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Marxism: Introduction. Class Relations, Capitalism and Commodification 2003 Spring. Outline. Starting Questions Focuses in this unit Marx “ Snowed Up ”. Starting Questions (1): Economic Determinism.

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marxism introduction

Marxism: Introduction

Class Relations, Capitalism and Commodification

2003 Spring

  • Starting Questions
  • Focuses in this unit
  • Marx
  • “Snowed Up”
starting questions 1 economic determinism
Starting Questions (1): Economic Determinism
  • Is money (or the economic relations we are in) the most important determinant in our life?
  • The apparently “non-materialist” aspects of life –
    • the mental: our belief, ideas and ideals;
    • the spiritual: our “soul”
    • literature and all the cultural products.
    • Love -- Can love transcend the conditioning of money and the other social factors (e.g. class, educational background, etc.)?
starting questions 2 class relations
Starting Questions (2): Class Relations
  • Which class do you belong to? Are we all “middle class”? What types of “class relations” do you see in our society?
  • What is capitalism? How does it influence our life?
  • What type of “relations of production” are there at school and in between the teachers and students?
commodity fetishism
Commodity Fetishism?
  • 林立雯承認自己的個性孤僻,不喜歡出門逛街,但為了滿足自己的購物慾望,所以她整日「掛」在購物或拍賣網站上,上個月,她就瘋狂訂購了十幾雙帆布鞋,她說:「現在購物網站很發達,連台灣沒有的限定品都可以買得到,而且送貨到家,非常方便。」她笑說自己看到喜歡的就會忍不住買下來,幾乎把賺來的錢都「敗」在上面了 (中國時報   影視娛樂   920415)
  • Why do we want more than what is “useful”? Do we have insatiable desire? If so, why?
general responses 1 political economy of love
General Responses: (1)Political Economy of Love
  • 「如果不答應我,就是不愛我。」這句話的邏輯其實包括:一、說話者認為對方應該接受他對於愛情的理解與要求;二、如果不接受就等於背叛愛情,甚至會引來報復。 power relations
  • 曾幾何時,金錢已經變成愛情的衡量標準,贈金送鑽買花購禮,成為情人之間的主要語言。(e.g. 真金真性情)
  • 日前一位百貨公司的年輕專櫃小姐,嫁給了年老多金的老闆,許多電子媒體紛紛以「麻雀變鳳凰」來形容。(賴)
general responses 2 relations of production
General Responses: (2)Relations of Production
  • Class -- not the most basic category in any kind of social analysis. Can be combined with the other categories such as race and gender.
  • Important in analyzing the power relations in society and in literature– control/exploitation, inequality, and dialectical relations (master/slave).
  • e.g. love between Daisy and Gatsby, Sons and Lovers, Mulholland Dr.
general responses 2 2 teacher student relations
General Responses: (2) -2Teacher & Student Relations
  • One example
  • Are teachers authorities to rebel against?
  • Are students buyers free to choose what they want? “I don’t think the school will like it.”
  • Why does the father say that if the teachers serves the students as “customers,” the former will not guide,
general responses 2 3 teacher student relations
General Responses: (2) -3Teacher & Student Relations
  • Teacher-student: commercial relation and others
  • Teachers (like experts and those with technical skills ) are “professionals”–they can produce more knowledge and thus more of their labor power and values.
  • They, like the students, are still in the system of domination and subordination. (Ref. Scase 80)
general responses 3 our consumption habits
General Responses: (3) Our Consumption Habits
  • Why can’t we stop buying?
  • Possible reasons:
    • Devaluation of the goods we buy or own; “positional goods”– When more people own the goods, the satisfaction it brings is reduced. (e.g. 40,000 dollar face cream; shark fin; etc.)
    • Durkheim: human wants are in principle limitless; capitalism develops too fast, always changing our expectations. Stoppable only by 1) repressive social morality; 2) regulating capitalism.
    • Loss of Religion and Sense of Stability.
    • Marxist views: (later) capitalism creates false needs and Commodity Fetishism
marxism topics schools on focus
Marx and Vulgar Marxism

Western Marxists : Althusser’s theory of Ideology & Gramsci’s Hegemony

American & British Marxism: Jameson and Eagleton

Foucault &文學社會學的多重互動模式

Dialectic Materialism, Class and Commodification

Literature & Society

Marxist Literary Criticism

Literature as Discoure

Marxism: Topics & Schools on Focus
marx basic ideas
Marx: Basic Ideas
  • Economic Determinism; (previous Q & A)
  • Dialectic Materialism--(His Dialectic View of History: Revises Hegel’s view of history)
  • Critique of capitalism –
    • Exploitation of laborers and Alienation of them from their productive process
    • Commodification of Human Identity and Relations
  • Social Structure: Base and Superstructure
dialectic materialism marx s two major statements
Dialectic Materialism: Marx’s Two major Statements
  • It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.
  • (In other words-- Consciousness does not determine our socio-economic existence; our socio-economic existence determines consciousness.)

