Monday, June 22, 2009

Giovanni Arrighi, 1937-2009

There have been few books of history and social theory--not quite sure where I can place it in terms of genre--as important as The Long Twentieth Century. It's a shame that Arrighi couldn't have lived to see more of history's own confirmations and counters to his predictions. So far, mostly confirmations. One cannot but help feel, now, in the summery green of the dollar, the autumnal yellows and reds of a terminal crisis. . .

As is well-known, Marx projected the writing of a number of companion books after he finished his investigation of Capital (which he never finished)--books on wages, the state, the world-market. There have been many writers--of course--who attempted to fill in these gaps, and many of the arguments among leftists during the early and middle part of the 20th century concerned the precise relationship between the state, the world-market, finance and capitalism--in other words, the forms and futures of imperialism. It seems uncontroversial to suggest that Arrighi's contribution--set beside Lenin and Luxemburg--is definitive here, however much its integration with the micrological account of the capital-labor relationship of Marx (the subject of his earlier research) remains unclear, and however mild and modest its horizon of possible worlds.

I met him once, and he seemed a kind and generous man. You can read an interview with him here.

3 comments:

dbuuck said...

JB
I think I've told you this once, but I first came to Arrighi through his earliest work on Rhodesia, as part of my undergrad thesis on the political economy of development in Zimbabwe, where he was one of the first to situate settler colonialism & the de facto apartheid regime of Rho in the broader context of transnational capital (or what was then often constructed as neocolonial core-periphery relations, here twisted by a racist settler working class siding with capital against the threat of a 'free' (black) African labor force). I think it's important to ground his later work as coming out of this more localized/specialized work, or at least to note that his is not the humanities Dept move from lit theory to globalization/political theory where one needn't ever leave the library. Also his commitment to collaboration - w John Saul, Samir Amin, I Wallerstein, AG Frank (many of who also came out of working in much more localized situations) - is exemplary in thinking abt methodologies of historical/materialist criticism & building trans-local affiliations of diverse practices. OK, that felt like a burst of grad school nostalgia, there, (w a snotty aside abt the humanities to counter-balance ;) but thanks for the (sad) note.
DB

Jasper Bernes said...

Yes, David, what you say makes a good deal of sense. I don't know the early work on Rhodesia and Calabria, unfortunately, but I suspect that if I did, it would answer a good number of the questions I have about the absences in the later stuff. The NLR interview--which covers the early and later work--is very helpful in this regard.

Thanks for the comment. I'll see you soon, I'm sure.

jane said...

Hey, in seconding several things David said, it seems important to note that much of his collaborative work was with Beverly Silver, herself a significant world-systems theorist (see, e.g., Chaos and Governance in Modern World System, as well as her own Forces of Labor.

It's also worth lingering for a moment on the fact that, though his work did indeed take him well beyond the library etc, it has also proved — in contradistinction to the work of many of his peers — signally useful to those working in adjacent, oblique and distant disciplines. He confessed to me that L20C was assigned more often in Comp Lit courses than in Econ courses. He said this with a bit of bemusement, and with visibly enthusiastic pride.