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Marxism and Modernism: An Exchange between Alex Callinicos and Paul Wood Author(s): Alex Callinicos and Paul

Wood Source: Oxford Art Journal, Vol. 15, No. 2 (1992), pp. 120-125 Published by: Oxford University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1360506 Accessed: 30/06/2010 04:48
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Marxism and Modernism: An Exchange between Alex Callinicos and Paul Wood


Authors are a touchy lot. It was not, however, a writer'susual protectivenesstowards his work which led me to react so strongly to Paul Wood's review of my book Against Postmodernism (APM).1 Rather it was my surprise at finding a critic who, both in this reviewand elsewhere, has shown such a sympathetic appreciation of what I have been trying to do, so comprehensively misunderstanding my argument in certain crucial respects. I should emphasize that the issue is centrally one of Wood's misunderstanding of what I wrote, not of our disagreeing. Nevertheless, underlying his misunderstanding is, I think, a disagreement on substantive questions. Since this disagreement embraces such important matters (to Wood and me at any rate) as the relationship between Marxism and art, it seems worth exploring at somewhat greater length than an author's cries of 'Unfair!' would normallyjustify. So where's the misunderstanding? In my book I attack postmodernism on three fronts: philosophically, I develop a realist critique of postmodernism's demolition of truth and the subject; politically, I deploy the resources of Marxist social theory against the idea that we now live in a post-industrial society or 'New Times'; aesthetically, I challenge the claim that what is called Postmodern art represents a qualitative break from Modernism.2 Wood ably summarizes my arguments in these three areas, but believes that I go further: my 'defence of Marxism carries over [...] to a critique of Modernism itself (PC, p. 97). My reason for doing so is that Modernism must be seen as stemming from Nietzsche's philosophy, and therefore as 'a form of romantic anti-capitalism', rejecting capitalism, as Michael Lowy puts it, 'in the name of pre-capitalistvalues', and therefore opposing the Enlightenment, a radicalized version of which it is my aim to defend (PC, p. 97). Worse still, underlying this negative appraisal of Modernism is an aesthetics in which works or movements are to be judged according to political criteria. Thus, my discussion of early twentiethcentury avant-gardemovements such as Constructivism and Surrealism which sought to abolish the separationof art from the rest of social life as part of a broader political movement to revolutionize social life itself involves 'an implied valorization of the products of these engaged avant-gardes as a function of theirengagement' (PC, p. 98; emphasis added). Wood detects here 'a language, a world-view, a form of life perhaps, wherein one of the principal 120

reasons for according praise to a type of art is that it is able to give voice to a politics; Bolshevism in the main case' (PC, p. 99). He is uncertain whether to find this 'depressing and frightening, or challenging and exhilarating' (PC, p. 99). It's pretty clear, however, that the first of these possible reactions more accurately captures Wood's feelings about what he finds in my book. And rightly so, I'm inclined to add. After all, the idea that one 'can detect "aesthetic merit" from the position given' by one's 'politics' (PC, p. 99) has a history, in the Proletkult movement of the 1920s in the USSR, and in the Socialist Realism which long survived its apogee under Stalin right into the Brezhnev era. And, of course, central to Socialist Realism was its political condemnation of Modernism. I should, however, make an essential qualification here. Wood would be right to be 'depressed and frightened' werehe to find such a Stalinist aesthetics in AgainstPostmodernism (APM). But it isn't there. I Wood's attribution to me of the absolutely reject belief that works of art should be appraised by political critera.Nor is this some idiosyncrasyon my part. The classical Marxist tradition- as opposed to its Stalinist distortion - has always been distinguished by an aesthetic stance best expressed by and Revolution Trotsky, who insisted, in Literature and elsewhere, that '[o]ne cannot approach art as one can politics [. ..] because artistic creation [...] has its own laws of development'.3 Moreover, I never dreamt, in APM or anywhere else, of doing anything so silly as 'to offera wholesale refutationof Modernism' (PC, p. 97). I might as well 'refute' myself, so much have Proust and Eliot, Borges and Bulgakov, as well as much of the painting of the early twentieth century, contributed to my own perspective on the world. It is worth emphasizing that the writers just mentioned all belong to the Aestheticist mainstream of Modernism, as opposed to the politically engaged avantgarde movements. Although I had reasons, touched on below, for placing special stress on these movements in APM, I entirely agree with Wood that 'there is nothing as far as art (as distinct from culture or politics) is concerned which will a prioriprivilegea Tatlin made in revolutionary Petrograd from a Matisse painted in a hotel bedroom on the Riviera' (PC, p. 98). To repeat: I do not believe that politics provides the principal criteria according to which works of art are to be judged.

