June 20th, 2012 / 11:48 am

“What exactly is Alt Lit?” Frank Hinton, Noah Cicero, and Stephen Tully Dierks speak to Vol. 1 Brooklyn about it.


  1. Bill Hsu

      I was kind of amused that Noah Cicero complained about people “writing like… punks”, then mentioned Kathy Acker as a huge influence. Most people I know who “wrote like punks” absolutely worship Kathy Acker.

  2. A D Jameson

      Also, STD and Steve Roggenbuck and Sam Pink and Andrew Weatherhead will be reading this coming Tuesday (the 26th) at the Innertown Pub in Chicago, ~8pm. I know I’ll be there.

  3. Stephen Tully Dierks

      Thank you for sharing this and for mentioning the reading, Adam. Looking forward to hanging with you again.

  4. Josh Spilker

      yeah, thanks for picking this up

  5. A D Jameson

       Stephen Tully Dierks, you are most welcome.

  6. Anonymous

      glad to see this posted, thank you

  7. Christopher Kelly

      I don’t think there is a center.  As soon as you start talking about something centered around Tao Lin or any other individual, you are looking at something much more specific than what I would view as alt lit, in the sense of young-ish (even saying young is a problem, Dennis Cooper is part of this so where do you draw the line in terms of age) writers using the internet, using small press and doing their own things, writers who are not particularly interested in the trends of big American publishing houses, the New Yorker, Franzen etc.  Writers creating their own space and networks with a great deal of flexibility and openness.  As soon as there is a center, you are just replicating the structures that alt lit is supposedly reacting against.  

  8. Stephen Tully Dierks

      Hi Chris. how are you by the way man? where are you living? 

      i don’t think there’s any consensus as to what “alt lit” is/is about, even by those supposedly notably involved with it, like Frank, Noah, and me. 

      my suspicion is that some ppl associate “alt lit” with hastily-made PDFs, macros, Roggenbuck-inspired activity, others with Tao and Muumuu, some with HTMLG and associated, and who knows what other configurations. i mentioned Tao as a central figure because, as far as i could tell, Alt Lit Gossip, who popularized the term, covers HTMLG, Pop Serial, and Muumuu-associated people the most by far, and Tao was integral (?) to the scene that spawned HTMLG, inspired PS, and of course founded Muumuu.

      Frank and Noah may have stronger views of what “alt lit” is and what it is railing against than I do. even if i was really into the term, which I’m not, i still wouldn’t think of it as against anything, just in the spirit of doing what is natural, exciting, intuitive, using the internet in logical ways to write, share writing, make friends, and create community.

  9. Stephen Tully Dierks

      PS (which is separate from and predates “alt lit”) is not anti-establishment per se. my sort-of motto/credo with Pop Serial when i started, was something like “publish names i’m excited about, create community, and emphasize the author and not just his/her writing, emphasize the person, the human.”

  10. A D Jameson

      Yeah, Chris, where are you these days?

  11. Christopher Kelly

      Hi Stephen hi Adam,

      I am in Washington DC.  It is really hot here today.  Went to the reading yesterday with Steve, Jackson, Shaun, Carolyn etc. in the beautiful sculpture garden.  It was really nice.  A lot of Bieb-love and Shaun rallied from a sort of mild oblivion to read.

      When you say that PS is separate from and predates “alt lit” that clarifies a lot for me.  I think the term is probably being used in a more specific way than I would use it, because there is not currently a good term for the more general / larger occurrences that a specific “alt lit” could be seen as a part of.  This makes me wonder if it would be useful to have a more general term as well, while at the same time thinking that the terms aren’t really important, that what’s important is as you say, “the spirit of doing what is natural, exciting, intuitive” etc.

  12. Mike James

      Im sorry, no bs or commando, but Alt Lit Gossip popularized the term “alt lit”? Are you serious?

  13. Mike James

      Good interview by the way.

  14. A D Jameson

      I asked Stephen to explain Alt Lit to me recently. My impression of the concept or term is that it refers to writers who use new media (blogs, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, etc.) as an essential part of their work. And that it might refer to using that new media in a certain way—adhering to a certain body of forms and aesthetics. (So, for instance, while Roger Ebert is an avid user of Twitter, he may not be “Alt Lit” because he doesn’t write poetry with it, or anything that looks like what Tao Lin or Steve Roggenbuck generally do.)

      Of course, as with any term or concept describing any “movement” or “scene,” there’s bound to be lots of hybridity and partial cases and exclusions and exceptions. But this is how I’ve been thinking of the term in the past few weeks (and I apologize to Stephen if I’ve gotten it wrong; the above is more my interpretation/observations than what he actually said—and I may be way off!).

      Also, what I’ve seen of Alt Lit reminds me a lot of punk and post-punk. Steve Roggenbuck’s uses of Twitter and Tumblr, for instance, often remind me of zines (a scene I was involved with in the 90s). I think Alt Lit folk are using Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook and blogs in a similar fashion to how punks and post-punks used Xerox machines. (I know that, for me, blogging has largely replaced my zine-making, for good or for ill.)

      But I’m still observing and trying to formulate an opinion on all of this. I found the Volume 1 Brooklyn article very useful, in that regard.

      Also, I find this to be a very compelling section of contemporary literature. I really like a lot of the work happening here, think it very innovative and exciting.

  15. A D Jameson

      (Twitter et al. being in some sense modern-day versions of Xerox machines: cheap means of manufacturing mass media.)

  16. Stephen Tully Dierks

      @mike i’m serious, as far as the usage being discussed here. pretty sure it comes from alt lit gossip. ?

  17. Mike James

      Then wouldn’t that be more of a concept instead of a term? The alternative literature term and its subsequent alt-lit offshoot are quite familiar to me. However, your concept of what alt-lit is/should be is relatively new.

  18. i am alt lit

      it’s ‘cool’ i’m here bros

  19. Anonymous

      I feel so uncool again.

  20. elizabeth ellen

      3 words: sean fucking kilpatrick.

  21. Anonymous

      Why al this either/or, us/them logic?  And why the flagrant misuse of Marxist terms, like, DFW is bourgeois? It’s all more nuanced than that. It’s very like The Kids to mistake a trend for a revolution but there no hurt in some mindfulness. Where am I on this hipster-totem pole, HTMLGIANT on my lap and a Paris Review to my side? 

  22. reynard

      what would gordon lish do

  23. deadgod

      The clear connection between punk and “alt lit” – and a commonality with beat and, hell, Blake and Lyrical Ballads – is DIY, no?

      As an ethos – a perspective from which to criticize political economy – , as well as a practice that orients aesthetic possibilities, do-it-yourself seems (to me, anyway) a common matrix from which spring both refreshment and new – eh, new-looking – forms in “alt lit”.  The formal inclusiveness, the comity, the happily furious productivity (however short-term), the openness to unprogrammed experience–that all seems intrinsic to a community coalescing around the material conditions of ‘doing it yourself’.

      — and this bursting has happened several times over the past ~200 years in English-language literature (and maybe many other literatures sharing in increasingly mass-accessible technological modernity).

      So doing without the scaffolding or imprimatur of officialdom is no new thing, nor is it ‘alternative’ to easily taken-up tradition.

      One interesting aspect, from its outside, of the pattern that “alt lit” is repeating is the simultaneous folding into and resistance to assimilation with institutions of literature that alt-litterateurs are experiencing.  A simultaneous rejection of and remaking of those institutions, as I see it.

  24. Jason Jimenez

      It’s not punk to use the internet. 

  25. deadgod

      But it was punk to play electric guitars in professional venues, and it was punk to advertise by xeroxing flyers.  The hand-made, counter-institutional stance of punk bands wasn’t completely vitiated by their using corporately operated tools and media.

      What’s not punk about using the internet?

  26. Wallace Barker

      Damn, I seriously think one reason Marxist critique is unpopular these days is because anytime anyone uses a term even remotely related to Marxism or attempts to discuss a Marxist concept there is some Marxist scholar out there who immediately accuses the speaker of not understanding Marxism. 

  27. Anonymous

      I didn’t say Marxist, nor am I any kind of scholar. But I do recognize the misuse of words, especially those bent on compartmentalizing others for the sake of their own ‘bourgeois’ cause. And it’s that kind of shortsightedness, among other reasons, why I suspect Marxism (whatever that even means at this point) has fallen in popularity. 

