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Modern French Marxism (review)

From: Philosophy and Literature
Volume 7, Number 2, October 1983
pp. 268-269 | 10.1353/phl.1983.0028

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268Philosophy and Literature the edge of death, which Marlow has only peeped over" (p. 83), liberally sprinkled throughout the text, hardly make for inspired reading. Attempting to tie together several genuinely related accomplishments, Pettersson puts forward explanations mat only render Conrad a far thinner and more wooden writer than he is. There is a real, complex philosophy in Conrad, and it is interestingly related to his style, but an illuminating account of either seems to have eluded Pettersson's grasp. City University of New YorkSteven L. Ross Modern French Marxism, by Michael Kelly; 240 pp. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982, $24.00. Hagiography certainly has its place, and there is no good reason for which some Marxist thinkers should be exempted from it. Condemnations may be fun, to proffer and to read, and there is no good reason for which other Marxist thinkers should be spared diem. On the other hand, a measured critique is what, generally, we are looking for; this is not it. "It is that which respectable authors avoid naming" (p. 224), says this author, of that entity named Marxism. Why so? Rarely, and even more rarely in France than elsewhere, have I heard people shrink from calling Marxism Marxism. Why indeed should they? The intellectual establishment there is heavily left-wing, and rarely does one sense the innate prejudice against such doctrines as those which cause the small hairs and large hackles to rise in America. Marxist thought is basic thought in Paris: few would dispute this. If, however, "respectable" in the sentence quoted means "les assis," or the dull and seated types Rimbaud in his brilliant adolescence so loadied, then, all right, they are not wild about Marxist thought or, really, any other. But avoid naming it they do not. As for the meat of the volume, the main course is quite ploddily made up ofhow and at what dates, in what volumes, published by whom, A or B did or did not refer frequently to Feuerbach as opposed to Hegel, how P and 0_inverted Marx's celebrated "inversion" of Hegel, how X and Y turned to mystical neo-Hegelianism instead of the straight material line, and so on. Yes, the names get filled in: Desanti and Althusser and Hyppolite and Cornu share the stage with Stalin and Sartre and Lefebvre andJean Wahl. But the interesting discussions — about self-criticism as about the neo-Hegelian revival, about Marxism as a dynamic dialectics opposed to all static philosophies, about the vicissitudes of judgments and attitudes — are somehow swallowed up in a welter of details which would quite turn off even the most dedicated. To say nothing, or not much where not much is needed, of die style. Typically, you have to put on wading boots to make it through, not the thought, but the verbiage: "the Hegelianizing dynamic of their interpretation could only exacerbate the incipient dematerializing of die dialectic" (p. 34). I felt exacerbated myself, and even martyrologized , to use another favorite expression of the author. The book ends, mercifully, at last: "for the most part silence is the lot even of major Reviews269 figures . . ." and this study was undertaken to remedy the silence. I had not really noticed the silence, but this remedy is noisy and uninterestingly written, with only the advantage of being impassioned in its advocacy of Marxist thought. I wish such passion were attached to a zippy style, more remarkable or less known facts, and a more "modern" view of what is — or so I think — going on in France. City University of New YorkMary Ann Caws The Intellectual Resistance in Europe, by James D. Wilkinson; ? & 358 pp. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981, $20.00. Charles Dickens characterized the French Revolution as the best of times and the worst of times. Some Europeans might have applied the same description to the years of World War II. They believed that the death and destruction visited on their countries would be at least partially atoned for by the social and political renewal that would follow in the wake of the Fascist defeat. Most European intellectuals loathed the corrupt pre-war bourgeois capitalist order. They became convinced that it could not survive the bombs...