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EN968 Marxism and Modernity

(Module not available 2013-14)


The course will be concerned with the emergence of the concept of modernity and the associated understandings of history and the new forms of time-consciousness it represented. In particular it will

address the way the ways in which this has been understood within the traditions of Westerm Marxism. It will also engage with certain key conjunctures in the development of cultural modernity: Kant’s understanding of Enlightenment, Habermas’s formulation of the Bourgeois Public Sphere, mid-19th century representations of the new experience of urban modernity (Baudelaire, Poe, Hoffmann), Walter Benjamin’s formulations of the shock culture of modernity and a radical counter-modern understanding of ‘nowtime’ (Jetztzeit)., and finally the claims of ‘postmodernity’ to outflank the modern.




SECTION 1 Modernity and Marxism: Concepts and Problems


Week 1 Overviews of Modernity

1. Matei Calinescu, Five Faces of Modernity, Chapter 1, “The Idea of Modernity”.

2. Marshall Berman, “Introduction: Moderenity – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”, All that is Solid Melts into Air (1982), Verso Books,1983

2ndry reading: Robert B. Pippin, Modernism as a Philosophical Problem, chapters 1 and 2, Basil Blackwel, 2nd. Edition, 1991.


Week 2 Modernity and the Movement of History

1. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto (1848) in Revolutions of 1848, Pelican Marx Library, or ed. Eric Hobsbawm, Verso Books, 1998..

Sections I, II and IV, and the 1888 Preface (Engels).

2. Peter Osborne, “Remember the Future ? The Communist Manifesto as Historical and Cultural Form” in Philosophy in Cultural Theory (Routledge, 2000).


Week 3 Marxism and the Architecture of History

1. Marx, “Preface to a Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy” (1859) in Marx: Early Writings, Pelican Marx Library, Penguin.

2. Raymond Williams, “Base and Superstructure in Marxist Theory”, Problems in Materialism and Culture, Verso, 1980.

3. Terry Eagleton, “Base and Superstructure in Raymond Williams”, Raymond Williams: Critical Perspectives, ed. Eagleton, Polity Press, 1989.


SECTION 2 Cultural Modernities: Conjunctures


Week 4 Enlightenment and the Public Sphere

1. Immanuel Kant, “What is Enlightenment ?” (1784), in On History, ed. Lewis White Beck.

2. Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1962), MIT Press, Mass., 1991, chapters 1 and 2.


Week 5 Enlightenment and the Politics of Culture

1. Joseph Addison, Selections from The Spectator (1710).

2. Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, “Authorship in the 18th Century”, The Politics and Poetics of Transgrression (1986)



Week 6 Beginnings of Modernism: the Flaneur and the City

1. Charles Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life” (1863).

2. E.T.A Hoffmann. “My Cousin’s Corner Window” (1822) in The Golden Pot and other Tales, trans. Ritchie Robertson, World’s Classics, OUP.

3. Edgar Allan Poe, “The Man of the Crowd” (1845), in Selected Writings, Penguin, or various Poe websites.

4. Walter Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, Verso, 1997, selections.


Week 7 Aura and Shock: Walter Benjamin’s Modernity

1. Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936), Illuminations, Pimlico, 1999.

2. Walter Benjamin, “On some Motifs in Baudelaire” in Illuminations, Pimlico, 1999.


Week 8 Now-time: Walter Benjamin’s Counter-Modernity

Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (1940), in Illuminations, Pimlico, 1999. New translation with commentary in

Michael Löwy, Fire Alarm, Verso Books (2005).


Week 9 The Geopolitical Location of Modernism

1. Perry Anderson, “Modernity and Revolution”, New Left Review, no.144, 1984, reprinted in Zones of Engagement (1992) with a Postscript and again in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (1988) ed. Nelson and Grossberg with a Discussion.

2. Raymond Williams, The Politics of Modernism, chapters 1-4, Verso Books, 1989.


Week 10 Outflanking the Modern: the Claims of Postmodernity

1. Fredric Jameson, “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism”, New Left Review, no 146, 1984.

2. David Harvey, “Space-Time Compression and the Postmodern Condition”, The Condition of Postmodernity, Basil Blackwell, 1990.

3. Perry Anderson, The Origins of Postmodernity, Verso, 1998. Extracts.