Historical Materialism and Early Modern Studies

James Holstun




     1. An outsider might imagine that historical materialism would play a rather large role in the literary criticism of early modern Europe. The early modern transition from feudalism to capitalism is the subject of the only extended historical section of Capital 1, Marx's conceptually and literarily brilliant discussion of "The So-Called Primitive Accumulation."1 Moreover, the transition lies at the center of two remarkable multidisciplinary debates: the debate from the 1940s to the 1970s among marxist historians and political scientists over the nature of the transition, and the Brenner Debate of the 1980s.2 And the prodigious scholarly achievement of the British marxist historians, from Rodney Hilton's studies of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 to Christopher Hill's two-foot shelf of work on Puritanism and the English Revolution to E. P. Thompson's studies of commoning and the making of the English working class in eighteenth-century England, focuses on class struggle and the transition from feudalism to capitalism in early modern England.3

     2. Nonetheless, and despite more distinguished marxist work in the field than I can easily review here (including excellent work by the authors to whom I'm responding), the word "materialism" in early modern literary studies probably conjures up "cultural materialism," a poststructuralist discourse analysis predicated on "the materiality of language," and the study of "material culture," with historical materialism finishing a distant fourth, if at all. This is probably in large measure a product of sheer, bloody-minded anticommunism -- never to be underestimated, particularly in the United States, which has directly killed upwards of five million people in its anticommunist crusade, beginning with the hecatombs that Truman staged for Stalin's instruction in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But historical materialists may be almost as nervous about their ostensible allies. Contemplating the success of such school terms and movements as "critical theory," "structuralism," "postcolonial studies," and "cultural studies" -- all of them significantly or predominantly marxist in origin -- they may feel something like Old Marx encountering a new crop of Young Hegelians brandishing his terminology, or perhaps like Little Richard listening to Pat Boone's version of "Tutti Fruiti." "Materialism" has been sublated -- cancelled and preserved -- inside a host of non- or anti-marxist interpretive practices which, while claiming to be constitutively anti-idealist, begin to resemble that which they ostensibly reject by conspicuously avoiding the crucial historical materialist emphasis on social relations (specifically, exploitation) and on nature (a material reality shaped by but independent of and prior to class society).4 In an essay on Raymond Williams, Terry Eagleton praises the fundamental project of cultural materialism, on the grounds that it carries Marx's struggle against idealism "forcefully into that realm ('culture') always most ideologically resistant to a materialist redefinition." But the exorbitant, ever-expanding use of "materialism" carries some risks:

For what, once you have demonstrated that language, culture or even consciousness is "material," do you then do? If everything is "material," can the term logically retain any force? From what does it differentiate itself? . . . When one comes to speak of "the materiality of the poem's feeling," has the term not merely reverted to its alternative meaning of "important" or "of some substance," dwindled to sheer emphasis or gesture? . . . For there is an important sense in which, in redescribing all or most phenomena as "material," one leaves everything just as it was.5

At the risk of dogmatism but in the hopes of clarity, it might be useful for me to suggest a little of what I mean by historical materialism, by briefly examining Marx's clearest brief exposition of its central concept, the "mode of production." This occurs in the chapter on "Labour Rent" in the third volume of Capital:

The specific economic form, in which unpaid surplus-labour is pumped out [ausgepumpt] of direct producers, determines the relationship of rulers and ruled, as it grows directly out of production itself and, in turn, reacts upon it as a determining element. Upon this, however, is founded the entire formation of the economic community which grows up out of the production relations themselves, thereby simultaneously its specific political form. It is always the direct relationship of the owners of the conditions of production to the direct producers -- a relation always naturally corresponding to a definite stage in the development of the methods of labour and thereby its social productivity -- which reveals the innermost secret, the hidden basis of the entire social structure, and with it the political form of the relation of sovereignty and dependence, in short, the corresponding specific form of the state. This does not prevent the same economic basis -- the same from the standpoint of its main conditions -- due to innumerable different empirical circumstances, natural environment, racial relations, external historical influences, etc., from showing infinite variations and gradations in appearance, which can be ascertained only by analysis of the empirically given circumstances.6

The passage is extraordinarily rich. Materialism appears in the primary and determining relationship between rulers and ruled, exploiters and exploited, surplus pumpers and surplus producers. Historical appears in the focus on a "specific" form of surplus extraction. Social totality appears when Marx moves beyond the immediately economic form of surplus extraction to the "political form" associated with it, and this relationship of the political form can easily stand in for other categories not immediately economic, including literature and culture. Here, as so often in the marxist tradition, "totalization" means, not a body of realized, complete knowledge, but that process of theoretical inquiry and revolutionary praxis which declares that nothing is known a priori, and that nothing is a priori unknowable, or fundamentally cut off from other objects of theoretical knowledge and praxis. A reductive stagism and a mechanical determination looms when Marx speaks of an invariant "stage in the development of the methods of labour," and when he says "always," "naturally corresponding," and "basis" and [super]"structure." But a reassuring note appears in his discussion of overdetermination: the series of various factors leading to "infinite variations and gradations in appearance," and the idea that an effect can become a cause -- that a political structure growing out of an economic relation later "reacts upon it as a determining element."

     3. I think this passage is well worth coming back to, and I will attempt to do so, explicitly and implicitly, in responding to Hawkes, Korda, Cohen, and Kendrick. This isn't because all four would necessarily identify themselves as historical materialists, but because each engages historical materialist concepts in significant ways. It's a pleasure to talk about these essays, both for their considerable individual merits, and for the way in which they will collectively help to remedy a long-overdue or underdeveloped literary critical interest in the materialist study of early modern England. And it's a particular pleasure to have this discussion in Early Modern Culture, which has been for some time now a leading forum for discussions of literature, historical materialism, and early modern society.7

Hawkes on Faust

     4. David Hawkes's "Faust Among the Witches: Towards an Ethics of Representation" is an exercise in left moralism. That sounds like a sneer, but it's not. I want to explain why, taking a brief detour through an earlier book by Hawkes, and through R. H. Tawney and Georg Lukács. Then I'll come back to Hawkes's essay.

     5. In Idols of the Marketplace: Idolatry and Commodity Fetishism in English Literature, 1580-1680, Hawkes argues boldly that early modern defenses of intrinsic value and Aristotelian teleology against perfidious image-worship may in fact contain a politically and ethically useful theory of society that should not simply be dismissed through a rejection of use value, and a postmodern "circulationism" that turns away from production, fetishizes markets, and suggests that systems of exchange create the values they circulate.8 Hawkes focuses on six writers (Shakespeare, Herbert, Donne, Milton, Traherne, and Bunyan) and on three debates (the early Christian and early modern debate over idolatry, the early modern debate over value and trade, and the antitheatrical controversy). He takes his cue, perhaps, from R. H. Tawney's ethical critique and structural analysis of capitalism, rather than from the British marxist historians, because they see class struggle as the motor of history, and take the ironic view that capitalist modernity contains progressive as well as oppressive elements.9 Nonetheless, in its focus on "idolatry" as a sort of commodity fetishism, his book is deeply influenced by the historical materialist tradition. His essay extends this argument into the domain of witchcraft.

     6. Tawney is overdue for a revival in early modern studies, particularly as Renaissance literary critics grow more dissatisfied with top-down models of the history of ideas and the reductive, epistemic history produced by the new historicism in its earlier years. Though not a marxist himself, Tawney's Agrarian Problem and Religion and the Rise of Capitalism are, with Maurice Dobbs's Studies in the Development of Capitalism, the great fonts of the "moral economy" argument that underlies so much of the work of the British marxist historians.10 Perhaps because the sixteenth century, the center of Tawney's work on early modern England, contains no great political revolution, the British marxist historians have largely ignored it, so Tawney remains the period's foremost socialist historian. Where Weber left Protestantism the unwitting carrier for capitalism, Tawney presents it as a self-conscious vehicle of anti-capitalist critique, particularly in its earlier years. In Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Tawney argues that a strong current of social criticism with roots in the medieval Scholastics persists well into the early modern era: "The social character of wealth, which had been the essence of the medieval doctrine, was asserted by English divines in the sixteenth century with redoubled emphasis, precisely because the growing individualism of the age menaced the traditional concept" (260). For Tawney, something like the Fall occurs when economy is segmented off as a semiautonomous realm of society, subject to its own laws, and lifted above the purview of religious and ethical critique.

