Criticism of Earth


Those great lefties at Haymarket Books have just released the paperback of Criticism of Earth: On Marx, Engels, and Theology. This is the one that thoroughly re-examines all that the duo had to say on theology. Nice price too.

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The year is beginning to seem ridiculously over-productive in terms of books published.

I have just received word that The Earthy Nature of the Bible is out with Palgrave Macmillan. Fishpond and Amazon are competing to give you a bit of a discount.

That’s the fourth monograph published this year, alongside the paperback of Criticism of Theology.

And then I hear that one of the two edited volumes has just appeared: The Future of the Biblical Past, this one edited with Fernando Segovia. Keeping my hand in biblical criticism (which is really a part-time concern these days), this 400 page collection seeks to map the current status of biblical criticism world-wide and peer into the future. Contributors come from every populated continent on the globe.

The other edited volume due out shortly is Ideology, Culture, and Translation (with Scott Elliott).

Finally, just to keep things ticking over, Haymarket is rushing out the paperback of the big book on Marx and Engels: Criticism of Earth: On Marx, Engels and Theology (volume four of The Criticism of Heaven and Earth Series). The hardcover with Brill has only just appeared. The paperback is due out in April, but already Amazon and Fishpond are offering serious discounts, up to 34% on pre-orders.

P.S. Lenin, Theology, and Religion (over 400 pages) has just gone into production with Palgrave Macmillan and should be out next year.

On Friday, the biggie arrived: Criticism of Heaven: The Author’s Cut.

How big? It weighs in at 765 pages – that’s 270 more than the abridged version from 2007:

In other words, the original text, with a shitload of detailed argument, is restored. I’ll soon have information on where this one can be found.

But I thought it should join its mates, two other books also published a couple of months ago:

More than 1300 pages of my verbiage this year alone, but who’s counting?

One more newie to go this year:

Some shameless self-promotion in a year that is becoming a little ludicrous in terms of books published.

The first book now available is Criticism of Earth: On Marx, Engels and Theology.

This is volume 4 of the ‘The Criticism of Heaven and Earth’ series. As the blurb puts it:

Criticism of Earth thoroughly reassesses Marx and Engels’s engagement with theology, drawing on largely ignored texts. Thus, alongside ‘opium of the people’, Hegel’s philosophy of law, and the Feuerbach theses, other works are also central. These include Marx’s early pieces on theology, continual transformations of fetishism, and lengthy treatments of Bruno Bauer and Max Stirner. Engels too is given serious attention, since he moved beyond Marx in appreciating theology’s revolutionary possibilities. Engels’s Calvinism is discussed, his treatments of biblical criticism and theology, and his later writings on early Christianity’s revolutionary nature. The book continues the project for a renewed and enlivened interaction between Marxism and religion, being the fourth of five volumes in the Criticism of Heaven and Earth series.

Even though the euro is not doing so well these days, €99.00 is still a reasonable hit for a book. I must admit that Brill has a business model that has worked for over three centuries – it was established during the heyday of the first great capitalist power, the Netherlands. What to do? I suggest three or four strategies:

1. Dig a rich aunt for some cash, or request it as a birthday or Christmas present from your parents and/or children.

2. Order it for a library you know.

3. Wait for the paperback from Haymarket.

4. Wait for the pdf on one of those reputable Russian book sites.

The second book published is Nick Cave: A Study of Love, Death and Apocalypse.

I’m told the paperback should be out soonish, but otherwise see above. The blurb:

This study analyses the work of Nick Cave, a singular, idiosyncratic and brilliant musician, specifically through his engagements with theology and the Bible. It does so not merely in terms of his written work, the novels and plays and poetry and lyrics that he continues to produce, but also the music itself. Covering more than three decades of extraordinarily diverse creativity, the book has seven chapters focusing on: the modes in which Cave engages with the Bible; the total depravity of the worlds invoked in his novels and other written work; the consistent invocation of apocalyptic themes; his restoration of death as a valid dimension of life; the twists of the love song; the role of a sensual and heretical Christ; and then a detailed, dialectical analysis of his musical forms. The book draws upon a select number of theorists who provide the methodological possibilities of digging deep into the theological nature of Cave’s work, namely Ernst Bloch, who is the methodological foundation stone, as well as Theodor Adorno, Theodore Gracyk and Jacques Attali.

