Introduction by 1mAM2u



     The essays chosen for this volume were part of a larger work-in-progress on the meeting of
structuralist and Marxist currents in the 1960s which I developed throughout the 1970s. The
project as a whole was never completed, though that aspect dealing with Lucien Goldmann
appeared first as my dissertation and then as a condensed book (Zimmerman 1985). Other parts
of the project were published as articles; still others were left as drafts. I have selected seven
pieces for this volume, because they constitute a particular unity important for an understanding
of Marxist work in the 1970s, the effort to navigate in Marxist waters in relation to the conflict
between neo-Hegelian and structuralist or Althusserian interpretations of Marx, and the
confusion they generated in the U.S. context. The resolution in England was the emergence of
Birmingham cultural studies, in the hands of Hoggart, Williams, Thompson and Hall—not to
mention the somewhat more individualized work of Terry Eagleton; the resolution in the U.S.
was the relative triumph of post-structuralism and the Western Marxist critique and re-
articulation of post-structuralist currents in the work of Fredric Jameson and his followers and
“fellow travelers”. Then came the effects of feminism, of Birmingham School cultural studies,
post-colonial theory and other currents in that frame.
     Curiously with respect to my own work, all these essays achieved publishable form when I
was an unemployed academic working with Mexican and Mexican American farm workers in
Minnesota In many ways, as I culminated several years of work on European Marxist,
Structuralist and other theories and their possible modes of integration, my own life and some of
my concrete study of culture and literature was shifting toward Latin American concerns, and I
left my primary focus on theory to pursue work in that direction. However, the theoretical essays
continued to cast shadows on my Latin American work; they continue to haunt me; and I have
decided that it would be of historical and perhaps some lingering theoretical interest to bring
them together here, to inaugurate the series of publications which will appear under the rubric of
Global CASA Publications.
     First, and the central concern in the first two essays in this collection, is the fact that, while
troubled and affected by structuralism and Althusserian structuralist Marxism, I sought to hold
on to and amplify perspectives coming from the Lukácsian-Goldmannian Hegelian Marxist
tradition. In this effort, I was influenced clearly by my apprenticeship with Fredric Jameson, but
only mutedly by his primary focus on the Frankfurt school and Sartre. Clearly absent from my
work, and making my own immediate link with later Birmingham developments quite difficult,
was a focus on Gramsci and my persistent adherence to a high cultural model through a
Goldmannian emphasis on “great works” as most expressive of world historical significance and
change. This turn toward Gramsci and neo-Gramscian perspectives would be part of my move to
my Latin and Central Americanist work. But perhaps as a transitional move in all this, and
emerging in the third and forth essays herein was my growing interest first in Spanish and then in
Latin American concerns, which are only adumbrated in the essays on structural historicism and
Claudio Guillén’s relation thereto. For still another important route of structuralist integration
was that taken by Marxists who, while skeptical about the validity of Althusser’s efforts, were:
drawn to the post-structuralist historicist formulations of Fernand Braudel and the “Annales
group” of structural historicism. Since the seventh and final chapter of this book dwells on the
question of the Hegelian/Althusserian conflict, here in my summary of some of the key
dimensions of the chapters presented, I will emphasize chapters 3 and 4my essays on structural
historicism and Claudio Guillén.


     As spelled out in Chapter I, in the early 1970s, I believed that a major theoretical question for
Marxism is the confrontation, assimilation and transcendence of, the struggle for hegemony with,
the various forms of hegemonic ideological constructs as they proliferate and affect Marxist
constructs during distinct phases of capitalist development. If, for example, structuralism stressed
the linguistic sign as a basic mediation between consciousness and reality, and if, as in Jean
Baudrillard’s extension, emphasis was to be given to the signifying network of commodities as
the dominating feature (no longer, or, in Baudrillard’s retrospective study, never a mere
mediation) of every day life, then the analysis of reification by Lukács, Lefebvre, and Goldmann
could begin to merge with certain insights of the structuralists and Althusserian Marxists on
structural displacements and condensations.1
     Even at that distant time of theoretical development, I believed that all conceptual strands
involved might be reformulated in terms of macro- and micro-structural modulations in a
complex international world systems model (model conceived in the provisional, Marxist as
opposed to the ontological, structuralist, sense),2 in which emphasis had shifted from alienation
in production to a generalized reification in consumption, from revolution in the metropolis, to
the interplay of oppositional and revolutionary forces in all world sectors.
     This apparent effort of “scientizing” would not exhaust (and hence negate) the ultimate
object of investigation, which was not metonymy but genuine diachrony, not «functional
deviance» but genuine oppositional praxis —in consciousness, in sign-making and revolution-
making action. The effort was to specify the possibilities and limits of a theory for determining
the conditions of praxis.
     Only such a framework, I believed, could provide a basis for identifying, situating and
criticizing literary forms, subsystems and systems (if such ever did or still exist integrally) in a
Marxist perspective. In that light, Chapters I and II examined Marxist formulations of relations
between history, structure, sign systems and literary forms in the effort to achieve a totalization
of all dimensions that would lead to a theoretical synthesis which I thought adequate to the
theoretical demands posed by the historical conjuncture of the times. And this context
established, I then turned to an examination of structural historicist theory as developed in
Braudel and others connected as specialists in history, culture and literature with the Annales
school (Chapter III), culminating with a close look at Claudio Guillén (Chapter IV) as a theorist
who best articulated the theoretical perspectives related to structural historicism.


