches, approaches to “science,” and a brief indication how to go on.

In both, a double cognitive movement is necessary: destruction (deconstruction) of old ways of thinking, focussing on useless interpretation of key terms; construction of dialectically flexible usable meanings of such terms, with a constant denotative core yet pulsating (expanding and shrinking) periphery of connotations. The rhythm and direction of the pulsations is historically contingent, it is subject to phronesis (Fingerspitzengefühl, practical wisdom) rather than theoria.

Our tools are no doubt notional, they are regulative ideas, but in any richer case they repose on a metaphor (in the widest sense of a trope). They are all initially located in the imagination, but “imagination becomes reality when it enters the belief of masses” (Marx, slightly tweaked).



 Old futurology was based on a rudimentary proceeding of early Baconian-Cartesian science culminating in 19th C.: holding the state of affairs still while adding to it one variable and observing where its extrapolation would lead. At best it could play with a very few variables (Boyle-Mariotte’s law of gasses had pressure, temperature and volume). This is of no use in a rapidly changing, polymorphically perverse (Freud) or polyphonic (Bakhtin) world.


 Old totality was stable; it changed only slightly in the fashion of Lampedusa’s Gattopardo novel:  “everything changes [in politics] in order to remain the same [in economics] .” It was then perverted by Gentile and Mussolini into the ideology of “totalitarianism”, meaning total organization of society by the State from above, fusing the politics and economics. Stalinism largely came to follow a kindred idea. Such totalities were centrally aspiring to religious perfection — which any sophisticated theology knows is a heresy — relevant to times before the Industrial revolution and its huge changes within one lifetime, such as the Napoleonic wars (not to speak about the following revolutions in technology and cognition). Shocked by these two politics, Arendt and the liberal doxa of Post-Modernism not only rightly refused them but also threw the baby out with the bathwater, logically ending in “weak thought.”

It is much more economical to wash the baby: i.e., to retain the concept of flexible and imperfect totalities as the only possible objects of cognitive acts. Flexible = changeable in extension and intension; imperfect = not only unfinished but in principle unfinishable; in one word = dialectical.

Dialectics centrally means that any totality has inbuilt contradictions which make for changes, glacially slow or explosively sudden. The art or phronesis of planning,. i.e. of being ready for the unforeseeable future, is to find the dominant contradiction (Mao).


 A Possible World is a provisional totality with a defined spacetime and agents — all else is open. Rather than pertaining to logic (à la Kripke, or the Eco-type semiotics following logics) a useful Possible World is philosophical: modelled on our historical world (i.e., on dominant conceptions thereof or on its imaginary encyclopedia) yet significantly different from it. The possible cognitive increment lies in the difference and in its applicability, direct or very indirect, to our common world.

All art and all planning deals implicitly with Possible Worlds. This is foregrounded in e.g. Science Fiction or Five-Year Plans.

A Possible World contains in principle no guarantees of success — or failure — for the agents and actions in it: on s’engage et puis on voit (Napoleon). Some variants may have inbuilt felicific rules (e.g. fairy-tales or Sun-hero myths à la St. George, or official optimism about a plan); some may have inbuilt horrorific rules (e.g. Horror Fantasy after Poe and Lovecraft, or much Kafka, all apocalyptic pessimism), but these are protocols superadded to its fundamental neutrality. These protocols are therefore special cases very limited in epistemic relevance and spacetime applicability. What remains of the wholly rosy and wholly bleak horizons is a use, first, for extreme moments (when they may be extremely relevant), and second, a propedeutic use at various other moments.


  1. Homo sapiens, who knows s/he will die, is a value-bound creature: this defines his/her exit from the purely animal world of infinite contingency and instinctual reaction. What is it all for?
    Our personal and collective lives are barks, or at best sailboats, buoyed by the ocean of values, with conflicting cold and warm currents traversing it and us (most fish are to be found at their meeting points). Even if they were transoceanic liners or super-aircraft carriers, a tsunami groundswell is stronger. Remember the Titanic, the USSR, and Lehman Brothers!
    Since we must use the long wave-roll of values, let’s pick one main one wisely. Surf it.
  1. “If God and Communism are dead, anything is permitted” (extrapolation from Nietzsche and Dostoevsky).
    Yet people either live with values of freedom and friendliness (solidarity), or with values of violent domination and exploitation —  whether well articulated or not. They may be more conscious in intellectuals, but operate and act just as strongly in everybody else. In that sense, as Gramsci and Brecht argued, everybody is an (at least latent) intellectual.
    Value is co-extensive with productivity or creativity in the widest sense, encompassing almost all human action. A mother cares for the child because she values it, and herself for it. A worker cares for its work insofar as it and s/he are not alienated. A learner (such as most of us all through most of our lives) cares for his learning because it multiplies his strengths and delights. A lover cares for her beloved because the love enriches her being.
    Given that human nature abhors vacuum of value, there are after the Industrial Revolution, and with increasing insistence, two possible clusters of non-perverted value: traditional and new, known or unknown. Creativity may be rule-governed or rule-changing (Chomsky); often, both interpenetrate in different proportions. In the former case the status-quo may be changed, while in the latter cases it cannot. In good times rule-governed values are to be preferred, in bad times — such as ours — the rule-changing ones.
  1. Exactly contrary to Nietzsche’s proposition that value increases where there are “more favourable preconditions for more comprehensive forms of domination” (Will to Power, cited at second hand), my axiom and presupposition is that value gets formed and expands where there are more comprehensive chances for and experiments with self-determination. The locus of self-determination is in each individual personality but its actualization and form is only possible through collective actions of production, circulation, and/or use. A believable collective project always lurks in the background, shaping the horizons of one’s individual life (or we are in anomie and pathology). This constellation results in non-violent meanings, meaningfulness.
    Domination or lording it means enjoying the loss of self-determination in others. This inevitably perverts one’s own self-determination. In today’s inverted world most people in power follow this Satanic dictum on relation to other people and our natural environment. This is why we have to find and favour the exact contrary.


Locus is the place of the agent who is moving;
horizon is the furthest imaginatively visible goal toward which that agent is moving;
orientation is a vector that conjoins locus and horizon, the direction of the agent’s glance and movement.
Locus is where a single personal or collective body is pragmatically or contingently at; it is a given that must be understood as to its potentialities but cannot be argued away. It can, however, be subject to orientative projection.
It is characteristic of horizon that it moves with the location of the moving agent (as argued by Giordano Bruno); it can therefore never be attained. Obversely, it is characteristic of orientation that it can through all the changes of locus remain a constant vector of desire and cognition; e.g. “Eine Utopie ist aber kein Ziel, sondern eine Richtung” (Musil, The Man Without Qualities — a text that is itself emblematic for its intended signification of permanent movement through various loci in a fixed direction which is also a movable, expanding horizon).
In the ideal case of a dynamic utopia, locus constantly tends toward and yet never fuses with horizon (e.g. the end of Brecht’s Badener Lehrstück vom Einverständnis).
These are spatial metaphors. Caution and flexibility is much needed for their temporal use, with periodical reappraisals — confirmational or agonizing, as the case may require.



 The religious quest for Truth is a point of rest for the weary: “simple, transparent, not contradicting itself, permanent, enduring as identical, with no crease, hidden sleight, curtain, form: a man conceives thus the world of Being as ‘God’ in his own image” (Nietzsche). It is an ideal impossible to fulfil, thus finally a lie, that leads to faking and skepticism.
If success is measured in terms of duration and proper balance with nature, there have been many successful civilizations either without an institutionalized science (such as the ancient Roman one) or with science based on radically different presuppositions (such as the Chinese and Arabic ones). Most important: all scientific paradigms are temporally finite: the productions, enunciations, and applications of knowledge begin and end in function of interests within their societies.


“Is water necessarily H2O?” For some purposes — of separating H and O or reconstituting water, and all understanding pertaining to such possibilities — yes, but for other purposes no (Putnam, Gendlin). Purposes change according to the situation, which is only understood as being such-and-such by the interests of the subject defining it. Interests and judgments necessarily contain both evaluative and factual aspects; truth — or better, correctness — is context-dependent. All modes of knowing presuppose a point of view. Therefore, we should responsibly acknowledge our own viewpoints and look critically at our own and other opinions. (Levins, Gramsci)
Though repressed into “intuition,” factors such as suppositions of relevance and plausibility, selection of problems recognized as valid, concepts of “projectability” of facts and theories, and so on, play a major role in science (Einstein).
Scientific theories are “underdetermined” by facts: “Many, indeed infinitely many, different sets of hypotheses can be found from which statements describing the known facts can be deduced…” (Harré). Even more radically, the “facts” of scientific theories are not fully determined and univocal but always already conceptually elaborated (this also puts paid to Popperian falsification as an overriding criterion), and furthermore it is quite unclear how univocal are the prevailing philosophical categories used in science (Castoriadis). As a whole current of philosophers has maintained since Gassendi, theories are not true or false but good or bad instruments for research. Reality is in principle prior to human thought, yet it is co-created by human understanding, in a never-ending feedback.


The huge limitation that defines capitalist technoscience, as institution and ideology, is that science is life-blind. In Tolstoy’s words, “science is meaningless because it does not answer >what shall we do and how shall we live<” (cited by Weber; Nietzsche said similar things). The horizons of such a science have been indifferent to destruction of people and the planet, and its results increasingly deadly.
“Scientific management” comported centrally the progressive alienation of the process of production from the worker, and “progressed” into the alienation of brainwashed consumers as well as all those engaged in the specialized and esoteric knowledge of new clerisies.  As a hierarchical institution devoted to manipulation, such technoscience was easily usable for “human resources” too: the Nazi doctors’ genocidal experiments were only an extremely overt  and acute form of such Herrschaftswissen (Müller-Hill and Leiss).


In sum, I propose that our best strategy is to differentiate the institutionalized horizons of science-as-is fully from those of a potentially humanized science-as-wisdom, which would count its dead as precisely as the US armed forces do. I shall call the historically firstborn, good science “Science 1” (S1) and the present one, whose results are powerful but mixed and seem to be increasingly steeped in the blood and misery of millions of people, “Science 2” (S2). Aquinas would have called them sapientia vs. scientia.
These are ideal types only, intermixed in any actual effort in most varied proportions: also, the beginnings of S2 are in S1, and it retains certain of its liberatory birthmarks — centrally, the method of hypothesis plus verification. Nonetheless,  the fixation on domination and the consubstantial occultation of the knowing subject in S2 render it too dangerous. In Marcuse’s summary, the “method and concepts” of S2 have projected and promoted a universe in which the domination of nature was indissolubly intertwined with the domination of a ruling class over the majority of people.
To the contrary (in S1), “sever[ing] this fatal link would also affect the very structure of science…. Its hypotheses, without losing their rational character, would develop in an essentially different experimental context (that of a pacified world); consequently, science would arrive at essentially different concepts of nature and establish essentially different facts.” (One-Dimensional) In other words, it would be a critical and self-critical science.


The adversarial methodology of S2 is opposed to the “communal” nature of S1, to the truths and the horizon all of its practitioners hold in common, as any true cognition does. Cognition or understanding is necessarily non-exclusive, shareable outside a conflictual stance and incompatible with a zero-sum game. True, in every economy of efforts priorities have to be determined, and in that sense a confrontation between opposed interests will be with us forever. But this is perverted when conflictuality or adversariness, the antagonistic and warlike subspecies of confrontation or opposition, is posited as the central methodology. To “have” an idea, an approach or technique, a software or any other byte of knowledge, means others can share it without my losing it, indeed I can thereby gain enrichment, stimulus, perhaps even fame. Cognition is communist: it resists being fenced in like a piece of land or locked away in a safe like a financial share.



Finally, the opposition S1-S2 is strangely, richly, and intimately interfused with the question of bodily freedom for one and for all, for our bodies personal and bodies politic. This would also deal with what was in religion called soul, with all its values and dead-ends, but subsumed, as in East Asia (cf. the Japanese kokoro), under the premise that behaviour and cognition are whole-body processes.  This inquiry could be called “somatics,” and deal with a cluster of problems centering upon humanity’s vulnerable personal and collective bodies. Feminists and gay movements have foregrounded some of them (sex/gender orientation, birth/ abortion). However, a full discussion of — for example — drugging and prostitution remains to be done, for like Marx’s relation of worker to capitalist production each of these involves “the whole of human servitude” (“Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts”; cf. some hints in Suvin, “On Cognition as Art and Politics,” in Defined by a Hollow). It should advance from Marx, Nietzsche, Bakhtin, and Merleau-Ponty to Barthes and beyond, and could properly branch into all other  mega-lesions of personal integrity, from war and other overt violence to hunger and alienation.
In the turbocapitalist age the body is being diverted from satisfaction of needs and enjoyment of glories to a double use. For the powerful and exploiters, it becomes a strategy for  accumulation (Haraway): accumulation of capital, as a central model for possessions and domination (theoretically  internalised even by Bourdieu). For the powerless and exploited — in war, toil, hunger, torture, and similar lesions or indignities — it becomes a site of pain (Scarry). For both, the body is the final perversely marketable commod­ity in horrible and obscene lives, also in horror and pornographic violence TV, movies, comics, novels. Inevitably, it becomes a supreme fetish. Somatics will become more and more neuralgic, for breathless capitalism is profoundly inimical to personal sovereignty and is working full out at new supertechnological means of ruthless somatic manipulation — biogenetics (in use) and nanophysics (coming fast). Yet it is humanity’s final “commons.”
Democritus’s atoms fell in a straight line from above to below; they come from a place of power not subject to human will, of whimsical Gods or blind Nature, and may break in upon any of us (Derrida). To this picture Marx preferred in his dissertation Epicurus, who scoffed at the anthropomorphic idea that in the infinite there is an up and down: the fixed destination of  Destiny may be disturbed and deviated by some action. In Lucrece’s great poem De natura rerum (On the Nature of the Universe) the atoms swerve and break the chains of Fate; this sanctions “the free will of people living in the world /…By which we move wherever pleasure leads each of us” (II: 254-58). It opens a space for choice, for Being born from Non-Being, for a surplus of Being.


Much more needs to be gone into. What immediately comes to mind is Labour/Production/Producers; Capital (now Financial); Sex/Gender (Women);  Nature (Ecology).
Whether I get to it depends on inner factors and outer response.

                                                                                                                               Lucca 2012-15


*/ I have grown increasingly dubious of the notion of respublica litterarum: not as an ideal but as a practical possibility today. Who reads footnotes and follows leads from bibliographies any more under turbocapitalism, which takes good care intellectuals should not have time for radical questioning?
Therefore I have avoided footnotes.  Hardy souls can get a bibliography at dsuvin@gmail.com.

Posted in 3. POLITICAL EPISTEMOLOGY | Leave a comment


Darko Suvin                                                                          2nd version 2-2-’15      11pp.,  5,930 w.

–For Stan Robinson, in poor return–

Howbeit doubtless, Master More (to speak truly as my mind gives me) wheresoever possessions be private, where money bears all the stroke [has all the influence], it is hard and almost impossible that there the weal public may justly be governed, and prosperously flourish. Unless you think thus: that justice is there executed, where all things come into the hands of evil men; or that prosperity there flourishes, where all is divided among a few; …and the residue live miserably, wretchedly, and beggarly.
Thomas More, Utopia Book I, orig. 1516

 Le choix que je suis [the choice that is me]
Jean-Paul Sartre, L’Être et le néant, 1943

0. Approach

What happened around and to me in the last 20 years or so propelled me towards two quasi-disciplinary perspectives, epistemological and political. I adopt the definition of epistemology as the theory of cognition (where psychology should meet philosophy) dealing with the possibilities and limits of human knowledge, the analysis of conceptual and other cognitive systems – including metaphors and figurations – and in particular the critique of language and other sign-systems, pioneered by the historical semantics of Raymond Williams and the work of modern semioticians. As to politics, I am comfortable with the Hellenic approach to it as “affairs of the community,” but in today’s global dynamics I would update this  by insights into the class structure of people’s life together by a  few masters such as Marx, Brecht, Benjamin, Bloch, and Jameson, from whom I took whatever I could and left aside what I could not.

Max Weber said that history teaches us the true meaning of what we have willed. And history is constituted by each of us but then also by all of us, and furthermore by forces institutionalized and solidified by some people or classes of people among us which operate in ways both very evident and very opaque. What is evident is their results: bombings, murders, hunger, unhappiness, the exponentially rising moral and material pollution. History permeates and constitutes us, it is the atheist equivalent of gods and metamorphosis of Destiny, it is a teacher of life and a delusive siren, past and present in feedback eating at future, a promise and a threat. It is not to be circumvented. But if its results at some point become unbearable, one stops and opposes, saying  “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.” There the effort to comprehend, as at least a first step towards doing something, inscribes itself. So: where are we? And how are we to find a way out?

  1. We Are within Catastrophic Capitalism

The present deep and unresolved economic crisis has only brought to the surface some permanent trends of capitalism, largely occulted in the foregoing decades. I shall suggest what I see as the mortal sins of capitalism.

