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Lecture & Class Discussion Notes

ENGL 308

Table of contents
  1. Week 1 Tuesday - Syllabus and Course Introduction
  2. Week 1 Thursday - Marx & Engels - Parts I and II of The Communist Manifesto
  3. Week 2 Tuesday, Marx & Engels - The Communist Manifesto Continued
  4. Week 2 Thursday, Marx & Engels and Melville
  5. Week 3 Tuesday, Melville and Wallerstein
  6. Week 4 Tuesday, Wallerstein and Melamed
  7. Week 4 Thursday, Sorry to Bother You
  8. Week 5 Tuesday, Sorry to Bother You and Federici
  9. Week 5 Thursday, Federici and Wright
  10. Week 6 Tuesday, Wright, Hoang, and Bernstein
  11. Week 6 Thursday, Butler
  12. Week 8 Tuesday, Marx
  13. Week 8 Thursday, Althusser
  14. Week 9 Tuesday
  15. Week 9 Thursday, Althusser, Williams
  16. Week 10 Tuesday, Williams
  17. Week 10 Thursday, Williams, Bong Joon Ho

Week 1 Tuesday - Syllabus and Course Introduction

  • Today - give an overview of what will be happening in the quarter.
  • Not an easy class. If it’s not for you, don’t take it.
  • History of the class
    • Taught over 20 years
    • Marxism taught though the backdoor
    • Marxism needed to be integrated into the department
    • Argued to be the most central course for English majors
    • 2008 financial crisis - important to understand this.
    • In 2008, lobbied to put the course on the books. Became a listed English course.
    • At certain times, there has been a certain amount of anxiety. Rides different waves of politics. There is always a waitlist about the class.
    • The conservative backlash.
    • Marxist theory as central to life in the 21st century.
    • Corona Capitalism - crisis has revealed disparities in wealth and resources in truly profound ways.
  • The course is principally an examination of a Marxist approach to analysis of culture and literature. Not necessarily as a political philosophy. As a critical/naalytical framework. Not Marxism as a political philosophy,, but talking about Marxism as a critical/analytical framework.
  • Way of thinking about power as it manifests in culture and literature - impacted by forces of power, including the capitalist system as it racializes, sexualizes, genders, and creates identity.
  • Political philosophy grounded in an analyssi of economics and history. How to get from economics and history to culture and literature. There are Marxist scholars in every discipline. How do they turn a theory of economics and history into a theory of literature and culture?
  • Marx was a bit of a polymath, reading very broadly in emergent subjects.
  • Boils down to a historical shift; we’ve moved incrementally into a present moment from an analysis of literature as aesthetic, beautiful, artistic, pertaining to universal truths/values - to an understanding of literature as social, historical, and full of power and contestation.
  • All teachers - whether they announce themselves as Marxists or not - have been influenced by Marxist teachings, which have saturated the Academy.
  • New Criticism. Puts together a version of literary scholarship focused on the aesthetic, form, and questions of beauty. Nnot interested in questions of power and politics.
  • Brings about an approach to culture expressed in power dynamics in class, culture, race, gender, sexuality.
  • Important to recognize different modalities of power. Can be reified as identities. Categorization, division, hierarchization. Nothing natural about modalities; imposed to make capitalism go.
  • Racism, sexism, homophobia, and capitalism - the isms, the systems of power. Race, gender, sexuality, class. -isms intersect. The language of intersectionality is a celebrated language.
  • Weinbaum argues that feminism, CRTS, post-colonial studies, sexuality studies, cultural studies, etc. - modes of inquiry only possible because of Marxism. They are not merely derivative - the very idea of studying power comes from Marxism.
  • You can’t have feminist without Marxism; you can’t have anti-racist theory without Marxism, etc.
  • Intellectual history of Marxism is the influential framework that allows for thes eother theories to emerge.
  • (No breaks, and no powerpoints. Post-break discussion usually lags. Usually we roll for as long as possible, then conclude discussion.)
  • Kimberle Crenshaw, responsible for creating the bogeyman CRT and intersectionality.
  • Checking out - is there a way in which Staurt Hall - ‘race is the modality in which class is lived’. Intersectional formulation. People wer ealready beginning to think through connections.
  • Is there a natural affinity between capitalism and racism? Does capitalism need racism in order to go?
  • Is there a natural affinity between sexism and homophobia?
  • What are the hierarchies of power that have needed to be set inplace for capitalism to sustain itself?
  • A Marxist approach empahsizes that there are material constraints that produce social, political, and economic power relationships and thus the hierarchy of race, gender, class. Bound up with capitalism. This changes the way we study literature.
  • Marxism brings hierarchical orderings of power into focus.
  • No one debate you that we live in a capitalist world system. No part of this planet has not been impacted by capitalist modernity.
  • Marxism is the only and principal method to understand capitalism - and it’s the only course in the UW. What does it tell you about capitalism?
  • Why is it that the one philosophy develpoped over a century is not taught in every classroom, because we live in a capitalist world.
  • Main argument: Marxism is the principal tool for understanding the capitalist system we live in.
    • To not teach it is an ‘insanity’
  • What does this history mean for students of English and culture more broadly?
  • Cultural Studies - intellectual formation that began in Britain and arrived to the US. Applying Marxist theory to culture, disseminates through teh Academy, inflitrates New Criticism
  • Marxism is the post powerful method for interpreting the dominant culture.
  • Marxist theory steps away from it. It’s not an endorser. It sees systems from the outside. Marxist theory suggests there is nothing natural about capitalism, and that it is an invention.
  • What does it mean to look at capitallist systems from a distance.
  • Culture has a complex relationship with capitalism.
  • Culture supports and contests capitalism.
  • Most culture doesn’t think explicitly in terms of capitalism. How does it exist within the capitalist ecosystem? Nothing is neutral, it is always political. There is nothing neutral.
  • Mediation - how does culture mediate capitalism? Different theories of mediation.
  • “We are living in conservative times”
  • Nancy Hartsock and standpoint epistemology
  • The Academy exists within the capitalist world and to some extent accomodates the capitalist system.
  • Four reasons why Marxist literary theory is the best tool for understanding life today and for understanding literature and culture today.
    1. Marxism has become more, or not less, relevant in the lsat 200 years since the period of its invention. We are living in Marx and Engels’s predictions for the future. In some ways, Marx’s conflicts, differences, etc. was visible in Marxist times (think - Dickens), but today capitalism is not merely a European phenomenon. We are living now in late capitalism, or an entrenched capitalism in which capitalist logics and ways of being saturate every being of our life.
      • Neoliberalism - an ideology of late capitlaism suggesting the market values of being should be how we exist in the world.
      • The market as not something to be contested but rather to be embraced
      • ‘Express love with a diamond ring’ - how do we get o a formulation from that. How do commodities and the purchasing of things become an expression of worth and human value?
    2. We become more global - literally. We live in a global world. Marx teaches us that people make history - not kings or presidents, but rather masses, collectivites, the Proletariat - constnatly engaged in struggle and the world in which we share.
      • Neither the coronavirus nor culture obey political lines.
      • Which culture dominates, which culture rises to the top?
      • Some say that American culture is global culture.
      • How does this speak to the situation of America? Flows go in multiple directions
      • Modern femininity emerged simultaneously across the world. Had to do with the global flow of commodities - clothing, lipstick, skin lighteners, tampons, etc. Creating modern versions of feminity. These modern flows came from Japan and China to the rest of the world, rather than vice versa.
      • Literature represents a global world. This global culture is not always on the side of the ruling class.
      • Culture is a site of conflict. Marx would say that it is a site of class conflict. Marxist theory allows us to understand this, to percieve the struggle and conflict in culture. Trying to parse or interpret culture is itself a political act. To not see culture as a political entity is to erase its participation in power relationships. How does power emenate from ‘universal values’ or aesthetics?
      • Universal values as a capitalist ruse
      • Marx suggested that the point is not merely to interpret the world, but to change it. The difference between a Marxist scholar and a scholar informed by Marxism.
    3. Marxist theory makes us conscious about political and economic lens. You will never write a paper the same again.
    4. We will be able to traverse from theories of economics and politics to a theory of literature.


  • Marxist theory is a huge iceberg. A large body of work by Marx and Engels.
  • Marx & Engels wrote 50 volumes of writing - a massive body of work. 9 volumes are the collected letters. Other 41 volumes are published and unpublished works.
  • Marxism gets taken up by people all over the world. Many philosophers decide to build upon Marx and Engel’s work, as well as political actors - Lenin, Mao, etc. Althusser, Angela Davis.
  • We are not debating experiments in communism - Soviet Union, North Korea, etc. Not about the political philosophy, but rather the critical methods that can be derived from those courses. Political questions are for political science courses.
  • Many Marxists didn’t give any attention to literature and culture.
  • There is on universal Marxist orthodoxy, but rather a range of experiments. Vast body of philosophy that can teach us a lot.
  • You want the translator Samuel Moore - this was the translation that Marx and Engels approved.
  • First reader response - you can’t think without writing. Due on Monday of Week 2.
  • Two classes of the Communist Manifesto, then turning to Theses Concerning Feuerbach
  • From capital to ideology - a thought system that works in certain ways to aid and abet systems of power. A theory of ideology is a theory of mediation.
  • Responses must be 750 or 1000 words, exactly. Writing and concision.
  • Partial grade contract course. You are living up to a standard of deep engagement. All your papers must be at the standard of deep engagement.
  • The instructor will grade if it is meeting the standard or not on three responses.
  • 7 responses for a 3.8 to 4.0.
  • You must complete responses 3, 5, 7.
  • All responses must respond to the prompt.

Week 1 Thursday - Marx & Engels - Parts I and II of The Communist Manifesto

  • Naomi Klein, Corona Capitalism - much has happened in the past few years. It reads differently in retrospect.
    • The Manifesto is about crises, recurring crises - crises veer off into new directions, new ideas and eras, revolutions. Hurculean jumps are possible in crises.
    • The Pandemic was thought to maybe be one of those crises serving as a catalyst for transformation.
  • Marx and Engels were in global crisis during the writing of the Communist Manifesto.
  • The materialist method: nothing can be understood without history - context is everything.
  • How white is the text?
    • Race, slavery, and enslavements
    • Concepts of civilized vs uncivilized, East vs West, barbarism.
  • How difficult is the text to read? The Communist Manifesto is intended to be a layman’s text. It is supposed to be easygoing.
  • Marx and Engels were commissioned to write a manifesto for the League of the Just (later the Communist Party).
  • Three ‘chapters’: the Historical, the Polemic, the Academic.
  • The purpose of the Manifesto is platform rather than argument - it is a small, compact pamphlet with the purpose to agglomerate, synthesize, and create chared purpose.
  • Written in the tone of revolution.
    • 1848 revolution; revolution around every century.
    • Uprisings were occuring in almost every European nation, transofrmation from monarchy to society.
    • Two countries stayed out of revolution: Great Britain and Russia.
      • Great Britain enfranchised working men and had sufficient infrastructure and industrial reforms; the working class were placated.
      • In Russia, revolution was down the corner. A lack of connections prevented earlier revolution.
    • Benedict Anderson and the study of modern nationalism: the birth of the popular press and media, the birth of modern nationalism - ‘print nationalism’.
      • Anderson’s interpretation has been criticized for privileging literacy.
    • Ideas must be written; they are much more quickly disseminated in print.
      • The novel makes modern nationalism possible. Novels disseminate shared belonging with others.
      • Sense of cohesion - rising up together, sharing a consciousness.
  • Discontentment with royalty: abandoning the teutonic, the tribal, in favor of the democratic, and liberal - the emergence of national government.
  • Technology - the railrod (especially in connecting the coast to eh interior), newspapers, education, industrialization.
    • Factories bring lots of workers together in one room, in a way that feudalism never could.
      • Ideas begin flashing around.
      • Technology enables the faster transmission of ideas. It becomes materially possible.
  • Starvation - the potato family, environmental catastrophes. There is lack of sustinence; people are angry and famished.
  • French revolution in 1789, American revolution in 1775 to 1783, second French revolution in 1618 - creation of a constitutional democracy.
  • Initial title: “Professions of Faith” - Communism as religion.
  • The Manifesto as a genre exists not as political but rather as a religious text, a sovereign declaration or an interpretation of scripture (usually by the clergy).
    • Transition from religious to a secular worldview.
    • The concept of the Manifesto not as religious but as a political document was pioneered by Marx and Engels.
  • Changed title: “Principles of Communism”. This Manifesto is not quite a set of principles; Manifestos are dynamic, performative works that are not static. They seek not only to understand but also to mold and shape the world around them.
  • Manifestos as bringing about human freedom.
  • Main theoretical contributions of the text
    • Much of production - the way that social and economic means of organization - are subject to change, and are never completely static.
      • Darwin and Marx - writing at the same time
      • Revolution and evolution
      • You cannot have revolution without evolution, and vice versa
      • Capitalism is not permanent
    • Projecting the long term tendencies of capitalism.
      • Capitalism will become global. No other text in the 19th century would have predicted this.
      • Capitalism as a global phenomenon - it will keep an expanding into every scope of the world.
    • Thinking about and understanding other economists. Adam Smith and The Wealth of Nations - evolutionary optimism is naive and misguided.
  • So far, there have been no international overthrows. Were Marx and Engels simply young idealists?