     7. In his chapter of Religion and the Rise of Capitalism entitled "The Social Organism," Tawney attempts to lay out a vision of the medieval church as "not a sect, but a civilization" (32), one which did not declare any social issues out of bounds for critique, a priori. Now we might tie this argument to Tillyard's reactionary social-organicist nostalgia for medieval hierarchalist elements in the early modern world, and I suspect that such a reading of Tawney may have something to do with his rather low profile in the contemporary pantheon of theoretical Titans.11 But we might better tie Tawney's organicism to the Bolshevik Hegelianism of Lukács's "Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat":

To give a detailed analysis of the various forms taken by the refusal to understand reality as a whole and as existence, would be to go well beyond the framework of this study. Our aim here was to locate the point at which there appears in the thought of bourgeois society the double tendency characteristic of its evolution. On the one hand, it acquires increasing control over the details of its social existence, subjecting them to its needs. On the other hand it loses -- likewise progressively -- the possibility of gaining intellectual control of society as a whole and with that it loses its own qualifications for leadership.12

Tawney's radical Anglican organicism, like Lukács's Left Hegelian totalization, is precisely an effort to resist splitting the social whole into a group of semi-reified partial totalities, each with its own ostensibly autonomous logic. Moralism, in other words, is also an insistent form of structural analysis, and the brisk professional attack on left moralism is all too often an attack on the very activity of totalization.

     8. Hawkes's essay also has a moralizing/totalizing air about it, with a contemporary object of critique: the postmodernist focus on the performative sign is diabolical, for it attempts to make a plus of the processes of commodity fetishism, through which commodities acquire an autonomous life as agents, and people become things. Like Tawney, Hawkes rejects the potted historicism that still governs too much cultural history, whereby we move from a religious premodern epoch to a secular modern one, and view religious discourse and practice as the enclosed idea system governing a distanced epoch, with any sort of fruitful interchange between the two stifled by the terror of being found anachronistic:

In fact, we in the West need to question the categorical distinction we make between "economic" exploitation and "metaphysical" evil. Such distinctions made no sense in sixteenth-century Europe any more than they do in contemporary Africa. It may be that the belief that the power of metaphysical evil -- we might simply say 'Satan' -- does not exert any influence on the material world is the most pernicious of all superstitions" (¶8).

For Hawkes, religion is creative practical consciousness, to be taken seriously for its own sake, as it illuminates the premodern and modern worlds.13 In a striking passage, he notes that miners in both early modern Germany and contemporary Bolivia have created myths of demons laboring alongside them as "a mythological expression of alienated labor" (¶9).

     9. Hawkes says witchcraft is not simply to be identified either with capitalism or anticapitalism; rather, the prototypical discourse and belief in subjectified objects, objectified subjects, rises to prominence when capitalist social transformation is at work.14 In the first part of his essay, he emphasizes the importance of religious belief in the postcolonial world, including attacks by the poor and exploited on the "witchcraft" practiced by capitalist compradors.15 As he turns to the early modern European literature of witchcraft and sorcery, particularly that associated with the Faust books, he sees a more complex situation. With Keith Thomas, he sees witchcraft charges focusing on those poor and dispossessed persons shunted aside as capitalism displaced and deformed the traditional moral economy; in this sense, witch crazes are perhaps analogous to the more draconian poor laws of the early modern era (¶21-22). But particularly in England, he sees anti-witch energies diverted toward great sorcerers like Faust: "In early modern Europe, the role of the magical 'big man' was not played by the kind of people we are accustomed to think of as witches, but by sorcerers like Johann Faust" (¶36). The movement between early modern Europe and the postcolonial world, between religious discourse and commodity fetishism, is brilliant and illuminating.

     10. Still, I think Hawkes relies too much on a psychological and semiological model of commodification, and could benefit from a closer focus on the capitalist mode of production, which created commodification as an English, and later, a European and global dominant. Hawkes argues that "commodification takes place only in the mind; there is no necessary material difference between a windfall apple and an apple for sale" (¶12). But commodification takes place primarily not in ideas or in things, but in social relations -- in the production process itself, as it produces commodities, wages, surplus value, laborers, and the ideologies that work to reproduce this process. Hawkes says that "The mass prosecution of witches only becomes possible at the historical moment when the distinction between imagination and reality disappears" (¶34). Capitalism does indeed foster certain crucial illusions -- key among them, the idea that wages measure the value of labor -- but it seems imprecise to refer to the epoch of primitive accumulation or the contemporary moment of capital's complete penetration of the globe as a moment when the distinction between imagination and reality has disappeared -- this concedes rather too much to some theorists of postmodernism, and kicks the chocks out from the ongoing project of critique and class struggle.

     11. Similarly, I'm not convinced that "witchcraft -- which is the postcolonial southern hemisphere's way of discussing the contemporary nature and exercise of power -- actually provides a more appropriate discourse for the postmodern condition than Western thought, which is still hampered by obsolete binary divisions between presence and absence, being and non-being, matter and spirit" (¶12). As Adorno and Horkheimer are a little too quick with "Enlightenment" in their Dialectic of Enlightenment, so Hawkes is a little too quick with "the West" and "The South." For all binaries are not the same, and "exploiter and exploited" offers a better way than witchcraft into understanding and resisting the global capitalist condition. Moreover, it's a way not altogether unknown to a considerable number of Southern Hemisphere workers, activists, theorists, and revolutionaries.

     12. Finally, I wonder if Hawkes's evidence for understanding witchcraft in the early modern world, at least in this part of his larger project, might be a bit skewed away from the laboring-class sources that would bring it closer to the contemporary Southern hemisphere -- that is, the world in which workers denounce as a sort of witchcraft the drive toward wage labor and the commodification it produces. For the sixteenth-century peasant descendants of those who escaped serfdom during the pan-European peasant revolts of the fourteenth century, the primary worldly terror suggested by the Faustian contract might have been not so much the epistemological perplexities of the commodity form as the return of servile tenure itself, or some ghastly capitalist mutation of it, in the form of bonded or wage labor, with no free access to the means of production. Here, we should probably extend our view of early modern workers beyond agrarian wage laborers to servants of various sorts. They do not produce "value" that can be circulated (neither, as Marx notes, did those domestic workers who formed the majority of workers in his own time), but they are still "free laborers" in Marx's sardonic sense of the term: free of the means of production, and therefore constrained to enter into free labor contracts. If, as Hawkes notes, the witch's or necromancer's ostensibly symmetrical contract with Satan always produces asymmetrical servitude (¶39), then perhaps early modern readers and theater audiences felt stories of witchcraft resonating painfully with their own asymmetrical contracts as wage laborers, domestic servants, apprentices, or wives.

     13. In "Pottage for Freeborn Englishmen: Attitudes to Wage-Labour," Christopher Hill reconstructs the fervid long-term resistance by English workers to the wage contract -- their struggle as "freeborn" Englishmen and women to retain their birthrights as small-producers, and to avoid slipping into that capitalist mode of production in which they would have no choice but to sell their labor power on the market.16 I think we should view the ubiquitous hatred of servile courtly clientage in Renaissance drama (were there really that many patrons and courtiers running about?) -- as a figure for hatred of service more generally. In Webster's Duchess of Malfi, Bosola struggles to avoid servitude to the sorcerous Aragonian brothers, Duke Ferdinand and the Cardinal. As he slips against his will into "miserable dependences" on them, he marks the moment with savage excremental wit:

          FERDINAND   [giving money] There's gold. 
          BOSOLA                                                                           So,
What follows? Never rained such showers as these
Without thunderbolts in the tail of them
Whose throat must I cut?17 

For a more Faustian example, we can turn to Marlowe. Faustus's man Wagner tries to lure Robin into service, addressing him as "Sirrah boy." Robin objects, and Wagner says to him, as if he were not there,

          WAGNER Alas, poor slave, see how poverty jesteth in his nakedness! The villain is bare and out of service, and so hungry that I know he would give his soul to the devil for a shoulder of mutton, thought it were blood raw.
          ROBIN  How? My soul to the devil for a shoulder of mutton, though 'twere blood raw? Not so, good friend. By'r Lady, I had need have it well roasted, and good sauce to it, if I pay so dear. 