 1.1. The Capitalist Societal Formation Makes for Mass Collective Death

This mode of production and way of life is always centrally shaped by the irreconcilable conflict between the capitalist urge for profits and the working people’s need for a humanly decent life. The urge was somewhat curbed by the fear of revolt after the Russian Revolution and the Great Depression, which led to a modest but real “security floor” conceded to the middle and working classes, largely at the expense of the global “South” and of the natural environment. With the waning of any such fears, as of the mid-1970s capitalist corporations engaged in a large-scale offensive to depress wages per unit of production and boost profits from huge to monstrous. Using the slogans of free trade and globalization, the rich organized bundles of radical interventions by major States and the roof organizations of international capitalism to make themselves vastly richer, while multiplying the poor in their nations, eviscerating the middle class prosperity based on stable employment, and upping the income gap between rich and poor countries from 10:1 to 90:1.  A large class of chronically poor was created, politically neutralized by creating fear of even poorer immigrants. The asset bubbles bursting venomously from 2008 on  are the consequence of this class warfare from above (see Buffett in Stein, Farrell): masses of people in the North had not only to work much more and exhaust their savings but also to borrow against their homes and other investments – the total 2008 debt in the US has been estimated at $48 trillion. (Murphy, Turner, Bourdieu et al., Suvin “Immigration,” Magnus)

Facing the few thousand billionaires, possibly nearly 3,000 million struggle today to survive, failing fast, while more than half of them live in the most abject poverty, more or less quickly dying of hunger and attendant diseases (Pogge); the hundred million dead and several hundred million other casualties of warfare in the 20th Century seem puny in comparison (though their terror and suffering is not). It has been calculated that a 1% increase in US unemployment correlates with 37,000 deaths (650 of which homicides) and an increase of 4,000 inmates of mental hospitals, but the hidden psychic toll is surely greater. Economic “growth” benefits only the richest, at the expense of everybody else, especially the poor and the powerless in this generation and future ones. (Ayres, Rogers, Barnet and Cavanagh)

The purpose of capitalist economy, profit, has led to mass dying and unhappiness. For billions of people it means shorter and more painful lives, for everybody except maybe the upper 2-5% in the world disabling stress, gnawing want, and often utter despair (Hinkelammert). Technosciences could have finally made this planet habitable; when dominated and shaped by profit, they provide enormous quantities of shoddy commodities without regard to quality or duration of life. Upon this systematic and long-duration exploitation by capitalist power, aggravating factors are being added: the effect of the debt bubbles, the recent sharp increase of prices for foodstuffs in the world – the list could go on. In my work I have dealt mainly with migration and war, but I shall here speak only to the latter.

1.2. Capitalism Needs War: I define war as a coherent sequence of conflicts, involving physical combats between large organized groups of people that include the armed forces of at least one state, with the aim of political and economic control over a given territory. Other aims may be securing advantages for coming conflicts (e.g. dominion over air, sea or oil resources), the destruction of commodities and people, and evading inner class tension.  The ratio of military to civilian casualties in wars has during the 20th Century  “progressed” from 8:1 to 1:8 (eight civilians killed for each combatant), and the fighters have diversified from regular armies into paramilitary groups, police forces, mercenaries, local warlords, and purely criminal gangs. The mass casualties have been mainly people marginal to “White” patriarchal capitalism: the poor, the uppity “middle” States, the “coloured,” women. (Kaldor, Mesnard, S. George)

War is more than a Hobbesian metaphor for bourgeois human relationships. It is securely based in antagonistic competition, the “essential locomotive force” of bourgeois economy and “generally the mode in which capital secures the victory of its mode of production” (Marx, Grundrisse). Continuous warfare has never ceased under capitalism. Capitalism came about in plunder wars, war financing set up its modern bureaucracy and central national banks, and there is no evidence it could climb out of economic depressions without huge military spending, a war mega-dividend. The political fall-out is the spread of military rule that subordinates the civil society to its barbarity even in times of official peace – as seen in spades today. (P. Anderson, Amin, Pannekoek, Virilio)

Weapons commodities are since World War 2 not only the source of greatest  extra-profit but a system-pillar of capitalism. The yearly money value of the international armament trade oscillated in the last 30 years, according to the available faulty statistics, between US$20 and over 30 billion, and today it is more. The capitalist market systematically favours armaments commodities because of their uniquely high value-added price, their specially rapid rate of obsolescence and turnover, the monopoly or semi-monopoly position of their manufacturers, and the large-scale and secure financing of military research, production and massive cost overruns – all taken from public taxation of the middle classes. By the time of the First Gulf War, world spending for military purposes was nearly a trillion US$ annually or between 2 and 2.5 billion dollars daily, more than half of it attributable to the USA; and today it is way past this. This most profitable part of global trade is the strongest factor of both international violence and of colonization of life-worlds and eco-systems by commodity economy.  The tens of millions of dead in the two World Wars brought about tens of trillions of profitable investments in the huge reconstructions of destroyed homes and industries and ongoing rearmament: a million dollars or more per dead body. No capitalism without increasingly destructive weapons and wars which might still destroy the world: the marvellous technoscientific progress means that one nuclear submarine can destroy the peoples of an entire continent, yet eight new US nuclear submarines have been made since the fall of the USSR. One quarter of the public monies which are expended on weapons commodities would eradicate poverty, homelessness, and illiteracy, as well as pay for the cleanup of all our major environmental pollution… (Baran-Sweezy, Kolko, Luxemburg, Marx Kapital,  McMurtry, Suvin “Capitalism,” the Tofflers)

1.3. Some Other Capitalist Blights

There are further pressing threats, which I shall group as somatics and ecology, while recognizing that this neglects important areas, for one example the “knowledge economy”.

Somatics: I would call that a cluster of problems centring upon humanity’s vulnerable personal and collective bodies.Today, people have had their bodies (time, movement, faculties) literally stolen from them, by what Ursula Le Guin nicely called the “propertarians” and their turbocapitalist pursuit of profit (in lieu of life, liberty, and happiness) The feminist and gay movements have broached some problems (sex/gender orientation, birth/abortion, care/caress). A full discussion of both drugging and prostitution is still to be done, for like Marx’s relation of worker to exploited production each of these involves “the whole of human servitude” (“Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts”). Probably all I would want to speak about, from war and other overt violence to hunger and alienation, these mega-lesions of personal integrity, could be included here.

Ecology: When our environment is poisoned, we die – of cancer, lung diseases, heart overload, and a thousand other preventable ills. It is being poisoned by capitalist industry and squandering, which has by now plundered the carbohydrate  fossil fuels to proximate extinction, caused global warming (with consequences that might include tens of millions of “climate refugees” from low-lying areas such as Bangladesh and trillions in expenses to refurbish the world’s ports), and on and on. Mammalian life on this planet itself is now at risk: as Wells and Sartre foresaw, crabs and ants — and, no doubt, cockroaches — may inherit the Earth.

The nonsensical capitalist dogma of infinite growth, modelled on personal enrichment, collides with the elementary fact that any physical system of a finite Earth must itself also eventually become non-growing. There can and must be sustainable development in the sense of qualitative improvement but without quantitative growth beyond the point where the ecosystem can regenerate.  (Daly-Cobb, Georgescu-Roegen, Greider) Production can only be optimized by raising the productivity of its scarcest element – today, natural resources. This is possible to achieve only if the real social costs of using air, water, soil, and labour are figured in (Kapp), while unproductive activities extraneous to use-values – most marketing and PR, useless innovations, artificial obsolescence, unceasing turnover of fashion trends – are rigorously taxed. Crucially, the total consumption of energy must be strongly, if reasonably, curbed.  This means fighting both population growth in the South and per capita consumption in the richer countries and classes of the North. The only fair and efficient way to curb population growth is, of course, making the poor richer – and emancipating women.

Since a given amount of low entropy can be used by us only once, the economic process is entropic. Thus the importance of purpose, what something is done for, becomes overwhelming. Aristotle’s final cause and the old Roman query cui bono? (in whose interest?) are to be rehabilitated as against scientism’s narrow concentration on the efficient cause, how to manipulate matter. The economic process always generates irrevocable waste or pollution and forecloses some future options – as fuel after it has been burned. Since, however, labour and knowledge in the economic process allow life and all of its possibilities, we must become careful stewards, on constant lookout for minimizing entropy (Suvin “Introductory”). “The only possible freedom is that… the associated producers rationally regulate their metabolism with nature by spending the minimum of forces and in a way most conformable to human nature.” (Kapital III)

1.4. In sum: The ills of capitalism were for the last 40 years mainly hidden in slums of the North and the far-off South of the world. True, poets and thinkers whom existence had brought into contact with the exploited masses have always warned us, in the words of Aimé Césaire, that this is a decaying civilization which cannot cope either with the metropolitan or with the colonial dispossessed and exploited (the proletariat). These ills and dangers are now growing all-pervasive: nobody – not the middle class, already reduced to utter dependency, not the youth, reduced to precarious begging for crumbs, not even middle management and the great majority of scientists – will be spared. Capitalism has greatly furthered the destruction of all qualities, the capillary barbarization and alienation of all areas of daily life, including science and the arts; and quantitatively, a direct and indirect reduction of life-span or outright killing of millions through immiseration and wars (and attendant evitable illnesses). On the horizon are further dirty wars, with unchecked use of uranium and phosphorus weapons, possibly nuclear ones too, and a world war against China is not excluded. Quite certainly, an ecological collapse is a matter of a few decades, its symptoms are already present. These ills are not only horrendous, worse than anything even degenerate pseudo-communist loci brought about, but also systemic: they flow out of the central and all-consuming urge of capitalism for vampiric maximization of profit and cannot be reformed.

  1. A Radical Break Is Necessary : Marx and Beyond

 2.1. Deconstruct and Reconstruct Karlchen

In my hypothesis we have to reread Marx. He held that “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.”  (“Prussian Censorship”) Fruition encompasses also the – always provisional – fruits. Thus, his most useful insights today may be divided into propositions and methods.

I take it that some of Marx’s fundamental propositions, often doubted in the Welfare State interval of the metropolitan North but today vindicated, are:

–that human societies are divided into classes based on a relationship towards and in production of life and goods, of which the two antagonistic poles are those who buy and exploit labour power (capitalists) and those who sell it (let us call them again proletarians, instead of confining this term to industrial workers); and that the “absolute general law of capitalist accumulation [is]: accumulation of wealth is at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality” (Kapital);

–that the unceasing alienation of creative power in capitalism subjects proletarians to impoverishment. In the last generation or so the world proletariat has almost doubled, working under conditions  of ever grosser exploitation and increasingly of  political oppression (Harvey), so that Marx’s thesis of the absolute immiseration of the proletariat as compared to 500 or 200 years ago has turned out to be correct for 90% or more of the working people in the world; and there is no doubt of the huge relative immisera­tion in comparison to the dominant classes and nations.

–that this immiseration, and the attendant hollowing out of all qualitative social functions and values, means that for all its technological advances capitalism as a social formation leads to a radical historical change, beneficent (as Marx mainly believed) or maleficent, leading to civilizational collapse.

Of methods, I shall single out: the radical critique and the social shaping of all understanding. Marx’s stance of critique indicates the limits of a practice (Balibar), it is the equivalent in epistemology to Epicure’s systematic deviation of atoms from universal straight paths. Therefore it is also a radical and permanent labour of reassessment, of self-critique. What I call “social shaping” means that practical relationships between active agents enable and shape all understanding, refusing the division between looking subject and looked‑at object.  If there is a human “essence”, it consists of a full set of people’s social relationships. Thus no theory or method can be properly understood without understanding the practice of social groups to which it, in however roundabout ways, corresponds.

In sum: As opposed to production of exchange-values for profit, a vampiric dispossession of labour and its vitality, the production of use-values is a beneficent metamorphosis of life into more life. Humanized production or creativity replaces death with life: the central Marxian argument is as “simple” as this.

What then remains of Marx? Many things: the notion of social  relations  and modes of  production; the notion of classes; the notion  of  unquenchable  contradiction  based on  capital’s  expropriation  of labour; the notion of the necessity of a radical break between  human relationships  in class society and those in a new society  rid  of irreconcilably  antagonistic classes, necessary  for the naked survival of our species & planet. Centrally: the realiza­tion that the figure of Destiny is in capitalism Political Econo­my. Fortune is  swallowed into the Stock-market, Necessity rides on the profit‑bringing and profit‑enforcing bombers and missiles. Hell is the sweatshops of China and Montreal, the cubicles of solitary rooms.

2.2. The Commons and Communism

However, it has been clear for almost half a century to everybody truly on the Left (excluding its main political parties) that we need to graft upon Marx new branches after the failure of ”State socialism.” Marx himself was unable to emerge fully into his own novelty, leaving us to recognize where it was that he was going. Further, much of importance has changed since Marx‘s insights. I cannot provide anything like a full list, but to begin with: there are no guarantees that this break will happen; there is no sanctified history – much less nature or epistemology – in which a Saviour (e.g. the  proletariat) will appear to do the above. All depends on historical contingencies and the will-cum-intelligence to use given power relations as leverage. The negative experiences of degeneration after Lenin’s, Tito’s or Mao’s revolutions, as well as their initial huge achievements, shall be present in my proposals. I also accept the positive side of “western”  Marxism, its disjunction of long-term theory from politics legitimating a State.

We have now to focus on humanity’s “commons”. They are, first and foremost, the right to survive by minimizing unnecessary lesion of our bodies, unnecessary rise of entropy and destruction of our life-world, and unnecessary barriers to free displacement and learning on this globe. Now capitalism jettisons humanity in all its senses: civilized relations, interests of people, even their bodies. Our immiseration is not simply economical, it seamlessly extends from wars through hunger and evitable illnesses to political disempowerment in relation to power and metaphysical disempowerment in relation to the universe.  Thus, our answers have to be a defence of commons against enclosures, always a source of pauperization. They could reassign meaning to “communism” as radical humanism, on condition that communism return to its political  roots  as radically self-managing democracy. Communism is what keeps the commons for the people.

When Lenin resuscitated the term of Marx and Thomas More as name for his party amid the most murderous First World War, he did so as a gesture of mental hygiene, to wash off the dirt accumulated on the once useful name of a social democracy that had abetted and aided that war. Many glories were associated with his reborn term during the struggle against war, exploitation, and especially against fascism. Yet also horrors: the ossifications of a hierarchic Party in power which didn’t know how to interact with a polycentric civil society, the blood and cruelty of Stalinism, and finally the betrayal of a rising new class of exploiters. As of somewhere in the 1950s, communism ceased to be admissible to polite society for the “western” Left, that much preferred the unclear term of socialism – which anyway led to fewer reprisals. I know because I participated in that. But after the 1990s there is no Communist Party of the Soviet Union, or its dwarfish satellites, to differentiate oneself from, and the socialist politicians are indistinguishable from the anti-socialist ones. And our plight is as bad as in the First World War. Re-enter the spectre of communism (Badiou).

How can we begin making sense of the term Communism? First of all, by unpacking it. The chthonic roots of communism are, no doubt, in the cry of suffering and of indignation that accompanies class society as its dark twin, in the deepest desires for the reversal and subversion of such an “inverted world” of injustice. In that sense it is as immortal as that society; when repressed, it flows as a subterranean Karst river. However, the plant itself begins to appear and be analyzable only when the cry is organized.  Articulated communism can be a locus, an orientation for a movement, and a horizon. Each of these somehow implies and needs the other two: a consubstantial trinity, each of whose members may yet be approached and used independently for some purposes.

Communism as horizon is the future Earthly Paradise of a classless society, a society where oppositions will not be dealt with antagonistically, through murder and hunger: not by pistol but by pencil, as Brecht says in the nearest approximation to it he allowed himself to pen, the Prologue to the Caucasian Chalk Circle. As all horizons, it is orienting, often inspiring, and always unattainable, for it moves with the viewer and pursuer oriented toward it. As long as there is such a pursuer, the horizon cannot be extinguished.

Communism as locus is any real society proposing to be largely or even asymptotically utopian or non-antagonistic (harmonious, as the Chinese “Communist” Party hypocrites today say) – that is, radically reducing exploitation and ignorance, developing equality of rights and opportunities or justice for all. It could be, as all classical socialists and communists believed, a first absolutely necessary step towards a disalienated  life of people in a community. However, this holds IF (and only if) it, a/ was not stifled by poverty and aggression, and b/ did not pretend to be the oxymoron of a finally reached horizon, an illusion that also necessarily grows into a religion and a lie. This locus existed in partial and always endangered ways in the first years after the Soviet, the Yugoslav, the Chinese, and probably the Vietnamese Revolutions; I believe it still exists, in most threatened and stifled ways, in Cuba. Yet as a rule it soon became a façade for class struggles between a new oligarchy developing inside the elite Party bureaucracy, and the working people: in the USSR after ca. 10 years, Yugoslavia and China ca. 15 years. Since the imperfect attempts of Trotsky and Mao to “fire on the headquarters” failed, the communist locus was finally destroyed by a combination of outside capitalist pressure and inner hollowing out or corruption.

Today, we still might have (if we keep the faith) the orientation, a vector leading from our quite dystopian and catastrophic locus of capitalist barbarism towards the utopian horizon. Orientation means, etymologically, turning toward the Orient of the rising Sun, the source of light and warmth, indeed of all life. This orientation is today our minimum requirement, without which all talk of communism should cease. But for a proper collective orientation, that is, a movement with this orientation, we need a cultural revolution for the Einsteinian, cybernetic, electronic age. Anarchism, noble as it is in many ways in people like Kropotkin, and with which we should practice fraternal solidarity in its radical refusal of any oppression, will get us nowhere: as we have seen in these last dozen years from Seattle and Genova on.

This orientation means the self-preservation of humanity and its ecology, to be reached through radical self-determination on all levels, by means of peace and disalienated labour. To be or not to be, that is the question. But that depends on a fusion of  communism and radical democracy.

2.3. Democracy

Allow me then, reaching for the end, to minimally unpack this term too, to which almost universal lip-service is today paid. The crucial question seems to me how is democracy institutionalized, that is, permitted to operate. The genus democracy, “rule by the people,” has three main species: representative democracy, associational democracy, and direct democracy.

