Gregory Dawes is an associate professor of Latin American and World Literatures at North Carolina State University (NCSU).
A self-proclaimed Marxist, Dawes’ political views color his courses. For instance, a syllabus for his course “Contemporary World Literature I” features only leftwing and Communist poets — Garcia Lorca, Bertolt Brecht, Pablo Neruda, Nazim Hikmet and Muriel Rukeyser. For reference, students are provided with two lists of poets who were political and lived in the same period, One list contains a dozen other leftist and Communist poets; the other contains four allegedly “fascist” poets including T.S. Eliot (who was only referred to as a fascist by the Communist left) and William Butler Yeats, who was an Irish nationalist. (The other two, Ezra Pound and Giuseppe Ungaretti, were actually fascists). No liberal or conservative or un-political poets are provided.
In his course “Contemporary Literary Theory,” Dawes asks students to “develop a coherent theory based on one or more of those covered in the course.” The theories covered in the course, however, are limited to those in fashion among academic exponents of theory, such as poststructuralism and New Criticism, and radical ideological currents like feminism, Marxism, and postcolonialism. In writing their final essay for the course, students are required to “[u]se one or more of the critical methods studied during the semester as the basis for your analysis.”
Dawes edits the journal A Contracorriente, which approaches the social history and literature of Latin America from “gender and Marxist” perspectives. As he explained in an article in the journal’s inaugural issue in 2003, Dawes founded the publication to combat what he regarded as the neglect by academic literature departments in the United States and Europe of the tenets of Marxism. The problem with modish academic theories like postmodernism, in Dawes’ judgment, was that they “all diverge to some degree or another from class, gender and race analyses of concrete socio-historical events and … from Marxism as the explanatory model for the fundamental critique of capitalism per se and for its transcendence in more egalitarian social systems (socialism and communism).”
By “diverting attention away from the class struggle and analysis,” such theories hindered “attempts to overcome capitalism and imperialism,” Dawes wrote in the same essay. He also chastised Latin American Studies programs in American universities for their “political accomodationism” to “metropolitan imperialist centers” like the United States. By contrast, Dawes proclaimed, A Contracorriente would serve as a “venue for earnest leftists writing on literature and history who will not accept the world as it is.”
This suture of radical politics and literary criticism is a recurrent theme of Dawes’ academic writings. In 1991, writing in the journal Postmodern Culture, Dawes noted approvingly that “[o]ne of the major contributions to literary studies in recent years has been the recognition that political consciousness is invariably fused with aesthetic practice.” (Dawes also had praise for Maoist China’s “Cultural Revolution” and Castroite Cuba, both of which, he contended, had “been successful in instituting political and economic democracy.”) Consequently, Dawes is particularly enamored of writers whose work, as he sees it, celebrates the revolutionary vision. Examining the work of Kurt Vonnegut in a 1998 essay, for instance, Dawes felt compelled to point out what he described as Vonnegut’s observation “that capitalism is a monstrous creation of humankind that should be replaced by humanist socialism.”
Such themes abound in Dawes’ two books. His 1993 book, Aesthetics and Revolution: Nicaraguan Poetry, 1979-1990, based on his doctoral dissertation, dwells on the Marxist and revolutionary themes of Nicaraguan verse.
His most recent book, Verses Against the Darkness: Neruda’s Poetry and Politics, is a tribute to Pablo Neruda, the Chilean writer and lifelong communist. In the book, Dawes lavishes praise on Neruda for his communist beliefs, hailing him for “relinquishing the pedestal that bourgeois society has conferred to the poet,” and for “equating himself with the destiny of the class which can potentially put an end to class society.”
In addition to his work as a professor, Dawes is a prominent activist on the NCSU campus, speaking out against everything from American foreign policy to the proliferation of free-market capitalism (globalization). At an October 2002 panel convened by NCSU’s Africana Studies department, Dawes delivered a speech titled “Globalization as Imperialism.” In March 2003 he participated in a panel opposing the war in Iraq. He also delivered a lecture for the occasion, entitled “U.S. Imperialism and the Case of Iraq.”