Questions to think about:

  1. How does the ‘spectre haunting Europe’ set the mood? What impact does the language of a threatening spectre create?
  2. How is the bourgeoisie characterized in the text?
  3. How is the proletariat described?
  4. How is the idea of class described?
  5. How are the Communists described?
  6. How is the idea of a historical transformation described?
  7. How do ideas of literature, education, and culture manifest in the text? How are they treated?
  8. How is capital described?
  9. To whom is the text addressed?
  10. How is gender treated in the text?
  11. How is race treated in the text?
  12. How are ideas of individuality treated in the text?

Ideas from Discussion

  • Capital is collective, a social process. Cpaital as formed socially. Creation of commodities and wealth. Social possession and social power.
  • Abolition of private rather than personal property.
  • Capital holds social power, but is only understood as private in the context of capital society. The Goal of the Communists: to return social power and capital to the people that generated it (or whose labor who generated it).
  • Means of production: how commodities are made.
  • How are the bourgeoisie described? Who owns capital? - the bourgeoisie are the destroyers of what came before. Destroyed the power of the feudal system.
  • The petty ‘boutique’ bourgeoisie
  • The bourgeoisie as a revolutionary class
  • The bourgeoisie control the nation-state - the laws, power, ‘freedom’, education, whatnot - an assertion of ‘freedom’, but for whom?
  • Commofidifcation of everything, including people - later, commodification of labor power.
  • Who gets to be the revolutionary class? Classes that exist will decay, collapsing into bourgeois and proletariat.
  • The feudal system and the capitalist system
    • Feudal system: structured with God, King, the nobility, clergy, the three estates. No social mobility - ordainment and religion.
    • Capitalist system: the most social mobility, mobility downwards.
  • The bourgeoisie shake up the system: the petty bourgeois expands the revolutionary impulse.
  • There is always a struggle. What are the big ideas?
  • Theory itself is a literary text. It is not merely to be applied.

Week 2 Tuesday, Marx & Engels - The Communist Manifesto Continued

  • What is class?
  • 1840 as the year of revolution
  • What is capital? Capital as social power/people power, or as private property. Competing definitions.
    • The capitalist: capital = private property
    • The Marxist: capital = social power
  • Marxism - return social power to the people. Capital as social power, a collective/social product.
  • Capitalist view of capital - owned, held, private.
  • Marxist and Capital views - necessary supplementary, but antagonistic.
  • Who is the bourgeoisie? The Bourgeoisie - the former revolutionary power, seized from the feudal system.
  • The bourgeoisie is a self-created system; all opwer is accumulation. emerge out of the petite bourgeoisie, ownership over the means of production and the production process.
    • The bourgeoisie accumulate enough to re-invest capital into the generation of capital - accumulation.
  • Continuous revolution creates unsustainable growth, an unsustainable system. Forecasting the global expansion, the shark-like nature of global capitalism.
  • Figure of the sorcerer - conjuring the world and its gravedigger.
  • Instability - not merely fiscal, but continual impoverishment of the poeple that serve as the basis of that world.
  • Most societies are capitalist; in Ameirca, there is the notion of the ‘middle class’.
  • Marx - the antagonism is messy in the middle. Petite bourgeoisie.
  • Production of major forces that rub up against each other.
  • The Proletariat - who are the proletariats? How are they described?
  • Page 5 - paid wage laborers. People earn a wage for their labor - labor as their only property - these are the proletariat.
  • Implicit masculinization - but differences in sex are described as transgressed by the reach of capital (pp. 10). Marx understood that childre, women, etc. were especially exploited. Marx’s understanding of race is complicated.
  • Paid vs unpaid laborers - ‘paid’ness as essential to the proletariat. Competition on the basis of wage laborer is the basis for capital. ‘Enslaved by the machine’. Presents a relevant analysis for slaves, who are unpaid laborers.
  • Is work abstracted and speicalization erased? Or do people retain skills but somehow get projected upon a scale of capital and value?
  • Wage slavery as a term or concept - is this problematic?
  • Ruling ideas are of the bourgeoisie, ideas and ideology. Capital constitutes not only the means of production but a mode of life.
  • What is a class/How is class understood?
  • Class - a relation to capital, creator vs. controller. Influence of power and social relationships.
    • There must be a struggle, an antagonism.
    • Complementary - one class cannot exist without the other.
    • Easy definition of class: a relationship. Relationships change over time. The historical transformation of history is that of class antagonisms.
    • Communism proposes an overthrow of class, a different existence altogether.
    • A Utopianism of marxism - the language of league, association, union, continuation
  • Question - how is historical transformation represented in the text? How is a theory of history presented?
    • History - conflict leads to societal change.
    • What counts as history?
    • Struggle and questions of relationship
    • How is the question of historical change represented?
    • History as struggle between the powerless and the powerful, power struggles emerging in cyclic phases as a result of power imbalance that oscillates more wildly and wildly until the ‘end of class history’ is reached.
  • Pyramid model of class relationships - who is below whom?
  • The petite bourgeoisie
  • History changes from a minoritarian to a majoritarian struggle, from the small to the large. A new kind of history is coming.
  • Marx is to history what Darwin was to evolution, Engels claims.
    • Evolution - natural transformation, somehow material (?)
    • Natural/inevitability about transformation.
    • Evolution is about survival - a materialist analysis.
    • Inevitability of historical transformation, the need for something to happen.
  • Complex interplay between the ‘material’ and ‘pushed’ evolution, between an evolution that progresses by itself and an evolution that needs to be pushed along.
  • Some crises don’t lead to change, but that they happen is ‘fixed’. Not every crisis leads to radical change.
  • Progression - historied progress? Do things move to a place that’s better? Does the ‘moral arc of history bend towards justice’?
  • Is history cyclical?
  • Inevitability of history: the need for the Communist Manifesto as a literary object of history. A push is needed, somehow - even though the Communist Manifesto itself rhetorically argues for the inevitability of the rise and victory of the proletariat.
    • Are these two visions of historical evolution really competing?
  • What is the theory of literature? The production of the book itself - literary roles in historical transofrmation.
  • Something antagonistic, unsure, contingent. Uncertainty.
  • There will always be class conflict and crises, but then need to be shaped into.
  • The nuance between gathering and haping - what is the role of literature? What is the role of the material earth?
    • Gathering - there is a material reality that we lump together into theory and literature
    • Shaping - contouring and shaping the material reality through theory and literature
  • Pages 6-7: a different paradigm of movement. Marx - what is modernity? Modernity is a world in flux, agitation, change, uncertainty, perpetual flux.

    “All that is solid melts into air” -pp.6

  • Globalization - material and intellectual production. World literature emerges from the bourgeoisie - it produces the ‘global literature’ that leads to its downfall.
  • Prefaces - the translations, The Communist Manifesto is world literature, translated by necessity into languages of the world.
  • To whom is the text addressed? A significant part of the proletariat could not read.
  • An alternative view of history and capitalism.
  • A lot of literature calls itself Communist or Socialist - third section is a rebuttal against these systems. Key insight: these systems of thought are out of phase with history. They may have been imported by France but placed into a much different German context, or attempt to dial back history to the feudalist system.
  • The vision: to shape productive forces used for something other than capital.

Week 2 Thursday, Marx & Engels and Melville

  • The Melville discussion will continue on to Tuesday.
  • Repsonses - got to half with comments.
  • Overall, the responses were well-written. helpful responses ask questions rather than trying to make full-fledged claims, which arguably we are not ready to make yet.
  • Always double space your reading responses.
  • Previous discussion: tensions between the essence of history - inevitability vs produding. Difference in the modern class tension as to previous class tensions - the proletariat is larger, more powerful, more majoritarian in nature.
    • Darwinism - the natural, the inevitable, the evolutionary, the teleological
    • Alternative perspective: history needs to be pushed by those that understand the existing inequalities the best (i.e. the proletariat), to create transofrmation.
    • The Communist Manifesto as a product of oral literature. Capitalism has created the conditions for the liberation of man. Conditions are appropriated for the bourgeoisie, supporting the processes of alienation - but nonetheless Marx and Engels are not interested in a romanticist/idealist anticapitalism, but rather a critical understanding that acknowledges capitalism created the conditions for its fall.
  • The Communist Manifesto is not a novel, but a Manifesto. Marx and Engels invent the modern manifesto to talk about revolution.
  • Theses on Feuerbach - to paraphrase, the point is not merely to interpret but the change the world.
  • The Communist Manifesto is a performative literary work, one that engages in a meaningful, active performnace.
  • The Communist Manifesto brings the spectre into the world; it is palpable, comprehendable. The Manifesto is the sorcerer itself, too - conjuring alternative realities. As the Sorcerer, the things you conjure may be out of your control.
  • Melting of all that is solid into air - aided and abetted by literature.
  • The Manifesto both records and makes history. perfromacne.
  • Can literature do this? We uncover a theory of literature itself.
  • Revolution is a literary battleground, a war of competing cultures, values, and ideas.
  • Materialist idea - we cannot have ideas that are not connected to our material reality. In contrast with idealism - ideas floating out in the ether.
  • The revolution takes place on the page.
  • Section 3: crtiqieu of other socialist ideas, a contoured exploration of the socialist and communist ideologies. Communism - attaches to the proletariat.
  • Professor Weinbaum: celebrate the Communists for being driven not by philosophical experiments but rather by the life, work, and conditions on the ground.
  • Other literature is out of phase with history - it channels ideas into the proletariat, instead of gathering from the proletariat.
  • Feuerbach - a member of the German ‘true’ socialism ideology.
  • Utopian socialism - interesting in that utopian socialists have actually created communities. There is a long history of utopian organization with alternative ways of life and being. Eve and the new Jerusalem. Marx and Engels thought this wrong - a bourgeoisie experiment, for rich people.
  • Responses - idea that came throughout - notes about gender. Marxist feminists point to six key passages in Marx’s canon to understand gender.
  • People usually go to Engels - The Original of the Family, State, and Private Property.
  • Engagement with native American ethos; the emergent field of anthropology; the Iriquois were a matriarchal society, a precapitalist class. Male power as on top is a fiction invented by bourgeois society; there was a different form of being that preexisted capitalism. Of course, this itself is another fiction. Capitalism overthrows equitable soceity; capitalism needs the oppression of women to go; this is implicitly recognized in the text.
  • Why does the end of capitalism mean the end of gendered oppression? This maintains the fiction of a pre-history.
  • The end of prostitution, and the rise of liberation. Bourgeois women are oppressed by being considered property, but in the working classes the question was women and children, who had no property because no one in the working classes could have property; not specifically acknowledged.
  • The bourgeoisie have already created a ring of prostitution, a ‘community of women’ - trading wives, whatnot. A rebuttal to the allegation of communism as creating a ‘community of women’.
  • We can learn more aobut gender from Communist literature; are women a class? There are women in every class. Is there a cross-cutitng class?
  • Supplementary systems that need each other - sexism, racism, capitalism, etc.
  • W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction
  • The Communist Manifesto is an index of the speed of communism and the possibility of the idea throughout the world; where is the idea accepted? Where is the internationalism of the working class understood?
  • The preface is celebratory, announcing the expansion of international communism.
  • text as a history of the modern working class movement.
  • Marx is a humanist - what does capitalism do to human relationships? Produces alienation in three key ways: alientation from the product, alienation from labor, alientation from each other. Lack of humanness - people become commodities and competition.
  • Communism brings about the potential for a new way to relate.