Representative democracy is the species favoured by the bourgeoisie – when it does not prefer absolutism or direct dictatorship – and therefore the most frequent one. In it, people are (or the people is) supposed to rule through representatives, typically elected within territorial districts. It allows alternative teams for and variants of  capitalist exploitation of labour to spell each other without radical change, yet with some input from people on secondary but sometimes important modalities. The change of teams administering the State allows for some welcome relief in “kicking the rascals out.” However, when it allows for major private financing of electoral campaigns in a two-party system, capitalist interests will practically own the parliament.

Associational democracy is less present in the news but at least as important. In it various kinds of collective organizations – for ex. labour unions, co-operatives or business associations – directly engage in aspects of political decision-making: through involvement in government commissions, through various “corporatist” forms, through organizational representation on regulatory agencies, etc. But its contribution to democracy in the interest of (the) people depends on the internal democracy of the associations themselves.

In direct democracy, citizens are directly involved in the activities of political governing. One of its forms is a plebiscite or referendum, where citizens vote on various proposed laws or policies, and which has become a favourite tool for supplementing a failing representative or parliamentary democracy. But more important is significant popular empowerment when real decision-making authority and resources are given to popular councils of various sorts.

This last form is the revolutionary democratic idea of Councils, common or “organic” to all popular uprisings from time immemorial to the Soviets of Trotsky and Lenin – sadly emasculated after ca. 1921 – and on to Yugoslav self-management from 1941 on (where I met it), Hungary in 1956 or Argentina in the 1990s. Classically, it includes a binding mandate and the possibility of recall upon petition by a reasonable fraction of electors, thus diminishing considerably chances that the powerful and rich could corrupt Council members away from wishes of people.

To favour both associational and direct democracy as against a representative democracy that is the watchdog of capitalism – this is the first lesson that could be learned from the best tradition of the best moments of popular and democratic movements in the last 150 years. Self-management is even today our furthest horizon. And it should be built up internationally, to encompass planning from below in feedback with central decisions (including democratic control of large financial transactions), suggested in this little scheme:

A/ Plan B/ Market
1/ From Lower Classes Upward COMMUNISM (Marxian) EARLY CAPITALISM

2.4.Possible Allies

Who are prospective allies on the road to such a Council democracy? Potentially, all working people, plebeians or proletarians. But since they are largely brainwashed by material and moral misery, I would begin by asking first for allies in de-alienating them. Here too there could be many, it is a matter of understanding who they are and then building rainbows with them. Alas, science as an institution has been largely corrupted by Positivism, money, and hierarchical institutionalisation – though a precious few must be listened to. Out of my experience, I shall start by naming the arts of image and word, insofar as they are rooted in artisanal self-direction and therefore more difficult to corrupt. They are traditionally from bottom up, often open‑ended, often not only a merited pleasure and rest but also cognitive. I have written much on this and must ask the interested reader to look it up (in the books To Brecht, Lessons, Defined, Darko Suvin, and many essays, such as those on Brecht). But I shall briefly indicate the horizon by the example of narrative and poetry. They always imply a reader standing for a collective class audience, ideally his whole community (this is foregrounded in plays). In proportion to her creativity, the writer is one who doubts the reigning commonplace opinions, who swerves from them by infringing old usages and meanings and, implicitly or explicitly creating new ones. Poetic creation sutures conceptual thought to justification from recalled immediate sensual, bodily experiences and stances.

To give one pregnant example, Rimbaud was led to exasperation at having to reconcile his deep hatred of the bourgeoisie and existing society with the irrefragable fact of having to breathe and experience within it:

….industrialists, rulers, senates:
Die quick! Power, justice, history: down with you!
This is owed to us. Blood! Blood! Golden flame!
All to war, to vengeance, to terror…. Enough!

             …I’m there, I’m still there. (“Qu’est-ce pour nous…,” 113; see Rancière 92-93)

The obverse of this dead end – between “enough” and “I’m still there” – is Thomas More’s great coinage of utopia: the radically different good place which is in our sensual experience not here, but must be understood as our indispensable orientation – today, on pain of extinction. What is not here, Ernst Bloch’s Yet Unknown, is almost always first adumbrated in fiction, most economically in verse. From many constituents of the good place, I shall here focus on freedom – Wordsworth’s “Dear Liberty” (Prelude l. 3) which translates the French revolutionary term of liberté chérie – that then enables security, creativity, order, and so on. The strategic insight here is that the method of great modern arts is freedom as possibility of things being otherwise.

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Ayres, R[obert] U. Limits to the Growth Paradigm. Centre for the Management of Environmental Resources, Working Paper 96/18/EPS. [Amsterdam]: Elsevier Science, 1996.

Badiou, Alain. L’Hypothèse communiste. S.l.: Lignes, 2009.

—. Le Siècle. Paris: Seuil, 2005.

Balibar, Etienne. La philosophie de Marx. Paris: La Découverte, 1993.

Baran, Paul, and Paul Sweezy. Monopoly Capital. New York: Monthly R P,  1966.

Barnet, Richard, and John Cavanagh. Global Dreams: Imperial Corporations and the New World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Bourdieu, Pierre, et al.  The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Society. Transl. P.P. Ferguson. Cambridge: Polity P, 1999 (La Misère du monde, Seuil 1993).

Cohen,  Joshua, and Joel Rogers, Associations and Democracy, London, 1995.

Custers, Peter. Questioning Globalized Militarism: Nuclear and Military Production and Critical Economy. New Delhi: Tulika P, and London, Merlin P, 2007.

Daly, Herman E. Beyond Growth. Boston: Beacon P, 1996.

—. Steady-State Economics. 2nd edn. Washington DC/ Covelo: Island P, 1991.

—, and John B. Cobb, Jr. For the Common Good. rev. edn. Boston: Beacon P, 1994.

—, and Kenneth Townsend. Valuing the Earth: Economics, Ecology, Ethics. Cambridge MA: MIT P, 1993.

Farrell, Paul B.Reagan Began Class War in 1981, Buffett Declared in 2006.” MarketWatch. Nov. 1, 2011, accessed through /beyondmoney.net/tag/class-war/

[George, Susan.] The Lugano Report. London: Pluto P, 1999.

Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas. The Entropy Law and the Economic Process. New York: toExcel, 1999.

Greider, William. One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Harvey, David. Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.

—. The Limits to Capital. London & New York: Verso, 1999.

Hinkelammert. Franz J. The Ideological Weapons of Death: A Theological Critique of Capitalism. Maryknoll NY: Orbis, 1986 (Las armas ideológicas de la muerte. San José CR: Dep.to Ecuménico de Investigaciones, nd ed.n rev. 1981).

Hobsbawm, E.R. Revolutionaries. London: Little, Brown, 2007.

Kaldor, Mary. New and Old Wars. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999.

Kapp, Karl W. The Social Costs of Private Enterprise. Cambridge MA: Harvard UP, 1950  (Soziale Kosten der Marktwirtschaft. Frankfurt: Fischer,  1979).

Kolko, Gabriel. Century of War. New York: New P, 1994.

Luxemburg, Rosa. The Accumulation of Capital. Transl. A. Schwarzschild. New York: Modern Reader, 1968.

Magnus, George. “Important to Curb Destructive Power of Deleveraging. “ Financial Times Sept. 30, 2008.

Marx, Karl. “Comments on the Latest Prussian Censorship Instruction”, in The Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society. Eds. and transl. L.D. Easton and K.H. Guddat. Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1967, 67-92.

—. “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (1844),” in Writings, see “Comments” above, 283‑337 [ “Prussian Censorship”].

—. Grundrisse. Transl. M. Nicolaus. London & New York: Penguin-Vintage, 1974.

—. Das Kapital, Vols. I and III. MEW Bd. 23 and 25. Berlin: Dietz V., 1993 and 1979.

—. “Speech at the Anniversary of the People’s Paper,”  in The Marx-Engels Reader. Ed. R.C. Tucker. New York: Norton, 427-28.

—, and Friedrich Engels. Werke. [as MEW]. Vol. 1. Berlin: Dietz V., 1962ff. .

McMurtry, John. The Cancer Stage of Capitalism. London: Pluto P, 1999.

Mesnard y Mendez, Pierre.  “Capitalism Means/ Needs War.” Socialism & Democracy 16.2 (2002): 65-92, also on http://www.sdonline.org.

Murphy, R. Taggart. “Bubblenomics.”  New Left R. no. 57 (2009): 149-60.

Pannekoek, Anton. Workers’ Councils. Oakland & Edinburgh: AK P, 2003.

Pogge, Thomas. “Reframing Economic Security and Justice,” in D. Held  and A. McGrew eds., Globalization Theory, Cambridge: Polity P, 2007, 207-24.

Rancière, Jacques. “Transports de la liberté,” in idem ed. La politique des poètes. Paris : Michel, 1992, 87-130.

Rimbaud, Arthur. Oeuvres complètes. Éd. L. Forrestier. Paris: Laffont, 1992.

Rogers, Paul. Losing Control: Global Security in the Twenty-first Century. 2nd edn., London: Pluto P, 2002.

Stein, Ben. „In Class Warfare, Guess Which Class Is Winning” [Interview with W. Buffett].  www. nytimes.com/2006/11/26/business/yourmoney/26every.html?_r=0

Suvin, Darko. “Capitalism Means/ Needs War,” in his In Leviathan’s Belly: Essays for a Counter-Revolutionary Time. Baltimore MD: Wildside P for Borgo P, 2012, 93-113 (“Kapitalizam znači/treba rat,” u Gdje smo? Kuda idemo?: Za političku epistemologiju spasa. Zagreb: Hrvatsko Filozofsko društvo, 2006, 115-45; Kje smo? Kam gremo? Za politično ekonomijo odrešitve. Ljubljana: Založba Sophia, 2010).

—. Darko Suvin: A Life in Letters. Ed. Ph.E. Wegner. Vashon Island WA 98070: Paradoxa, 2011.

—. Defined by a Hollow: Essays on Utopia, Science Fiction, and Political Epistemology. Oxford: P. Lang, 2010.

—.  “Immigration in Europe Today: Apartheid or Civil Cohabitation?” Critical Quarterly  50. 1-2 (2008): 206-33.

—. “Introductory Pointers toward an Economics  of  Physical and Political Negentropy,” in his In Leviathan’s Belly: Essays for a Counter-Revolutionary Time. Baltimore MD: Wildside P for Borgo P, 2012, 161-69 (also as e-book).

—. Lessons of Japan. Montreal: CIADEST, 1996.

—. To Brecht and Beyond: Soundings in Modern Dramaturgy. Brighton: Harvester P, and Totowa NJ: Barnes & Noble, 1984.

Toffler, Alvin, and Heidi Toffler. War and Anti-War. Boston: Little, Brown, 1993.

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Žižek, Slavoj. “How To Begin from the Beginning.” New Left R. no. 57 (2009): 43-55.

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Darko Suvin                                                                                                               14,360 WORDS

–To Gene Gendlin—

One basis for life, and another for science is in itself a lie.
Karl Marx (1844)

… Because the lust for profit of the ruling class sought satisfaction through technology, it betrayed humanity and turned the bridal bed into a bloodbath. The mastery of nature, so the imperialists teach, is the purpose of all technology. But who would trust a cane wielder who proclaimed the mastery of children by adults to be the purpose of education? Is not education above all the indispensable ordering of the relationship between generations, and therefore mastery, if we are to use this term, of that relationship and not of children? And likewise technology is not the mastery of nature but of the relation between nature and humanity.                                                                                                         Walter Benjamin (1928)

 1.Central Orientation Points for Epistemology1/

I wish first to speak of how I ought to speak, and only then to speak.
Agathon, in Plato’s Symposium (C4 BCE)

 1.1. Against the Unique Truth (Monoalethism)

Ein Führer, ein Volk, ein Reich! (One Leader, One People, One Empire)
Powerful Nazi slogan

Towards the end of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant raises three vital questions for human reason: How can I know? What shall I do? What may I hope? The sequence of the questions is very interesting: first comes what interests the philosopher or critical intellectual in general, which would be fair enough for his purposes except that he pretends they are universal, and only second the practical applications of properly gained knowledge. The horizons of hope come last (while faith and love, the other components of the classical Christian triad of virtuous values, are nowhere to be found).2/ To the contrary, there are good arguments that for most less specialized people as well as for all collectives (groups, classes, societies) first come the horizons determining why bother to think and do something, while the epistemological question of how does one, or how do we, know what (we think) we know is subordinated not only to them but also to practical action with which it is in continuous feedback, and thus on the whole would come last. Nonetheless, for orientation in periods of great confusion and/or for limited purposes, epistemology remains important, and will in this essay (which partakes of both) be my beginning, though I trust not my end, since I want to go on into science as politics.

I am not aware of a systematic basis for epistemology (gnoseology, theory of knowledge in the wider sense) we could today use, but it seems possible to glean some central orientation points for it. I postulate that our interpretations of what is knowledge or not, a proper or improper one, is largely shaped by the “framework of commitments” we bring to them. I take this term and my subsequent initial discussion mainly from Elgin, who summarizes one widespread kind of agreement by formulating what I would call a strategic “soft” skepticism, which still allows action and value-horizons:

Philosophy once aspired to set all knowledge on a firm foundation. Genuine knowledge claims were to be derived from indubitable truths by means of infallible rules. The terms that make up such truths were held to denote the individuals and kinds that constitute reality, and the rules for combining them… were thought to reflect the real order of things. — This philosophical enterprise has foundered. Indubitable truths and infallible rules are not to be had. (183)

Instead, thinking always begins with working approximations based on “our best presystematic judgments on the matter at hand” (ibid.) or by “the general fundaments of our orientation in the world” (Weber 323). As we advance toward a larger whole of understanding, we often discover they are untenable or insufficient, and at any rate have to be both tenable and modifiable to accommodate breadth and coherence. As Mark Martial said about a book of his verse, some are good, some bad, some so-so–there is no other ensemble to be had.

Some scientists (usually not strong on theory) like to discourse on evidence, in the sense of proof. However important this may be, what counts as evidence is “theory-laden,” determined by “our conception of the domain and… our goals in systematizing it…” (Elgin 184-85).3/  The New York Times claims it brings “All the news that’s fit to print”: discounting the hyped “all”  and the bad grammar, who determines how what is fit? There may be some internal rules wedded to novelty (dog biting man is not news, but man biting dog is), but even novelty as criterion is an invention of fast-moving times with worldwide commerce and industrial production, not to mention the capitalist scramble for profitable niches. Alternative presuppositions and goals would always find alternative ways of organizing the domain of what is worth knowing–say, all the news of interest to anti-capitalists (which would, e.g., disbar calling the mass killing of civilians “collateral damage,” or the present Iraqi and Afghan regimes “democratic”). Choices between these alternatives are, in all interesting cases, not arbitrary but of a piece with our interests and goals, which steer the categories that cut up our world (cf. Weber 323-25). In a dispute, they depend on the available background of agreement as to which category is relevant to judge an event. Of course, if we are loyal to the enterprise of understanding or cognition, we shall often fine-tune these, and sometimes modify them drastically: all hypotheses are fallible. Nor is experiencing something a magic wand: any police constable or UFO reports’ investigator will tell you that  our beliefs and expectations largely steer that too.

              The horizon I am sketching is in a subsequent book by Goodman and Elgin characterized as “reject[ing] both absolutism and nihilism, both unique truth and the indistinguishability of truth from falsity” (3). The difficulty is that, when we construct however open-ended a system of interpretations, we employ–knowingly or not–multiple standards of rightness beyond consistency (appropriateness or relevance, accuracy, scope, entrenchment in previous discourse–this is discussed by them at length in 11-23), and the standards may conflict with each other and/or with our practical goals. Adjudication between them, giving the various factors different weightings etc., will often lead to a solution, but it remains that, as a rule, “A number of independently acceptable systems can be constructed, none of which has a claim to epistemological primacy” (24). A univocal world–the fixed reality out there–has been well lost, together with the Unique Final Truth (divine or asymptotically scientific) and other Onenesses of the monotheist family. This is both encapsulated and symbolized by Gödel’s theorems, which are a rigorous proof that any non-trivial formalized system of a certain richness necessarily includes undecidable propositions and that the non-contradictory nature of such a system cannot be demonstrated within its own terms. In other words, deduction can very well get to apodictically necessary (“true”) propositions, but who shall deduce the deductions or terminate the terms? A sense of panic at the loss of this clear world, at the loss of theological certitude, not only permeates dogmatists of all religious and lay kinds, but has also engendered its symmetrical obverse in the absolutist relativism, which often claims to be  authorized by (say) Kuhn or Feyerabend–who have at any rate, I would add, great liberating merits. How is a third way possible beyond this bind?

It can begin by recognizing that right and wrong persist, but that rightness can no longer be identified with correspondence to a ready-made, monotheistic Creation, but must be created by us, with skill and responsibility: “Having been ordered to shoot anyone who moved, the guard shot all his prisoners, contending they were all moving rapidly around the sun. Although true, his contention was plainly wrong, for it involved an inappropriate category of motion.” (Goodman  and Elgin 52). Thus, truth in the strict logical sense is subordinate to rightness or correctness (cf. Aronowitz vii-xi and passim), in Hellenic terms to orthotes rather than aletheia. Truth is too solidly embedded in faiths and certitudes of monotheistic allegiance, Goodman and Elgin think, while  categories as well as argument forms and other techniques within continual human cognition, are better instruments for practical use, testable for situational rightness. The rightness is also dependent on our various symbol systems. One consequence is that science loses its epistemic primacy: “[it] does not passively inform upon but actively informs a world”–as do in different ways and with different standards of rightness the arts and everyday practices of other kinds (Elgin 53). As Bruner argues, the arts are differently entrenched: they implicitly cultivate hypotheses, each set of which requires a Possible World but not the widest possible extension for applying that set in our World Zero, that is, testability in the scientists’ sense; rather, they must be recognizable as “true to conceivable experience” or verisimilar (52 and passim). Both arts and sciences finally repose on intuitions, which are however for science buried in their axioms (Aristotle and Frege agree on this) as indubitable certainties. Whether you prefer Marx’s or Balzac’s description of 19th-Century France will depend on your general or even momentary interests, but they’re in no way either incompatible or subsumed under one another. It is not the case that one is cognitive and the other is not.