It may seem that I protest too much. But the loudness of these protests is largely a consequence of my surprise at how wilfully Wood has misread APM. It is true that he concedes that I am 'very careful to say, in at least two places in the book, that aestheticjudgement as to the value of a work of art is at least relatively independent of the cultural and philosophical critique of the bases from which it proceeds' (PC, p. 99). Thus, as he notes, I specifically endorse Brecht's defence of Modernism against Lukacs's attacks (APM, p. 53). Yet despite such passages Wood insists that 'Callinicos pits historical materialism against not merely postmodernism but [...] against Modernism itself (PC, p. 97). What licenses so gross a misinterpretation? In the first instance, Wood seems to confuse four distinct ways of relating to a work of art: 1. Historical analysis: seeking to characterizeand to contextualize the work; 2. Aesthetic appreciation:judging its formal qualities and the particular perspective on the world they offer; 3. Politico-ethical evaluation: probing the extent to which the work implicitly or explicitly affirms or denies the existing order of things; 4. Individual taste: the personal response to the work. It would, of course, be naive to suppose that these four modes represent absolute distinctions. Plainly, 1, 2 and 3 in particular are closely connected, especially in a form of theoretical enquiry such as Marxism so strongly committed to conceptualizing society as a totality. Nevertheless, it is, I believe, possible to concentrate primarily on any one of the first three (matters are a little differentwith 4, since any attempt to elaborate on and justify one's personal reaction to a work of art is likely to develop into 2 at least, that is, into a full-blown aesthetic judgement). Such, at any rate, was what I attempted in APM: its principal discussion of art, in chapter 2, falls under 1, offering a historical interpretation of Modernism, which seeks both to characterizeit and to identify the particular socio-political conjuncture in which it emerged. It may be helpful to explain why I undertood this exercise, and in doing so to respond to one of Wood's chief complaints against the book, namely that 'politics, writ large, as embodying an ethics and a philosophy, is the active force': or, as he puts it a little later, 'a robust historical materialism' the dog, 'the aesthetic' very much the tail (PC, p. 99). Now, as I have made clear, this wholly misrepresents my view of the relationship between art and politics. It is, however, an accurate description of the main preoccupations of APM. How could it be otherwise? As Wood is kind enough to emphasize, my primary area of expertise is not art history or aesthetics but philosophy and social theory (which will do as a synonym for Wood's 'politics writ large'). (See, for example, PC, p. 100, n. 1.) My reason for doing