“Theses on Feuerbach”

  • Feuerbach - popular in the 1800s, was a big theorist.
  • Wrote two big books on christianity.x
  • Marx emerged in the German Academy, the Young Hegelians. This text is a criticism of the master; Marx flipped the Hegelian dialectic theory on its head into historical materialism.
  • Hegel - God has no separation from man, it is relating human essence to humans; God is a projection of man. Secular and anti-religious philosophy.
  • Cutting through the alientation with God; alientation is redressed mentally. However, Marx proposed that alientation was not mental, but a material problem. Alientation is a product of the world, of life in capitalism - how and for whom we labor.
  • Three-fold alientation - the way we survive, not projection of hopes onto God.
  • Alientation must be addressed materially. Philosophy cannot get rid of alientation, but material revolution can.
  • “Contemplative Materialism” - materialism that happens int he mind instead of the lived reality.
  • Theses - famous for being short and succint.
  • Marx and Engels, The German Ideology. A set of departures.
  • Engels wrot ethe first draft of the Manifesto, Marx revised and made final edits.
  • Complex history of transaltion and collaboration.


  • Melville was a key figure in 19th century literature. He is part of the American literary canon.
  • You don’t know the alternatives until you read the canon. Do not discard the works in the cnaon.
  • Born 1819 through 1891 from a ‘double revolutionary’ family. The family was left quite poor after the early death of the father.
  • Melville traveled at sea; upon his return, he began his literary career. He later married and had four children, but lost two (his sons).
  • Melville tries to live in rural Massachusetts and is close friends with Nathaniel Hawthorne.
  • Stopped writing adventure novels, no longer catering to the literary marketplace - went out of fashion.
  • Canonization came after death, posthumous realization of Melville’s formal complexity
  • New Crticisim - interested in form, aesthetics, symbolism - found Melville very relevant.
  • Ecoriticism of Melville.
  • Squatting, property, inequality in New York City.
    • Jacob Astor - bought up the city, possessed most of lower Manhattan.
    • Vagrancy was used forcefully in the United States to imprison people who refused to work for a wage. Freed slaves were rounded up into chain gangs to rebuild the South.
  • problems about homelessness in the United States, legal support for the American capitalist system.
  • Slaves were the biggest commodities to the United States.

Questions for the text

  1. How is this a story about life and capitalism?
  2. Is this world literature?
  3. How can we understand Bartleby as a character?
  4. How does the narrator understand Bartleby?
  5. How does the story offer a crtiique of Christianity?
  6. How does Bartleby’s actions impact the people around him?
  7. What is the system of production in the text?
  8. How do we understand the insistence on the world ‘prefer’?

Week 3 Tuesday, Melville and Wallerstein

  • We are now entering a unit on racial capitalism - intersection of race and class.
  • A film is assigned for next Thursday: film watching should not merely be passive. Start and pause, engage with the film, watch multiple times if needed.
  • Look for significant phrases, camera operations, etc.
  • Upcoming Thursday - popular pieces on racism and capitalism, slavery and capitalism. Prof. Weinbaum likes to teach the 1619 project, which has been attacked significantly; students should read the writing being attacked and understand the attack. There are some good critiques of the 1619 project, specifically from a historical angle.

“Bartleby, the Scrivener”, Melville

  • We are building upon what was said in the discussion.
  • Melville - very careful writer from the perspective of the bourgeois. Develops the consciousness of the capitalist.
  • How does the narrator understnad the worker? How do we get to and understand the essence of capitalism when the dominant ideology supports it?
  • The narrator’s attitude towards Bartleby is problematic
  • Understand that ‘prfer’ is a passive expression of refusal, a brilliant response that makes us aware that the refusal is made in a constrained situation.
  • What can’t the other workers see? What if they do know or understand what Bartleby is doing, but the narrator cannot reliably capture it?
  • What is Bartleby protesting, if he is protesting?
  • Conditions - everyone is segmented, separated, divided between people.
  • Factory-like work: long hours, uncomfortable workspaces, incredible strain on the bodies.
  • Nippers, Turkey, Ginger-Nut: all foods. Status as a commodity.
  • What’s happening at the end of the piece?
  • MOdern usage of the word ‘critique’ comes from Marx. Is “Bartleby, the Scrivener” a critique of capitalism?
  • What are we to make of the end of thes tory?
  • Interchangeable properties - geared towards capitalism.
  • What is the state of the narrator before/after Bartleby’s imprisonment, then before/after Bartleby’s death?
  • Pity and self-centeredness, Christian help complex. Wallerstein: workers as subject to change in administration.
  • Is “Bartleby, the Scrivener” a lament, despair of life in capitalism? An argument against individualism? Or a tale of abandonmnet, of letters that failed, that didn’t do what they were supposed to do, crushed like a dead letter. Bartleby is a letter that has no recipient, the world literature without a world.
  • Cognitive distortion around Bartleby - what is Bartleby’s role in social relations?
  • What if writing has no recipient? What if nothing happens? “Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity!”
  • Obfuscation of responsibility: “It was not I that brought you here” - guilt, assimilation, excalpation, mask of complicit involvement, savior complex/moral bankrupcy, false fraternity
  • Humanization that’s not quite humanizing. Capitalism: branding unearned privilege and power as earned. Meritocracy - Wallerstein.
  • Fiction can give us the interiority of life in capitalism that theorys truggles with.
  • Comparison of the workplace to the jail: green screen vs the green grass, looking at dead walls, imprisonment and work are parallel.
  • What letter can get into the consciousness? What sort of letter will be read?
  • Melville as Bartleby, a lament of writing letters that have no recipient. Objectivity in capitalism: numbing effects of life in capitalism.

“The Ideological Tensions of Capitlaism: Universalism versus Racism and Sexism”, Wallerstein

  • How did Marx understand race?
  • S. Hall: race is the modality in which class is lived. Is gender/sexuality/ableism a link too?
  • In traditional Marxism, class is pulled as separate.
  • Who is the proletariat today? What has come together?
  • Wallerstein - a Marxist sociologist, focuse don economic questions.
  • Began studying postcolonial Affirca, particularly South Africa. Studied Apartheid: how is global positioning dependent on a racial caste system?
  • Developer of World Systems Theory, a subset of Marxist scholarship: a way of thinking about global capitlaism.
  • Anticipates the North/South global conflict at a time in which the dominant mode of scholarship on global conflict was focused on the East-West Cold War/Communism-Capitalism dynamic.
  • Two ideas: the core and the periphery. These are racialized terms, dependency theorists. We have primarily bourgeois nations that function in the world as bourgoeis entities, and there are majority proletariat nations that constitute the periphery.
  • Does not believe in the ‘third world’, but rather the one world system separated into labor and capital.
  • Do you need to be paid to be the proletariat? There are 17 million slaves today: we are moving towards a world with increasing slavery. Periphery provides the mateirals that the core accumulates and uses to produce items that the periphery are forced to consume.
  • No nation is completely one or another statically. (e.g. China)
  • There is a South in the north - poverty in very wealthy nations.
  • Questions to think about:
    1. How does Wallerstein build the argument? Where does he stand?
    2. How does capitalism emerge as a universal system?
    3. How does capitlaism rely upon particularity?
  • Key terms: universality, particularity, meritocracy.
  • Argument about capitalism as meritocracy. Everything tells us that capitalism is meritocracy.
  • Intellectula history of the development of capitalism: one way that universality can be preserved through Enlightenment philosophy.
  • Natural states - the Enlightenment gives us a lot of ideas to support Enlightenmnet ideology; you can’t have capitalism without the Enlightenmnet/Protestantism (anti-Weberians).
  • Universal citizenship - universal applicability of these systems, categories of accountability, as if they are available to all.
  • Universality is always undercut by particularity. There is no universality without particularity. A universal system must have exclusion - if everyone had citizenship, then there is no citizenry at all. Universality is predicated upon the production of particularisms.
  • Nothing cannot be turned into a commodity. PSV - slave doctrines.
  • The commodification of repdocution and of life itself. Surrogacy is a multi-billion dollar business.
  • Meritocracy is unstable. People don’t want to be told that someone else is doing better because they worked harder, but because they inherited it. You restabilize meritocracy with the inventions of populations that don’t deserve - racism, sexism, etc.

Week 4 Tuesday, Wallerstein and Melamed

  • Reading the 1619 project - what does the 1619 project represent? People are misinclined to belief largely because of economic benefit from the suppresion of information.
  • Cultural production is a centerpiece of how the world works. The power of education and teaching, sharing stories.
  • Management of the plantation
  • Weatlh vs income - static vs liquid states, a question of stability and passing down, inheritance.
  • Sorry to Bother You - a film demonstrating the complex usage of technology.
  • Technology as liberation? Is technology racist? Thinking about how the technology works on economic and racial subjects.

Wallerstein, “The Ideological Tensions of Capitalism: Universalism versus Racism and Sexism”

  • How does Wallerstein understand the symbiosis between particularity and universality? A ‘paradox’
  • The singularity, the particularity. Capitalism as a universalism that needs particularism. Philosophically, all universalism requires particularisms.
  • Meritocracy is structural - a friendly face on a clean capitalism that doesn’t require someone’s degradation. Denigration is always needed to fuel capitalism.
  • Capitalism as a universalist system. Universalist ideology emerging from the notions of rights emerging out of the French and American revolutions - libertie, egalitie, fraternitie -> equality, equity, etc.
  • Universalist philosophy needed to power capitalist philosophy.
  • Power to the ideology of meritocracy.
  • Weber - proposes that universalism has further roots in Protestantism and forms of Christianity.
  • Capitalism is also universal in that everything is commodified, even where humans can be used as capital and collaterla.
    • Everything becomes an exchangeable quantity.
  • What is inside the commodity? What is value?
  • How are failures of society explained? Groups of people just aren’t equal - no one announces it, but it is implicit. Ideological imposition upon the mind of society.
  • Racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia - ideologies, idea systems that hold power. Meritocracy is an unstable system, doesn’t work - people don’t want to imagine that the problem is embedded within the system; from top-down, the complaint is that those at the bottom do not work hard enough; from bottom-up, the complaint is that people want to believe the top are at the top because of inheritance rather than because of greater intelligence or harder work.
  • From both directions, meritocracy is a problematic, highly unstable system.
  • Capitalism relies upon particularisms to address and crush instability in the meritocratic system.
  • Particularly, race, gender (Wallerstein is particularly focused on sex).
  • Axes of division tend to be - biologizied, naturalized, genetizied, culturalized - what are the essential characteristics of a culture?
  • Racism - the ‘magic formula’ that dissolves the structural issues within meritocracy.
  • Race vs ethnicity, racialization vs ethniciziation: ethnicization sems looser, racialization seems more historizied.
  • Language of non-whiteness tends to recenter whiteness. It’s descriptive, but Prof. Weinbaum doesn’t recommend its general usage.
  • Becoming wehite; racialization; is blackness an invention of slavery? How do phenotypic features become salient with the advent of slavery?
  • Ethnicization - profit making. Minimize protest - naturalize the driving down of wages, rationalization.
  • Do wages reflect importance? Teaching, healthcare workers, grocery workers - did these people see a shift in the profit-sharing struccture over the coronavirus?
  • Feminization - other ways through which work gets feminized and lower wages become rationalized.
  • Meritocracy - how does that work in the film?

Wallerstein, “Class Conflict in the World-Economy”

  • Wallerstein’s second essay: trying to deepen the understanding of capitalism as a system.
  • We arrived at a very wide definition last time - class as a constantly fluctuating relationship. What is a class? Important question, lots of stakes: who needs to mobilize? Who is the oppressor? Who are the oppressed?
  • Inheritance or status: what is after indented is not capital but the status.
  • Marx & Engels, a proletariat is waged labor. This notion is limited; it does’t include slaves, peonies, identiured servers, and so on. What is important instead is instability, waiting for accumulation.
  • The proletariat produces value that is not possessed yby them.
  • Nouveaux Rich and the distinctions between subclasses of the Bourgeoisie
  • Dependency Theory. The ways in which the periphery is forced into relationship with the core.
  • Literature is about reading, but not just about fiction.

