Preface

This book grew in the writing. The product of too many long and difficult years, it often sat quietly while I was engaged with other pursuits only to return to this one yet again. For this book brings together two great passions, the Bible and Marxism. My starting point, however, is Marxism itself, and my search is for the way the engagement with theology and the Bible by some of Marxism's greatest exponents is an indispensable part of their work.

I began writing this book in Northmead, Australia and finished it in Sofia, Bulgaria after a train journey with Christina Petterson across Europe from northwest to southeast. On the way we walked through the Jewish quarter and over the Pest hill of Budapest, were thrown off a train at the Romanian border, travelled over incomplete tracks and through half-rebuilt villages in Serbia only to stay at the magnificent Hotel Moskva in Belgrade, home of the Lefebvre archives. Finally we made our way on an ancient train that slowly rocked its way to Sofia. There, in the midst of the ambiguous and troubled imposition of the worst of US-style capitalism, and after Christina returned to Copenhagen, I found a small second-century Christian church within the walls of the presidential palace. Built before the conversion of Constantine, perhaps at the time when the last of the New Testament texts were being written, in fact before the canon of the New Testament itself had been determined, it came as a complete surprise. Now it is, of course, a fascinating and contested site: re-opened once again as an Orthodox church, after some five centuries as a mosque and then, for half a century, neglected under Communist rule, it marks both a futile re-assertion by the church of its lost power and the sheer indifference of most Bulgarians to Christianity or even religion of any sort. Much of what this book covers is or will be contested, fascinating, occasionally well-known but mostly surprising territory. I should say, for those who may harbour some suspicions, that my agenda here is not to uncover or debunk these Marxists by uncovering some badly kept theological secrets. Rather, given the crucial role of the Bible and theology in their work, we ignore those elements at our peril.

Let me thank those who have been part of the process of the book. Many have been graceful enough to listen to, read and comment on earlier versions of sections of this book - biblical scholars, literary critics, philosophers and other sundry Marxists. In particular, various audiences in Australia, Europe and North America have provided lively feedback to papers that gradually made their way, after many reformulations, into the book. However, the major context has been the Bible and Critical Theory Seminar, perhaps the most important forum for critical biblical studies in Australia today, where a whole wealth of comments and discussions have taken place of various parts of this book. As far as individuals are concerned, I would like to thank Fred Jameson, Ken Surin, Cath Ellis, Deborah Bird Rose, John Docker, Andrew Milner, David Roberts, Kate Rigby, George Aichele, Ed Conrad, Ibrahim Abraham and Peter Thomas, who have discussed and/or read sections of this work. However, the greatest thanks go to Fiona Marantelli and Matt Chrulew, my untiring research assistants who undertook the formidable task of comment, formatting and editing with gusto.

A note on translations: my references are to the existing English translations, mainly because these are easier to find for most. Yet there are many snares in doing so and I have cross-checked every translation with the German and French, altering where necessary. Only with the Italian have I relied wholly on the English translations, for Italian is beyond me. As I know from biblical criticism, translation is always a vexed issue, even though one always benefits from the hard work of others. Apart from the incomplete status of translations, notably with Lefebvre, Althusser's early work, Gramsci's prison notebooks, and some of Bloch, the translations themselves are, as is often pointed out, patchy, with E.B. Ashton's effort on Adorno's Negative Dialectics the most woeful of the lot. Fortunately, Robert Hullot-Kentor's work on Kierkegaard is one of the examples of how translation should be done; fortunate for me since it is one of the major texts on which I focus in my discussion of Adorno. The situation with Benjamin is perhaps the most uniform and extensive, with recent translations of swathes of texts and the quality is generally quite good. But, even so, what appears to be a reasonably good translation may turn out to have its pitfalls. For instance, J.T. Swann's translation of Bloch's Atheismus im Christentum has a knack of leaving out the odd phrase, sentence or section. What we end up with is in many respects an abridged version. And John Osborne's generally good translation of Benjamin's Trauerspiel book offers some curious, and, for my argument, crucial, glosses, such as the unaccountable translation of Heilsgeschichte, salvation history, as 'story of the life of Christ'. Of course, the translations themselves have generated a whole new wave of criticism that demands yet more translations and re-translations, Robert Hullot-Kentor's work with Adorno's Aesthetic Theory and Dialectic of Enlightenment being the most notable. Sometimes, that criticism is somewhat skewed, depending heavily on the choice of which texts to translate, as the history of translations of Lefebvre and Gramsci shows only too clearly.

The Hill, New South Wales February 2006

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