Intelligent Idealisms

June 22-26, 2019

University of Illinois at Chicago


 In a short, unpublished essay, Lenin wrote that “Philosophical idealism is only nonsense from the standpoint of crude, simple, metaphysical materialism.” But to say that philosophical idealism is not nonsense is to say that it makes consequent claims about real states of affairs — in which case it is not idealism in any straightforward sense. Conversely, “metaphysical” materialism is only metaphysical because it fails to make consequent claims about real states of affairs — in which case it is not materialism in any straightforward sense. Indeed, Hegel — on whom Lenin is commenting in these remarks — always found the distinction between materialism and idealism to be laughable: since “matter” as it is deployed in theoretical disagreements is itself a concept, there is nothing in the name “materialism” that distinguishes it from “idealism.” And if, finally, as Engels memorably wrote, Marx’s project was to stand Hegel back upon his feet, we tend to forget that Marx’s youthful critiques of idealist Hegelians among his contemporaries were uttered almost in the same breath as critiques of contemporary materialists. Both, in separating thing from concept, material from idea, were no more than competing versions of the same mistake. This is what Lenin means when he writes, in his notes to Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy, that “Intelligent idealism is closer to intelligent materialism than stupid materialism.”

“Intelligent materialism” is, of course, nothing other than Marxism, for which the “matter” in materialism is not an abstract concept but rather names the dialectical development of the mode of production and reproduction of human life, a dialectic in which thought is a conditioned but active element. This year’s Institute on Culture and Society will focus on the question of what today constitutes the other terms in Lenin’s dictum — what today might constitute “stupid materialism” and what, if anything, “intelligent idealisms” have to offer Marxism today. As always, this year’s focus is not exclusive: all proposals bearing on Marxism will be considered. This ICS will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Marxist Literary Group; this year proposals on the history of the MLG or of Marxism in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries may be of particular interest. 

Please send proposals for papers, panels, and roundtables to mlg.ics.2019@gmail.com by February 15, 2019. To be considered, proposals for reading groups must be accompanied by full PDFs of required and optional readings. Proposals for reading groups will be considered on a rolling basis starting immediately.

Topics may include, but are by no means limited to:

  • Materialist feminism

  • Sexuality and materialism

  • The body, racialized and otherwise

  • Literary interpretation and the sociology of art

  • Aesthetics and ideology

  • Class consciousness and consciousness as such

  • Past, present, and future of MLG

  • Lenin: Marxism and Imperio-Criticism and Philosophical Notebooks

  • Marx and Engels: The Holy Family and Critique of  Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

  • Left anti-Hegelianism: Althusser, Foucault, et al.

  • Object-oriented ontology and new materialisms: Jane Bennett, Quentin Meillassoux, et al.

CONFERENCE INFORMATION SUGGESTED READINGS