Melamed, “Racial Capitlaism”

  • Melamed - popularization of ideas on racism and capitalism.
  • Exploded in academia in the 2000a framework that blew up, synthesizes previous discussion.
  • Racial capitalism - no such thing as capitalism on its own; all capitalism is racial capitalism.
  • Modern world - racial capitalism is unavoidable. Prioritization of race over everything else.
  • Robinson:
    1. Draws upon the black radical tradition and argues that thinkers in this tradition are theorists of capitalism.
    2. Marx and Engels acknowledge capitalism of producing social difference as related to ‘race’; Marx and Engels did not yet have the language we know have to describe race.
      • ‘Primitive accumulation’ - name for the theory of how capitalism got started. Through the accumulation of wealth, conversion of the commons into private property. Occurs through various processes including slavery, colonialism, enclosure of the commons. Capitalism turns land into private property.
      • Robinson - these properties don’t end. Notion of a primitive organiation is a fiction - instead, we have ongoing accumulation.
  • Melamed is digesting hundreds of pages into 10 pages.
  • Black Marxism is a theory about the ways in which oppressed people have criticized the system. Who can truly see the system for what it is?
  • Antirelationality - creation of social distance
  • Racism as the subjection of individuals and populations to premature death.
  • Algorithmic terms - cultural divvying, divisions that produce antagonisms pitting people against each other. Identity \(\to\) commerce and consumption.
  • Separation of people; different types of ethnicized/racialized identities conjured by capitalism.
  • Dialectic -t he dialectic of history is of class struggle; Hegel focused on the dialectic as a process of conflict and contradiction (e.g. the slave-master dialectic). Struggle, victory, and the birth of a new reality.
  • Marx and Engels - all history is an ongoing dialectic.
  • Interconnectedness/discretization, production of disjunction and distinctions that manage distinction to produce pluralism.
  • Can you completely erase distinctions that are meaningful to people?
  • Controlling who can rate, how to relate.
  • Rearrangement of relationality via discretization and re-interconnectedness.
  • Wallerstein: holds an instrumental notion of racism. Melamed: racial formation pre-exists capitalism, but capitalism instrumentalizes difference. Antirelationality strips away what is empowering about identity.
  • What is powerful about our identity?
  • Anti-relationality: isolating a relationality, a segmentation of relationality.
  • Severs relationships between us and our environment, for instance (in the case of climate change).

Week 4 Thursday, Sorry to Bother You

Melamed and Wallerstein

  • Wallerstein pursues an instrumnetalized understanding: racism as a way for capitalism to go, a more traditional understand of race within racial Marxist theory; the creation of race, the invention of whiteness as a tool of capitalism.
  • Melamed - race vs capital, racism vs capitalism. What is the connection ofr Melamed? Racial capitalism and the role of status.
  • Melamed adopts a more dynamic model: capitalism generates separations in its own interest, but at the same time generates places of resistance. Carving people up as a violence - but also the formation of a greater collective of people with common ground.
  • Antirelationality - the technology of capitalism, set upon relationality - which is still produced in disaggregation.
  • State - financial racial violence nexus.

Multiculturalism (stemming from Melamed)

  • Incorporation in the face of resistance - multiculturalism, a neutralizing acknowledgement.
  • Critique of past understandings - what is multiculturalism? Multiculturalism is still a problem - not an acknowledgement of addition that really lets and encourages change.
  • Mobilization around protest.
  • Difference and Haraway - The Cyborg Manifesto - how is separateness and discreteness reconciled?
  • The language of diversity, inculcation of the DEI cult - a corporate ruse to acknowledge poer in a way that doesn’t.
  • Multicultualism - the way Multiculturalism operates makes capitalism look good, obscuring the politics of antiracism
  • Multiculturalism is the mat underneathw hich racial violence is enacted and covered.
  • Related - Queerness and Transness - what happens when drag shows become mainstream? What is the politics of aggregation and incorporation?
  • Niche marketing, virtue signalling
  • Multiculturalism in education - come from your culture potlocks. WHat does it do? Flattening acknowledgements of difference; “all holidays are to be celebrated in the winter”. Isn’t an acknowledgement of anything political. In fact, are the opposite of political.
  • Bridgerton - the problem of multiculturalism in modern media representation. What is progressivism? What does it mean to be progresisve?
  • Land acknowledgements as a striking example of multiculturalism.

Sorry to Bother You

  • Riley is a director, actor, musician. Involved with rpgoressive labor, the black radical congress, Occupy Oakland, etc.
  • A real ear for language
  • Father was raised in the Jim Crow South; mother was a Jewish daughter of Holocaust survivors.
  • “Abusrdist dark reality” - a brilliant refusal of genre, refusal to be pigeon-holed. Absurdism, surrealism, desecration of the modern world.
  • A satire - always about irony, exaggeration, ridicule. A particularly sharp comedy.
  • Authorial intent vs. meaning - Weinbaum encourages separation, but in this case it is significant. Riley ‘snuck in’ to mainstream Hollywood.
  • Torn places in the capitalit fabric - where do these exist?
  • The film as a dystopian representation or as a clean-eyed portrait of modern America - which one? Both?
  • Film is released after the Obama years, during which the multiculturalist fantasy thrives. Makes contesting art.
  • Absurdism, to traditional existentialist philosophers, is an art form used to search for meaning in a meaningless world. Riley refuses existentialist abusrdism; freedom is the search for meaning, and Riley investigates the absurdism produced by systems rather than of life itself.
  • Role of minstruelcy in the film - appropriation, how does capitalist/corporate culture appropriate the racial formation it creates? (rapping, coke wigs, etc.)
  • Questions:
    • How to understand the Equiscapiens?
    • How to understand the work of telemarketing/the medium of voice in relation to the dynamics of capital and identity, particularly identiarian essentialism?
    • How are WorryFree, RegalView, corporate culture represented.
    • Meritocracy and moving up, the elevator, the lift - Steve Lift
    • Individuals and communities
    • Films inside films: self-reflections and investigations of media within media
    • Art and revolution - how can art function radically in capitalism?
    • Question of consent - both in labor and in sexuality, black sexuality
    • Technology and capitalism
    • The white voice
  • Langston and Cassius (Langston \(\to\) Langston Hughes?) - the white voice and security; security and struggle; the language of struggle and insecurity does not exist in the corpus of the white voice.
  • Internalization of the white voice as an invasion of work into personal life, a deterioration of separation; colonization of capital and life; the importance of capital in shaping life in a capitalist system.
  • Corporate culture - RegalView divides workers and preys on Cassius - discretization and pitting; strenghtening through auxiliary weakning; redirection of ultimate criticism within the workers via the creation of a scapegoat (Bartleby?)
  • Steve Lift and Mr. Blank - don’t go along with the rap.
  • Lift - openly racist and sexist, yet hidden beneath a veneer of humor. Reorientations and normalizations of the systems of racism and sexism - multiculturalism on steroids.
  • Double Consciousness and telemarketing - identity transformation
  • Pyschological contradictions within the self
  • The logic of capitalism - making money as good in and of itself, the morals of capitalism; Cassius succumbs somewhat to this logic. The film paints a gentle portrait of Cassius, the choice not to live in poverty - it is understanding and gentle, but insistent.
  • The contradictions eventually become so great that Cassius reaches a breaking point. Where does the breaking point get hit? Who hits the breaking point?
  • Meritocracy - a system of belief, a castle in the air.
  • Equiscapiens - beastialization and racialization of the proletariat. Giant penis, big nostrils - racialization and essentialization encoded in biologism/geneticism.
  • You can’t climb the system without participating in exploitation
  • Identity lost in the chain, assimilation into an aspirational whiteness, the fantasy of whiteness.
  • The racialized relations of capital inherit our identity. White voice, the fantasy of mobility itself - changing voice.
  • What happens when art actually does something?
  • Mr. Blank’s left eye is blinded by his eye path - he literally cannot see through his left eye; Left Eye activism.
  • Idea - the international class system and Wallerstien, the role of RegalView in maintaining an international capital collection.
  • Why does Steve Lift force Cassius into an uncomfortable Minstruel act? What does he get out of it? - forcing of compliance
  • Neutralization as accumulation, inversion - black man performing as a white man performing as a black man. Extreme double consciousness.
  • Soft-porn ambiance feeding into the representation of these topics
  • How does the film represent the conflicts and contradictions of capitalism, particularly racial capitalism?
  • Absurdism vs meaning - politicized questions
  • Defeatist themes? Who carries on the fight? Is the fight worth fighting for? What is the role of hope?

Week 5 Tuesday, Sorry to Bother You and Federici

Continuing discussion of Sorry to Bother You

  • Understanding the Equisapiens - anti/metaphor?
  • Corporate representation of mobility, a critique of meritocracy.
  • Moving into the discussion of the white voice - many complex racial dynamics.
  • Anti-relationality between the workers: the Equisapiens vs the unionization effort. Two different roles and modes of revolution and change.
  • The Equisapiens are the revolutionary class. The union seems more reformist and concessionary.
  • A necessary politics of reform, the truly revolutionary class
  • Multirationalism and multirelationality in the union - the workers are emphatically multiracial. The Equisapiens represent something different, a race of their own.
  • MLK vs Newton and Carmichael - militant approahces. The film gives several explicit nods to the Panthers. MLK and unionization.
    • Lift uses MLK-style reconciliation to recruit Cash into the reformist camp.
  • Wallerstein - capitalism manufactures racial lines.
  • Lifting out and pushiong in - the flexibility of racialization.
  • Biotechnological reproduction - racialized animalization of the Equisapiens. Joining of aniamlity and blackness used in slave-racial capitalization.
  • The term slave-racial capitalization insists that slavery is a capitalist system, it is an argument about capitalism; spearheaded by Baptist and Johnson.
  • “Same struggle, same fight” - harkens to the Communist Manifesto; the Communists always ally with cause of the proletariat.
  • The Equisapiens’ understanding: very being has been saturated with the logic of capitalism.
  • Racist and sexualized nature of blackness: black men as a threat, justification for castration; on the female register, the rape of black women - logic of sexualization of blackness.
  • Lift - ideology of blackness, fetishization of constructs, minstruelcy, racialization of music.
  • Happy and oversexualized - love and theft of Minstruel shows
    • Almost ‘homoerotic’ adoration of minstruelcy (?)
  • A complex scene: a black man imitating a white man imitating a black man.
  • Biotechnological violence: transformation of the human into the animal.
  • Films inside films: propaganda doesn’t admit to the sources of its production; whitewashing of the Equisapien production process.
  • Appropriation of street art; constant expansion, etc. Race to sell capitalism back to black people.
  • Complacency and consciousness raising - what is the role of the classroom?
  • Gender politics and the white voice

