Anderson, Perry 1938-
ANDERSON, Perry 1938-
PERSONAL: Born 1938, in London, England; Education: Worcester College, Oxford University, graduated, 1959. Politics: Marxist.
Le Portugal et la fin de l'ultra-colonialisme, F. Maspero (Paris, France), 1963.
(Editor, with Robin Blackburn, and contributor) Toward Socialism, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1965.
Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism, New Left Books (London, England), 1974.
Lineages of the Absolutist State, New Left Books (London, England), 1974, Humanities Press (Highlands, NJ), 1975.
Considerations on Western Marxism, New Left Books (London, England), 1976.
Arguments within English Marxism, New Left Books (London, England), 1980.
In the Tracks of Historical Materialism, Verso (London, England), 1983, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1984.
English Questions (essays), Verso (New York, NY), 1992.
A Zone of Engagement (essays), Verso (New York, NY), 1992.
(Editor, with Patrick Camiller) Mapping the West European Left, Verso (New York, NY), 1994.
(Editor, with Peter Gowan) The Question of Europe, Verso (New York, NY), 1997.
The Origins of Postmodernity, Verso (New York, NY), 1998.
The Ends of History, Verso (New York, NY), 1998.
Figures in the Forest, Verso (New York, NY), 2003.
Extra Time: World Politics since 1989, Verso (New York, NY), 2004.
Also author of introduction to Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998, by Fredric Jameson, Verso (New York, NY), 1998, and The Freudian Slip: Psychoanalysis and Textual Criticism, by Sebastiano Timpanaro, Verso (New York, NY), 2003. Anderson's works have been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.
SIDELIGHTS: One of the foremost contemporary Marxist theorists, Perry Anderson has been acknowledged as an authority on leftist politics and history, and since 1962 he has served as editor of the periodical New Left Review. Anderson is also a history and sociology professor at University of California—Los Angeles and has published important volumes on various leftist issues and achievements. In 1974 he completed two books, Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism and Lineages of the Absolutist State, in which he charts the evolution of European economies. "The chief emphasis of these books," E. J. Hobsbawm noted in a New Statesman review, "is . . . the uniqueness and especially the varieties of socio-political experience in Europe." Hobsbawm added that Anderson's "synthesis of European history is unusually comprehensive and unusually illuminating." Likewise impressed was Listener reviewer John Dunn, who reported that "on balance, what is really astonishing is the extent to which the books succeed in their aims." Dunn added, "The breadth of reading, the acuteness of Anderson's social insight, the subtlety and power of his writing at its best and, above all, the consistency of his overall intellectual control of the project are enormously impressive."
With Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism and Lineages of the Absolutist State Anderson established himself as an accomplished, and unique historian. Tariq Ali reported in Books and Bookmen that "Anderson's two volumes represent the first serious attempt to provide a Marxist framework for a discussion of the State." Ali stated that the books constitute "a Marxist masterpiece" that will "revolutionise the study of ancient history." Keith Thomas, in a lengthy New York Review of Books assessment, declared that Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism and Lineages of the Absolutist State form "one of the most elegant, thoughtful, and sustained analyses to be found in Marxist historiography."
Even critics with strong reservations about aspects of Anderson's achievement with Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism and Lineages of the Absolutist State paused to acknowledge the books' strengths as well. An Economist reviewer, for instance, decried Anderson's prose as "indigestible and jargon-ridden" but concluded that Anderson proves himself "widely read, ambitious in his scope, and, within his limitations, stimulating and original."
In 1976 Anderson published Considerations on Western Marxism, a brief volume tracing Marxism's development as a largely theoretical—as opposed to practiced—political base. This work, more modest in scope than Anderson's preceding works, nonetheless received fairly favorable assessments from various critical quarters. New Statesman reviewer Hobsbawm, for example, expressed reservations regarding speculations on the continued viability of Marxism, but he nonetheless found Considerations on Western Marxism an "elegant and acute, brilliantly laconic and deeply felt survey," summarizing it as "a concise, brilliant but broken-backed book." An Economist reviewer was even more enthusiastic, lauding Anderson as "the most learned and intelligent of British Marxists" and declaring, "There have been several guides to modern Marxism . . . , but this one by Mr. Anderson is by far the best."