After more comic bantering, Wagner proffers the contract:

          WAGNER  But sirrah, leave your jesting, and bind yourself presently unto me for seven years. . . . Well, do you hear, sirrah? [Offering money] Hold, take these guilders. . . . Why now, sirrah, thou art at an hour's warning whensoever or wheresoever the devil shall fetch thee. 
          ROBIN  No, no, here, take your gridirons again.
     [He attempts to return the money.] 
          WAGNER  Truly, I'll none of them. 
          ROBIN  Truly, but you shall.18 

This episode forms part of the déclassé comic subplot of Marlowe's great play, which critics have frequently objected to, or attributed to revisions after Marlowe's death. But this scene appears in both versions of the play, juxtaposing a plebeian/witchcraft plot to a patrician/sorcerer's plot, as we might expect from this Canterbury cobbler's son who became, perhaps, a secret agent for Walsingham and the Privy Council. We should take it jocoseriously, as a sort of plebeian gallows humor: this infernal contract sounds rather like contracted servitude, or a seven-years' apprenticeship. Despite his hunger, Robin resists strongly, and calls out to the audience to witness that he returned Wagner's guilders to him. Only after Wagner conjures up two devils, Balioll and Belcher, to chase him about, does he agree to the terms of service. Hawkes argues that we are all unwitting witches now in our postmodern acceptance of commodity logic (¶40); perhaps we are also all unwitting servants who have lost the exquisite sense of smell displayed by so many early modern commoners, who fought so hard against Faustian servitude to the wage form.

Korda on Frith

     14. When Proudhon said "property is theft," he probably didn't quite mean that the wage form creates capital and profits by surreptitiously pumping surplus value out of workers. The concept of surplus labor (the genus, present in all class societies) and surplus value (the species, dominant in capitalist society) is more a discovery of Marx, though with important antecedents in seventeenth-century theorists of improvement like William Petty, as Christopher Kendrick shows in his essay in this issue. Still, the history of illegal theft is a crucial supplement to the historical materialist history of legal theft. In The London Hanged, his study of crime and capital punishment in eighteenth-century England, Peter Linebaugh offers a "history by the neck . . . of the eighteenth-century class struggle that includes both the expropriation of the poor from the means of producing (resulting in 'urbanization') and the appropriation by the poor of the means of living (resulting in 'urban crime')."19

     15. In "The Case of Moll Frith: Women's Work and the 'All-Male Stage,'" Natasha Korda examines alternative forms of work (outside the sanctioned male world of the guild and the stage) and alternative forms of theft (outside the sanctioned world of property rights and legality, and the surplus extraction it makes legally possible). Her essay suggests that petty property crime is frequently a form of implicit class struggle, and can be understood in a continuum with various forms of resistance to capitalist encroachment, from a copyholder's suit in a manorial court, to an attack on enclosures, to a full-scale peasant rebellion. Indeed, we might well think of urban property crime, and the forms of improvisatory commerce and small production that blend with it, imperceptibly, as a sort of rough urban commoning.

     16. Korda's essay is a paradoxical performance: she sets out to make the spectacular and notorious figure of Mary Frith -- Moll Cutpurse, the Roaring Girl -- "considerably less exceptional" than we might have thought her at first by restoring her status as a worker "within the networks of commerce surrounding early modern London's public houses. . . . Consideration of Moll's status as a 'worker' may allow for a more thoroughgoing critique of the all-male stage than has her status as a 'player'" (¶¶17, 2). However, the result is not dulling but exceptionally interesting. Korda engages in a classic materialist feminist critical project through a dual dialogue with non-materialist feminists, and non-feminist materialists.20 To those feminist literary critics who have considered Frith primarily under the heading of cross-dressing, she emphasizes her status as a thief, a receiver of stolen property, and a laborer, whose various activities involve her intimately in the economic life of the stage. For those who have seen women's relation to the stage as one of mere exclusion (with no women on the stage) and consumption, she establishes the network of ordinary women workers who helped to produce Renaissance drama, and early modern England as a whole (n.1). For materialist historians who have focused on the labor of early modern men in the established guilds, she highlights those "disorderly commercial practices" engaged in by ordinary women, who were excluded from the guild system: "In the case of the clothing guilds, limitations imposed on female sempstresses, bleachers and dyers applied only to their work on new cloth and clothing, articles of clothing that were already used and were being re-made or altered were generally not covered by these restrictions" (¶4). Literary critics have frequently charted with fascination the circuits of costumes from extra-theatrical life to the stage; Korda finds these circuits mediated by labor, particularly by women's labor. In this world of women's disorderly commerce, a use value can become an exchange value once again: Marx's exemplary Coat, hero of so many torturous C-M-C permutations in the early pages of Capital 1, can fall out of the cycle of exchange as a use value, then miraculously re-enter it through theft, alteration, and resale.

     17. What emerges from Korda's analysis is a richer vision of early modern theater as a complex economic institution. Methodologically, this entails a movement away from the study of formal ideologies -- a study to which literary critics are particularly inclined -- which has tended to present early modern women as the interpellated creatures of conduct manuals.21 In her earlier book, Shakespeare's Domestic Economies, Korda proposed "to reach beyond such contextualizing texts as domestic manuals, conduct books, legal treatises, and so on, and consider as well sources of evidence that register the traces of material practice," and "to situate the 'stuff' of material culture in relation to broader historical shifts in modes of production and property relations that have had profound and lasting effects on the social and economic status of women."22 Still, it seems to me that this essay marks a real shift from women's control and circulation of property to women's labor, and the plebeian knowledges attendant on it: "Within the commercial landscape of London's suburbs and Liberties . . . women trick and trade, dodge and bodge, as actively as men, and workers and players are placed on a continuum" (¶17). Here, thieves become thief-takers, and women serve as "intermediaries between licit and illicit forms of trade" (¶10). Frith herself dodges and bodges powerfully, and Korda shows her appearance onstage at the Fortune Theater as a key moment in her self-transformation from thief to relatively respectable businesswoman.

     18. This form of commoning, like so many others, created a considerable ruling-class anxiety. Korda quotes a statute issued against pawnbrokers in the first year of James's reign, which attacks those who "assum[ed] unto themselves the name of Brokers and Brokerage, as though the same were an honest and a lawfull Trade Misterie or Occupation . . . findinge thereby that the same is a more idle and easier kinde of Trade of livinge, and that there riseth and groweth to them a more readie more greate more profitable and speedier Advantage and Gaine then . . . manuall Labours and Trades did or coulde bringe them" (¶14). The language of the statute conjures up both the something-for-almost-nothing language of improvement, as its reference to "Trade Misterie" suggests the language of guild life and apprenticeship in the boast by Mary Frith (allegedly) that she had set up in her brokerage and "made a perfect regulation of this thievish Mystery" (¶14).

     19. These women and men inhabit the under-examined but variegated and enormously important world of small production -- a post-feudal but pre-capitalist world in which workers have not yet altogether lost control of the means of production. Korda situates the early modern theater itself as a "transitional economic formation, in certain respects retaining the residual structure of the guilds, while at the same time assuming the emergent form of innovative capital ventures" (¶4). In this, we might compare it to other economic formations of the period: petty commodity production (in which workers still owned the means of production, but produced for a commodity market), and plantation slavery (in which workers themselves, and not just their labor power, were a commodity, and by no means "free labor," but still produced for a commodity market). The concept of the mode of production, then, is important not just as a taxonomy but as a way to describe mixed modes, and the particular sorts of pressures they exert. Without moving into any Bakhtinian rhapsodies about the early modern criminal carnivalesque, it would seem that Korda's essay helps to explain an era in which the line between legal and illegal theft was somewhat smudged, at least from the crisper perspective of what Linebaugh calls the "thanatocracy" of eighteenth-century England, where capital instituted a fiercer regime of capital punishment for property crime (50).