  28. alan

      “Bourgeois” is not a leftist term per se. That is a standard use of the word. You can check it in a dictionary.

  29. Anonymous

      Definition of BOURGEOIS
      1: of, relating to, or characteristic of the social middle class

      2: marked by a concern for material interests and respectability and a tendency toward mediocrity

      3: dominated by commercial and industrial interests :capitalistic— bour·geois·ifi·ca·tion  noun— bour·geois·ify  verb
      Examples of BOURGEOIS

      Indignation about the powers that be and the bourgeoisfools who did their bidding—that was all you needed … You were an intellectual. —Tom Wolfe, Harper’s, June 2000[+]more

      Origin of BOURGEOIS

      Middle French, from Old French burgeis townsman, fromburc, borg town, from Latin burgusFirst Known Use: circa 1565

      I suppose you could be right. It’s even more nuanced than I thought. Someone inform Cicero. You win, you’re in.

  30. deadgod

      Well, “bourgeois” isn’t a “leftist term per se“, but rather, a political-economic class-identification.

      But I think Noah used it as a leftistish criticism of Wallace, meaning that Wallace is ‘concerned with material interests and respectability to the exclusion of political-economic critique’ — inaccurate, as much of Noah’s freely associated historical knowledge is.  As I understood his remarks, Noah means that Wallace is primarily concerned with middle-class materialism and ennui, as in… well, not many of Wallace’s stories, eh?

      I also wonder how often “bourgeois”, while not limited by dictionaries to its leftistish backhand usage, is actually used in any other way – how often, for example, yuppies identify themselves without irony as “bourgeois”, or how often college graduates with liberal-arts degrees do.

      I’d also suggest that Marxism – and any critical stance towards identifying accumulation with political freedom – isn’t at all “unpopular” because leftistish people quarrel about terms.

      Criticizing capitalism is “unpopular” because, after 150 years of tirelessly irrational ideological reaction, capitalism feels rational to the weak and the easily bribed, as the flatness of the Earth felt like a rational perspective in western Europe 1000 years ago.

  31. Anonymous

      Because insecure writers need to constantly argue for their work’s right to exist, whereas secure writers write how they want to write without talking about it 24/7. A writer who is secure with his work and aesthetic doesn’t need to create its adversary.

  32. Alt lit what? « Plunder and Salvage

      […] devils: what exactly is alt lit? Well, you better click here to find out. Share this:TumblrTwitterMoreFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  33. Wallace Barker

      This thread sort of demonstrates my point. The fact that people are posting dictionary definitions and arguing about whether Noah used “bourgeois” properly is typical of the pissing contest that is Marxist discussion. You don’t see this as much with, say, existentialism or postmodernism which get tossed around haphazardly. But drop anything remotely related to Marxism (I believe Noah was using the term roughly in that context) and out come the well-worded socio-political diatribes from fellow traveler liberal arts grads.

      It’s like, if you’re not Baudrillard or Zizek, GTFO with your puny Marxist knowledge.

  34. Anonymous

      This thread is very “bourgeois” . I’m going to tend to the dying with my nursing degree. TTYL.

  35. A D Jameson


  36. deadgod

      Wait:  Noah begins his remarks at that group interview by defining alt lit – from his perspective; he’s not speaking out of turn ‘for’ anybody else – as “a rejection of the 90s and early part of the last decade”, and he goes out of his way to say, of the ascendant writers of that time, that he “didn’t like Eggers, DFW and Franzen” because he “found them all bourgeois”.

      It’s not a Maoist self-criticism circle to put aside “alt lit” for a moment and wonder about the accuracy of this characterization.

      –which is a conversation that Noah invites!

      And it’s not Michael whose tone is telling anybody to get the fuck out with their “bourgeois”.

      Well, maybe he is, a little–that’s ‘arguing’.  But Baudrillard? Zizek??  What did Michael say that’s… intimidatingly complicated?

      If someone thinks Wallace is a bourgeois trivializer and distractor – a running dog – well, fine:  tell Michael how wrong he is.  (Maybe the cult of DFW could do with a little transferred Franzen (or Foer) Derangement Syndrome.)

      But it seems to me that to stop such a conversation even from starting is the only scholastic micturation here.

  37. Wallace Barker

      I think we all understood what Noah meant by bourgeois, but the melodramatic accusation of “flagrant misuse” followed by confused parenthetical about the ‘real’ meaning of the term is a typical response to even the most offhand usage of a Marxist-like concept. I’m just saying, let people use broad strokes every once in awhile.

  38. Anonymous

      I agree with what you say. But also, I think the word bourgeois is dated in a lot of respects for today’s America. So I like seeing people contest it.

  39. alan

      Systems of thought tend to have their own special terms. Don’t take it personally. There’s really no need to feel excluded if you take a little time to educate yourself. Basic Marxism is not that hard. Nothing that you couldn’t explain to the average worker. Just stick to the Marxist classics intended for a popular readership (Communist Manifesto, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, State and Revolution, Reform or Revolution). Zizek and Baudrillard and other obscurantist writers claiming some kind of radical pedigree can be safely left on the shelf!

  40. Nick Mamatas

      It’s a little silly to suggest that alt.lit people are reclaiming the literary life by staying “up till 5 in the morning talking about philosophy”, and then disqualifying David Foster Wallace on the grounds of being too bourgeois. DFW spent quite a lot of time and energy considering and talking about philosophy,  and like Hunter S. Thompson, Bukowski, and the other “literary life” types Noah Cicero named, he was even prone to self-destructive acts, which culminated in his suicide, just as with Thomspon.

  41. Trey

      blake was the ultimate diy punk. came up with that method of painting solution + acid just so he could do his own incredibly detailed plates for his diy poetry books. good call.

  42. Jason Jimenez

      Merely saying punk didn’t survive to the digital age. Maybe the ethos did. I guess. Still have a hard time imagining ‘punks’ on the net. Know what I mean?

  43. Anonymous
  44. Anonymous

      You said it better and didn’t get all Dead in Red (mis-read/red?) for it. Thank you.

  45. Anonymous

      Punk iz fluctuates. Punkuates. Some of the finest DIY collectives in my city use the web, many in rather true-to-‘form’ anarcho fashion passed-on through skill-shares (remember those?). The discretions, the whethers and hows, differ with group and intent, band and train-hound. Wut iz Punx?

  46. Anonymous

       ‘let people use broad strokes every once in awhile.’ That, comrade, is a luxury.

  47. deadgod

      Fair enough; “punk” punk – ’70s punk – , those people were all in their 30s+ in the ’90s, when the email/message-board communities gradually-then-suddenly mushroomed, and now, those people are in their 50s+.  Pretty sure those people – David Johansen? Patti Smith? Johnny Rotten? who’re we talking about, “punk”? – are on the internet now, many/most of them, but they’re not the same punks they were growing into 40 years ago.

      My point was that the punk… thing has emerged in (some) succeeding generations for a couple of centuries now.

      35 years ago, making a racket at a house party or in a dump for $50 – maybe – , a racket in defiance of stadium boogie (Zep, Bad Co, Skynyrd, Aerosmith) or stadium prog (Styx, Kansas), yowling about ‘corporations’ while the bar is moving Coors and the instruments are all department-store knockoffs–well, that’s what I think original “punk” means, and punk was always both sincere [sorry] and, eh, conflicted.

      I guess I don’t know what you mean.  Why would hostile outsiders – or fauxtsiders – be any less likely to hang out on the internet than they were to congregate in garages and ass-raggedy bars in the ’70s?  What’s the contradiction between punk and the internet?

  48. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      Don’t think he’s saying there’s a contradiction so much as a discomfort, Mr. God. Which I think is understandable. Collective farming and anarchist houses on first glance don’t seem to mesh well with pop up ads and taking pictures of yourself for the people who have no relation to your local community.

      But obviously, when used correctly, the internet is the perfect places for punks. From finding a place to sleep to supporting your friend’s band to sharing ideas that don’t have to go through the filter of an avarice-tic publisher/agent. 