Anderson's next major publication, In the Tracks of Historical Materialism, concentrates on developments in Marxist theory and practice in the 1970s and early 1980s. Essentially, the book explores reasons behind the sharp differences between Marxist theory and Marxist practice. Here Anderson addresses issues pertaining to academia, wherein he feels Marxism is too often perceived merely as a concept. Shlomo Avineri, writing in New York Times Book Review, described In the Tracks of Historical Materialism as an "extremely rich and concise book" and recognized Anderson as "one of the more interesting contemporary Marxist thinkers."
In the early 1990s Anderson published English Questions and A Zone of Engagement, two volumes of essays derived mostly from his contributions to New Left Review. English Questions concentrates on topics pertaining to England's socio-political climate, with considerations of both academia and the working class. A Zone of Engagement, however, is concerned with various political writers, including Isaiah Berlin, Carlo Ginsberg, and Fernand Braudel. Dissent reviewer Alan Wolfe stated in an assessment of both English Questions and A Zone of Engagement, "No Marxist writing in English is more brilliant and learned than Perry Anderson." Wolfe added, "These books are worth reading just to see Anderson's mind at work. There is always something to be learned from the ways in which Anderson confronts other writers or specific historical experiences."
Serving as editor along with Peter Gowan, Anderson dealt with the new Europe in a series of essays titled The Question of Europe. Unlike many books on the subject, Anderson and Gowan's includes writings from across the political and national spectrum. Richard T. Griffiths, writing in Political Studies, felt that, "as a whole, the articles form a rich thread of discourse on the recent development of the European Union, with a serious historical input." For Tim Walsh, reviewing the same title in International Affairs, it is a "welcome addition" and a "stimulating read and a good introduction to much of the recent literature on European integration." Walsh further noted, "Few of the many books published on the question of Europe are as broad or as wide-ranging as this collection." And writing in the Journal of Politics, Mark A. Pollack concluded that this is a "deliberately unconventional collection of essays" that "makes for provocative reading."
With the approach of the new millennium, Anderson tackled the topic of the postmodern in his 1998 The Origins of Postmodernity, which is "as lucid and patient an account of the idea . . . as you could wish for," according to an Economist contributor. As Henry Heller described the work in Canadian Dimension, it "attempts to outline the cultural changes that have accompanied . . . [the] remarkable victory of international capital." Heller went on to note that Anderson maintains in the book that postmodernism "was already immanent in the literature, architecture and painting of the 1960s." Anderson's book started out life as a foreword to Fredric Jameson's The Cultural Turn, and as such is partly a tribute to Jameson, but it also offers a further analysis of the origins of this multidisciplinary theory, which has feet in cultural criticism and history, politics, philosophy, architecture, and sociology. Anderson goes back to the etymology of the terms "modernism" and "postmodernism" and traces the various thinkers with which the movement is associated, including Arnold Toynbee, Charles Olson, Jurgen Habermas, and Jameson. However, as Jeremy Smith noted in Journal of Sociology, "most of the book is about Jameson." Writing in Textual Practice, Peter Brooker likewise commented that "Anderson comes primarily to praise Fredric Jameson." For Heller, the work "represents a summing up and celebration of the achievement of a cohort of left-wing thinkers who, beleaguered as they are, have intellectually captured and disarmed a formidable ideology directed against Marxism." Writing in the New Statesman, Richard Gott observed that Anderson "is no stranger to the debate over postmodernism." Gott further noted that the book "will be of particular interest to British readers in that it appears to mark a notable shift in the affections of the [New Left Review] editors from the pessimistic writings of Jurgen Habermas . . . to the more optimistic position of Jameson." And for Brooker, Anderson's work enters the debate "like a clear-eyed astronomer in an age of astrology."