Sketching an operative epistemological way can further proceed by recognizing that there are still some logical ways if not of defining truth then at least of defining untruth: “if p is false, one cannot know p; knowledge then requires truth. Moreover, one cannot know that p without being cognitively committed to p; knowledge also requires belief or acceptance.” (Goodman and Elgin 136) As Orwell might have put it, all opinions are constructed and relatively wrong or limited, but some are more wrong than others. This holds first of all for those whom I shall call monoalethist (from aletheia, truth): all those which–from monotheists through Laplace’s scientific determinism4/ to lay dogmatists such as the Fascists, Stalinists, and believers in the Invisible Hand of the Market–hold they have the Absolute Truth, including Post-Modernists who believe relativism is absolute. Only belief in the absolute right—Haraway’s “God-trick” (“Situated” 589)–is absolutely wrong.

William Blake’s poetic Jehovah put this monomania perhaps best:

Let each choose one habitation,
One command, one joy, one desire,
One curse, one weight, one measure,
One King, one God, one Law.
(The Book of Urizen, ll. 79, 81-84)

Nonetheless, even Goodman and Elgin cannot quite manage without the term truth. They offer a strong argument against using as a main instrument of evaluation “truth” in the strict logico-theological sense, inside a closed circle of verbal statements, and in favour of using rightness (cf. the long discussion 150ff.), but I wish to continue using the term truth by redefining it to include rightness. What is in that sense, say, the truth of the atom bomb? Depending on the categories and interests chosen, it may (among a multitude of other possible answers) be the instantaneous liberation of a given high quantity of energy for a destructive purpose, or the proof for a given inter-atomic structure of matter, or finally the effect on the lives of hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The first answer is military, the second pertains to “objective” theoretical physics (it was “sweet physics” for Fermi and Oppenheimer, see Haberer 185-216), the third to the horizon of a not yet existing humanized science. The formal difference between them is that each succeeding answer has a larger scope: the physical one can envision the military one, but only the humanized one may envision all of them. The third answer is–beyond politics, but also because it incorporates humanist politics–formally and cognitively the richest one. In other words, scientific cognition relates not only to the epistemic aspect but also to the political and financial presuppositions of science as well as to its effects upon people–from which a counter-project to certain types of (today dominant) navel-gazing cognition may be inferred. I shall return to this in Section 2.

In other words, we are here faced with the necessity for a dialectics between systems and openness, in brief the necessity for open-ended systems or indeed provisional and historical totalities. The openness is both formal and historical, it pertains to viewing a subject(-matter) within different situations and by different appraisers with differing value-systems—as in the example of the atom bomb. I approach it in Suvin, „On Cognition” and “Two Cheers,” but it would bear much development.

Goodman and Elgin go on to argue that one cannot know “that p” if one’s belief in it, though it may happen to be true, is not connected to other propositions which “tether” it, that is, which make it part of a consistent and justifiable argument. A tether in the form of  accounting and arguing for your insights there certainly must be, or no judgment will be possible, and thus no critical politics or cognition (cf. Arendt 40-41). Epistemologists divide according to the nature of this indispensable tether. “Internalists” believe the tether is purely epistemic: knowledge is anchored by justification epistemically accessible to the knower, usually as propositions in natural language, possibly buttressed by mathematics. They employ only concepts and categories, plus various operations by which they form a system. “Externalists” believe knowledge is anchored to a fact or set of facts that makes it true, and there is a debate as to the anchor, which could be arrived at inductively or deductively.  From where I stand, epistemic absolutism presents the danger of wonderful closed systems of statements chasing each other’s tail but with insufficient purchase upon practice; while ontological absolutism presents the danger of unjustifiable assumption of anchoring, usually some certainty of a divine kind. Bhaskar calls the former–a reduction of being to knowledge–the epistemic fallacy, and the latter–a short-circuit between knowledge and being–the ontic fallacy (Scientific 200ff.). I prefer a Solomonic  melding: without something ontologically “out there,” to be available as at least a check and an obstacle to action in any practice following from knowledge, there might be Cartesian discussions of method but there is no knowledge. But I think knowledge must pass also through epistemic justification, especially if it is to be attained within language (and is thus akin, in ways still to be elucidated, to poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and essays). A fortified city with gates in two concentric walls, maybe.

If one allows externalism or ontological realism as at least an indispensable element of knowledge, the problem of causes necessarily arises: must a belief “that p” necessarily be caused by “facts” or constellations from which it follows “that p”? It seems obvious that causal relationships are very often present: a certain type of cloudiness will as a rule (statistically) result in tempests. As Jaurès put it (and was killed for it), capitalism brings war as clouds bring tempests. But is the strong form of “must” defensible, must there always be a (however complex and mediated) cause for p? I am not sure of my ontological ground here, for Epicurus would say that deviations happen (cf. Suvin “Living”); but I would think that at least in human affairs causes must obtain, and that their understanding is one of the “conditions of possibility for emancipatory practices” (Bhaskar 210-11). The suspect Post-Modernist rage against causality tout court seems to me well foreseen by Brecht: “They could not see the causes of events, because they could not get rid of the events” (GKA 21: 307). What is well lost is a member of the family of Oneness: monocausality, the One unique or final Cause, that major sin of Hellenic logos.

The two major examples of monoalethism after the monotheist religions could be science-as-is and Marxism-as-was. Scientism (what I shall later call S2) was “the inheritor of the great religions by pretending to bear the truth of Being and the way of salvation, by glorifying Man as the monarch of the universe” (Morin 52). The official, stodgy, and by now dead kind of Marxism theorized economics as the scientific cause, however mediated, of all human affairs, and (since this didn’t wash) practiced an arbitrary ad hoc politics. However, parallels in psychoanalysis or feminism are not difficult to imagine. The corruption of the best is indeed the worst.

Obversely, as Augustine of Hippo wrote, “When truths are reached, they renew us.”

But also: When truth is sold as a commodity, its principal aim is not to convey truth. Its aim is to be sold, regardless and quite often despite any invalidating falsehood it may contain. Truth is for sharing, not for an elect caste, priests or rich.  It is to be shamelessly blurted out on the streets (or on internet).

 1.2. Cognition Is Constituted by and as History: Multiple Sources and Methods

 History is bunk.
       Henry Ford

 In a remarkable passage right at the beginning of Works and Days, Hesiod invents the myth (maybe it’s already an allegory) of the two Erises,  the benign and the malign one (I: 11-26). The bad Strife favours wars and civil discords. But the firstborn is the good Strife, whom Zeus has placed at the roots of the earth, for she generates emulation: one vase-maker or poem-singer envies the other, the lazy and poor peasant imitates the industrious and richer one. This polar splitting of concepts seems to me a (perhaps the) central procedure of critical reason, dissatisfied with the present categorizations and trying to insinuate opposed meanings under the same term. While it is sometimes preferable to redefine one single term (as I did for truth), I shall adopt this  Hesiodean procedure for knowledge and then science.

The principal ancestors to this endeavour may be found in Marx and to a minor degree Nietzsche. The latter seems to have hesitated between two very different meaning of truth and knowledge: the accepted one committed to an Aristotelian correspondence of knowledge to reality and therefore to an ideal of adequate description for science, and an alternate or constructivist model, where truths are instruments for given purposes. I take from him as useful what follows. First, the correspondence of intellect to thing/s is a Truth perhaps arrived at in complex ways but finally a point of rest for the weary: “simple, transparent, not contradicting itself, permanent, enduring as identical, with no crease, hidden sleight, curtain, form: a man conceives thus the world of Being as ‘God’ in his own image” (Wille 543). It is an ideal impossible to fulfil and leads to faking and skepticism. This Truth  is thus a lie, and whenever erected into a system–as in religion and in Galileian science–it compels lying, always unconscious and frequently also conscious. Any cognition developed against this fixed horizon partakes for Nietzsche of a huge, finally deadly “illusion.” Science can thus become a variant of asceticism, even an opiate for “suffering the lack of a great love” (Zur Genealogie 128).The constructivist account, on the other hand, is a creative transference of carrying across, in  Greek meta-pherein, whence his famous hyperbolic statements about knowing being “Nothing but working with the favourite metaphors” (Philosophy xxxiii; on the preceding three pages the editor Breazeale gives a survey, with sources in Nietzsche’s works, showing his permanent oscillation). I have argued at length elsewhere (For Lack) that for Nietzsche wisdom arises out of the knowledge of nescience: “And only on this by now solid and granite basis of nescience may science have arisen, the will for knowing on the basis of a much more powerful will, the will for unknowing, for the uncertain, the untrue! Not as its opposite, but–as its improvement!” (Jenseits 24) Jumping over the monolithic Plato, Nietzsche may have derived this from the Presocratics: “Appearances are a glimpse of the invisible” (Anaxagoras, in Diels-Kranz, B21a). Careful: this “untrue” is the opposite of the illusionistic, for example of angels, gods, UFOs, Mickey Mice or the Invisible Hand of the Market as empirical existents leading to fanatical belief. It demolishes The Monolithic Truth while preserving verifiability for any given situation.

Thus Nietzsche’s “philosophizing with a hammer” is most useful as destruction, with precious hints as to the direction of a reconstruction, such as his defence of multiple perspectives (Zur Genealogie 100-01). But it stops short of a major discovery, which can be phrased with Haraway, in the wake of theories about Possible Worlds, as “Nothing comes without its world” (Modest 37; cf. Blumenberg 3 and passim). And furthermore, any such world is necessarily dynamic, it evolves in time: “Recte enim veritas temporis filia dicitur non auctoritatis” (“Truth is correctly said to be the daughter of time and not of authority”), noted Francis Bacon, fighting for a non-dogmatic truth. It must be said in Kuhn’s praise that he was the first to drive home the notion that science happens in time, and is in its essence historical. But before him, much more sweepingly and “thickly” (as the anthropologists say), this was developed by Karl Marx.

Kant had a major difficulty in the Critique of Judgment: judgments deal with particulars, but how is one to account for any particular, notoriously contingent and as it were anarchic, for which the general concept has still to be found (cf. Rickert 150)? He sometimes finessed this by using examples, which hide a generalized allegory: the particular Achilles is the example of Courage in general (cf. Arendt 77-80); however, this doesn’t always work (at other times he opted for imagination, but this raises more problems then it lays to rest). Marx’s judgments applied to “thick” modern society Hegel’s great insight that “truth is concrete”: a paradox which means that truth must span, as a good bridge and a dialectical  conceptuality do, both abstract generality and the particular or even the individual, as feedback from and possibility of intervention into the particular. Marx’s concepts and the overall story they build up remove strategic insights from the static “natural” domain to social and above all historical–that is, dynamic–categories (cf. Aronowitz, esp. ch.s 2 and 3). His strongly developed conceptuality is “sucked into the flow of things and the pain of struggles. The uncompromisingly worldly, historical, and class character of what is being cognized becomes a property of the cognitive form itself.” (Korsch 54)  Capital is neither natural nor everlasting: it is a human, thisworldly, historical, and class construct. This also means that, as long as the phenomena are integrally respected, they can be most lawfully explained in multiple ways, as Marx proposes already in his dissertation while discussing Epicurus’s theory of celestial bodies: only the obviously wrong, mythical absolute unity and fixity of the superlunar sphere is to be disbarred (Differenz 170-71).5/ He too went in for Hesiodean splitting, opposing to dogmatic (for example, mythical) critique a “true” critique which understands the contradictions within its object as historical necessities (MEW 1: 296). Hegel’s encapsulation for truth means today also that if the particular out there will vary depending on the question we put to it, then the concreteness demands that there be no one single capital-T Truth that accounts for it. When Putnam asks “Is water necessarily H2O?”, the answer is: for some purposes–of separating H and O or reconstituting water, and all understanding pertaining to such possibilities–yes, but for other purposes no (see his whole argument in Realism 54-79 and 120-31, and Gendlin 39 and passim). Necessities change according to the situation, which is only understood as being such-and-such by the interests of the subject defining it. If, as argued earlier, all our judgments contain both evaluative and factual aspects (cf. also Putnam Collapse), though not necessarily in same admixtures; and if furthermore very many scientific accounts and all theories are not in one-to-one relation with the experiential phenomena they explain, but rather the relationship is one-to-many and many-to-one;  then truth is context-dependent.

Now Marx clearly had for his explaining of capitalism as a social formation a strongly favoured red thread (arrived at after many painful attempts), and he poured his scorn on the falsities of bourgeois political economy. But his was a struggle on two fronts, for simultaneously he chastised with scorpions all attempts to subject science or cognition to “a point of view from the outside, stemming from interests outside science and alien to it” (MEW 26.2: 112). Capital itself is presented as a project of “free scientific research,” which assumes the task to clarify the inner relationships of the phenomena it deals with without imposition from the outside and in particular against “the Furies of private interest” (MEW 23:16).  His two major, consubstantial cognitive insights might be thought of as a double helix: the insight about capitalism, the labour source of value, the class conflict, and similar doctrinal tenets, which in brief reveal that societal injustices are based on exploitation of other people’s living labour; and  the insight that the proper way to talk about the capitalist exploitation which  rules all our lives is not in the a priori form of dogma, a closed system, but in the a posteriori form of critique. The latter means that legitimate cognition is epistemically grounded in the process it describes, and strategically developed by developing a radically deviant stance against a dominant in a given historical situation (one of the first and best of such discussions is in Marcuse, Reason). After Marx, it should be clear that “All modes of knowing presuppose a point of view….Therefore, the appropriate response to [this is]… the responsible acknowledgement of our own viewpoints and the use of that knowledge to look critically at our own and each other’s opinions.” (Levins 182; see more in Gramsci, Selections 427-70 and passim)  The rightness of a theoretical assertion depends on evidence as interpreted by the  assertor’s always socio-historical needs, interests, and values.

All of this argues strongly in favour of allowing many other epistemologically sound sources of understanding or cognition besides institutionalized science’s shibboleth for fully analytic and fully fragmented knowledge, today quite out of date when faced, for example, with dissipative structures. The list of more or less equivalent participants in the passion of cognition is long, for it includes not only “knowing-that” but also “knowing-how” (Anscombe). The latter is centred in bodily practices and subject to the pull of what Aristotle called “aim as cause” (causa finalis), so that “because” in it means “in order that” rather than merely “was caused by”: Husserl spoke of “ways in which the future pulls us towards it,” and Whitehead of “the lure of form as yet unrealized” (in Grene 245). To this clearly belong all arts, but also many other practices not readily expressible in conceptual form (the Greeks called most of them tekhnè, cf. Vernant, and it was connected with phronesis, practical wisdom), and finally also certain facets of emotion or feeling. An important connection is established when Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics 6, though he downgrades ungentlemanly work, assigns precisely to such wisdom how virtue in political communities functions through right choices–that is, through freedom (cf. Carr 154).

I cannot enter here into any properly historical discussion, which would reveal that, even after tribal formations,  there have been many civilizations either without an institutionalized science (such as the ancient Roman one) or with science based on radically different presuppositions (such as the Chinese and Arabic ones), and–most important–that all scientific paradigms are temporally finite: the “modes of production, enunciation, and application of knowledge” begin and end in function of interests within their societies (Lévy-Leblond 33). The logical structure of the present scientific method is enabled at the price of systematically limiting its investigation to the homogeneous and the quantifiable. Changeable and metamorphic history would immediately burst its bounds: science-as-is knows only a history of errors (cf. Castoriadis 164 and passim). Nonetheless, though repressed into a not further discussed “intuition,” factors such as suppositions of relevance and plausibility, selection of problems recognized as valid, concepts of “projectability” of facts and theories, and so on, play a major role in it (cf. Einstein). I shall discuss here only one usually backgrounded cognitive practice, the “tacit knowledge” as explained by Michael Polanyi.

This starts “from the fact that we know more than we can tell” (4): for example, how we recognize a human face, or any other physiognomy that cannot be fully described by words–diseases, rocks, plants, animals. This also holds for bodily skills, such as swimming, skiing, and many professional gestures of using tools: “we keep expanding our body into the world by assimilating to it sets of particulars which we integrate into reasonable entities” (29). As Merleau-Ponty put it in his discussion of perception, path-breaking for us Europeans since we don’t understand Buddhism and Daoism well, “thought… [can be] ahead of itself… [and] at home everywhere” (371). But beyond everything that is learned through practice and observation, often from a master, tacit knowledge intervenes crucially in formalized science too, as the experience of seeing a hitherto unknown problem through an intimation of unity or form or Gestalt from a few particulars:  in all knowledge there is an element of inferring. No pursuit of truth can be wholly explicit: if we differentiate between focal and subsidiary awareness, Polanyi points out no knowledge can be wholly focal. When we do not know in the focal sense what we are looking for, we rely on clues to its nature, which flow also out of our own attitude, skills, real or crypto-memories, hunches (see more on this in Gendlin, and Suvin “On Cognition”). Our focal core of consciousness is carried by that tacit acceptance of things not explicit, which bind us to and within our world.

