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Peter Linebaugh on Perry Anderson’s histmat

29 September 2012

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History Workshop, No. 21 (Spring 1986), pp 141-146

We’re 30,000 feet above the ground. Delta flight #697, Washington,D.C. to New Orleans. The pilot tells us to look over the left wing of the Boeing and we’ll be able to see Atlanta, Georgia. Perry Anderson’s recent update on histmat, In the Tracks of Historical Materialism (Verso 1983), is the flight time reading.

Marxism falls, of course, massively and pre-eminently into the category of those systems of thought concerned with the nature and direction of society as a whole.

What is distinctive about the kind of criticism that historical materialism in principle represents, is that it includes indivisibly and unremittingly, self-criticism That is, Marxism is a theory of history that lays claim, at the same stroke, to provide a history of theory.

The adverbs are good - ’massively, ’’pre-eminently,’ ’indivisibly,’ ’un-remittingly.’ This is going to be a brilliant theory that will be useful at the conference.
[. . .]

. . . He is so good for north American conferences, especially the inter-disciplinary ones where sociologists, historians, economists, anthropologists, and philosophers, not to mention the lit crits, can set aside their vanities and find a common diction in Perry Anderson’s histmat. Even if you’re not a professor, his books are wonderful for vocabulary building, phrase stoppers and seminar slogans:

exorbitation of language
apodictic experience
conation conjured up
serried studies
attenuation of truth
mortmain of Stalin
capsizal of structures
exiguous fragments
free-wheeling nescience
magically sublated
lability of political
purely aleatory
the basic demarche
irenic universalism


In the Flight Path of Perry Anderson
by Peter Linebaugh
History Workshop, No. 21 (Spring 1986), pp 141-146


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