Essays by Sylvia Federici

  • 1975 - rise of ‘second wave feminism’.
  • First wave - suffrage movement of the 1920s. Came out of the abolition movement.
  • “Third wave” - ‘modern feminism’, although Weinbaum hates this term. What is the feminism we have now?
  • ‘Feminism - no one would agree with feminism when Weinbaum came to the UW almost two decades ago. Now, most people would.
  • The theoretical movement of the 1970s and 80s - consciousness groups, activist groups (health care, abortion, etc.), legislation - the ability for women to defend themselves against attackers.
  • Whiteness of feminism.
  • Combahee River Collective - black feminist perspective. Manifesto of antiracism and feminism.
  • Implicit whiteness of Federici’s text.
  • Feminism is often discussed in GWSS in different streams - large groupings of feminism. Feminism is a complex terrain.
  • Marxist feminism - a particular subset. How do capitalism and sexism function together? How does capitalism need sexism to go?
    • Black Marxist feminism - includes the intersection of race.
  • Socialist feminism - Zyla Eisenstein. Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism.
  • British context - Marxist feminism is very strong.
  • Reading a feminist perspective from Marx.
  • Wallerstein gives a hurried nod to feminism/sexism and capitalism in “Ideological Tensions of Capitalism”. Still holds a limited instrumental idea of sexism, as is with racism. The hosuewife is kept to make the proletariat happy. Implicitly white and European; ignores that women of color almost always work in contexts outside the home. How to understand this relationship/
  • Argument that capitalism assumes gender and sexual systems.
  • Federici - capitlaism is dependent on reproductive labor, the reproduction of workers through birth, but also reproduction of the home, family work, the molding of children into workers. The core work is ‘domestic work’.
  • Marx didn’t understand this concept because the work wasn’t waged. His analysis of sexism is a sub-structured class system: women are the proletariat and men are the bourgeoisie. Metaphor application of gender as class.
  • However, women are not just the proletariat - it is a more complex distribution of women across the class system.
  • Exploitation of women and the reproduction of capital.
  • Two dominant theories
    • SRT - Social Reproduction Theory. Reproduction as core to the whole system.
    • DST - Dual Systems Theory. Women perform reproductive labor in the private sphere, and productive labor in the public sphere. “Women’s work” - feminized labor, exploited. Private/public separation that is reconciled.
  • Federici argues for SRT, taking a Marxist-feminist approach. Writing emerges from post-war Europe; Italy was recently consumed by fascism.
  • European/Italian control takes on new meaning in society.
  • One may observe surface-level similarities to Wallerstein, but deeper, we see that Federici looks closely at psychological losses, truths that resonate.
  • Concept of primitive accumulation - accumulation is ongoing rather than a static, primitive action. Retelling the tale of primitive accumulation from a feminist perspective.
  • Capitalism took a long time to get started; it took more time to get running than it has existed. Capitalism is not necessarily ‘inevitable’ or ‘rational’.
  • Women are one of the first groups appropriated by capitalism - forced into the home, bodies appropriated into domestic workers.
  • The sexual economy emerges; sex and reproduction emerge as paid work.
  • “The enclosure of the reproductive commons”
  • Corralling of women
  • A different kind of sex, beyond the transactional capital facilitation
  • Social reproduction of lesbianism
  • Judith Butler - disaggregation of sex and gender, 1980s
    • “Gender Troubles”
    • Sex is the biological construct, gender is attached to sex and the lived reality.
    • Butler - deconstructionist, suggests sex itself does not exist.
  • “Heterosexual Matrix”; a relationship reproduces the dominant paradigm. Procreative sex is needed to go; it is the dominant logic.
  • Refusal of antirelationality, recalamtion as the state of feminist revolution.
  • Performative politics - spontaneous movement and visibility. Stopping the wheels of capitalism.
  • Autonomism - platform of wage for housework, demanding wages as the starting place.
  • Refusal of the rationalization of women’s labor of reproduction.
  • The trope of naturalization - biologization, paradigm as an ideologized construct
  • Paying wage for housework reveals its essential nature to the capitalist system.
  • Today: essential workers in the pandemic have been forgotten; their work is feminized work, naturalized.

Week 5 Thursday, Federici and Wright


  • Perhaps deceptivcely simple. It can feel out of date, easily dismissable/castable.
  • Refsual of wages - shift in thinking, such that the conceptual becomes palpably material.
  • SRT - trend in Marxist feminism.
  • (re)production - reproductive labor for sale on the market. This has happend during chattel slavery, and now.
  • Federici’s treatment of bourgeoisie women? Essay begins more with a focus of the post-war proletarian housewife, then moves to the end as a grander gesture that the housewife must be a position all women get behind.
  • An argument ahead of her time. A refusal of imposed sexuality is a refsual of sex work, a ‘general strike’
  • Idealization of lesbianism? Replication of capitalism/heterosexual templates, division of reproductive work.
  • Federici’s formulation of gender is not quite about the body, but how gender is distributed across the system.
  • Not an argument of bodies, but an argument about the organization of gender. Capitalism needs feminimization and mascdulinization, rather than really heterosexuality or the states of male/female itself.
  • Socieites without capitalism have held a space for a third sex.
  • Distinction in theorization between gender and sex.
  • Federici somewhat pre-dates Butler. Gender vs sex.
  • Reactionary lament by modern conservative pushes? Loss of reproductive places in society; intellectual protection of the cycle of (re)production. Anxiety about the loss of biological specificity - how much of the anxiety here is capitalist?
    • Male pregnancy as an explicit challenge to (re)production
  • Not enough attention in queer scholarship to capitalism - not just a question of gender or sexual politics
  • Federici understands the psychological cost of womanhood, degradation of reproduction and feminized labor required to make capitalism go.
  • Production \(\iff\) Reproduction, Private \(\iff\) Public
    • Everything is connected via reciprocal understandings
  • How to articulate the argument for wages for hosuework? Reparations for housework function ultimately as an activist rhetorical technique.
  • Birthrate and nationalist/capitalist politics
  • Pro-natalist countries - birth incentives, women are paid to reproduce.
  • What happens when the US birthrate declines?
  • Abortion - what is the anti-abortion movement about? Anxiety about women controlling their reproductive labor. Birth Stirke, J. Brown.
    • Usually discussed as a nationalist rather than a capitalist/economic question.


  • A professor and scholar. Captures important dynamics in the racialization and feminization of labor.
  • We are jumping 40 years forward in time and conceptualization.
  • Race and gender are not quite separable.
  • Wright’s work - ideological portrait of feamle workers. Devaluation of feminized labor.
  • Traversing the feminist genelogy
  • Women not only as paid laborers, but alos unpaid. Women as labor and sexual bodies - it cannot be spearated.
  • Wright prefers ‘myth’ over ‘ideology’. Wants to make the text readable.
  • ‘Myth’ - not all stories are myths, but all myths are stories. Mythies - socially useful lie. Unquestionalb euathority - empty of history - creation of a naturalized essence, a tautology.
  • Myth - closing of politiczation, constructs hierarchies without needing to explain them.
  • Connections with Federici: female body feminized and biologized. Neitherq uite explicitly theorize this. Lift out of context: at any time the female body is naturalized, not merely in Juarez or post-war Italy. Slave-holders, mythologies of black women, etc. Suiting of women to capitalism.
  • Housewife - postwar phenomenon. No housework before the age of Truman, economy of ideologized separate spheres.
  • Synergy between historical needs and capitalist needs, a complex relationship.
  • Oppression in public and private spaces shape each other; these are inseparable.
  • Disposable Women - 2006 work. Comparative study of Chinese and Mexican workers.
  • Common idea about racialized female workers.
  • Value lies in discursive production. INterested in myth and discourse. HOw do we tell the story of the body?
  • Discourse about Mexican and Chinese women that allows them to be disposed.
  • ‘Disposability’ as three things -
    • a discourse
    • a myth - not neutral, mythologized
    • a norm - normative, reputation of treatemnet and myths about them
  • Judith Butler - repititon of ideas form material reality.
  • Key ideas - contradiction. The worth/value of the disposable worker comes out of their worthlessness.
  • Subjects do not apply the myth to themselves. It is more about how Mexican women are bieng talked about, by whom and where, how. Where is the myth emenating from?
  • Mythology as a tool (technology?) for oppression.
  • Wright - to interrupt the myth by narrating a different story.
  • Industry - how to catalyze the point of the corporation, ethnographic research.
  • Societal movement resisting the treatment of workers.
  • 20 years old text. Since then, much has happened in Juarez. In 2020, the Seattle Times reported a spread about the women in Juarez. There are activist perspectives (documentaries, etc.) as well as sensationalized mainstream documentation (Vice, etc.)
  • New epicenter of femicide is in central America.
  • ‘Femicide’ - killing of women in the global-south context.
  • No state support in sentencing.
  • Mexican president - Melamed and multiculturalist dialogue; nothing is really happening; acknowledgement via neutralization.
  • Not really bout who the killer is, but why it is happeningand not being stopped by the state.
  • Important Marxist concepts
    • Variable capital - amount of capital invested into labor and wages paid. This fluctuates a lot and is where profit comes from. Labor and be driven down via degredation, feminization, etc. Allows for surplus extraction.
    • Dialectic image - comes from Walter Benjamin. First Marxist cultural philosopher. The dialectic image is a moment in which contradictions of the system suddenly overwhelm and the system can be seen clearly. Figure o fthe prostitute - embodies the contradiction of capitalism. The prositute as the dialectic image. Wright is projecting the dialectic image to the maquila worker.
  • Three questions:
    1. How are the murders in Juarez discussed? How do the corporations exonerate themselves?
    2. Dicourse of disposability - what does it do for the corporations?
    3. How are the two pars of the essay joined together?
  • Discourse of disposability - corporations and society create narratives that promote and sustain relations of disposability
  • Axis of collapse and interchangeability of cheap labor, Wallerstein

Discussion Notes

  • Death by Culture - ‘bad girl’ - traditional culture benefits from the killings (?)
  • Investment of Mexican traditionalist culture in the murder of Mexican women?
  • Murder as turnover - a form of turnover?
  • Madonna/Whore - feminism understanding as binary good/bad place for women, especially dominant paradigm in cCatholic cultures. Corporate myth reproduces the Madonna/Whore dynamic, punishment and disposability; works for capitalism
  • Purity/Waste
  • Women aren’t really deteriorating. The concept of disposability and deterioration is a myth to form the interchangeable.
  • State and corporations. The state is invested in traditionalist culture. Corporations collaborate with the state.
  • Premature death - sanctione ddeath by culture.
  • The state and the corporation - mutual interests, but articulated differently.
  • Discussion maybe engaging in pathologizing narration of Mexican culture? ‘Death by culture’ is itself a problem. MObilized by the state and the corporation.
  • A culture that wants women dead? Distance between when the piece was written and when it is received.
  • Corporations mobilize discourse for their own ends.
  • Investment in conservative culture by conservative culture; disposability of life, norming through repitition.
  • Export Processing Zones - tax free zones in which hyper-exploitation at a surplus dividend is possible. NAFTA is about opening up EPZs.
  • Interchangeability/fungeability is not quite the same as disposability.
  • Dialectic between gender and race. This site is a specific manifestation.

Week 6 Tuesday, Wright, Hoang, and Bernstein

  • How have Marxist-feminist theories thought about how capitalism needs gendered concepts?


  • Normative - murder of women in JUarez and their disposability, waste in the making
  • Wallerstein - housewife-ization. Out of the factories and into the home, a postwar phenomenon. Nuclear, white, heterosexual family.
  • Gendered particularity mobilized for capitalism.
  • Public/private - social (re)production, private always leaks into the public and vice versa. Commodification of reproductive labor. Inseparable.
  • Mobilization of machismo culture, death by culture. The degredation of the Mexican female worker is a boon for corporations; corporations produce the narrative of deterioration and disposability to lower pay, excuse lack of upskilling, etc. Death by culture sucked up by corporate ideology.
  • When women leave, they go to the next factory - they are workers pushed down the line.
  • Each culture has sexist cultures that are picked up and appropriated/ideologized by transantional corporations.
  • Plaasticity of discourse, Death by culture narratives.
  • Interrupt narrratives by telling new stories
  • Deals with narrative structures - the stories we tell ourselves matter.
  • ‘Essential workers’ - a positive spin on narratives, Melamed’s multiculturalism; ‘acknowledgement via neutralization’
  • Feminization of labor - nursing, caretaking, etc. below the doctor; children, food, healthcare, etc.
  • RDegradation of the worker is contingent on a set of cultured ideologies.
  • Idea systems manifest with material effects.
  • Dialectic image - hanging in the balance, caught between narratives, immobilized.
  • Supplementarity, recirpocity between the production of narratives by cultures and their appropriation/generation by corporations
  • Disposability questions - narrative about the ‘tiny, nimble hands’ of Chinese women workers; feeds profitable narratives.

Hoang and Bernstein

  • Essays about sex workers. The term coined in the 1980s by prostitutes arguing that sex work was work, sits alongside other work; sometimes coerced, like other forms of work.
  • Sexual labor relocated from the streets into indoors and online settings. Introduction of emotional labor.
  • Bernstein - sex workers as providers of intimacy.
  • Not separate private/public home/factory spheres - economic relations of capital permeate everything.
  • Marx and Engels’ shortcoming was subscription to the public/private dualism; more recent scholarship refuses binaries - inside/outside, private/public, paid/unpaid, waged/unwaged
  • Compare and contrast - the global north and south
  • Colonial sex industry originating in Vietnam.
  • Where does the idea of Asian women as degradable, assaultable, disposable, come from?
  • Bernstein - technological class turns to emotional experience, the Girlfriend Experience (GFE);k commercial version of work women previously performed for free. Brings questions with Federici - waged work?
  • A postmodern sexual ethods - leaking into the culture?
  • Commercialization of sex in capitalism; no strings-attached ‘tech-bro’ culture
  • Hoang - critique and building off Bernstein; explores a range of emotional labors as manifested throughout a variety of economic ‘tiers’.
  • What stories do we tell ourselves?