      Basically, Jason, I know what you mean, man, but the least punk thing you can do is constrain definition for superficial reasons.

  49. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      Hi Nick — Not trying to be antagonistic, just sincerely curious. Do you think HST’s and DFW’s reasons for self-destructive acts were the same/similar?

  50. Jason Jimenez

      We have an agreeance, Mr Raptor. I guess punks can use the internet if they must. 

  51. Anonymous

      Yawn…let’s talk shit that matters. I read books all the fucking time. Punk, Marxism, self-destructive acts, the too-bourgeois, god damn, let’s move on to something interesting people, and not merely discuss for the sake of our egos. I mean, my dick gets hard listening to all this, and also saying this, but let’s get to know each other on a level beyond the shit we cram in our brains. Btw, I understand what everybody’s point of view is here and they are all mine and all different and all the same and so incredibly lovely I would pick them from any old tree and chew them until my gums swell pink. Picnic anyone? I’ll ask you about people, not as class, not as idea, but as thing, existing, breathing thing, not dressed up in all the petty things we all too often call human, but stripped of all those things to get to the core of the being, to the nothing…Jesus. Sorry guys, just finished reading The Passion According to G.H. fucking awesome. I’ll eat any yalls roach any day. Peace.

  52. Anonymous

      So fucking punk I posted right in the middle of this bitch. I don’t give a fuck.

  53. Anonymous

      And again: punk. I carve skulls and crossbones into my cheekbones.

  54. Anonymous

      And again: punk. I carve skulls and crossbones into my cheekbones.

  55. Anonymous

      And again: punk. I carve skulls and crossbones into my cheekbones.

  56. alan

      “I also wonder how often ‘bourgeois’, while not limited by dictionaries to its leftistish backhand usage, is actually used in any other way”

      The word is often used neutrally in historical contexts. More pertinently, contempt for the bourgeoisie can come from a point of view that identifies with the aristocracy as easily as one aligned with the proletariat. And, moreover, since the bourgeoisie were historically an intermediate stratum, the word “bourgeois” retains in certain contexts a connotation of “middle-class” even in societies like ours that have a thoroughly bourgeois ruling class. In other words, it is commonly used as a synonym for what Marxists would call the petit bourgeoisie: store owners, middle management, professionals, suburbanites, yuppies. With all the cultural and spiritual ills traditionally associated with that milieu (materialism, phillistinism, vulgarity, narcissism, incapacity for independent or critical thought). Noah’s use of the term was sneering but not in any specially leftist way. He may consider himself some kind of leftist but his usage here could be coming from a variety of social perspectives. You don’t need to be a leftist to look down on the middle class. As Ionesco remarked, “The worst bourgeois are the anti-bourgeois bourgeois.”

  57. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      Btw, I understand what everybody’s point of view is here and they are all mine and all different and all the same and so incredibly lovely I would pick them from any old tree and chew them until my gums swell pink.Congratulations, you are the presumptuous banker. Also future fascist. “I hate thinking about things, let’s not think so hard.” 

  58. A D Jameson

      They’re like Amish.

  59. A D Jameson

      This is my 666th comment; Disqus tells me so.

  60. Anonymous

      It’s called sarcasm, dude. I read about it in a book one time. You know, a joke.

  61. Anonymous

      I love thinking about things, just in a way that’s more productive. Also, I don’t mind if you call me Stalin or Satan or big Mous man or fascist. I encourage you. I mean, seriously, do really take my comments seriously?

  62. Anonymous

      Dude, I love your movie posts. Give me more suggestions. I like em strange.

  63. mimi

      666th comment and that’s all you got?  
      come on dude, go all satanic on us, make a satanic list or something  
      use the Edit function, that’s what it’s there for  
      ; ) 

  64. A D Jameson

      I’m too bourgeois to be satanic.

  65. A D Jameson

      Thanks! Maybe I’ll write a post, “The Strangest Movies I Have Ever Seen.”

  66. mimi

      yeah, and lists are pretty bourgeois, aren’t they?  
      : )

  67. mimi

      then be sure to go see Rock of Ages

  68. A D Jameson

      The 10 Strangest Movies I’ve Ever Seen:

      1. The Ninth Gate
      2. End of Days
      3. The Seventh Victim
      4. The Omen
      5. The Exorcist
      6. Häxan
      7. Hellboy
      8. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
      9. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills
      10. Rosemary’s Baby

  69. Anonymous

      That would be rad!

  70. A D Jameson

      Ok, will do

  71. Anonymous

      Geez, way to bust out the classics. What about Fat Girl? You ever see that movie. Write should write about that.

  72. Anonymous

      Way to bust with the classics. What about Fat Girl? You ever see that movie. Write about that.

  73. A D Jameson

      I’ve not seen it but I’ll write about it. I loved it.

  74. mimi

      Polansky’s The Tenant

  75. A D Jameson

      I <3 The Tenant!

  76. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      I don’t know; I was really drunk when I wrote that.

  77. deadgod

      Not sure what “strange” means here, but Capturing the Friedmans was pretty δεινος.  –I mean, the way several of the ‘voices’ were allowed to present themselves as reasonable, then had their pretensions to rationality mutilated by the film’s display of hard-to-doubt concrete fact.

  78. deadgod

      collective farming : agribusiness :: netpunks : facebook data collection

      anarchist house : Trump Tower condo :: netpunks : Rove-directed #tcot networking

      Punks not lotus-eaters!

  79. deadgod

      There must be some historians who talk of ‘burghers’ – townies, merchant-class, and so on – as the “bourgeoisie”, but, in my small reading, the term’s been colored by its class-warfare use for at least a hundred years.  What recent historians use the term “neutrally”?  (Maybe I don’t understand what you mean by “neutral”?)

      That elites use the term to condemn their political-economic inferiors… again, is this contempt commonly expressed by the term bourgeois – ‘Oh, those plebeians are so bourgeois.’ – ?  –except in (say) movies that are clearly mocking the superiority of those aristos.  In my view, it’s overwhelmingly used as a criticism of unexamined privilege–and not by the more political-economically uncritical more privileged!

      Yes to how bourgie it is to accuse “bourgeois!”.  Martin’s point at the top of this subthread?

      Not to galvanize a dead horse, and I think we agree, but isn’t it clear that Noah is taking a scarcely-accurate swipe at DFW et al. from ‘below’?

  80. deadgod

      Maybe you meant to wonder about whether “talk[ing] shit that matters” is successfully exemplified by telling other people that their idea of “talk[ing] shit that matters” doesn’t matter.

  81. alan

      published May 28, 2012: Modernity and Bourgeois Life: Society, Politics, and Culture in England, France and Germany since 1750 by Jerrold Seigel (Cambridge University Press)

      Flaubert: “Quelle atroce invention que celle du bourgeois, n’est-ce pas?”

      Baudelaire: “Il faut épater le bourgeois.”

      Veruschka (60s model and Countess of Lehndorff-Steinort, on her departure from the pages of Vogue after a falling out with editor Grace Mirabella): “She wanted me to be bourgeois, and I didn’t want to be that. I didn’t model for a long time after that.”

      Manifesto of the Communist Party: “The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation.”

  82. Anonymous

       this reminded me of all those indie band names like animals or pieces of a forest #extantwildness

  83. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      Also thank you for giving me permission to call you out on shit? Also, do you just publish things online thinking “No one will take this seriously so it’s ok”?

  84. Anonymous

      Gee, I don’t know Frank. It’s just a bad joke I guess. Sorry if I ruffled your Raptor feathers.

  85. Nick Mamatas

      I’m not a psychologist and didn’t know either of them, but both seemed to have a manic intensity about their literary production, and both appeared to self-medicate, so there are at least some similarities.

  86. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      Yeah. I just always felt HST’s self-medication and philosophy toward life was more brazen, like, his writing reflected a man who was Living to Die, so to speak. Whereas DFW’s writing, at least that of which I’ve read, feels more like it’s Living to Live. There’s struggle in DFW’s work but minimal struggle in HST’s, I think? So I feel DFW’s suicide comes more from an exhaustion of that struggle, whereas HST’s suicide, when you Live to Die you expect at some point to die, and when the death part of his lifestyle wasn’t fulfilled he took the matter into his own hands.