Cohen on Cervantes

     20. In "Don Quijote and the Intercontinental History of the Novel," Walter Cohen displays a virtuoso range of reference, moving from Cervantes to Arab narrative to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European novels to Benito Cereno to the contemporary Third World novel. It's a remarkable achievement, analogous to his wide-ranging, marxist, and genuinely comparatist study, Drama of a Nation: Public Theater in Renaissance England and Spain.23 The breadth of Cohen's interest and the limitations of the essay form lead to a notable lack of close readings. But if we are at all convinced by Franco Moretti's recent call for "distant reading," and the larger structural understanding it can produce, this is by no means necessarily to be seen as a limitation for a historical materialist understanding of the novel and society.24

     21. Does Cohen's essay aim at that? Yes and no and yes. In the opening of his essay, he finds more "resonance" in the stronger version of five arguments which have important implications for the marxist study of class and form (the last two in particular). Cohen asserts that Don Quijote was not just significant for the European novel, but founded it; that the novel is not just important for European literary history, but its uniquely original invention; that the novel is not just influential in world literary history, but its dominant modern genre; that Europe's imperial expansion from 1450 to 1900 was primarily a product, not a cause, of European capitalist transformation; and that the novel should be understood not just as narrative fiction that treats everyday life seriously, but as a genre with constitutive links to the middle class and to nationalism.

     22. But No: the "traditionally historical materialist approach" appears here only as "a point of departure for understanding the structured relationship between opportunity and constraint in various literary forms." And after this departure, Cohen never truly returns to questions of class, the mode of production, and surplus extraction. He separates these five claims and concentrates on "the weaker formulation" in each, since it "allows the ensuing argument to work, whereas the stronger gives it greater resonance, at least in my view" (¶1). "Resonance" quickly disappears, and good riddance; it was a strangely aestheticized term in the first place; the more traditional historical materialist criterion would be that its arguments stand or fall on their greater or lesser explanatory power -- that bolder, totalizing arguments explain more, not less.

     23. But Yes: within his apparently immanent focus on "the relationship between ideology and form," Cohen constructs a powerful intranational model for the origin (or "consolidation") of the European novel rather than the intercontinental model fostered by postcolonial studies. Cohen's model might be seen, too hastily, as an embattled retreat to eurocentrism; for me, it suggests rather Robert Brenner's model for the intranational or "endogenous" origin of capitalism based in class struggle rather than Immanuel Wallerstein's intercontinental or exogenous model based in trade and expansion.25 Wallerstein, Brenner says, "is at pains to distinguish the emergence of the capitalist world economy in the sixteenth century -- the rise of the world division of labour which emerged with the great discoveries and expansion of trade routes -- from the emergence of a system of free wage labour, and contends that the latter is derivative from the former" (33). But the establishment of a capitalist dynamic in the core countries was the necessary first step for a specifically capitalist imperialism. Without the capitalist imperative to maximize relative rather than absolute surplus value -- an imperative born of class struggle with the European peasantry -- we cannot understand why European global conquest produced a capitalist world economy:

It is only a system which is organized so that the accumulation of capital via innovation is enforced by the very structure of the social productive relations that can turn an accrual of potentially productive resources from outside to the service of economic development. In Wallerstein's world system, no such enforcement mechanism is specified, precisely because the class-structured system of accumulation of capital based on free labour, where labour power is a commodity, is ruled out from the start. We are left to wonder why any wealth transferred from the core to the periphery did not result merely in the creation of cathedrals in the core and starvation in the periphery. (67)

Similarly, though Cohen does admit that the ultimate origins of the European novel may lie in West or South Asia, its most important development during its first three European centuries or so was intranational: a sort of class struggle on the level of form, in which the "serious treatment of everyday life," including particular represented persons from outside the ruling class, bumped up against aristocratic, heroic, and romantic traditions: "Routine existence in Spain undercuts chivalric romance and by extension imperial adventure, but that adventure occurs outside Spain and hence beyond the limits of the novel" (¶7). Don Quijote actually has rather little to do with Spain's international relations (its New World empire, its contact with the Islamic world), and this was necessarily the case in the early years of Spain's empire: if the defining trait of the novel is the "serious treatment of everyday life," such a treatment was not available to European novelists considering the colonial world until a quantitative change became qualitative -- until the European settler colonies became large and established enough to afford realistic narratives of their own.26 In Cervantes, the moments of apparent contact with the world outside Spain tend to be purely formal, a matter of narration rather than story, as in the layers of epistemological uncertainty added by his Arab narrator, Cide Hamete Benengeli. Spain's contact with the Muslim world enables Cervantes to view Spanish history from a defamiliarized and therefore totalizing perspective. Here, we might compare the readings of New World themes in More's Utopia and Montaigne's "Of Cannibals" as obliquely Eurocentric -- attempts to examine European culture anew, not to contact and consider cultures outside Europe.

     24. Cohen's effort to deal with exceptions at the level of Cervantes' story seems to me less satisfactory. The pathetic story of Ricote, the exiled morisco, is merely "the stuff of romance," and thus "incompatible with the main thrust of the novel." Zoraida's flight with the Captive and her Moorish father's entreaty are atypical of the novel as a whole -- "an inset novella rather than an integral part of the main plot," lacking "the demystifying thrust of so many of the protagonists' adventures" (¶13). One need not embrace a pathos of the margin to prefer an integral interpretation of these disintegral episodes. Here at least, Bakhtin's argument about the novel incorporating and integrating a host of genres offers up the possibility of a more totalizing interpretation than does cleaving too rigorously to Auerbach's criterion of formal realism.27 And if the realist novel admits of considerably more than the serious treatment of everyday life (should we view historical novels focusing on epochal events as hyper-quotidian?), then the tradition of realist representation extends backward in time to a wealth of fictional and non-fictional forms -- those thirteen chapters of Mimesis before Auerbach reaches "The Enchanted Dulcinea," for instance.28 These generic complications deserve a little more attention.

     25. But Cohen's main argument about the intranational quality of realist prose fiction during its first three centuries holds good. This argument resists efforts of the last decade or so by literary critics influenced by postcolonial studies to argue for the constitutively intercontinental quality of the European novel. The apparent exceptions prove Cohen's rule impressively. Referring to Mansfield Park, Jane Eyre, Vanity Fair, Great Expectations, Bleak House, and Daniel Deronda, Cohen says, "Recent criticism has gone to considerable lengths to demonstrate the significance of the Caribbean, or India, or Australia to these novels -- precisely what one does not have to do (and this is a crucial point) to prove, for instance, that Jane Eyre or Great Expectations is a Bildungsroman" (¶27).29 Exceptions for other genres also prove the rule: the colonial world is "discursively available to prose romance and romantic poetry," but "It is otherwise with nineteenth-century realist fiction" (¶26). When American and Russian novelists attempt to confront their internal empires, they tend to retreat into the insulation of the past, or into romance. The imperial realist/modernist fiction of Kipling, Conrad, and Gide occurs at "a historical moment, the moment when the European settler colonies have acquired sufficient density to allow for realist representation" (¶29). Concluding with a series of brilliant speculations, Cohen argues for a shift in dominant literary interest from the metropole to the periphery. The greatness of the late nineteenth-century Russian novel is to be understood by its distinctly non-metropolitan position -- if not as a paradoxically Third World country (since the Soviet Second World did not yet exist), then as part of the "semi-periphery."30 This shift also brings a qualitative change in realist fiction, for "peripheral" realist novels, from the late nineteenth century to the postcolonial present, are by no means incapable of representing "the interaction between the European and non-European worlds" (¶33).