  1. Choice, agency, coercion
  2. Compare Bernstein and Hoang
  3. Federici - wages for sex? How much of this is liberatory? Agency?
  4. What happens to our intimacy?
  5. Expression of sexuality stratified by class?
  6. Role of race


  • Disagreement in the history of sex work. Bernstein holds a relatively modern-oriented history; others have suggested (e.g. Federici) that the corralling of reproductive forces emerged as far as in the 1500s with large brothels.
  • Fulfillment of gender roles - the middle class and work, ego, providing
  • Commodified relations
  • Illusion of authenticity; sugar babies; who is at knowledge of the true class system?
  • Who knows how capitlais tideology works?
  • Racial question/involvement - ‘white superiority complex’? Race-class issue in terms of comprehension?
  • Staurt Hall - ‘race is the modality in which class is lived’
  • ‘White maleness’ is in which class is lived, irregardless of the actual position in which people may occupy within capitalist society.
    • William - a truck driver in the United States, yet plays the role of sponsorship and support to high-tier sex workers in Vietnam
  • Primitive accumulation - epochs of settler colonialism layered on top of each other; enables these sorts of dynamics between white men and Asian women situated in the historical context; capitalism mobilizes existing setups.
  • Capitalism mobilizes existing setups
  • The sex workers somehow construct and mobilize their own ‘myth’ (‘myth’ in Bernstein’s definition)
  • McKinnon, the anti-porn feminist position: criminilization/prohibition of sex work?
    • Weinbaum’s position: there is not a quick legal fix against sex work. Sex work is at a root a phenoemnon of capitalism. The purpose of the state is to be the principal defender of capitalism. How can the state thus address sex work?
  • Wages for sex work - what is the relaitonship between wages for housework and the legalization of sex work?
  • Women can’t really have ‘pleasure’ in the capitalist intimacy; Federici - all heterosexual sex is corrupted by capitalism (?), possibly writing the story of our moment?
  • The power of commodification: protection of the payment, power of the payment; capital flow allows for the power dynamics to continue; proposals to reject relations in terms of capital are rejected (Bernstein)
  • Bernstein vs Hoang
    • Bernstein: emotional labor produced when laborers are asked for labor
    • Hoang: all sex work is emotional labor, but varying across repressive and expressive labor

Week 6 Thursday, Butler

  • Speculative fiction, afro-futirism.
  • Octavia Butler passed away in 2007.
  • Born in Pasadena, California - very poor. Often went with her single mother to work.
  • Early experiences contributed to feeling outcast, found refuge in story and literature.
  • Mid-1970s - first novel published.
  • Butler was not recognized for much of her early life.
  • Science Fiction - often referred to as SF. Within the community, sometimes not capitalied (sf) to expand the borders of the genre to include speculative fiction. What counts as science function? Does science fiction need technology to be science fiction? (Weinbaum says - no.)
  • Science Fiction became increasingly popular, and Butler gains recognition.
  • Butler develops writer’s block towards the end of her life, then writes Fledgeling - on genetics and race.
  • Darko Suvin - Marxist literary critic. Marxist criticism is similar to that within science fiction. Parallel relationships between science fiction literature and Marxist analysis.
  • Cognitive estrangement - structured technique embedded in the fiction. Creates a world both similar and different from our own, forcing a comparison and contrasting to make sense of that world.
  • Speculative fiction can be a form of activism - needed to evaluate the future on offer. What world does the reader want?
  • One’s dystopia is another’s utopia
  • What does science fiction give as a critical role of analysis?
  • Suvin - Marxist theory takes us to the same place as science fiction. Make critical decisions based on critical consciousness. ‘Consciousness raising’
  • Butler paves the way for BIPOC and female writers.
  • Samuel Delany - another science fiction writer
  • Butler - more readable and accessible, but has an incredibly high complexity ceiling
  • Afro-futurism - coined in 1994, originally large swathes of culture as well as BUtler have continued to be added
  • Imagining a black past, current, and future. Perhaps radical thinking in even imagining a black future.
  • Counterargument against black obliteration
  • Interrupts temporality and our sense of progress
  • Post-apocayptic thinking and narratives - not post-, but now
  • Epistemologies and ontologies within our world
  • Reproductive existence - what happens and what is rewarded in the organization of society?
  • Read - Kindred, Dawn, Wildseed


  1. Racial formation of the text
  2. Not a story about slavery? Cognitive estrangement - happens regardless of intensions. Thus, not about authorial intent, but rather the structured nature of the text itself. Is this really not a story about slavery?
  3. Question of agency
  4. Characterization of reproduction
  5. Understanding consumption and production in relation to Tlic and Terran bodies

Discussion Ideas and Notes

  • Gender roles - Gan and male reproduction
  • Marx and consumption - cyclic consumption, self-investment. The Terrans as capital accumulation devices used in the process of reproduction.
  • The question of primitive accumulation - how does the cycle of reproduction begin?
  • Similarity to Sorry to Bother You - telling narratives and stories about oppressive systems
  • Consciousness emerges from the exposure of exploitation
  • Existence on the basis of reproductive labor; reproduction as Terran rent
  • Species - stand in for racial difference? Racialied as humans? Speciation
  • Racialization of humans.
    • Lomas - black?
    • Gan’s family - Asian? (Inferred from names)
  • Each character - represents different possible modes of resistance?
  • Fungibility of the impregnated agent
  • Does being educated about something mean you will be in opposition to it?
  • Reading of Gan - sadomasochistic text? Gan has real love for T’Gatoi, a love about being exploited?
  • Gendered hierarchy informed for reproduction? Capital? Federici - gendered understanding of capital
  • Reformation - the preserve. Native American reservation, plantations, ethnic ghettos. An amalgam of a slave plantation and an indian reservation. Related concepts - you cannot have the plantations without the extermination of native peoples. A coupled relationship.
  • Allegoried, symbolic representations
  • Opium and China - influence and narratives
  • Gendered hierarchy within the Terran world - a male-centric gender hierarchy emerges even when there the males also serve a reproductive role.

Week 8 Tuesday, Marx

  • Capital is a more anlaytical sutdy, different in nature from that of the Manifesto - ti should already feel different.
  • Written in German, published in 1867
  • Debate about translation: there is a realization that, upon closer reading, German words have significance that should be understood
  • Only volume of a larger set of intended works published during Marx’s life.
  • Writing Capital in London in exile.
  • Volume 1 - Capitl. Volume 2 - Land and Property. 3 - Wages. … Volume 6 - Global Capitalism.
  • Beginning from the unit of the commodity as a beginning point of analysis.
  • Marx is reading about previous theoretical thoguht on capitalism - Smith, Franklin, etc. Marx believes that these thinkers paved the way, but got it wrong - didn’t see thigns clearly.
  • Fetishism - blockage of the true view. What is the blockage? What don’t we see?
  • Marx - capitalism is not good for most people.
  • Analytical issues are most important. What is the right analysis of the system? How do we get an intellectual framework of anlaysis up and running?
  • Cryptocurrency as commodity fetishism on steroids
  • Failures of previous thinkers: what is a commodity? Where does value come from?
  • Some people - claim that value is part of the object, intrinsic value of the object.
  • The commodity si not about the time put in, but the reduction of labor as a unit of time.
  • What is value? What is beneath the fetishism of the commodity?
  • Capital - a critical analysis of capitalism (not sympathetic).
  • Trying to explain the physics of the capitalist system, to present it as a science. Marx is seeing a mechanistic/natural history of capitalism. Other political economists are in the system - and thus they are invested in anticritical theories and perspectives. How do you get to a vantage point where you see?
  • The Manifesto - a polemic about people. Capital - thinking about capitalism through the commodity. ‘a different Marx’ is writing the Manifesto and Capital.
  • Scientific analogy and language. Previous discussion of evolutionary theory and Marxism - thinking about society as an organism that can be studied as a dynamic system.
  • The commodity is the cell/unit form of capitalism.
  • Marx is looking at structural contradictions internal to the system.
  • Communist Manifesto - focused on class antagonsims.
  • Capital - contradictions intrinsic and intertwined to the concpet of value creation.
  • Commodity - most central is labor, also can be ideas, objects, people.
  • Internal contradictions in the commodity-form shape our world.
  • We can see multiple perspectives in a commodity. Quality and quantity perspectives.
  • Division inside the commodity itself. Use value vs exchange value. Every commodity has both.
    • Use-value: must be useful to someone. How it exists in the world; this pre-exists capitalism.
    • Exchange-value: appearance in the market, exchange can be another commodity or money, a stand-in.
  • Containing both use-value and exchange-value is a contradiction that drives capitalism. Capital tries to raise consciousness of this contradiction/duality.
  • Fetishism - being blind to the use/exchange value duality.
  • Exchange-value is the appearance of something. The Chapter is organized as a serie of contradictions.
  • ‘Value’ - not introduced until later; Marx thinks value is a fetish that doesn’t really exist.
  • Sets up a divide between use/exchange as a placeholder for the value cocnept.
  • In Capitalism, we are exchanging labor in any transaction. However, with commodity fetishism; our labor is abstracted into labor-time to enter a calculation.
  • The value of human labor is a concept relaitve to soceity organization.
  • Violence - everything that is specific is dissolved into a common solvent.
  • Erases the specificity of labor, erases connection between workers, erases that our world is about transaction between humans. Rather, it becomes a relation between objects.
  • Abstract human labor is objectifieid/congealed in commodification.
  • Labor-time is the magnitude of value.
  • Two-part/dyad representation of this dynamic. Value is not just the quantity but the quality, determined by the human input.
  • Use-value assumes the form fo the exchang-evalue in capitalism - you can’t see the use-value. The transaction has erased the human dimension of making our world.
  • Value-form - can be expressed through exchange. “It takes two to play”. No capitalism without the exchange dynamic.
  • Dehumanized labor is a byproduct of abstraction.
  • Value can only be expressed through exchange, ergo human labor can only be exposed in object form in capitalism.
  • Recall - class is a relationship
  • No value without exchange, no capitalist system withotu exchange of value.
  • Abstraction erases the connection of labor
  • Labor must be abstracted to enter the market. Congealing of labor into the object. Object - could be a service, etc. “Object” in a loose, liberatory sense.
  • Violence is in the abstraction - the social power of your labor; we should relate to each other not as things but rather as humans.
  • Exchange-value: a form of appearnace of abstracted labor.
  • No solution is offered. Marx is instead writing about the philosophy of how capitalism behaves. Four key stages/modes - humanistic, analytical, historical, pseculative. It is the methodology that matters, with applications beyond political economy. Marx is not necessarily providing a solution. It is an analytical framework.


  • What is it doing to our brains?
  • We all experience fetishism all the time.
  • Freud - made the concept of the fetish a centerpiece of psycho-analytic theory.
  • Fetishism - animate objects as substitutes.
  • Interesting scholarship combining Marx and Freud
  • 1850s-1870s: ‘Fetish’ attached to: context with African culture and magical objects, ‘sexology’ and the science of sexual ‘perversion’
  • Builds concept of fetish worship
  • Lift the mystery attached to objects
  • Commodity-secret, shape is mystified, mystical


  • Why would Marx attach specifically msytical/religious terms to the commodity-form? What does this reveal?
  • How does the idea of commodity fetishism affect how we understand capitalism?
  • Literary section - what is the mode of communication?


  • Strange metaphors - how do we understand the metaphors used? The dancing table
  • Mystified characters of the commodity lodged in exhcange-value and the commodity itself.
  • Optic nerve and the turn towards religion as a more apt metaphor
  • Pile of footnotes near the end of the writing - Marx becomes intertwined wth arguments against political economy theorists.
  • Commodities - talking to each other, a dreamy Alice-in-Wonderland like world to express the ideas.
  • “Transcends sensuousness” - moves past feeling.
  • Mysticism rationalized, naturalized. Would we do things differently?
  • Capitalism functions somewhat like language, arbitrary assignment of reference to meaning.
  • Fetishism allows for the emergence of a theory of ideology. We see that 20th century Marx builds upon 19th century Marx and moves from capital/fetishism to a theory broadly of ideology.
  • Structuralism (Althusser) vs Ellipticism (Marx) in argumentative/literary style
    • Structuralist approach: unit + unit + unit… a progressive, modular theory of ideology.
    • Elliptical approach: presentation, retreat, restart. Constant cyclic rethinking. Puts forward a hypothesis, explicates, then proposes a substituting/’better’ hypothesis. Marx’s writing is incredibly complex.
  • We observe commodification of ‘anti-commodities’, e.g. Etsy and ‘home-made’ objects which we intended to preserve the element of human labor that is involved in the labor process but which itself becomes a commodity in the ‘anti-commodity’ market. The commodity emerges from the market.

