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A few words: I've made it known that those great guys in the Frankfurt School were like teachers, muses, and Mom and Dad all rolled into one. Those guys really fired me up with their social critique of bourgeois society. We are the 99%. Human need, not corporate greed, amirite?
Anyway, I don't have enough time (or space) to list everyone, so I just picked a few of my FS homies and some other influential chaps. I did eventually add fresh names to my body of influences: I've grown to appreciate some of the hipper theorists like Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault, and the American philosopher Richard Rorty.
I look at what Hitchcock's films can tell us about the culture in which they were produced. Hitchcock was a very experimental filmmaker—he created a certain kind of sexual anxiety thriller. What I want to know is what this genre tells us about America and England in the mid-twentieth century. If you're craving more of my opinions of Hitchcock, check out this essay, "Allegorizing Hitchcock" from my book Signatures of the Visible.
You never forget your first work of Marxist critical theory. That self-serious existentialist, Jean-Paul Sartre, was a long-time muse. It was the late 1950s when I discovered his work. I was a young graduate student, and when I picked up Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology (1943), the sparks flew. Sartre's perspective on the world, his interest in the way people lived their lives as subjects in history, his disdain for the bourgeoisie and hegemony: they converted me to Sartreanism on the spot.
Did I mention I wrote my dissertation on this guy? It sounds like a coffee-table fashion book, but Sartre: The Origins of a Style was much more about ethics and politics than Sartre's oily comb-over and grandfather sweaters.
Marx to my thinking is like Jay-Z to every rapper who came after him. It's not like you really "discover" Marx, because it's not like he's not already there. But anyway, Marx was a biggie for me. Everyone has his or her own Marx; he is many things to many people. And sure, he opened my eyes to the class struggle, to commodity fetishism and—my favorite—to the tyranny of late capitalism. But I also took Marx's ideas and transformed them into a way of looking at culture.
I was not what people call an "Orthodox Marxist." Orthodox Marxism is all about economic systems, and it supported Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin—two huge non-favorites mine. I was a Western Marxist: a kinder, gentler version of a Marxist, more interested in anthropology, communication, media, and artistic production.
When you live in an era as jacked up as the postmodernist period, you tend to dream of other possibilities. That's when people start to write science fiction or Utopian fiction, imagining what life could be like, if only things were different.
Herbert was a visionary in many ways. His work in the 1960s argued for the importance of understanding culture (i.e., art) in its social and historical context. If you don't do that, Herb argued, art becomes trivial and politically meaningless. Oh, and Herbert also wrote a great book called One Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society on how TV is going to rot our brains—and that was in 1964!
There's more to it than that—but you get the point: the man was a visionary.
György is my favorite Hungarian Marxist theorist—and who can blame me? I mean, the guy theorized the idea of reification! That's where services, people, and relationships are reduced to "things," and therefore to commodities to be bought and sold. A perfect modern example is branding—humans are essentially turning themselves into products. That's pretty creepy, right?
György really showed me the light when it comes to the wickedness of reification and ideology and the ways these things do a mind meld on people. Talk about science fiction.
It may speak for itself that I wrote a book about Theodor called Late Marxism: Adorno, or, the Persistence of the Dialectic, in which I wrestle with how Marxism fits into the postmodern age.
Adorno's work schooled me on just how much Marxist cultural theory can do for our understanding of aesthetics (let me tell you: a lot) and just how ticked off we should be about the extent to which late capitalism "totalizes" culture.
Wait, what, you ask? Well, this means that Adorno saw late capitalism as this huge system that deprives any one thing of unique meaning. For example, to late capitalism, culture only serves to build empire, make money, and reduce human beings to machines. It doesn't have any value in and of itself. Boo.