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Our introduction is written in three parts. In the first section, we provide an overview of how late twentieth-century Marxist theory understood the development of bourgeoning non-class-based social movements, and grappled with the problem of a capitalism that was simultaneously expanding its reach and declining in profitability. In the second section, we turn to the state of literary study after the 2008 financial crisis. We argue that the aftermath of the economic downturn has altered the coordinates for both the multiculturalism of late twentieth-century literary study, and the forms of Marxist literary criticism that subsisted alongside it. We argue that this situation demands a reading of Marx that goes beyond critiques of commodity fetishism and false consciousness, drawn from the first chapter of Capital, Volume 1, to embrace the whole arc of Marx’s argument in that work. In the final section, we preview the essays collected in the volume.
After Marx:Literature, Theory and Value demonstrates the importance of Marxist literary and cultural criticism for an era of intersectional politics and economic decline. The volume includes fresh approaches to reading poetry, fiction, film and drama, from Shakespeare to contemporary literature, and shows how Marxist literary criticism improves our understanding of racial capitalism, feminist politics, colonialism, deindustrialization, high-tech labor, ecological crisis, and other issues. A key innovation of the volume's essays is how they attend to Marx's theory of value. For Marx, capitalist value demands a range of different kinds of labor as well as unemployment. This book shows the importance of Marxist approaches to literature that reach beyond simply demonstrating the revolutionary potential or the political consciousness of a 19th-century-style industrial working class. After Marx makes an argument for the twenty-first century interconnectedness of widely different literary genres, and far-flung political struggles.
If the spate of recent publications on transnational Afro-Asian connections is any indication, we may have finally arrived at a welcome third stage of ethnic studies, one long postponed by a standoff between a multiracial model limited by a national horizon and a diasporic model that lacked a historical ground for conducting cross-racial analysis. The neo-Bandung allegiance of this Afro-Asianism—most prominent in the work of Vijay Prashad and Bill Mullen—explicitly aligns itself against the postnationalist ethos of hybridity theory and in favor of a toughened anti-imperial stance. There is much to admire about this critical turn; its increasing influence is surely a sign of our worsening times, reflected in the difference between the postsocialist euphoria of the 1990s—which projected the radicalization of democracy through the articulation of class with race, gender, and sexuality—and the return of empire and its banalization of democratic rhetoric after 9/11. Despite this Afro-Asianist project's more open recognition of the relevance of Asian embourgeoisement to its own desire for a renewed resistance politics, however, it is not yet clear whether the retrieval of Third Worldist genealogies accomplishes something more than a nostalgic response to the rise of Asian capitalism on a world scale and to the thinning claim of Asian American intellectuals to any representative function. And yet, to fulfill the originary promise of ethnic studies, which emerged out of the articulation between anti-imperialist and anti-racist struggle in the late 1960s, this is what it must and should do.
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