And a third one, although this is the paperback of Criticism of Theology: On Marxism and Theology III.

This one is very affordable via those nice lefties at Haymarket Books. The blurb:

Criticism of Theology provides a detailed and critical commentary on the continued fascination with religion by yet more significant Marxist philosophers, historians and critics: Max Horkheimer, E.P. Thompson, G.E.M. de Ste. Croix, Michael Löwy, Roland Barthes, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari and Antonio Negri. Simultaneously critique and construction, Criticism of Theology carefully analyses their work through close textual readings, with a view to locating hidden gems that may be developed further.

Soon to come, but available for pre-order, is The Earthy Nature of the Bible: Fleshly Readings of Sex, Masculinity and Carnality.

I have just received the cover image:

And the fourth one for this year, Criticism of Heaven: The Author’s Cut. This one has the full original text, with 250 pages and the original cadences restored.


At long last I have completed working on Lenin and Theologycompiled the full manuscript (which will come in at around 450 pages when published) and sent it to someone who has agreed to check the Russian references and so on (thanks sk). So the ‘reading Lenin’ series comes to a close, although it may have an occasional supplement. I am sure my mother will be pleased, since she provides constant feedback on my blog, occasionally threatening to write me out of her will – given that she will probably live for a good while more, I’ll be an old fogey by the time that is an issue.

But that made me realise that I have a few other books appearing this year. In another instance of shameless self-promotion, here they are:

Criticism of Earth: On Marx, Engels and Theology. Due out with Brill in May this year.

Nick Cave: A Study of Love, Death and Apocalypse. Also due out in May, now with Equinox.

The Earthy Nature of the Bible: Fleshly Readings of Sex, Masculinity and Carnality. Published by Palgrave Macmillan and due out in October this year.

Criticism of Heaven: The Author’s Cut. Published by CCLM in Taiwan, in the Sino-Christian Studies Supplement Series, and due out soon.

Finally, the paperback of Criticism of Theology: On Marxism and Theology III. Also due out in May, with Haymarket.

I am in the midst of proof corrections for Criticism of Earth: On Marx, Engels and Theology, a hefty tome which is due out in March with Brill and later with Haymarket. So in yet another moment of shameless self-promotion, a section of the preface:

I have put off writing this book for too long, daunted by the endless volumes of Marx’s and Engels’s writings. At long last I opened the first volume of their collected works. Over the next eight months I read the whole lot, instead of the select pieces I had read until then, finishing the last volume on the evening before boarding a freighter-ship bound for New Zealand in June 2008. Vast, tiring and exhilarating, it was one of the great reading experiences I have ever had.

From the nooks and crannies of their youth, with bad poetry, love-letters, angry and worried parents, the story unwound in volume after volume. Marx soon showed up as an obsessive and brilliant writer who cared nothing for his health, even when there was a long history of unstable health on his side of the family. Engels, by contrast, obviously knew how to enjoy himself and unwind: good beer, fine wine, exquisite tobacco and women, mixed in with long-distance hiking and a love for swimming. We follow them through the obstacle course of early political journalism in the face of censorship, arrests and exile in Paris, Brussels and then London. I found myself enticed by Engels’s background, one that was so similar to my own, as well as his remarkable ability with languages (I have come across French, English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Danish, Dutch, Frisian, Russian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Devanagari or Sanskrit, as well as classical Hebrew and Greek). While Engels passed through his hawkish phase and wrote some amazing pieces on battles, campaigns, and the histories of matters such as infantry, rifles and castles, Marx buried himself in piles of economic data and wrote endless notebooks working out his breakthrough-theories. As Marx peaked and burned himself out with the monumental first volume of Capital, Engels kept the whole show together, maintaining his partnership in the firm in Manchester, sending Marx endless pound notes in the post, until at last he could retire and set up both Marx and himself in relative comfort. The formality of intellectual work and the immediacy of journalism finally make way for the intensely personal correspondence. Here, Marx’s obsession with his declining health – especially the interminable reports on those famous carbuncles – shows up starkly (if before he disregarded his health now it is at the centre of his attention), as does Engels’s patience and irrepressibly jovial take on life. And this is how the story closes, with Engels dutifully ensuring Marx’s legacy through a mountain of editorial work on Marx’s unfinished manuscripts (not always understanding them) and yet utterly enthused by the strides taken by the working-class and socialist movement.

