Archives for posts with tag: marx

Eric Hobsbawm, by Karen Robinson for the Guardian.

I was having dinner recently with the assistant to the Macondo state historian, a man of the people, who was the first in his family to have attended college. I brought up the name of Marx, about whom I’ve been thinking for a couple of years as part of my sense that the epochal occurences of the 19th century, and its thinkers, have yet to be dealt with. The 20th century cataclysms, perhaps a result of the 19th century ones, interrupted our taking in of the 19th century.

This feisty self-made PhD. snorted, and said, “Marx is passe.”

Perhaps. Perhaps in the office of the state historian here in Macondo.

But nowhere else, as even I know, I who don’t really believe in history except the way Marxists write it, about women, minorities, children, jazz, material culture, subalterns, Mafiosi, slaves, lives of the obscure, post-colonials, criminals, food, peasant and popular culture, back channel economies, mental illness, Muslims, Cambodians, peasant resistance, labor, prostitutes, modernity, survivors of genocide — people who lived outside of “history”, the tale of 300 white boys in Paris.

Eric Hobsbawm, perhaps the premier Marxist historian,  has died, aged 95, having lived through most of the 20th century, from his birth in the year of the Russian revolution through the 2008 implosion of capitalism.

Some people think he even invented the idea of popular culture.

More than 50 years ago, a bunch of dissident Oxbridge-educated academic historians changed the way the British saw culture. They understood, long before anyone else, that culture is what shapes the world. They also saw that culture is totally democratic and comes from the people. While the official guardians of the arts, such as Kenneth Clark, were praising the “civilisation” of the elite on television and in print, Hobsbawm and co were resurrecting the lost cultures of Luddites, the masked poachers and anyonymous letter writers, of William Blake and John Milton. They discovered and popularised the value of popular culture – something so integral to our lives today it seems bizarre it was ever denigrated.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2012/oct/02/eric-hobsbawm-on-culture

He taught all his life at a working mens’ college in London, of which he became president, and defended Marxism through its darkest hours. He joined the Communist party in 1936 at Cambridge, along with the intellectual arbiters society, the Apostles. He let his CP membership lapse in the 21st century, and said it had been his life.

“I didn’t want to break with the tradition that was my life and with what I thought when I first got into it,” he told The New York Times in 2003. “I still think it was a great cause, the emancipation of humanity. Maybe we got into it the wrong way, maybe we backed the wrong horse, but you have to be in that race, or else human life isn’t worth living.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/02/arts/eric-hobsbawm-british-historian-dies-at-95.html?pagewanted=all

It cost him, though how much only the old atheist could know. During World War II he volunteered to be a spy, as all his Cambridge contemporaries did, but his party affiliation excluded him. He spent the years 1939-1945 building worthless fortifications in East Anglia, making common cause with his working class colleagues. “I did nothing of significance in it,” he wrote of the war, “and was not asked to.” Of his colleagues in the 560 Field Company, he said, “There was something sublime about them and about Britain at that time. That wartime experience converted me to the British working class. They were not very clever, except for the Scots and Welsh, but they were very, very good people.”

If Communism kept him from fighting the war against fascism, it also kept him from writing about the tumultuous 20th century through whose greater part he lived. Only after he was well into his 80s, finally writing his history of the 20th century in The Age of Extremes, did Hobsbawm feel he could write about his own times, “given the strong official Party and Soviet views about the 20th century, one could not write about anything later than 1917 without the strong likelihood of being denounced as a political heretic.”

He wrote, lectured, entertained the chattering classes at tea in Hampstead, and starred as a public intellectual almost until the end. Tony Blair, acknowledging Hobsbawm’s intellectual contributions to Britain’s Labour Party, got him a medal from the Queen in 1998. He always did think of himself as a “Tory communist,” not much admiring the free love communalism of the 1960s.

At the end of his life, he stunned people who think of old men as heroes by defending Stalin’s mass killings.

“Historical understanding is what I’m after, not agreement, approval, or sympathy,” he wrote in his memoir.

In 1994, he shocked viewers when, in an interview with Michael Ignatieff on the BBC, he said that the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens under Stalin would have been worth it if a genuine Communist society had been the result.
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ttp://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/02/arts/eric-hobsbawm-british-historian-dies-at-95.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

Not to fight fascism, not to write about the 20th century, to defend Stalin’s genocides, seems a high price to pay for loyalty. But Hobsbawm paid it. His work on the rise of capitalism made him Britain’s most respected historian, and he died active, thoughtful, well-loved. And writing.

