Archive for the ‘Frankenstein’ Category

Forgetting Marx.

June 4, 2009

Here’s a question about great works of philosophy.

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the title character was educated in a library of obsolete books. And yes, I understand that there’s something going on there, a critique of fashion, the power of the occult, but discoveries in physics and physiology can make assertions that came before those discoveries obsolete (in a practical, functional, creative sense).

Marx recognized Darwin’s discovery as revolutionary. Nietzsche also saw a totally physical existence. At one point he tells us that if we want to write great books to make a cluster map, wherever the greatest books have been written go there, like the environment was instrumental in the creation of the works. I don’t have a sentence that gets to where I’m going with this, but after Darwin, Marx and Nietzsche, when the food we eat becomes more relevant to our existence than talk of souls, don’t the books that precede this change become obsolete?

Wittgenstein with his work on certainty is relevant to today’s questions. Foucault and Deleuze have a huge body of relevant work. A Thousand Plateaus covers a lot of ground using an understanding of the authors’ contemporary physiological concepts.

Whenever someone says they’re Aristotelian…, I like to jab that I’m cro-magnonian.

This is from the Washington Post’s review of The Cave Painters: Probing the Mysteries of the World’s First Artists:

The work of other artists didn’t often reduce Pablo Picasso to a state of utter humility, but that’s exactly what happened just after World War II, when he was mucking about in a cave in southwestern France. This wasn’t just any cave, however — its walls were festooned with striking pictures of horses and bulls that date from the Ice Age, all rendered with exquisite sophistication and symbolic force. Upon exiting the cave, an awed Picasso declared, “We have learned nothing in twelve thousand years.”

He wasn’t kidding. The art in this cave — called Lascaux, the Sistine Chapel of cave art — and in many others that dot parts of France and Spain deservedly ranks with the greatest masterworks of Western art.

I get it, and I’m not at all suggesting we ban, burn or otherwise limit the flow of philosophical works that deal with the soul as anything other than a human mental construction, but we have learned something. And since Marx and Nietzsche, who are without a doubt great philosophers, I’d suggest Adorno, Marcuse, Habermas, Bataille, Foucault, Deleuze and Derrida as more important, more contemporary, more in line with what we have learned, than those who lived before the revolutions.

The question was in there somewhere, but here again: Does Marx and materialism render everything prior obsolete, in the same sense Frankenstein’s library had been rendered obsolete by new medical discoveries?