Of course, it should be added to his argument that tacit knowledge can turn out to be mistaken as often as the formalized one. However, its acknowledgement “restores knower and known [to]… the Cartesian-Newtonian world… without life,” Polanyi’s pupil Grene concludes (14). This means that knowledge always begins and ends in the personal; the impersonal knowledge is the collective mediation and validation on that route (23-25) and is itself codetermined by a not wholly formalizable consensus of professional opinion. Finally, the knowing mind and our ultimate beliefs are always tied to our psychophysiological orientation, stance or bearing (for more see Suvin “Haltung“). We can thus use also those epistemologically indispensable constituents of knowledge that cannot be stated as a proposition or argument, including our central personal commitment which “can never be… exhaustively stated in a non-committal form” (Grene 204). Such unspecifiable elements are from Kant’s Critique of Judgment on often called esthetical, as in Dirac’s comment that the Theory of Relativity was accepted for two reasons: the agreement with experiment and the “beautiful mathematical theory  [that is, “simple mathematical  concepts that fit together in an elegant way”] underlying it, which gives it a strong emotional appeal” (205). The pattern may also be statistical, or an analogical model as Darwin’s transfer of pigeon- and stockbreeding to the origin of all species (cf. on analogy Angenot, Hesse Models, Gross, Haraway Primate, Squier 25ff. and 54ff., and  Suvin “On Cognitive” with further bibliography). In all cases it is a sense of relevance or rightness. Since  today science does not deal in substances but in events (for example an experimental situation), this sense of pertinence, impossible to detach from the tacit base of knowledge, is particularly important.

Last not least, as argued earlier, all understanding is by default pluralistic (cf. Marglin 233-36).  First, scientific theories are “underdetermined” by facts: “Many, indeed infinitely many, different sets of hypotheses can be found from which statements describing the known facts can be deduced…” (Harré 87). But second, more radically, the “facts” of scientific theories are not fully determined and univocal but always already conceptually elaborated (this also puts paid to Popperian falsification as an overriding criterion), and furthermore it is quite unclear how univocal are the prevailing philosophical categories used in science  (cf. Castoriadis 175-77, 218-19, and passim). As a whole current of philosophers has maintained since Gassendi, theories are not true or false but good or bad instruments for research. Reality is in principle prior to human thought, yet it is co-created by human understanding, in a never-ending feedback.

If cognition is not only open-ended but also codetermined by the social subject and societal interests looking for it, its multiple horizons are unavoidable. The object of any praxis can only be “seen as” that particular kind of object (Wittgenstein) from a subject-driven–but also subject-modifying–standpoint and bearing. The choice which cluster of data (or problems) to begin with in any research, which to look for next, and so forth, is already a never-ending series of interpretations. True, in all developed knowledge there must be hierarchies, but there should be no pretence to a deductive unity, a watertight closed system of concepts, as the only and sometimes not even as the most important component of knowledge. The more modest inductions and analogies, that is, analogue spreads instead of the digital 0 or 1, should be stripped of their lower status. The reality described by quantum mechanics is “composed of many worlds” (Castoriadis 161). In several of its branches “a whole battery of models” is regularly used, and “no one thinks that one of these is the whole truth, and they may be mutually inconsistent” (Hacking 37):

The best kind of evidence for the reality of a postulated or inferred entity is that we can begin to measure it or otherwise understand its causal powers. The best evidence, in turn, that we have this understanding is that we can set out… to build machines that will work fairly reliably, taking advantage of this or that causal nexus. Hence, engineering, not theorizing, is the best proof of scientific realism about entities. My attack on scientific anti-realism is analogous to Marx’s onslaught on the idealism of his day. Both say the point is not to understand the world but to change it. (Hacking 274).

The post-Einsteinian science is thus harking back, after centuries of the Baconian and Galileian quantified unicity, to the science of Hipparchus and Archimedes, which also dealt with a polyphony of hypotheses possible for explaining a given result (Serres 118 and passim; and cf. Russo). Such science (I shall discuss it as S1 in 2.1) becomes again, as in them or in many Asian analogues, a complex evaluation of open models (see more in Suvin, “Living”).

Finally, as soon as we deal–as we must–with models, which can obviously be used only for those groups of phenomena which they are modelling, monoalethism is dead and buried (except on TV and for the politicians of capitalist domination, outside and inside science). Truth has acquired a history. But then, what kind of plurality within what kind of necessarily unitary horizon should we strive for in present-day technoscience, if humanity is to survive?

  1. On Technoscience as Politics

 Since we come by airplane to our conventions, let us not announce there that science is a    mere construction.
E.T. Gendlin, 1997

Addition to above: Though every time I land, I say “we’ve made it once more.”
DS, 1964 to present

 2.1. Life-destroying or Life-preserving?: Science as Is vs. Science as It Has To Be6/

…in the end, for millions and millions of people on the landmasses around us [Africa and   Asia, DS], the West meant only this—science and tanks and guns and bombs.
Amitav Ghosh, 1992

 I am in this section not attempting to say anything which has not been said, from Marx and Nietzsche through Simmel, Marcuse, and Benjamin to others cited below, but simply to summarize for myself and my readers, within a Babylonian confusion of interested languages, a life-affirming red thread about science–the privileged cognitive horizon for our age, to which I too am committed.

From this stance, science as it really exists gradually became after Galileo and Newton a matter of salaried professionals socialized by rigorous and hierarchical training into refusing any discussion as to their profession’s presuppositions: it was delimited as sober “factuality,” and whoever speculated too much about alternative horizons was read out of it (cf. Hagstrom 9 and Haberer passim). It grew into a powerful institution, an alternate Church popularized by means “of saints’ (the geniuses’) lives, their miracles (discoveries), and holy sites (laboratories and similar)” (Traweek 141). True-blue “scientism” believes that science  possesses a universal validity which is in principle independent of the people, society, and interests among which it happens to have sprung up, so that sciences are merely systems of formal propositions and procedures for the construction and corroboration of theories. This scientism eliminates the knowing subject, individual and collective, in favour of an artfully posited “objectivity”: “There is nothing about human beings mentioned anywhere in this [Objectivist] account–neither their capacity to understand nor their imaginative activity nor their nature as functioning organisms…” (Johnson x; cf. for a wide-ranging introduction Aronowitz). As Eddington put it, the ideal scientist must eliminate all of his senses, except “part of an eye that he might observe” (22). Human relationships of production, consumption, and existence–from which after all  science proceeds and into which it returns–are no longer its system of reference, but its accidental  breeding soil. Instead of such historical relationships, institutional science-as-is adopted for  its reference-system logic and mathematics as self-sufficient formal methods. This also means an orientation not simply to quantification, but to a reified quantification without qualities, as part and parcel of the capitalist orientation to exchange-value instead of use-value. This is life-denying in the strictest sense: leading to mass hunger, wars, and devastation of the planet.

 True, new approaches have in the last 40 years finally taken into consideration the Einsteinian epistemological revolution by adopting a variety of methods not only as between distinct subfields but often within them. However, this has been subordinated to a counter-tendency building on the fact-value split and locked into militarization and the profit motive, which have made for highly restricted access, first, “to scientific knowledge… funding, positions, publication, conferences”; second, “to tacit knowledge–the crucial craft knowledge that is never written into articles”; and third, “to the groups that define present and future priorities for problems, methods, research equipment….” In consequence, first, the hierarchic structure of who decides what is important (or a fact) has been much reinforced, and second, scientific writing has increasingly downgraded  narration, including reference to the authors’ agency: “[I]t would be almost impossible to reproduce an experiment based upon the information provided in scientific articles…. The[ir] purpose… is to announce findings and to lay claim to a discovery… [in] a succinct and formulaic literary economy….”  (Traweek 143) In fact, the most capital-intensive research is rarely replicated, it is corroborated by differently designed experiments. But “the proof race is so expensive that only a few, people, nations, institutions or professions are able to sustain it… “; technoscience is developed in relatively few places “that garner disproportionate amounts of resources” (Latour 179, and cf. his whole ch. 4). Quite contrary to a sanitizing distance from values and politics, “[t]he definition of science is made by those who are empowered to offer resources” (Traweek 144; cf. also Castoriadis 221-24, Penley and Ross eds., Pickering ed.). This extends to imperial concentration of such “research power” in a small “North Atlantic” area of the world, which drains brains and profitable information from other areas and disallows traditional knowledge (cf. Hountondji, Shiva, and Mies and Shiva). In the era of capitalist technoscience, this means that the periphery will forever remain such, since it can only copy commodity products, not the matrix that produces them (cf. Oliveira, esp. 48-51).

The huge limitation that defines this pursuit is that, outside focussed manipulation, science is life-blind. In Tolstoy’s words, “science is meaningless because it does not answer >what shall we do and how shall we live<” (cited in Weber 322; Nietzsche said similar things). Even the Nazi fellow-traveller Heisenberg had to concede that natural science “is in some ways the attempt to describe the world insofar as it is possible to abstract from ourselves, our thinking and our activity” (95). While a certain degree of indispensable abstraction enters into any name and concept, science-as-is practices that kind of extreme abstraction which Kierkegaard characterized as “the thought without the thinker” (7: 287).  The horizons of such a science have been indifferent to destruction of people and the planet, and its results increasingly deadly, as testified by Belsen, Hiroshima, Chernobyl,  ecocide, and so indefinitely on.  We cannot use any longer the excuse that science is a pure maiden raped by outside powers: she is collaborating enthusiastically.

Levins calls this state of affairs science’s “dual nature,” springing out of “the liberal progressivist ideology” it shares with capitalism (182 and 184). He believes that the “Marxist critique attempts to see science in both its liberating and oppressing aspects, its powerful insights and militant blindnesses, as a commoditized expression of liberal European capitalist masculinist interests and ideologies organized to cope with real natural and social phenomena” (186). He is clearly attuned to the feminist critique identifying “in the denial of interaction between subject and object” as well as in the stress on domination “the intrusion of a [masculinist] self” (Keller 182-83; cf. on the openly anti-feminine character of Baconian science as mastery also Harding and Hintikka eds., Dorothy Smith, and Noble Religion, and Leiss on its derivation from Judeo-Christian clericalism down to Luther). Today it seems plain that the relation between scientist and nature is quite analogous to the relation of a male upper class to the indispensable but dangerous Others of women and working classes. Thus I sympathize with much of what both such critiques bravely say. And I  fully agree with Levins’s conclusion: “We should not pretend or aspire to a bland neutrality but proclaim as our working hypothesis: all theories are wrong which promote, justify or tolerate injustice” (191). But I submit that by now, a dozen years and untold horrors later, including a full subsumption of science as institution under destructive rather than liberal capitalism, a better strategy is the Hesiodean procedure of splitting the institutionalized horizons of science-as-is fully off from those of a potentially humanized science-as-wisdom, which would count its dead as precisely as the US armed forces. I wish I could call the latter science and the former something else, perhaps technoscience, but I do not want to give up either on science or on technology. I shall provisionally call the firstborn, good science “Science 1” (S1) and the present one, whose results are mixed but seem to be increasingly steeped in the blood and misery of millions of people, “Science 2” (S2). Medieval theologians such as Aquinas would have called them sapientia vs. scientia, though in those early days they optimistically believed the latter could be tamed by the former, by knowledge as the highest intellectual virtue.

These are ideal types only, intermixed in any actual effort in most varied proportions: also, the beginnings of S2 are in S1, and it retains certain of its liberatory birthmarks–centrally, the method of hypothesis plus verification–to the present day. For example, “[i]n this tradition a self-conscious effort has been made to identify sources and kinds of errors and to correct for capricious biases. It has often been successful….” Nonetheless,  the fixation on domination and the consubstantial occultation of the knowing subject in S2 “is a particular moment in the division of labor.” The avoidance of capricious errors “does [not] protect the scientific enterprise as a whole from the shared biases of its practitioners.” Science is highly normative, concluded Aronowitz, in its theory and method, the form of the result, the choice of field of inquiry, and the constitution of the scientific object (320). In sum, “The pattern of knowledge in science is… structured by interest and belief…. Theories, supported by megalibraries of data, often are systematically and dogmatically obfuscating.”  It is not by chance, I would argue, that “major technical efforts based on science have [led] to disastrous outcomes: pesticides increase pests; hospitals are foci of infection; antibiotics give rise to new pathogens; flood control increases flood damage; and economic development increases poverty” (Levins 180, 183, and 181)–not to mention that Einsteinian physics produces the A and H bombs, and so on and on.

The bourgeois civilization’s main way of coping with the unknown is aberrant, said Nietzsche, because it transmutes nature into concepts with the aim of mastering it: that is, it turns nature only into concepts and furthermore makes a more or less closed system out of concepts. It is not that the means get out of hand but that the mastery–the wrong end–requires consubstantially wrong means of aggressive manipulation. If you want to be Master of your Domain, you have to treat profit-making concepts as raw material on the same footing as profit-making laborers and iron ore. The problem lies not in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice but in the Master Wizard. In Marcuse’s summary, S2 has “by virtue of its own method and concepts,” projected and promoted a universe in which the domination of nature was indissolubly linked to and intertwined with the domination of a ruling class over the majority of people.  To the contrary (in S1),

sever[ing] this fatal link would also affect the very structure of science…. Its hypotheses, without losing their rational character, would develop in an essentially different experimental context (that of a pacified world); consequently, science would arrive at essentially different concepts of nature and establish essentially different facts. (One-Dimensional 166-67)

I conclude that S2 is not only a cultural revolution but also a latent or patent political upheaval. This clearly presupposes nature and its knowledge as a zero-sum game, a finite domain allowing for asymptotical progress to a final solution. The scientific, finally, is the political. S2 is, finally, in the sense of Marx’s epigraph to this essay, based on a falsehood.

There are strong analogies and probably causal relations between this “search for truth, proclaimed as the cornerstone of progress” and “the maintenance of a hierarchical, unequal social structure,” within which capitalist rationalization has created the large stratum of “administrators,  technicians, scientists, educators” it needed (Wallerstein, Historical 82-83). In particular, it created the whole new class of managers. As Braverman’s path-breaking book pointed out, “to manage” (from manus, hand) originally meant  to train a horse in his paces, in the manège (67). F.W. Taylor did exactly this–he broke “the men,” calling in his Shop Management for “a planning department to do the thinking for the men” (Braverman 128). Later, since “machinery faces workers as capitalized domination over work, and the same happens for science” (Marx, Theorien 355), control was built into the new technologies. During the 19th Century, “science, as a generalized social property” (S1) was replaced by “science as a capitalist property at the very center of production”; this is “the scientifico-technical revolution” (Braverman 156), while technoscientific ideology becomes, as Jameson notes, “a blind behind which the more embarrassing logic of the commodity form and the market can operate” (Singular 154). Already by the early 1960s, 3/4 of scientific R&D in the USA was corporate, financed directly or through tax write-offs by the Federal government, that is, by money taken from tax-payers, while profits went to corporations (164-66). For almost a century now, scientific research has been mainly determined by expected profits to the detriment of S1 (cf. at least Kapp 208ff.), where it is not neglected for purely financial speculation. Technoscience increasingly has no goals of its own but is pushed by political economics from behind; correspondingly the technoscientist also does not know what he is working for, “and generally he doesn’t much care. He works because he has instruments allowing him… to succeed in a new operation.” (Ellul 272)

The resulting “scientific culture” (S2) “became also a means of class cohesion for the upper stratum [of cadres]…. The great emphasis on the rationality of scientific activity was the mask of the irrationality of endless accumulation.”  (Wallerstein, Historical 84-85) The presupposition that science does not deal in values, which began to be widely doubted only after the Second World War, had as “its actual function to protect two systems of values: the professional values of the scientists, and the predominant [status quo] values of society as they existed at that moment….” (Graham 9, and cf. 28-29, also Kuhn). What Putnam has passionately dubbed “The Philosophers’ of Science Evasion of Values”  (title of his chapter 8),  not only hides that—as he agrees with Dewey–“Value judgments are essential to the practice itself”  (Collapse 135), that “Knowledge of facts presupposes knowledge of values…. justifying factual claims presupposes value judgments” (137). Further, this evasion reveals how, instead of clarifying and further developing common experience, S2 strove for, and largely achieved, a monopoly of “expert knowers”; and the more specialized a field of expertise got, the greater became the likelihood that new skills would be invented–which then seek application, useful or not. As Bauman summarizes it, since the 19th Century it is “not the plain man who knows where it hurts but… the professional expert who ’knows best’ what is good for him”; and furthermore, “the state of ‘being hurt’ is itself expert-defined,” whether the patient likes it or not. This medical experience can stand also as a metaphor for all other fields where “the self-declared servants turn into managers,” not to say dictators (212-14).

The stances of “objectivity” and erasure of subject lent themselves to the treatment of people (workers, women, patients, consumers) as objects to be manipulated, for were they not a part of nature? As a hierarchical institution devoted to manipulation, S2 was easily usable for “human resources” too: the Nazi doctors’ genocidal experiments were only an extremely overt  and acute form of such Herrschaftswissen (knowledge used for domination—cf. Müller-Hill and Leiss 101-18). This may present itself innocuously as “scientific management,” but it comports centrally “the progressive alienation of the process of production from the worker” (Braverman 37-38, and his book relates this to transformation of all aspects of life within monopoly capitalism). What began with the great invention of factories in order to centralize and intensify (“rationalize”) the exploitation of labour for profitable productivity (cf. Noble Forces, Marglin 220-23) has been preserved in updated forms as the building block of both industrial and post-industrial society. In the formulation of Max Scheler, “To conceive the world as bereft of value predicates is a task taken up precisely because of a value: the vital value of domination and power over matters” (cited in Leiss 106).

