Adolph Reed

Kenneth Mostern kmostern at
Thu Jun 11 11:12:02 PDT 1998

My previous post said quite clearly that it was underdeveloped; as far as that goes I have no disagreement with Rakesh. (Whether it was more, or differently, undeveloped than other examples of its genre is a question I won't address.) Otherwise, I will simply have to write the careful review of Reed's Du Bois book that I declined to write, because I hated it so much, when I first read it over the winter. I'll post my review to the list. As I am going out of town for a week, that will take me several weeks to do. Until then, Rakesh, I ask you to look up Zamir's Dark Voices: W.E.B. Du Bois and American Thought, 1888-1903, U. of Chicago Press, 1995, which is the serious (and Hegelian-Marxist) book Reed did not write. Other than my own forthcoming work, it will be the main source I draw on in my review.

Until then, clarifications to tie me over: Adell, who is herself a Derridean, in Double Consciousness/Double Bind demonstrates that neither Gates nor Baker, in their major books, genuinely makes the theoretical arguments that they claim they are making; Gates' Derrida is just another liberal, while Baker doesn't even claim to have a coherent theory, he just picks and chooses whatever sounds good. (She also, in a different chapter of the book, discusses Du Bois' relationship to Hegel with great cogency.) Spillers does the social analysis: she argues, in a piece called "The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual: A Post Date", that African American Studies is haunted by the claim that all intellectual work must be immediately relevant, on the one hand, and the fact that when a given black scholar appears successful as a scholar, he (nearly always "he") will immediately be offered money and credibility for work that has nothing to do with their area of scholarship. The result is that promising scholars often don't develop, and the field as a whole retains a generalized underdevelopment.

In the 1980s, West produced two substantial scholarly books, The American Evasion of Philosophy and The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought, and a number of serious essays, on Frederic Jameson, on the material context for African American Studies publication, and on the relationship between US marxism and African American Cultural Studies. I now consider his substantive arguments in all of this work wrong. But the fact is, in the 1980s, he was one of the only people doing this kind of work, and he was doing it much better than Gates or Baker. His work was a catalyst for what I, and a great many others, now do.

Hooks' contributions are stronger. She published three books in the 1980s intervening in three different specific, and original ways, into feminist theory: first with a historical account of how black women are gendered differently than white women (granted several other women, like Angela Davis, published similar books in the same year or two as hooks); next with an account of how this different gendering led to rather different positioning in regard to a series of specific feminist political issues; finally, in Talking Back, with the first psychoanalytic narrative in black feminist theory. All three books (like most decade old books in new and growing fields) are out of date. At the time of their publications they were inventive, original, and influential. I have an extended account of the usefulness, and substantial limitations, of Talking Back in the last chapter of my forthcoming book.

In both cases, West and hooks, the main reason for denying their contribution in the 1980s is that one denies that a theory of the production of African American subjectivity is a specific necessity for US marxism. I have seen no sign that Reed knows what the word "subjectivity" means, but I will have to elaborate on that later. Marxists who believe that historical marxism already has a fully adequate theory of the subject, who believe that racial subjectivity in the US has no specific sectoral logic that splits across classes, or who deny that subjectivity has any phenomenal existence at all, should ignore my work.

I still find it useful to teach hooks; I would not teach West. My claims for them are that they usefully and with scholarly sophistication once helped jump start a field of research; and in hooks' case, that, once one delimits its area of accuracy, continues to be useful. (Rakesh, don't ask me how, you know how. My posts to Jonathan Scott last week about whiteness are examples of how; respond to them if you want.)

Kenneth Mostern Department of English University of Tennessee

"Talent is perhaps nothing other than successfully sublimated rage."

Theodor Adorno

-------------- next part -------------- A non-text attachment was scrubbed... Name: not available Type: application/ms-tnef Size: 5539 bytes Desc: not available URL: <../attachments/19980611/7c8c48d5/attachment.bin>

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list