    Step by step, Annales historians had applied the model-building techniques developing in
economic history to elaborate an integrative historical method aimed at grasping the
interrelations of socio-economic processes in a way that balanced out and conceptualized

    For Baudrillard, see The Mirror of Production (St. Louis, 1975).
    On this issue, see Alain Badiou, Le concept de modele (Pans, 1970)
historical elements, de-emphasized events and individuals, and accounted for historical
constraints and continuities, as well as dynamic relations and transformations. At the center of
structural historicism’s theoretical apparatus is the motion of the varying historical elements
achieving relatively stable and hierarchical relations, to constitute a virtual structure, or pattern
of relations, which encapsulates forces of change and tends to endure over time. This
structuration process leads to a historical verticality of structural “levels” whose interrelatedness,
relative autonomy and possibilities for change and for effect on other levels can only be grasped
through the construction of models.
     Until Braudel, even Annales writers had centered their work on the relation between
relatively long range processes and short-term conjunctures. Braudel sought to conceptualize
history in terms of the intersection of various temporalities and rhythms, including those deep,
seemingly unchanging forces that he relegated to the “long duration” in a skein of analysis that
broke with national boundaries and was transnational avant la lettre.
     The question of historical analysis becomes one of determining the basic structural field of
analysis and plotting the possible shifting relations and transformations within this field, as well
as the possible effects of structurally generated innovations upon the structure itself. History is
a vast skein of transformations on basic structures—transformations which are generated by
inter- structural relations and which cannot be grasped by focusing on humans or on many
“aspect” of history, but only in terms of the structures themselves. In the structural historicist
framework, literature has its own relatively autonomous developmental rhythm and its own
mode of historical relatedness. But Braudel’s theorization assures that literature is related to
other historical phenomena—that it is important in history, and that history is important to it and
its understanding.
     Thus, structural historicism emerges as our third, or intermediate, holistic theory on which,
can integrate many structuralist and Marxist elements. Unlike structuralism, it makes no
necessary ontological-epistemological assertion about any basic underlying transhistorical
structures (long duration are not necessarily eternal; structural historicist models are provisional.)
Unlike most versions of Marxism, it makes no theoretical assertion about the underlying
determinations of Historical structures by any supposed economic base. Clearly such an
“intermediate” theorization could be “de-centered” in the direction of structuralism or Marxism:
Levi Strauss drew on Braudel in his formulation of a theory of “hot” and “cold” societies (The
Raw and the Cooked); Althusser drew on Braudel to constitute his new reading of Marx.
     Enter the work of Claudio Guillén. Because of all the many efforts to develop a structural
historicist approach to literature, of all the many efforts to utilize structuralist findings within the
framework of a theory which assumes that interrelatedness of literature and history, Guillén’s
Literature and System represents the most extreme theorization, which attempts to include the
most historically resistant literary phenomena, and which at least makes a gallant effort to
include the humanly subjective and creative in a totalization that remains “systematic.”
     While Guillén’s work draws on the entire cultural tradition extending from the Russian
Formalists to the linguistic structuralists of France, I choose in my essay to see his theoretical
contribution as a part of a historicist and specifically structural historicist reconceptualization of
structuralist tendencies, and, therefore, as an intermediate critique between structuralist anti-
historicism and Marxism. My study of his book centers exclusively on his approach to literary-
historical theory in the context established above. I attempt to set forth his overall perspective,
and differentiate it from those approaches that are related or similar, and establish the
coordinates for a critique. In this context, I describe his view of periods and currents, and his
definitions of such key terms as “system, structure, content, form and function.” I then proceed
to a more detailed treatment of his critique of basic approaches to literary history, his objections
to (1) normative literary historicisms (Marxist included), to monographic studies, to studies of
national literatures, and to most approaches centered on genres, modes, themes and aspects of
rhetoric or style. In the sixth section, I treat his reconstitution of genre study as a basis for a
valid, systemic, “pandiachronic” and intrinsically comparative literary history; and I specify
initial objections Guillén anticipates, and his proposed answers to these objections. While I raise
my own objections and questions here and there, I do my best to allow for an objective, rounded
presentation of Guillén’s central position: that in literary history, the relation to explore is that of
any given work or set of works to the system of which it is a part, and then of this system to
other co-existing and development literary and extra-literary systems; and that the mode of inter-
relatedness between literature and other aspects of history can be best grasped according to an
open multiple interactional model which accounts for shifting hierarchies and relations among
the clusters of systemic; and less systemic elements constituting the totality of history .
     In my final section, I launch my full critique of Guillén – first, a mainly Althusserian
questioning of the untheorized empirical and “humanistic” residues inherent in his (and
ultimately, Braudel’s) open approach to a science of history; second (and this is a “Hegelian
Marxist” attack which embraces both Guillén and the Althusserian critique of structural
historicism) a questioning of the relation of his systems notion to a Marxism that stresses the
structure-making activity over the systemic reproduction and proliferation, of structures.
     If in the course of my analysis, I point out a certain unintegrated eclecticism in Guillén’s
work, if I point to the ideological bases for certain inconsistencies and limits in his theory, if I
ultimately question the possibility of his proposed domination-free interactional model, and, if
ultimately I fault even the very “episteme” in which his theorizing is inscribed, I do not carry out
my “de-construction” without pointing to Guillén’s contribution in many specific ways. I note
his rejection of fixed schema, his dynamizing preference for system over structure, his
perspectivization of multiple literary functionality, his contribution of the proper mediational
coordinates between the study of literary and more general socio-historical phenomena. Most
importantly, I suggest the importance of his accomplishment in establishing the viability of his
theoretical coordinates in terms of an international, comparatist perspective commensurate with
the Marxist sense of global literary relations under capitalist development (Guillén’s theory has
value in relation to dependency theory and its literary application); and within the contexts of the
structural revolution, I point to his return to a concern with form a potentially viable means of
sublating the abstractive, schematic and anti-historic thrust of structuralist analysis.
     Much happened in literary general theory, and in the developing dialectic between
structuralism and Marxist in the first years after the publication of Literature as System. And
indeed much happened in Guillén’s own work. My essay only suggests some of these matters,
and then I move on to my final essays touching on the overall concerns set forth above. But I
believe that my essay on Guillén accomplishes its main goal—to give an adequate Marxist
treatment to a contribution toward developing literary theory, from the perspective of its point of
intervention in the relatively systematic development of the Marxist- structuralist encounter, as it
touches on the question of literary analysis, and as it lead to post-structuralist and post-Marxist