Michael L. Smith has identified as “commodity scientism” a systematic fusion of a select technology and image-creation in the service of a politico-ideological project, so that

the products of a market-aimed technology are mistaken for the scientific process, and those products, like science, become invested with the inexorable, magical qualities of an unseen social force. For the consumer, the rise of commodity scientism has meant the eclipse of technological literacy by an endless procession of miracle-promising experts and products. For advertisers and governments, it has meant the capacity to recontextualize technology, to assign to its products social attributes that are largely independent of the products’ technical design or function [i.e., of their use-value]  (179)

“Progress” is here identified with science, science with technology, and technology with new products supposedly enriching life but largely disregarding the products’ technical capacities or function, i.e. their use-value, enriching the financiers while brainwashing the taxpayers (Smith 182). Under such hegemony, we must ruefully accept, with due updating, Gandhi’s harsh  verdict about science: “Your laboratories are diabolic unless you put them at the service of the rural poor” (Gandhigram).  S2 is Power (over people), S1 is Creativity. S1 would be able to take a historical and pragmatic approach, well formulated by Gramsci–halfway between Marx and Hacking–as:

…what interests science is not so much the objectivity of reality but people, who elaborate research methods, who continually rectify the material instruments that reinforce their sensory organs and logical instruments for discrimination and verification–that is, culture, that is, world-view, that is, the relationship between people and reality mediated by technology. In science too, looking for reality outside people, in a religious or metaphysical sense,  is merely a paradox. (Quaderni II:  1457)

That does not at all mean there is nothing outside the human brain, as Orwell’s O’Brien–the power freak–puts it. It means that the observer is part of the system even outside of atomic physics. In this view science is a usable and misusable ensemble of cognitions, not an absolute truth (which we  sinful people can of course only approach asymptotically, that is, without ever fully reaching it). It does not pretend, as S2, to be a pure methodology, an organon with its formal propositions and procedures for the construction and verification of theories, principally a “how”; while including “how,” S1 is principally a “by whom” and “for what”–an “impure” productive relationship between (for example) workers, scientists, financiers, and other power-holders, as well as an institutional network with different effects upon all such different societal groups, which can and must become less death-oriented.

Furthermore, the adversarial methodology of S2 is directly opposed to the “communal” (a coy synonym for communist) nature of S1, to the truths all of its practitioners hold in common, as any true cognition does. Cognition or understanding is necessarily non-exclusive, shareable outside a conflictual stance and incompatible with a zero-sum game. True, even in the most disalienated economy of efforts, priorities have to be determined, and in that sense a confrontation between opposed interests will be with us forever. But this is perverted when conflictuality or adversariness, the antagonistic and warlike subspecies of confrontation or opposition, is posited as the central methodology (cf. Suvin, “Conflitto” and “Revelation”). To “have” an idea, an approach or technique, a software or any other byte of knowledge means others can share it without my losing it, indeed I can thereby gain enrichment, stimulus, perhaps even fame. Cognition cannot be fenced in like a piece of land or a financial share locked away in a safe.

S1 should be based on holistic understanding, which would encompass and steer analytical knowledge (Goodman and Elgin 161-64), always on the lookout for inevitable bifurcations which lead to benign and malign Prigoginian catastrophes. It would not at all lose its impressive status as institution, with exacting (only now further expanded) criteria for rightness and an always situationally delimited, or situated (Haraway), truth. On the contrary, S1 would finally be as truly liberating, both for its creators and its users, as its best announcers have, from Bacon to Wiener and Gould, claimed it should be. It could at last embark not only on the highly important damage control but also on a full incorporation of aims for acting, which would justify Nietzsche’s rhapsodic expectation:  “An experimenting would then become proper that would find place for every kind of heroism, a centuries-long experimenting, which could put to shame all the great works and sacrifices of past history”  (Fröhliche 39–truly, a joyous science. It would have to ask, looking at our parlous state of natural and psychic ecology, both of which are a “direct result of the externalization of costs by capitalist entrepreneurs” (Wallerstein, Historical 130), what questions have not been asked in the last 400 years, and for whose profit. The “long wave of Cartesian inheritance” in scientific method has been shown by Licata and Morin (in my paraphrase) as based, among others, on the propositions that the accumulation of knowledge is inversely proportional to the remainder of ignorance, and that to solve a complex problem it should be subdivided in soluble sub-problems (Licata 63). S2 is thus wedded both to  monoalethism and to its dynamic adaptation to a fenced-in, solid world of private property over matters that concern everybody. To the contrary, S1 is wedded to an open world of fluxes where Being is constantly being reborn from (and dying into) Non-Being, where verbs (processes) are more important than nouns (congealed states). Its atoms and interstellar places are built on hollows, thresholds, minima, momentarily stable equilibriums, turbulences, swerves (cf. Serres 79, 30-34,  and passim).

Noble points out how the S1-S2 dichotomy can be followed in the diverging of von Neumann and Wiener paths from the 1940s. Von Neumann’s “mathematical axiomatic approach reflected his affinity for military authority and power,” while “Wiener insisted upon the indeterminacy of systems and a statistical, probabilistic understanding of their function… [T]he ‘steersman’ [of his cybernetics] was human in social systems and thus moved not by formal logic but by skill, experience, and purpose…. [He] urged ‘a constant feedback that would allow an individual to intervene and call a halt to a process initiated, thus permitting him… second thoughts in response to unexpected effects and the opportunity to recast wishes’.” He protested military secrecy, accurately seeing “it will lead to the total irresponsibility of the scientist, and, ultimately, to the death of science” (the good one, S1). As is well known, he was ignored by a solid wall of scientifico-military bureaucracy, and decided to stop further work in militarily usable cybernetics “to kill civilians indiscriminately.” He turned his attention to the development of prosthetic devices in medicine and co-operation with trade unions (Noble, Forces 71-74; see Wiener’s 1946 “open letter” in Haberer 316-17).

Last not least, a Wienerian responsible science, co-directed by other community members, would reopen, as he did, the totally forgotten question of its democratic accessibility and accountability, definitely lost since the atom bomb, with a return to full transparency, to a “cognitive democracy” (Morin 166-69). This would also mean reorganizing fully education, from top to bottom, to befit citizens for such an understanding.

 2.2. Whither Now?

From halls of learning
Emerge the butchers.

Hugging their children tightly,
Mothers scan with horror the skies
For the inventions of the scientists.
Brecht, “1940”

 In 1932, sensing the worse to come (which has since, in long duration terms, not ceased coming), Brecht asked:

Faced with all these machines and technical arts, with which humanity could be at the beginning of a long, rich day, shouldn’t it feel the rosy dawn and the fresh wind which signify the beginning of blessed centuries? Why is it so grey all around, and why blows first that uncanny dusk wind at the coming of which, as they say, the dying ones die? (GKA 21: 588)

He went on for the rest of his life to worry at this image of false dawn through the example of Galileo. His final judgment was that Galileo (reason, science, the intellectuals) failed, and helped the night along, by not allying himself with a political dawn-bringer. But then, we might ask today (and I did, in “Heavenly”), where was he to find a revolutionary class who wanted such an ally in his spacetime, and where indeed was Brecht to find it after 1932 (see his poem in epigraph, after the pustule had broken)?

What would an updated, sophisticated S1 mean? Many things, to be properly developed in feedback from its mass practice. In brief, in order for our (and many other) species to survive, we need to limit human interventions on this planet flowing out of the profit principle, centrally by limiting the increase in population in poorer countries and the consumption of energy in richer ones. This necessity has become ineluctable and urgent in the last 30 years. Yet our rulers do not deign even to discuss them, and those who do are small minorities. Therefore, our first necessity is radical social justice, so that rethinking would get a chance. I cannot speak here about this founding presupposition, but only venture to suggest a few quite preliminary, methodological guidelines, which would flow out of the epistemological insights discussed in section 1.

This begins by noting that multiplicity entails choice. If science is a human and societal institution with a history, traversed by often intense class struggles, then our Archimedean point necessarily takes a stand on the side of humanity or against it, using all the good insights we can muster from practice, science, art or elsewhere.

We may need a modified version of the felicific calculus. I take my cue from the path-breaking work of Georgescu-Roegen, who pleads for a “maximum of life quantity,” which “requires the minimum rate of natural resource depletion” (20-21; cf. Schrödinger and Lindsay 440ff.). He starts in the proper scientific way by identifying life as a struggle against entropic degradation of matter, bought at the expense of degradation of the “neighboring universe” or total system–for example Terra. The inevitable price to be paid for any life-enhancing activity reintroduces, as against classical physics’ narrowing of causality to the efficient cause of manipulating matter and its disregard of the time sequence, the importance of purpose, Aristotle’s final cause (192-95) discussed above, reinforced by Lenin’s cui bono, a choice “for the sake of what” (in whose interest or for whom) is that activity undertaken. As Prigoginian theory puts it, there is never such a full reversibility so that time (history) could be left out as a factor: matter has memory (cf. Wallerstein, End 16466).

Georgescu-Roegen explains “life quantity” as the sum of all the years lived by all humans, present and future. I differ from him by finding this first useful step still too benthamite in its disregard for quality. True, we can neither properly specify a positive life-quality nor legislate for the horizons of future generations. But we know at least what is to be avoided as bad quality of life: lives traumatized by direct violence, hunger, (mostly evitable) diseases, and also by anxiety and aimlessness.  And I think we know enough to say, first, what major financial orientations, and second,  what major productive orientations are not to be pursued. As to the first orientation,  his main continuator and updater, Herman Daly, points out that even in classical economics it is accepted “that in accounting income we must deduct for depreciation of capital in order to keep productive capacity intact. This principle… needs only to be extended to natural capital…” (16). This means that environmental costs must be internalized into prices “so that the polluter and the depleter pay”, through tax measures. (15) Faced with uncertain effects of new technologies or substances, “an assurance bond in the amount of possible damage [should be required], to be posed up front and then returned over time as experience reduces the uncertainty about damage” (16).  Thus we could approach a Steady-State Economy, which is not defined by the capitalist instrument of GNP but by “ecological sustainability of the throughput”, which is NOT registered by market prices. (32) ”[T]he maximand is life, measured in cumulative person-years ever to be lived at a standard of resource-use sufficient for a good life” (32–Daly acknowledges this standard is vague, but vagueness to be worked out in practice is much better than total disregard as in the GNP).  Such a Steady-State Economy would also do better for preservation of all other species.

As to the second orientation, according to Georgescu-Roegen’s “thermodynamic calculus,” only pursuits as minimally entropic as possible can be allowed if civilization is not to collapse. This is directly opposed to the pursuit of unnecessary quantity: “‘bigger & better’ washing machines, automobiles and superjets must lead to ‘bigger & better’ pollution” (19). But it is fully consonant with the post-Einsteinian concept of nature, from quantum physics to the catastrophe theory (cf. also Collingwood 13, and Grene ch. 9 on “Time & Teleology”). His approach can thus be usefully continued by using the notion developed by Nussbaum of “central human capabilities” to be used in order to establish “a basic social minimum” (70-71) for a life of human dignity. Her list of capabilities which also constitute entitlements is rich, and I shall mention from it only what seem to me two central groups and one precondition. The two groups are entitlements to life, bodily integrity and health, and then to a development of sense, imagination, thoughts, and emotions. The precondition is what I would rephrase as control over the relationship between people and the environment, which could be expanded to encompass all the inextricable political and economic means to the above ends (cf. 76-77). These entitlements as rights supply a “rich set of goals…in place of ‘the wealth and poverty of the economists,’ as Marx so nicely put it” (284).

Further, our technical competence, based on an irresponsible S2 yoked to the profit and militarism that finance it, vastly exceeds our understanding of its huge dangers for hundreds of millions of people and indeed for the survival of vertebrate ecosphere (cockroaches and tube worms may survive). For humanity to survive, we imperatively have to establish and enforce a graduated system of risk assessment and damage control  based on the negentropic welfare of the human community and its eco-system (which includes the fauna and flora) as an absolutely overriding criterion. This means retaining, and indeed following consistently through, Merton’s famous four basic norms of science–universalism, skepticism, public communism, and personal disinterestedness (cf. also Collingridge 77-85 and 99ff.)–or Kuhn’s five internal criteria—accuracy, scope, fruitfulness, consistency, and simplicity–as well as strict scientific accountability in the sense of both not falsifying findings and accounting for them. However, it means also practicing science from the word go (say, from its teaching) as most intimately co-shaped by the overriding concerns what and who is such an activity for, and thus why would it be worth supporting or indeed allowing by the community: “A stronger, more adequate notion of objectivity would require methods for systematically examining all the social values shaping a particular research process…” (Haraway, Modest 36, building on Harding; cf. also Wallerstein, End 164-67, 238-41, and 264-65, and Cini). All theories can today be seen to have powerful biases, the goodness or badness of which must be treated in each case on its epistemologico-political merits.

A lot of discussion has already ensued, from the heyday of the Welfare State on, how to fairly assess such risks, and in the USA the International Association of Machinists, spurred by automation, has even formulated a “Technology Bill of Rights” (Noble, Forces 350-51). I can only present here some partial and  (fortunately) highly biased summaries of what appears to me a clear and present necessity. The prevention of irreparable damage would have to move through clearly delimited stages, all of them subject to review boards with various mixtures of science and community representatives,  at various levels from the basic research unit to international bodies. A first step is initial screening, calling a halt to what can be reasonably demonstrated  as serious dangers in our situation, where decision-making about the future of novelties must largely be based on ignorance. A second step is imposition of strict rules about a testing of consequences, which must be temporally as protracted as necessary before a full development, costly and perhaps impossible to reverse, is embarked upon. A third step is  continuous and rigorous monitoring of all important products and processes in use. Though lip-service is paid to these steps now, they are always secondary to profit-making or military considerations (for an example, cf. the discussion on the wrong presuppositions of “dominating nature” within the Human Genome Project in Casalino-Keller and Lewontin); therefore, techniques for all of them are still in their infancies. Still, however difficult this may be, they can and must be developed by efforts similar in size to the US Manhattan Project for the atomic bomb, only geared to survival rather than destruction and ongoing for many targets. This will be costly, but less so than not insisting upon them, allowing the killing damages.

To specify a bit: decision-making under ignorance means “to place a premium on highly corrigible options,” so that mistakes can be eliminated both relatively quickly and cheaply (Collingridge 32).  Monitoring requires adversary confrontation of factual evidence from  different axiological points of view, that is, who is it good for, when, how much:

[R]eliable scientific knowledge was won for mankind [by subjecting one opinion and decision to the criticism of others]. The control of advanced technical projects on behalf of society must  depend on the same principle…. This is what we call monitoring technology,… a range of institutions and social techniques enabling the critical scrutiny of corporate decisions and actions, by and on behalf of competent and concerned opinion at every level.  ([U.K.] Council for Science and Society 27, cited in Collingridge 147)

This means that, first, in proportion to their importance, cost, and potential irreversibility, major scientific projects should not be allowed to become “in house” faits accomplis without a public debate that follows the juridic norm of hearing more than one side (audiatur et altera pars). Second, recognizing that “[e]very decision involves the selection among an agenda of alternative images of the future, a selection that is guided by some system of values” (Boulding 423), all individuals involved in screening, testing, and monitoring should provide the “bias statement” demanded already a third of a century ago by the American Academy of Sciences: a list of all previous major research funding, occupations, investments, public stands on political issues, and similar (cited in Collingridge 186, with disfavour); clearly, this applies a fortiori to the biases of collective or legal bodies, and no private bodies can be exempted.

But probably even this is  not enough. We are today irreversibly steeped in technoscience: very little technology is to be had apart from the science that produced them, very little science is to be had apart of complex technology. It is a time not only of particle physics and molecular genetics but also nanotechnology and untold further possibilities of highly risky  forays. We therefore have to draw on, encourage, and discuss all suggestions for limiting risks, such as the one by Kourilsky and Viney on precautionary steps before prevention, and many other debates for a “University of Disaster” (Virilio). Yet furthermore, we have to pick up the suggestion by Denis Noble “that there is an obligation on the part of creators of this stockpile of knowledge to work out how to disarm its ability to destroy” (184). “First of all, do not harm”: this old Hippocratic oath must be amplified by adding, “Whatever else you do, put up barriers against destruction.” These would be still recognizably scientific debates (cf. Collingridge 189-94), only enhanced by the wider horizon of a life-oriented S1, where the opponents are transparently honest and explicit about their presuppositions, and thus allow both an understanding how rival interpretations of data may be  arrived at and, where necessary, a questioning of the presuppositions (for example, not where to build a highway and how to build a nuclear power-station but also whether). As mentioned above, this profile of decision-making should, after the original decision, be preserved for needed corrections as consequences unfold.

I do not pretend the above is more than a first orientation. Among its huge gaps is, for example, lack of discussion on who should establish and administer such reviews and controls, and how to prevent an unnecessarily cumbersome bureaucracy to take root. These are however not beyond human ingenuity, if transparency and accountability are achieved. What ought to be stressed is that today science (S2) is fully accountable to and strictly steered by capitalist interests, while pretending to be technical and apolitical. It has therefore grown ecocidal and genocidal (for the genus homo), with almost all scientists as “craftsmen of power” (Haberer 303), “barbarian experts” (C.P. Snow), and today  willing mini-entrepreneurs of destruction. We need a science for survival (S1), which would look anew at its reason for being by openly acknowledging its civic political responsibility, and be steered–probably, in the long run, less tightly than today– by the interests of community and species survival.