      Idunno. I feel like manic intensity and self-medication are pretty typical habits of successful writers, you know? Idunno.

  87. Anonymous

      I hope Noah, et al. see how productive a little learning can be.

  88. deadgod

      I don’t know Seigel.  The title/subtitle sound conventionally scholarly; I’d guess the writing is not dripping with contempt for its subject.  Does he mean by “bourgeois” something not colored by the many polemical associations of the word?

      Flaubert and Baudelaire are fine examples of bourgeois awe at and interest in shocking the bourgeoisie.  As I thought you’d meant earlier (by quoting “worst” approvingly), rancor and malice, respectively, from ‘within’ can succeed in a way, and, in a way, not.

      A clotheshorse who draws the line at “bourgeois”–ha ha.  Regardless of what Veruschka thinks of her privileges in life, do you think she’s an “aristocrat”? and not an example of what Ionesco was despising?  –but your point obtains:  Noah could be scorning DFW’s social sensibility as an aristocrat would.

      I think Marx’s extravagant praise of capitalism, capitalists, and bourgeois society – as well as being consistent with his (sketchy) idea of revolution – is a clever way of anticipating Ionesco.

  89. A D Jameson

      Yeah, definitely any list of “strangest” films has to first figure out what “strangest” means. I looked through my list of all the films I’ve seen, and pulled out 100 or so that, when I saw them, seemed the most unusual to me—were the least like my concept of what a film was. Which of course is a concept that’s always changing. So, for instance, when I saw Fellini’s 8.5, it struck me as very odd, because it was the first 1960s European art film I’d seen, as well as one of the first metatextual movies I’d seen. No other Fellini ever really struck me the same way, in terms of challenging or expanding my notion of cinema.

      So such a list, it seems to me, has to have a very subjective quality to it. At the same time, though, there’s something objective or normative to it, too. Because a lot of people have found 8.5 pretty strange. (They went in expecting neorealism, and got confessional realism bent back on itself to the point of fantasy.) And I would imagine that audiences today continue today to find it strange, unless they’ve seen similar works, or movies inspired by it, or derived from it (e.g., Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories, R.E.M.’s video for “Everybody Hurts.”) I’ve shown it to a few people (read: non-cinephiles), and they usually find it outside their account of what cinema is.

  90. alan


      You’re not meant to know Seigel. The title was picked from a random Amazon search. It is representative of academic historical usage. The bourgeoisie is the literal name of a class in modern society.

      Flaubert and Baudelaire were not men of the left and certainly did not identify with the working class.

      Veruschka, as I pointed out parenthetically, was a COUNTESS. The nobility absolutely does look down on those who made their money in business, or whose families did. Not just in movies. And the bourgeoisie has reciprocal feelings of admiration and envy. Did you miss all the comment on this issue related to the recent royal marriage?

      Marx’s praise of the progressive role of the bourgeoisie was wholehearted. A Marxist will call the English Civil War, the French Revolution, and the American Civil War great bourgeois-democratic revolutions and mean it. “Bourgeois” is a scientific term for Marxists and only in very special contexts do they use it as a slur. The Marxist use of the term is not to be identified with the aristocratic-bohemian one cited above.

  91. mimi

      sometimes i feel like there is very little that doesn’t seem strange  
      to me  
      sometimes the strangest thing about something is its complete and utter ordinariness

  92. deadgod

      ‘Confounding of expectations’ is an excellent working definition of “strange”.  (The Greek word I used is Sophocles’ word in Antigone:  ‘Many are the strange things, and nothing than a person is stranger.’  It was also chosen to disclose the most exemplary trait of dinosaurs.  ‘Terrible’ is a common translation; ‘monstrous’ is, to me, better.)

      8 1/2 is a great call; even told that it’s a movie about a filmmaker who doesn’t know what to film, many first-timers are likely to be disoriented by the manic, fey running about.  Even though you follow the story, it’s oddly told.

      I guess the question I was thinking is ‘What’s “strange” to a moviegoer jaded by exposure to the history-so-far of experiment/play in cinema?’  Is there something persistently “strange”, in-itself “strange”?  I don’t think so, but that the alchemy of artfulness make it so.

      [I laughed at 8.5.  How would you say that aloud?  Ha – who says eight-point-five equals eight-and-a-half??]

  93. deadgod

      I’d not meant to doubt the literal class-position of “bourgeois”, but rather, to suggest that ‘literal’ isn’t the same as ‘neutral’–that is, that even the driest scholarly naming of a group of classes between uneducated, unskilled manual worker and inheritors of ‘nobility’ is a naming colored by either objection to or support for the self-understanding of this stratum of ‘classes’.

      I said Flaubert and Baudelaire are examples of “bourgeois [reaction to] the bourgeoisie”, not “men of the left” nor “working class”.  ??

      Yes, Veruschka inherited (?) a title.  I was implying, by asking if you think she’s an “aristocrat”, whether you think inherited nobility is still “aristocratic”, rather than having decayed or otherwise been transformed into what inherited capital is:  “bourgeois”.  Do you think she’s less “bourgeois” than, say, Jay Rockefeller?  Do you think that because he inherited his money, he’s not “bourgeois”?

      (Around Prince William cling the wards of aristocratic privilege, medievally understood.  Is his a special case of celebrity, or is Countess Veruschka, too, assumed by fellow pedestrians to move down Fifth Ave. under an aegis of divine election?)

      No question but that capitalism and bourgeois society are understood by Marx to have been progressive developments of feudal political economy and social relations.  ‘Science’ isn’t opposed to judgement; is there some doubt about whether “bourgeois” reaction against and obstruction of proletarian revolution are aspersed in scientific-Marxist circles?

  94. A D Jameson

      This is all very helpful!

      I don’t know if there’s anything that remains consistently strange. For instance, one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen is Paul Sharits’s Epileptic Seizure Comparison. Really threw me for a loop, that one, when I first saw it projected at the Whitney c. 1999. But since then I’ve learned a lot about Paul Sharits and his films, which I’ve watched many times. And now they’re pretty familiar to me.

      And one can imagine, possibly, an alternative reality where this kind of film is the norm, and stuff like The Avengers is the exception.

  95. A D Jameson

      When I was in high school / early college, I listened a lot to Nirvana and grunge music, just like everyone else. Then, during my junior and senior years of college, and after graduation, I switched to listening to jazz (John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Albert Ayler, etc.) and experimental classical (John Cage, Philip Glass, Karlheinz Stockhausen, etc.). I sold all my mainstream rock CDs, and didn’t listen to rock music for 2+ years.

      Then, late one night, as I was driving home from a friend’s place in northern New Jersey, I turned on the radio; “Come As You Are” was playing. And it was as though I’d never heard it before. It seemed to me so much more “experimental” than the jazz and classical stuff, which had become so familiar. I’d forgotten that one could make music like that.

  96. Trey

      write about Norbit

  97. alan

      Hi deadgod

      No, what I am saying is that the word “bourgeois” is used as a literal, neutral, scholarly, non-value-laden, apolitical term for the social formation in question. This is common usage in current, academic historical writing. You had said that you doubted that this was the case and asked “What recent historians use the term ‘neutrally.'” I gave you one very recent example. You can also consult a standard reference like the Columbia History of the World.

      Yes, Flaubert and Baudelaire belonged to bourgeois society. Yes, the Ionesco quote can be applied to them. Your original question was: “I wonder how often ‘bourgeois’, while not limited by dictionaries to its leftistish backhand usage, is actually used in any other way.” Bohemian anti-bourgeois sentiment is not leftist-ish. Flaubert and Baudelaire were not engaging in class warfare. They were not leftists. They were apolitical or reactionary. They were not partisans of the working class. They were de-classed, in self-exile from the mainstream of a society whose values they did not share. Their attitude is more analogous to aristocratic disdain for the bourgeoisie. They considered themselves aristocrats of the spirit.

      Veruschka, yes, inherited a title. Her dad was a count and her mom was a countess. Nobility is a matter of blood. That’s how it works. Is the aristocracy an independent force in modern Europe? No. Was it at one time? Yes. Do they retain all their privileges? No. Do they retain certain privileges? Yes. Do they derive their wealth from feudal rent? No. Do many still hold ancestral lands and houses? Yes. Do they also invest in industry and finance? Yes. Does that mean their is no social distinction between the remnants of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie? It does not.