anything so rash to discuss an artistic movement as broad as Modernism lay in my concern with postmodernism as a contemporary intellectual phenomenon. In the first place, claims about the originality of Postmodern art are constitutive of attempts such as Lyotard's to delineate a broader 'postmodern condition'. Secondly, these claims particularly, that Postmodernism was radically novel in its resort to 'double-coding' (Jencks) and in its scepticism about the 'grand narratives' of the Enlightenment (Lyotard)- were of a falsehood selfevident even to someone as unschooled in the disciplines of art history as I. Criticizing postmodernism therefore required interpreting Modernism. Three aspects of this interpretation are perhaps worth stressing here. First, many of the themes distinctive to Modernism - Aestheticism, a pluralist and perspectivist conof the world, a focus on self-creation - are ception anticipated by Nietzsche, himself a key influence on those philosophers - Deleuze, Derrida, and Foucault - normally packaged these days under the postmodernist label. Secondly, the efflorescence of Modernism between the 1890s and 1930s must be seen in the context of a specific historical conjuncture characterizedabove all by the destabilizing social and political consequences of the uneven and combined development of industrial capitalism. Thirdly, the revolutionaryclimax of this conjuncture at the end of the First World War brought about a convergence of artisticand political radicalism in the shape of the avant-garde movements. These and other points were made as part of a historical analysis of Modernism whose aim was primarily to deflate the claims made for postmodernism's originality. For example, the attempts sometimes made to treat Surrealismas a precursorof Postmodernism fail to take into account the insistence of Breton and others on linking their aesthetic practice to revolutionary socialist politics - a far cry from Lyotard's renunciation of the 'grand narratives'of enlightenment and emancipation. Now one would like to know more about what Wood thinks about all this. The remarks he does make are sufficiently disparaging - Peter Burger, on whose Theory theAvant-Garde drew heavily, is I of dismissed as 'crass', for example (PC, p. 98) - to indicate his disagreement. But what precisely is the source of the disagreement? Does he think that my interpretation is mistaken? If so, it would be nice to hear some reasons: Wood complains that my sources are 'ratheroutdated' but it is possible to find recent, detailed studies which support, for example, the claim that Surrealism represented a radicalization of Modernism precisely in its rejection of Aestheticism and attempt to fuse art and everyday life.4 But it may be that Wood objects to such attempts at historical interpretation in principle. Again, if this is indeed the case, we should be told the reason. My own view is perfectly well expressed in this remark of Trotsky's: 121

A workof art should,in the firstplace,be judged by its own law,thatis, by the lawof art.ButMarxism alonecan explain why and how a given tendency in art has originatedin a given period of history;in other words, form who it waswho madea demandforsuch an artistic and not foranother,and why.5 Whatever Wood's own views on these matters, it is plain he believes that I tend to reduce the 'law of art' to that of history. He gleans such evidence as he can for this belief from my discussion of what I call the 'general exhaustion of Modernism' after 1945 (APM, p. 60; see ibid., pp. 154-61). Wood dismisses this as 'huffing and puffing' and 'panting' (PC, p. 98). Well, without going quite so far, I did stress that the sketchiness of my remarks on art after 1945, even at one point saying that they 'are something of a caricature of a proper analysis' (APM, p. 157). For all that, nothing Wood says disposes me to withdraw anything I wrote. He is especially annoyed by my confession to being bored by 'the desperate and all too frequently sterile iconclasm of recent artists' (APM, p. 161). Wood calls this 'an extraordinary passage', which he takes to 'include American art from say, Pollock to Andre, not to mention a range of contemporary work on commodification stemming from Warhol' (PC, p. 98). Nothing of the sort. I remember very well that it was an exhibition of twentieth-century Italian art at the Royal Academy which provoked this comment. The examples displayed there of Conceptual Art and Arte Povera seemed admirably to illustrate the difficulties of a certain kind of Late Modernism, where formal innovation has become like the wheel of an upturned cart, spinning aimlessly in the air. Recognizing these difficultiesdoes not imply ruling out the possibility of other artistic strategies: in different ways Warhol's dark brilliance, the extraordinary vitality of figurative painting in twentieth-century British art, the Magic Realism of Third World fiction, and the triumphs of plain, old-fashioned classical Realism in the films of Ford, Renoir, and Visconti all illustratethis well enough. But simply to dismiss, as Wood seems to, the impasse with which Modernism was confronted as sensibilities adjusted even to its most shocking innovations, its works became prime items of haut-bourgeois cultural and financial investment, and many of its devices were integrated into the mass media - to dismiss all this is as crass as anything he accuses me of. Not all of what Wood says is negative. He counterposes to my alleged tendency to reduce the aesthetic to the political a more adequate view, which he takes from Walter Benjamin, according to which 'there is an equality, a reciprocitybetween the aesthetic and the political such that an aesthetic dimension or response can give the lie to a political claim' (PC, p. 99). I am entirely happy with such an account of the relation between the aesthetic and the political. I don't really believe, however, that it accurately represents Wood's own position. There 122

