Posts Tagged 'consciousness'

Merleau-Ponty on Emerging Class Consciousness

In his existential work, Phenomenology of Perception, Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961), writes about objective conditions of class and their relations with consciousness:

Let us suppose that I have a certain style of living, being at the mercy of booms and slumps, not being free to do as I like, receiving a weekly wage, having no control over either the conditions or the products of my work, and consequently feeling a stranger in my factory, my nation and my life.  I have acquired the habit of reckoning with a fatum, or appointed order, which I do not respect, but which I have to humour…My fellow workers in factory or field, or other farmers, do the same work as I do in comparable conditions; we co-exist in the same situation and fee alike, not in virtue of some comparison, as if each one of us lived primarily within himself, but on the basis of our tasks and gestures.  These situations do not imply any express evaluation, and if there is a tacit evaluation, it represents the thrust of freedom devoid of any project against unknown obstacles; one cannot in any case talk about a choice, for in [these] cases it is enough that I should be born into the world and that I exist in order to experience my life as full of difficulties and constraints–I do not choose so to experience it.  But this state of affairs can persist without my becoming class-conscious, understanding that I am of the proletariat and becoming a revolutionary.  How then am I to make this change?…Social space begins to acquire a magnetic field, and a region of the exploited is seen to appear.  At every pressure felt from any quarter of the social horizon, the process of regrouping becomes clearly discernible beyond ideologies and various occupations.  Class is coming into being, and we say that a situation is revolutionary when the connection objectively existing between the sections of the proletariat…is finally experienced in perception as a common obstacle to the existence of each and every one…Both idealism and objective thinking fail to pin down the coming into being of class consciousness, the former because it deduces actual existence from consciousness, the latter because it derives consciousness from de facto existence, and both because they overlook the relationship of motivation (515-17, 520, bold is mine).

Reference

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice.  2002.  Phenomenology of Perception.  Translated by Colin Smith.  New York: Routledge Classics.

History and Consciousness

In his work History and Class Consciousness György Lukács (1885-1971) wrote:

In his celebrated account of historical materialism Engels proceeds from the assumption that although the essence of history consists in the fact that “nothing happens without a conscious purpose or an intended aim”, to understand history it is necessary to go further than this.  For on the one hand, “the many individual wills active in history for the most part produce results quite other than those intended–often quite the opposite; their motives, therefore, in relation to the total result are likewise of only secondary importance.  On the other hand, the further question arises: what driving forces in turn stand behind these motives? What are the historical causes which transform themselves into these motives in the brain of the actors?”  He goes on to argue that these driving forces ought themselves to be determined, in particular those which “set in motion great masses, whole peoples and again whole classes of the people; and which create a lasting action resulting in a great transformation.”  The essence of scientific Marxism consists, then, in the realisation that the real motor forces of history are independent of man’s (psychological) consciousness of them (46-47).

Source

Lukács, Georg.  1971.  Translated by Rodney Livingstone.  History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics.  Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.


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