     A further dimension of my work on structuralism and structuralism historicism is a
movement of literary references from France and Spain to Latin America, as a source of
example, but also a motive for theoretical moves. Perhaps Chapter V is the least indicative of
this dimension as it explores another form of literary historicism which emerged in the period.
Nevertheless, the relationship to Latin America deserves some mention here as well. Reception
theory struck me as a possible corrective to the orthodox Marxist productivist emphases which
still seemed to haunt even the most formulations of Marxist literary theory. Although linked to
Habermasian questions involving the public sphere and other issues important to post-Holocaust
reconstructions of German critical theory, early versions of reception theory struck a chord with
me in relation to the anti-production centered dependency and world systems theory versions of
neo-Marxism projected by Sweezey, Gunder Frank and Wallerstein during the 70s. At that
time, only Carlos Rincón was seeking to integrate reception theory questions into his take on
Latin American Literature. My brief foray into this terrain was meant to complement my
exploration of structural historicism and Guillén, as I sought to build a theoretical combinatoire
that would project my work toward Latin American concerns which remain relatively unstated in
the chapter itself.
     Reception theory later developed in terms of reader response theory, and in some ways it
relates to Stanley Fish’s work on interpretative communities. While my own work was only
rarely to go in this direction, there would be an obvious concern with reception dynamics in
some of my Central American books of the 1980s and my work since. The Latin American
emphasis is more clearly marked in the final two chapters of the book. These essays may seem
to mark somewhat of a divergence in form and function from the other chapters in this volume.
Nevertheless, they apply and extend concepts set forth in the earlier chapters on structuralist and
structural historicist theory; and they represent the culmination of Latin American references
marking out views of literary works and theories which would be central in most of my work
from the late 1970s on.
     The penultimate chapter in this book, “First Aesthetic Meditations on Capital,” is my
economist reading of modern aesthetics based on my meditations with Ileana Rodríguez on the
opening pages of Marx’s Capital as the final draft of a series of speculative Capital study group
notes we drafted for study group meetings we attended, and which I then amplified some years
later as I became focused on publishing my work.
     Here the struggles between Lukacian/Goldmannian and Althusserian perspectives come very
much to the fore, and are only tempered somewhat by perspectives stemming from structuralism,
structural historicism and reception theory. The search for relations between aesthetic form and
the commodity form in the systematic unfolding of historical processes and contradictions
dominated by production and exchange systems is the core of the “Meditations.”
     Some months after the article appeared in a special issue of the French-centered journal, Sub-
Stance, Terry Eagleton published a review of the issue, including an ambivalent commentary on
our article, in The Minnesota Review, no, 10 (Spring, 1978). In his commentary, Eagleton praised
the novelty of our approached by questioned what he considered to be the troubling eclecticism
involved in the effort to combine Hegelian and Althusserian efforts, and a distrubing economistic
reductionism which seems simultaneously criticized and espoused in our essay. Ileana
Rodríguez and I had reached our own conclusions about the successes and excesses of our
position. Since Rodríguez was heavily involved in other projects, it fell to me to articulate the
modifications in our stance—in the “Auto-Critique” drafted for an intervention at the Sub-Stance
conference on Sociocriticism, which took place in Paris, November, 1977, but which I could not
attend (only years later did I find out that the article was translated, presented at the conference
and subsequently published in French).
     These and other connections suggest that my “Auto-Critique” may very well deal with issues
that were important to discussions of Althusserian literary theory and its adoption by critics in
the U. S. and elsewhere. To be sure, there is no article specifically on Althusser (I drafted one but
never brought it to final form). But the “Auto-Critique” sets forth a partial effort to settle some
accounts with Althusserian Marxism and its influence on American Marxist literary criticism.
Reading it now it seems perhaps too much a capitulation to Althusser—with too many
concessions made to an overly schematic entry into the political. As such, it seems of special
relevance not only to the matters touched on by Eagleton, both in his review of our article and in
his overall work. If “Meditations” veered too much in the direction of economism, the “Auto-
critique” seems to negate the complexities of my prior earlier work and turn toward a kind of
reified political shortcut, enabled by a reductive reading of Althusser’s “Ideological Apparatuses
of the State.” The leap from deep analysis to a schematic view of politics was on the horizon.
And the Latin American references, with regard to dependency and world systems theories, are
symptomatic of specific direction my own political insertion. In fact, “The Auto-Critique” was
written in Caracas in 1976 as I was becoming more fully swept up in Latin American concerns.
The Sandinista rebellion would begin to heat up the next year.