     26. The last two sentences present a powerful summation and open up a striking perspective on the Third World novel that demolishes any impression that Cohen's argument proposes a reactionary return to Eurocentric literary criticism:

In short, Don Quijote serves as the fulcrum of a long tradition of European prose fiction. The origins of that tradition lie outside Europe; its consolidation entails constriction to an intra-European perspective; its full development reverses direction and thereby results in a global literary form. The implicit totalizing project of the European novel loses some of its structural implausibility only when the novel ceases to be distinctively European. (¶33)

Still, there is a sense in which Cohen produces a descriptive narrative of the novel's expansion rather than a totalizing explanation of its totalizing project. As he begins his essay, Cohen observes that his approach "is therefore formalist throughout, the goal being some insight into the relationship between ideology and form" (¶2). But a little more formalism, perhaps even some close readings, might be in order, if they could bring Cohen back to some of the questions raised by his original, bracketed, "resonant" claims. As Roland Barthes says, "the more a system is specifically defined in its forms, the more amenable it is to historical criticism. To parody a well-known saying, I shall say that a little formalism turns one away from History, but that a lot brings one back to it."31

     27. So three questions to conclude with. First, how does the European novel's defining trait (for Cohen, the serious representation of everyday life) imply its totalizing project? Second, Cohen says that "European overseas expansion was primarily a product rather than a source of internal economic change -- the development of capitalism -- though of course the effect also became a cause" (¶1); was the novel also a product of internal economic change, and if so, how did that effect also become a cause? Third, Cohen sees a significant link between the novel and the European drive to empire, at least after the eighteenth century, and a strong link between the novel, nationalism, and the "middle class" (the capitalist ruling class?). Why, then, does the novel originate in Spain, an absolute monarchy pursuing a non-capitalist imperialism based on maximizing absolute rather than relative surplus value, rather than in England, a significantly capitalist nation even in Cervantes' time, which would embark on a world-transforming capitalist imperialism based on maximizing relative surplus value through improvement and the organization of production?32

Kendrick on Milton

     28. In "'Majestic Unaffected Style': Quakerism and Improvement in Paradise Regained," Christopher Kendrick connects together three changes: Milton's move from the copious style of Paradise Lost to the relative plainstyle of his 1671 Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes; the movement of radical Puritanism to moderate Nonconformity, particularly the self-moderation of the Quakers; and the movement from traditional or small-producer agriculture to capitalist agrarian improvement. Though Kendrick knows any turn to political economy will meet with resistance, the great strength of his essay is to link the subtractive stylistic turn to godliness not to antipolitical withdrawal or quietism,33 but to a new sort of economic engagement. Restoration nonconformists, and their fellow traveler Milton, withdraw from the world-transforming revolutionary program of revolutionary Independency and begin cultivating their gardens -- or perhaps the commons and wastelands of others, which they have appropriated and enclosed: "the big event to which the 1671 poems respond is not a particular context or issue of controversy; it is the emergence of Nonconformity as a settled fact of national life -- paradoxically the single most tangible and enduring 'achievement' of the revolution -- and the attendant reshaping of the reading public" (¶9).

     29. Kendrick points suggestively to the lifelong struggle in Milton's work "between more florid and more plain, or between copious and godly, aesthetics characteristic of much seventeenth-century religious lyric -- a tension most familiarly and indefatigably rehearsed in Herbert's The Temple, where it is rendered into a kind of reflexive, paradoxically ritualized and comfortable anti-idolatry" (¶6).34 Kendrick quotes a striking passage from George Fox's Journal about Fox's spiritual leveling of a tithe-supported Yorkshire church in 1651, which I will quote again:

Soe I declared to ye people: yt I cared not to hold uppe there Idolls temple nor tyths nor priests but to declare against ym: & opnd to ye people all there traditions: & yt peice of Grounde was noe more holy then another peice of Grounde: & yt they shoulde know yt there bodyes were to bee ye temples of God & Christ & soe to bringe ym of all ye worlds hireling teachers to Christ there free teacher. (¶12)

Fox diagnoses in this steeplehouse what Kendrick calls "an obscenely spatial strategy of oppression" (¶13): the festering Presbyterian or Independent remnant of an Anglican and, before that, Roman Catholic church. It remains thoroughly integrated into the absolutist mode of production, for it relies on the precapitalist extraction of surplus through state-sanctioned tithes. In refusing to mount the pulpit, and saying he will not "hold uppe there Idolls temple," Fox prophesies both of Milton's 1671 poems, combining Samson's leveling ruination with Christ's subtractive economy of effort. This passage resonates with Milton's long-standing abhorrence of hirelings, and with his prelude to Paradise Regained in the final books of Paradise Lost, in Adam's prophetic mountaintop vision of the future under the insistent tutelage of the Archangel Michael. Michael leads Adam to bid farewell to the animal, vegetable, and verbal copia of Paradise with a vision of the Flood, which unmoors Eden and sends it drifting down into the Persian Gulf, where it will become a barren, guano-covered rock.35 This moment of wanton subtraction is essential, Michael tells him, "To teach thee that God attributes to place / No sanctity, if none be thither brought / By Men who there frequent, or therein dwell."36

     30. But in the midst of this populist assault on one form of exploitation, Kendrick finds the harbinger of another in Fox's praise of an economizing ministry: "it is essential to the appeal of his plan that it should be cheaper and more effective, more productive of true religion, than what is in place" (¶13). The "worldly asceticism" of Weber's Protestant ethic -- far too general an ethic to take in the anticapitalist moral economy of the Continental reformers and the Tudor commonwealthsmen -- does in fact become powerfully relevant to the world of Restoration Nonconformity, so long as we admit that Protestant improvers spent less time planning their own asceticism than that of the laboring poor.37 Kendrick ties the georgic focus on prophecy and vocation followed by Milton's Christ in Paradise Regained to Cressy Dymock's utopian (because generalizable) program for gridding reclaimed fenland, to Walter Blith's fantasy of a virtual increase in land through an improving increase in its productive power, and particularly to William Petty's program of imperial improvement, which takes substantial steps toward a labor theory of value, even if still conceptually contradictory or dual, as Kendrick suggests.38

     31. As part of Milton's move toward the structure of feeling of Nonconforming improvement, Kendrick draws our attention to his "lapse into the Christian rudiments" in his religious works of the late 1650s, such as A Treatise of Civil Power in 1659 (¶7). Early that same year, he wrote a letter, now lost, to Moses Wall, in which he apparently rejected the kingdoms of the world by excoriating the backsliding English people.39 In May, Wall responded by trying to draw Milton's attention to another lost opportunity:

You complain of the nonprogressency of the nation, and of its retrograde motion of late, in liberty and spiritual truths. It is much to be bewailed; but yet let us pity human frailty when those who had made deep protestations of their zeal for our liberty both spiritual and civil, and made the fairest offers to be asserters thereof, and whom we thereupon trusted; when those being instated in power, shall betray this good thing committed to them, and lead us back to Egypt. . . . Besides whilst people are not free but straitened in accommodations for life, their spirits will be dejected and servile. . . . Also another thing I cannot but mention, which is that the Norman Conquest and tyranny is continued upon the nation without any thought of removing it; I mean the tenure of lands by copyhold, and holding for life under a lord (or rather tyrant) of a manor; whereby people care not to improve their land by cost upon it, not knowing how soon themselves or theirs may be outed it, nor what the house is in which they live for the same reason; and they are far more enslaved to the lord of the manor, than the rest of nation is to a king or supreme magistrate!40

But Milton just didn't get it. In October, his Proposalls of Certain Expedients suggested not the end of copyhold and the relief of the poor, but the classic utopia of capitalist improvement: the "just division of waste commons whereby the nation would become much more industrious, rich, and populous."41 In February 1660, his Readie and Easie Way proposed the county community as "a little commonwealth" ruled by "the nobility and chief gentry," who would make and apply laws "without appeal," creating a county oligarchy to complement the national oligarchy of Milton's perpetual Grand Council -- horrifyingly close to what the Restoration would actually deliver.42 Here we have Nonconformity on the level of economy: a furious hatred of hireling tithes, but a sheer inability to see English commoners being hollowed out by the conversion of copyhold into rack-rented landlord freehold, with tenancies at will.