are strong hints in his review of an Aestheticism in which it is now art that stands in judgement of politics, rather than (as in the position he wrongly attributes to me) the other way round. Here is our real disagreement. Take, for example, this interesting slide. Wood explains that the aesthetic can 'provide a corrective to rhetoric or elision' in a piece of political writing because the latter 'is a form [.. .] of thought' (PC, p. 100). Wood hastens to absolve himself of a possible charge of idealism, denying that he believes "'correct thinking" overturns society. Thought and organization, or aesthetics and politics, must circle each other warily, the one never letting the other out of its sight' (PC, p. 100). Note how the latter sentence invites us to equate aesthetics with thought, politics with organization. One's suspicion that the tail is beginning vigorously to wag the dog is strengthened when, in the next paragraph, we are told: One could say that the pressingquestion is how it is thanwhatteleologyto adopt;or at possibleto live,rather out. leastthatthe latterdoesnot sortthe former Benjamin that it is less a question of what a remarked,tellingly, man'sbeliefsarethanthe kindof manthosebeliefsmake of him. This is no less an aestheticmatterthana political
one (PC, p. 100).

I would say rather that it stands at the heart of the traditional concerns of ethics. Bernard Williams argues that moral philosophy is constituted by 'Socrates' Question': 'how one should live'.6 Terry Eagleton has explored the ways in which, as ethics lost its old foundation in Christian theology, aesthetics emerged as an autonomous discourse offering itself as a source of values.7Wood apparently comes quite close to advancing such a conception of aesthetics. Insofaras he does so, he sets up aesthetics rather than politics as the master discourse. Any such tendency must be as firmly resisted as that which privileges politics over art. One can only genuinely acknowledge their reciprocity if one sees the continuity between them - both are 'forms of thought' - and that discontinuity: if they were not different then a reduction of one to the other might be feasible. One way of distinguishing art from politics - here writ very large to include all forms theoretical discourse - involves appealing to Wittgenstein's celebrated contrast between saying and

Nelson Goodman, for example, has suggested that we think of works of art as saying rather than showing. One 'symptom of the aesthetic' is, he argues, exemplification: 'An experience is exemplificational insofar as concerned with properties exemplified or expressed i.e., propertiespossessed and shown forth - by a symbol, not merely things the symbol denotes.' But because works of art are also 'semantically dense', that is, it is always an open question which of any two terms more accurately

captures these properties, 'an endless search is required [. ..] to determine precisely what is exemplified or expressed'.9 Because works of art show rather than explicitly state what they express, they necessitate the practice of saying 'what is exemplified'. By its very nature art invites the development of a critical discourse which articulates with the other theoretical discourses prevailing in the society in question. The tension between the aesthetic and 'politics writ large' is a constitutive one, reflecting both their interdependence and their irreducible differencederiving from the distinct kinds of symbolization involved. Incidentally, it is precisely because the process of discursively articulatingwhat is expressed by a work of art is, in principle, infinite that it would never occur to me to seek to 'refute'an aesthetic movement because I happened to disagree with some philosophical doctrine which apparently accorded with that movement. So the fact that Nietzsche's thought can be seen as a philosophical anticipation of Modernism, though an important fact of cultural history, is no sense counts against Modernism. Works of art are not the concretizations of philosophical doctrines. To talk of 'refuting' artistic movements is to commit a category-mistake. Perhaps part of Modernism's significance is that its constitutive ambiguity - discussed at length in APM renders explicit the openness to endless reinterpretation characteristicof works of art. Quite aside from the philosophical issues gestured at in the preceding paragraphs, Wood and I also seem to differ about politics. In a revealing aside, he admonishes my resort, in conclusion, to the 'cliche' that Lyotard and Baudrillard 'fiddle while Rome burns' (APM, p. 174): 'Is it anyway such a bad thing to make music while Atlantis sinks and cities evaporate?' Wood asks (PC, p. 99). One way of answering might be to remind ourselves of the origins of the metaphor he denounces. For Nero was, after all, the original Aestheticist, crying as he died: 'Qualisartifexin mepereo!'('What an artist dies in me!') Suetonius tells us Nero himself caused Rome to be set alight: he 'watched the conflagration