      Among the bourgeoisie, there is a distinction between inherited wealth and recently acquired wealth. Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg are not in fact highly placed members of the ruling class. But there is a further distinction (not here, but in Europe) between old money capitalist families and the titled nobility. Of course, there are all sorts of family alliances between the two, but the distinction remains in theory and to a substantial extent in social practice.

      The royal family is not an exception. There are in fact families much older, more powerful, and more truly English in the UK. The Spencers (Lady Diana’s family) is an example. The royal marriage was a big news item but believe me every time an heir to the British peerage marries a commoner it’s a big deal for all involved.

      My quote from Marx made the point that the term “bourgeois” has no inherent pejorative connotation for Marxists independent of historical/political context.

  98. mimi

      great example  
      it’s like “Come As You Are” became ‘familiar’ to you, then became ‘unusual’ or ‘special’ again after a separation   ‘strange’ can mean ‘unfamiliar’ (a stranger in town) or ‘strange’ can mean ‘odd’ (quirky, unexpected, incongruous)  what i often experience is that something very ‘familiar’ (a car, an earthworm, the sun, a tree, my mattress) can seems (sometimes suddenly!) ‘odd’, ‘strange’, ‘confusing’  

  99. mimi

      although in the case of an earthworm or the sun, they aren’t really ‘familiar’ at all!

  100. A D Jameson

      Norbit is another classic I’ve not seen but love to pieces.

  101. A D Jameson

      Very, very true. My favorite example of this is having ridden Chicago’s Blue Line train for five years before finally seeing the wooden paneling inside the cars. Shklovsky’s was Tolstoy’s account, in his diary, of dusting his living room, then not remembering whether he’d dusted the sofa or not. “Automatization eats away at things.”

  102. deadgod

      And I’m doubting that the term “bourgeois”, when used by a historian for a class formation, is ‘neutral, non-value-laden, apolitical’.  The book whose title you named, Modernity and Bourgeois Life, might not be contemptuous of the rationalizations and self-justifications of the “bourgeois” people and institutions it examines, but however forensic and clinical the book is, does it talk of “bourgeois” life as something not lived in socially polemical relation to class inferiors of the “bourgeois” (and envious polemical relation to capitalism-practicing remnants of class superiors to the “bourgeois”)?

      I think I’ve been consistent in saying that the term “bourgeois” is mostly used as established by Left critics of the class’s political-economic self-understanding.  Maybe Seigel isn’t a ‘person of the Left’; does he use the term “bourgeois” except as it’s been determined to mean by ‘critics of unexamined “bourgeois” privilege’ (as I’d earlier phrased my recklessly rhetorical question)?

      I think you’re equivocating by not actually using “aristocrat” in the Marxist-scientific sense.

      In the wiki article on Veruschka that you quote above, one learns that, after she was orphaned and her family pauperized by the Nazis, she made her way into modeling as an art student in Paris after the war.  That, whatever she thought, is a “bourgeois” way in the world.

      Had Veruschka walked into a bank in Europe in the ’50s – or today – and said (verifiably), ‘I am Countess ______ and I want a loan.’, how much money would her title alone have gained her?

      That’s where a Marxist-scientific view of the political-economic class “aristocracy” might come into play:  in the thoroughly bourgeois society of capitalism, what kind of power do “aristocratic” nobility have?  Likewise with the oldest “aristocratic” families of England:  the political-economic power they have isn’t “aristocratic”, but is, rather, …”bourgeois”.

      Your distinction between Left and Bohemian criticisms of “bourgeois” is quite well-made.  When Baudelaire says, “There is no form of rational and assured government save an aristocracy.”, he means, by ‘aristocrats’, explicitly “the priest, the warrior, and the poet”.  That’s not a political-economic argument, but nor is it an argument of inherited (“blood”) nobility.

      You’re right; it’s possible that Noah meant, by using “bourgeois” as a slur, to express a cultural superiority not political-economically informed.

      I continue to doubt that 20th c. – I did say “100 years” – bohos are as airily dismissive of political-economic criticism of “bourgeois” culture as was Baudelaire.

  103. deadgod

      A final point, because the reply wasn’t long enough:  for Marxists, “bourgeois” is the society, institutions, and lives structured around capital’s exploitation of labor – around the separation of the value of work and the decisions connected to work from the person working – , and this attachment is, indeed, inherently pejorative, however detached from personal attack some particular Marxist analysis is.

  104. alan


      You started this exchange by challenging my remark that Noah’s use of the word “bourgeois” did not necessarily reflect a leftist posture.

      Thank you for having the grace to concede my point.

      On the scholarly use of the term, please consult the references I have already provided or similar material that is readily accessible to you online. 

      I am not sure where you are going by examining Veruschka’s way of life or referring to an ostensible Marxist analysis of the current state of the European aristocracy. The question is are there people who consider themselves to be aristocrats and are generally accepted as such who look down on the bourgeoisie from a position of superior status? 

      On Veruschka’s own claim to nobility (a side point to a side point to a side point), please note that such claims are not based on property or mode of living.

      Please further note that the aristocracy is a living institution in Britain. Parliament has a House of Lords. I pointed out above that the nobility no longer has any independent power in Europe. However, they retain their titles and certain privileges and corresponding social status. So, yes, there really are people even in today’s world who might and no doubt do use the term in question as I suggested it is possible to do. Whether you think they are justified in doing so is in no way relevant to my point.

  105. alan

      As a matter of fact, deadgod, capital’s exploitation of labor has not always been reactionary. In relation to slavery and serfdom it is a progressive institution. Marxism is not a system of absolute, ahistorical moral judgments. Until fairly recently, exploitation has been the necessary foundation of civilization. 

      There are anarchist tendencies that have historically opposed the separation of the individual laborer from decisions about the labor process on the one hand and from the full value of the product of labor on the other. Marx and Engels attacked those positions relentlessly.

  106. deadgod

      The Marxist way of understanding the development from feudalism to capitalism as ‘progress’ is to understand that development as incomplete.  Once the incompleteness of this ‘progress’ – the growth of a new form of exploitation from the outmoded circumstances of the old – is seen, then the ‘progressivity’ of capitalism is ‘progress’ only in a limited, reactionary way, as a child is a ‘mature’ infant.  Indeed, not absolute or ahistorical — but, from the point of view of opposing the injustice of exploitation, Marxism morally disparages capitalists and bourgeois rationalization and justification of accumulation.

      (I don’t think exploitation was ever absolutely necessary.  In my view, Marxist revolution is Aristotelian:  the actual is prior to the potential.  Regardless of material-historical enablements to rationalizing exploitation, there’ve always been critics of some particular version of it from within.)

      What, about pejorating capitalism, threatens the scientificity of Marxism?  Is a critique of political economy weakened if it morally judges the political economy it would revolutionize?

      I’m not sure I understand your final point.  Where does Marx attack the principle of workers making the decisions pertaining to their work?  I don’t mean where does he attack Bakunin; I mean where does he deny that workers (and all proletarians) should control ‘their’ factories?  (–which is what I was referring to.)

  107. deadgod

      Probably too soon for you to have conceded my gracefulness.

      My first response to what you’d said was to concede that “bourgeois” “isn’t a leftist term per se“, but that Noah was – my interpretation – using it as a (careless, perhaps ill-informed) leftistish put-down.  The latter view is still mine.

      I’ve read a small bit of scholarly discussion of bourgeois modernity, and not seen contemporary use of “bourgeois” that wasn’t colored by leftist criticism of “bourgeois” society, whether some particular writer shared that leftist perspective or not.  My point was never that there are no writers who use the word “bourgeois” who aren’t leftists, but rather, that the word, as (almost) everyone has used it for ~100 years, is the word of leftist critique.  Which 20th c. writer (perhaps a devotee of Maistre) who uses “bourgeois” with no sense of political-economic critique – “neutral” with respect to that critique – clinging to the word should I consult first?