Finally, I wish to point out, how strangely, richly, and intimately the opposition S1-S2 is interfused with the question of bodily freedom for one and for all, for our bodies personal and bodies politic. Democritus’s atoms fell in a straight line from above to below; they come from a place of power not subject to human will, of whimsical Gods or blind Nature, and may break in upon any of us (cf. Derrida 22-24).  To this picture Marx preferred in his dissertation Epicurus (Texte 59ff., 99-103, 142, and 148-58), who scoffed at the anthropomorphic idea that in the infinite there is an up and down: the fixed destination of  Destiny may be disturbed and deviated by some action. In Lucrece’s great philosophical poem, the atoms swerve and break the chains of Fate, which sanctions “the free will of people living in the world /…By which we move wherever pleasure leads each of us” (II: 254-58; cf. Suvin, “Living”). It opens a space for choice, for Being born from Non-Being, a surplus of Being.

If we really wanted to follow the Epicurean science of Lucrece, we’d have to embrace his metaphor of High Venus, mother of gods and humans. Its erotic contract with nature and human society is opposed to the hatred of Subject, and the hatred of the human body as a feeling embodiment (just see how the geneticists look at it, or how patriarchy has always looked at women!)–a contract of violent domination which is at its clearest in the service of Mars. S2 relates to S1 as warfare maiming of bodies by bombs or napalm and maiming of psyches by anxiety and terror, both characteristics of late capitalism, relates to the caress of friendly sympathy.


 1/ My understanding of epistemology has been much shaped by the tradition of Brecht’s and Marcuse’s dominating vs. emancipatory science on one hand and on the other by Merleau-Ponty and some of his French contemporaries in psychology and philosophy, by Vygotsky, Wittgenstein, and too many others to mention. I have to single out my discussions for 20+ years with Gene Gendlin, that go much beyond what I could say in a note but can be glimpsed in “On Cognitive.”

My thanks also go to Rich Erlich for much textual help and editing.

2/ Kant practically created the focus on epistemology, see Rorty 134-48. At the end of his Logik (Introduction, A 25), he seems to have subsumed these three queries under a fourth:  “What is Man?”

For useful historical overviews see Suchting and Laugstien, esp. the former on Marx and the latter on Brecht and Gramsci; neither mentions Nietzsche.

 3/  I am attempting in this paper an as clear as possible overview and summary without too much technicality. Even when I’m in sympathy with some intricate arguments, they often, alas, get short shrift, so for ex. those in Barnes-Edge eds., Hesse’s “Theory and Observation” in Revolutions, Longino…

 4/ I am referring to the famous statement in Laplace’s Essai philosophique sur les probabilités of 1925:

The present state of the system of nature is evidently a resultant of what it was in the preceding instant, and if we conceive of an Intelligence who, in a given moment, embraces all the relations of the beings in the Universe, It will be able to determine for any instant of the past and the future their respective positions, motions, and generally their affections. (cited from Wallerstein, End 206)

 5/ An excellent example of my distinction between S1 and S2 is the semantic career of the Hellenic phainomena. For Archimedes and the whole Hellenic science, they were perceived by interaction between subject and object. In S2, a phenomenon is an “objective” fact. See for much more the astounding Russo 440 and passim. (Marx is much impressed with Newton and paleotechnics but on the whole is to be seen as continuing the S1 of his exemplar Epicurus, as I argue in “Living”.)

 6/ This section is a reworking of much milder propositions I wrote in 1987 for a gathering of the Royal Society of Canada members at McGill University. The eminent conveners of the gathering opined the discussion would not be of interest–thus confirming my diagnosis.

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Darko Suvin                                                   (1997, 11,600 words)

*/This essay was published in Darko Suvin: A Life in Letters. Ed. Ph.E. Wegner. Vashon IslandWA 98070: Paradoxa, 2011, ISBN 1-929512-34-8. It may be ordered at <info@paradoxa.com>.
Copyright (C) 2011 Darko Suvin

Sound, sound aloud / The welcome of the orient flood / Into the west/
With all his beauteous race, /. . . Who . . . are bright, / And full of life and light. . . .

Ben Jonson, The Masque of Blackness (1605)

The populous East, luxuriant, abounds with glittering gems, bright
pearls, aromatic spices, and health-restoring drugs. The late-found
western world glows with unnumbered veins of gold and silver ore. . . .       It is the industrious merchant’s business to collect the various blessings     of each soil and climate and, with the products of the whole, to enrich         his native country.

George Lillo, The London Merchant (1731)



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Darko Suvin                                                                                                       (201-14, 6,100 words)

 In this essay I wish to draw out the significance of Boris Kidrič’s approach to political economy and radical democratic perspective for the incipient socialism in Yugoslavia.1/ It was in a way decisive for the creation of the SFRY (as I shall for brevity call the whole period of 1945-89) as well as for its aporias – which also means for our glance at the horizons of that society, and what we can learn from them today. I start from the axiom that any intelligently argued emancipatory alternative is worth careful consideration, and especially indispensable today, in the age of a savage and misanthropic capitalism. Thus I am not here dwelling on my objections to some aspects, for example to the notion of „Socialism“ as a separate societal formation,2/ but on Kidrič’s horizons and his argumentation. His second major and most significant field of activity, that is, the organization and implementation of the People’s Liberation struggle and revolution in Slovenia by means of founding and leading the Liberation Front, shall remain wholly outside my purview. Therefore this first approach of mine to a largely forgotten figure does not pretend to a rounded off conclusion about the significance of the revolutionary and statesman Kidrič.

  1. I shall begin by focussing on Kidrič’s „Theses on the Economy of the Transitional Period in Our Country“ („Teze o ekonomici prelaznog perioda u našoj zemlji“), which appeared at the beginning of 1951. It can be inferred that the text was written at the end of 1950 as a summa of Kidrič’s experiences as the leading official in charge of economic policy in the Party and the government of Yugoslavia from the beginning of 1948. That period was one of a sudden turn from State to self-managing socialism, and he was one of the main champions of this turn.3/

The „Theses“ constituted a theoretical self-understanding for Kidrič – and most probably for a crucial portion of top members of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY) and the overlapping State leadership – and provided a basis for  significant action. The essay consists of four parts, each part having five to eleven theses. Bearing in mind the length of single theses, which – particularly in the first part – encompass two or three printed pages or 1000 words each, we would today probably call his work rather a „Tractate,“ in the wondrous Arabic and Jewish tradition reactualized by Spinoza and more recently by Wittgenstein (though Wittgenstein was probably unknown to Kidrič). The name of the genre is of course not essential, but one can feel in this text an oscillation between the tradition of brief theses and of an article. A second general characteristic and permanent method of Kidrič’s writing is a fusion of scientific argumentation, radical democratic-socialist horizons, and orientation towards immediate applicability. I shall limit myself here to a discussion of the first part, which is of fundamental theoretical importance; the other three parts are „Planning,“ „Prices,“ and „Money.“ The first part is untitled in the book but we might call it „General and Basic Considerations.“ I shall here follow the order of his theses, while at  times using some of Kidrič’s later work.

The first brief thesis begins with the definition of „a socialist enterprise” (poduzeće), an entity that acts „within the socialist commodity exchange… as an economic and legal individual under the legal regulations of the State of the working people (the dictatorship of the proletariat). These regulations ought to correspond to objective economic laws….“ (79) The single enterprise is here both an empirical and an axiomatic agent, “a fictive person” in burgeois legal jargon, important as the nodal point for action, yet acting only within a definite and defined frame or field of force in a polity. Already this first step is a decisive notional breakthrough, because it proceeds inductively from the working collective, that is, from below upwards, as opposed to the Soviet way of proceeding from the State apparatus of titanic central ministries and their branchings downwards. In other words, for Kidrič the socialist enterprise is no longer an object of State administration and State acquisition of accumulation from surplus work, which in the USSR took the place of profit. To the contrary, the enterprise is the subject of creating income for the whole society, within which accumulation is still its largest part, withdrawn by the State for the purpose of planned distribution.  The accumulation itself is not determined by the State a priori but to a large part a posteriori: it depends on the success of the enterprise’s work and is defined by a prescribed percentage of State withdrawals. The enterprise’s success thus does not increase the percentage but only the total size of the accumulation withdrawn (cf. Lipovec 269-70). This represents the axiomatic or fundamental stance of orientation towards the popular initiative from below (as in the wartime Liberation Struggle) as against the Stalin-type command system of monocracy from above (odinonachalie). Kidrič situates Yugoslavia within the horizon of plebeian creativity as an alternative to the horizon of command power (Gramsci would have called this set-up a hegemony based on consensus rather than on naked coercion).

The field of societal forces within which the enterprises’ self-initiative operates is „socialist commodity exchange,“ discussed in Theses 1.2 to 1.6. It proceeds as regulated by a State that Kidrič has no qualms in calling „dictatorship of the proletariat.“ This was rather unusual among the CPY leadership of the time, as the term was backgrounded in the Popular Front strategy before, during,  and immediately after the war. It testifies to Kidrič’s deeper understanding both of Lenin and of the history of Soviet struggles after Lenin’s death, within which Stalinism arose. This is to my mind an indication that he was striving for a democratic communism led by a vanguard, and not at all for a „market socialism.“ Be that as it may, for Kidrič socialist commodity exchange flows out of „objective economic laws“ and is seen as the best realistically available variant of material life in „the State of the working people“ as defined in postwar Yugoslav practice and theory. Socialist exchange is opposed, as Kidrič constantly stresses, not only to capitalist commodity exchange but also to Soviet-type totalized administrative planning which pretended to do away with commodity value. It had however become manifest that the liquidation of commodity exchange led not only to violent oppression and exploitation of the working people, but also to poor results in production: to shortages of goods, their abysmal quality and limited variety, etc. (80-81). The USSR example shows that „State socialism,“ after its initial necessity immediately after the revolution, necessarily grows into „the strengthening of a privileged bureaucracy as a social parasite, the throttling… of socialist democracy, and a general degeneration of the whole system,“ so that there comes about „ a restoration of a specific kind… a vulgar State-capitalist monopoly“ (84).4/ In other places, as in Kidrič’s long article „On the Drafts of the New Economic Laws“ („O nacrtima novih ekonomskih zakona,“ 116-42), he explicitly stressed that the Yugoslav experience in the years 1945 to 1950 was of the same type: it was then still necessary „to throttle the law of supply and demand as well as the law of value.“ It is clear now that these laws, though being „an avowed remnant of the past,“ must necessarily operate, albeit within the limits of societal planning, on the „present-day level of material productive forces, which is relatively still very low“ (Socijalizam 124).

At the same time Kidrič manages dialectics well and does not shy away from the inner contradictions of his system.5/ Both “the socialist enterprise” and “the commodity” represent, on the one hand, societal property as against private property, first as “socialist State property, and then increasingly as all-people’s property managed by freely associated direct producers, only under [general] control and protection of the State“ (80). On the other hand, within this large novelty there exist four „elements of the past“ (or „remnants of capitalism,“ 82): „commodity exchange as such”; the “socialist enterprise as an economic and legal individual“; „economic measures of a State-capitalist character in the socialist sector“ (which he however holds to be transitory and optimistically believes are on the whole subsiding); and „the appearance of the socialist State and its enterprises on the world market“ (80-82). It should also be stressed that he clearly characterized the accumulation taken (taxed away) by the State as the „alienated“ part of the surplus labour, and defended it as unavoidable at a time of primitive accumulation. All the same, here as well as later, Kidrič stresses that „The law of value and commodity production still bear within themselves the danger of some tendencies towards restoration“ (113). Kidrič meant here primarily a restoration of capitalist relationships, but he was quite clear in his own thought, and made quite clear to his readers and in his policies, that dangers could also nestle in the federal administration and that of the constituent Yugoslav republics. This understanding and contemning of “restoration” was later accompanied by the harshest attacks on Stalinian „bureaucratic counter-revolution, which anti-dialectically denies that within the socialist sector itself… there necessarily exist contradictions and a struggle between the objective… elements of the capitalist past and the communist future“ (128). He even postulated that „the economic and societal role of the Soviet bureaucratic caste  was quite similar to the role of the capitalist class“ − if the role played by the USSR rulers was not worse (230). A position so radical was rare in Yugoslavia, and it was totally forgotten after the leaders of CPY were reconciled with Krushchov in 1955.

His conclusion from the first five theses in part 1 is

Socialist commodity exchange is… a dialectical contradiction valid for a given time in the transitional period between capitalism and communism.” And further: „It appears as the basic inner contradiction of the whole societal economy…. It certainly gives rise to contrary interests but does not necessarily lead to class antagonism.” (82-83, italics by Kidrič)

Thesis 1.6 then discusses the character of an „economic association” of enterprises that represents a „higher association of the producers” and comes about by transferring certain rights of the enterprise to the association’s “planning and operative administration.” And Thesis 1.7 proposes, very radically, that the State can immediately begin a transfer of certain planning and operative rights to the enterprises through such „higher associations.” In Thesis 1.8 this is articulated, in what Ernst Bloch would call a perspective of concrete utopia, as the possibility that such an association „covering an entire economic branch in the whole of Yugoslavia” could be run by a super-ordinate or highest workers’ council elected by the lower councils of the local “higher associations.” This highest council of the whole branch „would consist of the workers from the enterprises; the only payment would be given to its chairperson with a small apparatus of two to six people…” – presumably specialists hired for planning and coordination purposes. Each full or highest branch association and its council would, on the one hand, be subject to the general rules of the State organs nominated by the Federal Assembly, and on the other hand, the branch association would have the right and the duty to participate in the „federal councils for individual economic branches [the equivalent of ministries, DS].” (87). In a later article, Kidrič defends this hierarchy of plebeian democratic authorities by citing at great length the measures, documents, and rules of the Paris Commune of 1871 (148-52).

As far as planning is concerned, the „Theses” insist at length on the necessity of only basic planning on the federal scale and level, that is, the determination of some key economic proportions for distributing resources among branches and regions, while the micro-planning is left to the enterprises and their higher associations on the basis of the market’s law of supply and demand. Kidrič broaches here the whole problem of „market socialism” which was to become dominant in the 1960s and later − unfortunately bereft of his careful framing within a plebeian and planned horizon. He  insisted, however, that even the basic planning ought to be speedily de-etatized, so that the branch associations and their articulated organs „gradually grow from purely State organs into mixed ones with the participation of direct representatives of associated producers“ (90). In a lecture from 1951, he foresaw that the State − the federal government − would then immediately leave 50-70% of investments to the planning by direct producers and their associations (104): the same percentage was aimed at by the apparently sincere but lukewarm proponents of the 1965 socio-economic reform (such as Kardelj and Bakarić).5/

The macro-economic independence of enterprises was accompanied by a second permanent novelty that characterized the history of socialist Yugoslavia, the micro-economic division of salaries into a fixed component − that is, the mandatory part which corresponds to the minimum use of productive capacities − and a variable component, which is proportional to the rise of labour productivity up to a federally-fixed maximum (in percentage of salary, 105). Within such given parameters, salaries are not fixed by State regulations but set by the enterprise itself − through the workers’ councils system Kidrič was just introducing − as a function of their sales, where the prices are again (within given limits and regulations) determined by each enterprise. This new way of operating led at the beginning of the 1950s to an exceptionally high rise of production and productivity, and the competition among enterprises led also to lower prices. However, this could be managed only by technologically better equipped enterprises, which led to a quest for better technologies; to this end, Kidrič introduced a new „Law on Inventions and Technical Perfecting“ (cf. Puharič), a policy that ingloriously perished in the ‘60s in favour of uncontrolled import of foreign licences.

Within the enterprises tensions lessened between the director, nominated by the municipality, and the workers, since the management and the workforce had more interests in common. Historically speaking, the division of income into a fixed and a variable component was potentially a step towards abolishing the exploitative wage relationship. In fiscal terms, Kidrič‘s system meant passing from direct (that is, administrative) financing by the State to lending, to a system of credits. All of these actions opened the door to additional processes and further contradictions that characterized the Yugoslav economy from that time on.

In his Theses and policies, Kidrič envisaged a synergy of two processes. The first one, thoroughly discussed in his Part 2, is to continue the centralized planning of certain basic proportions, starting from the necessity of „a single centralized plan“ for the country (91), but a de-etatized or democratized one (a detailed project is in Thesis 2.11). The second process is to use within such a centralized plan the good aspects of the markets which possess, within limits, the capacity of automatic adjustment between supply and demand, that is, of correcting the planning errors. Should the overall plan not be fulfilled, „be it because of newly arisen conditions, or because of a low degree of consciousness in the working collective, or because of still slack socialist relationships,” the central administration might introduce supplementary planning instruments. However, their „every detail shall have to be minutely justified,” with a right of appeal by the direct producers, to be adjudicated by mixed panels of the two parties, panels required to consider both the appeal and the mandatory justifications by central administrators of their supplementary instructions (106). The mixed top Councils with a strong participation by the direct producers and all such attendant proceedings were however never instituted; instead, the economic instruments, proportions, and regulations were arrived at without public participation, by means of behind-the-scenes struggles between the federal and the republican powers.6/

The conclusion of Kidrič‘s first part in Thesis 1.9 clearly sums up his main thrust:

It is necessary to introduce as soon as possible workers’ councils in each economic branch for the whole of Yugoslavia…. Without introducing at the same time centralized and democratic association of working collectives, that is, of the direct producers, the decentralization of operative management away from the State does not lead forward but leads inexorably back to State capitalism—in fact, to several State capitalisms [in the republics] which would be particularistic in relation to the whole [of Yugoslavia] and bureaucratic-cum-centralist towards below, in relation to the working collectives. (88)

A few months later, this was supplemented by the general statement that the discussion on the economic system deals with the basic question „of exploitation of man by man in… the system born of the socialist revolution, that is… who disposes of the surplus labour − and behind this questions sooner or later the even more fateful one arises of who in fact appropriates the surplus labour” (122).