from the Tower of Maecenas, enrapturedby what he called "the beauty of the flames";then he put on his tragedian's costume and sang TheFall of Ilium from beginning to end.'10To me, at any rate, it does seem a 'bad thing' to treat suffering as an aesthetic spectacle. This is not to deny that one entirely appropriate response to sufferingis through art, but this involves recognizing the reality of suffering, not aestheticizing it. Wood comes dangerously close to the latter pose when, in his last sentence, he gives Benjamin's suicide as an instance of 'the possibility - the necessity? - that beauty can be its own truth' (PC, p. 100). I don't want to seem priggish, but I fail to see the beauty of the despairing act of a man who has lost all hope of escaping the worst pursuers imaginable. Of course, Wood is no Nero, who after all was responsible for causing the suffering he sang over in the firstplace. Nevertheless, there is a kind of complicity involved in merely 'making music' in the face of sufferingto which one believes human action can put an end. But then I'm not sure Paul Wood does believe this anymore. Notes
1. P. Wood, 'PreviousConvictions', Oxford Journal, vol. 14, no. 1, Art 1991, review article of A. Callinicos, AgainstPostmodernism (Cambridge: Polity, 1989), cited in the text as, respectively, PC and APM. 2. 'Postmodernism' is capitalized when used to a (supposed) artistic movement, but put in lower case when postmodernism as philosophy or social theory is under discussion. 3. L. Trotsky, On Literature Art (New York: Pathfinder, 1970), and pp. 76-7. 4. See, for example, C. Green, Cubism and its Enemies(New Haven, Yale University Press, 1987). 5. L. Trotsky, Literature and Revolution(Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1971), p. 178. 6. B. Williams, Ethicsand the Limitsof Philosophy (London: Fontana/ Collins, 1985), p. 1. 7. T. Eagleton, The Ideology theAesthetic(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, of 1990), esp. ch. 2. 8. Cf. L. Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969), 4.022. 9. N. Goodman, Languages of Art (Brighton: Harvester, 1981), pp. 253, 240. 10. Suetonius, The TwelveCaesars, 38 (Graves translation). VI.


It is good to know that one's reviews are read, less so to be accused of having misread. I have been interested by Alex Callinicos's work for many years, both his own intellectual project and its situation within the wider political programme of the S.W.P. That is one reason I wanted to review the book. It seemed important in both an intellectual and a political sense; both its strong points and its shortcomings have a significance beyond that of the normal and academic study. Callinicos, however, claims that I have misunderstood him. Having read his reply I have to say that I do not think so.

The burden of his argument concerns my claim that his book involves a criticism of Modernism as well as of Postmodernism, and which, he says, implicitly identifies his views on art with those of Stalinist Socialist Realism. The first thing to say in response is that the relationship between Marxism and Modernism is complex. Orthodox versions of both have been mutually antagonistic. Between the Russian Revolution and the Second World War, however, there existed an archipelago of work which held Marxism and Modernism in a tensioned, productive relationship. To an extent this connected to 123

