Thesis Eleven is honoured to be able to publish this text by our late friend and mentor Agnes Heller. It was secured in the period before her recent death, and is published now posthumously in her memory. Echoing her earlier text written as an Imaginary Preface to Arendt’s Totalitarianism, it responds to themes in the later text, The Life of the Mind. These were among the most eminent of the minds referred to later as Women in Dark Times. Their connection (...) was not only institutional, via the New School, but represented a deep and ongoing affinity and critical engagement in political and philosophical terms. The imaginary letter arcs around issues and questions indicated by Cicero, Kant, Heidegger and Wittgenstein, including matters of republicanism, rhetoric and the question of thinking. Best of all, it shows Agnes Heller at work, at her best: it shows her thinking. Like Arendt, she offers inspiration, provocation, through thinking. (shrink)
This commentary responds to the recent enthusiasm for the idea of interregnum, revived by Gramsci in the 1930s and now by Zygmunt Bauman and Carlo Bordoni. While sympathetic to its impulse, the suggestion is made here that rather than being trapped in between, the West is entering a new authoritarian normal, where innovation as well as repetition are apparent. Trump Fever, in particular, may be a kind of smokescreen or western liberal obsession, not because the problems involved are less than (...) fully serious, but because we allow their anxieties to disable us. Meantime, the serious global contender for global hegemony, The People’s Republic of China, is often occluded from vision. Ergo Spengler: this may be not only the epoch of the decline of the West, but also the rise of the New China. (shrink)
What is the nature of modernity in Australia, or in the Antipodes? This article presents the view that Australia is an unhappy country because its modernity is caught between at least two different images of pasts and futures possible. There are at least two Australias, one closer to the image of modern tradition or settler capitalism, the other heading in the direction of globalism via its world cities. On contemplation, the image of doubling or pluralization spreads. For there are also (...) at least two distinct little narratives of national foundation, one dystopic, as the halfway modern society begot by penal origins in 1788, the other utopian, as the field of the transtasman social laboratory mooted into the 20th century. These divisions resonate with the theme of the two nations, from Disraeli through to Bauman, but the logical implication of the argument for the discourse about multiple modernities suggests the pluralization rather than dualization of lifeworlds and social forms. (shrink)
Zygmunt Bauman said of 1968 that he could not empathize with the enthusiasm of the Western Left, that this was some kind of party. In Eastern Europe 1968 stood for an end, not a hope. Soon Bauman would be forced into exile, opening a new and brilliant phase of his intellectual trajectory. Sketches in the Theory of Culture was his last Polish book. It was suppressed in 1968, the contract cancelled in retaliation against his support for reforming politics. Now it (...) has been rediscovered, originally in galley proofs, and translated by Dariusz Brzezinski for Polity Press. Like much of Bauman’s work, it is sprawling and inclusive, taking in anthropology, sociology of culture, ethnology and semiotics. It anticipates his life-long enthusiasm for Lévi-Strauss; and it also foreshadows some of the themes much later to be identified as liquid modern, though it may be the case that the theme of continuity is rather social turbulence from postwar reconstruction to the travails of socialist Poland. In this paper I review some of its themes and its status in the body of his work, and offer some introductory remarks on its importance to the study of culture. (shrink)
Western Australia, like Tasmania, can slip too easily off the map, a periphery on the periphery, its significance occluded by the hegemony of the eastern states of Australia. Yet Western Australia is core to Australia’s economy, not least through mining, and through its proximity to Asia. The West is itself connected more closely to region, in both the local and transnational senses. Its tradition of secessionist thinking indicates a kind of exceptionalist culture. This is a difference which begs for explanation. (...) This essay introduces some motifs and themes of this special issue of Thesis Eleven, entitled ‘Way Out West: Mapping Western Australia’. It locates the West in some recent historical, geographical and narrative context. It gestures toward the biography of its editors, Jon Stratton and Peter Beilharz, and their locations spread across the west and east of the continent. It calls for further scrutiny of these, and other antipodes. (shrink)
Bernard Smith (1916–2011) was a giant on the Australian intellectual scene, and a major analyst of and contributor to the processes of cultural traffic between the antipodes and the centres of the world system. He was a lifelong Marxist, or historical materialist. Yet his scholarship also wore an open weave. Was he then a Marxist in politics? This essay argues that his historicism placed his thinking firmly with the owl of Minerva, rather than in the driver’s seat of history. Marxism, (...) for Bernard Smith, was ex post facto, placing him with the tragic irony of Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire rather than with the activist intent of the Theses on Feuerbach. Distance, for Smith, was everything. (shrink)
Bernard Smith was a giant on the Australian intellectual scene, and a major analyst of and contributor to the processes of cultural traffic between the antipodes and the centres of the world system. He was a lifelong Marxist, or historical materialist. Yet his scholarship also wore an open weave. Was he then a Marxist in politics? This essay argues that his historicism placed his thinking firmly with the owl of Minerva, rather than in the driver’s seat of history. Marxism, for (...) Bernard Smith, was ex post facto, placing him with the tragic irony of Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire rather than with the activist intent of the Theses on Feuerbach. Distance, for Smith, was everything. (shrink)
