The Network in Marxist Theory

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

[Pages 26-27 in print version. © the Johns Hopkins University Press 1992].

Terry Eagleton and other Marxist theorists who draw upon poststructuralism frequently employ the kind of network model or image to which the connectionists subscribe (See Eagleton, Literary Theory, 14, 33, 78, 104, 165, 169, 173, 201). In contrast, more orthodox Marxists, who have a vested interest (or sincere belief) in linear narrative and metanarrative, tend to use network and web chiefly to characterize error. Pierre Macherey might therefore at first appear slightly unusual in following Barthes, Derrida, and Foucault in situating novels within a network of relations to other texts. According to Machery, "The novel is initially situated in a network of books which replaces the complexity of real relations by which a world is effectively constituted." Machery's next sentence, however, makes clear that unlike most poststructuralists and postmodernists who employ the network as a paradigm of an open-ended, non-confining situation, he perceives a network as something that confines and limits: "Locked within the totality of a corpus, within a complex system of relationships, the novel is, in its very letter, allusion, repetition, and resumption of an object which now begins to resemble an inexhaustible world." (268).

Frederic Jameson, who attacks Louis Althusser in The Political Unconscious for creating impressions of "facile totalization" and of "a seamless web of phenomena" (27) himself more explicitly and more frequently makes these models the site of error. For example, when he criticizes the "anti-speculative bias" of the liberal tradition in Marxism and Form, he notes "its emphasis on the individual fact or item at the expense of the network of relationships in which that item may be imbedded" as liberalism's means of keeping people from "drawing otherwise unavoidable conclusions at the political level" (x). The network model here represents a full, adequate contextualization, one suppressed by an other-than-Marxist form of thought, but it is still only necessary in describing pre-Marxian society. Jameson repeats this paradigm in his chapter on Herbert Marcuse when he explains that "genuine desire risks being dissolved and lost in the vast network of pseudosatisfactions which make up the market system" (Marxism and Form, 100-101). Once again, network provides a paradigm apparently necessary for describing the complexities of a fallen society. It does so again when the Sartre chapter he discusses Marx's notion of fetishism, which, according to Jameson, presents "commodities and the 'objective' network of relationships which they entertain with each other" as the illusory appearance masking the "reality of social life," which "lies in the labor process itself" (Marxism and Form, 296).


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