Friday, November 12, 2010

Read, Jason. Review of Simon Choat, MARX THROUGH POST-STRUCTURALISM. NDPR (November 2010).

Choat, Simon.  Marx through Post-Structuralism: Lyotard, Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze.  London: Continuum, 2010.

To anyone who was educated in the Anglo-American academy during the 1980s and 90s, Simon Choat's Marx through Post-Structuralism might appear at first to be a work of alternative history, like the novels in which the Axis powers won World War II or John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry was successful. Within the academy, at least for people interested in "theory," those decades were marked by a quarrel between Marxism and post-structuralism, in which each were hostile camps, vying for intellectual hegemony. The accusations on each side were as follows: Marxists were accused of being too wedded to totality, teleology, and economic determinism, while post-structuralists were accused of forgetting history, agency, and replacing politics with the play of language. This conflict has now dissipated as new philosophical perspectives have emerged and the heyday of theory has waned. Choat, however, rewrites this history by reexamining some of the central post-structuralist texts: Lyotard, Derrida, Foucault, and Deleuze. His intention is not to make post-structuralists into crypto-Marxists, or to argue that Marx was a post-structuralist avant la lettre, but to demonstrate that post-structuralism was constituted by an engagement with Marx; a critical engagement, but an engagement nonetheless.

Each chapter takes on a singular itinerary, following each thinker's specific engagement, critique, and (sometimes) avoidance, of Marx. These itineraries follow very different paths: from Lyotard, who began as a critical Marxist intellectual only to move away from Marx, penning the famous line about the end of metanarratives, to Derrida, who avoided Marx during the tumultuous sixties and seventies, only to declare his allegiances rather late, after the fall of the Berlin wall, with Specters of Marx, which situated deconstruction as an heir of Marx. The different paths of these thinkers risk turning the book into a series of essays, different variations on the themes of post-structuralism and Marx.

Choat avoids this by the way in which these specific examinations are organized. Althusser frames the book, introducing and closing the examinations. In the first case, Althusser functions as something of an origin, having been a teacher of Foucault and Derrida and an occasional correspondent with Deleuze. However, Choat is less interested in the intellectual history that would place Althusser at the origins of post-structuralism, than in demonstrating the way in which he is a precursor whose problematic frames much of the encounter between Marx and post-structuralism. This problematic can be summarized by a critique of humanism, historicism, and Hegel. Althusser's works of the 1960s were focused on expunging any remnant of these from Marx's thought, arguing for a break between the young Marx and the older, true Marx who understood "history as a process without subject or goals," to state the formula that comes the closest to encompassing all three critiques. The later post-structuralists share this critique, but shift it from a distinction between the young and old Marx to a critique of all of Marx. . . .

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