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Marxism for Artists, Pt. 2

August 22, 2020 - September 26, 2020

Participants in HRLA’s online seminar, Life in the Iron Mills/Marxism for Artists (organized by Jennifer Doyle and concluded in early July), expressed a desire to keep going — and so we will!

Our next session will center on Marxist thinking about kinship, collectives, society and social transformation, and will run from August 22 until the end of September. If you would like to participate, please sign up here.

Our readings will move across distinct areas in Marxist critical thought — Friedrich Engels’s The Origins of Family, Private Property and the State, Gayle Rubin’s “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the Political Economy of Sex,” excerpts from Glen Coulthard’s Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition, Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval, and Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism. We will discuss Black cooperatives with Dr. Irvin Hunt (University of Illinois), author of the forthcoming Dreams of the Present: Time, Aesthetics and the Black Cooperative Movement.

A preoccupation with philosophies of history are defining features of Marxist critical theory — the turn to the past expresses a need to understand change — to push against a sense of the always-already ongoingness and inevitability of oppression. To refuse the way things are, we grapple with the possibilities of what might have been. In Marxist critical theory, these lines of inquiry are braided with a turn to cultural anthropology — this is particularly important to Marx’s writing about primitive accumulation, and to The Origins of the Family, which was developed from Marx’s notes on 19th-century anthropological writing about Indigenous societies in North America and the Pacific. These writings were really important to Marx and Engels – and to the latter’s ideas about kinship and family structures, and the relationship between the rise of Capital and the organization of production/consumption around the patriarchal, monogamous family. Collectively, this reading explores the origin of Capital and white heteropatriarchy and begins to suggest other ways of living and working together.

Marxism for Artists is a weekly reading and discussion group intended to support the development of our understanding of key texts in Marxist thought, especially as they might support artists’ practices. While students/scholars are welcome, this group is formed as an alternative to the vibe which tends to dominate academic settings. This group is meant to make space for people often pushed out by the turn to “theory” — not because they do not have the competency to contribute, but because the culture around Marxist critical theory, in particular, is often overtly hostile to the perspectives of BIPOC, women, queer and trans folks.  The very rich tradition of feminist, queer, Indigenous and anti-racist engagement with Marxism has, historically, been marginalized within art and art history — the effect is to reinforce a conceptual apartheid which divides work concerned with race, gender and settler-colonial contexts and work concerned with the status of the art object, within Capital. This was never OK; today more and more contemporary art contexts are reckoning with that fact.

These conversations are meant to be a space for working-through our shared interests in learning more, and also for, in a sense, doing some repair-work. It is a chance for people to read and think together because it feels good.

If this sounds to you like it would feel good to you, please consider joining us.

These events are hosted on zoom thanks to Jennifer Doyle’s professional home, The English Department at UC Riverside.


August 22, 2020
September 26, 2020
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