File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1998/bhaskar.9807, message 22


Date: Wed, 22 Jul 1998 14:13:25 +1000
Subject: Replying to Tobin was Re: BHA: Re: On aesthetics (Beech and Roberts)


At 07:49 AM 7/21/98 -0400, Tobin wrote:
Hi Tobin,


Good to hear from you again.  How are things generally?  Good I hope.

Now

 Gary wrote:
>
>>I believe this account can be simplified and clarified if we use the
>>dialectical figure of master-slave.  Within this the master is variously
>>those with power in or over the social and cultural world. The master has
>>at various times been the connoisseur, the bourgeois or the modern critic,
>>or the cultural commissar.  What is common here is not the actual content
>>of their philistinism but rather that they exercise power.  They dominate
>>and exploit  the artist. In addition because they are the primary
>>beneficiaries of the existing social relations they can also impose norms
>>which can restrict the creative impulse.
>
>[snip]
>
>>The artist then is the slave to this master. Most importantly however there
>>is another slave to whom the artist is master.  This slave in contemporary
>>times is the industrial proletariat.  The artist then is trapped between
>>the master and this other slave beneath him/her.   S/he can form an
>>alliance with the slave and attempt to overthrow the ensemble of master
>>slave relationships, or s/he can seek mutual forgiveness and reconciliation
>>with the master.  The difficulties in forming alliances with the industrial
>>proletariat are all too obvious.  It is much easier to orientate towards
>>the master, in other words to accommodate.


Tobin replied:- 

>I agree with your perception of the relationships, but I'd like to inject a
>note of caution about using the "master/slave" notion here.  Actually it's a
>problem I have with the notion itself--its extreme generality.  The *nature*
>of (say) the bourgeois's "mastery" over the artist is not the same as the
>artist's over the proletariat.  The bourgeois's economic power differs (both
>in source and in effects) from the artist's cultural power.  Economic class
>division is different from (though related to) the intellectual/manual
>division.  I expect you agree; I'm just saying that the "master/slave"
>notion bears the possibility of obscuring those differences and dissolving
>them into what could become an idealist "masterkey to history," treating all
>power relations as essentially identical, and also opening the door wide to
>individualist notions of power (so that social positions, which have a
>collective matrix, play no role).  I don't think you're going down that
>road, but I think you can see why I'm a little nervous.
>

Interesting Tobin.  I am absolutely drawn to the master-slave figure or to
be exact Bhaskar's reading of it. Tempered that is with Kojeve's work
which interprets the slave/bondsman as the proletariat.  Thus I am
convinced that the reformism/economism of the working class can be
explained by the dialectics of reconciliation and forgiveness.  Very few
slaves it seems to me want to abolish the master-slave nexus.  Certainly
that is what I feel empirically as I wander around Brisbane!

Now you are quite right to point out to the generalization or over
simplification effect if one reduces the bourgeoisie and the art critic to
the category of the master. There are obviously sub categories within the
'master' category and as you say they do different things. Again I agree
that economic power and cultural power are not identical.  

But it seems to me that the working class is very much in a situation where
it has neither.  Now that puts me close to a classical Trotskyist position
on culture.  The working class can quite quickly be a gigantic force in
political matters but when it comes to cultural matters it is a novice.  (I
will look up Trotsky's exact words later.) 

The entire debate it seems to me hinges around the role of the working
class.  what does it have to do to become a hegemonic class.  I hold to the
view, and I am sure you do too,  that this task is not entirely political.
There must also be a cultural struggle.  

Now where I differ from my Cultural Studies betters is that I maintain that
the solution is not to celebrate the current cultural level of the working
class.  In the 1920s in Russia this debate took shape around the phenomenon
of Proletcult - the celebration of working -class art.  Trotsky opposed
this and I think he was correct.  In the late 80s and 90s  almost the same
debate has resurfaced.  This time it has been given a Bakhtinian
inflection.  Sadly this is a new species of anti-intellectualism.  (John
Hartley's piece in the Geraghty and Lusted book is an absolute classic
piece of anti-intellectualism masquerading as the celebration of the popular).

Why I have tried to put the master-slave dialectic back into this debate is
that firstly it raises the question of Power2- relations of subjugation and
domination. As I have said before this helps us get out of the Foucauldian
swamp of the micro-structures of power. Secondly it enables us to plot a
series of different dialectics.  I have mentioned those of reconciliation.
But there are other dialectics on the road to freedom and it is these that
I was attempting to raise through the use of Shor.


Tobin wrote:-

>I'm also not clear what relationship you intend between that discussion and
>something you pointed out earlier in the post:
>
>>It is moreover this insistence on the origin of the philistine within
>>culture that enables them to argue that the philistine is a cultural rather
>>than a sociological category and so cannot simply be read in terms of any
>>particular social grouping. Specifically B&R are anxious that we do not
>>equate the proletariat with the philistine.
>
>My confusion stems from the "sociological category" business: if you're
>right that there are master/slave relations involved (however conceived),
>how could there not be sociological categories, unless we're diving into
>individualism?  Is this a problem in B&R, am I mixed up, or what?
>


Gary wrote:-

Yes, you are correct here Tobin.  It is B&R who stress that the philistine
is for them a cultural category.  But if one uses the master slave
dialectic it immediately becomes sociological - a point I should have made.


Tobin wrote:-

>I'm definitely with you in preferring Shor.  But in light of the whole
>discussion of the merits of philistinism, I can't resist that famous quip:
>"I'm so broke, I can't even pay attention!"
>
Gary wrote:-

Tell me about it! I will soon be reading Bhaskar on money.  I bet you he
says it is a powerful absence.  Certainly is in my case.

Warm regards

Gary


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