Week 8 Thursday, Althusser

Recap of Capital

  • Capital - partly serves the role of just exposure, understanding Marxism from the text
  • Gets to an analysis of the commodity - labor stolen via abstraction to the common quality.
  • Abstraction may seem lgoical, but it is violent - erases specificity of contribution.
  • Althusser - getting at understanding the cost of participation.
  • What is Marx doing? To give the owrker a consciousness of their labor power, to return sociality to the worker - no longer a world in which we transact everything as a set of objects
  • Return to the worker - common theme in Marxist analysis
  • Penetrate the fetishism of the commodity
  • Psychological problem: fetishism. An epistemology and ontological problematic.
  • David Harvey - can be a useful resource for understanding Marx.
  • Worker as a rationalist capable of thinking differently?
  • The materialist premise - the way we do things conditions our understanding of the world
  • How does one see the machine when they are in the machine?

Althusser - Context

  • Althusser - entering into this dialogue of seeing and not seeing, the dynamics of seeing.
  • Althusser re-asks what it means to think outside the capitalist box.
  • 1918 to 1990, born in colonized French Algeria
  • Moved to Paris later, becomes a professor of philosophy.
  • Many notable students - Foucalt, Lacon, Derrida
  • Outsized influence on post-war cultural anlaysis.
  • 1948 - French Communist Party
  • Huge debate on French interpretation of Marx, de-Stalinizing Marxism; Althusser seemed ‘dangerous’ (maybe ‘Stalinist’). Was an advocate for returning to Marx’s body of work and reading closely.
  • Chinese revolution - celebrated by Althusser
  • Interested in praxis - practice + theory. How to turn theory into action.
  • 1960s student movements - 1968, the year of uprisings (particularly by students, in almost every country).
  • Tremendous uptake of Althusser in these 1960s movements by student activists.
  • Althusser struggled with mental illness. 1980 - murdered his wife, judged a ‘psychotic break’. Dies in 1990.
  • Althusser is a complex personality; very interested in psychoanalysis.
  • Student, Lacon - inherits the mantle of Freud’s work
  • Structuralism - complex method for thinking about power or systems - reducing to a set of constructs, structural analyses. Can be expressed via a foundational analysis. Reudction to mechanisms.
  • The metaphor of the building is often used in structuralism for obvious reasons - the ‘superstructure’, the ‘base’, the ‘infrastructure’
  • Structuralism manifests differently in different disciplines.
    • Marxism - understanding the structure of capitalist systems and oppression
    • Psychoanalysis - the structure of the pysche, particularly in relation to language (use/case)
    • Linguistics - structuralism to understand the function of a unit, relations between syntactics and semantics
    • Anthropology - all idea systems can be mapped, Freudian ideas
  • Universalizing nature of structuralist ‘problem’
  • Althusser is said by many to be a structuralist; Weinbaum questions this a bit - Althusser really is very complex, a strong interest in psycholoanalysis (later writes a ‘madman’ piece assserting that Lacon, Freud, and Marx argue the same thing).
  • Althusser was interested in the Marx of Capital more than the Marx of the Manifesto
  • Science of economic practice, rejection of economic determinism
  • Interested in the dialectic between the base and the superstructure - reciprocity between the base and the superstructure
  • More flexible than the label ‘structuralist’ may allow for
  • Fundamentally, interested in a theory of the subject. Not just theorizing economic systems, but theorizing how we think and the consciousness of our structuring. Capitalism not only as a system of capital, but of people.
  • Antonia Gramsci - hegemony, the dominant idea system.
  • The dominant ideology is not only manufactured but agreed upon; it is common. How do we get to the common sense of being and existing when it is common sense?
  • Marx only explored this psychological question as one of fetishism - Althusser is taking it further
  • “obviousness of obviousness” - how is experience naturalized, normed? How do knowledge states become axioms?
  • Not the RSA necessarily doing the crucial work of capitalist reproduction - but the ISAs, engaging participation in the common structure.
  • How do you make individuals into subjects? - interpellation
  • Imaginary relationship to the real relations of production - ideology.
  • A departure in some ways from Marx - returning Marx to a ‘more fully Marxist base’, ‘Marxing Marx’
  • What is the ‘common sense’ of capitalism?
  • Interpellation - main theoretical contribution, transformation of indiviudlas into subjects by and for capitalism, through which we believe, engage, and become incorporated into capitalist hegemony.
  • Interested in the reproduction of the capitalist-system. The system needs to be reproduced; an ideology presence.
  • Althusser is not thinking about biological reproduction. Understands that ideology is most intense in the private realm - home/family, school, church. Capitalism happens in the private sphere. Interpellation happens in the private sphere. Same fundamental position as Marxist feminists - a contribution that doesn’t go quite all the way but is a meaningful beginning. Understands reproduction - private acts - as key to maintenance and perpetuation of the capitalist system

Questions and Discussion

  • What is the difference between an RSA and an ISA? Why are the two distinguished?
  • Why introduce the ISA? What does thinking about ISAs as a theoretical tool give us?
government, law, military, prison, policeschools, family, church
  • Family as an ISA - a profound idea, family is thought of in popular culture as being the entity free from the state apparatus and ideological influence. Althusser is saying that capitalist hegemony is reproduced in the family.

Feudalism \(\to\) Capitalism

Church/Family Dyad \(\to\) School/Family Dyad

  • Repression is not really a useful way to explain and think about capitalism, especially in modern democracies. We are ‘free agents’ consenting to participation in the order of things.
  • ISA - both the site and stake of ideological conflict.
  • Althusser got it in many of the right ways
  • We ahve overtly consented to RSAs; we have ended up consenting to ISAsw tihotu really knowing about it
  • Schools - both serve as an instrument and separation and teach explicit and implicit compliance to the RSA and ISA
  • RSA/ISA separation is not as clear in modern times, which is chilling
  • Psycholoanalytic understanding - a pyschological system, we are ideology spreaders
  • Jodi Melamed and the criticism of multiculturalism
  • Speed of time - how does our temporality change in capitalism?
  • Marx vs ALthusser - more hard hitting. Althusser went crazy, Marx didn’t. Althusser is living at the cusp of modern industrialization, Marx is writing at its beginning.
  • Fighting for time - temporality and the production - perception, epistemology
  • “Night/day” dyad - itself a capitalist organization (?), biorthythm synchronzied itself by capitalism in service of production and reproduction
  • Ideology has no history, ideologies have history - abstract classes vs instantions (computer science, related concepts)
  • The end of history (Marx, the Manifesto?)
  • Naturalization

Week 9 Tuesday

  • RSA vs ISA, private space is most saturated by capitlaism (as opposed to the public space)
  • Itlaian Marxist Gramsci - the very idea of a private/public dualism is itself an ideological effect
  • Althusser - reproduction/reproductive power of individuals as subjects in the system.
  • Ideology is material - how is it materialized?
  • Principle of ideology is interpellation - individuals into subjects, theoretical contribution to the structure of a capitalist production/society
  • Ideology has no history - ideologies vs ideology, Lacanian psycholoanalysis
  • Similar and different to Marx’s formulation across several different dimensions.
  • Class struggle happens for Althusser in the ISAs. “site and stake” of hegemony
  • Hegemony - Gramsci, a dominant idea system. Gramsci said the dominant system is internally unstable, alwyas undermined by conflict and imbalanced. Always undergoing continuous challenge and re-structuring, continually in flux. The beauty of the concept of hegemony is the idea that the dominant power structures are always in flux and crisis, forever needing to prove themselves and apply re-assertion. Control over various social formations, hegemony always regenerations/renogiaties. ISAs are the site of renegotiation.
  • We are always engaged in a struggle for hegemony.
  • Church example - what does Althusser mean? Why does he talk about the church as a case study ISA as opposed to the family or the school?
  • Is objectivity possible? Can we get outside of it? Can we have an educational experience which is anti-ideological?
  • For Althusser, there is a science of ideology and capitalism which is necessarily specific. Reproduction is an important focus, but not in a feminist way.
  • Althusser is moving away from a descriptive theory into the realm of science
  • Raymond Williams and the politics of incorporation - how dissent to a system is naturalized and itself incorporated into the system
  • Illusion vs allusion
    • Illusion - Marx, alientation, the falsehood.
    • Allusion - Althusser, a complex relationship between the real and the imaginary which attaches itself to the real
  • “Imaginary representation of the relation between the individual and their real conditions of existence” - incredibly complex formulation. Not just illusion (Feuerbach - God, Marx - commodity fetishism), not just something flase - Althusser is thinking about something else.
  • Not just an illusion, but rather the ‘common sense’ - the way in which we experience the world and describe that experience.
  • Signifier/signified, ideology sliding all around and in everything.
  • We represent the imaginary condition to ourselves as if it were real.
  • Metaphor of the glasses - it is not that we need to take off our ‘ideology glasses’, it is that our very eyes have been bred from ideology and that we must perform the surgery of science. Our eyes already don’t see clearly.
  • Science to combat ‘humanist tendencies’ - undisciplined, ideological, succumbing.
  • ‘Science’ can help us move beyond ideology. We can have a scientific understanding of ideology with science.
  • Moving towards a science and away from a descriptive theory.
  • Representation - (re)presentation.
  • We represent to ourselves our life in capitalism in imaginary form, but gesture towards the fact that the imaginary is the real for the existant in ideology. Represents these conditions to ourselves in imaginary form.
  • Jerome Bruner - Narrative Creation of the Self
  • Meta-level - hard for us to reason and think about Althusser’s text precisely because we have been bred from a capitalist epistemology, because we are always already in ideology. It is hard - can we get out of the illusion/allusion? Our representation of the world is always already imaginary - we can’t just ‘cut’ through and get to the real.
  • Art - doesn’t define science, but it lets us see/feel/perceive ideology.
  • Not all art is ideological - it is different, but not merely an instantiation of ideology.
  • We are always already inside ideology, born into it. We don’t really have choice.
  • Promise of recognition as the psychological dividend of interpellation. Togetherness of ideology.

Week 9 Thursday, Althusser, Williams

  • We have to grasp ideology - we constantly already represent our world to ourselves in predetermined ways.
  • Conventional Marxist ideology sets up idoelogy as an illusion which can be directly cut through with rationalism.
  • Althusser - interested in the question of why people throw themselves towards the ‘beautiful lies’
  • Influenced by psychology and psychoanalysis.
  • Critique of Althusser - too totalizing a theory, doesn’t allow for us to really reach the outside.
  • Weinbaum - believes that this criticism is valid, and that hegemony is constantly in flux due to constant opposition
  • Althusser - in response, would say that such opposition is always being incorporated into hegemony.
  • Another perspective - hegemony is always in flux, always needs re-abstraction.
  • Only a sicence of ideology can crack what ideology is - someone gets to see the ideology itself.
  • Small cadre of the cognisceti that understand how ideology works
  • Althusser turns to the church in his example - why? The church is an example that resonates more because it was already in the process of disintegration and provides the critical distance needed to comprehend how something works.
  • In a way, the subject is guilty. There is a presupposition of guilt in the Ideological State Apparatus, of alays being outside the system. Judith Butler - interesting analysis of this. it is the constant hanging-on-the-edge that keeps ideology strong.
  • Psychoanalysis - guilty ocnscience inscribed in the theory of ideology.
  • We know, but proceed as if - we both understand how it works and participate in it. Why?
  • Why the church? Question of distance. We need distance to develop an understanding of how ideology works. We need a vantage point.

