“I AM NOT A MARXIST”
This year marks the 200th birthday of Karl Marx (1818~1883)
There are various events commemorating the life and thoughts of Karl Marx around the world. His name is once again being recalled in many parts of Europe, including Trier, Germany, where Marx was born, and Manchester, England, where he did his research. A meaningful “memento” has also surfaced in Korea, as Professor Jason Barker of the School of Global Communication has published a novel titled Marx Returns.
In May, Professor Barker will also participate in Marx 200, a major international conference hosted by the Marx Memorial Library, London, to commemorate Marx’s 200th birthday. We met with Professor Barker in an interview to hear about his recent novel and reasons why contemporary society is shedding a new light on Marx.
Marx Returns is a bridge post that links Marx’s personal life to his life as a philosopher
Q: Describe your novel Marx Returns.
A: I began working on the project in 2007; it is the outcome of almost ten years of work. It was originally intended for film, but I gave up because of the high production cost. About 2~3 years ago, I decided to turn it into a novel. Marx Returns is a novel based on his biography.
I wanted to put what he had failed to achieve in his life and his arduous philosophical fight into a fantasy novel. Rather than take his life as a simple story, I tried to write about the Marx that hadn’t yet existed, by drawing from imaginations of specific life moments. From a philosophical and revolutionary context, I tried to make the story serve as a bridge connecting Marx’s personal life with his public life as a philosopher.
Q: What meaning does Marx bring to us today?
A: Why Marx? He claimed that our society and the way we think are interconnected with where we live and the physical phenomena occurring around us. Our behavioral culture organizes our society; that is how we built democracy. The rationale that drives these activities is economic circumstance. In the end, the story is about what kind of reality we are living in.
Physical circumstances and economic conditions shape our reasoning, behaviors, and how we organize our lives. This is the critical point in Marx’s philosophy. As is true of young students, we all tend to reason in the abstract, seemingly in an apparent disconnect from physical reality. This is why the ‘ he is why th reasoning,easoninghy th an appour reason and our lives influence, communicate, and combine, is deemed important.
Marx did not fear change
Q: Marx as a scholar had a great impact on modern society. What makes him still current?
A: I think Marx is still relevant because he allowed his thinking to continuously evolve. Not only in theory, but also in practice, he was constantly changing and improving. It was because society itself was changing. To interpret a changing society, rather than accepting a fossilized theory, Marx was not afraid of being wrong. In fact, he was always prepared to be wrong. We need to learn from him.
Q: Recently, your column on Marx was published in the New York Times. What was it about?
A: NYT featured a special series on Marx in their Philosophy section; I contributed to one of them. It went like this. Marx’s ideology tends to be parasitized by social common sense, losing its intended power of resistance. However, Marx tells us not to accept social common sense, but to pose questions about that which is beyond common sense. If we all become Marxist and Marxian ideology becomes the normative social discourse, its power of resistance will likely perish.
Marx exclaimed, “I am not a Marxist.” In the same vein, while I study Marx, I am not a Marxist. I am an independent minded person. I am not a follower of Marx’s; I am an independent thinker. It is important to think independently, and to have one’s own mind.
Goal is to form an international knowledge community where we can work with the students
Q: What is your impression of Kyung Hee University and of its students?
A: Kyung Hee values humanistic education; I think this is what sets the University apart from other universities. The School of Global Communication, in particular, has an open environment where new media and video can be used to teach. I find this to be a very refreshing class setting.
Q: What is your future plan?
A: I want to engage in challenging research projects with global scholars. I am looking for ways to engage students in this process, too. I want to collaborate with student learners by creating an international knowledge community. I plan to play diverse roles as an intellectual in the Korean college setting.
Professor Barker is a scholar and a documentary film director. In 2011, he won wide acclaim by releasing Marx Reloaded, a documentary film that aired on ZDF in Germany, to be broadcast throughout Europe. The film utilizes Karl Marx’s philosophical ideas to examine the global financial crisis of 2008.