     32. Kendrick's concluding reading of Milton's brief epic reveals brilliantly the apocalyptic Socinianism of Christ -- the theological equivalent to the "pyrotechnically middle style" of Milton's late poems (¶30-32, 1). As Homer's Sirens tempt homeward-bound Odysseus with the now-irrelevant story of The Iliad, "everything that the Argives and Trojans / did and suffered in wide Troy through the gods' despite," so Milton's Satan tempts Christ with the copia of Paradise Lost -- particularly in his presentation of the rejected luxurious feast (¶24-25), where the classic, copious Miltonic "or" connects together the sequence of courses, and its obliging choice of solemn nymphs or stripling youths.43 In a sort of autogeorgic, the self-inspecting Christ appears as "a mysteriously new Nature, an uncannily familiar ground whose properties have withdrawn from view and which must be re-discovered," and Satan as an energetic but unimaginative landlord who doesn't quite catch on to the new gospel of improvement (¶24).

     33. I like the application of Freud's analysis of the "double alibi structure" of jokes to this conclusion, with the more overt references to Quakerism and political economy as the verbal play of the joke itself, and the labor theory of value as its darker purpose, and each providing an alibi for the other, and the Bartleby and Roadrunner analogies seem apposite (¶30, n.26). Finally, though, I don't get the joke, and I don't see how the opposition between labor and the land models the relationship between the son and the father in Milton's theology. Could we understand this vocational georgic for Milton, for Quakers, and for Restoration Dissenters more generally not so much as an act of withdrawal, but as an opening-out to that segment of the English landholding class with whom they would happily intermarry, form joint stock companies, improve the land, and rack their tenants, during the succeeding centuries? If we are to understand the Nonconformist subtraction of copia as a rhetorical analog to capitalist improvement, what are we to make of the distinctly Established and Conformist proponents of capitalist improvement during the Restoration? The career of Petty, that founder of political economy, as Marx called him, included a stint in the Jesuit college in Caen, and a circle of diverse acquaintances, including Harrington, Hartlib, Henry Cromwell, Boyle, Charles Cavendish, Hobbes, Tyrconnell, Prince James Stuart, the Royal Academy, and royalist faculty at Oxford. Similarly, how are we to understand that later metamorphosis, when some Nonconformists became Radical Dissenters, and the organizing mainstay of those revolutionary small producers whom E. P. Thompson considers in The Making of the English Working Class, including Wollstonecraft, Equiano, Spence, Blake, Thomas Russell, and that son of a Quaker staymaker, Tom Paine? This is not to say "Some improvers were distinctly anti-Nonconformist; some Nonconforming Dissenters were distinctly anti-Capitalist; your attempt to link Nonconformity and capitalist improvement, therefore, falls in ruins, and so does any errant effort to connect literary style, religious affiliation, and class." Kendrick's analysis is too nuanced for that, and it focuses on a Restoration structure of feeling, not a mechanical alignment. But does Nonconformity open up into a small-producer or even socialist project, as well as a capitalist one? And does the Restoration offer us any program of improvement that violates its etymology, and strives for people, not profit?44



     34. Rather than a proper conclusion, a tentative good news/bad news story. The good news is the occluded power of the marxist tradition. One of the strangest phenomena of smorgasbord-style theoretical eclecticism lies in seeing marxism placed (in a Bedford anthology, a conference roster, a listing of prominent interpretive modes) in a series including the New Criticism, psychoanalytical criticism, reader-response criticism, the new historicism, and so forth. As Marx says about those who compare capital, land, and labor as sources of wealth, "They have about the same relation to each other as lawyer's fees, red beets and music."45 To begin with, marxism has always intertwined productively with other critical approaches. Even provisional distinctions between marxism and, for instance, linguistic approaches, genre theory, and psychoanalysis begin to look foolish if we simply think of Volosinov and Bakhtin, Lukács and Williams, Sartre and Zizek. We can see the hybrid orientation of materialist theory in the four essays I've talked about, as Hawkes, Korda, Cohen, and Kendrick engage the sociology of religion, feminism, post-colonial studies, and stylistics, respectively. Moreover, marxism has always taken upon itself the project of methodological totalization, incorporating and making sense of other forms of interpretive practice, rather than rejecting them as error or merely extrinsic to proper literary-critical concerns. Here, Jameson's Political Unconscious -- which offers a Frye-like anatomy of criticism from the perspective of a closeted Sartrean totalization -- is the most obvious example, but by no means the only one.46

     35. There's also the matter of scale -- the sheer, diverse grandeur of one hundred and sixty years of marxist theory and history, in every discipline, and on every continent. Taxonomically, it might make more sense to draw the fundamental distinction between marxist and non-marxist forms of cultural theory; strategically, in any case, marxists designing surveys of literary theory should definitely think about doing so. So in addition to the topical affinities with marxist historians I mentioned at the opening (Marx on primitive accumulation, the British marxist historians' work on the period, the various historians' debates about the transition), marxist scholars of early modern literature can draw upon a formidable heritage of criticism, theory, and historical writing.47 There are even some signs that primitive accumulation may be taking its place alongside humanism, Reformation and counter-Reformation, public drama, the New World encounter, and republicanism as a central phenomenon, cultural as well as social, of the early modern era..48 Marxism retains an unrivalled explanatory power, and explanation remains important in the capitalist academy, even if it's not the only or even the main game in town.

     36. The bad news: the years immediately ahead don't look particularly promising for marxist intellectual culture in the United States. The semi-reified partial totalities of capitalist cultural theory can flourish, after a fashion, in the semi-reified partial totality of the capitalist university, so long as the state sees any reason at all to fund education in the humanities. But the situation is different for marxist cultural theory: where are the historical materialist NGOs? The question here isn't so much the self-aggrandizing, "What revolutionary role will be served by marxist literary criticism?" The answer to that will remain something like "slim or none." Rather, thinking in a parochial fashion about our discipline, the question is "Can we imagine a vibrant and exploratory marxist intellectual tradition without a powerful working class political movement?"

     37. In part, the answer is, "yes, of course," as we can see from Lukács writing within and in some measure against a murderous Stalinism and a sclerotic socialist realism, Raymond Williams composing his brilliant corpus alongside a rightward-drifting Labour Party, Fredric Jameson producing his remarkable syntheses during the reactionary, post-Boom America of Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. Indeed, as Perry Anderson suggests, all of Western marxism may be seen as, in part, a response to defeat, in the East and the West.49 But Western marxism in general and those three projects in particular occurred at least in the afterwash of something more optimistic -- revolutionary Bolshevism, the British New Left and movements for workers' and adult education, the American New Left and the civil rights and antiwar movements.

     38. In the United States, anyway, that afterwash has gone dead calm and fetid. Engels's "socialism or barbarism?" has become, on the level of electoral politics, "neoliberal militarist barbarism or right-authoritarian militarist barbarism?" The phosphorescent glow of American political decay appears when we note a burning political issue that swept the nation in August of 2004: in 1969, when US Navy Lieutenant John F. Kerry, future Democratic presidential candidate, hunted down and shot dead a Vietnamese resistance fighter, was his victim an unarmed and wounded teenager (this is the cowardly Kerry excoriated by Republicans), or an adult NLF fighter carrying a rocket launcher (this is the heroic Kerry celebrated by Democrats)? The evident interest generated by the question does not augur particularly well for American proletarian internationalism.

     39. Of course, as important as American electoral politics may be to America and the world, it is not America, and it is not the world. Similarly, the state of historical materialism in one constricted field, one place, and one time, is a poor index for the future; as Walter Cohen reminds us in his itinerary of the novel, phenomena like the novel (or historical materialism) with a Western origin do not necessarily have a Western terminus. And the mediations between academic work and the course of empire are complex and frequently tenuous. I would simply suggest how difficult it is to imagine any significant advance in historical materialist scholarship in the United States, and that small part of it which consists of early modern literary and historical study, without a strong anti-imperialist and working-class political movement, and an academic left struggling to make itself relevant to it.