Economic Determinism

marx two major statements 2
Marx: Two major Statements (2)
  • The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various way; the point is to change it.
  •  Has Marxism failed after the fall of Berlin Wall, the collapse of Soviet Union and the capitalization of mainland China?
  • e.g. Soviet Union – 3 years after their its collapse, ½ of Russia’s economy is private owned.
  • China –capitalism has been developing since 1970’s in some special economic zones an official stock exchange was set up to allow people to buy and exchange shares. (Saunders 4)
economic determinism some basic terms
Economic Determinism: Some Basic Terms
  • Means of production -- 製造媒介(工具﹚.
    • e.g. Machines –in industrial society; media and computer in our age of Information; those who own them, or know well how to use them, get to hold power over those who don't.
  • Modes of production -- 製造形式.
    • In the industrial society -- mechanical reproduction;
    • in our "post-industrial"age -- electronic reproduction.
  • Relations of production -- 製造關係
    • between the capitalist class who owns those means of production, and the proletarian class whose labour-power the capitalist buys for profit.
economic determinism example
Economic Determinism: example
  • Production of a novel today: influenced by
  • Means of production – typing or handwriting; including only verbal language or also drawing.
  • Modes of production -- multimedia or print copy;
  • Relations of production – from production (with publishers) to distribution (with bookstores and news media) to consumption (readers)
marx s critique of capitalism
Marx’s Critique of Capitalism
  • Capitalism – caused by industrialism’s amplification of labor power(e.g.) with machines surplus values accumulation and expansion of capitals

(Scase 13)

marx s critique of capitalism 2
Marx’s Critique of Capitalism (2)

2. Consequences: exploitation and alienation of laborers, exchange values over use values; reification(物化) and commodification of human relations

Example: Modern Times ; Bicycle Thief

marx s critique of capitalism 219
Marx’s Critique of Capitalism (2)

2. “immiseration thesis” -- exploitation and alienation of laborers,

Note: Saunders argues that capitalism actually increases human wealth (of the poor and the rich alike) and improves human lives

 What do you think?

marx s solution
Marx’s Solution

3. Marx’s argument: State-owned properties  Communism

(example: clips of The Greatest Thinker: Marx)

  • Pension funds or share-holding is not enough; State-owned capital; possible problem, the State’s inefficiency;
  • Commune (regional economy, self-sufficiency)
marx s critique of capitalism 3
Marx’s Critique of Capitalism (3)

3. fetishism

  • The charming and enigmatic nature of commodity

Use value  Exchange values added to it;

  • “abstract” relations between the products  relations between men
  • Commodities as system of signs, hiding the economic relations in the production process.


critique of capitalism 4 by western marxism
Critique of Capitalism (4) –by Western Marxism

Herbert Marcuse – capitalism creates our false needs, whereas our “real needs” are “repressively desublimated” in a one-dimensional world of commodities. (Cf. Saunders 79)

Ardorno: creates “massified” pseudo-identity

e.g. The Icicle Thief

social structure base and superstructure
Social Structure: Base and Superstructure
  • Base-- “The sum total of [the] relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation”
  • Superstructure--a legal and political superstructure, cultural institutions and forms of social consciousness.
  • Relations between --

The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general.

social structure base and superstructure 2
Social Structure: Base and Superstructure (2)
  • Other ways to describe their relations:
  • reflect, determine ultimately, cause, condition,sets the limit
  • e.g. Vulgar Marxism’s reflectionism (presupposes a homology in social structure)
social structure base and superstructure 3
Social Structure: Base and Superstructure (3)
  • Ideology: the ruling ideas of the ruling class; imposed on the other classes.
  • Superstructure

Parallel, reflect

Base as foundation, center

althusser s idea of social formation de centered
Althusser’s idea of social formation; de-centered
  • Relative autonomy of the social levels and ultimate determination by the base
snowed up
“Snowed Up”
  • What are the binary opposites in the story?
  • How is Edie related to the men around her?
  • What gets "snowed up" in the story?
  • What do you think about the ending? Is Edie finally subject to both the control of her society and the belittling of her author?
binary opposites
Binary Opposites
  • class difference:
  • Lord Bilbrton--> has power,
  • Mr. Alderman Thrigg--> has money;
  • Aurelles--> Aurelles' playing chess -- "trying oh, so hard to play chess--which he does not understand--with papa; and all just because."
  • father's position: in financial trouble, to be saved only by being appointed by the government.