      Are there many of our contemporaries who feel towards “bourgeois” society a Bohemian contempt completely free from leftist coloration?  (I don’t know enough about Baudelaire to say that of his politics, namely, that they weren’t a (bourgeois) reaction to, say, the flames of ’48.  Do you see what I mean?  If Baudelaire is an anti-bourgeois “bourgeois”, then he’s already using the insult in a political-economic (and not purely cultural) way, however anti-left he also thinks he is.)

      I accepted that Veruschka might think she’s an incarnation of divine election – and so “aristocratic” in the Marxist sense of an ostensible class analysis of feudalism – , and that there might be people in England who see (some) ‘royals’ as incarnating divine election.  –though I doubt this of Veruschka (and of Noah); I think the view that she’s a thoroughly “bourgeois” Bohemian anti-bourgeois makes plenty of sense.

      You brought up Veruschka and seem determined to extract a concession that there are political-economic flat-Earthers who really ‘believe in’ the ideology of feudal “aristocracy” (and who aren’t simply using that word to refer to some kind of ‘elite’).

      Maybe there are.

      Do you think the sense that there’s a feudal “aristocracy” is something other than a bourgeois epiphenomenon?  Do you think inheritors of wealth looking down on accumulators of wealth is something other than a bourgeois epiphenomenon?

  108. alan

      I think your intuition that there is a lot about this topic that you don’t really know is a good one.

      On the neutral use thing, I have already made several specific suggestions.

      Divine right ideology, which arose in the seventeenth century, justifies the monarch’s absolute power against the aristocracy (and everyone else).

  109. alan

      This is something I happen to know very well. It is clear to me that you are just saying things that, on the basis of a superficial acquaintance with the subject, you think must be true. I wonder whether, behind your bluster, that is clear to you as well.

      To address your questions at the end, see Marx’s “Critique of the Gotha Program” and “Poverty of Philosophy” and Engels’s “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.” Lenin and Trotsky both wrote extensively against worker self-management of factories and in favor of one-man management and centralized state control of production. 

  110. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      Nah, this is my bad, Troy. Actually avoided looking at this for a couple of days because I felt pretty bad about my responses, especially the past one (kinda paltry, silly). I was just drunk and grumpy. Don’t even remember writing my first response to you. Wish my avatar would turn green whenever I commented while drunk to help clear things up, because that was really dumb on my part. If you’re ever in Chicago I’ll buy you a beer.

  111. deadgod

      Congratulations on your confidence in your learning.  It’s clear to me that you’re turning from smug to insulting to conceal your repeated neglect of direct response to your points.  I wonder whether, behind your grand misnomer of “bluster”, the irony of your use of it is clear to you.

      The Critique of the Gotha Programme is an important book, but it sure doesn’t evince a relentless attack against workers making decisions about the labor process.  What Marx opposes is the Lassallean (bourgeois) ‘workers’ party’, and the unification of a more Marxist group with it.  Marx wants not to have workers represented – and “socialism” putatively attained – within a democratic socialism which never springs free from the political-economically determined social relations of the bourgeois state (of the German empire)–that is, from the class structuring and exploitation now experienced in the form of capitalism.

      There is nothing in [the Gotha Programme’s] demands beyond the old and generally familiar democratic litany[. …] All these [bourgeois] demands […] have been realized[,] but in Switzerland, the United States, etc.  [. . .]

      Even vulgar democrats, who see the millennium in the democratic republic and who have no inkling that it is precisely in this final state form of bourgeois society that the class struggle must be fought to a conclusion, even they tower mountains above this kind of [fake-socialistic] democratism which keeps within the bounds of what is allowed by the police [i. e. the German state] and disallowed by logic.

      As I understand things, Marx is against bourgeois “rights” being mistaken as a final emancipatory goal, especially to the extent that their attainment is in concert with the smooth running of exploitation of labor in a democratic-socialist but thoroughly bourgeois state.  This is not the same as opposing the participation of workers in economic determination.

  112. deadgod

      An unbecoming sign of frustration, to mistake another’s understanding of their limitations for “intuition”.  Also, an unsuccessful turn of attention from one’s own repeated refusal to engage in the specifics of the other’s argument.

      Again, clinical scholarship, apparently “neutral”, apparently detached from immediate partisanship, nevertheless is conducted in terms–on terrain–already oriented, already ‘prejudiced’.  That is, talk of “bourgeois” society, no matter how admiring of its cultural achievements and even in agreement with its political-economic self-understanding, is thought already at work in answer to perspectives of class antagonism.

      I referred not to “divine right ideology”, but rather, to feudal assumptions about the distinction between the “aristocracy” and the rest of society, that is, to the genealogical conditions for the possibility of a monarchical reaction to bourgeois society.

      If you like, we can continue this conversation, but at the bottom of this thread, before our remarks look



  113. alan

      And what does Critique of the Gotha Program say about “the separation of the value of work […] from the person working”?

  114. alan


      You are continually shifting the terms of your argument and becoming increasingly irrational. You must see that yourself.
      If no use of “bourgeois,” in principle, qualifies as neutral, why were you asking me for references?
      How about “capitalist”? Can “capitalist” be a neutral word? Can “labor” be a neutral word?
      Veruschka was using the word in a leftist sense? Apolitical and right-wing bohemians are too? And anyone who writes about “the rise of the bourgeoisie”?
      The House of Lords doesn’t exist? There are no longer any titled nobility? They don’t look down on commoners?
      Marx was a champion of petty commodity production (i.e., opposed the separation of the person working from decisions about the labor process)?
      If you were not talking about divine right, what did you mean by “divine election”? Divine right has to do with justifying the monarchy and not the aristocracy.

  115. deadgod

      I’ve been saying the same thing (eg, about “neutral”) as though I’d get a conversation.  Maybe that is crazy.  You’ve been making summary remarks as though they make their own cases.  Maybe that’s crazy, too.  Rhetorical questions?  I’ll join you:

      I was asking for “references” that would exemplify and in that way elucidate what you meant by “neutral” (as I plainly indicated:  “Maybe I don’t understand what you mean by ‘neutral’?”).

      (“Neutral” could mean ’emotionally even; cool; without aggression or inflammatory effect’.  That trait does characterize much scholarly writing.  “Neutral” also means ‘completely apart from moral judgement or political evaluation’–the way a chemist is neutral in identifying the elements in a molecule (the ingredients in a compound).  This latter is what I doubt is possible in, say, political-economic thought.)

      I doubt that “capitalist” or even “labor” can be talked of now outside of those words’ ideological displacement and displacing effects with respect to the many critiques and defenses of political economy.

      (Pouncing, you might think:  what about “That ant is laboring to carry its twig.”?  A-ha! no political economy there!  –to which I’d answer, rhetorically, do you realize how words are colored by associations that are not intended?  For example, in what sense does an ant really labor, being a biobot as it is?  For robotic action isn’t the whole of what we mean when we say “labor” in a political-economic discussion.  Etc.)

      I don’t think “apolitical bohemians” are, in fact, ‘not political’.

      When they speak of the “bourgeoisie” and “bourgeois” whatever, 20th c. right-wing bohemians are repurposing terms already transformed by the pressure of the failure of political economists to rationalize their science of economics–the failure to be “neutral” in the second sense above.  From their point of view, they’re not ‘being Leftist’, but they are expressing their disgust in terms already colored by criticism of the self-understanding of political economy.

      There are “titled nobility”.  You, too, can buy a title.  Titles are remnants of a feudal class, but, whatever people with those titles might think, their “nobility” is a bourgeois refraction of a bourgeois transformation–a “bourgeois” epiphenomenon.

      Every MP in the House of Lords is a bourgeois capitalist–except the ones who order and live off the lives of their vassals.  How many actual feudal “aristocrats” are in the House of Lords?

      There exists the outward show of the medieval feudal class “aristocracy” (alongside its usage as a synonym for ‘elite’).  The “aristocracy” in England today is a “bourgeois” “capitalist” institution–that’s the view I’ve been expressing.

      ‘Opposing the separation of the working person from decision-making about the labor process’ is NOT a gloss for “petty commodity production”.  In the diction of Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme, there won’t be “commodities” when working people determine the labor process.