Beside using a kind of bridled law of value, an initial development of „socialist societal relationships needs,” Kidrič insisted, „two more matters.” First, all levels of the SFRY had to respect and adopt “at least some elements of management by the direct producers of the basic productive means,“ and second, the society had to incorporate deeply “at least some elements of socialist democracy in the content and character of power” (128-29 − I speak further to his political and class stance in ”Diskurs” and a forthcoming book). Kidrič proceeds also to the important category of monopolism as the most dangerous enemy of socialism, strongly denying it is identical with a planned economy but educing it from „a blind empiricist adoption of Soviet practice,” and even deeper from „monopoly capitalism… brought to a peak in Soviet bureaucratic centralism“ (70; on monopolism − especially as exercised by the banks! − cf. 229). Socialist democracy is for Kidrič „most deeply connected with… the process of abolishing monopolies“ (200-01). I assume the category of monopoly was borrowed from Lenin’s Imperialism, where it plays a major role not only as the hallmark of that phase of capitalism but especially as a source of blockage and decay in economy. „The socialist democratic rights of the direct producers“ cannot at all be reduced to territorial self-government (Kidrič 201); for them “basic is − the right of the working masses to self-management at all levels of socialist State power” (221-22). It might be remarked that integral dismantling of monopolies, in particular, cries out for further development, but  Kidrič was not granted time for it.

These propositions by Kidrič were deeply prophetic for the future and fate of SFR Yugoslavia. The disposition of surplus labour was clearly the central societal and political problem in the development of workers’ self-management, and of socialist democracy from below. I do not see how, even today, both the rise of republican State capitalisms and the need for a strong interaction between self-government in production and in civil society could be formulated more clearly and pithily.  Thus, the failure to adopt Kidrič’s bedrock principles of democratic socialism and its planning led by steps to decentralization without democratic association of working collectives, „several State capitalisms” in the republican mini-fiefs, economic failure, and finally to the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the horrors of the Yugoslav Secession Wars.

  1. After Kidrič‘s death, his approach to planning and in general to the economic system was forsaken. It was in force from September 1951 to 1954, less than three years. In my view, Kidrič‘s insistence on a single centralized plan of developing Yugoslavia, in constant feedback with the direct producers, was fully right, whatever additions and corrections would need to be incorporated into it by experience. Like all proper cognition and science, Kidrič‘s system possessed built-in possibilities for self-correction (cf. Lipovec 273 i 275). Without such a plan (which is the central, potentially fertile project of all communist economic horizons), Yugoslav economy necessarily found itself in a blind alley. Jettisoning democratic de-alienation of socio-economic structures in favour of incompatible stresses on profit and on full employment exacerbated friction between the federal centre and the republics and finally led precisely to that economic and political anarchy that Kidrič proposed to avoid.7/

PHOTO: Boris Kidrič, Kočevski Rog (Spring 1944)


 In SFRY Kidrič‘s set of proposals and horizon, clear in the “Theses” and other cited works, did not have time to be tested and developed in practice. To the contrary, the dark alternative which he so well foresaw came into force. Kidrič‘s detailed counter-proposal formulated very clearly, at the beginning of the Yugoslav self-managing trajectory, the overriding need for an integral self-government as not only an economistic or productivistic measure but as a political and organizational one. As opposed to local self-government and self-management in production, victory fell to the conservative current in the Communist Party and the power centers, which brought about an ossified oligarchic monopoly in politics and a slow but sure de facto (and at the end also de iure) return to the capitalist profit principle. An atomised self-management confined to the ghetto of  basic enterprises − which had even so raised great hopes and at its beginning been an essential factor for great economic successes in SFRY − had  by the latter 1960s become a minor economic sop to working people in compensation for their disempowerment, for the denial of effective and permanent democratic control from below. SFRY thus fell prey, in spite of all the difference between it and the USSR, to a variant of Brezhnevian stasis, leading to an equally inglorious end.

After Kidrič, there remain some cognitions to be treasured and some open problems. I shall mention only one, which appeared also in the USSR and PR China after the revolution and coming to power of the communist party, so it might be a central one. In all Leninist revolutions, the mainspring for the great majority of participants was the slogan with which the Italian partisan song Bandiera rossa ends: “Evviva il comunismo e la libertà!” (Long live communism, long live freedom!) In the Yugoslav popular uprising this mainspring was encapsulated in the omnipresent slogan „Smrt fašizmu–sloboda narodu!“ (Death to fascism, liberty to the people!). For communism as liberty for the people, the post-revolutionary system clearly had to break down the hypocritical sundering of (officially) water-tight compartments of economics and politics. The huge concentration of economico-political power ensuing upon  Party/State control of the economy was initially necessary both for a revolutionary conquest of power and for the material reproduction and development of a backward society. But how was that seizing of power to be harmonized with a political democracy that would not be a fraud in the interest of the ruling class − as is mostly the case in indirect (parliamentary) democracy and more or less in all “socialist” imitations of such parliamentarism? How might a revolutionary movement avoid the fateful split between communist theory and practice, or between communism and the plebeian democracy it was supposed to usher in (cf. Lenin’s State)?

I mentioned earlier that Kidrič quickly arrived at the central question which will incessantly plague SFRY and any other would-be socialist polity: „who in fact appropriates the surplus labour”? In Marx’s terms, we are speaking about de-alienating the real decision-power about central questions of life in society, about their quick and decisive transfer into the hands of a fully articulated vertical system of associated producers (which Kidrič strongly urged). In China, for example, there were serious discussions during the 1960s and 70s and before Deng’s turn towards capitalism − that is, just before and during the so-called Cultural Revolution − about the expropriation of the workers’ decision-power and their surplus labour by the commanding political heights. Even more important, on the agenda was the structurally perhaps deeper problem about the incompatibility between the interests of working people and the oligarchic management of economy within which the reproduction of capital still reigns. In Leninist terms, the question is: should the revolution, made in the name of the proletariat and led by the communist party, only carry out the failed bourgeois revolution while topping it up with a dispossession of the bourgeoisie – that is, by abolishing private exploitation – or does this revolution have deeper aims? Does not the first alternative, in conditions of economic and cultural backwardness, usher in a new type of etatist exploitation and alienation? Is socialism only an economistic and productivistic alternative to bourgeois society or is it also a cultural alternative in the widest sense of this term − the coming about of a different relationship between people as well as of people with nature? Does the revolution lead to a new Leviathan or to the replacement of Leviathan with a society of all-sided citizens as Marx imagined it?

Decisive for these processes are depth economic and psychological currents that can be theoretically identified as the “law of value” and an economy based on commodity exchange. Kidrič was without doubt the pioneer of a protracted discussion about these processes in SFRY, which in the decades after his death came to no satisfactory conclusion. The theoretical and highly practical question remains: does Marx’s opus equate commodity production with capitalism, or does commodity production, once begun, continue forever, that is, after capitalism too? In SFRY theoretical thought there were conflicting stances about this question. One group, the official view whose main spokesmen were Edvard Kardelj and, among social scientists, Miladin Korać, held that Marx does not criticise commodity production per se but only its capitalist „form,“ so that a socialist political economy whose object is „socialist commodity production” is possible. A second group, mainly composed of Praxis collaborators such as Gajo Petrović, Vanja Sutlić, Ljubomir Tadić, and Žarko Puhovski, held that in a truly Marxist analysis only a socialist critique of commodity production, as well as a critique of political economy, is possible. I hold that in a careful Marxian analysis, and in fact, capital is not merely an economic category but a given historical way of producing a human community and its metabolism with nature − the regulative principle of a specific way of life. That capital has been taken to be only an economic category flows out of a historically unique constellation, a hegemony of capitalist thought in which it is believed that “the economy is not a means for developing other human activities; on the contrary, other human activities become a means for developing the economy“ (Divjak 67). Thinking in dialectical opposition to such hegemonic ideas leads to the realization that socialism is not a historical epoch on a par with capitalism or feudalism but a transitional period (which may last for generations) between exploitative capitalism and communism – with communism defined, following Marx, as a society putting into effect the full slogan, Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen!”, emphatically including “to each according to her needs.” If this is correct, „socialism is simply the historical practice of communist interventions into material and productive [as well as moral and imaginative, DS] presuppositions of the bourgeois world“ (Divjak 13).

We cannot know of which camp the realistic Marxist and statesman Kidrič would approve. He was certainly for the horizons of the second camp, but also for a realism of transitional measures which the first camp often advocated (or took as an excuse). Still, I finally hold that theoretically the first group’s stance is untenable, since for a Marxian commodity exchange is not at all simply a legal or technical activity but a way, as Kidrič understood, for people to live together that determines their lives.8/


1/ Biographical note: Boris Kidrič (1912 – 1953) was born in Vienna as the son of the prominent progressive Slovene academic and literary critic France Kidrič. In 1953, he died of leukemia in Belgrade. In this short span, he achieved two major historical feats. First, he organized the liberation of Slovenia through underground and then increasingly partisan struggles. Second, he was the main driving force in creating and outstanding theoretician of the modern Yugoslav economy, in which he was the main theoretician and practical introducer of the Workers’ Councils..

Kidrič became in his late teens a member of the illegal and harshly persecuted Communist Party of Yugoslavia and soon rose to be one of the leaders of SKOJ (League of Young Communists). He studied in the 1930s for a time in Prague but mainly devoted himself to underground work in his country, during which Tito picked him for one of the inmost circle of leaders for the small but agile and increasingly influential C.P., and assigned him to work in Slovenia. During the Italian and German fascists’ occupation of dismembered Slovenia after April 1941 he became the secretary of the C.P. of Slovenia and the chief organizer of the Slovene underground resistance. He became the leader of the  Liberation Front of the Slovenian people, forged together with a number of other patriotic groups and party fragments. Operating underground in the city of Ljubljana under his political guidance, the “Osvobodilna fronta” became probably the best organized European city resistance, the chief of Security and Intelligence being his wife Zdenka. Following this crucial role in the antifascist liberation struggle in Slovenia between 1941 and 1945, he was between 1945 and 1946 the first Prime Minister in history of the independent Slovenian Republic within federal Yugoslavia. After 1947, he was called to Belgrade as the chief responsible for the creation of Yugoslav economics, and became a member of the CPY Politburo in 1948.

At his death, Djilas rightly called him “the most daring mind of our revolution.” In 1959, a large monument was erected in his honour in front of the Slovenian Government Office in Ljubljana, where it still stands despite some protests.

Of his four main achievements in life, the theory and the practice of liberation struggle in Slovenia and of socialist economy in Yugoslavia, this essay deals only with the theory of the latter.

 2/ See Suvin, “Death,” and my forthcoming book on SFR Yugoslavia, in particular the essay „15 Theses.” In that book I treat at length notions such as “the working people,” also the work of the Praxis periodical.

I have not been able to check the Slovene edition of Kidrič’s essays and so do not know whether the Serbo-Croatian or the Slovene variant was the „original.”

Unless otherwise indicated, citations in the text are by number of page in Kidrič’s Socijalizam (1979). Where there might be confusion, I repeat Socijalizam.

The term „republican“ denotes here, following SFRY practice, the six federal republics.

My thanks for help to get texts to Srećko Pulig, Matko Meštrović, and Marko Kržan, and for discussion to Richard D. Erlich.

2/ At the time of Kidrič’s first works on economics in 1946-47, on pp. 1-54 of his Socijalizam.book, the only and unavoidable set of sources for ideas on „building socialism“ was a one-sided interpretation of Soviet experiences (see on this Stalinist context Bilandžić 95-131). The official theory of Soviet practice (after Lenin) held not only that the State plan determines prices, salaries, and quantities of produced goods; this theory also implies that politics can more or less fully determine economics. Under Stalin this − never argued − voluntarism was equated with the abolition of commodities and all possible exploitation. The only exception on the Left to such theorizing was Oskar Lange’s On the Economic Theory of Socialism in 1938 (which Kidrič may not have known). Very early on, Kidrič began modifying the Stalinist traditions; nonetheless in the speech at the Fifth Congress of CPY in 1948 he still claimed that „there is no surplus value in the socialist sector [the State-run enterprises]“ (O izgradnji 24). His works from that period are of interest because they point not only to key issues in the social history of the SFRY and USSR – and beyond  – but also to the gigantic turn in Kidrič’s stance, which he swiftly and radically effected in 1948-49.

3/ I leave by side here the vast, and to my mind inconclusive, debate on the real economic character of USSR after the victory of Stalinism. For this article it suffices that Kidrič correctly identified both the economic and political consequence of the Stalinist system.

5/ Kidrič’s stress on the central role of contradictions within socialist development itself precedes by seven years Mao Zedong’s speech on „contradictions within the people“; to my mind, Kidrič‘s treatment is deeper though less systematic. Mao’s two articles on practice and on contradiction from 1937 were at the time unknown in Europe.

6/ It should be added that in 1946 Kidrič formulated, as one of his first orientations in the capacity as head of the Federal Planning Commission, a very interesting ideal model for the dynamics of the republican economic development, having as its presupposition a socialist equalisation of per capita income in the future. It foresees that when the average income will in year N (its number is not specified) be tenfold as compared with a present base level, then the per capita income of all republics will be equal, which would mean that the income of for ex. Slovenia would grow 6.75 times, Croatia 9.5 times, Bosnia 13.25 times, and Kosovo 18.75 times (adduced in Hamilton 138-39, who cites Ekonomist no. 3-4 [1963]: 608-09). As I debate at length in my book, such a truly revolutionary horizon was sadly and foolishly forgotten after Kidrič‘s death.

7/ The early historian of SFRY Bilandžić allows that Kidrič took an important step by using „the socialist enterprise” as the keystone of his economic theses (instead of a small cog in the centralized machinery), but faults him for insisting on firm planning proportions that limit the enterprise’s independence (172-73). However economics is based on interdependence, and the end result of the jettisoning of federal proportions (which Kidrič wanted to be decided by panels where representatives of citizens meet with representatives of workers’ councils) has been demonstrated by the ensuing chaos in SFRY history. Bilandžić was a representative of a republican oligarchy, so that for him any federal organization or rule is automatically reactionary; this is dead wrong. The central problem was the degree of direct democracy to be achieved, for which was needed open confrontation between various socialist programs and teams. Only when this confrontation was repressed did the problem of federal centre vs. republics take centre stage.

9/ I have not found thorough discussions of Kidrič on economics, but a first approximation may be found in the well-balanced Milenkovitch 55-59 and 77-89, also in  Lipovec. Boffito rightly writes that he put into his anthology about socialism and market in Yugoslavia of nine essays between 1949 and 1967 three by Kidrič, „because he clearly had the main role in introducing the new economic system based on self-management“ (19 − see also 21-22 and 26-27).

Works cited

Bilandžić, Dušan. Historija SFR Jugoslavije: glavni procesi. Zagreb: Globus, 1978.

Boffito, Carlo. „Introduzione,” in his Socialismo e mercato in Jugoslavia. Torino: Einaudi, 1968, 11-49.

Divjak, Slobodan. Roba i revolucija: Marks, kritika političke ekonomije i socijalizam. Beograd: SIC, 1982.

Hamilton, Ian F.E. Yugoslavia: Patterns of Economic Activity. New York: Praeger, 1968.

Kidrič, Boris. O izgradnji socijalističke ekonomike FNRJ: Referat na V Kongresu KPJ. Beograd: [Borba?, 1948].

—. Socijalizam i ekonomija. Ur. V. Merhar. Zagreb: Globus, [1979].

Lenin, Vladimir I. The State and Revolution. www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/staterev/

Lipovec, Filip. „Nastanek dohodkovne mere v Kidričevem sistemu stopenj akumulacije.” Ekonomska revija br. 3-4 (1979): 265-79.

Milenkovitch, Deborah. Plan and Market in Yugoslav Economic Thought. Yale UP, 1971.

Puharič, Krešo. „Boris Kidrič o pomenu izumiteljstva in novatorstva.” Ekonomska revija no. 3-4 (1979): 325-30.

Sednice Centralnog Komiteta KPJ (1948-1952). Ed. B. Petranović and others. Beograd: Komunist, 1985.

Suvin, Darko. „15 Theses about Communism and Yugoslavia, or The Two-Headed Janus of Emancipation through the State.” (forthcoming in Critical Q).

—. „ Death into Life: For a Poetics of Anti-Capitalist Alternative.” Socialism & Democracy 26.2 (July 2012): 91-105.

—. “Diskurs o birokraciji i državnoj vlasti u post-revolucionarnoj Jugoslaviji 1945.-1974 [A Discourse on Bureaucracy and State Power in Post-revolutionary Yugoslavia 1945-74].” Politička misao no. 3 (2012): 135-59 and 4 (2012): 228-47.


The economico-political writings of Boris Kidrič from 1947 to 1953 are analyzed to indicate their innovativeness as concerns democratic but firm socialist planning. using the market for correction only. His theory proceeds inductively from the „socialist enterprise“ basic unit and its working collective. Within  „socialist commodity exchange“ it creates income, of which the largest part will be withdrawn by State planning as „accumulation.“ The planning should very soon be done by interaction between citizen and workers’ councils’ democracy These are contradictions  which “bear within themselves the danger of some tendencies towards restoration.“ After his death, his ideas were forsaken and the disalienation they bore betrayed.

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