2. difference in age and appearance:

Lord Bilbrton "wizened", Mr. Alderman Thrigg "stout" and Aurelles "strong, tall, noble-looking"

3. order vs. Edie's giddy head

edie in between these men
Edie in between these men
  • She prefers Aurelles over the other two suitors, though she is aware of the former's clumsiness in social games.
    • reflected in her terms of address--> Aurelles or Phillip or Phil; Lord Bilberton or Charlie
edie s change by the snow
Edie's change by the snow
  • Before the snow -- Edie's position against class difference and social customs:
    • like a shuttlecock or tennis ball; 2. It is laughable . . . p. 20
  • Edie's rebelliousness and ambition as a writer:
    • p. 20 the fur coat -- must wear it;  interest in her own looks;
    • not going to be sold exactly. p. 20
    • be a poetess someday.
    • hate their "coming to the point." --> will not marry them, will cry, quarreled; am cross.
    • "entanglement with a penniless soldier."p. 21
    • her view of having a spouse p. 21
the other people s reponses
The Other People’s reponses:

1) 1/4 Lord B: "poor shivering ancient body“

2) 1/5 "I shall perish with an angel!" Mr. Thrigg is not good at using metaphors; Bilberton, silly with fright. Papa, cynical. * Mr. Thrigg as one trying to help;

3) 1/6 Mr. Thrigg in despair and struggle (p. 23)

 1/14 p. 24

the other people s reponses 2
The Other People’s reponses : (2)

4) 1/14 All the servants left but the maid, papa an invalid, Bilberton helpless; Thrigg trapped in snow; the arrival of Phillip p. 25

5) 1/15 eat the cat;

6) 1/17 Papa and the Alderman may die. Philip is the only one active to get food.

7) 1/18 the last try by Phillip

8) 1/19 a feast; The Alderman eats a long time.

edie s changing views of the snow and the others
Edie's changing views of the snow and the others
  • 1)1/3 "Why it is beautiful! I wish I was snowballing Aurelles." (21)2) 1/4 nothing to do; hate the snow p. 21 1/5 - 6, laughs at her suiters.3) 1/10 "we shall be starved." Misses "Phillip." --a very short entry.* turning point: 4) 1/14 "Nothing but snow." "Such fun! The Alderman has been helping me in the kitchen." Philip arrives; he is willing to rescue Thrigg only if he gives up his pursuit of Edie. Edie changes her tactics. p. 26
edie s changing views of the snow and the others34
Edie's changing views of the snow and the others
  • 5) 1/15 must write to pass away the time; * Edie's weakness and incisive comment on the "weakness of the snow": 1/17 cries; comments on the snow. "the weak, feeble despised flakes of snow."1/18 waiting;* turning point: 1/19 he has all my heart1/22 the roughs invasion; nice to have a soldier around. Hope for us at last--fog.1/15 Is aware of her being a commodity between two men. Will be a good girl and make Phil a first rate wife.--Her diary ends with a bracket and blankness.
snowed up its contraditions
“Snowed Up”: Its Contraditions
  • Although Jeffries writes a cautionary take about what happens when society is deprived of technological support, there also appears to be an unarticulated desire for such a catastrophe to occur, a desire for devastation and for reversion.
  • [He expresses] liberal anxiety but also a reactionary 'back to nature' impulse. (Meynard 139)
  • Sauders, Peter. Capitalism: A Social Audit. Buckingham: Open UP, 1995.
  • Scase, Richard. Class. Buckingham: Open UP, 1992.
  • 賴祥蔚. 〈情人的政治經濟學〉中國時報  92/02/14.
  • Maynard, Jessica. “A Marxist Reading of 'Snowed Up.‘”Literary theories : a case study in critical performance. Eds. Julian Wolfreys and William Baker. London : Macmillan Press Ltd , 1996