Carnegie Mellon University
Avantgardes Postmarxism and the Hegemonic Contest, Andrew Kurtz_R.pdf (7.11 MB)

Avantgardes: Postmarxism and the Hegemonic Contest

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posted on 2024-01-30, 18:44 authored by Andrew Kurtz

  The interrelationship between politics, culture, and everyday life, which Laclau and  Mouffe elucidate in their work, is brought to bear in the title of my dissertation: Avantgardes; postmarxism and the hegemonic contest. I chose to use the word avantgardes for a number of reaons. First, the term makes fairly obvious allusions to the  marxist/leninist concept "vanguard.” In fact, the two terms are virtually indistinguishable  at a conceptual level: avantgardism and vanguardism, one aesthetic and one political, have  both sought to comment on prevailing social structures in their own way. Both traditions,  if such a word can be used to describe what has always been anti-traditional, denote a  stand against hegemony, and, in the twentieth century, capitalist hegemony in particular.  Second, while the terms may have certain conceptual similarities, “avantgardes” goes  beyond its marxist/leninist counterpart to denote aspects of everyday life that, on first  inspection at least, may not be outrightly political, or, perhaps, may be political in ways  unforseen by the movement. The avantgardist, in this sense of the term, may be a  movement with little preoccupation with political change or social motivation; however,  its unwitting discursive effects, the way that it engages dominant discourse, the  unforeseen or unacknowledged critiques it makes of capitalist hegemony, in other words,  its aesthetic, may prove to be more political than political discourse itself. Again, I must  acknowledge my debt to Henri Lefebvre’s analysis of everday life not as a political  process (which would be a marxist/leninist concept) but rather as a process with political  effects.  

My dissertation proceeds as follows: chapter 1 is devoted to a reading of Laclau's and Mouffe's description of the Marxism of the Second International. In it I will argue  that Laclau's and Mouffe's privileging of Georges Sorel as the progenitor of their own  anti-essentialism is symptomatic of postmarxism’s own political ambivalence. Chapter  2 is an outline of Laclau's and Mouffe's theory of discursivity and social interaction  (postmarxism). I argue that, while postmarxism has the potential to amend a theory of representation to theoretical Marxism, it can only do so by bringing postmarxism in line  with a theory of ideology. I suggest that the work of Michel Pecheux, particularly his  concept interdiscourse, provides a way of amending Laclau's and Mouffe's theory in such  a way as to account for the workings of both ideology and discourse.  

Part 2 of my dissertation is comprised of three readings of cultural texts, each  serving to further specify certain theoretical components of our revised postmarxism.  Thus, chapter 3 deals with the engagement of culturally hegemonic signifiers by a  counter-hegemonic cultural formation; chapter 4 deals, likewise, with I call hegemonic  narratives; and chapter 5 is an attempt to understand the interaction of commodities with  the discourse of liberal capitalism 




Degree Type

  • Dissertation


  • English

Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Paul Smith

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