Thursday, July 9, 2009

Marxist Literary Group & PDX

I haven't been blogging in a bit and that has partially to do with an effort to "get serious" this summer and get some reading done for my exams, but also because last month I spent a week in Portland, Oregon attending the Marxist Literary Group (MLG) annual summer institute. I also used this conference as a opportunity to visit with friends I hadn't seen in awhile and see old haunts from when I lived in PDX.

MLG seems to be divided into two "guards" of an older generation of people working to recuperate questions such as Stalin's "real" legacy, or resolving the real implications of various volumes of capital and a new guard largely focused on the question of immaterial labor, neoliberalism, and the bio-political. By far the more interesting work for me came from this "new" guard. There were some fascinating work of left political economy coming from people in literature departments like Berkeley and UC Davis. I saw an excellent paper on "centrist reason" by a graduate student at McMaster, which deliberated on the meaning of people from the Economist, Obama, and those neophytes of the techboom who imagine that the internet has reinvented politics completely. Another paper denied the use or meaning of "ideology" as false-consciousness for Marx.

Also, of note were some of the reading groups particularly one on the Wertkritik ("value critique") school in Germany. Although the discussion thanks to the UC students devolved into a deliberation of a figure I have not yet read, Moishe Postone, the readings themselves were rather interesting. Wertkritik asserts that capitalism has increasingly failed to integrate masses of unemployed laborers into the labor force, particularly in the "developing world." They also suggest that the conflict at the heart is not between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie but the forces of capitalism and those who desire the persistence of life. Capitalism in this reading is oriented against the persistence of life. There work was pretty engaging and scholars have just started translating their work, check out some links here (I particularly recommend Marx 2000).

As for Portland, I was able to visit with several friends, have several brunches which is precisely my favorite meal, and have Stumptown coffee fresh brewed every day despite my moratorium on daily coffee consumption. The Red Bicycle, an amazing breakfast place in St. Johns was probably my favorite brunch whilst in PDX featuring a tempeh-bacon avocado breakfast sandwich. I was able to see several people with whom I organized in a queer collective that occupied some time and a lot of head space for me whilst in Portland. Some of them have moved on to social work (or continued in it), or to having babies, attending graduate school. And a few have continued in political organizing around other issues not related to queer politics at all.

At the end of the institute following the BBQ I met a former co-worker from the group home at a lesbian bar for drinks, but my sleeplessness throughout the conference followed by my inability to sleep in without five in my bed, made me a sloppy/sleepy drunk. I definitely recall half-falling asleep while talking to her, and waking up quickly with the phrase "Hegelian madness..." something she would probably not know about or care to discover its true meaning. Anyway, a little embarrassing.

But Portland has changed a great deal (economically) and several good friends have moved away, so I feel settled in my narrow house in Pittsburgh with my boyfriend, and dog, even though we miss some of our friends there. Also, it is kind of a bubble in terms of the limitations people face in their daily lives be they queer, unemployed, etc. It is almost more important to be in a place where the conflicts at the heart of American society are a little more out in the open.

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