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1 Karl Marx, Capital Vol. 1 (New York: International Publishers, 1973), 713-74.

2 For a cogent summary of the debates and an original contribution to them, see Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View (London: Verso 2002).

3 On the British marxist historians, see Harvey Kaye, The British Marxist Historians: An Introductory Analysis (New York: Polity Press, 1984). In Ehud's Dagger: Class Struggle in the English Revolution (London: Verso, 200), I argue that the work of the British marxist historians should be of considerably more interest to critics of early modern literature (136-40).

4 See Teresa L. Ebert on "ludic materialism" or "matterism" in Ludic Feminism and After: Postmodernism, Desire, and Labor in Late Capitalism (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan P, 1996), 24-49. In literary-critical usage, "materialism" commonly designates "that which is historical, discursive, cultural, constructed, produced and not given," thus helpfully drawing attention to production, but disastrously cutting off all ties to quite a different conception of matter, of considerable interest to scientists, and defined precisely by its priority to human history, and its exteriority to culture and human making. This matter may, in fact, be historical, but occupies a nonhuman temporality, from the last big bang to the next one, markedly distinct from particular historical formations. It has a corporeal analog. In On Materialism (London: New Left Books, 1975), Sebastiano Timpanaro observes that biological man, "subject to old age and death, is not an abstract construction, nor one of our prehistoric ancestors, a species of pithecanthropus now superseded by historical and social man, but still exists in each of us and in all probability will still exist in the future. . . . To maintain that, since the 'biological' is always presented to us as mediated by the 'social,' the 'biological' is nothing and the 'social' is everything, would once again be idealist sophistry. If we make it ours, how are we to defend ourselves from those who will in turn maintain that, since all reality (including economic and social reality) is knowable only through language (or through the thinking mind), language (or the thinking mind) is the sole reality, and all the rest is abstraction?" (45). Timpanaro's works have yet to find their deserved audience. For an introduction, see Perry Anderson's "Sebastiano Timpanaro," London Review of Books 23.9 (10 May 2001); also printed as the introduction to Timpanaro, The Freudian Slip: Psychoanalysis and Textual Criticism (London: Verso, 2002).

5 Terry Eagleton, "Base and Superstructure in Raymond Williams," Eagleton, ed., Raymond Williams: Critical Perspectives (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1989), 165-75, 169.

6 Karl Marx, Capital III, vol. 37 of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Collected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1997): 777-8.

7 See, for instance, David Siar, "'Talking about Pennies' and the Dialectical Challenge: A Response to Alan Sinfield's 'Selective Quotation,'" which is more a response to Graham Bradshaw and Richard Levin, in solidarity with Sinfield, in Issue 2 (<>, accessed August 24, 2004); and Crystal Bartolovich's "Oh, Dear, What Can the Matter Be?: A Response to Peter Stallybrass's 'The Value of Culture and the Disavowal of Things," in Issue 1 (<>, accessed August 24, 2004). Bartolovich helpfully distinguishes two varieties of materialism: the recent critical turn to material culture and the study of things (which, in practice, takes us back rather quickly to the history of ideas), and historical materialism, which turns to physical nature and to social relations: "Marxists assert that social relations -- although you can't see them or walk on them in the way you can 'the land' -- must be foregrounded and exposed as actually more material than physical objects" (¶13). In critiquing Stallybrass's "materialist" claim that the aristocrat's power comes from the value of the land, Bartolovich argues that it comes rather from the landowner's capacity to command the labor of others (¶11) -- an argument like Marx's critique of "materialist" economists who saw land possessing something like inherent value. See "The Trinity Formula." Part VII, Chapter XLVIII of Capital III, 800-19, 906-11.

8 New York: Palgrave, 2001. "Circulationism" is Kohachiro Takahasi's term in his critique of Paul Sweezy in Rodney Hilton, ed., The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism (London: Verso, 1976), 71. It nicely captures a good deal of what passes for economic theory in English departments and in capitalist Economics departments.

9 See particularly 8-17, including Hawkes's discussion of Tawney. I think Hawkes overplays the communist "progressivism" of Marx and the British marxist historians, particularly in their work after 1956. All of them remained attuned to the "vernacular" English socialist and commoning traditions that resisted modernization theory. For Marx's own interest in vernacular socialist traditions, and his movement away from an earlier mechanistic stagism, see Teodor Shanin, ed., Late Marx and the Russian Road: Marx and "The Peripheries of Capitalism" (New York: Monthly Review P, 1983).

10 R. H. Tawney, The Agrarian Problem in the Sixteenth Century (1912; rpt. New York: Harper & Row, 1967); Religion and the Rise of Capitalism: A Historical Study (1926; rpt. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975; Maurice Dobbs, Studies in the Development of Capitalism (New York: International Publishers, 1947).

11 Tawney, Religion 27-48. A serious return to Tawney, with his focus on the Protestant and Catholic social gospel resisting capitalism, could provide a welcome third term to recent revisionist and post-revisionist arguments about the Reformation, which sometimes threaten to revive rather than analyze the sectarian controversies of the time. In Reformation Europe, 1517-1559 (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), Geoffrey Elton delivers an oblique, half-mad tribute to the power of Tawney's book, saying it "greatly assisted in the decline of Protestant self-confidence and the consequent revival of Roman Catholicism, in the reaction against capitalism as an economic system, and even perhaps in the West's increasing inclination to relinquish world leadership" (315). Tawney! Thou should'st be living at this hour!

12 Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge: MIT P, 1971), 120-21. See also Lukács's recently rediscovered A Defence of "History and Class Consciousness": Tailism and the Dialectic, trans. Esther Leslie, with an Introduction by John Rees and a postface by Slavoj Zizek (London and New York: Verso, 2000). In its determined and very clear defense against Second International critics of his humanist and Hegelian marxism, this book makes even plainer the power of Lukács's intervention (later abjured) in History and Class Consciousness. Zizek's afterward makes a persuasive case for Lukács as the philosopher of revolutionary Bolshevism.

13 See Tawney's Land and Labour in China (1932; rpt. New York: Octagon Books, 1972), which uses his earlier analysis of primitive accumulation in The Agrarian Problem to understand the horrific capitalist transformation of Chinese agriculture, but with a fine eye for relevant historical differences. This seems to me a model of the ways in which early modern literary critics could use their expertise to understand social struggles in the contemporary world, and perhaps even to shape them in some small way.

14 Compare Tawney on the early modern flourishing of medieval theories of the moral economy under the stress of capitalist primitive accumulation.

15 See also Mike Davis on populist Islam and the exilic theology of Third World Pentecostalism in "Planet of Slums," New Left Review 26 (2004): 5-35.

16 Christopher Hill, Change and Continuity in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975): 219-38.

17 David Bevington, Lars Engle, Katharine Eisaman Maus, and Eric Rasmussen, eds., English Renaissance Drama: A Norton Anthology (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002), 1.1.55, 250-4.

18 Bevington et al., 1.4.6-12; 1.4.24-5, 30-31, 37-9 .

19 Peter Linebaugh, The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), xxi. Reinforcing Korda's point about seventeenth-century female fences, Linebaugh notes that eighteenth-century women outnumbered men in only one class of felony, receiving stolen goods, that female fences frequently formed affectionate relationships with male thieves, and that "this criminal relationship was, in fact, closely related to a dominant urban mode of production" (145).

20 For an analogous project, see Wally Seccombe's A Millennium of Family Change: Feudalism to Capitalism in Northwestern Europe (London: Verso, 1992), an important effort to consider "the reproduction of labor power" (child-birth, child-rearing) as an integral and historically variable part of any mode of production.