Althusser and Art

  • Art has no distance from ideology. Lets us see ideology because it is bathed in ideology and can’t not create a world of ideology.
  • Idoelogy manifests in creation.
  • Art gives us insight, but not knowledge.
  • Balzac and Solzhenitsyn
  • The author doesn’t need to be a radical to let us see oppression, conflict, etc.
  • “Good” vs “bad”/inferior art - Althusser subscribes to a certain artistic elitism.
  • Althusser - concludes that art lets us see, fee, perceive - but not to fundamentally think and know about how art functions.
  • Rolad Barthe - death of the author, stop focusing on the author as the source of meaning. Authorial intent should not constitute the meaning of the work.
  • Humor in Althusser’s writing - his conceit is somewhat funny - he thinks he is the ‘one’ that understands the system.
    • We can think about connections with Althusser’s mental state during the writing o fthis essay.
  • Structuralism/Structuralist - examine the system through a mehcanistic analysis of units/components/structures.
  • Seeing is about seeing surfaces. This does not necessarily mean that seeing is necessarily superficial, but instead that what we see is the surface of objects.
  • We need a science of art.
  • Weinbaum says that Judith Butler is a terrible literary critic. (Of course, this was followed by copious amounts of praise and respect for Butler, then a plea to not post that Weinbaum had said this… but it is a shame not to include it. :))
  • “always already” - a powerful phrase

Williams, Keywords

  • 1921-1988, Welsh. Welsh nationality is important - to be Welsh in the United Kingdom is to be an outsider within
  • Outside vantage point - deeply embedded in the working class.
  • Ejected from the Communist Party, which held anti-enlistment official positions in World War II.
  • Returns to Cambridge and becomes a professor of drama.
  • Occupies a unique position as a ‘scholarship boy’
  • The American mode of education consumption is really not mirrored in the rest of the world.
  • “Aperception” - a critical vantage point of perception itself, which allows us to see what we see and don’t see.
  • 1950s - begins work on cultural materialism. Gloss on historical materialism and the Marxist tradition, applications to culture - complex of social relations that comprise our world.
  • High/low brow, common/elite, etc. - need to be broken down, argued by Williams
  • Begins Keywords after fighting in World War II. Begins to hear things, hear about the conflict in how words are used differently.
  • Language is the site/repository of contradiction and conflict in history.
  • Language as an Ideological State Apparatus?
  • Word ‘culture’ itself - beginning point of analysis in the introduction
  • Ideological language wars are always fought, often fought unconsciously.
  • Whether you realize it or not, you alays weigh in on one side or the other.
  • We must go through conflict in language rooted in social interaction.
  • Very specific concept of a keyword. An active site of ideological conflict.
  • Williams is not intending to reoslve the conflict, but instead to expose it for the ‘extra ege of consciousness’
  • Why called a ‘vocabulary’?


  1. How does Williams’ life experience shape his understanding of language?
  2. Conflict of words - what’s happening?
  3. Vocabulary vs dictionary - what is the difference?
  4. What does Williams say about the EOD and what is significant about it?
  5. What is the definition of a keyword?


  • Important - what does Williams do in common across each keyword? what is held in common? This will help illuminate what a keyword really is.
  • Experience - creates and forms our perception. This is the materialist premise. Experience is attached to a location in the system.
  • Culture - a possession, social superiority. Also becomes known as a transofrmation into a world system, by nation or by region.
  • Keywords aren’t just any words. They are bound in a contestation over meaning, they are self-reflexive, unstable, have contested meaning
  • Vocabulary - about change, conflict, story/narrative
  • Dictionaries take a side without announcing their non-neutrality.
  • Vocabularies are all about relationality
  • Dictionaries - ammassification through stabilization. Reflect ideology of the creator without announcement. A prescriptive entity masquerading as a descriptive one.
  • Dictionary/vocabulary - maps onto the written/oral dyad. Vocabulary includes oral forms.
  • People project - common landscape. Marx \(\to\) commodity, Williams \(\to\) word. Both are analyzing the cell-forms of capitalism and the conflict and contradiction with each unit.
  • Hegemony - a process of establishing authority against conflict. The concept of a vocabulary-project - an anti-hegemony of sorts.
  • Is it a contradiction to ask for the definition of a keyword?
  • Does Williams himself engage in stabilization?
  • Possible definition of a keyword (MKeon) - a keyword is an anithetical structure expressing a contradiction.
    • The thesis and the antithesis, synthesis. What is the thesis? What is anti- about a keyword? Multithesis?
    • Expression or embodiment?
    • Antistructure? What is the structure? Is there structure?

Week 10 Tuesday, Williams

Continued discussion of Keywords

  • Williams - not just interested in reflection, but refraction - how change happens within language.
  • A dialectic, dynamic process of reflection and refraction - Marxist concpets.
  • Language is part of both the base and the superstructure.
  • How does language reflect and refract the social world?
  • Language itself is a historical process
  • Williams - intends to ‘create an extra edge of consciousness’, so we don’t use language passively and participate unknowingly in the war of meaning.
  • Althusser - language is the site and stake of class conflict. Language is, in a sense, a complex ISA.
  • What is the shared structure across keywords?
  • Art - skill, speicalization, distinguished. Creative and the imaginative. ‘Artless’ - low, deovid of skill. Differentiation emerges - Artisan, old order; Artist, new order. To ‘have’ art - what does this mean? Relationship between art/artist and changes in commodity production. Fine art - a separation from commodity fetishism/market, a push by language for separation. Banksy - commodity or art? Williams - interested primarily in class, conflict nad contradictions exposing themselves in capitalism.
  • Class - group, educated, etc. Meaning changes as increased consciousness of a groups as made rather than inherited. Feudalism \(\to\) capitalism. Class is not the natural order of how things are, but put forth as a meritocratic social contract. Ckass as natural and neutral, the middle class as self-made, self-contradictory. What we do influences the burden we carry. The middle class - social relationships. The working class - economic relationships. Class is a keyword; conflict is in the word ‘class’. People want to claim residual meaning. Middle class - disrupts Marx’s dual model, to emphasize criss and conflict. Language of the middle class - depoliticized, America’s construct.
  • Literature - Becomes a certain type of book. Polite learning. Now, includes writera discussion, question about literature that influences questions and conflict. Implicitly, Williams highlights capitalism as the moving force/shifting of a keyword.
  • Class-proposed keywords - ‘Queer’, ‘Truth’, n-word
  • Incroporation
  • Whiteness of the OED?
  • Hegemmony vs coutner-hegemony; who can say what? For whom will an utterance of a word always be hegemonic?
  • Nothing neutral about the OED, for any dictionary. Necessarily non-neutral selective cases of words.
  • Accumulations of usages continue usage

Marxism and Literature

  • Published in 1977
  • Reading different exts and explaining how this helps us with crtiicism.
  • Williams articulates what he wants to take and where vairous thinkers fall short
  • ‘Mediation’ - what the book is about. How do factors mediate social relationships of power? How does the text ‘mediate’ …?
  • Question of mediation matters. Working out your theory of meditation allows you to provide answers towards important questions.
  • Mediation - not reflection/historicism, about reflection and refraction, about changing and dynamic systems. Base and superstructure of ISAs.
  • Literature as ideology - doesn’t just exist in the superestrucutre, exists in the base.
  • People are bound by ideology - all art culture has a particular form - not just expressive, not just an ISA. You need a theory of mediation
  • Gramsci - hegemony is not just a top-down structure but a whole process. Hegemony is alwyas under siege, re-asserting its authority by necessity. A system of continual wearing and rebuilding; idea that the counter-hegemony is always present, persistent, possible.
  • Althusser - very totalizing. Useful but only to an extent
  • Relate themselves to hegemony, so always chaenge. Always ideology, but not really ideological
  • Separation from Althusserian ideological analysis
  • Residual - old, existent, underneath. Cultural formations ciruclating around. Not ‘archaic’ - truly old, not active. The residual is linking but not disruptive against the hgemony. What is residual where? Important questions. Residual infleunce can bleed into the active hegemonic battle.
  • Emergent - coutner-hegemonic. Hard to idetnify emergent phenoemna from incorporated phenomena. Historical retrospect allows us to understand what phenomena are truly emergewnt. Very present - disruptively so, uneven. Readicalization can become normative. Constant flux. Incroporation, assimilation, diffusion. Abosrbance of the emergent into hegemony.
  • Communist Manifesto - idea of the spectral presence, trying to conjure up the emergent phenoeman without being diffused/incorporated by hegemony.
  • An emergent phenomena can also be reactionary (?). Hegemonic vs emergent phenoemna. The emergent can be easily incorporated. ‘Acceptance’. Nullification of the power of the emergent. What might be incorporated is a simile, not the real deal - and thus the real deal is still there.
  • Commodification, images, the hyperreal, simulations. Always potentially subject to nullification and incorporation
  • Pre-emergence.
  • We need to understand the Structures of Feelings to fully understand the cultural analysis Williams wants to take us to
  • Consciousness - practical consciousness. Is feeling individuated?
  • A structure of feeling - not necessarily yet expressed.
  • ‘Lived experience’ vs ‘feeling’. ‘Feeling’ is more totally present; experience has a pastness in it’ a feeling has a presentness/feeling/being channeled throughout it.
  • Emergent sensibilities are expressed in the world.
  • Structures of Feeling are inchoite - unexpressed, beneeath formalization. The origin of potential revolution?
  • Art - gives usa a view into the structure of feeling.
  • Literature - expression of sensibilities linking structures of feeling. How deos literature expose feeling? Important questions to think about and look for in literature/literary texts as literature students

Week 10 Thursday, Williams, Bong Joon Ho

Williams, Marxism and Literature

  • Mediation - Marxist concept of relation between capitalism and cultural production
  • How do cultural items mediate life in capitalism?
  • Reflect and refract
  • How does cultural production engage with systems of power and ideology?
  • Dominant, residual, emergent, etc. - ways of understanding mediation.
  • Mediation - more complex than historicism as a literary tool.
  • Texts are not merely reflectors but active agents in culture.
  • Structure of feeling - capitalism and dominant structures are there, but this refers to the pre-expression of the active and pressing without full articulation. What is coming into opposition with the dominant.
  • Nuanced analytical framework to understand texts
  • Understanding flux vs static, exertion, the not yet fully emergent
  • Opposition that hasn’t been directly in conflict. What does conflict do to ideas? “practical consciousness”
  • Name the structure of feeling to keep it from receding
  • “Something’s wrong with this world” \(\to\) emergent phenomena \(\to\) revolution
  • Art and culture are doing very complex things.
  • The course so far has been fundamentally about mediation.
  • Name for the ideas and feelings that can’t be named - structures of feelings.


  • Gets a universal reading in general - ideas of ‘global capitalism’ which can be abstracted from its location. Universalist reading.
  • We need to understand the Korean specificity. “the West is not in the West; it is a project not a place”
  • Korea becomes a protectorate of Japan from 1905-1945. US and Soviet Union partition between south and north along the 38th parallel. Korean war - continuous US military occupation of South Korea.
  • In South Korea, one-half of workers are ‘irregular’ - gig workers. 50% own 2% of the wealth.
  • 2016 impeachment of the president - corruption scandal among president’s daugther.
  • ‘Oscar worthy’ - leads to recognition as universal. Story of class in a neoclonial context, very much not to be reduced by a universalist understanding.
  • Mobilization, appropriation, etc. - other cultural phenomenon going on when we understand the film as a metaphor in two senses - metaphor in the film, and the film itself as a metaphor.
  • Can the subaltern speak?
  • Bunker in the house, ‘anything below the 38th parallel’ - continual references to North Korea and the war
  • Morse code - the militarized language of war


  1. Titular question - who is the parasite?
  2. “It’s so metaphorical” - what is the metaphor? How does the film operate as a metaphor?
  3. “Crossing the line”
  4. Is this a film about racial capitalism?
  5. Stairs
  6. Sexism
  7. “Nice”, respect
  8. Subaltern
  9. internalized position/inferiority
  10. Worker solidarity - what is preventing worker solidarity? Recognition of mutual shared conditions?
  11. Family as a site of resistance and indoctrination, an ISA - love mobilized?
  12. English - names, education, mobility, capital.
  13. Hyperreality and Baudrilliard


  • Parasitic relations.
  • “Sex work”, crossing the line. What is crossing the line? Emotional repression, emotional closure, emotional regulation.
  • Tittilation, the fetish - framed in terms of capital
  • Narratives told to construct and maintain structures
  • What does it mean for the parasite to kill the host?
  • The building is an architectural representation of the capitalist society structure, the triangle of society.
  • American capitalism as the parasitic entity. Movie’s success itself as a metaphor and demonstration for incorporative attempts
  • Reading racial marks and distinctions in Paraiste – emergent and present even in a Korean context.
  • Parasite - are we supposed to read the Kims as the parasite? How does this insinuation itself reveal our position in capitalist epistemology?
  • We’re all parasites in a parastic system
  • “Bloodchild” aand discussion of parasites