Although the notion of putting Karl Marx’s life into the framework of the picaresque tale of a Candide (the author is far from putting it that way himself) leaving the small town to explore the big bad world sounds ridiculously reductive in some respects, Sperber has apparently channeled the work of of a prior generation such as Peter Loewenberg, Erik Erikson and others, although they are unacknowledged, perhaps because of their unfashionable psychological associations these days for historians. This rags-to-riches tale, as it were, is a drily witty take on the great anti-capitalist in that regard. Thus, I would say Sperber treats him very much as a contemporary, contrary to the Nation reviewer’s assertion.
Although it looks like an imaginative and interesting work overall, I think the reviewer is very much correct to point out one principle difficulty with this book:
the young Marx has influences but not also doubts, questions, an earnest need to understand his world, [but] he comes off as an insufferable pedant, reading all the same books as everyone else but enigmatically presuming that everyone else is reading them wrong. We also miss the role that the shared pursuit of truth, so passionately defended in his early journalism, played in Marx’s intellectual and political relationships, particularly with Engels, as well as with others less educated or cultured than Marx himself. Maybe Sperber could not have captured the animating messiness of Marx’s world without throwing his book off balance.
But it is perhaps likely that this book will be considered an invaluable contribution to understanding Marx nonetheless, particularly for a crucial thirty-year period that has sometimes presented Rashomon-like difficulties of competing interpretations, especially of the psycho-cultural as opposed to religio-economic. (The latter could relate to the life of Freud as well, as a Jew who was concerned with the mental self-regulations of the mind, a sort of internal market of the mind whose “invisible hand” he wanted to discredit or at least unveil.)
Oct 12 2013 - 6:56am