[OPE-L] "Ed" on Historical Materialism Conference

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Sat Jan 20 2007 - 19:12:54 EST

Well I didn't go to the HM conference, but reading the abstracts and papers
I often found myself asking, "if this is the answer, what the h... is the
question?", i.e. why is this important and why should I be concerned with it
here. It often seems more like some "old dogs" testifying to an aspect of a
faith to each other in a more or less erudite, or at any rate carefully
crafted, way, and frankly a lot of it is rather boring insofar as you can
predict fairly accurately what will be stated and how it will go. I'm left
musing that you can be so far engrossed in your own theory, than you cannot
see beyond it anymore.

Here and there some interesting new lines of thought appear, or interesting
old forgotten trains of thought are dug up, but a lot of it seems
masticating over old chestnuts anyway. Maybe that's not quite fair, and as I
said I didn't go to the conference, but that's my impression and if I did
go, it would be more likely I would do it more for the informal conversation
outside of the formal presentations, to get the benefit from dialoguing - as
and where possible - with people with a lot of experience in their area of
expertise that I have a lot of respect for, and who can put you on the
correct track. And collectively the participants do have an enormous amount
of experience and expertise that is important and valuable, and which makes
going to such a conference worthwhile.

The intergenerational aspect is quite interesting - in some respects, the
theory of the previous generation of scholars (1970s, 1980s) was far
superior, much more creative, profound and with greater depth, yet the way
in which problems and issues are framed these days is often quite different.
It creates certain problems of intellectual renewal, replacing old rhetorics
with new substance, and it may be that the language of the past used to
address these problems and issues is no longer so adequate, at least not
from the point of view of actually *persuading* somebody. People persist in
this language as an alternative to the ruling ideology but it might not
communicate in the same way anymore.

When I think of the experience of the classical bolsheviks, what strikes me
is how good they were at dialoguing with people at all levels, often under
extremely difficult circumstances, and how hard they worked at perfecting
their communication so that the message was transmitted, understood and
accepted by all kinds of people. These days of course we can communicate
worldwide with ease at the touch of a button... but by golly what a lot of
confused communication also occurs, you can almost be drowned in "noise".

The older I get, the more problematic I think the notion of a "research
tradition" or "political tradition" is. A tradition could be a source of
inspiration, revolutionary inspiration even, sure, but it could just as
easily strangle off or sideline important new thinking. A tradition can be
projected which never actually existed, and so on. Sifting through the past
to find cues to understand the present day turns out to be a very
problem-fraught activity, requiring a lot of skill and experience to do it


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