     So much has happened since that time; and here we are post Cold war, post 9/11, looking
perhaps with humor and sadness, at these older texts from a time of hope and illusion. It is of
course valuable to re-examine the positions of the 1960s and 1970s in light of the present, to see
what in them will be valuable in the making of future theory. And it may well be valuable to
examine my old essays in this context—as the work of a fledgling theorist writing under the
influence of Fredric Jameson but also seeking new directions through readings of Telos, New
German Critique, New Literary History and other journals that were seeking new directions in
those days.
    Of course, it is at times comical to read texts imbued with a belief in revolutionary
possibilities and indeed of possible revolution, especially if I can find a way to reconcile and
integrate theoretical perspectives in my essays. It is perhaps amusing to watch this young earnest
theorist so convinced that all one had to do was adjust theoretical perspectives and world
problems could be resolved. It is also comical to see how anachronistic the essays were even as I
wrote them, for they are based on a knowledge world that was already becoming passé, already
overcome by the thinkers like Braudillard, Foucault, Lacan and Kristeva that I occasionally
allude to, but even more so by Derrida and all that was to constitute the poststructuralist
revolution and that would in turn lead Marxists to new perspectives, including neo, post and no-
Marxism. These were matters I might have dealt with directly had I not decided to curtail my
reading and referencing in order to complete these and other essays and then taken the leap into
the political. And in fact, theory had quite well passed me by even as I became somewhat known
as a theorist for these and other essays. So, I remember with quite a shock, attending a session of
the Midwest Modern Language Association only a couple of years into my exile from academe,
to hear the young translator of Derrida’s On Grammatology, originally published in 1967, only to
realize that I did not understand a word she said. “My God,” I thought, “in two years, I’ve lost
my field.”
    . But there was no help for it. Even as these essays and other related ones were written, I
was on my way to focusing not on the postructuralist revolution, but the political revolutions that
seemed to be already underway in Central America. Those interests took me away physically
and intellectually; and I only returned, however haltingly, to theory (but how the theoretical
world had changed!) as I became more established in Latin American work and as John Beverley
and I drafted the opening chapters of our book on Literature and Politics in the Central
American Revolutions (1991). But that is another story for another book, or other books, along
the way.

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