Trotskyism, in the sense that both were dissident from orthodox Stalinist communism. Callinicos, needless to say, allies himself to this tradition of Constructivism, Surrealism, Lef, Mayakovsky, Breton, Brecht and Benjamin. The mainstream of Modernism also involves, however, a current of individualism and aestheticism with which he is uncomfortable. On balance I do not feel I do Callinicos any disservice by pointing out that his book offers a critique of Postmodernism from a Marxist point of view which also involves him in criticism of aspects of Modernism. I do not see why he should be so concerned to deny this, when it is this feature which lifts his book out of the run of the mill of conservative attacks on Postmodernism. It still seems to me to be hisjoint attack on claims for a sui generis Postmodernism on the grounds that it repeats features of Modernism itself, and his critical distance from key aspects of Modernism made in the name of a 'classical Marxism', that gives his book its special quality. A second point is that this does not entail my charging Callinicos with a Stalinist philosophy of art (although I am not convinced from what I have seen of its debates on the subject that there are not others in the S.W.P. whose views one would be hard put to distinguish from that sense of art's need to service the political which lies at the heart of Socialist Realism). Callinicos however is far too philosophically astute, far too politically committed to Trotskyism, for any such charge to hold: which is why I do not make it. I have to say that by concentrating on points of exposition in his reply, Callinicos fails to address what I feel is the main cause of my unease with his book. But this is the place to note significantways in which Callinicos misreads me. One is this point about my supposed reduction of his position to a Stalinist philosophy of art. The tactic is a common one in academic debate: first build a straw man, then convincingly knock it over, burying the original point in the debris. A second is his claim that I 'dismiss' Burger's Theory theAvant Gardeas 'crass'. I of do not. I cite Burger's views on the inter-war avantgarde, which Callinicos draws on copiously, at some length. I do, however, in one place criticise Callinicos for the use of a particularlycrass comment of Burger's on Duchamp's Readymades. A third is the claim that I treat Benjamin's suicide as an object of beauty. It was undoubtedly an act of great courage. My point concerns Benjamin's refusalto let his work become the servant of some externally imposed requirement, up to the point of obliterating it if necessary: a logic which, under terrible circumstances, he applied to himself. I hope this does not 'aestheticize suffering' so much as indicate the lengths to which one may be driven if one's position falls foul of totalitarians of either side. Read as a whole the passage is clearly intended as testimony to the difficulty of making decisions about value, the relation of different orders of value, and the un124

certaintywhich surrounds them. It also pertains to a fear about the extent to which independent judgements of artistic value are easily threatened and compromised by those with vested interests in political programmes. A fourth is Callinicos' assertion that he 'never dreamt of doing anything so silly as' -quoting me - 'to offer a wholesale refutation of Modernism'. Quite. That is what I say he doesn't do. For my point is that Callinicos has to make his criticism of Modernism without lining himself up with its wholesale denunciation along Lukacsian lines. Now we can return to what I feel were my main points. When I learned that Alex Callinicos wanted to reply to my review, it was my hope that he would address some of the challenging issues I began to raise in its latter part. It is a disappointment that he has instead mounted this defensive argument; though as such I have to admit that it conforms to the intellectual character of much of the work with which he is aligned. I gave what I thought and still think is a fair account of his book. The burden of my eventual feelings of dissatisfaction with it lay not in inter-war debate about Modernism and Socialist Realism, but in Callinicos's apparent attitude to the art of the second half of the century. I make this point quite explicitly in the original essay. It is true that Callinicos' remarks on the subject are sketchy and scarcely qualify as a full analysis. None the less, they were made, in a book whose principal focus is on the present conjuncture, and in public at a conference debate on the same subject. I do not think it is - or at least I hope that it is not - very challenging for anyone on the left to defend the virtue of the inter-war 'political' avant-gardes. However I do think it is very difficultto formulate misgivings about Postmodernist art, and especially to relate them to criteria framed by a contemporary political project, without lapsing into a conservativestance regarding much of the art of the previous post-war decades. It may of course be that, in terms of his own somewhat sociological 4-way breakdown of how to talk about art, Callinicos is merely giving vent to No. 4: individual opinion. I feel, however, that rather more is implied: that the 'tedium' he feels in the presence of recent art is intended as a judgement of a widespread retreat since the days of Brecht, of Sura realism, of Guernica, retreat into abstraction, and latterly to 'aimless' formal innovation. This judgement contrasts with the one wherein British figurative painting is lauded for its 'extraordinaryvitality'. Such a position would not sit uneasily in Modem Painters.Which is something I would have thought any aspirant to revivify Marxism would need to address. This is not easy ground. For example, I actually agree with Callinicos about ArtePovera(now that he reveals his hostile judgement was based on it). But what the Royal Academy show in question demonstrated was the relative weakness of much of twentieth-century Italian art. To think that Arte

