Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Marxist Reading

In "Going Boom" at bookforum, Walter Benn Michaels has, I believe, some strong insights.  My main problem with the essay is the assumption that it is the duty of literature (or literary criticism, or literary study, or simply reading) to explore and expose the problems of the free market.  First, aren't there better areas of inquiry more suited to this project?  Economics, Journalism, Political Science--it seems there are fields that would do a much better job with that project than writers of literature.  Second, I'm skeptical that more novels like American Psycho or more television shows like The Wire are really going to foster anything like a revolution or reform of the free market system.

But it seems Michaels also views the primary concern of human beings as our material conditions, and thus what we read should reflect that concern.  I think, given that much of our lives is devoted to those material conditions, that when we read we perhaps should devote our attention to "something else," whether that be pleasure, or spiritual fulfillment, or self-knowledge, or personal growth, or intellectual curiosity, or any of many, many human concerns that are not about the economic system. I might agree with Harold Bloom when he writes, "Do not attempt to improve your neighbor or your neighborhood by what or how you read. Self-improvement is a large enough project for your mind and spirit." 

(via Dissent)

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