      By “divine election”, I meant to refer to how medieval people understood practically that aristocrats are different – substantially different – from non-aristocratic vassals and commoners.  The physical bodies and blood of aristocrats are different from the bodies and blood of commoners, analogically to their collective human difference from the body and blood of Christ.  The history of that assumed difference is the genealogical condition for rationalizations of the ‘divine right of monarchs’.

      “Divine election” is misleadingly close to ‘divine right’ and was a poorly chosen formulation.  I trust that this repetition of my perspective is clear enough.

  116. alan


      Do you really want to argue that there’s no difference between a college textbook reference to “the rise of the bourgeoisie” and “DFW is so BOURGEOIS”? That’s the same way of using the word?

      Moreover, “bourgeois” is most often used in contemporary speech (as I explained above) to refer not to the capitalist class but to the modern middle-class, i.e., the petit bourgeoisie in Marxist terms. Check the dictionary.

      As I also said above, your views on the existence or non-existence of the aristocracy by your own personal criteria are irrelevant to the fact that it remains a living institution (admittedly not as a ruling class, as I acknowledged above) and there are people who consider themselves, by their own lights, aristocrats and therefore use the word “bourgeois” in relation to their own perceived perspective. The use of words is governed by things like context and the intention of the speaker and not by the truth or falsity of what they are saying. If this was not the case it would be impossible to tell a lie: you couldn’t possibly mean [lie] because it doesn’t correspond to reality. That is the kind of argument you are making.

      Likewise, we agree that bohemians are in fact members of bourgeois society, but that reality has no bearing on their own self-perception and therefore on the sense of the statements they make from their perceived social perspective.

      If leftist means anything it means solidarity or identification with the cause of the oppressed, and it is just implausible to attribute that perspective to aristocrats, bourgeois scholars, and certain bohemians.

      Moreover, real leftists use the word in a non-sneering sense (i.e., “great bourgeois revolutions”).

      For your information, Marx frequently denied that his opposition to capitalism was based on morality and attacked other socialists for justifying their cause on that basis.

      Marx saw the separation of “the person working”–the individual laborer–from decisions about the labor process and the undiminished value of the person’s labor as capitalism’s greatest achievement. It opened the way to a revolutionary leap in technology and laid the basis for a new form of society in which labor and its products would be controlled by humanity as a whole, not individuals. Anarchist tendencies oppose capitalism from the perspective of seeking to return to a pre-capitalist state of petty commodity production where the individual craftsman was autonomous and was compensated for his work without deduction for capitalist profit.

  117. alan

      P.S. I also have to conclude that you would be against Marxists calling for the abolition of the monarchy and House of Lords in the UK or the imperial system in Japan because the persistence of these feudal remnants has no significance in the class struggle.

  118. deadgod

      That conclusion would be in error, because its premise is inaccurate.  Marxists don’t call for abolition of “aristocratic” privileges because they believe that those privileges represent the persistence of actual feudalism.  “Remnant” here means ‘husk; inert outward appearance’.  What has significance in the class struggle in the case of modern “aristocrats” is the role inherited privilege plays in capitalist political economy–that is, the roles those “aristocrats” play in capitalism.

  119. deadgod

      No.  I’m not arguing that there’s “no [such] difference”.  The difference is between a vocabulary used critically and the same vocabulary taken up uncritically from somewhere in its critical development.

      Yes, “bourgeois” often connotes middle-class materialism and ennui–why, exactly what I’d said Noah seems to be talking about with his “bourgeois”, and the phrasing to which you reacted by offering your ‘explanation’ discerning the capitalist class in bourgeois society from Marx’s “petit bourgeoisie”.  We weren’t then and aren’t now talking about strata within the capitalist class; we’ve been talking about my contention – and it’s not that controversial, regardless of your exasperated pecking for errors – that “bourgeois”, while used in ignorance of or disdain for its leftist critical force, is nevertheless used as oriented by the historically determinate ‘force-field’ of such critique.

      Your private commitment to “aristocracy” being a “living institution” is not relevant.

      There is no feudal aristocracy in technologically modern societies today.  People who believe themselves to be of the class “aristocracy” – who believe themselves to be feudal “nobility” – are political-economic bourgeois, either capitalist exploiters or proletarian collaborators in exploitation or revolutionaries or somewhere (or some combination of places) on the bourgeois-social political-economic spectrum.  (–just as everyone else is some place/s on that post-feudal spectrum.)

      I don’t attribute any leftist embrace of the cause of the exploited to those who despise the exploited.  What I plainly said, of those who use the word “bourgeois” contemptuously from ‘above’, was:

      From their point of view, they’re not ‘being Leftist’, but they are expressing their disgust [for whom they consider to be their inferiors] in terms already colored by criticism of the self-understanding of political economy.

      Marx indeed talks of the ‘greatness’ of capitalism’s ‘achievements’, of the ‘revolution’ of capitalist political-economic development, and of the tremendous wealth made available to part of humanity through capitalistically exploited labor.  These terms are not stand-alone encomia; they’re recognitions of ‘great’ steps made towards and crucially short of a destination.  There’s no reasonable doubt that Marx and Marxists are teleologists who criticize capitalism for being embryologically incomplete.

      Marx denies that there’s a morality to which critique be subordinated to from without.  ‘We should have a virtuous economy and a virtuous society to be right with ultimate reality.’  –this, Marx definitely is against.  But basing revolution on a morality separate from critique of political economy is not the same as understanding justification to inform revolutionary critique from within its practice.  Marx is not the moralist you say he’s not, but he is a moralist.

  120. alan

      No one is arguing that feudalism still exists in Europe. This is what I said above:

      “Is the aristocracy an independent force in modern Europe? No. Was it at one time? Yes. Do they retain all their privileges? No. Do they retain certain privileges? Yes. Do they derive their wealth from feudal rent? No. Do many still hold ancestral lands and houses? Yes. Do they also invest in industry and finance? Yes. Does that mean their is no social distinction between the remnants of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie? It does not.”

      This is not the first time I have repeated this point. 

      If these remnants were totally inert, then they would have no special role under capitalism and there would be no point in calling for their abolition.

      To say the aristocracy no longer exists as a class is not to say it does not exist. Saying they do not (and insisting on putting the word in quotes) is a bizarre claim that I have never heard anyone make either within Marxism or anywhere else. Can you cite any authority to back up this idea or is it your own special theory?

  121. alan

      Your idea that the term “bourgeois” is the special property of Marxism is just factually wrong. I have demonstrated that the word has multiple uses from a variety of social perspectives by giving examples of such uses and referring you to the dictionary definition. What, if anything, would count as evidence against your view that the word cannot be used independently of the “force field” of Marxist theory?  

      What, moreover, do you have to present as evidence that the other uses of the word that I have distinguished are in fact the same uses “taken up uncritically”? Just saying something is not going to convince anyone.

      Statements about the nature of social reality do not count as evidence for the meanings and uses of words, unless you think that words necessarily reflect reality.

      The bourgeoisie and the petit bourgeoisie are not strata within the ruling class. The petit bourgeoisie is a distinct, albeit intermediate, formation.

      I think you know I am not arguing that Marx was a defender of capitalism in his own time. So what? He did not always write in the present tense. Not every use of the word “bourgeois” from a Marxist perspective is negatively charged. Very much to the contrary. As I have shown.

      You said:

      “for Marxists, “bourgeois” is the society, institutions, and lives structured around capital’s exploitation of labor – around the separation of the value of work and the decisions connected to work from the person working – , and this attachment is, indeed, inherently pejorative, however detached from personal attack some particular Marxist analysis is.”

      As I pointed out above, the separation of “the person working” from “the value of work and the decisions connected to work” is a historic achievement of capitalism that communists do not seek to nullify. This separation may be a precondition of exploitation but it is not equivalent to it. It is, in fact, also a precondition of the emancipation of humanity from exploitation. I realize that you have no clue what you were actually saying here. That is why this point keeps going over your head.

      You also said:

      “What, about pejorating capitalism, threatens the scientificity of Marxism?  Is a critique of political economy weakened if it morally judges the political economy it would revolutionize?”

      The conception of Marx’s critique of capitalism as a moral judgement was emphatically not his own.

  122. deadgod

      To say the aristocracy no longer exists as a class is not to say it does not exist.