Another PhD Brit knitter, like Kate Davies, the original Intelligent Craftafarian, who explores the female proletariat (Ackworth Quaker School, peonage system for Shetland knitters) through material culture, and Felicity Ford, the sonic feminist and all-night walker, takes on “fashion”, and the political and aesthetic significance of rolling your own. I think of these British historiennes, all under 40, as the theoreticians of the straight edge punk philosophy of the new crafters, inspired by Marx, Armageddon or Fugazi, whatevs.
Amy Twigger Holroyd defines makers and deconstructers of factory-manufactured fashion as “fashion Diggers”, after the Haight-Ashbury socialists and their earlier incarnation as 17th century British communists. She writes,

Fashion well-being is an under-researched concept which could be placed within a broader debate around body image and definitions of beauty (Corner 2009); however, I define it more specifically as a positive sense of ownership regarding clothing choices, and a feeling of balance between the self and others in these decisions.

Amy Twigger Holroyd

In arguing for fashion as an ethical self-representation, Holroyd crystallizes decades of observation on my part about fashion as authenticity.  The American philosopher William James discusses as purity, a character trait of saintliness, the fashion revolution instigated by the Quakers, to whom the Diggers were connected, and how it enraged the oligarchy.*
Chumbawamba – The Diggers Song
These are the people Alexander McQueen came from, overcoming enclosure, as Holroyd defines it in her PhD abstract on Fashion Diggers: transgressive making for personal benefit.
McQueen is the most important fashion influence of the past 50 years, I think, aside from street fashion, which is always the engine of the designers. Watch McQueen deconstructing a man’s suit. If you are in doubt that fashion is of the essence, take a look at McQueen in this Bridegroom Stripped Bare video; Dada will not even make you tell what is the high art work and movement the title refers to.  Trust me, it is art. Scroll down for it.
http://blog.metmuseum.org/alexandermcqueen/video/
(Pause while contemplating the most influential people in the past 50 years of fashion, most all of it up from the streets: Yves Saint Laurent and the pantssuit, Stevie Nicks, the Pointer Sisters, Westwood, and Kissi and Gumbs, the black ivy guys over at Street Etiquette.
Yves Saint Laurent pantssuit, by Helmut Newton, 1975.
Helmut Newton’s shot of the Yves Saint Laurent pantssuit, 1975.
Travis Gumbs and Joshua Kissi perfect an aesthetic of dress that is as good for working women as it is for black men. TCB Sauce, you could call it, with Blade Runner/bicycle messenger elements.
http://streetetiquette.com/2010/09/23/the-black-ivy-2/
Personally I am thrilled that somebody writing about fashion cites John Clare and the whole idea of the commons. You can Google it. Power to the people.
The peoples' poet, John Clare.
The peoples’ poet, John Clare, 1793–1864, who lamented the privatized enclosure of Britain’s commons lands, where poor people grazed their livestock.
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173204
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*In the autobiography of Thomas Elwood, an early Quaker, who at one time was secretary to John Milton, we find an exquisitely quaint and candid account of the trials he underwent both at home and abroad, in following Fox’s canons of sincerity. The anecdotes are too lengthy for citation; but Elwood sets down his manner of feeling about these things in a shorter passage, which I will quote as a characteristic utterance of spiritual sensibility: — “By this divine light, then,” says Elwood, “I saw that though I had not the evil of the common uncleanliness, debauchery, profaneness, and pollutions of the world to put away, because I had, through the great goodness of God and a civil education, been preserved out of those grosser evils, yet I had many other


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evils to put away and to cease from; some of which were not by the world, which lies in wickedness (I John v. 19), accounted evils, but by the light of Christ were made manifest to me to be evils, and as such condemned in me.

“As particularly those fruits and effects of pride that discover themselves in the vanity and superfluity of apparel; which I took too much delight in. This evil of my doings I was required to put away and cease from; and judgment lay upon me till I did so.

“I took off from my apparel those unnecessary trimmings of lace, ribbons, and useless buttons, which had no real service, but were set on only for that which was by mistake called ornament; and I ceased to wear rings.

“Again, the giving of flattering titles to men between whom and me there was not any relation to which such titles could be pretended to belong. This was an evil I had been much addicted to, and was accounted a ready artist in; therefore this evil also was I required to put away and cease from. So that thenceforward I durst not say, Sir, Master, My Lord, Madam (or My Dame); or say Your Servant to any one to whom I did not stand in the real relation of a servant, which I had never done to any.