21 In Women and Property in Early Modern England (London: Routledge, 1993), Amy Erickson also suggests a movement outside of the abstract patriarchal ideology inculcated by conduct manuals into early modern women's concrete practice: "A materialist assessment of economic conditions in early modern England is possible, and must be placed alongside the ideological outpouring that seems to accompany female existence anywhere it goes. Only together do theory and practice approximate anything like lived experience." While certainly not denying the power and complexity of patriarchal subordination -- indeed, she insists on it -- Erickson also finds early modern women exercising a considerable power over their property, their marriage portions, their inheritances, and their bequests. Compare Korda's picture of strategic economic activity by botchers, theatrical jiggers, and receivers. On the radical uses that women made of conduct discourse, see Catharine Gray, "Feeding on the Seed of the Woman: Dorothy Leigh and the Figure of Maternal Dissent," ELH 68.3 (2003): 563-92.

22 Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002, 7, 8.

23 Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985.

24 Franco Moretti, "Conjectures on World Literature," New Left Review 1 (2000): 54-68; see particularly 56-58.

25 "The Origins of Capitalist Development: A Critique of Neo-Smithian Marxism." New Left Review 104 (1977): 25-92.

26 For an alternative account, see Ed White's remarkable essay, "Captain Smith, Colonial Novelist," American Literature 75.3 (2003): 487-513. Adapting Sartre on totalization and Bakhtin's definition of the novel as a systematic mediation of other genres, White argues that the American novel begins with John Smith's efforts to mediate a number of European genres so as to totalize a complex European colonial project, sparked by the shock of the encounter with an Algonqian counter-totality.

27 In n.18, Cohen acknowledges the alternative readings of these episodes by Quint and Girard.

28 Cohen considers historical novels (¶28), but I'm not quite sure why their historical distance should remove them from the canon of the novel proper.

29 Compare Charles Grandet's misty years as a colonial planter and slave trader in Eugénie Grandet: Balzac renders this time indirectly, through letters and in summary fashion, allowing Charles to re-enter the narrative proper only when he returns to France.

30 Shanin argues that the abortive revolution of the Narodniks -- in which Marx took a profound and sympathetic interest -- was a sort of Third World revolution, based partly in the vernacular socialism of the Russian mir, or peasant commune (8-9, 255).

31 Roland Barthes, Mythologies (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972), 112.

32 See Ellen Meiksins Wood's contrast between the Spanish absolutist empire and the British capitalist empire in Empire of Capital (London: Verso, 2003), particularly 1-2, 37-43, and 91-2.

33 This is the recurrent argument of Stanley Fish, that plainstyle deconstructionist, about Milton, among other Renaissance writers. See his Surprised by Sin: The Reader in "Paradise Lost" (Berkeley: Univ. of California P, 1967), and Self-Consuming Artifacts: The Experience of Seventeenth-Century Literature (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1972).

34 If we are to connect Milton's late turn to a godly plain style with Nonconformity and improvement, how are we to understand his earlier turn to a copious prose and poetry? Perhaps as the style of revolutionary Independency in its triumphalist political phase -- a style which Kendrick himself has analyzed in Paradise Lost, and in those moments of explosive, monist copia in Areopagitica. See Milton: A Study in Ideology and Form (New York: Methuen, 1986).

35 Kendrick notes the altered tone, a "lowering of the stylistic register," in the final books in Milton's diffuse epic (¶1). Milton's depiction of the Flood here suggests that he may have been thinking of that technique of agrarian improvement known as "floating the meadows," which Kendrick analyzes in Blith (13), or that those engaged in the latter were thinking of the Flood. Floating the meadows also appears, with explicit diluvian imagery, in Marvell's "Upon Appleton House." For some related discussion, see Kendrick's discussion of Marvell, Dymock and the Diggers in "Agons of the Manor: Symbolic Responses to the Agrarian Crisis in Mid-Seventeenth-Century England," in The Production of Renaissance Culture, ed. David Lee Miller et. al. (Cornell University Press, 1994), 33-45.

36 Merritt Y. Hughes, ed., John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose (Indianapolis: Odyssey, 1975), 11.836-8. For a brilliant and pained meditation on the deliberate "subtraction" (to use Kendrick's word) of the epic's conclusion, see Jason Rosenblatt's Torah and Law in "Paradise Lost" (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994): "The redemption dimly foreseen at the end of book 10 comes at a heavy price: the torture and death of Christ, an anthropological dualism that devalues human nature and denies the goodness of the created order, the degradation of the Mosaic law, a thin and factitious sense of history that does not merely replace and blot out the past but actively misrepresents it, and the squeezing of the dense poetry of prelapsarian paradise into a thin line of doctrine" (216).

37 This is Tawney's argument, with regard both to the anticapitalist moral economy of early Protestantism, and to the rapprochement with a capitalist world effected, most notably, by Restoration Nonconformists.

38 On Petty, see Wood, Origins 161-4. Marx exceedingly admired this "masterly" prophet of capitalist imperialism: "Once for all I may here state, that by classical Political Economy, I understand that economy which, since the time of W. Petty, has investigated the real relations of production in bourgeois society, in contradistinction to vulgar economy, which deals with appearances only. . ." (Capital 1 141, 81).

39 The dominant explanations for the Restoration tend to be political and cultural: a Quaker scare that terrified the Puritan ruling class (Barry Reay), a lusting after traditional religion on the part of English commoners (myriad). Brian Manning provides a materialist explanation emphasizing popular hatred of oligarchic rule and the excise. See Aristocrats, Plebeians and Revolutions in England, 1640-1660 (London: Pluto. 1996), 119-36; and now Revolution and counter-revolution in England, Ireland and Scotland 1658-60 (London: Bookmarks, 2003). Manning's works are considerably less familiar to literary critics than are Christopher Hill's, perhaps because of his general disinterest in questions of culture. But taken as a whole, they present the most systematic and comprehensive account of the dynamics of class struggle in the English Revolution. For a retrospective on the work of Manning, who died in April 2004, see my "Brian Manning and the Dialectics of Revolt," International Socialism 103 (2004): 135-48.

40 John Milton, Complete Prose Works of John Milton, vol. 7, ed. Robert Ayres (New Haven Yale University Press, 1980): 7.511.

41 Milton tosses these suggestions off at the end of his tract, as "a second consideration" (Complete Prose Works 7.338-9); despite his acquaintance with the Hartlibians (and even Hartlib), Milton was never much of a projector, and it seems to me that Kendrick is absolutely right to seek his reflections on improvement in his generic and stylistic experimentation.

42 Complete Prose Works 7.383, 458-59. These suggestions remained in April's second edition.

43 Richard Lattimore, trans., The Odyssey of Homer (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), 12.189-90.

44 OED, improve, v.2: "In 16th c. en-, emprowe, a. AFr. en-, emprower, enprouwer, emprover (1292 in Britton), a parallel form (with prep. en instead of a) of aprower, in med.(Anglo-)L. appruare, approare; f. OF. en into + pro, prou, preu, oblique case of pros profit, advantage." That final question is not rhetorical but real, born of my ignorance of Restoration popular science. I've tried to argue that Gerrard Winstanley had precisely such a vision of communist improvement in "Was Marx a Nineteenth-Century Winstanleyan? Communism, George Hill, and the Mir," Prose Studies 22.2 (1999): 121-48; rpt. ed. Andrew Bradstock, Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers 1649-1999 (London: Frank Cass, 2000): 121-48. See also Kendrick's discussion of Winstanley in "Agon of the Manor" (above, n.35), and "Preaching Common Grounds: Winstanley and the Diggers as Concrete Utopias," ed. William Zunder and Suzanne Trill, Writing and the English Renaissance (London, Longman, 1996), 213-37.

45 Marx 801.

46 The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981).

47 For a fine brief overview -- with rare but welcome attention to Sartre -- see Walter Cohen, "Marxist Criticism," ed. Stephen Greenblatt and Giles Gunn, Redrawing the Boundaries: The Transformation of English and American Literary Studies (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1992): 320-48.

48 See, for instance, Christopher Kendrick's Utopia, Carnival, and Commonwealth in Renaissance England (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), which presents the most important theoretical analysis of utopia since Louis Marin's Utopiques, and brilliant readings of English (and some French) utopian writing in the epoch of primitive accumulation.

49 Considerations on Western Marxism (London: New Left Books, 1976).


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