Anderson has continued to be a lightning rod for ideas on the left into the new millennium. With his 2003 book, Figures in the Forest, he presents a critical survey of conservative, liberal, and socialist thinkers. On the far right, he examines pundits such as Michael Oakeshott, Friederich Hayek, Leo Strauss, and Carl Schmitt, while on the liberal side he looks at the ideas of Norberto Bobbio and John Rawls. From the Marxist perspective are analyses of Edward Thompson, Robert Brenner, Sebastiano Timpanaro, and Eric Hobsbawm. With the 2004 book Extra Time: World Politics since 1989, Anderson samples historical situations from the end of the twentieth century with a focus on European states such as France, Italy, and Germany, as they compare to the United States model, and also with an examination of four countries outside of this sphere: Russia, Brazil, China, and Israel.
Speaking with Harry Kreisler on Conversations with History online, Anderson noted, "I never use the terms 'optimism' or 'pessimism' about myself. . . . The fact that the left was very strong internationally between the fifties and seventies, and then has been very weak since then, that's just part of the flow of time. . . . We have to wait and see what the next turn of the wheel will bring."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Books and Bookmen, April, 1975, Tariq Ali, review of Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism and Lineages of the Absolutist State, pp. 20-21.
Canadian Dimension, March-April, 1999, Henry Heller, review of The Origins of Postmodernity, pp. 38-39.
Dissent, fall, 1992, Alan Wolfe, review of English Questions and A Zone of Engagement, pp. 536-539.
Economist, March 15, 1975, review of Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism and Lineages of the Absolutist State, p. 126; September 11, 1976, review of Considerations on Western Marxism, p. 108; March 13, 1999, review of The Origins of Postmodernity, p. 10.
History Today, October, 1994, review of The Ends of History, p. 52.
International Affairs, January, 1998, Tim Walsh, review of The Question of Europe, p. 223.
Journal of Politics, November, 1998, Mark A. Pollack, review of The Question of Europe, pp. 1202-1208.
Journal of Sociology, August, 2000, Jeremy Smith, review of The Origins of Postmodernity, p. 252.
Listener, July 17, 1975, p. 91; May 5, 1977, pp. 598-599; February 2, 1984, pp. 25-26.
London Review of Books, March 1, 1984, pp. 3-5; December 3, 1992, pp. 9-11.
Nation, December 21, 1992, p. 784.
New Statesman, February 7, 1975, E. J. Hobsbawm, review of Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism and Lineages of the Absolutist State, pp. 177-178; September 24, 1976, E. J. Hobsbawm, review of Considerations on Western Marxism, pp. 408, 410-411; February 26, 1999, Richard Gott, review of The Origins of Postmodernity, pp. 55-56; March 19, 1999, Edward Skidelsky, "Perry Anderson: He Is One of Britain's Great Marxist Intellectuals, Yet Now He Seems a Strangely Conservative Figure," pp. 18-19.
New Statesman and Society, April 17, 1992, pp. 39-41.
New York Review of Books, April 17, 1975, Keith Thomas, review of Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism and Lineages of the Absolutist State, p. 26.
New York Times Book Review, May 27, 1984, Shlomo Avineri, review of In the Tracks of Historical Materialism, p. 19.
Political Studies, December, 1998, Richard T. Griffiths, review of The Question of Europe, p. 995.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, summer, 1999, Thomas Hove, review of The Origins of Postmodernity and The Cultural Turn, p. 145.
Sociological Review, August, 1980, Philip Corrigan, review of Arguments within English Marxism, pp. 658-660.
Textual Practice, summer, 1999, Peter Brooker, review of The Origins of Postmodernity, pp. 368-374. Theory & Society, March, 1982, Russell Jacoby, review of Arguments within English Marxism, pp. 251-257.
Times Literary Supplement, April 25, 1975, p. 452; January 21, 1977, p. 73; October 5, 1984, p. 1132; August 14, 1992, pp. 4-5; February 17, 1995, p. 7; February 5, 1999, Simon Jarvis, review of The Origins of Postmodernity, p. 26.
Voice Literary Supplement, July, 1989, pp. 24-25.
Washington Post Book World, October 21, 1979, p. 13.
Conversations with History,http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/conversations/ (April 27, 2001), Harry Kreisler, "Reflections on the Left from the Left."*