Tuesday, October 9, 2007


I'm about halfway through The Dialectical Imagination, Martin Jay's classic study of the Frankfurt school (an exam-list book if there ever was one). It's a classic for a reason, so no evaluation here. The thing is 35 years old, though, and the distance tells. Particularly in the seriousness with which he takes Herbert Marcuse. I've once been asked to read Marcuse--of course I know who he is, know something about his work, but although his name is still thrown around, he doesn't seem (as it were) read anymore. He's someone I need to know a great deal more about.

Recently, I came across some sociology of knowledge work on why Erich Fromm (another figure who plays a major role in Jay's story) fell out of academic favor. From Jay's account, it seems clear why 'we' don't find Fromm useful at all these days. Marcuse, on the other hand, seems to be speaking (especially up through the 1940s--but perhaps no longer in Eros and Civilization) very much to issues current in postmarxism, especially Zizekian attempts to bring Hegel back to the table (even in his engagements with Schmitt--this is the contemporary postmarxist academic left, at least as i've so far been exposed to it). It seems to me that a more interesting and subtle problem than "why not Fromm?" is thus "why not Marcuse?" Is it just that he's embarrassingly associated with the gauche-y new left, with the painfully naive adolescence of the current generation of academics? hmmmm...

This early Martin Jay is also interesting to read in light of the two books by students of his--Moyn and Kleinberg--that i've just finished. I've got to write something about them as well. possibly i'll post it here, but i'll admit to feeling considerably more comfortable making public my thoughts about those born before 1930 than after 1960.

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