When I began writing, I became conscious of the fact that Marx and Engels too were primarily writers. I started to gain respect for Engels as a writer. At times, he may have been too categorical and doctrinaire, not quite shining as bright as Marx, but, at other times, his texts sparkle with insight and observation. Unlike Marx’s intense and obsessive prose, Engels could have a lightness of touch and way of turning a phrase that draws one in. I have read his accounts of the walk from Paris to Berne in Switzerland many times, the travel notes on Sweden and Denmark, his glorious description of the cotton-bale that passes through so many handlers and merchants (swindlers) before reaching Germany, or his letters full of comments on smoking, drinking and women, or indeed his continuous doodles, portraits and battle scenes. Only Engels could write, ‘… now I can shit in peace and then write to you in peace. … Damn, there’s somebody sitting in the lavatory and I am bursting’.[1] No wonder he lived to a good age. His motto, written in young Jenny’s notebook would have helped: ‘Your favourite virtue – jollity; Motto – take it easy’.[2]

Often, Engels had to remind Marx to get some fresh air and exercise instead of sitting on a broken chair at a worn desk in order to write. For Marx was driven by a demanding muse, one that allowed him three or four hours sleep a night, rushed breaks for meals and those endless cups of coffee and reams of tobacco. There are plenty of notes in the letters about working all night, or for thirty hours straight until his eyes were too sore to go further, or Jenny taking over letter-writing since he had dropped from sheer exhaustion. No wonder he became so ill – liver, carbuncles, sores, abscesses, rheumatism, lungs (the letters are full of them) – and no wonder he recovered when on the sea at Margate where he ate well, went for long walks (up to 27 kilometres to Canterbury), swam everyday and slept. He was already sick from overwork in his 30s, was alternating between periods of enforced rest and frenetic writing in his 40s, was spent after Capital appeared at the age of 49, and he could not write anything substantial after that. He was lucky to get to 65.

The image Marx’s father, Heinrich, had of his son in Berlin pretty much sums up the way Marx wrote: ‘God’s grief!!! Disorderliness, musty excursions into all departments of knowledge, musty brooding under a gloomy oil-lamp; running wild in a scholar’s dressing-gown and with unkempt hair instead of running wild over a glass of beer’.[3] Or, in Marx’s own words:

The writer does not look at all on his work as a means. It is an end in itself; it is so little a means for him himself and for others that, if need be, he sacrifices his existence to its existence. He is, in another way, like the preacher of religion who adopts the principle: ‘Obey God rather than man’.[4]

The result was that Marx’s texts are often rushed, dense, endless and written in that atrocious hand. Yet he could also rise from that tangle and produce extraordinarily brilliant stretches of text, such as the Eighteenth Brumaire and The Civil War in France, but it came less naturally to him. I find myself caught in between, preferring Engels as a writer over against Marx, but then taken up with Marx’s sheer originality. And I must confess that I too often succumb to that demanding muse.


[1] Engels 1839ff, p. 411; Engels 1839gg, p. 354.

[2] Engels 1868k, p. 541.

[3] Marx (Heinrich) 1837, p. 688.

[4] Marx 1842i, p. 175.

And Brill even has an early notice on their web page:

Criticism of Earth thoroughly reassesses Marx and Engels’s engagement with theology, drawing on largely ignored texts. Thus, alongside ‘opium of the people’, Hegel’s philosophy of law, and the Feuerbach theses, other works are also central. These include Marx’s early pieces on theology, continual transformations of fetishism, and lengthy treatments of Bruno Bauer and Max Stirner. Engels too is given serious attention, since he moved beyond Marx in appreciating theology’s revolutionary possibilities. Engels’s Calvinism is discussed, his treatments of biblical criticism and theology, and his later writings on early Christianity’s revolutionary nature. The book continues the project for a renewed and enlivened interaction between Marxism and religion, being the fourth of five volumes in the Criticism of Heaven and Earth series.

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