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From Medieval Mnemonics to a Social Construction of Memory - page 14 / 23





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term. Rather than human as spirit (as Hegel posited), Marx argued that spirit was ultimately humanity’s self-realization of being alienated from a material world. In the “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,” Marx first presented his famous theory about “Estranged Labor” and his “Critique of the Hegelian Dialectic and Philosophy as a Whole”:

If I know religion as alienated human self-consciousness, then what I know in it as religion is not my self-consciousness, but my alienated self-consciousness con- firmed in it. I therefore know my own self, the self-consciousness that belongs to its very nature, confirmed not in religion but rather in annihilated and superseded religion. (p. 119)

Religion could survive fitfully in a Weberian “disenchanted world,” serving as a kind of psychic compensation for a capitalist order that despite its claims to “rationality,” continued to conceal human relations in the form of autonomous commodities. Marx’s attempts to grasp the capitalist mode of production as a historical phenomenon was in effect an attempt to “remember” a future in which capitalism would simply represent one more transitional stage of human self- organization on the way to communism.

Marx’s (1978) comparative historical method introduced a valuable modern social scientific approach to perspective, consciousness, and social collective memory in a world preoccupied with material production, capitalist enterprise, and science. This is validated nicely in a recent interview with Eric Dunning of the Leicester School, who pointed out that his teacher, Norbert Elias, became convinced of the value of the comparative and historical method after newspa- pers reported that Britain was in crisis under the New Right and Thatcherism. Dunning commented,

He [Elias] reminded me of going into a café in 1923 and ordering a coffee for 20,000 marks, which had risen to 40,000 marks by the time he left. Money became valueless. Britain in the ’80’s was nothing like that. In his view, this confirmed the value of the comparative and historical method of analysis. (Rojek, 2004, p. 353)

Marx was an economist, not a social psychologist; and whether he intended it or not—even in the ironic state of “valueless money”—his comparative historical method is invaluable for developing social perspective, discourse, and con- sciousness raising.

The accelerating commodification of every aspect of social life has recently encroached on the domain of social memory, for example, in the form of genetic material or electronic data banking. The historical record itself has become a strange sort of copyrightable hybrid of commodity and productive technology, which is a contested site among those who wish to control it. This new commod- ity can be viewed as a sort of congealed essence of labor capable of being absorbed into capital. According to Marxian analysis, the present-day mode of production contains remnants of past modes of production in which capital is

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