Povera 'admirably' exemplifies anything about a variety of more serious conceptual art, in France, Britain and the U.S.A., merely makes my point for me. Nothing in Callinicos's reply assuages my doubts that he has confronted the critical implications of contemporary art. Critical of what, is the question which follows. To which I would want to reply: the grounds of judgement, including moral and political judgements. Callinicos approves my citation of Benjamin's sense of a dialectic between the aesthetic and the political, but doubts that I actually adhere to it. Rather, he charges me with aestheticism. As Mandy Rice-Davis said, 'he would, wouldn't he?' I for my part cannot rid myself of the feeling that Callinicos privileges the political. Maybe in the end it comes to this: he doesn't believe me, and I don't believe him. I think, in conclusion, that this problem is as much practical as it is theoretical. Formulations of the relative autonomy of art can become dramatically sophisticated. The practical manifestation of the problem is usually simpler, and one learns to be wary when those whose primary motivation is political turn their gaze on art. I actually found this area of Callinicos's book one of the least clear. I think I found it so because it is one of the most genuinely opaque and difficult areas to confront. I mean the nature of the relations between art and other walks of life which are held to be desirable from a socialist perspective. I certainly find criteria here hard to come by; as a rule of thumb I have learned to distrust abstract disclaimers of interventionist desire, perhaps inspired by the Little Red Riding Hood in me. I often find that I am arguing with different emphases according to who I am addressing: bending the stick towards the political responsibilities and dimensions of art when confronted by those commercial, connoisseurish or academic interests which would rather forget them; bending towards the independence of art when faced with the species of Political Correctnesswhich currently infests almost all allegedly 'radical' debate about the arts. Callinicos would presumably not agree, but I find his writing marked by a certainty which comes from

the deployment of a political perspectiveas a kind of template. It is this sense of there being something held inviolate which haunts my reading of his response to recent art. Callinicos is quite right to stress the 'interdependence and irreducible difference', the 'continuity and discontinuity' of the aesthetic and the political. How those conjunctions are to be negotiated in practice, however, still seems to me to require a pluralism and an acknowledgement of the independence of art which those with a bent for Political Correctness in practice find it difficult to concede. Finally, as to the charge of'complicity' in the final sally where Callinicos doubts whether I believe any more that human action can bring about an end to human suffering. If this is coded disapproval because I am no longer in the S.W.P., it is beneath him. If it is a claim about my belief in people's capacities to change their lives, it is mistaken. If, however, it pertains to my faith in the abilities of the organised political left as presently constituted to effect or even to recognise such processes of change, then he is on firmer ground. It has been one of the strengths of Callinicos' work, and that of some of his comrades in the S.W.P., that they have sought to defend and adumbrate a classical Marxist perspective not only against non-Marxist views, but also against both the narrow fundamentalism of smaller sects on the political left and that increasing accommodation to the status quo which has left 'New Times' supportersbereft of anything much beyond a tone of moral anguish. Any such Marxism is lost the moment it becomes a Procrustean bed. We have grown accustomed to conservative attacks on innovation in art. But with the rise of Political Correctness, the traditional securities of Left and Right are further disturbed. It is not the smallest irony of our fin de sitcle that the latest evolution of a putatively 'left' perspectiveconstitutes a conservative closure upon open enquiry in the criticism and practice of the arts. I have no doubt that Alex Callinicos would want to distance himself from this as much as I. But in the present intellectual climate I have my fears. And nothing in AgainstPostmodernism persuades me that I should abandon them.


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