Loads of Learned Lumber

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Still Sore at Rorty?

WONDERING WHY RICHARD Rorty got dragged by the heels into Samuel Moyn's review-essay on Elaine Scarry in the February 25 Nation.

Moyn's criticism of Scarry seems (to me) to be that she is insufficiently Marxist. Scarry calls attention (esp. in The Body in Pain) to the suffering inflicted on individuals by the powerful, and discusses Marx, but Moyn notes that "missing from her account of Marx is the critique of ideology, along with class struggle and violent revolution." Just about everything that makes Marx Marx, in other words. Scarry, he writes, "has never seen torture (or creativity, for that matter) as a concrete social and political event linked to specific institutions."

I am guessing from Moyn's tone that he believes Scarry ought to have seen torture and creativity as linked to specific institutions, which leads me further to guess that he would prefer that she analyze art in terms of ideologies and the actions of the state in terms of class conflict. Not that he says as much.

But he does go on to quarrel with Rorty at this point, who he also sees focusing on humane-intervention sorts of politics rather than tackling the big picture: "For Rorty, idealism in public affairs isn't possible in the foreseeable future, so our world of hierarchy and suffering just has to be accepted."
Rorty's reading of 1984 is contrasted with, and found weaker than, that of...Raymond Williams.  Oy.

So I wonder--are some still sore at Rorty for trying to imagine a non-Marxist intellectual left? If Moyn completed his BA, as Wikipedia claims, in 1994, he is too young to have been one of that wave of Rorty-disparagers; he would have been in middle school when Eagleton and Jameson were ascendant, and Lukács, Benjamin, Adorno, Althusser, and Williams were every grad student's must-reads. So why revive this old quarrel? Is this sort of thing due for a resurgence?

I hope not, myself. Marxists were certainly skilled at disparaging and discrediting any and all varieties of non-Marxist leftist thinking--they were better at that, I recall, than at anything else--but for my money Rorty made a cogent argument in Achieving Our County and elsewhere that the siren song of Marxist thought was, for the time being, better resisted than heeded.

I sense irony in Moyn's Nation piece being immediately followed by an (excellent) review-essay by Ben Ehrenreich on Viktor Shklovsky, whose career would be one of many exhibits in making the case against putting Marxists in charge of culture.

Loved Moyn's shout-out to Judith Shklar, though.

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