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 Post subject: The Quick Review thread
PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 11:06 pm 
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Thought it might be useful to have a thread where people can post reviews of theoretical books which they've just read, or which they think are valuable to know about. Just post the name of the book, and an evaluation of it, along with a summary of what the book's about if it won't already be widely known. It'd probably be more useful to look at texts not To start off:

Christopher Caudwell - Illusion and Reality

Caudwell's best-known and most developed book, written before he fought and died in Spain. The subject of the book is poetry, more specifically developing a Marxist analysis of poetry's place in society, but the book's real value probably lies more in the general region of Marxist historical and philosophical theory. Caudwell is one of the most advanced Marxist writers in theoretical terms, with some great passages on materialism, seen here in terms of thought and language arising from social practice, and communism as a necessary historical development. His understanding of language and its place in human society is quite similar to that of the later Wittgenstein, seeing it as necessarily arising from practice, and this founds the overall basis for the book. In general terms, I would definitely recommend this book to people for the Marxist theory therein, which, as said, is probably better than in most 20th Century works specifically dedicated to the subject.

However, the book does have a couple of flaws, mainly in the realm of its chosen subject-matter. While Caudwell writes about poetry, his analyses of actual poems and poets are often very lacking when they do appear, and there are a fair few major misinterpretations and eyebrow-raising moments, such as in the discussion of Milton, which just takes over from the Romantic 'Satanist' misreadings of Paradise Lost and take them to sum up the essence of the work, or the portrayal of Shelley as a bourgeois radical who was lucky to die when he did so as to avoid becoming a reactionary. All in all, there doesn't seem to be much focus on actual analysis of poems as poems, or of the paradigms expressed within them, which means that a lot of complexity is suppressed in favour of fairly lazy generalisations about poets. One of the main problems which 'Marxist literary criticism' has had with lyric poetry is that it generally isn't directly political in form, but rather deals with more personal subjects, and while I think that Caudwell manages to overcome this somewhat in his discussions of poetry as such, his discussions of actual poems don't actually seem to tackle the issue head-on, but rather simply restrict themselves to explicitly political poetry, and the political views of poets, or interpret non-political poetry to be directly political in subject-matter.

That said, however, when he discusses poetry in general terms he still has quite a lot of worth to say, and can certainly not be neglected if one is interested in the relation of Marxist theory to poetry. His strong theoretical grounding already puts him quite far in front of most 'Marxist literary critics,' who are generally quite light on the Marxism, and, as David Margolies points out, allows him to say much about the social function of poetry which you generally won't find in other authors. Unlike other socialist writers on poetry, such as even Galvano della Volpe, Caudwell avoids the trap of simply advocating 'socialist poetry,' or judging poetry by its explicitly political content only, due to seeing the fact that poetry is generally not explicitly political and taking this into account in his theory. His theory of poetry's social role, of the function which it plays in the lives of individuals, draws on the old Socratic idea that reason can only find application through the emotions and how we see the world, and due to this focus is prevented from simply reducing a poem to a paraphrase, as is done by the many commentators who took poetry's worth to be merely its political message.

Caudwell, in discussing poetry's function, ceases to regard this in merely political-Marxist terms ('poetry should bring about the revolution!'), and rather looks at function in terms of effect upon the reader, hence in terms of how poetry actually functions when read. In this, he has more in common with reader-response theory than with theories which seek to find poetry's meaning simply by paraphrasing poems or through merely applying external criteria. While I don't think that Caudwell necessarily says all that needs to be said about poetry, he certainly forms a good foundation for further analysis, and points the way forward for the rest of us. In addition, the book contains an interesting criticism of Freudian theory, along with psychological content, and while its psychological analysis may not be flawless, it's certainly interesting.

All in all, then, Caudwell's book is worth a read for all Marxists, especially those with an interest in poetry. Despite its flaws, which, to be fair, don't occupy the major part of the book, Caudwell's 'Illusion and Reality' is an important book of 20th Century Marxist theory, and worth having a look through if you can find it.

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 Post subject: Re: The Quick Review thread
PostPosted: Fri Apr 26, 2013 11:11 pm 
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AUTHOR Linden, Marcel van der, 1952-
TITLE Workers of the world : essays toward a global labor history / by Marcel van der Linden.
IMPRINT Leiden ; Boston : Brill, 2008.

Here is a book that you may be familiar with. I have to say that I missed it but someone mentioned it a few weeks ago and I recently had a look. Well worth the reading. I could not attach the review of it so here is the link to the review article instead:

http://duepublico.uni-duisburg-essen.de ... orkers.pdf

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 Post subject: Re: The Quick Review thread
PostPosted: Sun Jun 04, 2017 2:01 pm 
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Marx and Keynes - Limits of the Mixed Economy by Paul Mattick

In spite of the title, this book spends less time on discussing Keynes' ideas specifically than it does discussing Marx's ideas, and their application to the period in Capitalism's history in which the state increasingly plays a role in the economy. The first half of the book at least is dedicated to a basic discussion of value theory, the transformation problem, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and how this actualises itself in the business cycle as well as specific analyses of the phenomena of imperialism. Instead of discussing Keynes or Keynesianism as such, Mattick's main strength is elaborating how state intervention in the economy is insufficient to resolve the general tendency of capitalism towards crisis, since crisis develops in the last analysis from the social relations of production, which no rational money management, redistribution of wealth or public works can alter. These can only be changed by a social revolution.

There are definitely some obvious weaknesses in the book. Like a lot of middle of the century Marxists and non-Marxists alike, he regards state encroachments on the 'private sector' as a more or less permanent feature, while the last thirty or so years have produced the opposite result. Connected with this, Mattick thinks that the Soviet Union is more or less here to stay, which again wasn't born out by history. He notes that he thinks that Marx was 'wrong' in his optimism about the immediate prospects for the revolutionary transformation of society, because as a revolutionary, and an individual who was committed to ending capitalism, he was less interested in analysing ways in which capitalism might prolong it's historical tenure, than proving the basic fact that it was a historically limited system of production. This might be the case, but it is also the case that Mattick himself was mistaken about the future development of capitalism. As he himself notes, since no-one can actually predict the future, this isn't necessarily an indication of a weakness in the fundamentals of theory, the problem is more an indication of the need to continue the work of past generations.

Overall a pretty good read.

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