      The irresistible force of your equivocation about “aristocracy” here meets the immovable object of self-contradiction.  Aristocracy no longer existing as a class rules out there being “aristocrats” of or by class–no matter how “aristocrats” identify themselves.

      You said, “[The aristocracy] remains a living institution (admittedly not as a ruling class […])[.]”  To admit that it’s not a “ruling class” is to admit that it’s only notionally or rhetorically or (as you point out there) psychologically an “aristocracy”–only an aristocracy by analogy.

      If one uses the word aristocracy to mean something analogous to the defunct political-economic class – an ‘elite’, say – , then, sure, there’s lots of aristocracies.  For example, there’s an aristocracy–whose members at any time are only briefly in it–of professional basketball players in North America.

      The claim I’m making is not that there’s no aristocracy of pro basketball players in North America.

      The claim I’m making is that people with inherited or purchased “titles”, who constitute a “nobility” in the sense of ‘nobility’ conforming to a feudal aristocracy, are in fact not “aristocrats” in the political-economic class sense of that “titled nobility”.  They are, instead, each some kind of bourgeois, or proletarian, or perhaps some of them are actual revolutionaries.

      Since we’ve been talking about Veruschka’s amusingly ironic sneer, I’ve been saying that her contempt for something she calls “bourgeois” is not class-oriented scorn–except as bourgeois ‘anti’-bourgeois sentiment.

      The “remnants” are inertly aristocratic.  Many of them are active indeed, within their “aristocratic” husks, as bourgeois capitalists.

      I’ve been putting the word aristocracy (and its cognates) in double-quotes to indicate its (to me) questionable class existence.  I’ve also single-quoted these words, left them unmarked, and italicized them, each notation with a different sense (or two).  Marking words so that they’re read in different ways than customary is unfamiliar to you?

  123. alan

      Please stop playing with words and give me one authority (Marxist or not) for this view.

  124. deadgod

      I didn’t say that the historically determinate force-field within which “bourgeois” gets its various connotations was “Marxist”.  This imposition is dogmatically one-sided, which is finer in smaller doses than our conversation has included.

      Yes, the emanating nexus of the word “bourgeois” has many valences.  They’d have to include primarily medieval senses of ‘townie’ and ‘trader’ (as opposed to ‘knight’ or ‘farmer’ or ‘priest’ or so on) and, of course, the senses taken up and enriched by Enlightenment political economists (Smith and all).  The point I made and which you’ve not answered – unless one counts your linguistic trivialization here – is that the meanings of the word have, at least since ‘classical political economy’ arose as a science, been colored by its being a focal point in diverse criticisms and defenses of political economy.  In my view, Noah’s and Veruschka’s uses of the word demonstrate that coloration–which, again, is not simplistically a “Marxist” one.

      You are here attacking a phantasm and defending an empty barn.

      You’re still excited to inform that “[n]ot every use of the word “bourgeois” from a Marxist perspective is negatively charged.”  This, after “[t]hese terms [of capitalism’s ‘greatness’ are not stand-alone encomia; they’re recognitions of ‘great’ steps made towards and crucially short of a destination.”  You repeat the premise that I agree with (and haven’t yet contradicted) triumphantly, without seeing its connection to my plain conclusion.  Yes, Marx ‘praises’ the overcoming of feudalism by capitalist political economy – as he might ‘praise’ feudalism’s coming into being from an earlier political economy less capable of transforming the natural world into a human one.  To speak of bourgeois capitalism as a living institution in the mid-19th c. was to condemn it, for Marx.

      With respect to the separation of the working person from the value of their work and from decisions concerning production, you do not advance a perspective, except to assert that capitalism’s achievement of this separation was salutary and that I “have no clue” about the validity of this assertion.  That is admirably muscular, but not rational enough to be ‘argument’ or even conversation–not even for Lenin. 

      –likewise in the case of collapsing a view of the moral facet of Marx’s thought (and self-understanding) – namely, that it has a moral facet, having to do with justice, with a reason that exploitation not only would pass revolutionarily out of existence, but that it should – collapsing that view into “[t]he conception of Marx’s critique as a moral judgement”:  not rational.

      Parroting of inaccurate simplifications of the other’s point of view, in order more exultantly to subject those simplifications to parroted dogmatisms, might be your best play, but, in my view, it’s not a competent one.

  125. deadgod

      If you respond to these two last comments of mine, I’ll definitely read what you say.  We’re now on the second page of the master thread, and I might not reply to your answers — maybe there’s one there – here – already — , but we can carry this conversation on when, eh, tangentially appropriate to another thread whenever you like, or start a new one about whatever topic comes up that I feel confident enough to remark on, deservedly or not.

  126. deadgod

      To read things in terms or ways that you’re not used to is not to be played with verbally.  Requests for “authority” is a Very Bad Scholastical Sign–a mark of a more equal animal

      My view is that if one understands the argument that Veruschka, or the Prince of Wales, are in one (or many) way(s) “aristocrats”, but in the political-economic (class) sense, not, and one disagrees, one either disagrees in one’s own words with that idea, or one doesn’t actually–doesn’t even–disagree at all.

  127. alan

      OK, I was just asking if there is ANYONE ON EARTH who agrees with your theory that the aristocracy does not exist, or whether you are just spinning a bizarre theory of your own. 

      For a while you were pretending to be giving a Marxist analysis, so I was just wondering where any other Marxist has ever said anything remotely related to your conclusions. 

      You should have told me up front that you were just making stuff up on the spot. It is a waste of my time for you to advance opinions you have absolutely no back-up for. It’s just rude.

  128. alan

      You know, “deadgod,” you are compulsively critical of other people on this blog. You’re a bully and you have zero to back up what you say. As I see now more than ever. And when someone finally calls you on it, you run away. I hate to say it, but Chris Higgs is right about you. You take up a lot of space here in what is a free public forum, very much to its detriment. It’s scary how much free time you must have. I wonder who you think you are impressing. I have been very patient and generous with you in this discussion in an attempt to see how far you would take this. Very few people will take as much trouble as I have in fighting your squid tactic of spewing ink in their eyes. But please know that at least one person here has taken your measure and knows how little there is behind your posing. I will absolutely never respond to another post of yours.

      Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens.

  129. deadgod

      I don’t say “the aristocracy does not exist”.  Again and again, I’ve been more precise:  a feudal “aristocracy” is not now a political-economic fact, and that to assert its persistence to equivocate with the word aristocracy.

      That is neither complicated nor squid ink.

      To quote what you said above, the “aristocracy” – the “titled nobility” – of Europe does not “retain certain privileges”; they enjoy privileges of a sort other than those of a feudal aristocracy.

      There is a conversation to be had about what sort of “social distinction” there might be “between the remnants of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie”; rather than making a case, you’ve chosen insipidly to insist on authoritative support for a view I don’t hold.  That’s just rude.

  130. deadgod

      This is me running away from a “bully”:

      In seeing how much energy you had to peck for errors, you’ve not been “patient and generous”, but rather, you turned from smug lecturing to unprovoked personal assumptions and gratuitous insults.  That is bullying.

      Again and again, I’ve pointed out where you’re simply not responding to what I’m saying.  Again and again, you resort to obvious mischaracterizations.  That is bullying.

      In the teeth of disclosure to you of your mischaracterization of nuanced but not fantastically complicated positions, you repeat those obvious misrepresentations.  That is bullying.

      Instead of responding to ideas with thoughts of your own, you parrot stock positions and, absurdly–as a martinet is absurd in the classroom–, demand ‘authoritative’ support for ideas (perhaps) different from your own.  That is bullying.

      You respond to a quotation from Marx, and the argument it properly or mistakenly is part of, with no discussion at all, but rather, a demand for… more quotation.  That is bullying.

      You do not defend your assertions about Marx and other tangents with explanation in response to a different perspective, but rather, simply repeat your claims, as though repetition were demonstration.  That is bullying.

      Your puling at the “space” of my remarks is misspent; nobody who doesn’t want to pays attention to them.  “What is to be avoided above all is the re-establishing of “Society” as an abstraction vis-a-vis the individual.”  Clique formation is always bullying.

      On this thread, you’ve proven your measure as an unscrupulous swaggerer – an asshole – and, from my perspective, this foot-stamping promise never to respond to me will be happily kept.