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EN968 Marxism and Modernity

From Marx and Engels's 1848 description of capitalist modernity as the 'profanation' of 'all that is holy', to Walter Benjamin's classic analysis of mechanically reproducible art, to Fredric Jameson's claim that, with the oil shocks of the 1970s, modernity finally yielded to postmodernity, the Marxist tradition offers a rich resource for thinking the relationship between capitalism, modern social life, and artistic modernism. What does it mean to be modern? On what injustices, exploitations, and exclusions do modernity’s 'freedom' and 'equality' depend? To what extent has Marxism itself been shaped by the experience of modernity? Has modernity really come to an end? If so, how and when?

Seeking to answer such questions, this module proceeds in four parts. The first section, 'Marxism and Modernity', introduces you to Marxist theories of history in general and modernity in particular. The second, 'Marxism and Liberalism', examines the rise of the bourgeois public sphere in the 18th century and then uncovers the racialised oppressions on which liberal ideologies of freedom and equality rest. The third, 'Marxism and Modernism', explores how Marxist critics have tried to understand the relationship between capitalism, culture, and urban space. The fourth, 'Marxism and Postmodernity', asks whether modernity has now come to an end, and if so, how we ought to characterise our new historical moment.

All of the readings will be accessible either through links below or through the library (some digital, some hard copies). Please don't hesitate to email me if you are struggling to get hold of any material.

Module convenor: Harry Warwick (


1 — Marxism and Modernity

Week 1: What is Modernity?

Week 2: Modernity and the Movement of History

Week 3: Marxism and the Architecture of History 


2 — Marxism and Liberalism

Week 4: The Public Sphere

  • Immanuel Kant, 'What is Enlightenment?' (1784)
  • Jürgen Habermas, 'Introduction: Preliminary Demarcation of a Type of Bourgeois Public Sphere' and 'Social Structures of the Public Sphere', The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, trans. by Thomas Burger (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991 [1962]), pp. 1–56 [available online through library]

Week 5: Race, Ideology, and Liberalism


3 — Marxism and Modernism

Week 6: The Flâneur as Modern Subject

  • Edgar Allan Poe, 'The Man of the Crowd', (1845), in The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Writings (London: Penguin, 2003), pp. 131–40
  • Charles Baudelaire, ‘The Painter of Modern Life' (1863), in The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, trans. by Jonathan Mayne (New York: Phaidon, 1995), pp. 1–35 — please read parts III and IV
  • Walter Benjamin, 'The Flâneur', from Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, trans. by Harry Zohn (London: Verso, 1997), pp. 35–66
  • Janet Wolff, 'The Invisible Flâneuse: Women and the Literature of Modernity', in Feminine Sentences: Essays on Women and Culture (Cambridge: Polity, 1990), pp. 34–50

Week 7: Modernity and Mechanical Reproduction

  • Modern Times, dir. by Charlie Chaplin (1936) [available on BoB National]
  • Walter Benjamin, 'The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility', in The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media, ed. by Michael W. Jennings and others, trans. by Edmund Jephcott and others (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), pp. 19–55
  • Miriam Bratu Hansen, 'Aura: The Appropriation of a Concept', from Cinema and Experience (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), pp. 104–31 [available online through library]

Week 8: The Politics of Modernism

  • Franz Kafka, 'The Metamorphosis' (1913), in Metamorphosis and Other Stories, trans. by Michael Hofmann (London: Penguin, 2019), pp. 73–126 [several copies in library]
  • Georg Lukács, 'The Ideology of Modernism', from The Meaning of Contemporary Realism, trans. by John and Necke Mander (London: Merlin, 1963 [1957]), pp. 17–46
  • Theodor Adorno, 'Reconciliation Under Duress' (1960), in Aesthetics and Politics (London: Verso, 2007), pp. 177–95 [available online through library]
  • Fredric Jameson, 'Reflections in Conclusion', in Aesthetics and Politics, pp. 196–213 [available online through library]


4 — Marxism and Postmodernity

Week 9: The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism

  • Blade Runner, dir. by Ridley Scott (1982) [available on BoB National]
  • Fredric Jameson, 'The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism', in Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (London: Verso, 1991), pp. 1–54 [available online through library]
  • David Harvey, 'Time–Space Compression and the Postmodern Condition' and 'Time and Space in the Postmodern Cinema', from The Condition of Postmodernity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990) pp. 284–323 [several copies in library]

Week 10: Postmodernity Reconsidered