A critical overview of the contribution of German Marxist Robert Kurz (1943–2012), focussing in particular on The Black Book of Capitalism: A Farewell to the Market Economy (first ed. 1999) and War for World Order: The End of Sovereignty and the Transformations of Imperialism in the Age of Globalisation (2003). This review explores the genesis and the main tenets of Kurz’s theory – especially his concept of value, the automatic subject, crisis and anti-Semitism – and tracks how they are mobilised in his writings over time. It also touches on the legacy of these ideas in political groups such as the Anti-Germans.
Walter Benjamin's writings on the Paris shopping arcades and nineteenth- century urban industrial culture are frequently referenced in contemporary examinations of ‘modernity'. In current cultural studies Benjamin's investigation of the aesthetics of merchandise and his insights into the social fact of mass consumerism are repeatedly invoked. Indeed these investigations may be alluded to even more frequently than reference is made to Benjamin's once much reproduced essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction'. A decade and a half ago Benjamin's ‘Artwork’ essay (1935—9) was one of the most frequently cited essays in new art history and cultural studies academic textbooks. To put it crudely, a turnaround has occurred. In the 1970s academic (and non-academic) attention spotlit Benjamin's materialist history of artistic production, distribution and reception as presented in the ‘Artwork’ essay and in ‘The Author as Producer’ (1934). The political events of 1968 had made Benjamin extremely readable. His thoughts discharged after some years delay. Most alluring to the German 68ers were the statements on political art and Benjamin's dissections of fascism. Also entrancing were Benjamin's analyses of experience. Benjamin wrote extensively, and from early on, about ways of expanding the conceptualisation of experience: sometimes philosophically - by means of Kant-critique, sometimes aesthetically — by a probing of surrealism and psychoanalysis, and sometimes practically – through experiments with hashish, which were later written up as protocols. John Berger's Ways of Seeing (1972) represented an original attempt to introduce Benjamin to an English audience, via the appropriately mass mediation of television. Benjamin was adopted as a leftist mascot, and a materialist who could recommend directions for art interpretation and more importantly, cultural practice. The approaches of the 1980s and 1990s, inflected by the priorities of feminist and postmodernist scholarship as they have loomed in cultural studies, art history and sociology, increasingly turned to those aspects of Benjamin's work that appear to illuminate a burgeoning interest in urbanism and consumerism. Interest has shifted away from cultural production and critique towards consumption and characterization. These days, Benjamin is regularly served up as one of the theorists who can vindicate a feel-good consumerism, lending a glamourizing and theoretical loftiness to the activity of shopping. Indeed, far from blasting the chimeras of commodity fetishism, Benjamin becomes the commodity's high-priest.
Avant-garde filmmakers in the Soviet Union argued over the merits of the played film and the documentary film. They argued about the duration of shots, long or short. They questioned what constituted filmic material, camera subjectivity, the objective fact and whether film extended the eyes, and the capacity to see, or whether it wielded a fist, augmenting or bashing feelings. Shub contributed to these discussions, not least through her own film work, produced out of a combination of commitment and necessity. This paper traces these discussions and Shub’s role within them through a focus on two objects and the way in which they come to appear in film and film-discourse: strawberries and cream. The strawberries are drawn initially from Shklovsky’s comments on the inequities of US agriculture in his Journey to the Land of Movies (1926) and the cream stems from Eisenstein’s mechanical separator in The Old and the New (1929). Shub’s particular take on the object in her film work will emerge through the dialectical tensions of two objects.