“Again, respect of persons, in uncovering the head and bowing the knee or body in salutation, was a practice I had been much in the use of; and this, being one of the vain customs of the world, introduced by the spirit of the world, instead of the true honor which this is a false representation of, and used in deceit as a token of respect by persons one to another, who bear no real respect one to another; and besides this, being a type and a proper emblem of that divine honor which all ought to pay to Almighty God, and which all of all sorts, who take upon them the Christian name, appear in when they offer their prayers to him, and therefore should not be given to men; — I found this to be one of those evils which I had been too long doing; therefore I was now required to put it away and cease from it.

“Again, the corrupt and unsound form of speaking in the plural number to a single person, you to one, instead of thou, contrary to the pure, plain, and single language of truth, thou


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to one, and you to more than one, which had always been used by God to men, and men to God, as well as one to another, from the oldest record of time till corrupt men, for corrupt ends, in later and corrupt times, to flatter, fawn, and work upon the corrupt nature in men, brought in that false and senseless way of speaking you to one, which has since corrupted the modern languages, and hath greatly debased the spirits and depraved the manners of men; — this evil custom I had been as forward in as others, and this I was now called out of and required to cease from.

“These and many more evil customs which had sprung up in the night of darkness and general apostasy from the truth and true religion were now, by the inshining of this pure ray of divine light in my conscience, gradually discovered to me to be what I ought to cease from, shun, and stand a witness against.”[175]

[175] The History of THOMAS ELWOOD, written by Himself, London, 1885, pp. 32-34

These early Quakers were Puritans indeed. The slightest inconsistency between profession and deed jarred some of them to active protest. John Woolman writes in his diary: —

“In these journeys I have been where much cloth hath been dyed; and have at sundry times walked over ground where much of their dyestuffs has drained away. This hath produced a longing in my mind that people might come into cleanness of spirit, cleanness of person, and cleanness about their houses and garments. Dyes being invented partly to please the eye, and partly to hide dirt, I have felt in this weak state, when traveling in dirtiness, and affected with unwholesome scents, a strong desire that the nature of dyeing cloth to hide dirt may be more fully considered.

“Washing our garments to keep them sweet is cleanly, but it is the opposite to real cleanliness to hide dirt in them. Through giving way to hiding dirt in our garments a spirit which would conceal that which is disagreeable is strengthened. Real cleanliness becometh a holy people; but hiding that which is not clean by coloring our garments seems contrary to the sweetness of


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sincerity. Through some sorts of dyes cloth is rendered less useful. And if the value of dyestuffs, and expense of dyeing, and the damage done to cloth, were all added together, and that cost applied to keeping all sweet and clean, how much more would real cleanliness, prevail.

“Thinking often on these things, the use of hats and garments dyed with a dye hurtful to them, and wearing more clothes in summer than are useful, grew more uneasy to me; believing them to be customs which have not their foundation in pure wisdom. The apprehension of being singular from my beloved friends was a strait upon me; and thus I continued in the use of some things, contrary to my judgment, about nine months. Then I thought of getting a hat the natural color of the fur, but the apprehension of being looked upon as one affecting singularity felt uneasy to me. On this account I was under close exercise of mind in the time of our general spring meeting in 1762, greatly desiring to be rightly directed; when, being deeply bowed in spirit before the Lord, I was made willing to submit to what I apprehended was required of me; and when I returned home, got a hat of the natural color of the fur.

“In attending meetings, this singularity was a trial to me, and more especially at this time, as white hats were used by some who were fond of following the changeable modes of dress, and as some friends, who knew not from what motives I wore it, grew shy of me, I felt my way for a time shut up in the exercise of the ministry. Some friends were apprehensive that my wearing such a hat savored of an affected singularity: those who spoke with me in a friendly way, I generally informed in a few words, that I believed my wearing it was not in my own will.”

When the craving for moral consistency and purity is developed to this degree, the subject may well find the outer world too full of shocks to dwell in, and can unify his life and keep his soul unspotted only by withdrawing from it. That law which impels the artist to achieve harmony in his composition by simply dropping out whatever jars, or suggests a discord, rules also in the spiritual life. To omit, says Stevenson, is the one art in literature: “If I knew how to


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omit, I should ask no other knowledge.” And life, when full of disorder and slackness and vague superfluity, can no more have what we call character than literature can have it under similar conditions. So monasteries and communities of sympathetic devotees open their doors, and in their changeless order, characterized by omissions quite as much as constituted of actions, the holy-minded person finds that inner smoothness and cleanness which it is torture to him to feel violated at every turn by the discordancy and brutality of secular existence.

That the scrupulosity of purity may be carried to a fantastic extreme must be admitted. In this it resembles Asceticism, to which further symptom of saintliness we had better turn next. The adjective “ascetic” is applied to conduct originating on diverse psychological levels, which I might as well begin by distinguishing from one another.

http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=JamVari.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=all

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