MATERIALIST MODES OF READING

Departing from a Marxist assumption that materiality is socially produced, under changeable conditions that its producers neither wholly control nor wholly understand, the course seeks to explore elements of those methodologies which may best allow for the reading of literature as part of that wider materiality. We shall beg the question, aphoristically put, “If nature (the materiality) is always human nature (or human materials), how best might that stuff be understood as it reflects and is modified by literary expression?” The materiality of literature will be explored as produced in relation to a number of interwoven forms of work--that is, by and within political economy, linguistic labor, historical explanation, and even by and within the forgetting of that on-going and diverse production. The underpinning purpose will be to establish a relation between a value theory of labor and a labor theory of language.

Since literary materiality is made from words, and since words are social instruments, semanticized through particular relations, we shall engage early with materialist accounts of language (V.N.Volosinov, Mikhail Bakhtin, Raymond Williams). Since literary words frequently take narrative forms, we will address historiography as it seeks to apprehend the real (Walter Benjamin, Stephen Greenblatt, Michel De Certeau, Hayden White). Since written stories are made as much from what is forgotten as from what is remembered, we will consider “forgetting”, or the unconscious, as made from that which we have learned to find unthinkable (Freud, Nicolas Abraham and MariaTorok, Paul Ricoeur).

These three areas, language, narrative and the structural unconscious, since they are to be read as part of a wider pattern of material making (or an economy understood as a mask worn by social relations), needs must be linked to a specific accumulative regime by way of Marx, and responses to him (most particularly those of Fredric Jameson and David Harvey). Towards that end, course discussion will start from an account of the U.S. transition, during the 1970s, from an economy grounded in Fordist production, to one increasingly orientated to financial and mercantile exchange (1970 to the Crunch). As a prelude to work on Volosinov and Bakhtin, the interaction  between economic and linguistc forms will be addressed through a consideration of the financial turn as itself generative of the linguistic turn [Derrida, Lyotard, Baudrillard]), and of the attendant post-structuralist  exorbitation of the signifier.

The aim of the course is at all times to explore and enable the processes of reading: methodologies are more limited than the complex literary and historical objects which they address, and should be neither complete nor glass machines. Each week the seminar will consider extracts from theoretical writings in relation to a particular short story or stories. The stories chosen will be drawn from a single historical period (U.S. 1970-2017).

Required Texts (as yet provisional/dependent on prior reading of those interested ):

(These I have broken down by field of emphasis, as described above: in almost all cases selections from the works listed will be allocated)


The Economy:
Marx, Capital, Vols. 1 and 3 (the latter for, “fictitious capital” )
Fredric Jameson, Representing Capital
David Harvey, The Enigma of Capital
I.I. Rubin, Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value

Language (the linguistic turn):
Jean Baudrillard,  For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign
Jean-Francoise Lyotard,  Libidinal Economy
Deleuze and Gauttari, A Thousand Plateaus
Jacques Derrida, Given Time: Counterfeit Money

Language and materialism:
V.N. Volosinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language
Mickhail Bakhtin,  Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics
Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature
Paul Ricoeur, “The Metaphoric Process as Cognition, Imagination and Feeling”

The Structural Unconscious:
Freud, “Mourning and Melancholia,” “The Uncanny”
Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, The Wolf Man’s Magic Word
                                                          The Shell and the Kernel
Paul Ricoeur, History, Memory and Forgetting
Jean Laplanche, “A Short Treatise on the Unconscious,” Essays on Otherness

Towards a Materialist Historiography:
Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,”
                             One-Way Street, “Edward Fuchs, Collector and Historian”
                              The Arcades Project, selections from the Baudelaire section
Hayden White, The Content of the Form
Catherine Gallagher and Stephen Greenblatt, Practicing New Historicism
Michel De Certeau, The Writing of History
Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, Vol. 1

Short stories: the choice will depend in part on how discussion goes, but may well include work drawn from Walter Abish, William Gass, Mary Robinson, Jayne Anne Phillips, Raymond Carver, Tim O’Brien, David Foster Wallace, Christine Schutt and Amy Tan. (The list is intended to be neither comprehensive nor exclusive).