Bauman's work can be understood as a critical theory, but its east European context needs to be established alongside the west European sensibilities of the Frankfurt School. The question of Soviet modernity and the status of the Polish experience of which Bauman was part need to be placed alongside the more famous critique of the Holocaust, which can be more readily aligned with Horkheimer and Adorno's views in Dialectic of Enlightenment. To this end, some of Bauman's essays and arguments on (...) the Soviet and Polish experience are reviewed in order to begin to fill out this other dimension of Bauman's critique of modernity and totalitarianism. Both Bauman's views on eastern Europe, and my survey of them, are offered as hints for those that follow. (shrink)
The idea of the 'Australian settlement' has been normalized since its popularization by Paul Kelly into the Keating years. This essay responds further to existing discussion of the idea, including attempts to develop it by expanding its descriptive and analytic criteria. It argues for the pluralization of the idea of settlement, rather than for attempts to develop the 'Australian settlement' by adding further exhaustive detail. The real challenge, beyond the controversy, is the adequate specification of the conditions of Australian modernity. (...) Here the idea and institution of arbitration remains central. (shrink)
Review Articles : Cornelius Castoriadis, Political and Social Writ ings. Volume One: 1946-1955. From the Critique of Bu reaucracy to the Positive Content of Socialism. Volume Two: 1955-1960. From the Workers Struggle Against Bureaucracy to Revolution in the Age of Modern Capitalism, trans. and ed. by David Ames Curtis.
No two images of socialism or utopia were more influential a century ago than those of Marx and Bellamy. Marx and Engels famously denied the utopian dimension of their own project; Bellamy celebrated it. In this essay I sketch out some clues for revisiting images of utopia in Marx and in Bellamy. My claim is that Marx failed to develop a systematic utopia or image of socialism. We are left with a series of hints towards five different images of utopia (...) across the path of his life and work. Bellamy's image of utopia is more consistent, but contrary to common understanding, it reflects the unresolved tensions of nineteenth century American modernity expressed through the prism of New England small town radicalism. Bellamy's utopia is connected to the later image of the machine in the garden; contrary to William Morris's assertion, he was not an unmixed modern, and this is one quality at least that he shared with Marx, where the impress of romanticism remains profound. (shrink)
Review: Max Koch, Roads to Post-Fordism: Labour Markets and Social Structures in Europe ; Christian Joerges, Bo Strath and Peter Wagner, The Economy as a Polity: The Political Constitution of Contemporary Capitalism.
Marx and Gramsci remain two of the most constant presences and inspirations for those on the left. Yet there is a persistent sense that we have still to get them right. Perhaps this indicates that sources like this are now fully classics, to be returned, and returned to. In the case of Marx and Gramsci, a series of major works published in the Brill Historical Materialism series breaks new ground as well as returning to older controversies, both resolved and unresolved. (...) Apart from remaining arguments concerning the status of materials unpublished in their own lifetimes, the major tension that emerges here is that between the task of immanent, contextual philology and the challenge of reading ‘Marx for today’ or ‘Gramsci for today’. The tension between text and context, and the question of what travels, conceptually persists. (shrink)
Over the past 50 years, rock music has been the prime mover of an emergent national recording industry in Australia. This is a story in turn of increasing size, complexity, diversity, and sophistication, before its ultimate decline into the 21st century. This story has not been told in full previously and this article is a first step to make good this gap in the historical and cultural sociology of popular music. In this study, which has two parts, we survey record (...) labels, recording techniques and forms, and the music that was bought and sold. In Part One we chronicled the emergence of modern record production, the rise of rock music, and the development of a local recording industry in Australia between 1945 and 1970. In Part Two we narrate the rise and fall of Australian local, regional and national rock music cultures and the ebb and flow of independent labels and their labyrinthine relations to the transatlantic centre of the world-system of rock music industry. In particular we focus on four aspects: 1) technological change: the dominance of the vinyl album in the 1970s but its eventual usurpation by cassettes and then compact discs before the ultimate decline of all formats in the rise of the internet and the i-pod; 2) infrastructure: the development of the recording industry as a system of recording studios and record factories; as a system of impresarios and musician management; and also as a system that integrates performance circuits, radio, television, film, and eventually computer, product placement, advertising, and promotion through the cultivation and manipulation of taste markets in consumer culture etc.; 3) business logistics and markets: the tracking of the record labels, their struggles for markets and copyright control, local and global; and 4) musical production and repertoire. Since the digital revolution started eating away firstly and most conspicuously at the recording industry, the 50 years from 1945 to 1995 can now more clearly be seen as the rise and fall of rock music and its major technological form, the vinyl record. This is why we call it ‘the vinyl age’. (shrink)