Man from Marx
Karl Marx, despite the misfortune of having “followers” who have mostly harmed and misread him as much as his opponents, remains highly valid today. If more people read Marx, they would not go about looking so bewildered in the face of the current economic crisis. It is this that makes Terry Eagleton’s Why Marx was Right a must-read.
Eagleton points out that Marx was not the originator of the idea of social class, revolution, economic exploitation, social conflict, historical “progress” (or “regress”) and of either socialism or communism. He notes that “two doctrines lie at the heart of Marx’s thought”: “One of them is the primary role played by the economic in social life; the other is the idea of a succession of modes of production throughout history.” But these two doctrines, Eagleton points out, were not Marx’s own innovation either. Instead, what is unique about Marx’s thought is that “he locks these two ideas—class struggle and mode of production—together, to provide a historical scenario which is indeed genuinely new”.
As every intellectual knew three decades ago and some still recall in hiding, for Marx a mode of production was the combination of certain forces of production with certain relations of production. This was not some narrow “economic reductionism”—among other things, Marx wanted more leisure for all, not more labour—but an attempt to face the material facts of a complex and obscuring system. In different ways, Eagleton’s book returns again and again to this core perception, and argues—quite convincingly— that we cannot avoid employing this perception of Marx in order to understand the world of capitalism in which we live.
Relevant: Read Marx to understand the current crisis. (Wikimedia Commons)
The bookies were right about the Booker this time: Julian Barnes was tipped to win for The Sense of An Ending, and he did. Shortlisted thrice before for the Booker, it was time that Barnes—to my mind England’s most important living fiction writer—won the prize. The Sense of An Ending is a well-crafted and beautifully written novella: a compelling read and a subtle meditation on love, envy, responsibility, memory and, in general, the “great unrest” of life.
And yet, it is somewhat sad that Barnes won the Booker for this particular novella. One can argue that it is neither his best work, nor typical of the vast body of his previous work. It also marks—and this might be significant—a clear moving away from postmodernism (while retaining full awareness of it) by Barnes, who was arguably England’s leading postmodernist too. Both Flaubert’s Parrot and England, England, shortlisted earlier, would have been more apt individual winners. There is some irony in the fact that Julian Barnes has won a long-due Booker for a novella that is more Coetzee than vintage Barnes!
Two interesting and different collections of poems have come my way. The Allahabad-based Smita Agarwal’s new collection, Mofussil Notebook: Poems of Small-Town India, is a reminder of the neglected fact that Indian poetry in English continues to find fertile ground in small towns. Actually, the fact that even Arun Kolatkar’s great collection, Jejuri, took the Mumbai-based poet to a small town should be considered more than a historical anecdote by critics. These days, when the spaces of Indian English creativity seem filled almost solely by cosmopolitan voices, this is worth highlighting.
The other collection, Radha Says: Last Poems, belongs to one of these cosmopolitan voices, but a highly remarkable one: Reetika Vazirani. Despite a promising and prize-winning career, Vazirani committed suicide at an early age. This collection of her manuscript poems, lovingly edited by Leslie McGrath and Ravi Shankar, is evidence of the extent of our loss in the realms of poetry.
Tabish Khair is the Denmark-based author of The Thing about Thugs
Write to Tabish at firstname.lastname@example.org